Friday, June 27, 2008

GP Showdowns to Watch, Pt. 2

Why isn’t a boxing ring called a boxing square?

I was just wondering… maybe because of my self-appointed theme this week, maybe because it sounded like something George Carlin would ask in one of his cleaner monologues… like the one comparing football and baseball. Sigh. I miss him already.

But anyway… the list of MOST INTERESTING SHOWDOWNS continues. If skating rinks were square, these competitors (well, most of them) might come out swinging from opposite corners in the final three Grand Prix events:

For Trophee Bompard: Kerr/Kerr (ranked #10) vs. The Podium. If you were won over by them and their out-of-this-planet free dance at the most recent Worlds, you might like to know that these two seem to have a real shot at a medal here. Delobel/ Schoenfelder (#1) could probably phone their performance in right now and win the event, but cross your fingers that the Kerrs will get some podium love come November. (They sorta kinda have a shot at Skate America, too, but that would likely keep an American team from a medal. So we won’t hope for that. Not so close to Independence Day. Doesn’t seem right.

For Cup of Russia: Joubert (#1) vs. Verner (#7). On paper, it looks like Joubert will wipe the floor—I mean, ice—with his closest competition. But Verner topped him at Europeans last year… and neither one of them turned in a particularly satisfying performance at Worlds. Mmmm… do I smell vindication brewing?

For NHK Trophy: Takahashi (#2) vs. Oda (unranked). Wow, the ISU worked hard on this one. By my count, this is the only entry (and chance for a comeback) that Oda has in the entire series. So they a) send him to his home country’s event, and b) pit him against Dice-K, his primary rival who c) essentially just lost his coach to Oda (not to hoist my meager opinion into this, but isn’t that what happened?). What a dramatic finish to the series this could be. Unless Oda fumbles it, and Johnny Weir (#6) steps in as the true contender. (After beating Takahashi for the bronze medal at Worlds, perhaps a Johnny/Dice-K sort of sub-rivalry is developing anyway.)

And if I’m miles off on these predictions, and the showdowns dissolve before the compulsories and short programs are complete… we’ll just pretend this week’s posts don’t exist. Fair enough?

I’ve got to go to the Kerr/Kerr free dance from this year’s Worlds for the Clip of the Day!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Start Your Engines: GP Showdowns to Watch, Pt. 1

This week brings us a mere 4 months from the start of the 2008 ISU Grand Prix Series. Is it eight or so crazy weeks of fierce competition and stage-setting for the second half of the season… or two months of choreographic fine-tuning and costume missteps?

Whatever it is, I sure wish it would show up on our TVs beyond NBC’s Skate America coverage. What is the month of November without treasure-hunting for GP coverage on ESPN? But that’s another topic for another post.

In comparing current ISU rankings, passable knowledge of skaters’ strengths/weaknesses, and a smattering of other factors, I’ve assembled a list of what I see as THE MOST INTERESTING SHOWDOWNS for this upcoming GP series.

For Skate America: Lysacek (ranked #4 in the world) vs. Weir (ranked #6). Good Lord, I can already smell the hype NBC can (and probably will) cook up on this one. THEY MET…THEY (virtually) TIED… AND NOW THEY’RE BACK FOR MORE. Throw in the fact that Kevin VanDerPerren (#8) is their closest competition, and it seems like an easy way to stack the deck early.

For Skate Canada: Virtue/Moir (#4) vs. Davis/White (#7). Not that I expect anyone other than V/M to walk away with the dance title… but these two couples have drawn their fair share of comparisons, so it’ll be nice to see them as the front-runners. Especially since it would seem D/W are destined to be a couple-in-waiting until after Vancouver, at least as far as the US is concerned…

Which brings me to Cup of China. And in light of the news that broke late last week about yet another coaching shake-up, I can’t imagine a more interesting match than Belbin/Agosto (#2) vs. Domnina/Shabalin (#3). Barring an upset by Russia’s other entry (Khokhlova/Novitski, #5), this will the first time the co-proteges of
Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponossov go head-to-head. Yikes. Bring your popcorn.

I’ll cover the other three MOST INTERSTING SHOWDOWNS next time.

Rather than feature any of the aforementioned skaters in today’s Clip of the Day, I’d rather show the coaches I just referred to… back when they were skaters. Check out at the 1980 OGM-winning performance of Linichuk and Karponossov... and if you watch the whole thing, you'll see they might hold a special appreciation for Tanith and Ben's "Cotton-Eyed Joe" dance from last season.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Season of the Change-Up

It’s not that I haven’t noticed the ISU Grand Prix Lineups were announced four days ago—it’s just that I haven’t taken the time to look ‘em over yet. So bear with me as I push that topic back a few days... and get caught up by instead pointing you to this article:

... which followed news that Nobunari Oda enlisted
Nikolai Morozov as his new coach. Or Morozov sought Oda. Is anyone sure? In any case, Daisuke Takahashi parted ways with Morozov last month as a result…

… and, as best I can tell, is still coach-shopping as of today. And so the skating world turns yet again. Can’t say I blame Takahashi for feeling like he and his rival shouldn’t share a coach, though I must admit I first thought he was making the switch out of disappointment with his finish at Worlds this year. Lambiel did. So did Belbin and Agosto, for that matter. It’s practically become a tradition, a rite-of-passage through this minefield known as elite figure skating.

As for whether or not it’s a worthwhile tradition, well… that’s trickier. There are success stories out there for sure. After all, do you think Lambiel would have knocked on Petrenko’s door if Petrenko didn’t seem to be such a player in Johnny Weir’s turnaround this past season?

But I suspect there’s something to be said for the psychological side of it too. Does the new coach really make the difference every time, or is it sometimes the mere sense of expecting more from oneself by way of making a change? Do you simply start listening better when someone new is in the room?

Let me know what you think. I’m sure this topic will be visited again and again… probably around the same time every year J

This topic prompts my Clip of the Day to feature one of the best known coach-hoppers in recent memory. Here is Nicole Bobek in her 1995 prime (her coach at the time was Richard Callaghan).

Friday, June 13, 2008

No Letting Go of this "Green"

Do you have one in your closet?

Hmm… what could she be talking about? Light bulb? Check. Over-worn pair of Keds? Yep. Sweatpants from twenty years ago that my spouse can’t believe I still have, let alone wear? Crap, how did she know that?

Perhaps the better question is “Do you have one (tucked away) in your (spare) closet?”

In any case, I do. And even with a yard sale taking place tomorrow, my final skating costume will stay buried—and safely with me—as long as the clutter gods shall allow.

Of course, there’s no real reason to keep it. I barely skate anymore, it’s light years from being able to fit me, and even if my daughter does someday skate competitively… I kind of doubt an early 80's fashion plate is going to be her wardrobe of choice.

But while it remains in fine shape— all the “kelly” in the kelly green still intact, elastic still stretching where its supposed to, splash of bugle beads still splash-worthy—there’s no real reason to sell it, either. It’s not doing any harm there in the spare closet, tucked in the garment bag between a bridesmaid dress and my husband’s interview suit. Besides, who shops for (let alone actually purchases) skating costumes at a garage sale?

If you’ve ever watched a show like Clean Sweep or Clean House, you know those folks would either try to talk me out of keeping it, or do something nice like put it under glass and hang it on the wall. Sounds good to me. A little low on my list of things-to-do for now, but it still sounds good.

Do you have any old skating costumes you can’t bear to part with? What are your “alternate plans” for them?

For the Clip of the Day I put “Figure skating May 1981” into the You Tube browser—May ’81 being the last time I wore the kelly green costume in public—and came up with this gem of a short program, courtesy of ’81 World champ Denise Biellmann. No resemblance between her costume and mine, however… save for the fact that both feature sleeves and a skirt!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"Up Close and Personal" Will Never Be the Same

Sometimes when I hear of a celebrity’s passing—even one who was of an age where few question that they lived “a full life”—I still find myself giving a little gasp of sadness. Such was the case this past weekend when I learned that ABC Wide World of Sports veteran Jim McKay had died at age 86.

Of course long before there was Terry Gannon, or Verne Lundquist, or even John Tesh to serve as the equivalent of skating’s play-by-play personality, there was Jim McKay. He was more than just the (literal) voice for the opening montage of Wide World of Sports… he may have been Dick Button’s longest-running “sidekick”, dating all the way back to ’62 Worlds. He was a most interested third party in figure skating, the first of many commentators to come to the sport by way of others and leave behind the feeling he was as big a fan of the figure skating as anyone. He was a fixture during countless Winter Olympics, making such an impact as the voice behind Roone Arledge’s “Up Close and Personal” profiles that he was loaned out to NBC’s Olympic coverage as recently as 2002. And while I’m too young to remember his stunning work during the Munich hostage crisis of the ’72 Summer Olympics, suffice to say I’ve heard the tapes… and it’s no surprise to me that he received a telegram of praise from no less than Walter Cronkite.

No doubt about it, one of the great voices has fallen silent. He will be missed.

For the Clip of the Day, I found this lengthy piece that essentially has McKay introducing the key players in the ladies’ final of the 1988 Nationals… and serves as a nice fix for those of us who adored his narrative skills. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Mr. Smith Goes to Salt Lake City

I was so pleased to find this story about U.S. skater Scott Smith I decided to post a link to it here. By the way, if there’s a relatively easy way to explain how to create those links that are imbedded within the text, please drop me an e-mail so I can be like all the cool bloggers. Until then, I’ll post ‘em the old fashioned way, like this:

As one of those guys poised for a “breakthrough” season for several years, I was disappointed he didn’t make the cut for NBC’s Nationals coverage this past January… particularly when, as you’ll see in the Clip of the Day, he skated clean and was clearly relieved and overjoyed at the end. No wonder… he’d just taken a huge gamble in leaving his Boston coaches 2 weeks prior to Nationals. At least the above article tells how all that turned out—I was definitely curious.

Here’s the Clip—what another nation saw fit to broadcast, but our own did not…