Wednesday, December 6, 2017

2017 GP Final Predictions


The rapid-fire timing of these competitive events is definitely getting to me.

Skate America ended over Thanksgiving weekend, and my plans for posting about that sometimes bizarre event fell to the wayside when all the writing I postponed over Thanksgiving weekend snapped its fingers at me (if writing had fingers, that is… don’t take it too literally… I’ll move on now).

Then last week there was continued catching up to do (spoiler alert: I’m a slow writer). So still… no SkAM recap. There was some pretty big news about Russia and the upcoming Olympics, but no SkAM recap.

As I turned something in today I thought Hey, now I can finally get that SkAM recap done just before I do predictions for the GP Final! Until I was flipping through my list of upcoming recordings and found that the GP Final starts at 4:30 AM (Eastern Time) on THURSDAY, not FRIDAY. Whoopsie.

So now we launch into Plan B, or maybe Plan C: No SkAM recap for now… jump straight to GPF predictions… AND, because time is tight, no explanations on why I’ve set my predictions as I have. At least not yet.

PAIRS
1st: Sui/Han (CHN)
2nd Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)
3rd Savchenko/Massot (GER)
4th Duhamel/Radford (CAN)
5th Stolbova/Klimov (RUS)
6th Yu/Zhang (CHN)

MEN
1st Nathan Chen (USA)
2nd Shoma Uno (JPN)
3rd Sergei Voronov (RUS)
4th Mikhail Kolyada (RUS)
5th Adam Rippon (USA)
6th Jason Brown (USA)

DANCE
1st Papdakis/Cizeron (FRA)
2nd Virtue/Moir (CAN)
3rd Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
4th Shibutanis (USA)
5th Chock/Bates (USA)
6th Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)

LADIES
1st Wakaba Higuchi (JPN)
2nd Alina Zagitova (RUS)
3rd Maria Sotskova (RUS)
4th Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN)
5th Satoko Miyahara (JPN)

6th Carolina Kostner (ITA)

Friday, November 24, 2017

2017 ISU Grand Prix Round 6: Skate America Preview & Predictions

The ISU 2017-18 Grand Prix season boils down to Skate America, taking place in Lake Placid today (Friday) through Sunday. Here are my predictions:

MEN
GOLD: Nathan Chen (USA)
SILVER: Jin Boyang (CHN)
BRONZE: Adam Rippon (USA)
DARK HORSE: Sergei Voronov (RUS)
WILD CARD: Maxim Kovtun (RUS)

Depending on how many Americans tune in to NBC, Olympic Channel or IceNetwork for this year’s Skate America, this event could be a sort of “introduction” to The Kid in the Commercials. Even if Nathan doesn’t deliver every jump exactly as planned, I think he’ll prove as formidable as advertised at this event.
The only newbie to my collection of names here is Kovtun, who withdrew from events earlier in the season with a back injury, so…. Given his recent competitive history… better make that a DOUBLE wild card. (If such a thing exists.)

PAIRS
GOLD: Savchenko/Massot (GER)
SILVER: Duhamel/Radford (CAN)
BRONZE: Yu/Zhang (CHN)
DARK HORSE: Zabiiako/Enbert (RUS)
WILD CARD: Any U.S. pairs team at this event


News went out earlier today that Bruno Massot has finally passed all the requirements for German citizenship after several attempts, so I think it would be especially cool if that feeling of relief was demonstrated in his and Alina’s skating this weekend. But something I look to do with ALL the teams at SkAM… monitor how the side-by-side jumps are going, and how it relates to overall placement. Just a little experiment which should be particularly worthwhile given that 3 of the 8 teams in contention are Americans.

LADIES
GOLD: Polina Tsurskaya (RUS)
SILVER: Ashley Wagner (USA)
BRONZE: Gabrielle Daleman (CAN)
DARK HORSE: Satoko Miyahara/ Kaori Sakomoto (both JPN)
WILD CARD: Bradie Tinnell (USA)

I’m as much of a homer as anyone, so I’d really like to see Ashley win her final time at SkAM. But Tsurskaya has the jump passes and the track record to get the win, so rather than jinx Ash’s chances… ;)
Daleman’s something of a longshot, given how she handled her SP lead at Cup of China a few weeks ago, but I still think she’s got a better shot at bronze than the Japanese women at this event. Tinnell—whose best finish at U.S.Senior Nats is 6th, in 2016—is  making her GP debut at SkAM and isn’t really “in the conversation” for PyeongChang at this point (as Ryan Bradley and others like to say ad nauseum on The Olympic Channel). But we all know stars have been born here under stranger circumstances, so…


DANCE
GOLD: Shibutanis (USA)
SILVER: Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)
BRONZE: Gilles/Poirier (CAN)
DARK HORSE: Sinitsina/Katsalapov (RUS)
WILD CARD: Hawayek/Baker & Parsons/Parsons (both USA)

This seems pretty self-explanatory so I’ll just leave it there. I was going to try and explain who still had a shot at making the GPF, but I’m certain I’m not the best one for that gig. I CAN tell you that Virtue/Moir, Papdakis/Cizeron, and Chock/Bates have made the cut thus far…


FYI: NBC is scheduled to air the Men’s Free Skate LIVE on Saturday and the Ladies’ Free Skate LIVE on Sunday, both at 4PM ET. Terry Gannon, Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir—who will be the “A” team covering figure skating in February—are on hand this weekend as well.

2017 Internationaux de France Roundup

Internationaux de France was yet another stop on the 2017-18 GP circuit that brought as many head-scratching moments as it did awe-inducing performances. In fact… since there isn’t much time left until Skate America (GP stop #6) gets started, I’m ditching the discipline-by-discipline approach this time. Instead:

THE AWE-INDUCING PERFORMANCES…

*  Misha Ge (UZB). “One more year,” he said. No quads, just a re-dedication to his love of the sport, we were told. What was underestimated: how much the sport would benefit from this decision. At an event where more men than ever seemed to come unglued at free skate time, Ge was serene, skated clean, and came away with something he never had before: a Grand Prix medal.

*  Yuna Shiraiwa (JPN). NHK left her in 8th place, and IFP didn’t SEEM to demonstrate that much improvement if you go by her placement (6th). But in a field of ladies’ short programs so troubled that some of us were left wondering if a curse had descended upon Grenoble, Shiraiwa’s rose enough above the fray for 3rd place. Then she also managed to hang in with the powerhouses that emerged on day 2, only faltering a bit in the final minute of her FS. In a sea of incredible 200+ total scores, Shiraiwa sat just outside the pack with 193.18. Is she considered a serious contender for those 2 Japanese Olympic spots? She should be.

*  James/Cipres (FRA). Every time I see them take the ice this season I get a little more excited about their skating, and their PyeongChang prospects. This time the GP medal they won was silver, and the place they came in on the FS portion was 1st (outskating the reigning World Bronze Medalists in the process).  Momentum much?

* Weaver/Poje (CAN). True, Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA) were nothing short of breathtaking yet again. But watching Wea/Po at this event felt a little bit like watching their career compressed into 2 days: a twizzle falter takes the otherwise-on-track-for-the-podium team down to 5th, leaving them little option but to throw themselves into their Je Suis Malade FD and hope for the best…. And in the end, they still finish off the podium. But it must feel like the world is on their side for all the love they’ve been shown. Hopefully that’ll help.

THE HEAD-SCRATCHERS:

*  Many, if not most, of the quad-attempters. The early strategy talked about so frequently this season for USA’s Vincent Zhou seems to have spread to other camps, and that strategy is GO FOR ALL THE QUADS… and like spaghetti thrown against a wall, see what sticks. One little problem I have with this: skaters aren’t spaghetti. If they aren’t able to land the jump clean, I’m finding myself more eager to see their keister hit the ice than an awkward, pained attempt to keep on their feet that could very well result in an ankle injury similar to what Yuzuru Hanyu is recovering from right now. And this from the likes of Olympic medal contenders like Uno and Fernandez! Yikes! We get it, guys. Why try just one quad when you can try four? Eh, I can think of a couple reasons…

*  Meanwhile, over in the ladies side of things I see Elizaveta Tuktumysheva in a high-stakes battle of her own, not unlike the one being waged this season by USA’s Mirai Nagasu. Each is struggling to get back on their national podium after several years away from it. Each is potentially dealing with a deep pool of talented competition (though at times this GP season has tried to prove otherwise. Each has a “secret weapon” (commonly known as a triple axel) that could, if properly executed, get them the higher points they seek. But mar the jump, and the rest of the program runs the risk of having the life sucked out of it. Tukta suffered this fate in France. While she didn’t seem gutted by her performance (or lack thereof)—it’s not like she had a chance of making the Final—the wheels of Russian Nats outcomes had to be churning in her head.

* Nagasu might not have the fight for an Olympic spot that you might expect, however. Polina Edmunds received praise in Grenoble for “moving in the right direction” points-wise (finishing 16 points higher than at Finlandia Trophy), but still finished in the double digits placement wise (10th).

*  The good news for Chock/Bates part 1: they were able to profit from Wea/Po’s mistake and finish 2nd in France. Good news part 2: They’ve made the GPF for the fourth year in a row. The bad news: they are still Chock/Bates, and as Charlie White opined during Olympic Channel coverage last weekend… they just don’t seem to possess the je ne sai quoi to take them to the world podium. At least, not anymore. 

Finally, I’ll close with this note about 37 year-old British pairs skater Zoe Jones. I pointed her out in my preview post for one very obvious reason (her age). But even though she and partner Chris Boyadji struggled mightily in their GP debut, her efforts should be celebrated for a number of reasons:

1) Being a singles skater in the first act of her career, she took on a whole new, elite-level discipline of the sport incredibly late in the game. Most of the 30-something women we see competing pairs have been doing it for EONS. Not in this case.

2) Unlike 34 year-old Deanna Stellato of the U.S., she’s a mother of three—nine year-old twins and a four year old. I cannot even BEGIN to fathom competing at this level when you’re on to a whole other part of your existence (motherhood).


3) Something I learned from my FB/Twitter friend Linda Tannock McChlery (a former ladies champion for Scotland) was that Jones had the additional burden of competing in Grenoble while suffering from the flu! She and Boyadji got the GP assignment only a few weeks before it happened, and since (unfortunately) they weren’t able to secure a spot for the Olympics due to a subpar showing earlier in the season, one would reason there was little reason to knock themselves out trying to make the most of what might prove to be their only GP assignment ever. Yet that’s exactly what they—and especially SHE—did. What a story.

Friday, November 17, 2017

2017 ISU Grand Prix Round 5: Internationaux de France Preview & Predictions

Gotta keep this short and sweet-- the event is about 5 minutes from starting as I type this sentence!!

MEN 
GOLD: Shoma Uno (JPN)
SILVER: Alexander Samarin (RUS)
BRONZE: Alexei Bychenko (ISR)

DARK HORSE: Max Aaron (USA), Vincent Zhou (USA)
WILD CARD:  Misha Ge (UZB), Javier Fernandez (ESP)

Fernandez as a wild card?? Why not? Whether his poor showing in China was due to illness or some other force, it still leaves me with no idea what to expect. And let’s face it… even if he improves on last time, he still might not make the podium.

LADIES:                       
GOLD: Alina Zagitova (RUS)
SILVER: Maria Sotskova (RUS)
BRONZE: Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN)

DARK HORSE: Mai Mihara (JPN)
WILD CARD: Polina Edmunds (USA)

I’d rather see Osmond win again, but between The Red Ballerina (Zag)’s bonus point strategy and the remarkable consistency between both Russian ladies… I think they have the edge(s) here. And if you’ve seen the now 19 year-old Edmunds lately, you might understand when I say it’s kinda like she’s a kid from a TV sitcom that you come back to a couple years later and say Wow, she’s not like I remember her AT ALL. Then to make things a little more complicated, her comeback started with a poor showing at Finlandia Trophy (13th). Hoping the best for her here, of course.


PAIRS
GOLD: Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)
SILVER: James/Cipres (FRA)
BRONZE: Peng/Jin (CHN)

DARK HORSE: Della Monica/Guarise (ITA), Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch (CAN)
WILD CARD: Jones/Boyadji (GBR)

A tip I just learned: Zoe Jones (of Jones/Boyadji) is 37 YEARS OLD.
She’s like the USA’s Deanna Stellato, if Stellato was 37 YEARS OLD. (She’s only 34.)
Welcome to what is already my favorite story of the Internationaux de France.

DANCE
GOLD: Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA)
SILVER: Weaver/Poje (CAN)
BRONZE: Chock/Bates (USA)

DARK HORSE: Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)
WILD CARD: Guignard/Fabbri (ITA)


Because I don’t think C/B can challenge Wea/Po… especially now that Wea/Po has its secret WeaPo(n) of “Je Suis Malade” back. (see what I did there)

2017 NHK Trophy Roundup

I managed some pretty good guesses on my NHK picks… the only completely-out-of-nowhere interloper on the podium was Sergei Voranov. Clearly I should have given him more credit! After all, he has managed 7 GP medals since 2007, not to mention a bronze at the GP Final in 2015. It’s just that he tends to come undone in his free skates, when endurance comes into play a lot more (and of course him being 30 years old doesn’t help the endurance battle much!). Anyway, props to him for his first-ever GP gold!

A few other thoughts about the men:

*   Let Yuzuru Hanyu’s cringe-inducing fall on a practice quad lutz serve as a PSA that what happened to him could happen to ANY of the guys currently training quads so hard.  The risk factor is so very high, and we tend to forget when so much is going well… Hopefully Hanyu will make a full recovery, and Brian Orser & Co. will work OVERTIME keep him from trying to rush things.

*  Though he couldn’t have beaten Voronov on the technical side, I was rather disappointed to see Jason Brown go down on both triple axel attempts (effectively ending any chance at podium finish). Not sure if I’ve seen that since… maybe when he was first including them? (Maybe not even then!)

*  Adam Rippon’s first major event since breaking his foot earlier in the year was just that—an EVENT! And then to add icing to that cake, the guy turns 28 that weekend and ends up being the youngest of the three men on the podium (with bronze going to 29 year-old Alexei Bychenko).  

I’ve actually got nothing to say about pairs this time; the podium unfolded as I figured it would, and the front-runners for that sole U.S. Olympic spot (The Knierims) were middle of the pack instead of at the bottom. Side by side jumps were a no-go. Again. I’m bored talking about this already. NEXT!

About the ladies—I got this podium right too, so just a couple things:

*  Much as I wish Satoko Miyahara’s “first major event since…” proved as successful as Rippon’s, it clearly was not. Will she turn out to be someone who peaked in the wrong part of the Olympic cycle? Last year at this time I’d have thought her to be a lock for PyeongChang. But stack last weekend’s efforts against those of Mai Mihara, Wakaba Higuchi, and senior newcomer Marin Honda… and suffice to say the pressure is on. Japan Nationals, by the way, start December 20.

*  Meanwhile, the U.S. Nationals will start on December 29—and if GP performances are indicative of anything, I’d say Mirai Nagasu is gaining ground and Mariah Bell is losing it, even though neither one of them has done better than 4th (Nagasu’s placement at NHK). But we’ve also seen many a skater flounder on the circuit only to completely kill it at Nats (Karen Chen and Polina Edmunds come to mind), so…

*  Gotta give a little shoutout to Russia’s Alena Leonova, who has struggled since her 2012 peak amongst the deep pool of Russian girls-to-women. She threw down the cleanest FS at NHK that anyone’s seen from her in EONS. Even though I’ve never been much of a fan, it was quite gratifying to see. (Russian Nats, by the way, are on a similar schedule to Japan Nats and will start on December 20.)

And finally, a few words about the stunningly low FD score of the UK’s own comeback kids, Coomes/Buckland. Though they were 5th after the SD with a decent score of 65+, their FD only brought in a 92.51 (25 points less than Virtue/Moir, and 12 points below 4th place-finishers Sinitsina/Katsalapov). I did something I rarely do, especially at GP events—broke out the protocols and tried to make sense of Coo/Buck’s harsh score. As you might guess in an ice dance event with no egregious errors, it was all about LEVELS:

**Only ONE level 4 (their curve lift)

**A level 2 for their diagonal step sequence, netting them only a 6.07 compared to a 10.64 for Cappellini/Lannotte

**Level 3s for most everything else, including twizzles (a 5.77 for them vs. an 8.14 for the level 4 twizzles of Sinitsina/Katsalapov) and their dance spin (a 5.46 vs. a 6.80 for S/K).


Coo/Buck’s total NHK score of 158.15 was light years behind the personal best they obtained at Nebelhorn earlier this season (a 177.13, which would’ve put them in virtual tie with S/K here). The good news, though, is that they’ve presumably got much more time to work than others I’ve mentioned here… their next pressure-cooker event isn’t until Europeans in January.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

2017 ISU Grand Prix Round 4: NHK Preview & Predictions

Here are my picks for Stop #4 on the GP Circuit (NHK Trophy)...

PAIRS
GOLD: Sui/Han (CHN)
SILVER: Stolbova/Klimov (RUS)
BRONZE: Astakhova/Rogonov (RUS)

DARK HORSE: Seguin/Bilodeau (CAN)
WILD CARD: Scimeca-Knierim/Knierim (USA)

Everyone above has already skated at a GP event this season except the Knierims. Much as I’d love to predict a podium finish for them outright… well, as I said… we’ve seen all the others :) 

LADIES
GOLD: Evegenia Medvedeva (RUS)
SILVER: Carolina Kostner (ITA)
BRONZE: Polina Tsurskaya (RUS)

DARK HORSE: Satoko Miyahara (JPN)
WILD CARD: Mariah Bell (USA), Mirai Nagasu (USA)

Medved and Kostner finished 1-2 at Rostelecom a few weeks ago, and I don’t see a lot coming between them doing the same this weekend. At least, not a lot I feel super-confident about: Tsurskaya (making her GP debut) was a top-rank junior competitor, and  Miyahara is the 2015 World Silver Medalist… who hasn’t competed in a major event since last year’s GP Final. I can’t wait to see her back in action this weekend, but is there some rust to shake off those itty-bitty blades? We shall see.

MEN

GOLD: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
SILVER:  Jason Brown (USA)
BRONZE: Alexei Bychenko (ISR)

DARK HORSE: Adam Rippon (USA)
WILD CARD: Dmitri Aliev (RUS)

BIG NOTE ON THIS ONE… earlier today (Thursday), there were reports (and corresponding video) that Hanyu had taken a hard fall on a quad lutz in practice, causing him to refrain from any jumping for the rest of the day. As of this moment, he’s still competing as far as I know. But if he ends up scratching this event, that’s why. Or if he dials back his quads… that’s why.

But as long as he’s still gonna give it a go, I’ll keep him at the top of my predictions. I just don’t see anyone else coming close… which is why I’ve got Brown down for another silver GP medal here. (Though Bychenko will surely have the tougher jumping passes…)

IF Hanyu scratches, consider my predictions to be Brown-Bychenko-Rippon, with Aliev as the Dark Horse.

DANCE

GOLD: Virtue/Moir (CAN)
SILVER: Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)
BRONZE: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)

DARK HORSE: Coomes/Buckland (GBR)
WILD CARD: Siuitsina/Katsalapov (RUS)

Another late development at NHK was that Coomes/Buckland was coming in to replace Tobias/Tkachenko (ISR). That’s great news for us C/B fans, who have watched Penny agonize over a gob of months as she underwent surgery for a shattered kneecap (have you SEEN the scar on that?? Quite terrifying), pulled through all the therapy, and then kicked off this season with a pair of wins at Nebelhorn and Cup of Nice. I honestly don’t know how those victories will stack up against the top 3 here at NHK. I don’t think they’re quite at GP podium status yet. But I can’t wait to see them try…

As always, the Asian schedule will make it tough for me to follow all the NHK action in real time. But I’ll be keeping up with it all weekend anyway, so look for me on Twitter @KLBSt8ofSk8!



Wednesday, November 8, 2017

2017 Cup of China Roundup

I was due for a not-so-good week of predictions, and the results from last weekend’s Cup of China definitely fit that bill. I nailed down 3 of the 4 winners, but yikes! Not much else… at least some of those guesses were still in the ballpark. Some notes:

DANCE

*   Good Lord that Papadakis/Cizeron “Moonlight Sonata” free dance is a sight to behold. This weekend was my first time seeing it, and more than one genuine Oh, WOW came out of me during their inventive-yet-still-buttery lifts and spins. They are clearly not looking to forfeit their chance at OGM status.

*  I did it again—overestimated Bobrova/Soloviev’s finish… but I thought the fluke mistake they made at Rostelecom on their dance spin made most of the difference. Apparently not!

*  Thoughts on new Chock/Bates FD (“Imagine”): I like the contrast from last year’s “Under Pressure”. I like the universal idealistic theme. I like the whole package! And yet I wonder if it’ll be enough to let them shine in a crowded field of stars. What did YOU think?


LADIES

*  Alina Zagitova FTW I got right, but man this was a tough field… the top FOUR ladies had point totals over 200! And 5th through 7th place were within 5 points of 200! By comparison, only Skate Canada winner Kaetlyn Osmond broke 200 at that event… and the score earned there by bronze medalist Ashley Wagner would only have been good enough for 8th (!!) place in China.

*  While I’m very eager to see Satoko Miyahara return to competition next weekend at NHK, Wakaba Higuchi’s efforts are definitely growing on me.

*  Elena Radionova’s bronze medal may not seem like much, considering she came in 4th at Rostelecom (which means she’s far from a GPF lock). But if I were on the Olympic selection committee in Russia, her 3rd place here would be noteworthy for a few reasons:  1) Because she racked up over 200 points earning it, 2) Proving she held her own in a ladies event that may prove to be the toughest of the GP season, and 3) and she did so with all the pressure and disadvantages that come with being the final skater in such a competition.

MEN

*  What happened to Javier Fernandez? As I mentioned in the preview, I didn’t think he’d be in fighting shape to win against, specifically, the likes of Boyang Jin (who ultimately finished 2nd). But he was there without longtime coach Brian Orser, who was recovering from gall bladder surgery (word is that he’ll be back this weekend, accompanying Yuzuru Hanyu to NHK)… and probably more to the point, he was suffering “a stomach upset” according to IFS magazine. In any case, his 6th place finish at CoC takes him out of the running for the GP Final. Who will benefit? We’ll know for sure by the month’s end.

*  All apologies to Max Aaron! Vincent Zhou may have indeed been the U.S. man with the best chance at the CoC podium, as I suggested in my preview last week. But Aaron was the one that actually stood there when all was said and done (with Zhou finishing 4th). It was nice to see, too, given Aaron’s spotty history at non-Skate America GP events… 4th place at last year’s CoC was his best international finish until now.

*  Did I underestimate Mikhail Kolyada (who left CoC with his first GP title)? I named him a “dark horse” for the podium because he clearly had potential to be there… but he also hadn’t put together anything close to two clean programs in an event this season. He still hasn’t. His SP here, though, showed he is capable of landing one of the highest-quality quad lutzes known to the sport. The more he stands up on it in competition, the more consistent a threat he’ll be. (He HAS, in the meantime, already punched his ticket to the GPF!)

PAIRS

*  Who will be reigning World Champs (and CoC winners) Sui/Han’s fiercest foe this season? Maybe the question is WHAT, not “who”… with that “what” being the calendar, and the fact that Sui has either endured injuries or surgery recoveries in three of the past five seasons. Stay injury-free, kids. Skating needs you!

*  With a relatively shallow pool of pairs at CoC, it looked like there was a chance for an Italian team to make the podium—which is noteworthy since neither of the top two Italian teams have done so in their several years of competition. Alas, neither Della Monica/Guarise nor Marchei/Hotarek got it done. (Honors instead went to Canada’s Moore-Towers/Marinaro, giving them the second GP bronze of their partnership.)

*  Meanwhile with US pairs… yet ANOTHER second-to-last finish (this time for Cain/LeDuc). At this point, Scimeca-Knierim/Knierim are all but guaranteed for the sole U.S. Olympic pairs spot if they simply show up!


Onward to NHK! My preview and predictions will be posted Thursday.