Thursday, November 27, 2008

Once More, With Feeling: NHK Dance/Ladies Predictions

A nice tradition at some U.S. Thanksgiving Day dinners is to have everyone present tell about that for which they are specifically thankful. Since we neglected to do that this year at my table, I’ll tell what I’m thankful for here:

Healthy family… gainful employment… new opportunities… excellent hot chocolate.

Oh—and a blog that allows me to pretend people might be entertained by what I think about figure skating. Particularly when NHK Trophy is starting in a matter of hours, and I have two more guesstimates to make:


Gold- Faiella/Scali (ITA)
Silver- Pechalat/Bourzat (FRA)
Bronze- Samuelson/Bates (USA)

It’s been surprisingly difficult to peg the outcome in this category of late—which is refreshing as a viewer, but maddening as a blogger :-) Still, I’ll give this one to the Italian team that took their clown-inspired, Moonlight Sonata free skate to silver in France. P/B, on the other hand, weren’t quite as impressive when they took bronze in Canada. In fact, I’d guess there’s a good chance Sam/Bates could even overtake them in this event… but I’ll leave them in 3rd just the same, as they're still much greener than the others.


Gold- Mao Asada (JPN)
Silver- Yukari Nakano (JPN)
Bronze- Ashley Wagner (USA)

I know Asada had numerous misfires at her Paris GP debut a few weeks ago, but I honestly can’t see any of her competitors catching her this time… including teammate Nakano, who has yet to beat her as far as I know. The way things have been going, though, I wouldn’t be flat-out shocked if Nakano did indeed make her move and prove spoiler in front of the home crowd. Laura Lepisto and Mirai Nagasu (the current U.S. National Champion) stand very good chances at getting that bronze, but Nagasu’s performance at Skate America didn’t make much of an impression on me, I’m sorry to say. I DO have lasting impressions from Lepisto and Wagner’s routines, though, and while Lepisto outscored her when they last went head-to-head, I found Wagner’s free skate light years ahead in terms of passion and excitement. If she can “up the ante” technically speaking, I think/hope it’ll be her turn on the podium.

For the
Clip of the Day I went back to the 2008 Nationals to show you Samuelson and Bates’ debut at the senior level (where they finished 4th, thanks in large part to a fall they took near the end of the skate). Enjoy this final weekend of GP qualifying!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pass the Turkey... I Mean, Pass the NHK Predictions, Please

I always wonder if the American skaters are a little bummed out if they get invited to a GP event the week of Thanksgiving. Does anyone know if the USFS organizes some sort of traditional turkey dinner for the team when they’re overseas? Or if it’s ill advised to do that just before a major competition, maybe they plan something directly afterwards…?

I’m just strangely curious about stuff like that… “that” being anything having to do with copious amounts of food.

Anyway, there’s one more GP event to be thankful for this weekend, and one more set of predictions to be made… so here we go with the NHK guesses:


Gold- Dube/Davison (CAN)
Silver- Pang/Tong (CHN)
Bronze- Inoue/Baldwin (USA)

This might be risky; the idea that one of the top 2 Chinese teams might be upset by one of the top 2 Canadian teams. But I’m thinking of the strong silver medal work of D & D at their home event, and I’m thinking of the subpar bronze medal work of P & T at their home event… and that leaves me feeling it more for Canada. Besides, with the roll Canada’s top singles skaters have been on all season, a little of that goodness is bound to spill over to the pairs sooner or later. Why not sooner?

And yes, I’m guessing bronze for our veteran-of-veterans I & B, but that’s largely due to the fact that I haven’t heard of any of the others! (And that includes the other U.S. pair!)

For the MEN:

Gold: Johnny Weir (USA)
Silver: Nobunari Oda (JPN)
Bronze: Stephen Carriere (USA)

Aw, Dice-K. Way back in the spring, I believe I predicted the Takahashi/Oda showdown to be the highlight of this year’s NHK Trophy. And now, wonderful hip-hop skating man, you sit sidelined for the season with a knee injury… and the showdown instead becomes a Weir/Oda thing. Not that they won’t put on a great show—Weir with his dramatic, here’s-the-performance-I-meant-to-throw-down-at-Skate-America vibe, and Oda with his dramatic, here’s-what-I’ve-been-working-on-while-I-was-suspended-last-season comeback. But I expect Weir to take this one. His consistency has done nothing but solidify over the past 18 months, and as some people pointed out after SKAM, that particular competition came much earlier than he typically competes in GP events. His entire presentation has had time to simmer since then; I’m eager to see what he serves up. Oda, after all this time, is a bit of a wild card. But I think he’s got it in him to shine again—especially in front of the home crowd.

IF I happen to be right about these top two, the bronze could be between Carriere and France’s Yannick Pansero. But while Carriere held his own nicely at Cup of China (earining Silver), Pansero started strong but burned out quickly at Skate Canada… and it’s not the first time he’s done so. Advantage Carriere.

As usual—even on Thanksgiving night—part two of my predictions will come tomorrow, hopefully before the compulsory dances are in the books. Here is Oda in the
Clip of the Day, in case you’re wondering what he’s looking like nowadays. I'll be back after I've eaten my weight in mashed potatoes...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Eight Is Enough: Cup of Russia Observations

(NOTE: If you want to see who's made the cut for the GP Final so far, scroll down and check out yesterday's post!)

Here in the States, Thanksgiving is just a few days away… and if we weren’t in the final stretches of the Grand Prix, I’d gladly devote a post or two to an A-thru-Z list of all the things I’m thankful for (both skating-related and otherwise). But there are observations from Cup of Russia to be made.

Come to think of it, there are pies to be made, too. So let’s get to it—8 observations:

+ ALMOST OVER .500: Dang! I was thisclose to being 7-for-12 on my podium predictions, but the Russian flip-flop upset in the FD sent me back to my typical 5-for-12. Oh well. At least I nailed one category (Pairs).

+ OH CHARLIE!: When I saw that Davis/White had placed 8th in the OD (dropping them down to 4th overall), I decided I had to check it out and see what happened. One bad stumble on a twizzle and two solid smackdowns to the ice later, I wished I hadn’t. Oy vey. If it happened to them here, that means something like that can NEVER happen to them at an even bigger competition… right??

+ FORGET THE “RISKY” QUADS; WHAT ABOUT “RISKY” FLYING SPINS?: First we saw Takahiko Kozuka come crashing down on a spin at TEB… then we saw Jeremy Abbott do the same thing at COR. Is nobody getting the memo to these guys that spins are given much more credence these days? It’s no time to break concentration.

And speaking of memos…

+ MEMO TO DOMBALIN (Domnina/Shabalin): I really liked the costume change you took on with the Spartacus FD. The deep scarlet was very flattering on Oksana, and as I mentioned in a column earlier this month, the idea of women needing to dress up like Xena the Warrior Princess for the sake of this music is kind of jarring anyway. I’m just afraid you won’t stick with it, as you were wearing it when you lost your “home” competition for the second year running. But in any case… can you send Ashley Wagner a photo of the new ensemble? Maybe it will inspire her to reinvent her own Spartacus ensemble.

+ MEMO TO BRIAN JOUBERT: I have to confess, I had my regrets shortly after I posted my picks last week—and a large number of the regrets centered on you. How could you possibly turn it around in the span of a few days and WIN an event? But you did. Sorry I doubted you! And welcome to the what-a-difference-a-week-makes club.

+ MEMO TO RACHAEL FLATT: On the one hand, I was wrong about you because I didn’t predict you to medal. On the other, I was right about you because I thought you’d be underscored… and you were! You should have won! So—sorry I doubted you too.

+ UNINTENTIONALLY AMUSING, PT.1: When it came to slips and falls for no apparent reason, there was no discrimination this week. Dan Zhang (of the #2 ranked Zhang/Zhang) did it mid-program in the pairs’ FS, and what’s more, unranked ladies’ competitor Elena Glebova did the same thing a mere 3 seconds into her SP! Did they oil up the ice, by chance?

+ UNINTENTIONALLY AMUSING, PT. 2: The overly enthusiastic (but well-meaning, I’m sure) kids cleaning up the ice after each performance were so determined to pass on their findings to each competitor, they seemed to be interrupting the bows just to hand over the loot. “Stop bowing—I have a stuffed dog for you! Here! Take it!! Here!! Please, you must notice me so I can go scoop up more doggies! STOP BOWING!! STOP!!!”

And on that note, I leave you with a
Clip of the Day featuring the Kerr’s “Kilt” OD from last season’s NHK Trophy. I would have gladly included a clip from this year’s COR, like I did yesterday, but I see TPTB paid You Tube a visit and already rendered yesterday’s Clip obsolete. Sorry!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Who's in the ISU GP Final So Far? Find Out Here...

It’s not very often that I attempt to be newsworthy—you might have noticed that if you’re a regular of any kind.

But with Cup of Russia having wrapped up today (observations coming tomorrow) and NHK on the radar screen (predictions coming later this week), I was curious as to who’d made the Grand Prix final already… and who might still have a shot. After all, I’m an American fan spoiled by the ESPN/ABC coverage of years gone by. They kept track of this stuff for us every week. Where can the likes of me go when Terry Gannon (who I miss so dearly) is now back to doing play-by-plays for college football?

Apparently, you can go to Wikipedia. Not always the most reliable source of information, that’s true… but I’ve found it to have a pretty solid track record when it comes to figure skating. And in looking at their current entry for the ISU Grand Prix—and I DO mean current; they have all the medal-winners from this past weekend’s COR included—their point totals sound accurate to me.

In short (with none of my babbling commentary, for once), here’s what I found:

Already qualified: Patrick Chan (30 points), Takahiko Kozuka (28), Brian Joubert (26), Jeremy Abbott (26)
Could still qualify after competing next weekend: Johnny Weir (13 points), Stephen Carriere (13), Yannick Pansero (9), Kevin Reynolds (9)
On the bubble: Tomas Verner (24), Alban Preaubert (22)

Already qualified: Yu-Na Kim (30 points), Joannie Rochette (30), Carolina Kostner (24)
Could still qualify after competing next weekend: Yukari Nakano (13 points), Mao Asada (13), Laura Lepisto (11), Ashley Wagner (9), Mirai Nagasu (7)
On the bubble: Miki Ando (24), Fumie Suguri (24), Rachael Flatt (22)

Already qualified: Savchenko/Szolkowy (30 points), Zhang/Zhang (30), Kawaguchi/Smirnov (28), Volosohzar/Morozov (24)
Could still qualify after competing next weekend: Dube/Davison (13 points), Pang/Tong (11)
On the bubble: Mukhortova/Trankov (24), McLaughlin/Brubaker (24)

Already qualified: Delobel/Schoenfelder (30 points), Domnina/Shabalin (28), Khoklova/Novitski (26), Davis/White (26)
Could still qualify after competing next weekend: Faiella/Scali (13 points), Pechalat/Bourzat (11), Samuelson/Bates (9), Gorshkova/Butikov (9). Navarro/Bommentre (7)
On the bubble: Belbin/Agosto (26), Crone/Poirier (22)

If you’re wondering about point tie-breakers (or need a refresher course), check out the whole entry

For the
Clip of the Day I’ve got Joubert’s electrifying SP from this past weekend… that is, unless the clip gets snatched off of You Tube by The Powers That Be. Catch it while you can!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

To Cup of Russia WIth Love: Pairs/Mens Picks

Brooke Castile and Benjamin Okolski are out again? Nooo!

And we did so well keeping most of the original competitors last week. I suppose it’d be too much to ask for two weeks in a row? Oh, well. As long as I get to see Daisuke Takahashi at next week’s NHK Trophy then all is well…

What? Out for the season?? Noooooo!

While I ponder how much that sucks, read over my picks for PAIRS at COR:

Gold- Zhang/Zhang (CHN)
Silver- Kawaguchi/Smirnov (RUS)
Bronze- Volosozhar/Morozov (UKR)

The Zhangs and V/M already competed together at Cup of China; the news there is not that the Zhangs won gold—it was expected they would—but that V/M edged Pang/Tong for silver. Still, there were 7 points between 1st and 2nd… which leaves plenty of room for Skate Canada winners K/S to sneak in there. Especially if they decide to unleash their throw quad in front of the home crowd.

The aforementioned Castile/Okolski were set to be the only other contenders for a medal; as it stands now, I can’t imagine any other names will truly challenge the three names I listed above.

Finally, for MEN:

Gold- Brian Joubert (FRA)
Silver- Jeremy Abbott (USA)
Bronze- Tomas Verner (CZE)

Wow! Welcome to last week’s disappointment vs. last week’s surprise vs. COC’s disappointment vs. COC’s surprise vs…well… Kevin Van der Perren. This was exceedingly difficult, but in spite of myself I went with Joubert for the second week in a row… the hope being that Joubert is angry enough at himself for last week to fight very hard for gold this week. I may be kicking myself in a few days for not going with Abbott, who was quite riveting at COC, but I simply haven’t seen him compete long enough to feel confident he can turn back-to-back great performances. Preaubert may well claim another medal, but I think Abbott and Verner are both more likely to outscore him artistically. Van der Perren is a definite dark horse, but I’m leaving him out of the medals because he’s the only one of these 5 that has yet to compete on the circuit this season.

With that in mind, here’s Van der Perren’s current SP (as seen at the Findlandia Trophy earlier in the season) as the
Clip of the Day . Or with this costume, maybe it’s from Halloween on Ice. You be the judge.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another Weekend, Another "Cup"

I just got off the phone with my brother Michael. When I told him what I was doing—working on my predictions for this weekend’s Cup of Russia—he told me I MUST base my decisions entirely on the skater’s haircuts.

This, from a guy who works for USA Swimming. A sport where they try to be as hairless as possible while competing.


So sorry Michael sweetie, but I will disregard any hair judgments… as well as any jokes that could have been made about haircuts back when Plushenko was still in the competitive mix… and take some guesses anyway.

Gold- Domnina/Shabalin (RUS)
Silver- Davis/White (USA)
Bronze- Khokhlova/Novitski (RUS)

I said back at Cup of China that Dombalin would be sure to shine in Russia, even if they had to settle for silver in Beijing. Since they ultimately settled for nothing less than GOLD, I can’t imagine they’ll have trouble doing the same at COR.

As for the other two slots—my temptation was to guess silver for Khokitski (aka the other Russian couple), if only because they’re the other “home” team. But I underestimated Davis/White last time, and I don’t want to make that mistake twice! Cappelini/Lanotte (ITA) stand the best chance of upsetting my picks, but Khokitski beat them by 6 points 2 weeks ago…

As for LADIES:

Gold: Carolina Kostner (ITA)
Silver: Fumie Suguri (JPN)
Bronze: Alissa Czisny (USA)

This is a very tough category, though not quite as tough as the men (coming tomorrow). I must say I’m giving this one to Kostner by process of elimination—her performance at Skate Canada was troubling; I’m not sure if it’ll give her confidence a sucker punch or if it’ll inspire her to do better. But of the top names at this event, she’s perhaps the most consistent of several inconsistent competitors. If that makes any sense.

One of those “inconsistents” is Suguri… but she managed a silver at SkCan, so I’m hopeful she’s riding a good wave.

Czisny is another “inconsistent”, but she managed bronze at SkCan (and I hear it was that success that got her invited to COR to replace Finland’s Jenni Vahamaa), so I’m hopeful she’s riding a good wave.

See a pattern here?

The dark horses here are many; they include Kimmie Meissner (who seems capable of a comeback at any time), Rachael Flatt (who I fear will be underscored; hope I’m wrong), and Na-Young Kim—the lesser-known South Korean skater who still seemed impressive when I saw her (at 4CC) last year. So, in short, I’m crossing my fingers here and hoping for the best.

I must admit—the way my guesses have been going this season, maybe my brother Michael was on to something…

So, I’m off to study a copy of Celebrity Hairstyles! Your
Clip of the Day is that 4CC performance from Kim that I just mentioned… so I won’t have overlooked her completely if/when she medals this weekend. :-)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Spitting? Bleeding? Welcome to TKOs at the TEB!

When I was growing up near Chicago, and the White Sox (baseball team) made it to the playoffs—a most unusual happening in those days—someone coined the catch phrase White Sox: Winning UGLY.

I don’t know if “winning ugly” was a term used prior to that, but I know I’ve heard it many times since: football, soccer, basketball… the occasional political race…

But not for figure skating. Not literally, anyway.

This past weekend at GP Paris was a different story, though. Let me relay two separate events (one you probably witnessed, one you might not have) through the mindful eyes of my family members…

ME (to my 7 year old son): Hey, I’ve got something to show you from yesterday’s competition…

SON: Why? What happened? Did someone get hurt?

ME: You’ll see.

SON: (excitedly) Is there blood?

ME: Well, remember when you asked me how sharp skate blades are..?

SON (as the camera zooms in on Craig Buntin’s hand) Yuck!

ME: See, they’ve got to wrap his hand up because they haven’t finished yet—

SON: (panics) I don’t want to see it!

ME: He’s okay, really… they even got a bronze medal…

SON: (leaves room) I don’t want to see it!

ME: He got blood all over his partner’s dress, too…


ME: (more to myself) Well, it’s not like he had a choice.

I must say, the slice’n’dice with Canada’s Duhamel/Buntin was about as grisly an accident as I’ve seen in this sport for quite a while—even if it was, for the most part, a superficial flesh wound. Did you see how bloody the dressings were by the end of the performance? And how his poor paw was re-wrapped, post-performance, in enough bandages to resemble a boxing glove?

And speaking of boxing, here’s the other “event” I mentioned (with the help of another family member) from the men’s short program:

ME: (Talking to computer screen) Don’t do it, Joubert… don’t do it… AAUGH!

HUSBAND: Was there a fall on a quad?

ME: No… Brian Joubert just took a swig of water, swished it around in his mouth, then spit it out right on the ice!

HUSBAND: (unfazed) Uh-huh…

ME: Disgusting!

HUSBAND: Maybe he thinks he’s a hockey player.

ME: He’s not a hockey player!

HUSBAND: So… it’ll just freeze up, right?

ME: Not the point!! (Then, as I keep watching) Oh, WOW.

HUSBAND: Now was there a fall on a quad?

ME: Impossible. He was supposed to do it just then, and he missed it completely. Didn’t even try a double.

HUSBAND: Probably because he’s a hockey player now.

ME: I prefer to think of it as SPIT KARMA.


And so it went, at least around these parts.

Till I start making some stabs at Cup of Russia in a couple of days, I leave you with this
Clip of the Day of Joubert’s current SP. Can’t find the TEB skate on You Tube right now, so this is taken from the French Masters earlier in the season. Don’t worry—this one is totally spit-free.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Who Put the "Bomp" in Trophee Eric Bompard, Anyway?

Bonjour mes amis! Avez-vous apprécié Trophée Eric Bompard le week-end dernier?

I better not go any further than that… it’s been about 22 years since my last French class. Cut to the random notes…

+ Sorry to say I took a step backwards with my guesses and finished 4-for-12 (got one right in each discipline). And the margins for victory all around were HUGE, so even the upsets were clear-cut. However…

+ In Dance, while I got silver and bronze flip-flopped, I’d like to point out that the 2 ½ point spread between silver medalists Faiella/Scali and Kerr/Kerr was anything but huge.

+ Ditto for silver and bronze in Pairs (Mukhortova/Trankov and Duhamel/Buntin), where they were separated by only about 4 points. And after what happened to D/M in the free skate, I found their Tosca routine all the more inspiring… but I’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

+ A special American shout-out is due for bronze medalist Caroline Zhang, who skated one of only two clean free skates among the singles on the podium (Alban Preaubert being the other).

+ Another American shout-out goes to 5th place finishers Vise/Trent, who turned in a great free skate even without the throw quad salchow. And with all due respect to Inoue/Baldwin, THIS is the kind of team that makes me wish certain veterans would retire and get out of the way. Quickly.

+ For the men, what an interesting (if only temporary) fall from grace for 4th place finisher Brian Joubert. From beginning to end, he looked like he had something to prove but left key pieces of evidence back at the hotel… or maybe on the practice ice. I am glad to hear he held himself accountable, though. And nice for the cameras to catch him being very sportsmanlike backstage with fellow Frenchman Preaubert (who edged him for bronze).

+ As for winner Patrick Chan, two things to note: a) Skate Canada? Not a fluke. And b) Flawed programs? Not a problem. Neither of his free skates in this season’s GP have been the show-stiopper du jour, yet his overall technique and style seem to hold him up quite nicely. All the elite male skaters in the world who hope to be in Vancouver 15 months from now should be taking note of such a competitor… one who is “on” even when he is “off”.

+ And one final thing…was it just me, or did the Kiss & Cry look like everyone was sitting in front of a giant wall of jeans on display at Old Navy?

More to come tomorrow, as we take a closer look at the ways this weekend’s events compared to another sport people get passionate about…

For now, I leave you Kozuka’s SP to Take Five (I have yet to find a program set to this music that I dislike)…a super-classy
Clip of the Day.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Voila! TEB Predictions, Pt. 2

I was all set to talk about how I look forward to TEB simply because the arena in which it takes place is so lovely… because it is… but then I caught this article at telling of the crappy condition of the ice itself over in Paris, at least mid-week. Sheesh. Maybe the key to appreciating the competition this weekend will be simple: don’t look down.

Anyway… better get to my predictions for PAIRS:

Gold: Savchenko/Szolkowy (GER)
Silver: Duhamel/Buntin (CAN)
Bronze: Mukhortova/Trankov (RUS)

Let’s just face facts, and admit up front that as long as Zhang & Zhang aren’t in Paris, the Germans are in a class by themselves. They should win by plenty. My silver/ bronze picks might easily get reversed in reality, but I found Duhamel & Buntin infinitely more appealing at SKAM a few weeks ago than the Russian M&Ms (that would be Maria and Maxim). But I haven’t compared their content side by side-- the Russians are likely to have the edge there. IF they get it all done… it’s the IF factor that keeps them in bronze for me.

Much as I cheered the U.S. pair of Vise/Trent last year at this event (and their gorgeous throw quad salchow), and would enjoy seeing them on the podium, I’m not familiar enough with what they’re up to this season to predict an upset.

Finally, for the LADIES:

Gold: Mao Asada (JPN)
Silver: Joannie Rochette (CAN)
Bronze: Caroline Zhang (USA)

Rochette lit up SKCAN 2 weeks back, and may do quite well here too, but this weekend will probably be all-Asada, all-the-time. Bronze might be a toss-up between Zhang and Emily Hughes (making her first and only GP appearance this weekend); I’m factoring in the strong possibility that Hughes, who I believe hasn’t competed since last year’s GP assignments, will be a little rusty.

Since we haven’t seen Asada skate in a while, the
Clip of the Day showcases her free skate at this event last year. There’s only 2 days of competition this time; enjoy it as it fleets on by like so many Metro trains in rush hour!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Quick, Before Someone Cancels: TEB Predictions pt. 1


I’m going to try to post my initial predictions for Trophee Eric Bompard very quietly. Why? Because I’m starting to fear that every time one of us skating bloggers (or skloggers?) tries to take some educated guesses at a GP finish, a major contender gets hurt, and falls out of the running for the next event. Not that we have any special powers… or voodoo dolls, for that matter… maybe it’s just a nutty coincidence. Or, maybe because it’s an impossibly demanding sport these days…

But just the same, I’m tiptoeing onto the internet this time… if that’s possible… with some TEB predictions. The hope is that we can get to Friday without so much as a stubbed toe from Mao Asada.

For the DANCE:
Gold- Delobel/Schoenfelder (FRA)
Silver- Kerr/Kerr (GBR)
Bronze- Faiella/Scali (ITA)

Frankly, the D/S free dance ’08 did little for me when I watched it at Skate America. But the judges obviously thought otherwise, and D/S come into this not only as last year’s defending champs… but this year’s world champs. They’d pretty much have to fall twice in every part of the competition to lose this one. As for the Kerr’s ability to go up one podium spot from their own SKAM finish… it’s kind of risky, but I really do think they can get it done.

The recent SKCAN silver medalists Crone/Poirier (CAN) also seem a podium possibility, but I’m not confident that what happened on their home turf can happen across the pond. Maybe I’ll have to gain some confidence in that thought by week’s end.

For the MEN:
Gold: Brian Joubert (FRA)
Silver: Takahiko Kozuka (JPN)
Bronze: Patrick Chan (CAN)

Ooh… finally, a tough one! Joubert might seem a shoo-in at TEB any other year, but this year he happens to be facing a rising star from Japan who just won SKAM... not to mention a rising star from Canada who just won SKCAN. So why am I still going with Joubert, particularly when he’s unproven so far this season? I guess it’s because I have a hard time seeing him blow it. Joubert hasn’t been at TEB for at least a couple of years, so I think he goes in with a double agenda: to give his native fans a great homecoming, and to give his rising star competitors a primer on what a long-burning star skates like.

It would certainly shake things up if either one of the other two can pull an upset, though. Stay tuned! Ryan Bradley and Alban Preaubert are possible contenders should any of the top three falter. And I know that’s what I said of Bradley at SKCAN, and then he went and won silver. The difference this time is in the deeper talent pool. Methinks it's going to be a little harder for lightning to strike twice.

Speaking of Preaubert, the
Clip of the Day is his SP from last year’s TEB (which put him in 1st, though he was unable to stay on top after the free skate). With programs set to music like Dracula and Addams Family Values, I can’t help but wonder: Is Preaubert the Ryan Bradley of France? Discuss.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cut the Popcorn Shots! An Open Plea Re: Cup of China Video Coverage

Calling all directors from the world feed of this past weekend’s Cup of China…
(Not to mention the producers that may have forced them to do as they did…)

After watching the coverage on, I’ve a few favors to ask of you.

+ Please remember that, as gorgeous as the skaters’ faces might be, it’s their performance we’re tuning in to see. When they’re doing footwork, it helps to see the feet. When they’re hitting key, story-telling poses in their program, it helps to see the pose. See how that works? This wasn’t the Cup of China Beauty Pageant, after all.

+ Please don’t do paint-by-numbers directing: show the head-and-shoulder shot here… dissolve to a brief shot of the feet there… dissolve to a full body shot by the third bar of the music… and so on. What works for Sunday morning public affairs shows does NOT work for figure skating. The athletes out there are having a hard enough time these days trying to get all the elements in without turning in cookie-cutter routines. Don’t do a disservice to them—and the viewers—with a cookie-cutter approach. They work too hard … and we appreciate them too much... for that treatment.

+ Please, please stay away from a) rafter shots, and b) audience shots. Or at least don’t use them so liberally. Rafter shots (those mile-high shots that make the skater seem microscopic on TV) might be pretty, but they suck away an awful lot of the sport’s athleticism. Oh that looked nice; did she do a triple/triple just then? Who can tell on a shot like that? And the audience shots—when did they become more important than the skaters? I was eager to see the initial reaction on Jeremy Abbott’s face after just turning in the best performance of his GP career to date… but guess what I saw instead? That’s right, at least TWO different pans of the crowd clapping and eating popcorn. By the time you got back to Abbott, he was taking his bows. And of course, thanks to the aforementioned paint-by-numbers approach, we saw “popcorn shots” time and time again as soon as a skater was done. Shame, shame, shame on whoever thought this was a good idea.

+ And finally: please, please, PLEASE stop showing us things like Stella the Squirrel (See above image-- no offense to Stella; I’m just trying to prove a point)

Stuffed animals are cute, we know. Skaters get them by the truckload—we know that too. But just as GP events are not about the crowds, they aren’t about the toys either. So we don’t need to see them sitting idle on the ice. Or sitting idle alongside a skater in the kiss’n’cry. Or wiggling around adorably in a skater’s lap while they await their scores. Once or twice per competition? Fine. But when you do it more often than you DON’T do it… that’s a problem. CUT IT OUT.

Thanks for your time, and with any luck at all, we’ll see a whole different approach (and production team) running the show at Trophee Eric Bompard in a few days.

For the
Clip of the Day , here is the Ashley Wagner FS I mentioned yesterday. Many thanks to tiamatsrevenge for pointing me to it!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Of Tangos and Spartaci: Cup of China Recap

“Spartaci” is plural for Spartacus, just in case you were wondering.

OK, not really. I just thought it sounded better than Spartacuses.

Why would I find a need to pluralize the name of Khachaturian’s ballet anyway? Read on, as the GP observations keep on coming…

+ Stats-wise, my predictions held even with Skate Canada as I scored 5 for 12 again: good guesses for Ladies’ gold and silver, Mens’ silver, Pairs’ gold, and Dance bronze. Sarah Meier had anything but a clean skate either night, so Laura Lepisto took bronze instead. And Jeremy Abbott took full advantage of the quad-turned-double toe loop and other errors served up by Tomas Verner, which resulted in trading places on the podium from what I’d predicted. As for the rest… just picture more flip-flopping. That just about sums it up.

+ First we had dueling, back-to-back Giselles at Skate America for the ladies free skate. This time we had dueling, back-to-back Tango Medleys in the mens free skate for Artem Borodulin and Tomas Verner. My vote easily went to Verner; I cannot wait to see that one with all the content at 100%. But was anyone else taken back at how deflated his program was for a good 10 to 15 seconds after he took his one tumble? He appeared stunned, as if he’d fallen out of a wonderful dream and was trying to figure out how to jump back in.

+ As for the non-medalists, my favorite among the men had to be Kristoffer Berntsson’s robotic visit through 1985. I have to admit, Axel F and Take On Me remixes are things I could generally do without. But if he can manage some better jumps later in the season, this could be the coolest flashback since Stephanie Rosenthal’s Rockit program at 2006 U.S. Nationals.

+ My non-medalist pick for the women was easily Ashley Wagner (who finished 4th). The word I wrote down was FIERCE… so much speed! So much power! And did you hear the applause that thundered down midway through the routine? She seems to be thriving just fine under Priscilla Hill’s tutelage.

+ However, I have to admit that I’m not a fan of either Spartacus costume…that goes for Wagner’s AND Oksana Domnina’s (who used Spartacus for her free dance with Maxim Shabalin). I’m not sure when it was that Romanesque themes started taking on a tribal flair, but it would appear that both ladies had caught a little jungle fever. Note to both of them: the season is young. Take advantage.

+ Speaking of costume overhauls: what did everyone think of the new look for Belgosto’s OD? I liked it, but as the OD itself goes, I’m afraid I still like others better. And it occurred to me that the last time these two did a major costume change mid-season was the That’s Entertainment! free dance of 2006-7. Which ultimately led to scrapping that program altogether. Could there be an all-new OD by the GP Final?

On that quasi-cliffhanger, I’ll leave you with Clips of the Day from both
this Spartacus (the Dombalin FD), with hopes that I can find THAT Spartacus (the Wagner FS) on You Tube by my next posting. By the way, if you scratched your head at the way these clips are directed, you’re not alone. I’ve got a bone to pick with the TV producers at Cup of China, and I’ll get to that tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Choosing Pairs and Men in the Cup of China

A Change is Gonna Come…

Sorry—just thinking about the outcome of yesterday’s election :-)

Or did you think I was talking about the latest withdrawal at Cup of China? Easy to see where there’d be confusion; we’ll now be missing Castile & Okolski in the Pairs event AND Daisuke Takahashi in the Men’s. Still, the predictions must go on.

For the PAIRS:
Gold- Zhang/Zhang (CHN)
Silver- Pang/Tong (CHN)
Bronze- Volosozhar/Morozov (UKR)

The third spot I’ve chosen strictly by the rankings—with the best chance for a U.S. medal out of the running, I went with the team ranked #9 at the end of last season. Of course, choosing between the top two Chinese teams is a much tougher task. The sky-high split triple twists, the throw jumps that seem to travel across small canyons… each team has ‘em. I’ll give the edge to Zhang & Zhang, as they seem to have stronger all-around skills. I haven’t seen either team since last season, though-- it really could go either way.

For the MEN:
Gold- Tomas Verner (CZE)
Silver- Stephen Carriere (USA)
Bronze- Jeremy Abbott (USA)

Could’ve been, would’ve been… Buttle was supposed to be in this event along with Takahashi and Verner, but Verner is practically uncontested now. Or is he? Especially when you think of what happened at SkAM last month, perhaps he should pay special attention to those he’s barely heard of. The absence of the others means both the two young Americans have a good chance of medaling, but didn’t Kristoffer Berntsson (SWE) make a strong impression in front of the home crowd last March? Maybe he’ll bump a USA guy out. Or maybe the trio of Chinese men will shine in their homeland. Or maybe the Canadian medal run will continue with Vaughn Chipeur…

But I’ll stick with my picks… even though I’m making Berntsson’s aforementioned FS the
Clip of the Day. Enjoy CoC!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Carrying That Delicate Cup of China: Dance/Ladies Picks

On this Election Day in the U.S., I’m happy to say I did the “vote early” thing last week, and therefore can sit here and make Cup of China predictions rather than wait in line for one or two hours!

So I’ll get right to it, and start with DANCE:

Gold—Belbin/Agosto (US)
Silver—Domnina/Shabalin (RUS)
Bronze—Khokhlova/Novitski (RUS)

Get right to it, indeed—this is one of the two most interesting showdowns of the event (the other being the battle of the top two Chinese pairs, which I’ll address tomorrow). And this is surprisingly tough, as I wasn’t all that wild about Belgosto (Yes, I’m trying out new nicknames) and their new routines… but I’ve not much of a Dombalin fan either. Plus, word on the street is that the Russians are not particularly happy in their current training situation (which happens to be not only in the U.S., but side-by-side with Belgosto… as you might know already). Who can blame them? In which case, either their frustrations will show rather clearly, or they’ll pour everything they have into their competitions-- figuring, why suffer without reward? I’m still siding with Belgosto… simple reason being that they’ve already debuted their routines, and are likely refining them further so they don’t have to settle for silver again as they did 2 weeks ago. Dombalin hasn’t had that opportunity yet. Not to fear; if I’m right, they will surely shine at Cup of Russia later this month.

As for the LADIES:

Gold—Yu-Na Kim (S. Korea)
Silver—Miki Ando (JPN)
Bronze—Sarah Meier (SUI)

Now that we’ve seen what both Kim and Ando have to offer this season, the choice here isn’t as tough. Even if Kim falters on a jump or two, I think she’ll have the component scores to top Ando at this point. And as long as Ando’s jumps are in good shape, she’ll likely stay ahead of Meier (who I was liking very much by the end of last season). The U.S. contributions to this event include Katrina Hacker, making her Senior GP debut... and current national bronze medalist Ashley Wagner-- who has an outside chance at a medal, as does Finland’s Laura Lepisto.

Men and Pairs coming soon… to tide you over till then, enjoy a sneak peek at Meier’s new SP as the
Clip of the Day … it’s Samba-riffic. Let’s hope for a better triple loop in China, though.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Eight Observations from Skate Canada 2008

Since we fly right into CoCh (Cup of China) so quickly—compulsory dance starts at 5AM New York time this coming Thursday!—I’m going to type up 8 semi-quick observations from the weekend in Ottawa:

1) My first official chance to follow the events in “real time” on, and I can see I’m going to drive my family bonkers over the next several weeks. “Need help putting boxes back into the garage attic? Sure, but the pairs’ free skate starts at 2:35 so let’s get going”… and so on. Gotta admit there’s a silver lining when you don’t have to wait a whole week for ESPN to run the tape-delayed version. (But I’m having security certificate issues when I try to login this morning… anyone else?)

2) Oh, and another thing… I don’t know that this is IceNetwork’s problem (as they seem to simply be picking up what I think is called the “world feed”), but the distorted/warbly audio I heard over much of the SkCan coverage was a drag. If I wanted to hear what “Otonal” sounds like underwater, I’d watch skating below sea level.

3) My batting average came up a bit with this round; I was 5-for-12 rather than 3-for-12… nailed the pairs predictions, almost nailed the ladies guesses (must admit I’m happier with the actual outcome), messed up considerably on the men, and severely underestimated Davis/White or overestimated their competition with my dance forecast. (More on that later.)

4) Eating my words part 1: Ryan Bradley showed up as Elvis, not Batman, and it seemed to serve him exceptionally well. And while I’m not much of a fan of recycled programs (especially those from 2 seasons ago), his Latin number once again brought him a silver medal—this time of the international variety. He’s obviously doing something right! (And yeah, I found myself a little surprised at Chan’s ability to outscore him.)

5) Reviewing last year’s performances proved helpful in more ways than helping make a good stab at pairs’ predictions. Yannick Pansero was in 2nd after last year’s SP, then turned in a pretty anemic FS and failed to medal. So when he was in the lead this year after the SP, I suspected he might do the same thing… and, in fact, he did. (But I liked his free skate as a whole much better, especially the straight line steps… I’m a sucker for some "Sing Sing Sing".)

6) As for the ladies, there was only one real star in the Canadian sky. SO glad to see Joannie Rochette pull out such a decisive victory… ditto for Alissa Czisny managing a bronze! I thought my prediction was for naught after her SP, but her rally in the FS was very nice to see.

7) From the Anything-Can-Happen-In-This-Sport-And-Usually-Does Files: Kostner’s bizarre slip-ups in the SP, and Suguri’s resurgence as a contender (well, at least for this event… we’ll see if she can keep the momentum swinging her way at Cup of Russia in a few weeks).

8) Eating my words part 2: Charlie Davis and Meryl White proved so solid in all areas of their competition, there was no way the judges could haggle between their performances and anyone elses. Kudos to them… and I’m with Laura at Required Elements in saying Belbin and Agosto better watch their backs in January. The Charleston/Samson and Delilah combo definitely wowed me more than the Steppin’Out/Tosca offering, at least initially.

I’ll be back to talk about Cup of China soon! Till then, the
Clip of the Day showcases Canadian Shawn Sawyer—who actually beat out everyone in the Free Skate Saturday, though he was too far back to medal. Maybe next year…