Tuesday, June 28, 2011

2011-12 ISU Grand Prix Assignments At a Glance

Five months from today, all the finalists for the 2011-12 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating will be decided… so as per tradition, the ISU thought late June to be the best time to let skaters know their assignments during the six-week whirlwind that precedes said finals. You can check out the initial assignments for all four disciplines right here.

At a glance (or two), here are some of the more interesting things to note:

+ Miki Ando has joined Kim Yu-Na in sitting out the upcoming GP season… kind of interesting, considering the ill effect such a strategy had on Kim this past year…

+ Perhaps in anticipation of two GP assignments he has received—Skate America, and Trophee Eric Bompard—2010 OGM Evan Lysacek has reportedly just resumed training with Frank Carroll…

+ The rest of the rosters are comprised, by and large, by the usual suspects—which is to say that there aren’t many “rookies” entering the Senior GP arena next season:

-- For the men, the only newbie is USA’s Richard Dornbush (who competed/won the Junior GP title last season).
-- The ladies are welcoming just one new US skater (Christina Gao), one new Chinese skater (Kexin Zhang), and one new French skater (Yretha Silete)… but the big attention will most likely be on three young’uns from Russia (Sofia Biryukova, Adelina Sotnikova, and Elizaveta Tuktamishieva). As Tara Lipinski “tweeted” earlier this week, the other ladies better get to work on their triple/triple combos…

+ The pairs events boast something like 8 new teams, the majority of those being Canadian and American—if only because recent breakups/retirements gave them no choice.

+ It’s a similar story for ice dance, though it appears to be U.S. and Russian teams leading the way in terms of first-time talent. (It’s worth noting that only Davis/White have been named to the Skate America trifecta of American dance teams thus far.)

+ Look closely at the lineups, and you’ll see that the overall number of participants has been reduced across the board—10 singles skaters per event (down from 12), and 8 pairs/dance teams (down from 10).

+ And you’ll also notice that the series is kicking off with Skate America for the first time in a while… followed by Skate Canada, Cup of China, NHK Trophy, Trophee Bompard, and Rostelecom Cup… in that order. And back to Canada (Quebec City) for the GP Final.

More on the specific GP showdowns later in the week!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Are Samuelson And Bates The Latest Team to Spilt?

I'm afraid I don't have much time to post today, but wanted to pass this on about
Samuelson and Bates reportedly ending their partnership, joining that increasingly long line of broken-up dance teams in this particular post-season. As I write this it hasn't yet made the IceNetwork headlines; the article in the above link is from Universal Sports. but the original source is cited as the Detroit Free Press (where Sam/Bates had been training prior to the injury that took them out of last season entirely).

No "retirements" mentioned this time; apparently both are looking for new partners.


I haven't done a Clip of the Day in quite a while, so here's one for you... in the form of a musical question first posed by Mr. Phil Collins over 25 years ago. Keeps popping into my head of late.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Come Get a Copy of "Skating on Air" This Saturday 6/25... and Get it Signed by the Author!

Hey... have you heard... I'll be signing copies of my book Skating on Air in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park this coming weekend!

WHERE WILL IT BE?: The Oak Park Arms, 408 S. Oak Park Ave. (corner of Oak Park Ave. and Washington Blvd.)

WHEN WILL IT BE?: Saturday, June 25, Noon-3PM Chicago time



DO YOU ACCEPT CREDIT CARDS?: Sorry (Oak Park Arms is NOT a bookstore. No, seriously, it's not.)

DO YOU TAKE PERSONAL CHECKS?: Only if I know you personally (and even then it's on a case-by-case basis-- heh)

WHAT IF I WANT TO BUY JOHNNY WEIR'S BOOK INSTEAD?: I'll get you some directions to the nearest Barnes & Noble

DO I HAVE TO GET MY BOOK SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR?: Ah, so you've seen my handwriting already. No worries

WHAT IF THIS WHOLE BOOK-SIGNING THING TAKES TOO LONG AND I GET HUNGRY?: It won't. But I hear there will be free refreshments just the same...

DID YOU MISS ANYTHING?: If I did, will you be sure to ask me via a "comment" below the post?

OK, WILL DO: Thanks.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Coach Changes, Future Plans, and Fines (Oh My!)-- Skating's Week in Review

Another flurry of skating headlines has descended upon us this past week. What to pay attention to… where’s the best place to learn more about them…? Here’s my two cents on (most of) those matters:

The Flatt Fine—***3 Blades out of a possible 4 (in terms of significance)***

I made note of it when blogging about the
Ladies Final at Worlds, as did several over fans, bloggers… and writers such as Phil Hersh, who wrote the above article. But back in April Hersh wrote a piece that went so far as get several outraged-sounding quotes from Frank Carroll on the irresponsibility of Rachael Flatt and/or her coach Tom Zakrajsek in not reporting her tibia stress fracture to U.S. Figure Skating. (Carroll as much as held Flatt responsible for the U.S. not having 3 spots in 2012 Worlds, insisting that his student, 1st alternate Mirai Nagasu, would have fared much better.) And now USFS has chimed in as well with an official reprimand and undisclosed fine for Flatt, who won 2010 Nationals and finished 7th at the Vancouver Olympics.

Even if it’s a “let’s make Rachael an example” kind of punishment rather than anything very monumental, it still kicks up a lot of interesting questions:

+ Will this affect Flatt’s reputation as an athlete for the long-term?
+ Will it affect Zakrajsek’s reputation as a coach?
+ Will it prompt more skaters/coaches to make the decision to pull an injured athlete out of critical events… or will it keep even more of them from speaking up when they’re hurt, offering a banal “It just wasn’t my day” as excuse for a poor performance?
+ Should we growl at Phil Hersh for bringing Carroll into this debate (noting, as some already have, that Hersh does not seem to care for Flatt’s skating in general)? Or should we praise him for doing what journalists do—probing deeper into the story at hand?

OK, that’s more than enough to mull over. I haven’t even reached the rest of the list yet!

Rippon Changes Coaches…(andcountries) ***2 1/2 Blades***

“And countries” is a little misleading; he remains as American-representing as apple pie, baseball, and overblown political scandals. But Adam Rippon has been training in Canada for the past couple of years—even staying up there when he parted ways with coach Brian Orser several weeks back. No more, though… he’s crossing back into Michigan, to train with Jason Dungjen. Who is married to Yuka Sato. Who coaches Jeremy Abbott. Ah-ha! Sounds like Abbott and Rippon, who came in 4th and 5th respectively at U.S. Nationals, will be gunning all the more for some sort of 1-2 finish next year in an effort to reclaim the Worlds spots they failed to earn in 2011. Will Richard Dornbush and Ross Miner be able to withstand the heat in this particular kitchen? Mmm, I smell a rumble…

By the way, I recommend the link above because it not only expands on Rippon’s decision but showcases a fun collection of photos of him (several from Rippon’s personal collection). There are video links as well.

Wagner Changes Coaches…(and Coasts) ***2 Blades***

The reason I’m only giving this “2 blades” is because it rapidly became one of the worst-kept secrets in the past month of skating switcheroos. Ashley Wagner herself was announcing her move to California (from Delaware) two weekends ago, and by the middle of last week, word on the street was that she’d left Priscilla Hill for John Nicks. The “official” IceNetwork link is above; I found it particularly interesting because Wagner indicated she and Hill were now perhaps too close as friends to maintain a coaching partnership. So if you’re looking for the standard “I need a change” statement from Wagner, look elsewhere. Given that her new coach is a British, 82-year old man on the opposite side of the country whom all students refer to as “Mr. Nicks”… maybe that need for change was just a little obvious.

Weir Won’t Compete Next Season ***1 ½ Blades***

I’m not sure who out there might’ve been nursing a hope that Johnny G.Weir would return to competition next fall, but that blade-and-a-half up there is for you. :-) Not to say that he’s not serious about trying to stage a Sochi comeback a la other COAB competitors (COAB= Currently On A Break), but in season 2 of a 4-year cycle? Fahgeddaboutit.

Plushenko Reinstated; May Compete Next Season ***1 Blade***

On the other hand we have Plushy—again—who is reportedly a possibility for Cup of Russia and and Russian Nationals in the 2011-12 season. THAT’s the one-blade worth of significance here… to anyone considering his “reinstatement” news, I ask them to consider the article that ran about a year ago (which I discussed
here) which alluded to his suspension only lasting a year anyway.

If you check out the IceNetwork article in the above link, be sure to scroll down and read the comments from a half-dozen less-than-thrilled readers.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Disney Darlings In the Commentary Chairs, and Other "Problems" That an ABC/ESPN Olympics Might've Created

So you may have heard by now that NBC/Universal has been awarded the broadcast rights to not just the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, but the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the 2018 Winter Games in a location to be announced shortly, and the 2020 Summer Games in Outer Space. (OK, you got me… that one won’t be decided for two more years. But I still think I might have a contender here.)

Anyway, I’ve seen plenty of comments from skating fans about the decision, and seen that many are already lamenting it. What I have NOT seen, at least not yet, is a list of the pros and cons for each network in the bidding war… so I’ve come up with my own!

This time is the Pro/Con list for ABC/ESPN*; a similar list will follow soon for FOX. (And I encourage you to post your own comments about who should/shouldn’t have gotten the rights… are you happy about it being NBC? Are you sad? Angry? Indifferent? Why?)

Excuse me as I take a moment to firmly plant my tongue in my cheek--

(*NOTE: ABC no longer has a sports department, so everything would have been via ESPN or “ESPN on ABC” as they like to say.)

PRO: ESPN promised to “cover all events live.”
CON: Somehow they’d still manage to pre-empt most skating due to basketball overrun, bowling matches, dog shows…

PRO: With Disney holding the purse strings at ESPN, no expense would have been spared to bring the best the Olympics had to offer.
CON: With Disney holding the purse strings at ESPN, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez would have been brought in to do the figure skating commentary.

PRO: ESPN would have made sure the viewers knew how every skater fared in every event…
CON: … by “crawling” descriptions of the lesser-known skater’s programs on the lower third of the screen during hockey games: Kevin Van der Perren, BEL…costume resembles a superhero… music is overblown soundtrack of some kind… quad toe: well done… triple axel: singled… footwork: pedestrian…

PRO: ESPN has a huge audience base…
CON: … with a viewing demographic that doesn’t give a lick about figure skating.

PRO: ESPN is known as The Worldwide Leader in Sports….
CON: … but no matter how you say it, it’s still not ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

And the Hits Just Keep on Comin': Chock/Zuerlein Are Over

Just when you think it might be safe to check the Ice Network website... you see this news on their Facebook feed about the latest casualty in ice partnerships.

Yep, just a few days after the Crone/Poirier split was announced, we get word that Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein are following suit. You know, the junior-level sensations that had a breakout senior season in 2010-11, which culminated in a 9th place finish at their senior Worlds debut... yeah, that team. Zuerlein's retiring and focusing on his education, while Chock will continue skating and look a new...

SIGH. I can't continue. Too depressing.

By the way, for anyone wondering how Samuelson/Bates would fit back into the U.S. ice dance landscape once they return (or should I say IF they return??)... I'm starting to think they'll do just fine.

Zawadzki Minus Zakrajsek Equals Santee, Again

Now here’s a unique twist on the coaching carousel…Agnes Zawadzki, who made a fairly impressive debut on the Senior GP circuit this past season and finished 4th at the most recent U.S. Nationals, has announced something that’s not so much of a switch as it is a switchback.

After spending approximately the past two years under the tutelage of Tom Zakrajsek, Zawadzki
plans to re-employ David Santee as her head coach, with Christy Krall assisting with her “day-to-day” training as she remains out in Colorado Springs. Santee, who is based in the Chicago suburbs as Zawadzki originally was, worked with her the first seven years of her career and got her as far as Novice Nationals. I’m pretty sure he also worked for a time with one of my favorite up-and-comers Jason Brown.

Aaand, as I’ve probably mentioned a time or two before, Santee is one of best U.S. figure skaters of his generation. His credits include 8 U.S. medals, 7 consecutive trips to Worlds (where he always finished in the top 8 and earned a silver medal in 1981), and two Olympics (where he finished 6th in ’76 and 4th in ’80). I hope he travels with his “new” student to at least some of her GP assignments this fall; it would be fun to see him onscreen again.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Crone/Poirier The Latest Skating Partnership to be "Fallin'" Apart

Another month, another round of didn't-see-that-coming breakups?

Apparently so, as word broke today that reigning Canadian ice dance champs Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier have announced the end of their decade-long partnership (according to this Globe and Mail story and several others).

The main reason this came as a surprise to me was their ages. With Crone only 20 years old and Poirier even younger (at age 19), their future in a discipline where teams have been known to compete into their 30s seemed bright. And with the notable exception of Worlds, when C/P finished a (presumably) disappointing 10th while Canadian teammates Virtue/Moir and Weaver/Poje finished 2nd and 5th, respectively... their respect and success as ice dancers seemed to continue on the upswing this past year.

Crone is said to be "following a different path" now (aka no longer competing), while Poirier will try to find a new partner. But doing so after reaching the heights with someone whom you've literally grown up alongside? I can't say I envy him.