Friday, July 30, 2010

Not-so-Random Thoughts About Skate America 2009 Revisited

As we step into last November’s vault to revisit Skate America (or as I like to call it, SKAM), we’re reminded of that seemingly rare falter on Kim Yu-Na’s part in the free skate, as well as how Rachael Flatt surpassed the expectations of many and proved herself a viable candidate for Vancouver. And we’re reminded of Belgosto’s final, 24-point leading SKAM win… and how Khoklova/Novitski faltered after the compulsory dance, clearing the way for the Zaretskys to make the podium along with Cappellini and Lanotte. But what else springs to mind as far as the ladies and ice dance were concerned?

The thought that older skaters tire a little easier. Fumie Suguri and Julia Sebestyen—both 28 at the time of the event—had clean short programs and started off relatively well in their free skates, but were out of gas well before those 4-minute endurance-testers were over. Suguri had popped jumps, downgraded jumps, messy double axels and a slow closing spin; Sebestyen doubled a triple lutz and singled her double axels. Sebestyen finished higher, with a bronze (in a pretty weak field beyond Kim and Flatt). Unfortunately, Suguri is scheduled to continue competing next season.

The thought that I hope Sarah Hecken doesn’t morph into Elene Gedevanishvili over the next four years. Hecken started to show here some of the fun and fire that fueled her performances later in the season, including a lovely triple toe/triple toe. But a few skaters later we had Gedevanishvili, who at age 19 (in November) is still a fine skater, but has dumbed down her jumps enough over the past few years to effectively take her out of the running for much of anything—those triples she does skate (lutz on the difficult end; toe and salchow on the easier end) are often doubled in competition. I’m not sure what’s sadder—watching a former rising star continue to compete and simply spin their wheels mid-pack year after year… or not watching a former star compete at all, several years before you figured she’d be done. (Talking about Meissner there.) Here’s Gedevanishvili’s 2006 Olympics SP as the
Clip of the Day as a reminder of one of her first big splashes.

The thought that I made no mention at all back then of Khoklova/Novitski’s 4th place finish in ice dance—which, as it turns out, was the first time they’d missed the podium at a regular GP event in four years. After doing very well with the compulsory dance (2nd only to Belgosto), they had only the 5th best OD and 4th best FD of the event—including four elements in the free dance that only scored a Level 2. The shift allowed Italy’s Cappellini/Lanotte to claim silver, and Israel’s brother/sister Zaretsky’s (who may be retiring, I hear?) for bronze. Khoklova/Novitski subsequently failed to qualify for the GP Final, then only earned bronze at Europeans, 9th place at the Olympics, and withdrew from Worlds. The pair is now split up; 29 year-oldNovitski retired and 24 year-old Khoklova is still seeking a new partner.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Kim Yu-Na's "All That Skate 2010" Was... Well... All That

One look on You Tube at the All That Skate show that was performed (and aired) in South Korea last week, and it’s clear: when it comes to figure skating these days, Kim Yu-Na has ALL THE MONEY.

Just kidding. Kind of. But this has become an annual show, put on, I believe, by the management company formed by Kim and her mother. They’ve got a sprawling arena. They’ve got terrific lighting AND an always-percolating graphics/animation display. They’ve got TV coverage, and “Live” coverage at that (according to the icon in the upper right corner—which is not to be confused with the animated Yu-Na in the lower left corner, endlessly spinning and blowing us kisses). They’ve got star after bewildering star on the performance roster, and that doesn’t even include Queen Yu-Na herself. They’ve got an Asian woman belting out Aerosmith in the closing number! And most importantly, they’ve got a packed-to-the-rafters house (something the recent SOI tour would have loved to see). Yep, that young lass can sure put on a show.

Several links to the performances appear below. As usual, I’m not embedding them within the blog… but if it would be helpful to you for me to start doing that with Clip of the Day and otherwise, please send me a note and let me know!

I’m listing these in reverse order of You Tube popularity as I go to press...

John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana (his wife) skating to “Purple Rain”…

Belbin and Agosto skating to “If It Kills Me” (their kids-to-grownups number from SOI)

Sale and Pelletier skating to the decidedly unromantic MJ ditty “Scream” (Wasn’t this their first skating gig since announcing their divorce?)

Michelle Kwan skating to Annie Lennox’s “Primitive”

Brian Joubert skating to Daft Punk’s “Aerodynamic”

Sasha Cohen skating to Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah”

Jeremy Abbott skating to his brand new tango SP “Viejos Aires”
(And I must add… this is already on its way to smokin’…)

Kim Yu-Na and Michelle Kwan skating a duet to Mariah Carey’s “Hero”

Stephane Lambiel skating (and nailing a quad!) to “William Tell’s Overture”

And #1… (duh)
Kim Yu-Na skating (debuting?) a new show piece to La Roux’s “Bulletproof”

Hopefully that’ll be enough Clips of the Day for you!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Zhang's New Coach, and a Who's Who of Music Matchups for the 2010-11 Season

Wondering who’s decided on what music so far for the upcoming season? Hmmm?
Will Mroz try Mendelssohn? Will Flatt do flamenco?

A mini-roundup of some American names and choices will follow shortly, BUT FIRST…

Did you hear that after several weeks without a move in the annual Coaches Square Dance, Caroline Zhang is suddenly in the spotlight as she takes her high-kicking takeoff self from
Mingzhu Li to Tammy Gambill? Gambill is currently coach to Richard Dornbush (U.S. skater who finished 11th in this year’s Nationals in Spokane); among previous students is Amanda Dobbs (6th at those same Nationals). For those of us who still see great potential in the 17 year-old Zhang, who finished down in 11th in Spokane, this is something of a relief. Let’s hope Gambill’s able to deconstruct Zhang’s toe-jump takeoffs and rebuild them better, stronger, faster…

As far as music choices that have been made public, I thought I’d drum up a half-dozen or so that might be of interest…

+ Jeremy Abbott has chosen for his SP Viejos Aires (a tango)… and for his FS, music from the motion picture Life is Beautiful. He’s apparently going to debut at least the SP soon, over in Korea… so if you can’t wait until his first GP appearance (NHK, which is the first event this time), maybe You Tube will curb your appetite soon. As for the FS, it’s been too long since I sat and wept through Life is Beautiful, so I don’t remember the music—but if anyone has the personality to embrace that music (and the story it tells), it’s Abbott.

+ Ashley Wagner’s SP is to Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir as interpreted by the London Philharmonic… and her FS, to Malaguena, is a different kind of classic. Kristi Yamaguchi, Michael Weiss and Sasha Cohen are just a few of the more recent ones to take it on.

+ Adam Rippon is bringing the Tchaikovsky version of Romeo & Juliet for his SP, and Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2 for the FS. Count Daisuke Takahashi and Ilia Kulik among those who have used this particular R&J; others who have used the Rachmaninoff include Cohen, Takahashi, and Fumie Suguri.

+ Akiko Suzuki has settled on Jalousie by Jacob Gade for her SP—it’s a tango that was used by Sale/Pelletier, as well as Japan’s on Midori Ito—and her FS looks like it will stem from another classic American musical… Fiddler on the Roof. Among those that have Fiddled in the past? Former U.S. men’s champ Scott Davis. I see another blazingly fun step sequence in her future…

+ Finally there’s Patrick Chan… while he’s apparently keeping his FS to Phantom (though re-working some of the choreography), his new SP is to the jazz standard Take Five… which has been used by everyone from Chen Lu, to Torvill and Dean (in their pro career), to Jeffrey Buttle, to (most recently) Takahiko Kozuka.

As a matter of fact, it was this new program that gave Chan his first successful quad toe loop just last weekend (at Liberty Open). Wanna see? Here’s the new SP, hand-held style, as the
Clip of the Day.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Yu-Na Announcement, a Liberty Open Update, and an NHK Trophy Backtrack (Men and Pairs)

**** LATE BREAKING NEWS *** Since it's now in the Korea Times, I might as well go ahead and mention Kim Yu-Na's decision to skip this year's Grand Prix, meaning she intends her only major competition of the 2010-11 season to be the World Championships. Certainly not an unprecedented move for an already-proven champion-- Joannie Rochette and Evan Lysacek are doing the same thing, to name just two others-- but surely disappointing for those selling tickets to GP events in Russia or China, where she was to compete. We'll get more into this topic in future posts.

Also-- I’ve been trying to find some detailed results from the Liberty Open—the mid-summer event out of Philadelphia that just wrapped up yesterday—but their website has not been updated. So for now, I point you instead to where you can read about Ashley Wagner’s new and improved triple lutz, Patrick Chan’s quad toe (which translates from skate-ese to mean all right, Brian Joubert—game on!!), and other interesting unveilings.

And now, back to our “encore coverage” of the 2009 NHK Trophy: Things we missed the first time around (or didn’t know to note at the time):

+ The other “DICE”: that would be Daisuke Murakami to the rest of the world. Will we come to call him “DICE-M”? Guess that depends on his progress from here. At NHK last year he used a very radical reworking of West Side Story for his short program (and was undermarked I thought), finishing the event 9th overall. On the other hand, he plummeted to a 19th place finish at Japanese Nationals just a year after finishing in the top five. Looking at his track record, he was one of the stellar juniors who hasn’t quite managed to break through consistently at the senior level. Did you know he skated for the U.S. until 2007? I didn’t.

+ When your field of competitors contains seemingly steady-Eddie Takahiko Kozuka (2nd or 3rd at Japanese Nationals for the past 3 years), Murakami may have started to ponder skating for the U.S. again… until this event, when Kozuka finished 7th after turning in the 5th best short, but the 10th best free skate. It’s worth noting he did something similar at Worlds a few months later (4th in short, 12th in free). Uh-oh. Where’s that awesome Kozuka who won Skate America in 2008? I hope that vicious beast known as self-doubt doesn’t try to claim him.

+ At the time of NHK I took notice of Michal Brezina—how could I not; he was a virtual unknown who won bronze—but didn’t look up his history until recently. Turns out NHK was his senior GP debut, coming out of two years on the junior circuit and several years at the junior level in general. (Oh, and he was also World Junior Silver Medalist in ’09, second only to the U.S.’s Adam Rippon.) Even more impressive than all this was the momentum Brezina carried all season long, concluding with a 10th place finish in Vancouver and 4th place at Worlds—just a couple notches above Adam Rippon’s 6th place finish. When was the last time a couple of blond guys (neither of which was named Evgeny) were vying for the top of the heap? Just an observation…

+ And as for the pairs event at NHK, the only thing I really feel is worth re-visiting is the gaping hole in the Kavaguti/Smirnov free skate that came when they stopped the program. It was one of those times—which got to be a habit, it seemed—where Kavaguti fell hard enough on their throw quad salchow attempt to dislocate her shoulder. But while the program stoppage is designed to allow athletes to seek medical attention in order to continue… all she seemed to do was catch her breath (and, presumably, quietly pop the shoulder back into place). Good for her, I guess, but it makes me hope we don’t start seeing more “medical breaks” from overly ambitious competitors. If the skater can’t handle the risk involved with a maneuver, don’t put it in the program. Take Rene Inoue (who happened to finish right behind the Russians in this event with partner John Baldwin)—she’s taken plenty of hard tumbles in competition with that throw triple axel, but to her enormous credit it’s never really disturbed the flow of their program. If Kavaguti (or her coach) insists on trying to land this jump, she’s got to do more of what she did a couple of competitions after this—keep going, and (ouch) pop the shoulder back in place (ouch) as soon as possible during the course of the program (again I say OUCH). And if that’s too harsh, here’s a better idea: LEAVE IT OUT until she’s got it down cold.

For the
Clip of the Day I found that SP of Murakami’s I mentioned earlier. Apparently he got a slight ding point wise on his triple flip, as well as level 2s and 3s (mostly 2s) on spin and step sequences. Incidentally, if anyone wondered why Adam Rippon was down in 8th after his SP—besides the missed triple axel, I mean—take note that he only managed level 1s on both step sequences and a spin!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Buntin, Chipeur Retire; Lysacek, Meissner... Um, Still "Contemplating"

I’m not sure how many of you are following along with my rerun reports this summer, and get kinda irritated when I interrupt them to mention tidbits of actual, current skating news… but here I go again, as I send along two articles having to do with decisions to retire, while two others involve skaters who remain undecided on the retirement thing:

Craig Buntin announced his retirement this week. Not much of a surprise here; the 30 year-old Buntin has competed pairs with two different partners (Valerie Marcoux and Meagan Duhamel), won three Canadian titles, and is a 2006 Olympian. If you go check the article at, you can read about some interesting business ventures he plans to pursue. “Teabean white coffee”? Hmmm… will Starbucks be calling soon?

2) Perhaps only slightly less surprising:
Vaughn Chipeur announced HIS retirement just today. I say “less surprising” because Chipeur was notably absent from the 2010 Grand Prix schedule—perhaps his plans were already unofficially known. Or, perhaps it’s because he never really competed well in the GP. Hard for someone like me to know for sure. Apparently his future plans involve skating on a Royal Caribbean Cruise ship…

3) How about Evan Lysacek? Retirement? Taking a break a la Johnny? Ah, still not really saying… but from the looks of
this article from ESPN, he might be starting to lean one way over the other…

4) Finally, I happened to see Kimmie Meissner
post a link to this article on “how I feel my faith and skating are related,” as she says. It’s a nice piece, though I wish they’d spent a little bit of time on how her faith is helping her “contemplate” her future with regards to competition. The only time they alluded to her future was to use that word—contemplate. But maybe that’s all she really wants to say about it right now.

For the
Clip of the Day – I apologize, for I know I’ve featured this at least once before… this is Buntin & Duhamel’s free skate from the 2008 Trophee Eric Bompard; the one where Buntin’s hand got sliced open midway through and they STILL manage to finish the program, although in two parts, and with his bandaged hand looking like a miniature Japanese Flag by the end. I'll always be terribly impressed with that!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Another Look at NHK 2009: Ladies & Dance

NHK was the last Grand Prix event of the 2009-10 season to occur outside of North America. It gave Miki Ando a victory despite a sub-par performance (Alena Leonova beat her in the SP, if that give you an idea of the field at hand))… it gave Brian Joubert his mojo back (at least temporarily)… it gave us Michal Brezina as someone to keep our eye on NOW, not just in the future… and it gave us fairly predictable pairs and dance finishes (Pang/Tong for the former, Davis/White for the latter). But looking back at it now a second time… what else did it give us?

+ It gave us back to back to back POPERA in the free dance when 3 teams: Huang/Zheng of China, Zadorozhniuk/Verbillo of Ukraine, and Bobrova/Soloviev of Russia, all skated to some variation of the pop music/opera hybrid while over-emoting their hearts out. The Russian team fared the best of the three, with slightly less bombastic music and better body lines (the lot of them finished 4th, 5th and 6th).

+ It gave us Canada’s Crone and Poirier, who were starting to show their "Bohemian Rhapsody" program to be a standout of the season (the team took bronze here).

+ It gave us Yukari Nakano missing triple lutzes in both the short and long programs—when’s the last time that happened??—and was perhaps a sign of things to come, seeing how she failed to make the Japanese Olympic Team (and announced her retirement shortly thereafter).

+ Likewise, it gave us Cynthia Phaneuf missing all her lutzes… but doing everything else right, which put her in 6th behind Nakano’s 4th. The difference is that Phaneuf’s season went on quite a bit longer, and in that time her lutz got better—contributing to her surprise 5th place Worlds finish. Speaking of which, wouldn’t that Worlds free skate of Phaneuf’s be great to see right about now? Here it is as the Clip of the Day.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Weir’s Skipping Next Season. In Other “breaking news”: Yellow and Blue Make Green; Bunnies and Kittens are Adorable.

OK, whoever had July 8, 2010 in the “when will Johnny bail?” pool, it’s time to collect your prize. (Here’s the official statement from Weir himself.) The fellow who bypassed Worlds back in March so he could “work on his technique” is now announcing it’ll take upwards of a solid year to get that “work” completed. And apparently it’s a technique that includes promoting a single, promoting a fashion line, filming season 2 of his reality series, promoting his book…

There may indeed be plenty of performances peppering all that effort… but yep, he’s definitely “on a break.” And
you know how I feel about those.

Since that’s about the least newsworthy item from the past week of skating-related stuff, let’s get to the rest… for haven’t you heard? There’s much to celebrate!

+ Remember Tonya Harding? Blonde chick, controversial skater, likes to take apart car engines with her bare hands? According to numerous reports like
this one, she got married again a few weeks ago.

+ And does the name Elvis Stojko ring a bell? Multiple World and Olympic medalist, martial arts guru, dude who whined about Lysacek’s OGM almost as loudly as Plushenko? He got married too… and no, it wasn’t to Ms. Harding. You can read about his nuptials

I think someone should go check to see if either couple is registered at Target… c’mon, what could it hurt?

+ Another name in the news is Loren Galler-Rabinowitz – OK, she’s a little more obscure, but you might recall her as an American ice dancer whose best finish at Nationals was bronze, in 2004, with her partner David Mitchell. Anyway, she just won the pageant title of Miss Massachusetts, which means she’ll represent the state at the Miss America Pageant next January. Here’s the
Ice Network article that discusses it… and as part one of the Clip of the Day, here’s a 2005 performance from Cup of Russia to refresh your memory.

+ And finally, gotta wish Michelle Kwan a happy birthday, as she celebrated her 30th just yesterday… yep, you read that right. She’s 30. And for those of you wondering where all the time went, here’s
Clip of the Day part 2… when she was half the age she is now.

Monday, July 5, 2010

More on Cup of China 2009: Dance & Ladies

As we wrap up this much-delayed (by holidays, news, etc.) re-tread of Cup of China 2009, let’s get the ice dance discussed first—if only because I don’t have much to say about it!

+ This was the debut of Belgosto’s season, and while I could clearly see some rough patches… particularly with the free dance, and especially with Belbin’s skating… I was still intrigued enough to say (at the time) They’re taking something fresh and making it their own without going over the top, much as Virtue & Moir are doing with the Mahler piece. Well, based on results… obviously no, that wasn’t quite right.

+ I should’ve paid more attention to the Canadian team of Weaver/Poje, who might’ve been known this season as the “other” team that used Phantom of the Opera excerpts in their free dance. If I didn’t say it before, I’ll say it now: this is yet another Canadian team that looks like a formidable competitor with a lot of promise. Unfortunately, their 6th-place finish at this event wasn’t representative of that, due to the fall in the OD (they went 5th in compulsories, 9th (last) in OD, 4th in FD). And by the way, does anyone know why all 3 leading Canadian dance teams chose Flamenco for their OD?

The ladies event was more noteworthy to me for a few reasons:

+ Akiko Suzuki turned in perhaps her best performances of the season to emerge from this event as the “surprise” winner. Normally to peak so early wouldn’t seem like a good thing, but I think it was important she come out of the shadows early in the season. Gotta wonder, too, if her win inspired the gradual costume transformation… and if the first lesson someone taught her was champions don’t wear white blouses over their costumes--?

+ Mirai Nagasu led after the SP, but stumbled around a bit in the FS and finished 5th overall… this pattern was repeated in somewhat exaggerated fashion at Worlds four months later.

+ On the other hand, Joannie Rochette turned in weak performances all around, which may have been one of the reasons people wondered if she’d be able to skate as well as she did in Vancouver (especially under the weight she was suddenly carrying).

+ Rachael Flatt was another one who seemed anything but up to speed for this competition. No triple-triple combos (though to be fair, no one else tried them either, including Nagasu), trouble with her lutz in the FS, a step-out on a flip, AND a sub-par double-axel in the SP? Hmm. Plus I made this note during one of her combo spins: “this is probably an example of the problem people have with her-- posture seems poor, speed is lacking, no excitement…” She only finished 4th; but was able to put it behind her 2 weeks later for Skate America…

+ Then there was Carolina Kostner and Kiira Korpi… Korpi ultimately fared much better than Kostner at this event, winning silver while Kostner sank to sixth. But they were in 2nd and 3rd after the SP… and I personally thought Kostner should have been the higher-scorer of the two… so I checked the scoring details, and discovered that while Kostner did have the higher jump score (17.5 to 16.9 for Nagasu and 16.0 for Korpi), she was given no credit for her spiral sequence. Not a level 2, not even a level 1… ZERO.

I’ve included Kostner’s SP from this event as the
Clip of the Day … and it wasn’t like she botched the effort a la Kim Yu-Na. In fact, I can’t tell what she did wrong. Maybe one of you can!? Please refresh my memory if this was discussed at the time!