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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

One More Time: 2014 World Figure Skating Championship Predictions

I was thinking about what I just wrote the other day about unexpected outcomes in post-Olympic World Championships, and that’s why you’ll see a special category among these 2014 Worlds predictions. Full-out Radar Buster (FoRB) means someone who has been “flying under the radar”, as we say, during the course of the 2013-14 season... not skating up to their potential, be it a physical thing, mental thing, or something we fans never quite understand for sure. I might not have pegged them correctly—why get shockingly accurate with my predictions this late in the year, right?—but be on the lookout for FoRBs in all the disciplines. This could be their time.

MEN’S PREDICTIONS

GOLD: Javier Fernandez, ESP
SILVER: Yuzuru Hanyu, JPN
BRONZE: Tatsuki Machida, JPN

Dark Horse: Maxim Kovtun, RUS
Full-out Radar-Buster: Takahiko Kozuka, JPN

Hanyu is the only OGM showing up at Worlds this time, but I don’t necessarily think a World title will be easy for him to get... even with his fellow medalists out of the picture (as they’ll be this week). Enter Fernandez, who was a mere 1.18 points from earning bronze in Sochi. Last year he became the first Spaniard to win any World figure skating medal. Maybe this year he’ll be the first to win gold.

My dark horse, Kovtun, is the Russian teen who won his Nationals, but was left behind on the Sochi bus as Evgeni Plushenko was the Olympics rep, not to mention the attention grabber (first for how he could skate and then for how he couldn’t). Kovtun proved at Europeans to be fallible under intense pressure; here, he might be able and ready to prove something else... and win back a 2nd Russian men’s spot at Worlds in the process.

And my FoRB is Kozuka because he’s had a so-so year to date, but pulled it together in time to make the podium at Japanese Nats... only to be passed over for Sochi by 5th place Takahashi. Two years ago he won silver at this event. I’d love to think anything’s possible for this guy.


LADIES PREDICTIONS

GOLD: Carolina Kostner, ITA
SILVER: Julia Lipnitskaia, RUS
BRONZE: Mao Asada, JPN

Dark Horse: Gracie Gold, USA
Full-out Radar-Buster: Kaetlyn Osmond, CAN

Ideally, Asada would win this one more time (with both triple axels intact, on home ice) and retire on that high note... but that may be too much to ask of her at this point. So instead, I’m hoping Kostner can ride the wave of confidence that buoyed her to Olympic bronze and net her second World title. I suspect Lipnitskaia will rebound from her time in the Sochi pressure cooker and return to form.

If Gold hits her 3/3 she should have a shot at bronze... especially if others at the top fumble. FoRB pick Osmond was chosen just because of a little feeling I have :-)... maybe her first top 5 finish, if not a medal?

PAIRS PREDICTIONS

GOLD: Savchenko/Szolkowy, GER
SILVER: Stolbova/Klimov, RUS
BRONZE: Moore-Towers/Moscovitch, CAN

Dark Horse: Peng/Zhang, CHN
Full-out Radar-Buster: Sui/Han, CHN

I’m going traditional with this one, mostly because I’m not sure what to expect with Stolbova/Klimov. They lit up Sochi, but Saitama? They DO seem to be on a roll, which is why I’m predicting the podium for them... just not THAT much of a roll. (But as you know by my Oly predictions alone, you might want to bet on the opposite outcome!)

I know I don’t have Duhamel/Radford up here... I guess I think they’ve already peaked this season (maybe with the Olympic team event in particular). I could be wrong, as M-T/M are the ones that finished higher in the pairs event and maybe they’ve already turned in their best, but it just feels like M-T/M’s turn right now. But look for both Chinese teams to crash the Canadian party...


ICE DANCE PREDICTIONS

GOLD: Ilinykh/Katsalapov, RUS
SILVER: Pechalat/Bourzat, FRA
BRONZE: Bobrova/Soloviev, RUS

Dark Horse: Weaver/Poje, CAN
Full-out Radar-Buster: Cappellini/Lanotte, ITA

I want to be wrong on this one in particular. It’s closing time for the veteran French team; they apparently wanted to wrap it all up last month, but popular demand pushed them to give it one more go. With both of the top North American teams out, this might be the most interesting discipline of the whole week... and I’d enjoy seeing Pech/Bour counterbalance their Sochi disappointment with a victory here. But I feel like the momentum is tipping the scales in I/K’s favor. Unless they have a glaring error, like they did at Euros (and the GP Final I think?)... then a spot-on P/B might get a chance.

And my Dark Horse and FoRB candidates might be interchangeable here... with dance having less placement fluctuation than singles, I don’t really think an “off-the-radar” team could suddenly leap into the medals. But there’s a tight race between five teams (who finished 3rd-7th in Sochi). One bummer stretch of twizzles amongst any of them could make the difference between victory and 4th place!


Everything gets started Tuesday night at 9PM Eastern Time—join me on Twitter for as much live-tweeting as I can manage @KLBSt8ofSk8!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Living in a Post-Olympic World(s)

It’s such a kettle of mixed emotions when it comes to World Figure Skating Championships in an Olympic year. For some athletes, it’s a stab at redemption following disappointment at the Games. For others, it’s the swan song that takes them into Olympic-eligible retirement. For a few, it’s both. For a few more, it’s neither—as they were either not part of the Olympic team, or were, but found satisfaction with their work there and see Worlds as simply the next logical step in their journey. Oh, and every single competitor at the event is likely to be feeling the fatigue (and sometimes, consequential illness) that comes with the final event of a longer-and-more-stressful-than-usual season.

Feelings vary for skating fans too. There are those that, noting all the A-listers that often skip the event for whatever reasons, think of post-Olympic Worlds as something less than a “real” championship. Then there are those that see it as rife with opportunity for overlooked and/or underappreciated skaters, old and new alike.

Whatever your take is, there’s no denying the mass of storylines that emerged the last time this all went down...

Previously... at the 2010 Post-Olympic Worlds, in Torino...

-- Daisuke Takahashi became the first Japanese man to win a World title... Patrick Chan converted his Olympics disappointment into Worlds Silver... likewise, Brian Joubert rebounded from a poor Olympics with the bronze medal (last time he was on the Worlds podium, incidentally).

-- Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon finished 5th and 6th, respectively—not only their best finishes to date, but also the most recent time the U.S. men earned three spots for the following year.

-- Crazy inconsistencies took place in the ladies event: Mirai Nagasu was 1st after the SP but 11th in the FS (finishing 7th overall)... Kim Yuna skipped an entire element in the SP, if I recall, and was down in 7th before a FS win vaulted her to 2nd overall. Akiko Suzuki was 20th in the SP and 7th in the FS (11th overall). Miki Ando was 11th in the SP and 3rd in the FS (4th overall). All these ups and downs allowed for a few surprises for less accomplished but more “steady” competitors, such as Cynthia Phaneuf of Canada managing her highest Worlds finish ever (5th)... and Laura Lepisto of Finland winning bronze (first-ever World medal for a Finnish lady)!

-- Pang/Tong won the pairs title... it was the 2nd time they won, and 2nd time they won directly after the Olympics. Savchenko/Szolkowy collected silver, while Olympic 4th-placers Kavaguti/Smirnov moved up to win bronze.

-- Worlds 2010 turned out to be the last major competition for the Canadian team of Dube/Davison (2008 World Bronze Medalists), as well as the Russian team of Mukhortova/Trankov... the latter of which would go on to be much better known for an amazing pair of yellow pants and an even more amazing Olympic Gold Medal.

-- Worlds 2010 also marked the final time compulsory and original dances were competed at that championship. As for the competitors: Virtue/Moir won the dance title, with Davis/White finishing less than 2 points behind them for silver. Bronze went to veterans Faiella/Scali of Italy; it was their first (and only) world medal... Pechalat/Bourzat were in that all-too-familiar 4th slot. Then-rising stars Bobrova/Soloviev of Russia and Cappillini/Lanotte of Italy took 8th/11th, respectively.

SO... that was four years ago. What storylines are looming on the 2014 Worlds horizon?

n      Only one reigning OGM will be there (Yuzuru Hanyu). Will he claim his first Worlds title as well... especially in the absence of reigning World Champ Chan?
n      How will Jeremy Abbott fare in his final competition? And can he and Max Aaron get a third spot back for the U.S. as the ladies did last year?
n      Can Carolina Kostner or Mao Asada reclaim the World title they’ve each held in the past? Or will it be Julia Lipnitskaia’s time?
n      Can Gracie Gold find her way to her first World podium?
n      Can Ashley Wagner get her 3/3 groove back?
n      Can  Florent Amodio F get ANY groove back?
n      Will Pechalat/Bourzat close out their competitive careers with another World medal? And will a Russian team reclaim ice dance gold in the absence of the dueling North Americans?
n      Will Maxim Kovtun show the world why HE should’ve been at the Olympics instead of that one guy... what’s his name... oh, never mind, it’s not important.
n      Will Savchenko/Szolkowy be glad they stuck around for one more event?
n      Can Stolbova/Klimov recapture their “surprise” Olympic magic?
n      Will the U.S. hold on to all three ice dance spots?
n      Can we get through an entire major competitive event this season without crying FOUL when we see the results?
n      And most importantly... what color will Misha Ge’s hair be this time??

We’ll know the answers to these, and so many more questions, by month’s end. Check this schedule for daily event times. Things get underway Tuesday, March 25.



Who will I predict for the podium? I’ll post my guesses late Monday/early Tuesday. Hit the comments to leave your own Worlds prediction thoughts!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Where I've Been, and Four Other Less Than Important Questions

FIVE QUESTIONS TO ME, FIVE ANSWERS... So brief that that's the whole introduction :-)

Q1: WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN SINCE THAT LAST POST OVER TWO WEEKS AGO??

A1: Busy writing... just not for this blog (Sorry!). The freelance gods kept my schedule relatively clear during the Olympics window, which allowed me to blog and live-Tweet to my heart's content! But, sadly, it doesn't pay the bills... and consequently falls a bit on the priorities list when my clients come a'calling. 

Q2: SO WHEN WILL YOU HAVE A NEW POST??

A2: You mean besides this one? (Oh... I guess you do.) I'll say later this week. No promises, but that's my goal.

Q3: HAVE YOU AT LEAST BEEN FOLLOWING ALL THINGS SKATING SINCE THE OLYMPICS??

A3: Well, let's see: Ladies' OGM scandal? Check. The IOC post with the made-up Kim Yu-Na quotes? Check. Ashley Wagner's a sore loser/No she's not, she just tells it like it is? Check/check. Who's in and who's out at Worlds? Check, check, check... and yep, Junior Worlds is about to start and I'm keeping tabs on that as well. What should we talk about first when I post later this week? Give me a suggestion and I just might run with it. SO much to talk about...

Q4: UM, AREN'T YOU FORGETTING SOMETHING?

A4: Um, don't think so. Do you follow me on Twitter? I RT a lot of this stuff when I'm otherwise kind of silent...

Q5: WHAT ABOUT MERYL & CHARLIE ON DANCING WITH THE STARS???

A5: Of course!! But that's all things dancing... 


Monday, February 24, 2014

Sochi Olympic Sojourns XI: When Scott Went (Relatively) Silent

It took a while, but I’ve finally figured out what—or better said, who—I want to focus on in this post-ladies final fallout.

Scott Hamilton.

Yeah, I know. He’s the guy you might get sick of hearing after a couple nights (or less) of figure skating on NBC, with his “triple luuuuutz!!!!” grunts and drinking-game-worthy quips (did you know blades do not like to go sideways?), OR he might be the Olympic champion athlete/entertainer/cancer survivor/humanitarian and all-around Good Guy that would make your short list for Celebrities I’d Like to Invite to a Dinner Party. 

Either way, he’s been doing skating commentary for the better part of 30 years. At CBS he worked the first-ever prime-time Worlds coverage in 1987, as well as three Olympic Games. He’s the voice we heard as Paul Wylie skated for the silver medal in Albertville... as we waited and waited AND WAITED for Tonya to take the ice in Lillehammer... as Michelle and Tara went toe-to-toe for their medals in Nagano. Then he followed the TV rights to NBC and started covering the Games with Sandra Bezic and Tom Hammond in 2002—where his “How could that happen??” led the battle cry for the Salt Lake City Pairs Scandal. The three have worked the front lines of Olympic Figure Skating ever since... and of course, were in the booth when Kim Yu-Na’s free skate scores came up Thursday night.

Since then, we've seen and read a lot of things:

We've seen that the component scores for Adelina Sotnikova were so much higher than her previous best components, you'd think they could inject elements like skating skills, transitions, and choreography with baseball-quality steroids. (Scroll halfway down through this article to see what I mean)

We've read (and maybe signed) the petition making the rounds demanding "Open transparent scores" and the removal or anonymity... 

We've seen the picture of Sotnikova getting bear-hugged by the same Russian judge that sat on the panel for her winning free skate.

We've read that South Korea filed a complaint with the IOC... and that it was filed far too late to do any good.

And we heard from Christine Brennan (among others, but she was Tweeting about it before the event was even over) about the suspect judging panel... then from Phil Hersh, with quotes from ISU Prez Ottavio “Speedy” Cinquanta that proved his well of cluelessness is deeper than his harshest critics gave credit for...

And we heard from... Scott? One of the most historically outspoken guys in the sport? Well... there was this in the LA TIMES:

"I was waiting for the mistakes she (Sotnikova) usually makes, and she never made them," said 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton, commentating for NBC.
"I looked at the way the component score (rules) are written, and Adelina checks off every box. It's not as aesthetically pleasing as Yuna or Carolina, but she does everything the judges are looking for."

Even so, Hamilton admitted his jaw dropped when he saw the component scores.

OK... did he say anything else about that jaw-dropping? No? Well, maybe over here in this link from CBS News:

-- 
Watching from his NBC broadcast location, 1984 Olympic champ Scott Hamilton was intrigued by the 17-year-old Sotnikova's strategy, which he said worked perfectly for the scoring format. It was more than enough to beat Kim and Carolina Kostner, whose bronze medal was the first in Olympic singles figure skating for Italy.  "Adelina collected more points. That is really the only way you can describe it," Hamilton said. "If you look at Yuna of the past, this was not a program as difficult as she has done, and she left the opportunity for someone to collect points on that side of the scoring.

"It may not have been as beautiful as Yuna and Carolina, but under the rules and the way it works, she did all that. ... I think it was a just strategy that worked on the night."

It’s not that what he’s saying is incorrect... it’s just surprisingly opinion-free. But then Hersh’s article produced this within its final lines:
--
To Scott Hamilton, the 1984 singles champion and a TV commentator, the controversy is the best thing that could have happened.
“You’re going to be around the water cooler and everybody is going to have an opinion, and I love it because it will make everyone care about the sport again,” he said, laughing.
--

Which may or may not have prompted this comment from Hamilton on Twitter:

Reading lots of angry tweets. Please know that I am doing the best I can without showing favoritism. I love the sport. Want the best for all

Or this one...

Leave Sochi tomorrow. Thanks to all in FBland 4 your support & understanding during Olympics that skating nor I am perfect.#grateful

So here’s the thing. I spoke at length with Scott Hamilton for the Skating on Air book, and if you’ve read it, you know he’s got a soapbox and he’s not afraid to use it. Here’s a passage from page 185:

And as mentioned in a previous chapter, the fact that the IJS seeks to improve the quality of scores—rather than the quality of the judges that give them—leaves some believing the entire system was is an exercise in futility. “If George Steinbrenner gets to pick the umpires for the World Series, would you ever believe in the results?” asks Scott Hamilton. “It’s the same thing... instead of looking at the quality of the judges, they’re representing their country, and there’s a conflict of interest there. I think there’s a way to set up judges who are affiliated with the ISU, but are still their own person... and the best judges should be the ones to go to the Olympic Games. I think it would inspire greatness.”

That paragraph, interestingly enough, is followed by a comment by Tracy Wilson about the real suspense in an event these days coming with the judges’ draw... a factor that reared its head this week in Christine Brennan’s “anonymous source” article. 

But back to Hamilton. The first quote from him up there sounds like someone trying to be as diplomatic as possible, perhaps purposely leaving it up to readers to say Well if THAT’S considered good components these days...

Then what? Do four-year fans tune out in disgust when 2018 rolls around? Maybe... but probably not. Any four-year fans still following after 2002’s Skategate seem to be a pretty forgiving lot. How about die-hards? Will this be the judging controversy that finally does some of them in? Yeah, there might be a stronger possibility there. But with most non-Olympic skating coverage relegated these days to online streams and delayed highlights on network TV, maybe NBC simply doesn’t care what they do—or, better possibility, they realize that die-hards don’t rely on Hamilton to help them understand things.

The second quote from him is all about “strategy”; more words seeming to be pro-IJS but comes across to me as a non-endorsement of anyone... especially Kim Yu-Na as he echoes what some have said about Kim not really bringing it here as she did in Vancouver. It’s also possible he was trying to play up the athletic side of the sport in an effort to keep this whole thing from sinking to the melodrama status that people love to hate (or hate to love, depending on who you ask). But some may have interpreted it as Dang, Scott doesn’t have Yu-Na and Caro’s back on this one?? What side is he on anyway?!

As for the “watercooler” quote... I’m a little suspect of it as being the kind of thing Hersh might grab quickly to wrap up a story when there were many, more complex quotes to choose from. But I cringe at its flippant nature nonetheless. If I didn’t know any better, I might think he only gets up in arms about things when a North American skater is involved.

I do know better. So I’m left being a little puzzled by it all. On his FB page, following each of those semi-apologetic messages of his... all the thread comments I saw were very positive in nature, so I don’t know exactly which “angry tweets” he was referring to (unless he meant figure skating-related Twitter traffic in general). Maybe he’s under some pressure from NBC to downplay the controversy since, unlike in 2002, secret judging is likely to keep the story from unfolding any further. Maybe he’s feeling some heat after being effectively upstaged throughout the Games by the “B” squad of Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski. Maybe experience has taught him the futility of fighting some of these decisions, and he just wants to stay out of it as much as he can. Hand that baton to someone else.


“They’ve gotta dance with the date they brought,” I remember him telling me in reference to the ISU making heads or tails of IJS once it was locked into place. Maybe, at age 55 with nearly three decades of skating broadcasting behind him, he’s finally resigned himself to “dance” a little too. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sochi Olympic Sojourns X: Ladies Preview/Predictions

SOCHI 2014 LADIES PREVIEW/PREDICTIONS

There are 30 ladies from (I think) 20 nations scheduled to take the ice in Sochi for the short program. The top 24 will advance to the free skate on Thursday.

The Favorites: Before the Games got underway, reigning Olympic and World Champion Kim Yu-Na of South Korea was probably the odds-on favorite to retain her OGM status. That was before Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia (who I endearingly refer to as Gumbyskaia due to her jaw-dropping flexibility) was revealed to the rest of the world via the Team Event. Now, I’m guessing these two are considered co-faves for gold by many.

The Top Challengers: Japan’s Mao Asada, who won silver here in 2010, is a highly competitive force—especially if she nails one or both triple axels she has planned in her programs. But if/when she makes mistakes, teammate Akiko Suzuki has the goods to outskate her (as she did at Japanese Nationals this season). Italy’s Carolina Kostner is the tallest of the ladies, the fastest, typically garners huge component scores, and won Worlds in 2012—she should not be overlooked. Also very much in the mix is Adelina Sotnikova of Russia; kind of off-the-radar since Gumbyskaia hit it big in Sochi, but it’s worth noting that Sotnikova has narrowly defeated her teammate a time or two this season.

(What about) The USA (?): Yes, we have a shot at the podium—but I don’t think it’s as solid a shot as NBC would like us to believe. Scott Hamilton hinted at this last night when they briefly discussed the Ladies event in prime time, indicating that while reigning US Champ Gracie Gold may indeed have “the goods” and may indeed deliver them, her relative inexperience and youth may translate into back-of-the-pack placement among four or five ladies competing with the same degree of technical difficulty. (NOTE: this argument doesn’t really apply to even-younger Gumbyskaia because many believe she already skates with the maturity of a twenty-something. This is part of what makes her an OGM favorite.) As for Ashley Wagner, she’s at a slight disadvantage on the technical side of things because her most difficult jump is a triple flip/triple toe—it gets a lower base score than the triple lutz/triple toe of others because it’s considered a little easier. But if she can avoid the slight two-footing and underrotations that prompted her infamous “disappointed” face during the Team Event, she should be in very good shape.

Polina Edmunds! What about her, you ask? I honestly do not know because she has never been in an international senior-level competition, let alone one as monumental as this. Yes, she too possesses magical triple-triple combos... but assuming she can pull them off here... will she come off as too “juniorish” to compete among the Suzukis and Kostners and Kims and fellow 15 year-old Gumbyskaia?

My Predictions for medals:
GOLD—Kim Yu-Na, KOR
SILVER—Julia Lipnitskaia, RUS
BRONZE—Mao Asada, JPN

Because... in a battle between Kim and Lipnitskaia (which has not yet happened anywhere; the latter was not part of last year’s Worlds and Kim was out the early part of this season with a foot injury), I simply think Kim is still going to emerge the winner.

What if Asada lands her triple axels cleanly, and has the skate(s) of her life? I will be SOOOOO happy for her because I personally get the feeling that Asada has worked the longest and hardest for this. There, I said it.

Bonus predictions! Other names to look for finishing in the Top Ten (in alphabetical order):
Gracie Gold, USA... Carolina Kostner, ITA... Kanako Murakami, JPN... Kaetlyn Osmond, CAN... Adelina Sotnikova, RUS... Akiko Suzuki, JPN... Ashley Wagner, USA.

Remember, the Ladies SP starts today, 2/18, at 10AM on NBC SN (Sports Network), with highlights coming in prime time Wednesday night! (And the FS is Thursday 2/19!)

I will be live-tweeting as much as I can... follow me on Twitter @KLBSt8ofSk8.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sochi Olympic Sojourns IX: Every-Four-Year-Fan's Update on The Ladies

LADIES IN REVIEW since 2010

Olympic Gold Medalist Kim Yu-Na (KOR) didn't compete in the 2010-11 season except worlds, where she won silver. After skipping the 2011-12 season altogether, her only major event the following season was 2013 Worlds... which she won. It’s worth noting that she has never finished lower than 3rd at the World Championship level.

Following the 2010 Worlds—in which she defeated Kim—Olympic Silver Medalist Mao Asada (JPN) went about re-learning the technique on all her jumps in an effort to be more consistent with them. Consequentially, 2010-11 and (some of) 2011-12 were rough competitive years, with Asada finishing 6th at Worlds both times. But by 2012-13 she—and her triple axel attempts—were back in business with a bronze medal at Worlds.

Olympic Bronze medalist Joannie Rochette (CAN), whose mother passed away during the Vancouver Games, effectively retired from amateur competition in 2010.

Meanwhile... Team Japan remained strong both in terms of veterans (Asada, 2012 World Bronze Medalist Akiko Suzuki, and 2011 World Champion Miki Ando) and new blood (19 year-old Kanako Murakami).

Team Russia had two ladies in Vancouver, neither of which has had a remarkable career since (though one, Alena Leonova, was World Silver Medalist in 2012). Instead, a bevy of "baby ballerinas" have replaced them at the top... most notably Adelina Sotnikova and Julia Lipnitskaia, both of whom are in Sochi.

Team Canada has had a difficult time finding its next "Joannie", though Kaetlyn Osmond (2-time National Champ) has emerged over past couple of years as a force for the future.

Finally, Team Italy has Carolina Kostner, she of the up and down career that gave her a 16th place finish in Vancouver but also made her a World Champion in 2012.

What about Team USA? Aha, that’s the most mixed bag of all! 

2010 National Champ and Olympian Rachael Flatt had some success in 2010-11 season, but injuries and then a full courseload at Stanford led to her fade from the top. And 2010 Teammate Mirai Nagasu,  as you might have heard, was ALMOST here. But is not. (Scroll down to my January entries for more about all of that!)

2011 National Champ Alissa Czisny had her best season ever in 2010-11, winning her second national title, a Grand Prix Final title, and finishing 5th at Worlds (easily the highest placement of her career there). But 2011-12 was not as kind to her competitively, and recurring hip injuries/surgeries have kept her out of major competitions for the past 2 years.

After just missing the 2010 Olympic team, 2012 & 13 Nat champ Ashley Wagner. eventually did a major overhaul (moving west, picking up John Nicks as a coach). And it paid off when, by the end of 2013, she’d become the most decorated and consistent lady the U.S. had seen in several years: nine Grand Prix medals, two Grand Prix podium finishes, 4th and 5th place finishes at the last two World Championships, and a Four Continents title in 2012. This is why she was named to Team USA in Sochi, despite a fourth-place finish at last month’s Nationals.

As for reigning National Champ Gracie Gold—if you didn’t hear that name much until the past month or so, that’s because she hasn’t been around the senior ranks very long. Just two competitive seasons, to be exact. But with two GP medals and a U.S. title-in-an-Olympic-year to her name, her presence is already being felt.

Now that you’re all CAUGHT UP... ready to celebrate some new athletes?


My preview/predictions for the ladies will be up before the SP gets underway at 10AM Eastern time on Wednesday! Stay tuned...