Archive for the ‘shizuka arakawa’ Tag

Artistry: Innate vs. Cultivated

In any discipline with a creative facet there are practitioners that emerge on the scene as quite fully formed “artists”. There is still certainly room for growth, but their expression of themselves and their “art” is well on its way. On the flip side, there are those that arrive a mere figment of their later greatness. This certainly holds true for skaters, especially since there is a strong duality of artistry versus (or, with) athleticism.

“Baby Ballerinas” (and Ballerinos)

Here I borrow a designation from Dick Button, which I despised at the time, but which perfectly defines this first category of skater. These skaters emerge as quite (or, at least more) complete artists: highly expressive, sophisticated, and individualized, seemingly from the beginning. Sasha Cohen, Caroline Zhang, Naomi Nari-Nam, Oksana Baiul, Adelina Sotnikova, Johnny Weir, Evgeni Plushenko, John Curry, and Gordeeva & Grinkov, come immediately to mind.

They were either born dancers, had easy extension, or were passionately connected to their choreography and music. And, they seemed to have that something special, the X (or “It”) Factor, since day one. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe artistry ONLY comes in a classical balletic package. It just so happens that most “artistic” skaters at least initially lean heavily on this stylistic direction (excepting the rare few: Gary Beacom, the Duchesnays, etc.).

From Ugly Ducklings to Swans

Then, there are those skaters who hit the international scene, and although technically proficient, and holding great promise, didn’t strike us as having much artistry, or memorable expressive qualities. Or, they appeared to be more purely “athletic” skaters, but in hindsight we see that their artistry was more dormant at first. Sarah Hughes, Shizuka Arakawa, Angela Nikodinov, Ashley Wagner, Alexei Yagudin, Brian Boitano, Evan Lysacek, and Shen & Zhao come to mind.

They were either initially coltish, awkward, inexpressive, generic, or disconnected from their programs. You could chalk their more visible artistic trajectory and growth up to a later maturity (or peeking), to persistence and diligence, in nurturing skills that did not come as easily, or seem innate, OR to collaborating with a new coach or choreographer who helped them evolve.

Ice Dancers are more difficult to group into these two categories, since they are really nothing without artistry (as there are no jump requirements). So, that discipline does not breed or nurture purely “athletic” teams in the same way.

And, there are those skaters that remain primarily “athletic” skaters through the arc of at least their competitive careers (Ito, Meissner, Thomas, Bonaly, Goebel, Stojko, Joubert, Zhang & Zhang, and Brausseur & Eisler), but they are not the focus here.

Cases in Point

The Shizuka Arakawa we saw in Torino was an altogether different artist and skater than the one who won Japanese Nationals back in ’99 and ’00. Who could have guessed that the skater in the first video sample here could reach the artistic heights she did less than a decade later?

Before & After

Angela Nikodinov, in particular, seemed to literally be born again as a completely different skater, once under the tutelage of Elena Tcherkasskaia. She always had one of the best laybacks in the biz, but that was generally accompanied by a detached, going-through-the-motions approach.

Before (poor quality, sorry) & After

However, Sasha Cohen, in her Senior Nationals’ debut appeared with nearly all the extensions and expressivity she displayed nearly a decade later. Yes, there is certainly growth evident, but not in the same drastic way as with the previous skaters.

BeforeAfter

Legendary Gordeeva & Grinkov seemed to leap out of the womb with artistry and line, as in evidence here in both samples.

Before & After

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Nearly Missed Skating Glories & Curiosities

So often we focus on “what could have been”, or titles that we feel were taken undeservedly. Well, this time I’m going to take a look at it from the cup half full perspective, or “what almost wasn’t”.

Wylie Squeaked into Albertville?


Rewind to the ’91-‘92 US Nationals. Many (including Dick Button) felt Paul Wylie was outskated by Mark Mitchell, however, he was awarded the silver, ahead of Mitchell’s bronze. Before the scores were posted, Button felt Mitchell’s triple axel would be the deal breaker. The US men had three spots to the ’92 Winter Olympics in Albertville, secured the previous year by ’91 National Champion Todd Eldredge. However, Mitchell was left off the team due to a medical bye given to Eldredge.

Because of Wylie’s mediocre performance at Nationals, and the fact that he had never finished higher than ninth at Worlds (four years prior), critics questioned his placement on the Olympic team. He had also surprisingly never won a National title.

However, he was sent to his second Olympics, and won the silver medal, with two very strong performances. What a way to make an exit from amateur competition, especially from a career without any international titles (excepting the ’88 Trophee Lalique). His SP was flawless, and his LP, although not containing a real jump combination, had only one error in a two-footed landing.

Alternatively, the USFSA left Wylie off the team for the ’92 Worlds, naming Mark Mitchell in his place, where he placed 5th, ahead of Eldredge.

From Middling to The Top


Sarah Hughes won the bronze at US Nationals the year she was Olympic Champion (’02). She, in fact never won gold at Nationals, receiving two silvers and two bronzes, behind Kwan (and Cohen). (Ironically, I rooted for Angela Nikodinov to snag that third ticket to Salt Lake, as I was always a fan of her quiet elegance. In hindsight, I’m sure glad Hughes prevailed, given the outcome.)

Shizuka Arakawa won her Olympic Gold SEVEN seasons after winning Japanese Nationals (in both ’97-‘98 and ’98-‘99). But, she never again won Nationals, curiously loosing them to a Chisato Shiina in ’99-‘00. Ever heard of her? (Shiina was in 14th place the following season, and then seems to have disappeared.) After that Arakawa lost to Suguri, Ando, and Asada.

Like Hughes, she won the bronze at her Nationals the year she was Olympic Champion (’06). And, she won nothing else in the seasons in which she won both her World and Olympic titles. Fascinating! She was on the ’98 Japanese Olympic Team, but did not make the ’02 Team. It seems extremely rare for a skater to attend two Olympics, but miss one inbetween. (Anyone know stats on this?)

Alexei Yagudin NEVER won Russian Nationals. He brought home four silvers, and a bronze, loosing to Ilia Kulik the first two times, and then Plushy the following three. Plushy has SEVEN golds from that event! However, when it really mattered at the ’02 Olympics, he delivered the goods, and brought home the goldthankfully before his hip gave out.

Emanuel Sandhu’s International Moment


Building up to the ’03-‘04 GP Final, Sandhu was the SECOND substitute, but thanks to Jeffrey Buttle and Timothy Goebel’s withdrawals, and Brian Joubert’s inability to step in quickly as first substitute, he competed and seized the gold! He was one of only two skaters (the other being Brian Joubert) to beat Plushy in that quadrennial. This win was even more notable, given that he had not medaled either of his GP events that season! He never returned to that level of glory again in his skating career.

The “Chinese National Games”


Did you know that there is a quadrennial competition in China called the National Games? Some of the top Chinese pair skaters do not participate in the Chinese Championships, preferring to compete solely at these National Games instead, for which they receive byes. (The Chinese Championships serve to qualify some skaters for these National Games.)

The big name teams competed at the National Games in those seasons, thereby filling up these podiums with teams unfamiliar to the West. Therefore, instead of names like Zhang, Pang, or Tong, etc. as Chinese Champions, in ’05, we see pair Ding Yang & Ren Zhongfei, in ’06, Zhao Rui & An Yang, and in ’09, Dong Huibo & Wu Yimin! Ever heard of any of them?

A Russian Star Still Under Wraps


As a curiosity…I could find no record of last year’s (’08-‘09) Russian National Junior and Nationals champion Adelina Sotnikova attending the recent ’09-’10 Junior Worlds (or, any record at all of her at isu.org)? That is because, amazingly, at 13, she was STILL too young for the event! The current requirements are for the competitor to have reached the age of 13 by the previous 1 July. She was born on July 11, 1996. Perhaps this 10-day discrepancy will proove fateful, allowing her time to evolve at this tender age, before her international debut. I’m sure she’s being nurtured well, as she could be Russia’s future, eclipsing Alena Leonova.

Have any memories of nearly missed glories, or curiosities you’d like to share?