Thursday, August 26, 2010

Brian and Yu-Na: Anatomy of a Dissolution

You learn the darndest things by paying attention to Twitter sometimes.

It was a “tweet” by a figure skater—alluding to a split of Kim Yu-Na from coach Brian Orser Monday night—that first sent me scrambling to find out what was going on, and led me to a single article (the one I posted). Three days later, I just Googled Kim’s name and find the number of articles discussing the split has now grown… to 470.

And it was a “tweet” by none other than Kim herself that I stumbled upon Tuesday… though I heard it was deleted shortly thereafter… which told my Spidey senses something was very much amiss:

Would you please stop to tell a lie, B? I know exactly what's going on now and this is what I've DECIDED.

Oh, crap, I thought. What in the world happened with these two?? And why does it have to go down like this—from traditional media to social media and back again?

Coaches and skaters part ways all the time; we don’t joke about it being the annual “shuffle” for nothing. Only when it’s been the skaters especially notorious for coach-hopping—Sasha Cohen, Nicole Bobek, the late Christopher Bowman, back in the day—do we typically do more than raise an eyebrow or make a joke. But this partnership seemed the International Dream Team of our times; the Korean phenom that captured the ultimate prize for her sport, and the Canadian skating-legend-turned-coach that helped her get it done. They shot commercials together. They worked hard. They looked like they had some fun along the way. And when her world became a cautious one, inescapable from the manic media and the sometimes equally manic fans, Orser somehow shielded her just enough, and helped her stay focused. One tends to look at the results, especially over the past two years, and think they were mighty successful. In Kim, we’ve arguably found the biggest star in the sport since Michelle Kwan (and I did say arguably, so Mao Asada fans, please know I’m not looking to start another debate about the two of them with this post). In Orser, we celebrated a fantastic third act for a man who already had one of the most storied amateur and pro careers in the sport.

But what a difference a few days makes. The split may have actually occurred weeks (or unofficially, even months) ago, but suddenly, in the waning weeks of a relatively uneventful August, it’s all skating fans—and selected others—can talk about. As I write this, there have been nearly 1000 posts at Figure Skating Universe regarding the initial news of the split (with well over 100,000 “views” of it), and close to 500 posts for an update that included much more from Orser himself (here is said update, in case you were wondering). Phil Hersh’s current take on the whole thing (oh all right, here’s that article too) generated at least 25 comments from both sides of the debate.

Here’s the important thing to remember in any of this— whether you’re a fan or not: NONE of us know exactly what’s happened here. And just because we think we want to know, and just because it’s all over the headlines this week, doesn’t mean it’s our business to know the details. It’s a sad, unfortunate end to a wonderful story.

I wish it could be left at that, but you know how this goes.

As a tribute to better times, I found Orser & Kim’s commercial shot over in Korea for the Clip of the Day. You’ll notice the “comments” have already been disabled… I’m kind of glad for that.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kim Parts Ways With Orser, and In Other Coaching News... Wait, What Was That??

Some late-breaking stuff to report... one of which was surprising all by itself, the other is downright shocking, at least at first read.

The "shocking" is this: Kim Yu-Na has parted ways with Brian Orser, according to this Figure Skating Online article that was posted this evening. (HUH??? Yeah, I know.) The "surprising" is that U.S. Pairs Champs Denney & Barrett have parted ways with Jim Peterson, Lyndon Johnston and Alison Smith and are taking up with John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana (otherwise known by me as the Most Beautiful Coaching Team In History). More about the Denney/Barrett switch here...

As for the Kim/Orser split... though it was apparently initiated by Kim's side, and Orser was informed of it back on August 2... news on this is still pretty limited. Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

2009 GP Final Revisited: Did They Skate THAT Much Better in Vancouver?

First, a quick shout-out to Kurt Browning… who as you may have heard lost a great deal of his home to a fire this past week. Browning was a fine contributor to my Skating on Air book; I was very fortunate for his input. Here’s hoping he can rebuild very soon.

Now… as I recently reviewed the 2009 Grand Prix Final, a thought occurred to me: we often hear about athletes’ need to “peak at the right time”… the right time being February (at least in an Olympic year). But how many do, technically speaking? So I compared the judges’ scores between the GP Final (in December) and the Olympics (in February) for the top three finishers at each GP event…


Shen/Zhao 214.25 GP 216.57 OLY +2 points more at Olympics (roughly)- GOLD

Pang/Tong 201.86 GP 213.31 OLY +12 points more - SILVER

Sav/Szol 200.38 GP 210.60 OLY +10 points- BRONZE


Kim—188.86 GP 228.56 OLY +40 points more at Olympics (approx)- GOLD

Ando— 185.94 GP 188.86 OLY +3 points more- 5th

Suzuki— 162.07 GP 181.44 OLY +19 points- 8th

Lysacek— 249.45 GP 257.67 OLY +8 points more at Olympics (more or less)-

Oda— 243.36 GP 238.54 OLY -5 points more- 7th

Weir— 237.35 GP 238.87 OLY +1 points more- 6th

DANCE… this was harder since compulsories weren’t part of the GPF… but it certainly shows the difference said compulsories made between the top 2 finishers:

Davis/White— 169.44 GP 67.08 OD + 107.19 FD = 174.27 TOTAL +9- SILVER

Virtue/Moir— 168.22 GP 68.41 OD + 110.42 FD = 178.83 TOTAL +6-

Pech/Bour— 147.62 GP 59.99 OD, 94.37 FD 154.36 TOTAL +7-


+ On average, this batch of competitors scored close to 10 points higher in Vancouver, though that boost didn’t always result in a medal (Akiko Suzuki bettered her GP score by some 19 points, but it was only good enough for 8th place).
+ Only one of these 12 individuals/teams scored lower in Vancouver… Nobunari Oda, who as you’ll recall, faltered so badly at Worlds one month later that he didn’t even make the finals.
+ The two steadiest competitors: Miki Ando, who only skated 3 points better in Vancouver than at the GP Final, and Johnny Weir, who was only 1 point better by February. I find this especially interesting since both are athletes that had arguably peaked a few years back, but have remained competitive enough to be interesting nonetheless. It would seem the judges were settled into grooves for each of them this past season. (Shen/Zhao were in a similar situation, but with one big difference… the judges put them in a much higher “groove”.)
+ For those who thought Kim Yu-Na’s scores in Vancouver might have been a little over-the-top no matter how fantastic the performances… I definitely see their point. FORTY full points higher, when the difference between the two events was maybe two or three additional triple jumps as far as I can see? Yup, that’s kooky.
+ And something I hadn’t thought of until now: it should be very interesting to see how the new “short dance” affects competition between Virtue/Moir and Davis/White.

I’m including Evan Lysacek’s
GP Final Free Skate as the Clip of the Day… his mistake in this is obvious; had he succeeded with his second triple axel, would his score here have rivaled his Olympic score? Should it have? What do you think?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ms. Bobek Catches a Break; Dr.Thomas Catches a Plane to Nepal

If you’ve checked the minor headlines lately, you know a former Olympic figure skater is back in them. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll read about yet another Olympic figure skater. But the two stories couldn’t be from more opposite ends of the spectrum.

Over on this side, we have the final (?) chapter in 1995 U.S. Champion Nicole Bobek’s troubled year in the meth ring spotlight… a sentence of five years’ probation, 250 hours of public service, and a $2500 fine, according to the above article from ABC. It could’ve been much worse, so I hope somewhere in her mind Bobek is doing some primo Russian splits right about now.

But not every former champ with a disappointing Olympics in their history has a rap sheet. Case and point:
on this side, we have Christine Brennan’s new profile on 1986 & 1988 U.S. Champion (and ’88 Olympic Bronze Medalist) Dr. Debi Thomas… who is eagerly anticipating an opportunity to provide joint replacements to patients in Nepal next month as part of a nonprofit volunteer organization ( The article also talks about Dr. Thomas getting recognized on occasion, and the fact that—wow, really?—Thomas plans to come out of retirement later this year for an event billed “A Salute to the Golden Age of American Skating,” scheduled to take place in Atlantic City in December.

I would say there’s probably no chance Thomas would pull out her drop-dead hilarious
Wanda Beazle routine for the occasion, but then I came across this Clip of the Day… hmmm… stranger things have happened!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Skate Canada Revisited, Featuing a Protocols Showdown: Lepisto vs. Zhang

I was thinking of combining this second part of 2009 Skate Canada Revisited with some more news about programs for the upcoming season, but very few of the ones I planned to mention have revealed such info.

In fact, I couldn’t come up with much new that I wanted to say re: ice dance at this event. It might be worth noting that Russia’s Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, who took 4th, are likely to be running alongside U.S.’s Samuelson/Bates (who took 5th) for the next several years… they are well-matched in age, experience, expertise… and, unfortunately, both shared an affinity this past season for Popera free dances. (Now that Sam/Bates have made a coaching change, it’ll be interesting to see if they get off the Popera track.)

Over on the ladies’ side of things, I mostly wanted to compare/contrast the protocols on Finland’s Laura Lepisto and U.S.’s Caroline Zhang. Why? Because they’ve both been consistently facing problems with their jumps (albeit very different problems), and I wanted to see how said problems specifically affected their scoring.

(By the way, Lepisto has no new SP music announced yet; she used Imagined Oceans for the past two seasons. On the other hand, she apparently plans to continue using last season’s tango-laced FS in 2010-11. No announcements yet from the Zhang camp on either new program, though with a new coach I suppose she’s got other stuff to work on right now…)

Lepisto SKCAN SP: Component average 6.65
Highest scoring elements—3Loop (5.0), Level 4 spirals (4.40), 2axel (4.30)
Lowest—2toe/3Toe (2.90), Level 3 combo spin (3.10)

Zhang SKCAN SP: Component average: 5.86
Highest—3Flip/3Toe (downgraded) 5.40, 3Loop 4.80, Level 4 layback (4.20) (her “pearl spin”, right?)
Lowest—2axel (3.18), Level 4 flying sit spin (3.20)

Zhang actually outscored Lepisto on elements here, but Lepisto beat her on components… total score was 55.74 to 54.58.

Lepisto’s SKCAN free skate included 3 triples in all, and 8 DOUBLES. Total points for the triples (including one in combo with a double): 16.53. Total points for the other doubles: 14.39. Jumps points total: 30.92.

On the other hand… Zhang’s SKCAN free skate included SIX triples and five doubles. However—two of her triples were downgraded (and resulted in falls anyway), one got an edge call, and she got no points at all for a 3Loop/2toe/2Loop she did late in the program; it was called an “invalid element”. Had she exceeded some sort of combination rule with that one—is that why she was docked? As usual, I’d appreciate your help if you know the details. Total points for all her jumps: 21.22.

Lepisto finished in third place… Zhang was eighth.

So with the scoring system as it is, is Zhang better off doing more doubles, unless and until she gets her triples technique back up to snuff? The math is pretty interesting here.

I’ll leave you with
Zhang’s FS and Lepisto’s FS from that event as co-Clips of the Day… and food for thought.

Monday, August 9, 2010

2009 Skate Canada: a Re-Recap (Men and Pairs)

We’re heading into the home stretch of recapping last season’s Grand Prix events, so let’s see what there is worth seeing (again) from Skate Canada, or SkCan:

PREVIOUS PAIRS TALK covered Denney/Barrett’s hard-earned 5th place, Mukhortova/Trank’s fine (though undermarked) performances, and Savchenko/Szolkowy’s impressive debut of the Out of Africa free skate.

WHO’S LEFT: Dube/Davison, who caused some head-scratching when their error-laden free skate somehow kept them in 3rd place Checking over the protocols…
Their highest-ranked elements: two of their three lifts and their throw triple lutz

Their lowest-ranked elements: both side-by-side jumps (including the triple salchow, which had become Dube’s nemesis by this point), and their final pairs spin, which was such a hot mess it was declared an “invalid element” and received no points.

However, their component scores averaged 7.01 per “element”… where Denney/Barrett’s components averaged 5.57. It all added up to a 7-8 point spread between the two teams on the overall component scores—which roughly parallels the distance between D & D’s third and D & B’s fifth. All of which makes me very eager for the day that D & B are able to catch up artistically… or at least get in the range!

Speaking of U.S. pairs, this was the only GP appearance last season for Yankowskas/Coughlin. Though they’ve got their SBS triple toes looking great, regrettably the same could not be said for several other elements of their free skate, and it ended up making the difference between 6th place and 7th. Hopefully their recent win here at the Indy Challenge will inspire finer things from them at Cup of China (where they’re scheduled)… and all the places they might go if they fill one of the TBA slots.

PREVIOUS MEN’S EVENT TALK centered on JeremEEE’s quad edging him out for the title over Dice-K, as well as Patrick Chan’s not-ready-for-prime-time comeback from injury, and Denis Ten’s tumble from medal contention with only two clean triples in the free skate (though I think what I specifically mentioned was his Mann-biel (male Denise Biellmann spin).

WHO’S LEFT: Two relatively young Canadian men—21 year-old Jeremy Ten and 22 year-old Joey Russell, both of whom exhibited an admirable amount of style but aren’t yet able to infuse their programs with well-landed jumps (or energy at all for Ten, who seemed entirely drained at the end of his skate). Ten is on the GP for the coming season; I don’t see Russell’s name just yet.

Oh, and Kevin Van der Perren, who looked thoroughly dejected after his free skate… and was still using Pirates of the Carribean at this point of the season. Of course such music became better associated with Javier Fernandez of Spain last season… in watching this, I noticed choreographic passages similar to those of Fernandez, but Fernandez really pulled it off much better.
Here’s VDP’s free skate as the Clip of the Day; see what you think. He skated to Gavin Greenaway’s “Reflections of Earth” for the second half of the season…

Friday, August 6, 2010

Happy Holidays, Kim Yu-Na Style

How will YOU celebrate KimYu-Na Day?

This Saturday is not just another Saturday in Los Angeles, the home of Yu-Na’s first World Championship. And with LA boasting 120,000 Korean-Americans (the largest Korean population outside of Korea, according to the above article), Yu-Na is hardly just another athlete. So, August 7 is the day. Yu-Na will even make a special trip down to California to accept the “Proud Korean Award” that goes with the deal as well.

But why should the City of Angles have all the fun? I’ve come up with the TOP 5 WAYS TO CELEBRATE KIM YU-NA DAY no matter where you are this weekend:

#5-- Dress up like a South Korean Bond Girl and walk the streets of your town to see if anyone “gets it”

#4-- At dawn, see how many different Yu-Na commercials you can track down on You Tube. Check the clock when you get hungry. Realize it’s now lunchtime.

#3—Feast on Seng Wang Kal Bi, Duk-Man-Du Soup, and Red Bean Bing Soo! (Yes, I had to look that up. You can too. Go see what you’re eating!)

#2-- Fly to Toronto to try and catch a glimpse of her training… realize she’s spending the day in L.A. because it’s Kim Yu-Na day there… smack yourself in the head with your palm, wondering why you didn’t think of that.

#1-- Stand at the top of a staircase, make two friends stand a little lower on the staircase than you, and hum the South Korean national anthem.

And just in case you’re considering taking #4 to heart, I’ll get you started: this Clip of the Day commercial of Yu-Na’s appears to be one of the more popular ones, with well over half a million views so far. (Still doesn’t top the total number that have now seen the Davis/White Bollywood dance, though.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Challenge of Attending Indy Challenge... and Finding the Subplots at Skate America 2009

Since I’ll be referencing U.S. pairs in this post, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that a significant North American pairs competition took place in my neck of the woods this past weekend—Indianapolis—in the form of something known as the Indy Pairs Challenge. As has been the case for several years running, the event conflicts with a 2-day workshop I attend every summer, so I was unable to attend. With the breakup of at least two of the top five U.S. pairs now a reality, it was probably noteworthy for Caitlin Yankowsas and John Coughlin (6th at Nationals) to win the event… especially when they have something of a rep for doing fine short programs, but lackluster free skates. This article at will give you the lowdown on this past weekend. If you make it to the bottom of the article you’ll see an interesting bit about the way ISU rule changes are already affecting death spirals this coming season.

Now, back to what I was going to talk about…

When it came to both the pairs and men’s events at Skate America last fall, there was the favorite (Shen/Zhao, Evan Lysacek), and then there were all the rest. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t interesting things to follow in both disciplines.

With Pairs at SKAM, we got an early chance to compare and contrast three potential U.S. Olympic teams (though 2 of the 3 are now “discontinued). Here’s what I saw in watching both programs again:

Castile/Okolski: Trouble with 2 of 3 SBS (side-by-side) passes, doubled the throw jump in the SP, fell on both throws in free skate.

Evora/Ladwig: Evora had trouble on all SBS passes… both throw 3Loops were flawed, but not horribly so… aside from their exceptional lifts they had great throw 3lutz (in the free skate).

McLaughlin/Brubaker: Aside from a nice SBS 3sal/2toe at the top of their free skate, and a solid throw 3Loop in the short… the jump elements weren’t really there. Problems throughout.

Of course it’s not ALL about the jumps—that’s why McBru still took 4th at SKAM, while Evora/Ladwig took 5th, and Castile/Okolski finished 6th (all separated by healthy point margins). However, when 3rd-after-SP Duhamel/Buntin were forced to withdraw (Duhamel hit her head hard against the ice falling on a throw jump mid-program), only Evora/Ladwig and Castile/Okolski were able to reap the benefits and move up a spot. McBru stayed put because Zhang/Zhang leapfrogged them in the FS.

The men’s event at SKAM gave Lysacek his first-ever SKAM win, but Shawn Sawyer (of Canada) for silver? Yep, that was him…despite the fact that he couldn’t land a triple axel cleanly to save his life, let alone a quad. The reason? A placement shuffle like I haven’t seen in ages:

France’s Florent Amodio was in 2nd after the SP, but only had the 6th best free skate (4th overall).

U.S.’s Brandon Mroz was in 3rd after the SP, but had an abysmal free skate (11th of 12) put him in 8th overall.

Sweden’s Adrian Schultheiss was in 4th, but was only good enough for the 7th best free skate (7th overall).

MEANWHILE, Ryan Bradley of the U.S. followed the pattern he adopted most of the season: crappy short (8th), great FS (2nd). This time it got him the bronze medal…

Flu-stricken Tomas Verner (of Czech Republic) followed suit; in 11th after the short, he had the 3rd best FS (finishing 5th)…

And Canada’s Kevin Reynolds thought this strategy seemed like a good idea too—10th best SP, 5th best FS. (6th overall)

Sawyer, though only 5th in the SP and 4th in the FS, was the only consistent guy from the top 5 outside of Lysacek. So there you go. Sawyer’s first GP medal ever!

Which made me wonder: obviously Sawyer didn’t get to repeat as an Olympian this time around (he went in 2006 and finished 12th), but how close did he come? You can find out by checking out this
Clip of the Day.