Saturday, January 31, 2009

On Ratings, Quotes, and a Ball of Yarn: Final Thoughts, 2009 U.S. Nats

Some things simply cannot be rushed… and then there are two key portions of the ISU figure skating season, which apparently cannot be slowed down, spread out, or anything in between.

Portion 1 is that breathless eight-week span between October and December known as the Grand Prix Series. It’s become a given through the years.

Portion 2 is trickier, as it has to volley around every 4 years to make room for the Olympics... and the other three years the various events in different corners of the world seem to trip over each other anyway. Last week, for example, saw the U.S. Nationals running simultaneously with the European Championships. NEXT week will already bring us the Four Continents Championship, with skating getting underway Wednesday.

Then a three week gap… before Junior Worlds cranks into gear.

Then a FOUR week gap before (Senior) Worlds.

So you see, there’s barely any time for me to dilly-dally between events! In fact there’s no time yet to even discuss Euros in any depth… I was hoping to in the coming week, but that’s before I realized 4CC’s were knocking at the door. So Euros talk will come later…probably in a couple of weeks. When we hit a lull before Junior Worlds.

Why not talk about it now? Because I’ve still got a steno pad page full of little notes I took throughout last week’s U.S. Nationals and haven’t shared with the class, that’s why.

So in no particular order, here are some final observations and my own sort of “awards”:

+ Most Embarrassed Spectator at “the Q”: should definitely be the lady (I think it was a lady; don’t mean to stereotype) who somehow managed to drop a ball of yarn over the barrier and onto the ice at the very start of William Brewster’s SP. If Seinfeld had ever done an episode involving Kramer attending U.S. Nationals, this is precisely the sort of thing that would have happened to him. Only difference would be that he’d likely toss himself out onto the ice too, like a kitten.

+ Most Embarrassing Mispronunciation by an Ice Network Announcer: Mark Mancuso, who needs to read
this article the next time he even thinks about saying a certain French composer’s name Day-BUH-see. Honte à vous!

+ First Quad Toe Landed Successfully at the Event: by my accounts, that honor goes to Shaun Rogers, who landed a beauty in the SP but ended up down in 12th by the time all was said and done. And once again we are reminded that, contrary to lingering belief, simply having a quad does not guarantee a skater much of anything.

+ Best Article Related to TV coverage of the Event:
This one in the Seattle Times, likening NBC’s work to an episode of Lost for all it’s time-traveling efforts during the men’s event. Me, I’d followed on Ice Network and wasn’t thrown by it at all… and being in TV production myself, I know NBC had certain choices to make once they had to deal with one of their marquee skaters (Weir) being in the penultimate flight. Still, I can really see how it could have been confusing for someone just tuning in by chance. You know, the viewers that skating badly needs to keep…

By the way,
this one from the New York Daily News is worth reading as well, but if you’re a huge fan of Scott Hamilton as a commentator, you should probably skip it.

+ Best Article About the Event in General: Any, and I do mean any, of Phillip Hersh’s posts at his
Globetrotting blog will do. I don’t always agree with what he has to say, but happen to be in full agreement with him regarding the Weir and Czisny “controversies”. My favorite little quote of his was in regard to bronze medalist Caroline Zhang, who “skates so slowly she risks being arrested for loitering.” Yikes! But my, do I love an accurate zing…

+ And finally, Best Quote From a Post-Event Press Conference: of course it comes from Weir, who tried to defend comparisons made between a Sick Johnny Weir and a Sick Michael Jordan by saying "It may sound like an excuse but you also have to imagine that Michael Jordan also has an entire team of people around him…I'm a single, sparkly boy standing in the middle of the ice by myself. I see no comparison between Michael Jordan and myself in that respect.''

With those words, friends, my younger brother and all the others that annually proclaim figure skating to be anything BUT sport took one soul-crushing step forward. Merci beaucoup, Sparkly Boy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

U.S. Pairs & Dance: Here's to "The Rest"

Poor Pairs and Dance disciplines. In the U.S., anyway, TV coverage treats them like second-class citizens even when one such discipline (Dance) has generated an Olympic medalist in recent memory. Not that I expected them to show up in the Saturday night broadcast when the ladies are the ones Nielsen ratings have been made of for decades in this country, mind you...

But they’re like “The rest” on the Gilligan’s Island theme song. Know what I’m talking about? In the early seasons of that 60s sitcom—if you don’t know what I’m talking about, here, we’ll make it the
Clip of the Day ; and you’re welcome—the song included Gilligan, the Skipper too… (consider those two the ladies this year, at least in terms of NBC programming)

The millionaire and his wife… (that would be the men with the late afternoon Sunday slot)

The movie star (eh, I guess the closest we’ve got is Sasha Cohen; she’s not here this year, who knows about next year yet, let’s move on…)


Yes, in later seasons “the rest” got props as who they really were—The Professor and Mary-Ann—but it took a while. In U.S. skating terms, you’d think world and Olympic medals might make the difference and bridge the time gap, except… whoops… that couple didn’t skate this year due to injury.

Coincidence?? Yeah, it probably is. I’m not sure NBC would have put a spotlight on the dance event even if Tanith and Ben had 2 world golds to their name, skated to all hip-hop, and wore costumes comprised of thongs and band-aids. It’s just not as interesting as, you know, THE RIVALRY.

Not that I’m complaining; the men’s event was a humdinger as I outlined in the last post. It just makes me wonder what might happen if ALL the variations on Team USA were considered marquee material.

But I digress. Perhaps I’m hypocritical in my own coverage here, as they’re getting mashed into one piece when I devoted individual pieces to the singles skaters… but NBC packaged them almost as if they were highlights material, so that’s what I’m working with—for now. When time allows I’m going to loiter at IceNetwork a good long time and see what shimmers among the lesser-knowns.

For now, though, here are my Top Five Notes from the Pairs & Dance Events:

+ Just because they didn’t skate on the Senior GP Circuit doesn’t mean they’re unworthy. The most obvious example is Caydee Denney/Jeremy Barrett, who nearly upset McLaughlin/Brubaker for the pairs’ title, but rookie seniors Madison & Keiffer Hubbell showed real potential for making the dance podium too—particularly when veterans Navarro/Bommentre fared so poorly on the OD.

+ Just because they DID skate on the circuit doesn’t mean they can’t get tripped up on the same element two competitions in a row. You might think I’m talking about John Baldwin’s SBS triple toe loop—and I certainly could be—but what’s really on my mind is that one spin in Samuelson/Bates’ free dance that currently serves the dubious honor of grinding an otherwise fine performance to a halt. I feel for them, because it’s not like a jump that is over in about 3 seconds—rather, it’s about 20- 30 seconds of Oh-God-can-we-please-get-through-this-without faltering. Can’t be fun. Methinks the monkey that was reportedly on Alissa Czisny’s back until Saturday night has now found it’s way to these two.

+ Just because a brother and sister team is ice dancing doesn’t mean it has to be the oh-so-marvelous Kerrs. Again I point to the Hubbells, a really enjoyable pair that I hope can nab a couple of GP assignments next season. (Special shout-out to the Kerrs, by the way, for grabbing bronze at Euros last week! I’ll be revisiting that event in upcoming posts.)

+ Just because a team doesn’t do their best doesn’t mean they shouldn’t win. As with Czisny, there seems to be some debate as to whether or not Mc/Bru should have won over Denney/Barrett. I thought this one was even clearer cut than the Czisny/Flatt debate… but maybe not. My thought is that Mc/Bru is now strong enough to take on other, clearly less experienced young guns and win, short of their total implosion. And there was no implosion that I could see. I look forward to seeing how both pairs do in their inaugural senior Worlds.

+ Just because you and your partner are literally twice as old as the majority of your competitors doesn’t mean you should hang it up. Oh, wait, yeah it does. (Sorry Inoue/Baldwin… if you’d missed the 2006 Olympic team I might get it, but you’ve had your turn. And earned a place in history to boot! Please, please move on, before you deny a perfectly deserving team a spot because they happened to slip when you happened to stand up.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

JeremEEEE Indeed! Off-the-Cuff Nats Notes For the Men

Same thing, different event: here’s my blow-by-blow of the televised version of the Men’s Final from Sunday afternoon…

+ Started with, surprise surprise, talk of “the rivalry” between Weir and Lysacek… though the “last time they were here” video flashback thing from 2000 was cute—was that really THAT long ago?

+ And it’s all because Johnny’s skating first on the broadcast. I’m as sorry as anyone else he’s down in 7th (and I’m not just saying that ‘cause I picked him to win), but I find it pretty ironic that the guy who just got quoted all over the wires about this now being a “math” competition ended up blowing it with a simple popped axel. Happened in the old system, happens here.

+ And… watching Weir’s Free Skate… it happens yet AGAIN. Goodness, what a rough year. What a rough skate.

+ Next we see short programs in review. I appreciate their need to do this, but I would’ve preferred to see the rest of the penultimate flight, particularly Adam Rippon (who would end up in 7th when it was all over) and Tommy Steenberg (who moved up to 10th).

+ Interesting discussion here about Weir being named to the team… I really didn’t think he had a chance after that skate, but he’s lobbying, and Scott and Sandra are right behind him. I guess they have a point, but…hmmm.

+ Curran Oi, who was featured here on the blog back on October 3rd, is up first. Triple Axel is a wash, but he made a nice debut. Still, he managed to finish behind Weir.

+ Brandon Mroz is up next. Really nice work, probably more impressive than he was on the GP circuit this season… and wow, a lovely quad to boot! Nifty.

+ The Broadmoor shuffle continues with Ryan Bradley. Will his mambo extravaganza live to see another day—either at Worlds, 4CC’s, or both? I’ll say this much—I can’t believe he landed that quad without a hand touchdown. The rest was kind of expected, though I don’t think I’ve seen him pop a salchow before. Mroz is still in the lead by quite a bit.

+ Lysacek’s turn. When I first saw the tux I thought Hey, same costume, what gives? Then I saw: blue velvet, no bat wings now. I guess it’s better. I still don’t see the need for a bow tie, but what do I know. Falls HARD on that quad—yikes! Pitches forward on the salchow… flip out on 2nd triple axel…the footwork doesn’t flow like it did earlier in the season; it even looked like he was just throwing turns in at the end to fill the music (even though I know that isn’t the case).

Whoa… he’s behind Mroz. Will Evan ever wear the monkey suit again—for any reason—after this season? Note to Tanith Belbin: if you two ever tie the knot, get ready for a casual affair on the shores of Hawaii…

+ Pennington… will he be able to put two back-to-back? Early on, after a huge splat on the first axel, I’m thinking NO. Too bad; this would’ve been a cool story. Wonder how far he’ll slide down the ladder… I’m guessing he’ll go behind Weir (who is 4th at the moment)…he does, and worse, he’s all the way in 7th. Sigh.

+ OK, will he do it? Here comes JeremEEE… ooh, so much concentration here. He looks intense as hell. Awesome lutz. Not so awesome flip, but he saved it. LOVELY triple axel. Salchow happened so effortlessly I almost missed it. Another close save on that 2nd axel combo. Good thing he didn’t need that to be a triple-triple. Popped loop, thought he might try to put that in again later; no, instead he tossed that triple toe on the end of the double axel. So—as with Czisny last night, a somewhat flawed performance but still, arguably the most complete program of the day.

Mroz or Abbott..? Bigger question: will Abbott swear in the K & C?? (He seems to be replacing his curses with “I LOVE KUNG FOOOO”…)

And the answers are Abbott and no, not that I could hear! So NBC will continue to love him as well… as long as they can wipe his autograph off that camera lens…

P.S. I read on Ice Network later tonight that, in fact, Weir has not been named to the Worlds team but has received First Alternate privileges over Bradley. Somewhat surprising, maybe, but I have to say I think it’s fair. Abbott’s clearly on a roll, Lysacek is solid if not one to medal this year in L.A., and even young Mr. Mroz got a little Senior GP action under his belt this year. Weir is the reigning World bronze medalist, but by his own admission, he’s been sick a lot and is under-trained at the moment. Maybe USFS is trying to do him a favor by keeping him home, getting well, rather than continued sickness and stress leading to possible injury that could put the kibosh on a repeat visit to the Olympics next year. Or, maybe not. I think it’s a decent compromise in any case. What do YOU think?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

U.S. Nationals Notes off-the-cuff

Here is a composite of the notes I took while as I watched the Ladies’ Event tonight (general notes about all the senior disciplines will come next week):

+ Whoa! Elaine Zayak in the house! I’d read that she was coaching someone this year, but still didn’t expect to see her out there by the boards.

+ Bebe Liang skates first… rats, I was hoping she’d give a knockout performance since the pressure would seem to be off her. Bezic makes a comment about kids not being able to focus when they’re fretting about losing points… first ding on scoring system of the night.

+ Alexe Gilles, the tall one… as they mentioned in the first several seconds, and I mentioned several months back in an October 10 post. “She doesn’t skate like a tall person”, says Scott. Her all-Latin number is praised by Bezic as “a brave move”… do they say the same about Bradley for the men? Just curious.

Also can’t help but notice Alexe is sporting some serious gold eyeshadow. The kind that makes one say “it must hurt to wear that”!

+ Dorothy Hamill in the house too!

+ Here is Wagner…ah, cool, she did well except for that lutz.

+ Wait, I was elsewhere for a minute; what happened? Who is this? OK, Laney Diggs…

+ I was wondering who had done so well in the group before this that they were ahead of Gilles… and it turned out to be Angela Maxwell, who was also featured here a few months back (on 9/30). Good for her; too bad she wasn’t televised.

+ Wagner is in front for the moment by 12 points. She should move up well with that.

+ Ms. Diggs did well; level of difficulty not really there, but did well.

+ Musademba now…Bezic says: “with the new rules, you don’t really have a chance to take a rest…” and the dings are up to 2.

+ Is the buzzword this year “learning experience”? Seems like it.

+ Forte seems to be the story they’re glomming onto this year, so let’s see how she does: whoa, good call guys! It was clean. Nice work, Ms. Zayak.

+ “She had some downgrades & some issues w/the scoring” (Scott on Forte)… huh? She’s way down in 6th. Big bummer. Raise your hand if you want to know the “issues with the scoring”…

+ Also, raise your hand if you cringed when you saw that Alissa is skating last.

+ Hacker’s up. Oh, weird… so she’s headed to Princeton but will no longer compete? In an Olympic season? Wow, that’s tough. Maybe that’s because she has “no lutz , no flip”…

+ Wow, pretty amazing skate from Nagasu. I wouldn’t have guessed she could pull that off.

+ Rizo’s up. Wow, another one without a lutz or a flip? This seems unusual. Without them she won’t be able to beat Wagner either. Could Wagner actually make the podium after all?

+ Flatt’s turn! So solid, such a great skate, and yet I suspect the crowd is a little tepid with their applause. Holding back for Alissa?

+ Zhang. Is that a new costume? Is that last year’s program? I can’t remember if she’s been using this all season.

I see a tough decision coming between Zhang & Flatt… looks like the crowd has chosen Zhang… though the judges did not.

+ “Somewhat democratic, but very unforgiving and very punishing,” says Scott on scoring… Ding #3.

+ OK, Alissa, here we go. Let’s see how many times I can say good girl… 1,2,3,4…5… damn!...double-double… crap… come on…well…

+ A good quote from Scott just after her skate:: “She’s thinking about the wrong stuff.”

Indeed, but wow, she still won!

SHOULD she have? I’m hearing that question already, mostly from those who thought Flatt had it in the bag and, rightly so, noted that Czisny only landed three triples to Flatt’s seven. But, lest we forget, Czisny had a 5 point lead going into tonight… yes, Flatt beat her in the LP tonight, but in looking at the scores in a little more detail, just about all the points Czisny was behind Flatt in the tech score she was above with the presentation mark… resulting in a fairly even break that resulted in Czisny leading by approximately the same margin as she did with the SP. If you can follow all that.

One thing tonight’s results showed was that a high-quality program all around can still get the job done, both with the judges and the crowds. Flatt was spot-on, but so far she hasn’t found quite the right vehicle to “wow” the judges.

OK, gotta get to bed. No Clip of the Day, but it will return soon.

Friday, January 23, 2009

So Much Skating, So Little Time to Talk About It—But Here Goes…

I have a shiny new stainless steel kitchen timer that I use with my kids to time out session on the computer, on video games, on the amount of time they have to be nice to each other before mom comes out of the office…

Anyway, they’re not here and that means I can use it to time MYSELF as I attempt a quick summary of the week thus far. Hopefully you have as little time to read as I have to write, and it will all balance out perfectly. Let’s see what I can do:

+ Last night Alissa Czisny took a convincing lead in the U.S. Nationals SP, once again proving that if I predict it one way here, it will often turn up the complete opposite way there. But let’s pretend Alissa is reading this (as I would love her to make the podium or maybe… no, don’t jinx her, shut up…): Alissa, you can do this. You are one of the most graceful and elegant in the sport right now, and there is no rule that says your nerves have to take over and ruin your fun this weekend. Seize the moment! Don’t listen to silly bloggers like me! YOU…CAN…DO…THIS.

+ But Rachel Flatt (who sits in second after the SP) is very capable as well, so consider it hopes set high for two. (And that has nothing to do with the fact that I picked her to win… nothing at all…)

+ Ashley Wagner, sitting down there in 12th (yes, 12th)… throw yourself into that Spartacus routine, girl. I’m afraid you might not get a chance to show it again this year if you don’t. (Not that I think she still has a strong chance of medaling, but there are still 4 Continents assignments to consider…)

+ Earlier in the day yesterday, pairs skaters Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett made that beloved leap from “who?” to “Oh, THEM!” when they topped the leader board after the SP. I just happened to catch their routine as I was leaving the computer for a while, and they kept me fully engaged for the whole program, throw triple flip and all—not an easy thing to do if I don’t recognize a name. While it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to stay strong enough for a medal—only half a freaking point separates the top three—I think they may have already done the toughest part of their job in simply breaking through. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of my pick for bronze (Tiffany Vise & Derek Trent), who are some 10 points away from the top spots right now.

+ As for the overseas action: Joubert came through for the men’s win at Euros, but none of my other picks made the podium (Preaubert settled for 5th, while Verner tumbled all the way to 6th with what must’ve been a free skate similar to last year’s Worlds…oy.)

+ In dance, Dom/Shab have now withdrawn from the whole thing (there goes another prediction), leaving #1 Khoklova/Novitski, #2 Faeilla/Scali, and the #3 Kerrs (YAY!) to duke it out with the top French teams (who are 4th and 5th after the OD). I don’t know what’s going on at the rink where D/S and USA’s Belbin/Agosto co-train… I just know that it won’t be skating that goes on for now.

+ And the buzzer rings just as I’m about to tell what little I know about the Euro Ladies… Laura Lepisto leads after the SP, with Susanna Poykio less than a point behind her and Carolina Koster down in 3rd (!). Those do happen to be my podium picks, but there needs to be some shuffling happening in the Free Skate…

That’ll have to be it for now.

For the
Clip of the Day I’ve got Yannick Ponsero’s FS from Euros… he didn’t medal (was in 9th after the SP), but came might close after this performance that pulled even better scores than Joubert’s FS. Speaking of which, Joubert better keep our eyes on Ponsero… if he ever works out the kinks to where he can turn in two great skates, back-to-back, at the right time, he might do a whole lot more than just beat him at French Nationals (as he did last month).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Top Ladies and Gentlemen of U.S. Nationals (Or So I'm Guessing)...

Have you been keeping tabs on the goings-on over at the European Championships? Here are the snippets I’ve read:

+ Domnina/Shabalin took one of those “shocking” falls during compulsories and were fifth going into the OD, while Khoklova/Novitski sit in first. You know, the ones I predicted for… third. Rough start!
+ Meanwhile, Savchenko/Szolkowy had a “rare” (if not “shocking”) fall on the SBS triple-toe loops in the pairs’ short program, allowing Mukhortova/Trankov to claim the lead. You know, the ones I predicted for… nothing. Ouch!
+ But then I heard today that my men’s prediction for 1st place, Brian Joubert, nailed his SP and is leading Tomas Verner by 5 points.

Whew! Maybe it won’t be a complete strikeout after all… we’ll have to see how Carolina & Co. fare first.

Anyway, I’ve got some U.S. singles predictions to make…


Gold- Rachael Flatt
Silver- Ashley Wagner
Bronze- Caroline Zhang

What a tough choice for bronze! To be honest I’d really prefer to see Alissa Czisny up in 3rd (or anywhere on the podium)… when she’s “on”, she’s sublime. I’m just not convinced she’ll knock it out of the park this year. Maybe a base hit instead. (Hang on, the baseball analogies are bound to multiply.) So Zhang, who scored in the same general range at GP events this year as Czisny—and had the better time of the two at last year’s Nationals—gets the bronze prediction.

Basically, I moved last year’s champ Mirai Nagasu—who had a sub-par GP season and currently has ankle trouble—off the podium and moved last year’s silver/bronze/pewter up a space. Possibly not the best way to predict an outcome, but as it turns out it’s how I see Flatt and Wagner in their best-case scenarios… Wagner comes across as the more exciting and powerful performer this season of the two, but she also seems the one more likely to blow a jump.

Oh, and there are plenty of potential “spoilers” in the wings too—Katrina Hacker, Bebe Liang, Becky Bereswill, Alexe Gilles and Angela Maxwell all come to mind. Should be fun! Bring your popcorn.

And then be sure to save some popcorn for the MEN:

Gold- Johnny Weir
Silver- Jeremy Abbott
Bronze- Evan Lysacek

Here’s my theory, useless as it might be: Weir can be one tough cookie of a competitor. Not only is he gunning to get back the National title he lost to Lysacek in ’06, but he just lost the GP Final to JeremEEE. He knows what he’s up against from both of these guys, and I’m thinking he’ll deliver as perhaps he hasn’t fully done for a while (not even when he won World bronze). Just a feeling I have. And if it’s close between he and Abbott, I think the judges will lean towards Weir a little more on the performance components (please, no more TIES!!!).

As for Lysacek—first, a moment of silence because I heard his Gershwin costume from earlier in the season has been laid to rest (whew).

That atrocity notwithstanding, Lysacek seemed to get noticed for all the wrong reasons at Skate America and Skate Canada (namely, under-rotated jumps and questionable technique). While I’ve no doubt he’s been working on this like a crazy man since we last saw him compete, I can’t help but think the judges are going to have their sharpest eagle eyes on his feet, and are not going to give him the benefit of the doubt if said doubt rears its ugly head. (Or is it ugly feet?)

So… yes, I think a slip down to third place is very possible.

Spoilers for the men abound as well… Stephen Carriere is a very strong podium candidate, as is Adam Rippon (the latter of which just started training under Brian Orser). Brandon Mroz could have a shot; so could fresh faces like Curran Oi or maybe even Eliot Halverson. And certain veterans can’t be counted out either: what if Parker Pennington or Scott Smith pulled a surprise breakout performance? And if Skate Canada is any indication, Ryan Bradley remains as capable of stopping the show as ever.

Cleveland rocks—especially when it’s being rattled by triple axels and death drops! Let the marquee events begin!

As I started looking for Clip of the Day options, I learned that the Germans had come back in the free skate today to claim victory at Europeans. But since Mukhortova/Trankov finished with bronze—something I was rooting against, frankly—and since they won it on the strength of their SP, I’m giving it
Clip of the Day honors. By the way, Kawaguchi/Smirnov took silver.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Back In The U.S.A.: Nationals Predictions for Senior Dance & Pairs

From the they’re-dropping-like-flies file: Emily Hughes has withdrawn from U.S. Nationals too… another injury. And so, the 2007 Silver medalist joins 2007 Gold medalist Kimmie Meissner on the bench… let’s hope 2007 Bronze medalist Alissa Czisny doesn’t make it a trifecta.

Since U.S. Nationals got off the ground with Novice/Junior action today, I’m going to get a move-on with the first part of my Nats predictions.


Gold- Davis/White
Silver- Samuelson/Bates
Bronze- Summersett/Gilles

Wow—wouldn’t it be astounding if, after the past couple weeks of buildup, Davis & White somehow fumbled their clear shot at gold? But I don’t anticipate such a surprise—we have two truly remarkable senior dance teams (in D/W and the injured Belbin/Agosto), but we don’t have three. At least, not yet.

Samuelson & Bates had a pair of decent showings in the GP this season, which is why I see them in second. Putting Summersett & Gilles over Navarro & Bommentre might be seen as unusual, but the two had compatible scores at their most recent events—I’m putting S/G ahead primarily because the N/B free dance seems a little dated this year. Like they’re “dancing” in 1999 instead of 2009.


Gold- McLaughlin/Brubaker
Silver- Inoue/Baldwin
Bronze- Vise/Trent

I was very big on McBru early in the season, so I can only hope they’re ready and rarin’ to go for gold this week. Inoue & Baldwin showed they can still turn in a respectable performance just last month, when they made the podium at NHK, but between ever-inconsistent side-by-side triple toes, an even less consistent throw triple axel, and no chance of matching McBru’s speed and power, I think it would take a complete meltdown from the younger team to put I/B back on top. As for bronze—it’s not that I’m forgetting former champs Castile & Okolski, it’s just that I haven’t seen them in so long and don’t know what to expect. They could easily be on the podium, but I find myself crossing my fingers for Vise & Trent, a pair that seems to have a lot more going for them than the throw quadruple salchow they quietly made history with in 2007.

The V/T free skates from this season’s GP can’t be found on You Tube, but their 2007 skate with the quad can be found on this
Clip of the Day. Tune back in soon for the last batch of predictions!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Meissner's Out of Nationals...and Pt. 2 of Predicting Parellel Championships

Some breaking news to report before I get to the rest of my Euros predictions:

+ According to a very brief blurb on, Kimmie Meissner has withdrawn from next week’s U.S. Nationals “due to injury”. I can’t find anything else on this as I go to post, but more info will surely be available tomorrow. What an unfortunate way to end a surely disappointing season for Meissner. May time help her heal not only her body, but any lingering abrasions on her spirit…

+ Now for news that you may already know, especially if you’re reading from the Great White North: Canadian Nationals have come to a close, and congratulations are in order for Joannie Rochette (5 times champion), Patrick Chan (2 time champion), Dube & Davison (World bronze medalists; 1st-time National champs), and Virtue & Moir (World silver medalists; 2nd time National champs).

OK, back across the Atlantic…


Gold- Carolina Kostner (ITA)
Silver- Laura Lepisto (FIN)
Bronze- Susanna Poykio (FIN)

Personal taste aside, I don’t see how Kostner can lose this, even if she blows it as badly as she did as Skate Canada. She simply has too much on her side technically speaking—compared to other European ladies at the moment, at least—and they seem to love to lavish the presentation marks on her no matter where she is, so… the math is there.

With Sarah Meier out with a herniated disc, silver and bronze get a lot tougher this year. I found myself re-watching all the top Finnish women, trying to make a choice. I’m going with Lepisto because she seems the most solid. I know Korpi is back from injury, but the free skate I saw of hers seemed void of non-edge triples. I LOVED her music (which put me in the mind of the Delobel/Schoenfelder “Bonnie and Clyde” program of a few years ago), but again, the technical just doesn’t seem good to go yet. If she shows up at Euros with a full plate of jumps, though, I might be eating my predictions…

For MEN:

Gold- Brian Joubert (FRA)
Silver- Alban Preaubert (FRA)
Bronze- Tomas Verner (CZE)

I keep putting Joubert on top this year, with mixed results: a total blow-up at TEB, at total turn-around at Cup of Russia, and a withdrawal at the GP Final. Still, I’m going with him here… if only because I think he comes seeking vengeance from last year. Speaking of last year—I’d really like to have higher hopes for Verner, as I find his Tango program plenty appealing. But he seems to have left his confidence in Sweden at last year’s Worlds, and it only get sent back to him in bits and pieces. He just doesn’t seem “back” yet. Which, hopefully, leaves the silver spot open for Preaubert—someone I think I’ve been underrating up to this point.

OK, one down, one to go… U.S. Nationals predictions coming very soon!

Kiira Korpi’s FS from the recent Finnish Nationals is the
Clip of the Day.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Predicting Parellel Championships Part 1: Euros, Pairs & Dance

You might have heard that there’s another major figure skating championships taking place across the pond at virtually the same time as U.S. Nationals next week.

Me, I think of it more like this: O-my-God-whose-big-idea-was-it-to-schedule-two-big-championships-at-the-same-time-so-horrific-for-bloggers-trying-to-write-about-both-how-COULD-they??

And then I realize I need to get over that quickly, because I have twice as many predictions to make as usual and time’s a-wasting. So without further adieu, let’s get started with PAIRS and DANCE predictions for Europeans:

Gold- Savchenko/Szolkowy (GER)
Silver- Kawaguchi/Smirnov (RUS)
Bronze- Volosozhar/Morozov (UKR)

Yes, the Germans slipped up at the GP Final last month… but the ones to whom they lost are not at this event. The Germans DID beat Kawaguchi/Smirnov last month, though, and even if the latter finds success with their throw quad salchow I’m not sure they could win. Savchenko and Szolkowy, even when flawed, continue to dominate pairs skating—at least as far as Europe is concerned.

You might think I’ve chosen Volosozhar/Morozov simply because I continue to be unimpressed by Mukhortova/Trankov. But seriously, I took another look at the Volo/Moro performance at Cup of China… and it’s infinitely more enjoyable than the chemistry-free Lady & Hooligan number that Muk/Trank have been trying to sell us this year. Fingers crossed for the Ukranians!

Gold- Domnina/Shabalin (RUS)
Silver- Faiella/Scali (ITA)
Bronze- Khoklova/Novitski (RUS)

With the “other” D/S team out with an injury, the dance title might be up for grabs between at least a half-dozen other teams. Or is it? Domnina/Shabalin lost the Russian title to Khoklova/Novitski, but as weary as I am of their Spartacus spectacle, I think they’ll be pulling out all the stops to defeat the rest of the pack. I’ve yet to see them blow two competitions in a row. And I chose Faiella/Scali for the silver simply because, in re-watching the free dances, I found theirs to be the more seamless one.

It happens to still be available on You Tube in fact, so
here it is as the Clip of the Day.

I’ll be back to predict the rest of Euros later in the weekend.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nationals Preview, or A Patchwork Sampler of Great (or at least "Better") American GP Performances

As I write this, it is 15 degrees (Fahrenheit) in Cleveland Ohio. The 10-day outlook promises temperatures will rise to almost twice that by the time the Senior events start taking place at U.S. Nationals late next week. Having been out in 15 degree weather with kids and sleds for at least ½ an hour today, I will keep my fingers crossed for all fans attending that the forecasts are accurate.

In the meantime, I came up with this little guide to help us decide who we think will win next week. Unfortunately, this “guide” might only work for those of you with IceNetwork subscriptions, or who taped things off of the CBC or Eurosport, or have located remote corners of the WWW where the broadcasts continue to run freely.

I hope that accounts for a good amount of you (if not all)!

In ALPHABETICAL order, I’ve listed the 5 or 6 U.S. skaters competing in each discipline that have racked up the most notable scores on the GP circuit this season, and I’m listing their highest-scoring performance. This is not to say these are going to be the top skaters; I’m not making any predictions… yet. (Check back with me as we get a little closer.) This is just a chance to, if your resources are such, see the best these talents have to offer and imagine how things might shake down if everyone had a “best case scenario” awaiting them in Cleveland. (Yeah, I know. But imagine if they did!)

Alissa Czisny/Skate Canada
Rachael Flatt/ Cup of Russia
Katrina Hacker/ NHK Trophy
Mirai Nagasu/Skate America
Ashley Wagner/NHK (note: her best FS was at TEB)
Caroline Zhang/Trophee Eric Bompard

Jeremy Abbott/Grand Prix Final
Ryan Bradley/Skate Canada
Stephen Carriere/Cup of China
Evan Lysacek/Skate America
Adam Rippon/Cup of Russia
Johnny Weir/Skate America (though his NHK performance was scored similarly)

Evora/Ladwig//Cup of China
Inoue/Baldwin//NHK Trophy
McLaughlin/Brubaker//Skate America
Vise/Trent//Skate Canada
(NOTE: Castile/Okolski had to withdraw from their GP events due to injury.)

Davis/White//Skate Canada
Navarro/Bommentre//Skate Canada
Samuelson/Bates//Skate America
Summersett/Gilles//Skate America
Wester/Barantsev//Trophee Eric Bompard

Hope I got all these right... let me know if I didn't!

To get you started, the
Clip of the Day features the Grand Prix Final-winning free skate of JeremEEE… still available on You Tube, thank goodness.

Monday, January 12, 2009

If Skating Headlines Were Wishes...

Coming up with some “dream headlines” was harder than I thought… particularly once I decided to shy away from direct skater references, since I just did that with the NY predictions and I didn’t want to be redundant!

But with that said, here are five headlines I’d love to see show up in my Google news alert (along with a little bit of faux “story”, no matter how ridiculous it sounds):

ISU Promises: Dramatic Modifications in CoP to be in Place in Time for Vancouver Olympics

After years of complaints and ceaseless protests, the ISU has finally yielded to skaters and fans alike and has vowed to “re-shape” the Code of Points judging system into something everyone will universally find fair and attainable.

(Also in this “newspaper”: Everlasting Peace in the Middle East, U.S. Recession comes to an Abrupt End, and Doctors Finally Sing the Praises of Donuts.)

Anonymous, Schmononymous: All Skating Judges to Be Held Accountable For Scores, Effective Immediately

If, while attending the next international competition, you see curious looking men and women in trenchcoats, big hats and sunglasses—perhaps in complete disguise, their head obscured by a giant animal head—chances are good you’re seeing members of the judging panel. Starting with Four Continents and carrying on to Worlds 2009 and beyond, skaters will be able to see the representative countries behind each score for the first time in years.

“We don’t know what we were thinking,” confesses ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta…

Warhorse Moratorium Declared: Skaters/Coaches Have 90 Days to Turn Key CDs in to ISU Authorities

In an unprecedented move, The Powers That Be of the figure skating world are now requiring all senior international competitors and their “people” to give up their copies of overused music and find something else to skate to, or risk paying high fines and community service.

The list of “warhorses” includes Bizet’s Carmen, Bernstein’s West Side Story, and much to the surprise of many, the entire Pink Floyd catalog…

Major Network Signs Multi-Year Deal to Air ISU Grand Prix Events and More

A surprise bidding war today for the rights to U.S. Nationals and all international competitions resulted in ABC/ESPN reclaiming the rights they relinquished in 2008.

Rumors circulated almost instantaneously that former (and now future) skating commentator Terry Gannon lobbied the hardest for figure skating’s return, even vowing to boycott all ABC/ESPN college football coverage in the 2009-10 season if he could not cover figure skating again. Gannon could not be reached for comment.

No Sports Reporter Has Lamented the Demise of Figure Skating In Over Two Weeks; Fans of Other Sports Cry Foul, No One Cares

Are they all on vacation? Snowed in without internet access? Suffering from stomach flu?

Whatever it is, football, baseball, and soccer fans across the country are seeing red. “There’s nothing fun to read,” laments one such fan who asked to remain anonymous. “What are we supposed to do, entertain ourselves?”

OK, that’s all I’ve got for now. But speaking of entertaining ourselves, I’ve got a
Clip of the Day that’s sure to please… for it’s not just featuring a warhorse, but a warhorse in the supremely skilled hands of the late, great John Curry.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Final Bend to U.S. Nationals Starts With... a Big WIthdrawal

And as soon as I’m about to say “It’s time to get back to business,” there’s some skate-breaking news of the U.S. variety: Belbin & Agosto have withdrawn from Nationals. The back injury of Agosto’s that forced them to withdraw from GP Finals last month has prompted the withdrawal; they simply say it needs more time to heal.

And if that news isn’t telling enough of Davis & White’s chances to claim the title this year, check out
this article from the L.A. Times about the Belbin/Agosto withdrawal… which, at least at the time I’m looking at it, clearly can’t tell B/A apart from D/W. (Come on, LA Times… I know skating isn’t getting the press it used to, but couldn’t a major newspaper like you do a tiny bit more research?)


Over in Cleveland, folks are getting ready to welcome the U.S. figure skating community to town as those 2009 U.S. Nationals take place later this month at the Quicken Loans Arena. For any of you that might be traveling to Cleveland for this event yourselves, take note of the
Ought Nine Nationals blog, which is chock full of info to help get you in, out, and around the Cleveland area in as enjoyable a manner as possible. Recent entries include information about discounts for “locals”, copious restaurant information, and fun polls (such as voting for your favorite “beef” about attending Nationals, with categories from “Draconian camera policies” to “Arena food” to “Casual fans behaving badly”… heh heh).

Even if you have no plans to attend (yeah, me neither… sigh), you might want to check the site out. Especially if you’re jonesing to vote on who’s going to win—the polls are already open over there!

To get you in the mood for more Nationals stuff, here’s
a clip of the day that features Mirai Nagasu’s gold-medal free skate from last year.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Skaters' Resolutions... The True, The False, and the Creepy

Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions yet? Have you broken any already?

I’m pushing the “dream headline” idea back a few days because I noticed that is featuring
Skaters’ New Year’s Resolutions on its Inside Edge with Sarah and Drew page. Among the more amusing ones:

Jeremy Abbott: To stop swearing in the Kiss and Cry.
(Judging from the way he’s been skating of late, JeremEEE should have no problem keeping this!)

John Coughlin (U.S. pairs skater): To limit my chocolate-milk intake from the Olympic Training Center, as it cannot be good for my health.
(Mmmm… chocolate milk… think of the calcium John, not the calories…)

John Kerr: To 100 percent of the time remember to bring my music to exhibition performances (I forgot to bring it twice this year).
(I’m too busy laughing to come up with anything for this. Sounds like something I’d do.)

Stephanie Kuban (U.S. pairs skater): To start calling my partner by his real name, instead of "Creeps."

OK, those are the REAL resolutions…

Which are not to be confused with the FAKE resolutions I’m about to make up for other skaters we know and love…!

Brian Joubert—no more spitting on the ice like he’s Rocky Balboa and it’s round 14. (See Joubert just before his disastrous TEB short program for more details.)

Mukhortova/Trankov—to get to some sort of couples counseling pronto to figure out how to work better together. Or, to beg the Russian Federation to just break them up already and put them out of their misery.

Domnina/Shabalin—to figure out what the point is of being miserable training in the U.S. alongside the top U.S. team when they’re starting to be overshadowed by fellow Russian teams.

Belbin/Agosto—strangely enough, the exact same thing (U.S. version).

Ashley Wagner—to ditch her borderline scandalous, leopard-print free skate dress so as not to distract from her otherwise awesome Spartacus program when Nationals roll around.

Savchenko/Szolkowy—to ditch their SP costumes because they look like they were designed by the Powerpuff Girls. Actually, didn’t I hear Savchenko herself created them? Just the same, COME ON… the only one I know who really appreciated them was my 5-year old daughter, who would have improved upon them with tiaras, fairy wings and sparkly rainbows… if only she knew how!

And speaking of which, the
Clip of the Day showcases those pink and purple crimes of fashion as Savchenko and Szolkowy debuted them (I think?) this past summer at Nebelhorn Trophy. At least the skating is good...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Yesterday's News...5 Signs of Skating's Times in 2008

When you start a new year, does the “old year” – you know, the one we left behind just 24 hours ago—become old news? That is, news too dated to still be discussed?

We’re about to find out. Below I’ve listed 5 headlines… or if they weren’t bona fide headlines, they should have been headlines in the mind’s eye of a skater or skating fan. In MY mind’s eye, these were 5 of the most unforgettable signs of skating’s times in 2008.

In Chronological Order (more or less):

1) Christopher Bowman Dies at Age 40 (January)
His death may not have directly affected the sport, but it was certainly an ominous way to start the year. And while his troubled life and much-too-soon demise was incredibly sad to those of us who remember him in his heyday, it’s the “post-mortem”, so to speak, that reverberates with me as well. Should Bowman receive a posthumous induction into the sport’s Hall of Fame, or does such an action send the wrong message? Shouldn’t NBC have spent some on-air time discussing him and his illustrious career when they covered Nationals a couple weeks later? And speaking of the media, what are we to read (if anything) into the fact that Bowman’s death barely registered in mainstream media? I might be comparing apples to oranges here, but I recall Sergei Grinkov’s premature death was covered to considerable extent when he passed away in late 1995… when skating happened to still be in a post-’94 Olympics groundswell of popularity. I hate to think of someone’s death as a barometer for those still living and breathing the sport, but in this case, I couldn’t seem to help it.

2) Doug Wilson Retires From ABC/ESPN After Worlds (March)
Of all three retirements I’m mentioning in this post, I think this one might be the saddest for me… even if it was the most expected. Doug Wilson was THE preeminent producer and director for all skating events covered by ABC/ESPN, and had been with the network for well over 45 years covering the sport. When the rights were not renewed with ABC this season, Wilson decided the time was as good as any to call it a day, so he ended his skating “career” with the 2008 World Championships.

I’ve personally interviewed Mr. Wilson at length, and he seems as kind and thoughtful as anyone you’d hope to meet in the TV industry. He played an enormous part in the way we all saw and heard the sport, literally speaking, from the 1970s on through to the 21st century. He earned his own spot in the Hall of Fame last year, and rightfully so. We can only hope his influence will still be felt, regardless of the forum in which skating continues to be shown.

3) Jeffrey Buttle Retires (September)/Stephane Lambiel Retires (October)
The double whammy! At a time when more and more skaters seem to shy away from Big Announcements and Bigger Decisions, the respective retirements of both the current World champion and a past World champion hit especially hard. Both came mere weeks before the new season began. Both wreaked havoc with the GP schedules. And both were rather unexpected anyway—Buttle at arguably the pinnacle of his career; Lambiel perhaps past the pinnacle, but seemingly with several more good years in him. Throw in the endless commentary about how, in Buttle’s choice, skating is losing one of its “true artists” at a time they are needed the most… and how Lambiel’s injury-related decision speaks volumes for how the CoP is tearing athletes’ bodies to shreds… and you end up with quite a one-two punch. Unfortunately.

4) Judging Panels to Shrink at Major Championships (October)
It’s too soon to tell just what sort of long-term impact this unpopular decision is going to have… but when a headline (and this one was an actual headline) essentially discusses judging and figure skating in the same breath, I’m not sure if there’s anyone who comes away with a good feeling about the news being delivered. Know what I mean?

5) Mao Asada Lands Two Triple Axels Within One Free Skate… the First Lady to Do So in International Competition (December)
I’m not at all sure if this was a headline, but it should have been. Asada’s accomplishment at the GPF was incredible and historic, as many have noted… but again, mainstream media has barely blinked thus far. Please, won’t someone tell me they saw a clip of her on ESPN or something? Again I must say I’d have a hard time believing coverage would have been the same had Asada (or anyone else) accomplished this in the mid-late 1990s. The sad truth is, stories can’t be written about things the story writers don’t care about. And if the majority of TV viewers don’t bother with Ice Network, and consequentially don’t even see much skating anymore… how can they care about it?

OK, so there goes last year’s news… on the next post, maybe I should think up some “dream headlines” for 2009. What do you think? :-)

For the
Clip of the Day I’m going all the way back to Torvill and Dean’s definitive Bolero Olympic free dance— as directed by the aforementioned Doug Wilson. Happy new year everyone!