Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Torches, and Other Sources of Light In The New Year

Three little news items, some “newsier” than others, to take us out of 2009…

The Trail-Blazin’ Torchbearer

I’d seen that 1948 Ladies’ OGM Barbara Ann Scott was involved in the Olympic torch relay currently in progress across Canada, but have to admit it wasn’t until I caught this article (which appeared today on that I took particular notice. There’s a very cute part in there about how she started practicing for the relay by running with something weighing about the same as the torch… and it turned out the only thing to fit the bill was her garden shears. Hee. By the way… last week I was marveling at Darlene Love (singing on Letterman as she does every December 23rd) and wishing I could look and sound that good when I’M 71 years old (71!) like she is… this week, I’m wishin’ and hopin’ I’m as physically fit at age 81 (81!!) as Canada’s Barbara Ann.

Oh, and she mentioned how she really wants to see another Canadian woman win the Olympics in her lifetime. Um… no pressure, Joannie.

If the Revolution is Not Televised, it Might Still Work as A Webcast

Check out this December 8 blog post from Phillip Hersh if you haven’t done so already… it’s got a lot of interesting info about the ways and means of skating coverage as we head into a new decade. Whether you have access to the Universal Sports Network where you live… or anticipate getting it in the near future… or have traditional (“over-the-air”) TV as your only option, you’ll get something out of it (see below):

To those who have problems in getting Universal Sports: the network is becoming available on more and more cable systems nationwide. Those viewers without cable, for economic or other reasons, rightfully feel shortchanged because some of these broadcasts used to be on over-the-air TV, but the market doesn't support that anymore.

Feel free to weigh in on this, particularly regarding your own reliance on over-the-air TV vs. Universal, IceNetwork, or the dreaded “other” outlets…

Hooray for Bollywood

Speaking of the “other outlets”… You Tube has been thus far a source of great joy for skating fans, particularly those with limited access to Universal or Ice Network. It’s also been a source of enormous frustration for outfits like U.S. Figure Skating, who own the Internet rights to, for instance, all the GP events and would take down every program posted if they the ability to police it as they wish. But seriously, how can they be upset when a link to Davis/White’s Indian Folk Dance OD has become a bona fide Internet sensation over the past month, generating over 218,000 hits according to this article??!? (By comparison, the average D/W video on You Tube has received well under 10,000 hits.)

What better way to gain free publicity for the sport… AND, quite likely, some new and badly needed fans… by showcasing some of the best the sport has to offer?

Just a thought as we head into what will surely be a most interesting new year.

Here is their OD Clip…

And just for fun,
here’s a clip of Barbara Ann Scott when she was the mystery guest for the game show What’s My Line back in 1955.

Happy New Year to all!

Monday, December 28, 2009

As The Calendar Turns (Towards Vancouver)… Roundup #2

As the rest of the world is winding down, the skating world winds up again. How else can it be explained when at least two countries of prominence hold their Nationals on and around Christmas Day?

The developments, they kept on a’comin’ throughout December… and a few of them I will touch on before the month is out, so they don’t feel lonely. But just because the U.S. won’t start its Nationals for a few more weeks doesn’t mean the rest of the world does it that way. Here’s a quick roundup of notable championships/winners and, occasionally, their respective links to more info:

Switzerland: No surprises here, as Stephane Lambiel and Sarah Meier did repeat business as winners.

Italy: Samuel Contesti won for the men… but here’s your surprise: Carolina Kostner was upset for the title by Valentine Marchei. Ouch. Doesn’t mean much in that both ladies will still be headed to Vancouver, but still…

Hungary: Not a surprise, but surely a milestone: Julia Sebestyen won her ninth title… and yes, in case you were wondering… this will be her fourth Olympics. (Her best Olympic finish to date was 8th in 2002; her best Worlds was 6th in 2004.)

Finland: Laura Lepisto snagged the Ladies’ title over Kiira Korpi

France: very interesting among the men, with Florent Amodio coming out on top and therefore checking his ticket to Vancouver. As for Yannick Ponsero and Alban Preaubert, I believe I read that they’re both being sent to Euros before a decision is made about the Olympics… anyone else see that?

Russia: Some guy named
Plush-something won for the 28th (or something) time with something like 100+ points in the SP alone. Apparently the judges at this event want us to believe if he’s worth inflating the scores THIS much, no other man need apply for that Vancouver gold medal…
Domnina/Shabalin are back… they won gold as expected too…
Kavaguti/Smirnov beat out Mukhortova/Trankov for the top spot…
And Ksenia Makarova beat out Alena Leonova for gold among the ladies. (Wait a minute—WHO?? And what happened to Leonova? Find out

JAPAN : It was Takahashi, Kozuka, and Oda for the men (all three go to Vancouver)… and Asada made a return to form that was good enough for first place, joined in second by Akiko Suzuki, and Yukari Nakano for third. BUT… because Miki Ando (finishing 4th) already qualified for the Olympics with her Grand Prix finish, the odd woman out was Nakano. (Fumie Suguri lost out as well, but a fall on her SP triple lutz effectively took her out of this tight race early.)

I found
this post at FS Universe that serves as a lovely tribute to Nakano, a fine skater who happens to come from the deepest pool of skating talent in the world, and as I understand it has now been thisclose to the Olympics TWICE. Oh, if only we could bend the rules for Japan this one time…!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Skaters' Letters to Santa (part 4)

Two more "letters" were located today...

Hey Santa,

I’m not really in the habit of asking you for things—not since you gave me that cashmere scarf in the completely wrong color—but I’ve got some pretty important months ahead of me, so I thought I’d better try and ask for a few things:
1) A 3 month supply of vitamin C (to try and keep me healthy for the rest of the season)
2) Fingerless gloves
3) One of those new leopard-print Snuggies (Don’t tell Lysacek)


Johnny Weir

산타 클로스…

I am so very blessed this year it is hard for me to think of anything I might need, but how about this… a great big ventilated bubble for my fans to sit in when they follow me to events around the world. That way, if they scream at inappropriate times—like when I’m setting up a jump—I won’t be distracted by them.

Oh, and a new karaoke machine would be nice too. I can brush up on my singing that way, and besides, Brian has promised me he’ll sing a Neil Diamond song for me if I win Gold in Vancouver…

Yu-Na Kim


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Skaters' Letters to Santa, part 3

(Just a reminder... these are mere fiction! Any resemblence these letters bear to actual Skaters' Letters to Santa is purely coincidental...)

Bonjour Pere Noel,

This is a fine time to me to have a serious foot injury, no? Ah well. Que sera sera. I am strong like bull and will be all right. But just in case it is harder to bounce back than I think, please fill my stocking with the following that I can then add into my protein shakes and become invincible…



Live par le quad, die par le quad…
Brian Joubert

Dear Санта Клаус,

I’m afraid I do not understand. Last year I told my partner Maxim that other than for training purposes, I would not touch him with a ten-foot pole… and then you gave me a ten-foot pole for Christmas. I did not even know they really MADE ten-foot poles. I was just trying to get him to leave me alone. Anyway, now I am confused because Maxim kissed me at the end of our Grand Prix free skate. It was not planned, of course, but I think I liked it. What should I ask from you for Christmas in this case? I do not know. How about a ten-centimeter ruler? Yes, that sounds right. That and an Olympic medal. Thank you.

Maria Mukhortova

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Skaters' Letters to Santa, pt. 2

Dear Santa,

What a strange, wonderful year this has been. So many supportive folks on my side when I won my first Nationals… so many that seemed to be mad at me, personally, for finishing out of the top 10 at Worlds… so many who say they love my skating, but would never figure me to make the Olympic team at all, much less successfully defend my National title!

It’s enormously frustrating, but I think I know what you can bring me that will help, Santa… NERVES OF STEEL. I know they are very hard to come by, especially just before an Olympics, but if you can locate some for me I promise I’ll take terrific care of them. If it helps, they seem to have them in abundance over in the Far East…

Thanks so much!
Love, Alissa Czisny
Dear Pere Noel,

We are so lucky to have this opportunity to challenge ourselves so late in our amateur career with the addition of my little baby Loic! I really think you brought me my gift a few months early this year, so all I ask of you is actually for my baby… could you please make sure Ludovic and I have Josee, our au pair, booked at least through the spring? It is so hard with all the training, and… oh, wait, I hear Loic crying right now and I gave Josee the day off… (Here, Olivier, could you finish this letter?)



Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder

Monday, December 21, 2009

Skaters' Letters to Santa, Part 1

(Here’s my goal: 2 “letters” a day, all this week, through Christmas Eve. All letters are fiction, written in good fun, and in English regardless of a skater’s home country. Clip of the Day will return after Christmas. Enjoy! )

Dear Santa,

I hope you know that I have been working too hard to have time to be naughty this year. I had lots of time after my Grand Prix assignments to focus on training. With that in mind, here is what I want this Christmas:

1) A spot on my country’s Olympic team. This is no longer the given that it might seem, so please help with this if you can. (Japanese Nationals start on Christmas Day, so timing on this should be pretty easy.)

2) A full-time coach that can appreciate the best qualities of my skating. Again, this is no longer the given that it might seem.

3) And if I DO get to Vancouver, please allow Midori Ito some time to come and be my personal bodyguard when I get there. (Come to think of it… could you make her my coach too? I’m not sure anyone else knows quite what I’m going through…)

Mao Asada

Hi Santa,

Well, I have a couple of very big months ahead of me. First I have to test out the leg again at Canadian Nationals and prove that I’m as ready for the Olympics as I can be… then I have to compete in front of the biggest “home” crowd I’ve ever seen come February. Exciting times! If only I can get back to the form I was in last March…

Anyway, here’s what I want:

1) TIME. I need more time, seriously! But if you can’t arrange that…

2) A way to remind everyone (including me!) that I’m only 19, and guys automatically get more time to peak in skating than the ladies do… in other words, maybe Sochi 2014 is my destiny. If not…

3) Please bring me a big can of whoop-ass that I can unleash on that pesky Joubert at any time (but preferably during our events).

Cheers Santa!
Patrick Chan

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On My Knees… and Plushenko’s Knees, and Shabalin’s Knees…

Fortunate soul that I am, I was a grown woman before I ever found myself sitting in a hospital awaiting surgery. But ten years ago, there I sat—anxiously awaiting a “scope” on my knee with the following ideas churning through my brain:

--Will this hurt as bad after surgery as it does right now?
--I’m a terrible sleeper; will the anesthesiologist really be able to “knock me out”? And if he does, what if I wake up while they’re still sucking stray cartilage out of my body?
--Does this surgery officially make me an athlete like everyone else in my family that has knee trouble?

I was still skating weekly back then—nothing fancy, but I quietly hoped my scope could be attributed to hundreds of sit spins in my lifetime. It seemed more glamorous than saying I’d spent too much time on the Stairmaster in the early 90s… even though it happened to be true, and was in all likelihood a bigger contributor than the skating.

For what it’s worth, I learned plenty of lessons about myself as I got back up to speed in the weeks that followed. Among them:

--I can never develop an addiction to Vicodin—I was sick to my stomach soon after taking my first post-surgery dose.
--Me and crutches don’t mix. In short? They suck.
--Hospitals charge something like $12 a roll for extra-wide Ace bandages. (This is probably common knowledge, but as I said at the top, I’m a fortunate soul and hadn’t spent much time in medical facilities at that point)

But of course the most important lesson: RESPECT YOUR KNEES.

As that Baz Luhrman ditty about sunscreen famously told us about a decade ago—coincidentally, around the same time as my scope-- “you’ll miss them when they’re gone.” Ah, how true. In the days leading up to surgery I was hobbling around like an injured monster in a horror flick, yearning for the days when I could bend down to tie my shoes normally again. I thought of two of my brothers (and maybe a sister too?), all athletes of some kind, all having undergone surgery themselves. I thought of my dad, an all-around jock back in the day, with the long surgical scar on one knee that I used to trace with my finger when he was sitting around in shorts watching TV.

I think of all of that nowadays too, as I carefully pace my daily exercise in efforts to keep my knees from hurting. But since hearing about His Evgeniness and how
his knee problems have returned, and why they’ve returned…(hint: as you might have already read, Plushy is reportedly practicing quad/quad and triple axel/quad combos to give himself even more of a competitive edge.)

… I have to ask, in all honesty: Dude, have you lost your mind? You have Olympic silver, Olympic gold, and a string of World titles. Is it really worth pounding your joints into a creaky, aching mess for the rest of your life? (And, um, wouldn’t it be kinder to your body—and the skating world—if you’d pour some of that energy into the footwork and spins you claim you heard “whispers” about?)

And I perpetually think of Maxim Shabalin (of the world champion ice dance team Domnina/Shabalin), and how he continues to suffer from chronic knee pain, and probably has no business continuing to compete… but whether it’s pressure from the Powers That Be for his skating federation, or his own determination, he’s surely training as hard for the Olympics as he possibly can. His motivation is a bit plainer to see; they’ve only got one World title to show for their trouble thus far. But good Lord, where do you draw the line between gutsiness and simple common sense?

True, I have no real interest in seeing either of these guys in Vancouver anyway. I admit that. But I have one other name that comes to mind with all of this; an American, still-young woman by the name of Tara Lipinski. It wasn’t her knees that gave her trouble, it was her hips—one hip in particular, messed up so badly by repetitive jumping passes at age 18, two years after her Olympic victory, she was having the kind of surgery usually reserved for women over the age of 70. To my knowledge, she hasn’t been able to skate professionally in seven years. Julia Sebestyen and Fumie Suguri are older than her… and are still competing!

Whether it was “worth it” or not could probably be debated for hours. The fact that it’s heartbreaking, sad, and could have been prevented… not so much.

What price glory?

An old question, but I guess that’s all I’m really asking.

A 2002 Ice Wars appearance by Lipinski— her last time on that once-annual event—is the
Clip of the Day.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

In Closing... a Few More Grand Prix Prayer Requests

Continuing the theme of the last post… imagine you’re at a church that takes written prayer requests, which a certain fine group of, um, church folks get together and pray for sometime after the service. Now imagine they have nothing better to do than tolerate a whole offering plate full of silly skating-related, post-GPF requests. Here’s what I would be jotting down during the sermon:
+ A request to help poor JeremEEE make up his mind: Simple black Costume A for the free skate (worn at TEB), Cinderella’s Coachman Costume B (worn at Skate Canada), and not-quite-finished-dressing-for-that-important-meeting Costume C (worn at the GPF). Since he’s still deciding, I’m offering up three more shirt options… as you can see above. Thoughts?

+ A request that all funky death spiral holds be banished… why must I be forced to say that Muk/Trank have the loveliest one in the business these days… mostly because it’s so classic?

+ And while we're on the subject, a request for an explanation of the actual kiss at end of Muk/Trank’s "Love Story"… wha?? Are they going completely Cutting Edge on us now that Olympic time is near? In three performances they’ve gone from him carrying her at the end… to carrying, then setting down and almost poised to kiss… to full-out liplock. Hmmm.
+ A request for special care to Dan Zhang, as she continues to struggle these days and her partner in Zhang crime looked PISSED this time. The little shake of the head right at the end of their free skate, body language that reminded me, momentarily, of Fusar-Poli in the Torino OD…the way he stalked out of K & C before he was supposed to…speaking of Torino, that doesn’t really seem like the same guy that tended to her so kindly when she crashed on the quad salchow back at the last Olympics.

+ A request to find me a way to see Japanese Nationals this year… (is any explanation necessary? I didn’t think so.)

+ A request to kill the Kiss’n’Cry mics when someone is, er, clearing their sinuses… yes, Tomas, I’m looking at you. We all were, and we knew what you were thinking, too, when you looked up so sheepishly: my God, I just had one of my worst skates since 2008 Worlds…must everyone witness me BLOWING IT here as well??
+ A request to put a ceiling on the amount of “silent hidden messages to friends” allowed in the Kiss ‘n’Cry… yep, pointing at you, Abbott. You’re hitting the threshold right about now.

+ And finally, a request for… more Stro-motion !! (It almost made me feel like “ESPN on ABC” was at the helm again… sigh)

For the Clip of the Day here is Yu-Na Kim’s GPF exhibition number.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Are You There, God? It's Me, The One With The Skating Blog.

(No, not that skating blog… the other one. Yep, now You’ve got it.)

So, God, I was watching the Grand Prix Finals over the weekend, and boy were my predictions a joke! I was only 5 for 12 this time. I was starting to think that maybe I’d gotten better at guessing the podium because we’ve now been following most of these competitors for the better part of four years, and have a better sense of what to expect… but then the GPF comes along, and I realize all over again how clueless I am when we get down to brass tacks! Yes, ice is slippery. Thanks for reminding me.

But as long as I’ve got Your attention, there are a few prayers I’d like to send Your way…

+ For the pairs: could You please help make the event in Vancouver as exciting as it was in Tokyo? As the only event at this particular GPF where every likely top Olympian actually competed, it was exceptionally compelling. I was surprised to see another flawed performance (or two) on the part of Sav/Szol, but if anyone deserved silver ahead of them it was definitely Pang/Tong. I would love to see all three of these teams on the podium in Vancouver…

+ By the way… if anything happens to Shen/Zhao between now and mid-February, I will weep openly and often.

+ For ice dance: I know it is a lot to ask from this particular discipline, and I know I’ve brought it up before…but in watching the loveliness that is Davis/White and/or Virtue/Moir as they twizzled it out yet again, I was saddened to think that history dictates at least one of these fine teams (if not both) will be denied an Olympic medal, even if they are spot-on when others falter. Please, can the big news this time be that an Olympic ice dance competition was judged fairly??

+ For the ladies, a few individual requests: a) that Akiko Suzuki still has some gas left in the tank for Japanese Nationals, because I like her more and more… b) that some sort of “skating angels” come down and keep Ashley Wagner’s feet from screwing up a powerful and gorgeous program with edge calls and 2-footed landings… c) that Joannie Rochette works out her pre-Vancouver jitters, or whatever’s keeping her from turning in great programs of late.

+ And for the men—look, here’s all I want to say… these guys are STUNNING. Save for the pitiful performances of Tomas Verner (I didn’t hear the NBC commentary yet—does anyone know if Verner was still sick?), they are amazingly talented, have by and large dug deep this year to assemble some beautiful programs, and deserve so much more than for His Evgeniness to stride in like he owns Vancouver, throw down a couple of quads, flail his arms like a contender in a Dance Fever tournament, wave his stupid “#1” finger in the air, not even bother to put an ending pose on his program… and walk out with the gold. Can You think about it? Oh please oh please?

Amen for now… (but I’ll probably be back with several more “minor” requests later)

Clip of the Day just had to be one of the many glowing SPs from this past weekend’s men’s event, so I went with the one at the top of the heap (Dice-K).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More Studying: ISU Grand Prix Finals, Men's and Ladies Predictions

I saw an ad on Universal Sports yesterday promoting the GP Final, with the push being on the fact that Yu-Na Kim faltered at her last event… can she come back stronger?? Or words to that effect.

Answer: Uh, yeah… probably.

Anyway, here are a bunch of Universal airtimes (and 2 hours for NBC as well; the NBC time will be in bold)… all times are Eastern, as usual… and I’m still seeing conflicting reports about these times, so if any of it needs correcting, please send the link with the correct info and I’ll accommodate!

Thurs Dec. 3, 6-7:30: Grand Prix Final (Pairs Short & Original Dance)

Fri. Dec. 4, 6-7:30: Grand Prix Final (Mens & Ladies Short)

Sat. Dec. 5, 6-7: Grand Prix Final (Pairs Long)
Sat. Dec. 5, 7-8:Grand Prix Final (Men’s Long)

Sat. Dec. 5, 9-10: Grand Prix Final (Free Dance)

Sun. Dec. 6, noon-2: Grand Prix Final, NBC (probably Men’s and Ladies FS)

Sun. Dec. 6, 5-7: Grand Prix Final (Ladies Long)

And here come the rest of the predictions:

For MEN…
Gold—Nobunari Oda
Silver—Evan Lysacek
Bronze—Daisuke Takahashi
Also competing: Verner, Abbott, Weir

I was watching Dice-K’s 2007 World Championship skate recently—he won silver there—and was enamored with his smooth, easy jumps, deep knees, and gorgeous flow… and realized it reminded me somewhat of what Oda is skating like this season. Both their free skates are among my faves of the year thus far, but I’m picking Oda for his consistency. Lysacek’s been almost as consistent, but his triple axel technique still tends to get him in trouble sometimes. Plus, Oda’s bound to get some home-team advantage in Tokyo—thus far I don’t think I’ve seen him crumble under pressure.

And finally, the LADIES…
Gold-- Yu-Na Kim
Silver—Joannie Rochette
Bronze—Miki Ando

Also competing: Leonova, Wagner, Suzuki

I think it’ll be back to business for Yu-Na in this final, and I’m hopeful Rochette will step up and skate like the world silver medalist she is. I would not be shocked if ANY of the other ladies claimed bronze; each have had moments of brilliance so far this season… just not enough of them. I’m picking Ando because, like Pang/Tong in pairs, I think she’s somewhat less likely to make any major slip-ups.

From the GPF of approx. 10 years back, here’s Alexei Yagudin’s final-winning FS as the
Clip of the Day.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Studying for ISU Grand Prix Finals: Pairs & Dance Predictions

This time I’m going to break the Finals predictions into two parts, like I did with all the GP predictions last season. And since I’ve been trying to post TV times, I’ll split those in half as well. Here are Tokyo streaming times for IceNetwork:

Thursday, Dec. 3
5:50 a.m.- Pairs Short Program
7:05 a.m. - Original Dance

Friday, Dec. 4

4:20 a.m. - Men's Short Program
5:40 a.m. - Ladies Short Program
6:40 a.m. - Free Dance

Saturday, Dec. 5

2:15 a.m. - Pairs Free Skate
3:50 a.m. - Men's Free Skate
5:20 a.m. - Ladies Free Skate

Predictions In PAIRS…
Gold-- Shen/Zhao
Silver-- Savchenko/Szolkowy
Bronze-- Pang/Tong

Who else is there: Murkhortova/Trankov, Yavaguti/Smirnov, Zhang/Zhang

It’s been 2 ½ years since Shen/Zhao last went up against Sav/Szol… the former won gold (at Worlds 2007); the latter took bronze. Has the latter caught up? They’re probably quite a bit closer, but it’s hard to imagine Shen/Zhao anywhere other than first, especially after seeing them in recent events. They’re truly in a class by themselves at this point. As for bronze—believe it or not, I’m not super-confident about P/T, and am willing to admit either Russian pair could get it. But I still think P/T have the smallest likelihood of making major mistakes.

Gold-- Virtue/Moir
Silver-- Davis/White
Bronze-- Pechalat/Bourzat

Who else is there: Cappellini/Lanotte, Kerr/Kerr, Crone/Poirer

I know that V/M and D/W tend to go neck-and-neck when competing directly these days… but I’m picking the Canadians this time, if only because I’d love to see Davis/White over them when it counts a little more. In VANCOUVER. (Quite a pipe dream, I realize, with it being home turf for V/M and all… but skating fans have to know how to dream or else we go crazy, yes?)

I’d rather see the Kerrs or Crone/Poirer for bronze, but I know they don’t have the complexity of the French team. Besides, who doesn’t want to root for a guy dressed like a clock :-)

Men and ladies predictions to come soon… for the Clip of the Day here’s a look at the GPF winner from 5 years ago… hmmm, mighty familiar-looking…