Friday, July 31, 2009

She’s Gone (Kwan, That Is)… We’d Better Learn How to Face It

Dear Michelle Kwan,

I just read that
it’s official—you will NOT be making a run for Vancouver next February; that you’ve chosen instead to move on and continue your education with graduate school.

For that decision alone… thank you. In a season when the comeback trail has become downright clogged with skaters from the classes of 2002 and 2006, it is, at least to me, somewhat refreshing to know that you have decided to leave good enough—make that great, fantastic, AMAZING enough—alone. The speculation has been strong, of course… with a TBA slot for a U.S. female at Skate America, and your “return” with a Korean ice show in just a few weeks, the bandwagon seemed destined for your side of the street. But you took into account whatever was necessary for you to simply give the bandwagon a wave and let it roll on by, saying
This time, my ride is elsewhere.

Again, thank you. And thanks for so much else as well…

+ For giving as much as you did to your sport (some would say “carried it”) through probably the most turbulent 10 years of its existence…

+ For prominently raising the bar at a time when some people thought the demise of compulsory figures would trigger the opposite effect…

+ For having the personality, spirit and drive to captivate the whole world…

+ For winning so convincingly… and for “losing” (if silver and bronze medals are considered losing?) so graciously…

+ For showing us, just as Janet Lynn did over 35 years ago, that sometimes “it just doesn’t matter”… because we already know and love what is in you.

+ And thanks for inspiring at least one generation, maybe two, of undeniably talented young ladies. They’ll never be you, but to know they are trying—and, sometimes, succeeding with a glimmer here and there—is strangely reassuring.

And thanks to
your YouTube Clips, the inspiration will keep on coming.

Peace be with you, Michelle!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lambiel's the Latest on the "Don't-Call-It-A-Comeback" Olympic List

As we add one more well-known name to the list of skaters back in the Olympic hunt, I thought I’d take this opportunity to lay out all the players and their respective “Why return?” quotes side by side…

Sasha Cohen: “The whole magic of the Olympics is coming up. I want to challenge myself. I think I have enough inside of me… The challenge of being on the Olympic platform ... it's absolutely magical. I feel there is a lot in me I can work on and improve upon and even be a better skater than at the last two Olympic Games."

Shen/Zhao: "To become Olympic champions has always been our dream. Since we still have the ability to compete for the gold, we hope to realise the dream."

Evgeny Plushenko: "As for an Olympic medal, I'd be pleased with any, regardless of the color. But, obviously, I'm coming back to win."

Stephane Lambiel (who announced his return
over the weekend: "I feel really good, both physically and mentally, and I am determined, downright eager, to take on the Olympic challenge and score a top result in Vancouver."

In other words, all we need now is Buttle to decide he’s got “enough inside of him” too, and a replay of the 2006 Games can’t be far behind!

Lambiel’s SP from Torino to get you started down the right path for that…

Friday, July 24, 2009

Spotlight on: Douglas Razzano

Seeing some of these names pop up at Liberty Open next week reminded me of a feature I haven’t done in a while… the “3 Need-to-Knows” on up and coming skaters.

So let’s learn what we should about Douglas Razzano, shall we? He just won the Mens’ Short Program over in Ashton, PA a few days ago; maybe we should be keeping our eyes on him…

Need-to-Know #1: He trains in Scottsdale, Arizona… not the biggest skating “hub” out there for certain, but with names like Doug Ladret (his coach) and Renee Roca (one of his choreographers), that’s probably changing…

Need-to-Know #2: He won the school spelling bee at Fees Middle School in 2003, and later placed second in the district. Cool. That means he’ll have no trouble spelling I-JUST-WIPED-THE-FLOOR-WITH-EVERYONE-IN-THE-LIBERTY-OPEN-SHORT-PROGRAM.

Need-to-Know #3: IceNetwork has apparently begun to have skaters list their “3 favorite” this and that… on Razzano’s list for 3 favorite beverages we have Starbucks (earlier he had established his favorite drink for “Anything from Starbucks”—wow, redundant much, Ice Network biographers?)… Naked Juice (embarrassed to say I had to look that up)… and Pomegranate Juice (relieved to say I did NOT have to look that up).

Unfortunately Razzano doesn’t have any Senior GP assignments, but if he keeps up the good work—and gets his quad more consistent—maybe we’ll see him there next year. Anyway, here’s his current SP to “Claire De Lune” as the
Clip of the Day.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Liberty Mens Final: Chan's Phantom Needs Work But Still Beats The Hulk and The Tango Guy

Ready for the dramatic conclusion to the Liberty Open?

OK, so given the fact that the reigning World silver medalist Patrick Chan was one of the competitors, it wasn’t destined to be much of a nail-biter. But there were still little mysteries to be solved: would he land his quad? Would he land his triple axel? What would go through his mind if he fell on any of these?

Answers: No… no… and according to
this article, Who cares?

Anyway, Chan won with his new Phantom program, followed by reigning Junior National champ Ross Miner with a Tango routine. And in what will surely be one of the more unique routines we’ll see this coming year (though only on the Junior GP circuit… sigh), Keegan Messing took third with music—and costuming—courtesy of the Hulk soundtrack. He skates with a shredded flannel sleeve and one green arm. I’m not kidding;
see for yourself. He also does some wicked fast spins. Short program winner Douglas Razzano was 4th, and Armin Mahbanoozadeh was 5th.

But anyway, if you’re only here to see if Chan’s new FS is up on You Tube yet—yes it is. See it here as the
Clip of the Day.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Quick, Though Incomplete Liberty Open Results

I have to go out of town for a day and won’t be able to research/update the blog from where I’m at, so I’m going to post a quick summary-as-I-know-it-thus-far for Liberty Open to carry until I can post more on Tuesday…

+ Easy one first: Amanda Evora / Mark Ladwig won top honors in the Senior Pairs division… they were 4th at U.S. Nationals this past January.
+ The Senior Ladies division was broken out into two groups. In Group A, both the short program and free skate was won by Kristine Musademba, who finished 11th at Nationals. Group B saw Joelle Forte (13th at Nationals) win the short and come in 2nd in the free, while Angela Maxwell (8th at Nationals) did the reverse—came in 2nd in the short, and won the free skate.
+ The other name of note was Alexe Gilles; she was 2nd in the short for Group A, but
this Ice Network report doesn’t tell what happened to her in the free skate… anyone? Perhaps she just chose not to compete it?
+ Ashley Wagner had been expected to compete according to Ice Network reports earlier in the week, but apparently was a no-show. Can’t find anything about her in either event.
+ Over in the Mens division, it appears that Patrick Chan and Stephen Carriere are only competing their free skates and not their shorts—results were only up for the short as I wrote this, and neither were listed. The “surprise winner” of the short was Douglas Razzano (14th at Nationals), followed by Ross Miner (1st at Junior Nationals), with Tommy Steenberg (10th at Nationals) in 4th, Shaun Rogers (12th at Nationals) in 5th, Keegan Messing (2nd at Junior Nationals) in 6th, Armin Mahbanoozadeh (6th at Junior Nationals) in 7th, and Ryan Bradley (with a missed quad and popped axel) down in 8th.

No videos posted on You Tube that I could find yet, so I’ll hold off on a Clip of the Day. I’ll be back Tuesday…

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Key Skaters Turning Out For 2009 Liberty Open

A figure skating competition in July either sounds like an outstanding idea (especially if you’re braving 95-degree heat and need a place to cool off), or two steps down the plank of the ridiculous. I remember competing in a July competition—just one, though. “The Fourth of July Open” at the Robert Crown Center, Evanston, IL, probably in 1980. Not particularly memorable, except for the part where I couldn’t get to sleep the night before because people were shooting fireworks off in the street in to the wee hours. That was Grrrreat!

But a number of U.S. elite skaters (as well as at least one Canadian) are gathering this week in Ashton, PA for the Liberty Open… which seems to have become a North American test event in recent years. You know, where competitors go to test the frozen waters with new programs, work out the kinks, get videotaped from a location that frequently catches a sign on the plexiglass saying (on a “good” day) WATCH FOR FLYING PUCKS…

As exhibit A, I present to you my
Clip of the Day-- Alissa Czisny trying out her “Dr. Zhivago” FS at last summer’s Liberty Open. I wonder how much, at the time, she believed it was possible she could win Nationals with that program?

Here are some of the more recognizable names scheduled to compete over the next few days (NOTE- the event does not seem to include ice dancing…? If I’m wrong on that please correct me, but I couldn’t find anything about it on the schedule)…

Patrick Chan
Ryan Bradley
Stephen Carriere
Ross Miner
Keegan Messing
Armin Mahbanoozadeh

Ashley Wagner
Alexe Gilles
Kristine Musademba
Joelle Forte

Amanda Evora/Mark Ladwig
Tracy Tanovich/Michael Chau

Any video from the event will probably have to come from You Tube personal contributions, much as was the case last year. I’ll keep a lookout for it, as I will for the results of course.

If you’d like to look up more about the event itself, you can do so

Monday, July 13, 2009

Inside the Mens' "Curse" of Winning Worlds Gold Just Before the Olympics

You may have heard, as I did, that winning the Mens’ division at Worlds the year before an Olympics is considered the kiss of death as far as Olympic gold is concerned.

So I did a little investigating…and took a look at all the pre-Olympic male gold medalists from 1951 onward (because really, do we need to count anyone before Dick Button?). That’s a total of 15 different medalists we’re talking about. And if you were to look at the 1950s alone, you’d say “what kiss of death??”… for SO dominant was Button in the early 50s, Hayes Allen Jenkins in the mid-50s, and David Jenkins in the late 50s, no other gold medal hopefuls needed apply.

After that decade, well…the number of follow-throughs from pre-Olympic gold to actual Olympic gold drop way down to just TWO of the twelve: Ondrej Nepela of Czechoslovakia, who won the first of three Worlds in 1971 (plus Olympic gold in ’72) … and, as you might’ve guessed/known, Scott Hamilton won the third of four Worlds in 1983 on his way to Olympic gold one year later. As for the other ten…?

+ Four of them (Orser in ‘87, Stojko in ‘97, Plushenko in ‘01, Lambiel in ‘05) did the infamous “settle for silver”.
+ Another four (Danzer in ’67, Volkov in ’75, Browning in ’91, and—sorry—Browning again in ’93) finished completely off the podium in 4th, 5th, and in one case (sorry again, Kurt), 6th.
+ One of them (Donald McPherson, in ’63) retired prior to the ’64 Games in Innsbruck. I believe there’s a brief article about him in the current issue of International Figure Skating… check the very back of the magazine…
+ And one of them (Vladmir Kovalev, in ’79) withdrew from the ’80 Lake Placid Games altogether.

So what does all this mean for Evan Lysacek? Aside from motivation to work harder than ever, and take absolutely nothing for granted… probably not as much as one might think. Streaks like the one paved by the past 3 Olympic silver medalists are made to be broken. Whether Lysacek breaks it towards bronze, or gold, or no medal at all… anyone’s guess, no matter what history tells us.

Here’s his recent World Team Trophy FS as the Clip of the Day

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Kostner's Becoming A California Girl

You might say she’s returning to the scene of the crime.

Carolina Kostner, a former World medalist who suffered through one of the most content-free free skates in recent memory at this year’s Worlds, announced her parting from Michael Huth (her coach of 10 years, if I did the math correctly?) earlier in the off-season. So to hear she’s decided to train with U.S.-based coaches -- Frank Carroll and Christa Fassi, widow of Carlo Fassi-- isn’t all that surprising. A tad ironic, though, that to do so takes her back to Los Angeles. Which happens to be where, at the Staples Center (home of this week’s Michael Jackson Memorial Service), she suffered through that content-free free skate we know all too well.

As you might recall, Carroll is also currently coaching Evan Lysacek and Mirai Nagasu. If I hear he’s taking on anyone new beyond this, I’m going to suspect he’s been cloned somewhere along the way…

But the part of the story at that interested me more was this:

This move is partly in response to her panic or nerve attacks on the ice. Because of that, she has started working with Daniele Popolizio, the psychologist that helped Italian swimmer Federica Pellegrini win the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the 200-meter freestyle.

I’m always a little intrigued at the mention of a sport psychologist, and
the role they can have in an athlete’s success. When I first heard Joannie Rochette had worked with one last season (after she’d won Skate Canada), I was jazzed for her; I had the feeling she’d turned a corner, and the win wasn’t a fluke. Yay—my “feeling” wasn’t a fluke either.

So while Kostner wasn’t next on my list of skaters who could use a little sports psych work (must admit, I had Alissa Czisny further up in the queue), it’s an interesting move at an interesting time. And while I don’t know that it will make me like her skating any better, it should make her like it better—and that counts a whole lot more.

For the
Clip of the Day I’ve got her SP from 2003, her senior Worlds debut. Hope she enjoys LA better this time around.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Former “Free Spirit” Bobek Now Locked Up

And just when it looked like we were hitting an off-season, post-holiday skating lull…

Along comes word today that former U.S. Champion and 1995 World Bronze Medalist Nicole Bobek has been arrested, and made her first appearance in a Jersey City court this morning, on “the charge of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine,” according to a couple of New Jersey press sources including
this one

Bobek wore the green garb of the county jail when she appeared in the small video conferencing room at the jail. Her hair was short and dark colored, a stark contrast to the long flowing blonde locks she sported during her skating years.

The article offers then-and-now shots; in case you need to see it to believe it. As for me, well… it’s tough to be shocked, as Bobek always seemed to be something of a ladies’ answer to Christopher Bowman in my mind. Still, it leaves me at a sort of loss for words—it’s so sordid and sad at the same time.

Bottom line on her alleged crime—she’s being held on $200,000 bond and could spend up to 10 years in prison if convicted. So much for that “free spirit” in her that the commentators liked to rave about, huh. Yikes.

For the
Clip of the Day I’ve got the most recent skating clip of Bobek I could find… this was her “Whatever Lola Wants” routine from the 2004 Ice Wars. Particularly bittersweet to watch when they mention at the end that she was "going head-to-head" with Yuka Sato-- who is currently coaching our reigning U.S. Men's Champion. What a difference five years can make…

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Yu-Na and Kwan: East Meets West... Sort Of

To the best of my knowledge, only one lady’s name still hangs out there in the will-they-or-won’t-they Olympic jungle now, and that name is Michelle Kwan.

I must admit I find it a little strange, and not just because of my already-voiced frustrations with skaters who have “had their shot”. I even found it strange when Kwan made her attempt in Torino in 2006. Why? Two words (or one word twice): Triple-triples.

Rest assured, I am as big a fan of Kwan as anyone. She’s magnificent, her longevity and consistency in the sport is incredible, and one has to wonder where amateur skating would be right now without her presence and influence over a decade’s time. But for whatever reason, there was only one triple-triple combination I recall seeing her land successfully—the triple-toe/triple-toe—and even that one often became a triple/double in the heat of competition. Maybe she was too inconsistent with other triple combos, or maybe she just wanted to prove that her skating could transcend such bells and whistles. (And more often than not, I think it did.) Whatever the case, facts are facts, time has moved on, and if people are wondering if Cohen can keep up with the current crop of champions… see where I’m going with this?

Still, the speculation is real enough, and with a big ol' TBA glaring among the U.S. ladies’ entries for Skate America, I suppose anything is possible.

And in the meantime comes
this intriguing news that Kwan will be joining Yu-Na Kim in Ice Stars 2009, a three-day show set to take place in Seoul in mid-August. “It will be Kwan's first action since she quit the sport due to a hip injury in 2006,” the Korea Times article reminds us.

It also reminds us that Yu-Na is 18, while Kwan is now 28. And that Yu-Na has seen Kwan as “an iconic figure since childhood.” Hmmmm.

Anyway, the all-star roster includes Evan Lysacek, Joannie Rochette, Shizuka Arakawa, Jeffrey Buttle, and Stephane Lambiel (who, incidentally, seems to be the only man’s name still hanging out there in the will-they-or-won’t-they Olympic jungle).

Let’s see how this unfolds, if in fact there’s any unfolding to be done. In the meantime, I went back to when Kwan was 18 and dug up her 1999 Nationals performance as the
Clip of the Day. (And yes, she does the triple-triple here.)