Thursday, October 30, 2014

Gone With the Windy City: 2014 Skate America in Review

I’m so out of BlogShape... post some predictions, watch some skating, tweet about it, drum up a commentary, make some more predictions... all within a week or so?? Really?

Oh wait, I forgot—I’ve done this drill the past eight years. Just because I became a slacker this off-season doesn’t mean I’ve lost all my muscle memory. So here’s a look back at last weekend’s Skate America—where I managed a 6-for-12 with the medal predictions—and while you’re reading this, I’ll be on the treadmill for the next one.

SkAM 2014 in Review

NOTEWORTHY MEN:
Machida (1st overall)—No contest. Even with a couple flaws.
Brown (2nd overall)— He did better at Nebelhorn, but I like these programs. Especially his Tristan & Isolde FS.
Ngyuen (2nd in FS, 3rd overall)—My biggest underestimation of the event. What an impressive senior GP debut! Reminds me of the guy who won bronze at this event last year (who happens to be the guy who won silver that I just talked about)
Ten (4th overall)—The pattern continues... meaning one where you can see where the reigning OBM intends to take us with his programs but isn’t able to get the job done. Yet. The last minute or so of his FS promises to be especially moving if gets the jumping passes on his side.
Abbott (2nd in SP, 6th in FS, 5th overall) – Sigh. Speaking of a pattern continuing... what can I say? At least he didn’t seem too upset about it.
Razzano (8th overall) – I’m starting to think of Razzano as the U.S.’s Jeremy Ten—an athlete whose work shines through his competitive jumping errors just enough for us to see what a beautiful skater he really is. But unfortunately, for now, the inconsistencies take center stage as they did here.

NOTEWORTHY LADIES:
Radionova (1st overall)—The skating world wouldn’t be the same without some perpetual force of Unstoppable Dynamo, and for the time being, that force is Radionova. Fortunately she doesn’t yet seem to feel the weight of the world on her diminutive shoulders... no matter how many crystals and stones they pile onto her FS costume.
(Have you taken a good look at that thing? It’s bench-pressable!)
Tuktamysheva (2nd overall)—I should have taken into account how many back-to-backs she’s done; we’re not even out of October yet and she’s competed internationally FOUR times, winning the other three events! And she still won the SP here!
Gold (3rd overall)—She goes into this season for the first time as The Hunted, a.k.a. National champ and highest finisher in Sochi among the U.S. ladies. Not an enviable position. She’s now 19 years old and 5’5”... not a young sprite by skating standards (even though she’s only been in the spotlight a couple of years). So while I’m not saying she’s lucky to have any medal at all from this event, based on how she skated, it’s understandable why it was bronze this time. I think she’s capable of more. We’ll see if it happens.
Cesario (4th overall)—She’s increasingly fun to watch, even in her second year of using Carmen for her FS (dare I say, especially when she’s using Carmen? Nah, I’d better not. We all know the reality of Carmena Overdosa...)
Park (of S. Korea, 5th overall)—Kim Yu-Na’s influence is clear with Park as she skated here more like she did at last season’s Worlds (where she finished 9th) than the Sochi Olympics (where she ended up 21st). It will be interesting to see if she can keep this up at Rostelecom Cup in a few weeks.
Nagasu (6th overall) – making up for a dismal SP with a score in the upper 40s (!!), Nagasu skated a clean FS—or seemed to, until the jump downgrades chipped away at her TES. Were they all justified? Or is her reputation her destiny? Honestly the bigger problem, for me, is that she looks to be skating emotion-free. To Madame Butterfly, no less. Maybe it was due to a determination to focus and bounce back at this event, but I got a similar vibe (or lack thereof) when she skated the same program at Japan Open a few weeks ago.

NOTEWORTHY PAIRS:
Kavaguti/Smirnov (1st overall)—apparently Moskvina really came up with the perfect vehicle for them while Smirnov was resting his injured shoulder last year. What a comeback!
Denney/Frazier(2nd overall)—Armed with a Lion King FS, these two got the best finish by a US couple at a GP event since 2008!
Peng/Zhang (3rd overall)—Had I seen their new FS in advance, I might not have predicted them to win. It didn’t rub me the right way.

DANCE:
Chock/Bates (1st overall)—I like this An American in Paris FD much, much better than their Les Miz offering last season. Did you know Bates and his former partner Emily Samuelson had American/Paris as their 2010-11 FD? Sadly most of us never saw it, as an injury crushed that entire season for them. I wonder how Samuelson feels about his using it four years later? But I digress...
Shib Sibs (2nd overall)— Their Blue Danube FD definitely brings back the clean lines of their Nat King Cole-infused heyday of a few years ago. But it wasn’t much of a showdown between the Shibs and Chock/Bates; the 10+ point gap between 1st and 2nd allows plenty of room for yet another U.S. dance team to sneak into the mix. What’s a top brother/sister team to do? (That doesn’t have to be rhetorical; if you have a suggestion for them leave it in the comments!)
Stepanova/Bukin (3rd overall)—I like ‘em. I like their music choice (haven’t heard Eleanor Rigby in the FD since Davis/White used it many years ago), I like their simplistic look, their lines, and their rather unique choreographic moments. They’re young, so I know all this (sigh) might change in a year or two. But for now? StepKin is somethin’ somethin’ :-)

SKATE CANADA PREVIEW/PREDICTIONS COMING SHORTLY!

(SOMETIME BEFORE THE EVENT STARTS!)

Friday, October 24, 2014

2014 Skate America Preview/Predictions

Well it's that time again! #SA2014 here I come. I swear Worlds ended last month... What happened?! Lol

So Tweeted one Jeremy Abbott to his 45 thousand-plus followers, a day or two ago. And while those days between Worlds and SkAM may or may not have flown by for the rest of us, it’s most definitely time for the latter. In my home town, no less!

(Well 27.4 miles northwest of my home town, if I’m being honest. But it’s all part of what they call “Chicagoland” back home.)

Much as I hoped to be there at SkAM myself, selling & signing copies of Skating on Air on the concourse... sadly, it’s not to be. (But if YOU want a really good price on a signed copy of my book, you know where to find me, right? Send me an email! Seriously!)

The consolation prize is my updating the blog twice in two days—yes, it’s really me; I know I’ve only averaged one post (or less!) a month since Worlds and it might seem like trolls have taken over the blog at last. But could trolls make Skate America 2014 podium guesses like this?:

ICE DANCE PREDICTIONS
Gold—Chock/Bates (USA)
Silver—Shibutanis (USA)
Bronze—Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)

Dark Horse, A.K.A. Watch out for... Orford/Williams (CAN) or Guignard/Fabbri (ITA)

The U.S. ice dance crown is truly up for grabs this season, and Chock/Bates appear to be heirs to the Davis/White throne. But the Shib Sibs have voiced every intent to make a run for the title themselves. I suspect C/B still has the edge, but watch this showdown closely as the tone—maybe for the entire season—is set.

MEN PREDICTIONS
Gold—Tatsuki Machida (JPN)
Silver—Jason Brown (USA)
Bronze—Jeremy Abbott (USA)

Dark Horse: Denis Ten (KAZ)

Last year, Machida claimed the SkAM crown so convincingly (with a total score in the 260s!) you’d have thought he was a favorite for the podium in Sochi. Now that he’s come pretty close to that latter feat—finishing 5th at the Games—it all comes to be a bit more expected now. Which is why I’ve picked him to defend his title successfully here, with Brown (who just won Nebelhorn Trophy a few weeks back) the runner-up. As for Abbott, count me among the few (?) who have not seen a speck of his new programs yet... but he hasn’t received many SkAM assignments through the years, and has yet to medal at the event. Despite my misgivings about him continuing to compete (see my September post), I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt this time around and peg him for bronze.

But all this could be for naught if reigning Olympic Bronze Medalist Denis Ten does something rare for this early in the season, and outshines the pack. He’s a wild card for me right now, particularly since he wasn’t able to compete at his “B” assignment (Nebelhorn).

PAIRS PREDICTIONS
Gold-- Peng/Zhang (CHN)
Silver-- Kavaguti/Smirnov (RUS)
Bronze-- Scimeca/Knierim (USA)

Dark Horse—Denney/Frazier (USA)

With OGMs Volo/Trank out with an injury, there is no defending pairs champ on hand this year at SkAM. In fact, I just looked over last year’s field and realized at least half those pairs teams aren’t even together anymore! But Kavaguti/Smirnov, bless their hearts, are pressing on past last year’s season-ending injury... and I expect to see them make the podium, just like old times. BUT Peng/Zhang were becoming quite the force as last season progressed, so I’m giving them the upper hand for now. What I’ve seen of Scimeca/Knierim and Denney/Frazier this season makes them pretty evenly matched, so consider that bronze prediction a coin toss.

LADIES PREDICTIONS
Gold—Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS)
Silver—Elena Radionova (RUS)
Bronze—Gracie Gold (USA)

Dark Horse—Mirai Nagasu (USA) or Samantha Cesario (USA)

Although I’m not fond of her new costumes—too billowy, in my opinion, and unable to show off her body lines as they should—Liza T. looked very strong in her “B” events and could well re-claim the SkAM title she first won back in 2011. If not her? Then I look to Radionova, who was a tiny powerhouse in the GP last year but ultimately too young for Olympic competition. I saw no signs of the puberty monster hitting her yet at the Japan Open a few weeks ago, so it should be an interesting showdown between the Russian teens. USA’s own Gracie Gold could prove a spoiler, but only if she seriously improves on her Nebelhorn performance (where she finished 10 points behind Liza T.).


OK, gotta get this posted because things are getting started VERY SOON!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

In a Nutshell! Skating's 2014-15 Pre-Season/JGP Season/"B" Season

Skate America gets underway in Hoffman Estates (aka Suburban Chicago) Friday night at 8PM Eastern time, which means the unofficial official season start is close at hand! 
(So close, in fact, that I’ll include THIS LINK to Ice Network's "Viewer's Guide" so you can be ready when that Short Dance kicks things off...)

But have you been following the sport since late August? There’s plenty of need-to-knows floating amongst figure skating’s unofficial pre-season. Let’s see if I can boil it down to FIVE:

1) If you haven’t been to isu.org lately, go check it out. A major summer overhaul benefits it greatly, at least in terms of keeping track of which competition is happening where and when. A simple horizontal “Upcoming Events” calendar makes it easy to see and click through (if you like) on not only the GP sched, but the ISU Junior Grand Prix and the new-but-really-it’s-not ISU Challenger Series, featuring 11 “B” meets including the debut of the Skate Canada Autumn Classic (held just this past weekend).

2) Winners from the Challenger series to date include Polina Edmunds (U.S. Int’l Figure Skating Classic), Richard Dornbush (Lombardia Trophy), Kavaguti/Smirnov (Nebelhorn Trophy), The Shibutanis (Ondrej Nepala Trophy), Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (Finlandia Trophy), and Ross Miner (Autumn Classic).

3) The JGP wrapped up in Zagreb a couple weeks back... here’s the list of those teenagers who made it to the JGP Final, held at GP Final time in mid-December:

MEN: Jin Boyang (CHN), Shoma Uno (JPN), Alexander Petrov (RUS), Lee June-hyoung** (KOR), Sota Yamamoto (JPN), Roman Sandovsky **(CAN)

LADIES: Serafima Sakhanovich **(RUS), Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS), Wakaba Higuchi **(JPN), Maria Sotskova (RUS), Yuka Nagai (JPN), Miyu Nakashio (JPN)

PAIRS: Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN), Maria Vigalova/Egor Zakroev (RUS), Lina Federova/Maxim Miroshkin (RUS), Kamilla Gainetdinova/Sergei Alexeev (RUS), Daria Beklemisheva/Maxim Bobrov (RUS), Chelsea Liu/Brian Johnson (USA)

DANCE: Anna Yanovskaya/Sergei Mozgov (RUS), Mackenzie Bent/Garrett MacKeen (CAN), Betina Popova/Yuri Vlasenko ** (RUS), Alla Loboda/Pavel Drozd (RUS), Madeline Edwards/Zhao Kai Pang (CAN), Daria Morozova/Mikhail Zhirnov (RUS)

** = Skaters in the JGP that stood out for me this season. Other names on that list that did NOT make the Final include Chase Belemontes (USA), Amber Glenn (USA), Shpilevaya/Smirnov, Dance (RUS), Luke West (USA), Andrew Torgashev (USA), Anastasia Gubanova/Alexei Sintsov, Pairs (RUS)

4) Injuries! Yep, they’ve been cropping up ahead of GP season, and all of the following have bowed out of their GP events as a result:
Volosozhar/Trankov, RUS (injury to Trankov)
Bobrova/Soloviev, RUS (injury to Soloviev)
Valentina Marchei, ITA
Kaetlyn Osmond, CAN
Peter Liebers, GER
Joshi Helgesson, SWE

5) Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge an official changing of the (skate) guard... first announced several weeks back... that got a big push from the Today show a few days ago: Terry Gannon, Johnny Weir, and Tara Lipinski have supplanted Tom Hammond, Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic as NBC’s broadcast team for all things figure skating. Considering the fact that Hammond/Hamilton/Bezic go at least as far back as the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, and have been the premier team since NBC took the skating coverage reins from ABC/ESPN in the 2008-9 season, this is a significant development for those of us who watch faithfully!

Or will you be forced to watch with the sound turned off now because you can’t stand Johnny? Or Tara? Or both? (Please don’t say you can’t stand Terry Gannon. EVERYONE like Gannon. Every. One.) Let me know if you’ve got an opinion on this one... I really want to re-visit this particular topic when time allows.


Speaking of which, I’d better get to work on my second (second?? Yes, she said second) post of the week where I make crazy semi-informed guesses as to how Skate America will go. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

"Should They Stay...?" North American Single Skaters Edition

In finally getting around to a North American edition of the “should they stay or should they go?” question posed in my last post, I’ve decided to list the top U.S. and Canadian singles skaters by age rather than placement at the last Nationals. (Because, like it or not, it matters.) I’ve boldfaced skaters "of interest":

Top 12 men at U.S. Nationals by AGE
Jeremy Abbott (age 29)—finished 1st
Douglas Razzano (will be 26 this fall, one GP assignment)— finished 6th
Stephen Carriere (25, one GP assignment)—finished 10th
Adam Rippon (will be 25 in fall, 2 GP assignments)—finished 8th
Grant Hochstein (24, will compete at Finlandia Trophy)—finished 11th
Brandon Mroz (24 this winter) – finished 9th
Ross Miner (23, 1 GP assignment)—finished 7th
Richard Dornbush (23, some reports indicated he’d be focusing on college this season but he, too, currently has 2 GP assignments)—finished 5th
Keegan Messing (22)—finished 12th
Max Aaron (22, 2 GP assignments)—finished 3rd
Jason Brown (19, 2 GP assignments)—finished 2nd
Joshua Farris (19, 2 GP assignments)—finished 4th

Abbott: I might as well start with the one that will likely bring the most objections, so here goes... I wish he’d stayed with his plan to retire. It’s not that I love his skating any less than I ever have. It’s more about going out a) on his own terms (read: without a career-ending injury, a la Lysacek) and b) on a high note. While I can appreciate his re-thinking his exit strategy after pulling down a 5th place at Worlds, as well as helping secure a 3rd spot for the U.S. men for the first time in several years... I think he may be asking too much of himself with this post-script. I could be dead wrong, and I’ve a fork in hand, ready to eat as much crow as necessary. But there was a feeling I had when Abbott’s close pal Alissa Czisny continued competing beyond her strongest season (2010-11), and... to state it simply... that feeling is back.

Mroz: Consider this my APB on the former U.S. Silver Medalist whose name is not to be found among any “Team Envelope” and has not posted to Twitter since early January. Is he continuing? Has he moved on? I don’t take the time to read the message boards much anymore, so someone feel free to clue me in if he’s already been discussed to bits. My thought: with his name already in the record books (first—and only, so far—quad lutz landed in an ISU-sanctioned event, October 2011), Mroz may well have something to offer as a jump specialist. Or maybe it’s time to pursue his dreams of being a dentist. But he’s one of those athletes that seems to have lost his joy of competing several years ago. I might actually be sad if I see his name in the Nats lineup this time.

Messing: The Alaskan with the crazy jumping ability and the unfortunate inability (thus far) to bring his best to Nationals... has decided to cross the border. According to his website, he plans to compete for Canada this season. Assuming he qualifies for their Nationals (??), it’ll be interesting to see how he stacks up against the likes of quad royalty (Kevin Reynolds) and young firecrackers (Nam Nguyen).

Speaking of the Top Canadian Men (again, by AGE)... 

Jeremy Ten (25, 1 GP assignment)—finished 6th
Kevin Reynolds (24, 2 GP assignments)—finished 2nd
Elladj Balde (23, 1 GP assignment)—finished 4th
Patrick Chan (age 23, at least part of season off)—finished 1st
Liam Firus (22, 1 GP assignment)—finished 3rd 
Andrei Rogozine (21)—finished 7th
Nam Nguyen (16, 2 GP assignments)—finished 5th
Roman Sandovsky (15, in Junior GP)—finished 8th

Welcome to the group of guys Keegan Messing will face if January if he competes at Nationals... the oldest of which seemed to spontaneously announce his own post-Nationals retirement on Twitter earlier this year. But Jeremy Ten, like another “Jeremy” we’ve discussed, appears to have had a change of heart. No one else, save for Chan, has announced any sort of break. I highlighted Chan’s name, though, to point out he’s still relatively young in this field—one more reason why, as I said last time, I hope he sticks around at least a few more years.

Top 12 ladies at US Nationals by AGE
Ashley Wagner (23, 2 GP assignments)—finished 4th
Mirai Nagasu (21, 2 GP assignments)—finished 3rd
Samantha Cesario (21, 2 GP assignments)—finished 5th
Christina Gao (20, two GP assignments)—finished 8th
Agnes Zawadzki (20, taking year off)—finished 11th
Ashley Cain (19, 2 GP assignments)—finished 12th
Gracie Gold (19, 2 GP assignments)—finished 1st
Courtney Hicks (19 this winter, 2 GP assignments)—finished 6th
Barbie Long (18 this month)—finished 7th
Hannah Miller (18 in Fall, no GPs but has new music for this season)—finished 9th
Leah Kaiser (17 in a few weeks, Junior GP assignments)—finished 10th
Polina Edmunds (16, 2 GP assignments)—finished 2nd

With the U.S. leading ladies still relatively young—you know that’s gotta be true when 21 year-old Nagasu is now among the “elders”—there aren’t as many here that I look at and say “WHY are they continuing??” With the only thing close to a retirement announced by way of 14th place finisher Kiri Baga (who will now focus on continuing her education), 2010 Olympian-turned-Stanford-Student Rachael Flatt, and two-time Champ Alissa Czisny (who did not compete last January, and formally announced her retirement plans this past spring)... my focus falls to Wagner and Zawadski. Wagner may feel she has something yet to prove (at Nationals, anyway), and after what happened this past January, who can blame her? Whether or not she competes through another 4-year Olympic cycle is another story, but for now, I support her decision to continue. Zawadzki, on the other hand, is at enough of a crossroads to Be On A Break— something that’s become fairly commonplace among the world’s elite skaters, whether they’ve achieved the sport’s greatest heights or not. If you’ve read anything about the unique sacrifices Zawadzki’s family has made in order for her to compete at this level (and I say that with an emphasis on unique; stories of familial sacrifice with top skaters are everywhere), then you might be able to appreciate her decision all the more. As for whether or not she should return... given the wild ride she’s had with placements the past few years (some blame her skating, some blame judges propping her up/giving up on her), it’s a tough call. I’d love to hear what you think if you have an opinion!

Top 8 Ladies at Canadian Nationals by AGE

Amelie Lacoste (25, RETIRED)—finished 3rd
Alexandra Najarro (21) – finished 6th
Veronika Mallet (20, 1 GP assignment)—finished 4th
Marianne Ouellet (19)—finished 8th
Katelyn Osmond (18, 2 GP assignments)—finished 1st
Alaine Chartrand (18, 2 GP assignments)—finished 5th
Julianne Seguin (17, doing JGP pairs for sure)—finished 7th
Gabrielle Daleman (16, 2 GP assignments)—finished 2nd


Since 2010, when Olympic Bronze Medalist Joannie Rochette (now 28) has essentially stopped competing, Canada has only lost a couple of its consistent top women: 26 year-old Cynthia Phaneuf, and—as of this season—25 year-old Lacoste, who most recently won bronze (but missed out of the two available Olympic spots). And with teenagers Osmond and Daleman taking the top two spots last year, it might be a while before any of Canada’s finest decide to call it a day (and a career). 


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Should They Stay or Should They Go? 2014 Olympians Taking "A Break"

So, we’re less than three weeks from the start of the 2014-15 Junior Grand Prix (what I call figure skating’s pre-season)... what better time to look at the list of the elite skaters of the world who are “taking a break”, as has become so common in post-Olympic seasons, and ponder whether or not they should return to competition...?

(I’m looking to do a similar post dealing strictly with U.S. and Canadian skaters, particularly those that didn’t make it to the Olympic or World teams, but I hate the thought of getting *zero* posts up in July! So I’m going to focus on the world list for now.)

Mao Asada, JAPAN
Best Hardware: 2010 Olympic Silver Medal, 3 World Championships
Placement in Sochi Olympics: 6th
Age: 23
Asada says: Her chances of staying competitive beyond last season are 50/50; she’s taking this next year off to rest and focus on other areas of her life.
State of the Skate says: Although she gave some of the best efforts of her whole career this past season, and might very well make it through another Olympic cycle... I’m not sure why she’d want to. If she learned anything this year, it’s that satisfaction and redemption can take many, many forms. She’s competed at the senior international level for NINE years, and won most everything there is to win! Here’s hoping she gets her well-earned rest, and then moves on to all the other areas of greatness that await her.

Carolina Kostner, ITALY
Best Hardware: 2012 World Championship, 2014 Olympic Bronze Medal
Placement in Sochi Olympics: 3rd
Age: 27
Kostner says: She’s sitting out this season (according to social media).
State of the Skate says: Guess who’s been on the senior world scene even longer than Asada? And gone from the highs to the lows and back again even more often? Time to call it, Carolina. Just because you didn’t end with your best performance (2014 Worlds FS) doesn’t mean your stellar Olympic performances won’t live on forever.

Virtue/Moir, CANADA
Best Hardware: 2010 Olympic Gold Medal, 2014 Olympic Silver Medal, 2 World titles
Placement in Sochi Olympics: 2nd
Age: 25/26
V/M say: No GP series for them this year; no further decisions yet.

Davis/White, U.S.A.
Best Hardware: 2014 Olympic Gold Medal, 2010 Olympic Silver Medal,
Placement in Sochi Olympics:
Age: 27/26
D/W say: Taking the entire season off; no further decisions yet.

To both of them, State of the Skate says: Why are we even talking about this? RETIRE. You have nothing left to prove. (And Charlie, my dear, you’ve got a wedding to pretend to help with.)

Patrick Chan, CANADA
Best Hardware: 2014 Olympic Silver Medal, 3 World Championships
Placement in Sochi Olympics: 2nd
Age: 23
Chan says: No GP season this year; unsure about the rest.
State of the Skate says: Plot twist! Despite the way he annoys me whenever he opens his mouth to the press, I wouldn’t mind seeing Chan continue to compete. Despite all his successes, he hasn’t really put it all together yet. And as deftly talented as he is... that’s a shame. Wouldn’t it be nice to see him win at least ONE World title and not feel like Chanflation had anything to do with it?


Coming next: Either the all-North American edition of the above, or a look at the pairs epidemic (self-explanatory, yes?). Got a preference? Mention it in the comments!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Skating's Last Straw? Pt 2: The Rocky Road to Dublin

**NOTE** 
Just getting this out of the way... I’ve obviously been neglecting my blogging duties of late, and again I apologize for that. Work has been steady and constant; I’m always appreciative and grateful when that happens, but that’s also when State of the Skate is most often forced to take a back seat (especially in the off-season). I’m likely going through a bit of blog burnout too, as I’ve maintained SOTS for 6 years now without any official hiatus, off-season or otherwise. But let’s see if I can get back on track now... not with talk about Meryl & Maks (winners!), or Charlie & Tanith (engaged!!) or the epidemic of pair breakups (yet), or the onset of lyrics in competitive skating music (God help me!!!)... but a finish (or continuation, for now) to what I started back in April. And thanks for your patience!

SO, what’s been happening regarding Cinquanta, resignations, and that pesky short program since I last posted? Let’s see...

BACKTRACK PART 1: First, I want to point out this article from The Wire that ran very shortly after Adelina Sotnikova won Olympic Gold. Not only is it a fine reminder, several months after the fact, of what so many specifically got up in arms about in the first place... it is DEEP and it is DETAILED as it digs into the current scoring system (and the scoring of that event in particular) with video clips, protocol screen shots, and overall gusto:

BACKTRACK PART 2: Next, let’s backtrack to Dick Button’s fab op-ed that ran in Newsweek on 3/31.
Did you catch it? If not, here’s another one of my article breakdowns...

1st paragraph points out the decade-plus decline of figure skating and the fact that the ISU has been run by “speed skaters” for nearly 40 years...

2ndgraph discusses the indignation that erupted in Sochi when Sotnikova won over Kim Yu-Na... the complaint filed by Korea... the fact that the event already had questionable judging choices prior to the judging itself... and that an online protest petition has two million signatures...

3rd graph discusses how we need to go back to question of why speed skaters are running figure skating...

4th graph points out problems with the current judging system: rewarding falls over artistry, anonymous judges, etc.

5th graph declares it’s time for figure skaters to take back their sport... says the ISU needs to split into two organizations... and that speed skaters seem to hold all the cards right now.

6th graph says it’ll take a fight, but Sochi proved that the skating public is getting more & more outraged... ISU must return respect to judges and all that goes with it. We can find allies in associations from Australia, Japan, South Korea, hopefully others. “Figure skaters of the world, the opportunity is now. Take back your sport. Get the foxes out of the henhouse.”

BACKTRACK PART 3:

In mid-April, USA Today's Nancy Armour reported South Korea’s complaint filed on a "disciplinary or ethical offense" which, unlike one filed for the results of a competition, can be accepted up to 60 days after said event. Complaint can then be referred to a full panel, or rejected outright... the decision is subject to appeal. (Sadly, it's now been “rejected outright” as per this ISU document)

BACKTRACK PART 4:
And then there was this Reuters story from May 6...

From about a month ago, this piece doesn’t necessarily share anything new—the petitions (some engineered by 2-time World Champ Tim Wood), the reasons why, the fact that “the ISU didn’t respond to requests for comment from Reuters”... ah, there’s the significance. Not that the ISU blew off an interview request, but that the request—the article itself—was from Reuters. That’s Big Time in terms of newswires, right up there with Associated Press. Three months post-Olympics and the demands for Speedy’s hide had not only NOT faded... they’d commanded a mainstream audience. Could there be hope for us??

BACKTR—wait! CURRENT, THIS-MONTH TRACK
Then came last week’s (June 2) article from Phil Hersh, a “Danny Downer” for figure skating of late if ever there was one (I’ll give Christine Brennan the “Debbie Downer” honors). I put off reading his “ISU bosshas driven skating towards a ditch” piece as long as I could, but... well, I’ve got a job to do here. The gist of it, in case you don’t want to click on the link:

+  Another recap of how much money figure skating has lost in revenue since 1994 (when Speedy happened to take over)

+  Another assessment that both North America and Europe lack the talent and overall appeal to get skating anywhere close to its mid-90s popular heyday... along with the sentiment that South Korea’s interest is bound to decline now that Kim Yuna has retired. (Nothing was mentioned of how the sport is likely to continue thriving in Japan, but I suppose fans cannot live on Hanyu’s Pooh box of tissues alone...)

+  A mention of the petition Tim Wood started, calling for Speedy’s resignation and generating 33,500 signatures... followed by the grim (and probably true) declaration “It won’t happen”, referencing the meeting of the ISU Congress taking place in Dublin this week

+ Then he delineates why “it won’t happen” (the notion of him voluntarily stepping down is preposterous, and so is the idea of the ISU demanding his resignation—I assume that’s Hersh’s assessment, though he never says it directly)... Wood, for his part, seems to agree but gives the “couldn’t sit back idly and do nothing” explanation for starting the petition

+  He also quickly shuts down the re-proposed notion of figure skating and speed skating becoming separate entities, reminding us that the latter still needs the former far too much to let that happen

+ There are proposals submitted by both the US and Russia calling to end anonymous judging, but it would require backing by 2/3 of the 61 ISU member federations—a happening that Hersh (surprise!) considers highly unlikely

+ The silver lining to this whole damn cloud, if there is one... (reading from the article here)

The radical ideas Cinquanta proposed for both sports in a March internal letter obtained by the Tribune, including elimination of the short program in figure skating?  Not on the agenda for this Congress. 
(Except for the idea to make all senior free programs the same length of 4 minutes)

So there’s good news in that statement, right? No short program on the chopping block after all? But several questions linger: WHY are all those things “not on the agenda”? Who made that decision? Did the petitions influence that decision in ANY manner? Or are there ISU decision-makers that still tolerate Speedy for some confounded reason, but now draw the line at implementing the bulk of his senseless, rambling proposals?

Hersh didn’t answer any of these in his article, and that’s a surprising shame. If the petitions helped, we NEED that encouragement. If it was any other reason, we DESERVE to know it. We who love this sport—fans to athletes to coaches to everyone in between. Hope for figure skating’s future is scarce enough as it is... if this qualifies as hope, let us scrape as much of it out of the pail as we can!

I leave you with this: the image of two skating fans (or better said, former fans) protesting outside of the ISU Council being held in Dublin this week.  Though the article appears to be written by someone who is, at best, mildly amused by the sport and its scandals (just what we need!), I’m mighty glad the fans are there and they’ve garnished enough press to make the rounds on social media. Had the Council been held in or near any of the worlds’ skating hubs—Japan, South Korea, Eastern Europe, North America—maybe we’d have seen a lot more protesting taking place.

But, by Speedy Cinquanta’s choice, they’re convening in Dublin. As in IRELAND.  I mean no offense to my ancestral land with this statement, but Ireland has not yet developed into a hotbed of figure skating marvelousness... which surely translated into a minimum of “fans who gave a rusty hoot” about the sport (apologies to Button), and might show up with the goal of at least netting the ISU even more negative publicity.

Which is just the latest example of why I’m sure Speedy knows exactly what he’s doing.

And why those protesters are two of my favorite people in the world right now.








Saturday, April 12, 2014

Skating's Last Straw? Pt. 1: The Cliff Notes

Role-playing time! You be the voice in italics, and I’ll be... the other one.

What?! No Worlds recap yet?!

Sorry. And this post isn’t going to be about it either.

Wait... maybe you’re just holding out until NBC FINALLY airs its coverage this weekend...

Well, sort of... in that my recap will come sometime after this weekend’s airing (4 to 6 PM ET, preceded by Stars on Ice at 3PM!). But that’s more a coincidence than anything else.

I don’t get it. What could be more important to a figure skating blog than to cover a major event like the World Championships?

I am SO happy you asked.

If you pay attention to the other blogs (as you should!), or the columnists, or the articles of general off-ice news, you might’ve gotten word by now that ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta, aka Speedy, aka Buffoon Intent on Crushing The Sport We Love Into An Unrecognizable Slush, has made yet another attempt to leave his mark on skating while he still has the wherewithal to do it. But as we know by now, damn near any attempt to leave his mark has all the benefit of a deep, ugly scratch on a treasured vinyl record.

Yeah, I’ve heard something about it. Lots of long articles I don’t really have time to read... especially when doing so is only going to upset me.

OK, I get that. In fact I REALLY get that. But what if, in the body of this post, I provided summaries of three of these important articles for you to read instead? And furthermore, what if some of this reading led to a call to action you might be able to get behind, no matter how much time you have to spare?

Go on...

Well, let’s start with Peter Murray at Blazing Blades and his post “Cinquanta’s Leadership—Off the DeepEnd”, who listed (verbatim) Speedy’s seven proposals for change in figure skating... followed by a lovingly crafted explanation of why each proposal is an underscore to just how batshit crazy this “leader” has become.

The proposal lowlights, in (very) short:
-- Preserving the anonymity of judges
-- Creating uniform performance times
-- Eliminating the short program


Concluding and/or bottom line: It’s time for a vote of no confidence for Ottavio Cinquanta and for the ISU Congress to demand his resignation.

To that end, Murray is now circulating a petition you might be interested in signing; find a link for it here. 

Next, let’s move on to Ryan Stevens’ “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Cinquanta?” post on what my newly-teenaged son will tell you is the best-titled skating blog out there

It’s nine paragraphs; here’s the gist of each:
 +     Cinquanta runs the ISU almost like a dictatorship.
+   Casting a spotlight on his ham-handed, extended stay in office, Stevens imagines if George W. Bush had been allowed 4 terms at the top (!).
+   Recalling the early years of Cinquanta, the pros and cons of awarding prize money to Olympic-eligible athletes & its effect on pro skating...
-   How 2002 changed everything. “The one (thing) that has been consistent through the good, bad and ugly figure skating over the last 20 yrs has been Cinquanta’s iron fist rule,” Stevens says.
+      He maintains Cinquanta has little affection for artistry of sport...popularity has dropped... and he stayed in office while two below him were suspended during the Salt Like City judging scandal (and are, incidentally, back involved in the sport today).
-     Where are we today? Stevens asks. Angry, confused... Speedy has essentially dismissed the widely protested results of Ladies in Sochi, instead sending a “letter of personal opinions” to all ISU members  (see previous summary)
-     The cookie cutter programs of today are another result, causing fans to abandon the sport (he includes a quote from his recent Dick Button interview here).
-     The reality of the situation: things aren’t working, and we’re not going to see it get any better until the “next person steps up”.
-      Stevens’ call to action: Contact your ISU rep... address your concerns about Cinquanta's leadership and urge them to take action, save the short program, and  demand accountability and judging that isn't anonymous. Share your opinions and have your say with the people that have voting power and the right to commence impeachment proceedings, because these people have the power to enact real and quantitative change in skating's future...
-      He then follows with a FULL LIST OF COUNTRIES/email addresses for readers to use.
-- 

And there’s a great follow-up—real letters that have been written already!—right here: http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/2014/04/the-letters-skating-community-calls-for.html

One more... Monica Friedlander’s article “Skating Chief Puts Short Program on the Chopping Block” which looks at the Short Program proposal specifically. 
 -- 
Why would the entire figure skating world allow a speed skater with no understanding of figure skating and a clear disdain for its artistic side to constantly change the sport’s rules willy-nilly and in the process drive skating into oblivion? When is enough, enough?—Monica Friedlander

She continues (original article is 17 paragraphs):

-- This proposal, if it goes through, is the “last nail in the sport’s coffin”

-- It makes no sense to abolish the SP, which never caused any controversy... yet keep anonymous judging, which is nothing BUT controversy

-- Cinquanta has always had a determination to make figure skating less artistic/more difficult, ignoring some of the very things that make it what it is

-- Cinquanta came to power at skating’s peak—but ever since he implemented IJS things have been tanking (Well, there are MANY factors as I discussed in Skating on Air but yes, that’s the centerpiece in many minds)

-- Abolishing the SP for no real reason is a blatant abuse of power

-- Explains the difference between previous radical changes (the addition of the SP, the deletion of figures) and this one

-- The many benefits of the SP: its intent, the suspense it builds, it’s a different type of program to see; it’s a showcase for some skaters lacking FS endurance

-- There will be too much pressure if it’s all put into one program... making it even harder to skate clean than it is now

-- Wonders flat-out: Is he mad? More & more in skating community say yes... but...  “Tragically for the sport, the ISU is not much of a democracy, and the chances of Cinquanta’s proposals to fail are slim.”

(THIS IS WHY COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION IS IMPERATIVE)

-- Call to Action: The time is long overdue for the skating community to come together as one and:
  1. Reject Cinquanta’s proposals.
  2. Demand his resignation.
  3. Request that the figure skating and speed skating branches of the ISU be split asunder.

Finally (from Friedlander): “In a sport where everyone fears consequences for their actions and words, the actions suggested above are a lot to ask. But when compared with the likelihood of figure skating being destroyed altogether, what does anyone have left to lose?”

And she is now part of a petition too... hers has the benefit of being backed by Tim Wood and Bill Fauver, two notable names in the sport’s past. Check it out and/or sign it here:


Will these posts/summaries drum up more debates than signatures? And why might it finally be the time when (as Friedlander said) enough is enough? I’ll address these things and more—including additional summaries!—next time.