Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rostelecom Cup in Review… and Oh the Many Ways to Fill That Cup

With all due respect, I’m not going to talk much about the Pairs and Dance events in Moscow last weekend. For the most part, they unfolded as expected. Yes, Charlie White stumbled in the SD, but he and Meryl Davis still won handily. And yes, Savchenko/Szolkowy had (most of) their groove back and defeated Kavaguti/Smirnov, but we all know the real fun will come when these two are competing against Volosohzar/Trankov in the Final.

So… let’s instead get into what some of the single skaters appeared to have in their respective “Cups” of Russia:

Cup of good fortune:
Yuzuru Hanyu
He was sort of in that Jupiter-must-align-with-Mars situation as far as qualifying for the GP Final went… which included winning at CoR, which meant defeating the likes of Abbott (Cup of China winner), Brezina (Skate America winner), and Fernandez (2-time silver medalist this season). And guess what? He pulled it off, despite two falls in his own program. Not bad for a kid young enough to make Justin Bieber look a little old.

Cup of tears:
Brandon Mroz
OK, so he may not have wept publicly. But does Mroz know how to ride the gamut of highs and lows or what? In 2009 he’s a U.S. silver medalist; in 2009-10 he couldn’t compete well to save his life. In late 2010 he soared on the GP circuit; that same season he finished well out of the medals at Nationals. This season he becomes the first-ever on the quad lutz list; this same season he finishes in last place at both his GP assignments! It’s enough to give a guy career whiplash… but on the bright side…he’s due for a positive shift. Maybe at Nationals 2012?

Cup of relief*:
Jeremy Abbott
Hanyu’s not the only recipient of good fortune, as Abbott himself surely knows: he won Cup of China with third place finishes in both the SP and FS, and he won bronze (and qualified for the GP Final) with a fifth place FS finish at CoR. But make no mistake, when it all comes together—as it did with his top-flight SP here—he is right in the mix with the best of them.

*(Yes, I considered “cup of blood from his own hand” but that seemed so tasteless…)

Cup of angst with a dash of never mind:
Javier Fernandez
Three-hundredths of a point—that was the difference between gold and silver in the men’s event. Remember when Fernandez came off the ice with a self-deprecating, universally understood “Aaugh!” after doubling part of his combo in the SP? Turns out it was with good reason: that triple could have easily put him in the winner’s circle a day later, had all other things been equal. But as nice as that win would have been… the important thing was that he’d done enough (with a silver) to go to his first-ever GP Final. Bien hecho, Javier!


Cup of Sweet Components: Mao Asada
Cup of Wuz Robbed pt. 1: Alena Leonova
“Asada’s got history and the component edge”… so I said last week as I guesstimated a favorite for this event. But when I mentioned skaters with a technical advantage, I failed to mention Alena Leonova. My mistake… for while she doesn’t have the triple lutz/triple toe of some of her younger countrywomen, she’s got a reliable 3Toe/3Toe and seems to have much better jumps all around this season. Step-outs and hop-outs of poorly checked landings used to hinder her spunky performances… but not so much now. Yes, she had a fall in her FS here (on a double axel near the program’s end), but she also had twice as many successful triples than Asada. It wasn’t that she wasn’t recognized for this; she had the higher technical score of the two. But Asada out-component-ed her more than she out-techincal-ed Asada. It happens. The good news is that both ladies are in the GP Final.

Cup of wuz robbed pt. 2: Sofia Biryukova
I admittedly wasn’t paying as much attention to this battle as much as the previous one, but if you take a look at Vlad Luchianov’s Commentary, you can see something similar took place in the battle for bronze: one Russian skater, 17 year old Sofia Biryukova, lost the battle for third place against 15 year old teammate Adelina Sotnikova. This, despite a fall on the triple lutz in Sotnikova’s SP, and a fall on the triple flip in the FS (among other things)— while Biryukova’s programs were clean. Yes, Sotnikova’s jumps were slightly more difficult—which is apparently why the two were nearly even on the tech side (with a slight edge from Biryukova). But components saved the day again—this time for Sotnikova, whose scores totaled as much as a three point difference between she and Biryukova… and put the bronze in Sotnikova’s hands, also putting her in 1st alternate position for the GP Final. What Vlad drew attention to in his post is now Sotnikova has been touted by the Russian Skating Federation as the “main hope” of Russian skating at the Sochi Olympics… and the judging at Rostelecom already had the not-so-faint air of someone getting “held up” by the components (read: artistic scores) when their technical skating was subpar. Stay tuned, folks…

Cup of what’s up?: Rachael Flatt & Agnes Zawadzki
In 19 year-old Flatt’s case, the guess is that Stanford’s eating into her training time—while she at least skated clean here, her Firebird FS was lutz-free and lacked a spark. For Zawadzki, my hope is that she’s grown taller since last year (now standing 5’6”) and is still adjusting… darn puberty monsters and all that. But both ladies have been rather painful to watch this GP season, especially knowing what they are (or were once?) capable of.

Cup of tears: Christine Gao
On the other hand, Gao looked quite good at her first GP assignment… but completely fell apart in Moscow, staying soundly in last place throughout. “We’ll get through this… all right?” we heard her coach Brian Orser saying in consolation as she came off the FS nearly crying already. By the time her overall score (of 117) was posted, they were at least trying to make light of the fact that a 117 is what she more likely expects from the free skate alone. Back to the drawing board she goes…

So real quick, here are the senior GP Final entrants:

MEN: Chan, Takahashi, Abbott, Brezina, Fernandez, Hanyu
ALTS: Song, Kozuka, Rippon

LADIES: Tuktamysheva, Asada, Kostner, Suzuki, Czisny, Leonova
ALTS: Sotnikova, Nagasu, Wagner

PAIRS: Volosozhar/Trankov, Savchenko/Szolkowy, Kavaguti/Smirnov, Zhang/Zhang, Takahashi/Tran, Duhamel/Radford
ALTS: M-T/Moscovitch, Bazarova/Larionov, Sui/Han

DANCE: Davis/White, Virtue/Moir, Shibutani/Shibutani, Bobrova/Soloviev, Pechalat/Bourzat, Weaver/Poje
ALTS: Cappellini/Lanotte, Ilinykh/Katsalapov, Tobias/Stagniunas

Next stop (in 2 weeks): Quebec City! But don’t worry, there’s be some blog posts in the interim…

Thursday, November 24, 2011

2011 Rostelecom Cup of Russia Preview

One more thing to add about Trophee Eric Bompard before stepping on into the Rostelecom Cup of Russia…

I meant to note that of all the creative flourishes that went along with the World Feed coverage of TEB, there was one shot I think we all could have done without: the extra close-up of Nobunari Oda in the Kiss-n-Cry, after his scores were read, as his eyes rimmed with tears. By then everyone knew he’d had a horrible day on the ice, not to mention completely shattered any chance of making the GP Final… and that shot, to me, was exploitive and over-the-line. It’s the Kiss-n-Cry, TV-directing folks. It happens. Leave him alone next time.

Hopefully CoR will have happier close-ups to choose from. Here’s where to catch it in the U.S.:

On Ice Network.com (subscription required):

Friday, Nov. 25
6:00 a.m.: Ladies short program
7:35 a.m.: Pairs short program
9:45 a.m.: Men's short program
11:20 a.m.: Short dance

Saturday, Nov. 26
5:00 a.m.: Ladies free skate
6:45 a.m.: Pairs free skate
8:25 a.m.: Men's free skate
10:25 a.m.: Free dance

On Universal Sports (available over-the-air or via dish/satellite, depending on where you live):

Saturday, Nov. 26
4- 6 p.m.: Pairs & Men’s Free Skate

8-10 p.m.: Free Dance

This will be one of NBC’s “delayed” weeks, as it will not carry the Ladies Free Skate until 1-3 p.m. NEXT Saturday 12/3… with a Universal repeat of it scheduled that night from 7-9 p.m.


Who’s there: Andrei Rogozine, Michal Brezina, Yuzuru Hanyu, Artur Gachinski, Sergei Voronov, Konstantin Menshov, Javier Fernandez, Jeremy Abbott, Brandon Mroz (Tomas Verner was originally scheduled here but has withdrawn)

Top 5 guess in alphabetical order: Abbott, Brezina, Fernandez, Gachinski, Hanyu
Dark Horse: Mroz
Has a quad, or quads: Brezina, Hanyu, Gachinski, Fernandez, Mroz
Has a quad maybe: Everyone else
Senior GP Debut: None
Favorite: Hard to say; both Brezina and Abbott have a victory under their GP belts this season… probably Brezina though.
Other: Abbott and Fernandez are the ones at CoR that could do well enough to make the GP Final.


Who’s there: Amelie Lacoste, Kiira Korpi, Mao Asada, Haruka Imai, Sofia Biryukova, Alena Leonova, Adelina Sotnikova, Rachael Flatt, Christina Gao, Agnes Zawadzki

Top 5 guess in alphabetical order: Asada, Biryukova, Imai, Leonova, Sotnikova
Dark Horse: Any of the U.S. ladies
Who might have a 3/3 (triple/triple): Korpi, Imai, Biryukova, Sotnikova, Leonova, Gao
Senior GP Debut: Biryukova
Favorite: Asada’s got history and the component edge; Biryukova and Sotnikova have the jumping advantage.
Other: Leonova, Asada, and Sotnikova all have shots at the GP final depending on how they do at CoR.


Who’s there:
Jones/Gaskell, Hausch/Wende, Savchenko/Szolkowy, Berton/Hotarek, Gerboldt/Enbert, Kavaguti/Smirnov, Stolbova/Klimov, Cain/Reagan

Top 4 guess in alphabetical order: Berton/Hotarek, Gerboldt/Enbert, Kavaguti/Smirnov, Savchenko/Szolkowy
Dark Horse: Hausch/Wende
Senior GP Debut: Jones/Gaskell and Cain/Reagan
Favorite: Based on what I’ve seen this season, I’d now lean more to Kavaguti/Smirnov than Savchenko/Szolkowy.
Other: The two I just mentioned as faves are already locked into the GP Final, so the only here with a (very, very) outside chance to join them would be Berton/Hotarek.


Who’s there: Weaver/Poje, Carron/Jones, Reed/Reed, Tobias/Stagniunas, Bobrova/Soloviev, Riazanova/Tkachenko, Pushkash/Guerreiro, Davis/White

Top 4 guess in alphabetical order: Bobrova/Soloviev, Davis/White, Tobias/Stagniunas, Weaver/Poje
Dark Horse: Carron/Jones
Senior GP Debut: None
Favorite: Davis/White
Other: Davis/White should be a lock for the GP Final after this weekend; Weaver/Poje are already in… Bobrova/Soloviev can qualify with 4th place or better, I think.

Enjoy your final stop on the regular GP tour…!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

TEB 2011 and the Not-So-Funny Comedy of Errors

For better or worse, it seemed those in charge of the World Feed coming out of Paris (for this past weekend’s Trophee Eric Bompard) were aiming to be a little more artistique with their efforts than other countries. From that giant glowing light bulb-o-color behind the skaters in the Kiss-n-Cry, to the split screen of skaters and coaches occasionally shown during replays (such as with Nobunari Oda—oy!—but I’m getting ahead of myself), to the s-l-o-w dissolves most often employed as an athlete sat and watched the highlights/lowlights of their performance.

Unfortunately, many of those blips on the radar of creativity were overshadowed by storms of wild errors, disappointing placements, and widespread discontent by the time this penultimate GP qualifier was history.

But let’s start with the bright and/or anticipated bright spots of TEB…

+ Liza Tutamysheva, who I’d like to begin calling Liza With A Lutzzzzz if that’s okay with you… we’ve only seen her compete once before at the senior GP level, but I’m not at all surprised that she came away with her second gold of the season—especially when her two closest competitors had slightly flawed performances. Her ease with triple-triples may or may not survive the onset of puberty… but for now, she’s got what most other GP ladies don’t. And she’s got just enough grace and musicality to back it up.

+ Song Nan, whose name I’d like to say in that particular order from now on (and will try to remember to so with other Chinese skaters from here on out). I kept Song in my (predicted) top 5 for this event, not at all sure he’d be able to repeat the sort of jumping success he’d had at Cup of China but figuring he’d do pretty well even if he hit 60% of his CoCH jumps. Next thing I know, he’s sitting comfortably in 2nd place throughout the event, with the only one ahead being the reigning WORLD CHAMPION. How cool is that?

+ The entire dance lineup, meaning the placement of all who competed in ice dance at TEB. Virtue/Moir for the win, Pechalat/Bourzat for silver, Cappellini/Lannotte for bronze, the New Team (Chock/Bates) down in 5th, the first-ever-on-the-circuit Spanish dance team (Hurtado/Diaz) bringing up the rear… all eight teams staying in their same placement throughout the event; all eight teams separated by fairly healthy margins. Did we see it all coming (especially V/M)? Probably. Did we enjoy the event any less? Probably not. And to see (Fabian) Bourzat healthy again (and bronchitis-free) was likely worth the price of admission for those in attendance…

Which brings us to Patrick Chan, who fans would likely pay to watch drive the Zamboni these days, let alone skate. Yes, he won again—no surprise there. Yes, he won substantially despite multiple mistakes… no surprise there either, to be honest. It was the mistakes themselves that were the surprises: 2 flip-outs on jumps considerably simpler than his 2 quads or triple axels (although the axel was doubled; yet another mistake), and a freak fall during a footwork (or simply a transition?) sequence. Should he still have won with all these errors… plus a missed quad in the SP? In this case, yes. But if something similar happens on a night when, say, a Takahashi or Kozuka is in top form… I guess we’ll find out at the GP Final, huh?

Of course, Chan was hardly the only skater to suffer from the freaky-deaky mistakes at TEB…

+ Volosohzar/Trankov had a trip/fall immediately after their successful triple twist. Didn’t really interrupt the program, but I don’t think I’ve seen a fall like that before…

+ Madison Chock took an odd tumble on twizzles when Evan Bates seemed to stop traveling with his twizzles, and she crashed into him. But really, if twizzles are truly “the quads” of ice dance (as commentators in the know like to say), the real oddity is that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often.

+ Duhamel/Radford had side-by-side falls, a throw jump fall, and they accidentally collided at one point while skating with their backs to each other. “Three falls and we get a 115??” Duhamel said incredulously in the Kiss-n-Cry. Somewhere in that arena, you’ve gotta think 4thplace Evora/Ladwig (who fell only once) were wondering the same thing.

+ Carolina Kostner, who has an interesting rivalry brewing with Czisny this season. They’re very compatible on components now, so it’s repeatedly coming down to the jumps… and as with Czisny, Kostner typically has a flaw or two. This time Kostner’s included a membership in the Footwork SPLAT Club; fortunately for her, it prompted little more than embarrassment on her part.

+ The same cannot be said for Nobunari Oda, as I mentioned earlier. The guy had almost as many “mishaps” as all the other TEB competitors put together. By my count: 1) a popped toe loop on the end of his first combination, 2) a doubled triple (lutz?) that also prompted a step out, 3) popped triple loop, 4) a fall during a footwork sequence that was followed by him skating around for at least the next 10-15 seconds trying to figure out where to resume the program, 5) an incomplete triple axel that had him landing forward and falling a second time, 6) a fall on a triple lutz, and 7) a waltz jump (which, while quite lovely, is no replacement for a triple jump in a Grand Prix program). But while you can’t blame the commentators for wondering out loud if he’d injured himself… those of us who remember oddly disoriented programs from Oda as far back as 2006 (Four Continents, anyone?) knew all too well that he probably hadn’t.

+ Maybe he should’ve taken a page from Kevin Reynolds’ TEB experience… where his SP scores apparently made him so sick he developed stomach flu and had to withdraw from the event...

Let’s hope Rostelecom goes a little better for everyone!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

2011 Trophee Eric Bompard Preview

Vive la France! Pass the pain du chocolat… it’s Trophee Eric Bompard!

Here’s where to watch (particularly if you live in the U.S.):

On Ice Network.com (subscription required):

Friday, Nov. 18

9:00 a.m.: Men's short program

10:45 a.m.: Pairs short program

12:15 p.m.: Ladies short program

2:00 p.m.: Short dance

Saturday, Nov. 19

7:30 a.m.: Men's free skate

9:30 a.m.: Pairs free skate

12:30 p.m.: Ladies free skate

2:30 p.m.: Free dance

On Universal Sports (available over-the-air or via dish/satellite, depending on where you live):

Saturday, Nov. 19

6- 8 p.m.: Pairs & Men’s Free Skate

9-11p.m.: Free Dance

This will be one of NBC’s “delayed” weeks, as it will not carry the Ladies Free Skate until 2-4 p.m. NEXT Sunday 11/27… with a Universal repeat of it scheduled from 4-6 p.m.

The competitors look like this…


Who’s there: Patrick Chan, Kevin Reynolds, Nan Song, Michal Brezina, Florent Amodio, Chaffik Besseghier, Nobunari Oda, Alexander Majorov, Adam Rippon

Top 5 guess in alphabetical order: Brezina, Chan, Oda, Rippon, Song
Dark Horse: Amodio
Has a quad, or quads: Chan, Reynolds, Song, Brezina, Oda
Has a quad maybe: Everyone else… except Amodio
Senior GP Debut: None
Favorite: That would be Chan, Chan, and oh yeah, Chan
Other: Majorov replaces Evan Lysacek, who was originally set to skate here… and Brian Joubert withdrew from TEB earlier in the week due to injury—no replacement.)


Who’s there: Yrethe Silete, Lena Marrocco, Mae Berenice Meite, Kanako Murakami, Carolina Kostner, Elizaveta Tutkamysheva, Sonia Lafuente, Viktoria Helgesson, Alissa Czisny
Top 5 guess in alphabetical order: Czisny, Helgesson, Kostner, Murakami, Tutkamysheva
Dark Horse: Meite
Who might have a 3/3 (triple/triple): Kostner, Czisny, Tutkamysheva, Murakami
Senior GP Debut: Silete
Favorite: Tough call, as Czisny AND Kostner AND Tutkamysheva all have one win apiece so far this GP season. My personal preference would be Czisny, though…
Other: Lafuente replaces Laura Lepisto, who announced earlier this week she’s out for the season with an injury… Sarah Hecken has also withdrawn from the event—no replacement.


Who’s there: Duhamel/Radford, Dube/Wolfe, Dong/Wu, James/Cipres, Bazarova/Larionov, Stolbova/Klimov, Volosohzar/Trankov, Evora/Ladwig

Top 4 guess in alphabetical order: Bazarova/Larionov, Duhamel/Radford, Evora/Ladwig, Volosohzar/Trankov
Dark Horse: Stolbova/Klimov
Senior GP Debut: James/Cipres (of France); Stolbova/Klimov (of Russia)
Favorite: Gotta be Volo/Trank
Other: James/Cipres replaces Canac/Bonheur (both of France)… and the TBD spot for France ultimately went to Dube/Wolfe.


Who’s there: Virtue/Moir, Huang/Zheng, Pechalat/Bourzat, Cappellini/Lanotte, Gorshkova/Butikov, Ilinykh/Katsalapov, Hurtado/Diaz, Chock/Bates.
Top 4 guess in alphabetical order: Cappellini/Lanotte, Ilinykh/Katsalapov, Pechalat/Bourzat, Virtue/Moir,
Dark Horse: Chock/Bates
Senior GP Debut: Hurtado/Diaz (Spain’s first-ever dance team in ISU competition)
Favorite: V/M, but something tells me Pechalat/Bourzat will be well-received nonetheless (especially now that Bourzat has recovered from his bronchitis)
Other: The TBD spot for France ultimately went to Chock/Bates.

Bon chance!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NHK 2011 Hits and Misses… or, How Team Japan Showed Some Serious National Love

When you categorize a GP event into Hits and Misses (as I’ve done below) and realize after doing so that half of the “Hits” were made by skaters representing the home country, you might consider re-naming your piece. But there were those that made a splash (or re-established themselves) last weekend, and those that garnered attention for all the wrong reasons. Not a lot of in-between. So I stand by the concept!


Akiko Suzuki—for bringing it big time, in front of a home crowd, at age 26. Yes, I know she popped 2 jumps in the back end of her FS—but I’m thrilled that she had a big enough margin with the SP score to retain the lead. (By the way, the joy she expressed at the end of that SP was one of the best moments of the entire competition—and given some of the incredible skating at NHK this year, that’s saying something.)

Mao Asada—for doing much of the same with perhaps an even bigger hurdle to overcome: her entire 2010-11 season. (And all without a triple axel attempt… unless you count her popped axel in the SP.)

Daisuke Takahashi—for being the best Dice-K he can be… which is pretty damn amazing. (90+ points for an SP without a quad?! Who else can do that??)

Takahiko Kozuka—for throwing down the gauntlet for Dice-K in magical fashion… which is to say that by doing some of his best work at NHK, I think he inspired Takahashi to do the same.

Takahashi/Tran—for looking SO happy with their efforts in the FS, even though they weren’t perfect.

Alena Leonova—for, at least this week, making people forget about Those Russian Teenagers. (Amazing but true—now at age 20; she’s no longer one of them.)

Kavaguti/Smirnov—for getting a victory for Russia while on Japanese soil… a true win-win situation in this particular case. (And no small feat, given the Sav/Szol’s track record.)

The Shibutanis—For nabbing their first senior GP victory, even if it wasn’t universally endorsed (former fellow competitor John Kerr, for example, Tweeted that while it was an “interesting” competition, he thought Weaver/Poje were the clear winners.)

Ross Miner—for being there to accept the bronze medal when three skaters ahead of him apparently had no interest in doing so.

Berton/Hotarek—For nicely synced, side-by-side triple toe/double toe/double toes that likely made the difference between 4th and 5th place. (I’m guessing sometime soon, it’ll make the difference for a medal.)


Savchenko/Szolkowy—for showing us their meltdowns come in a rainbow of flavors. Back in 2009 (at Trophee Eric Bompard), it was the spiral sequence and death spiral that best showed us something was very amiss. This time, it’s the popped side-by-side axels and ill-timed (and ultimately aborted) lift near the end of their FS. (Can’t blame the fall on the throw 3axel yet; they haven’t proven it’s something they can do.) Maybe odd-year season starts just aren’t their thing….

Brandon Mroz—for managing to hit perhaps the highest and lowest points of his career to date, all within a span of about 26 hours. Good grief.

Agnes Zawadzki—for what has to be a disappointing season debut (8th place), given the impression she quickly made last year with her SPs (if not her free skates, finishing 4th and 6th at her two GP events). Does anyone know if she’s grown substantially since last year? She’s now standing 5’6” (1.68 M), which puts her just an inch below the tallest female singles currently on the GP circuit… (Those would be Carolina Kostner and Germany’s Sarah Hecken.)

Dance warm-ups—turns out the crash we saw between The Reeds and USA’s K/G-S (please don’t make me type out their entire name every time I mention them!) was only part of the mayhem. On morning practices that same day, Paul/Islam (of Canada) collided with the Italian team (Alessandrini/Vaturi) and Islam suffered a cut to the back of the leg, forcing their withdrawal from the event. And Russian Elena Ilinykh crashed into the boards during that same warmup that had the Reed/K/G-S collision…while she and partner Nikita Katsalapov still competed (and won bronze), her knee injury kept them out of the post-competition exhibitions.

Weaver/Poje—no injury here, but maybe their spirits took a bit of a beating as they lost to the Shib Sibs by just .09 points… a loss that could have been reversed by “simply” keeping their too-long lift out of penalty range. Ouch indeed.

I know I’m late getting this out (thanks for your patience), but still look for the Paris/TEB preview Thursday evening!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NHK Trophy 2011 Preview

Get your stuffed animals ready to throw… it’s time for the NHK Trophy!

First, here’s where to watch (particularly if you live in the U.S.):

On Ice Network.com (subscription required):

Friday, Nov. 11

12:55 a.m.: Short dance
2:45 a.m.: Pairs short program
5:15 a.m.: Ladies short program
10 p.m.: Free dance

Saturday, Nov. 12
12:05 a.m.: Pairs free skate
2:30 a.m.: Men's short program
5:00 a.m.: Ladies free skate
10:55 p.m.: Men's free skate

On Universal Sports (available over-the-air or via dish/satellite, depending on where you live):

Saturday, Nov. 12
6- 8 p.m.: Pairs Free Skate & Free Dance

Sunday, Nov. 13
6-8 p.m.: Men’s Free Skate

NBC will carry the Ladies Free Skate from 2-4 p.m. Sunday 11/13… with a Universal repeat of it scheduled from 9:30-11:30 p.m.

As for the competitors…


Who’s there: Tomas Verner, Samuel Contesti, Takahiko Kozuka, Daisuke Takahashi, Tatsuki Machida, Konstantin Menshov, Armin Mahbanoozadeh, Ross Miner, and Brandon Mroz. (Adrian Schultheiss has withdrawn with a back injury.)

Top 5 guess in alphabetical order: Kozuka, Machida, Mroz, Takahashi, Verner
Dark Horse: Contesti
Has a quad, or quads: Kozuka, Takahashi, Mroz, Machida, Menshov
Has a quad maybe: Verner, Mahbanoozadeh
Senior GP Debut: None
Favorite: Gotta be a toss-up between Kozuka and Dice-K, neither of which skated their best at Sk8AM a few weeks back but are still the standouts in this lineup.
Other: A lot of eyes are likely to be on Mroz, if only to see if he can land his quad lutz at a GP event.


Who’s there: Cynthia Phaneuf, Kiira Korpi, Mae Berenice Meite, Elene Gedevanishvili, Mao Asada, Akiko Suzuki, Shoko Ishikawa, Alena Leonova, Ashley Wagner, Agnes Zawadzki

Top 5 guess in alphabetical order: Asada, Leonova, Suzuki, Wagner, Zawadzki
Dark Horse: Korpi or Phaneuf
Who might have a 3/3 (triple/triple): Ummmm…. Maybe no one here?
Senior GP Debut: None
Favorite: With Asada still a wild card as far as I know, this is tough. I’ll go with Suzuki, but if Asada is back on track…or Leonova has a great day… all bets are off.
Other: Back in the summer it appeared that Korpi and Tomas Verner would both be competing with a hip-hop version of Carmina Burana, but it appears that Korpi has now opted to stick with her Over the Rainbow SP from last year. In other “colorful” news, look for Zawadzki to use Rhapsody in Blue for her FS.


Who’s there: Purich/Schultz, Savchenko/Szolkowy, Berton/Hotarek, Takahashi/Tran, Iliushechkina/Maisuradze, Kavaguti/Smirnov, Castelli/Shnapir, Denney/Coughlin (who got the invite here with Pang/Tong pulled out of their GP events)

Top 4 guess in alphabetical order: Denney/Coughlin, Iliushechkina/Maisuradze, Kavaguti/Smirnov, Savchenko/Szolkowy,
Dark Horse: Berton/Hotarek
Senior GP Debut: Purich/Schultz (of Canada)
Favorite: It’ll be all about Sav/Szol and Kava/Smir, with Sav/Szol most likely improving on their Sk8AM performance to win yet again.
Other…: I read that Sav/Szol seemed to really be at odds with each other during the Sk8AM trip. If any of you have more info or an update, please share! I’ll probably be watching their warm-up and Kiss-n-Cry body language more than usual this time…


Who’s there: Paul/Islam, Weaver/Poje, Zhiganshina/Gazsi, Alessandrini/Vaturi, Reed/Reed, Ilinykh/Katsalapov, Kriengkrairut/Giulietti-Schmitt, Shibutani/Shibutani

Top 4 guess in alphabetical order: Ilinykh/Katsalapov, Paul/Islam, Shibutani/Shibutani, Weaver/Poje
Dark Horse: Zhiganshina/Gazsi
Senior GP Debut: Alessandrini/Vaturi (of Italy)
Favorite: Both the Shib Sibs and Weaver/Poje have picked up silver medals in the past few GP weeks, but I think W/P will have the definite advantage.

I'll post my post-event analysis as soon as I can... enjoy NHK!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Abbott’s “Single-Handed” Win of Cup of China, and Other Dreamy Tales

The directors for the World Feed of Cup of China have a similar game plan every year when it comes to camera shots: show the skater, show the skater’s skates up close, show at least one spin from a dizzying overhead angle, and show the crowd waaay too soon after the skater hits the final pose. I’ve complained about it in the past, but have (reluctantly) come to accept the way they do things over in Shanghai.

So this time, as I cringed at the multitude of skate shots, I couldn’t help but notice the fog that enveloped the rink on Day 1 of competition (during all the “short” events). Sure, it was basic science causing the problem… but especially since said problem started clearing up by Day 2, it made me think of Day 1 as a sort of long-playing dream on ice. I figure those that ultimately did well at Cup of China might feel similarly. But what about the rest… did those dreams turn to… nightmares?! (Cue scary music)

Let’s see how this shook out with a few examples from each discipline:


Jeremy Abbott dreamed of winning Cup of China even if he didn’t perform the best technically...

DREAM COME TRUE. Who’d have known a hand down on the ice would be the BEST part of an already superb program? Abbott may have fallen on his quad, popped a triple axel, and left out any triple/triple combos, but his FS to Exogenesis: Symphony pt. 3 by Muse is stunning. STUNNING! And if you’re not sure what I’m talking about regarding the hand down on the ice, you can check the program out here.

Nan Song dreamed of jumping well enough to land on the podium...

DREAM COME TRUE. Sk8AM had its van der Perren; Sk8CAN had its Fernandez (who I forgot to cheer about last week—sorry—awesome job!) And now, CoC has its Song—a surprise medal by someone who skated a surprise Lights Out free skate (2 quad toes! 2 triple axels! 2 of those jumps in combination with other triples! And all of them rock solid!!) But what makes this a particularly sweet “song” is the fact that this is the same guy who came in dead last at last year’s Skate America, and 22nd at Worlds earlier this year.

Artur Gachinski and Yuzuru Hanyu dreamed of retaining their 1-2 positions on the leader board after the free skate...

NIGHTMARE x 2. There was no reason to think either one of these young’uns would falter in the free skate… until both of them did just that, with Hanyu falling twice and Gachinski seeming to come undone once he missed his quad. Hang in there, kids—you’ve got time yet.


Carolina Kostner dreamed of doing well enough at CoC to become one of the first to qualify for the GP Final…

DREAM COME TRUE. It wasn’t a flawless skate, but it was enough to give Kostner a spot one better than she earned at Sk8AM 2 weeks ago.

Mirai Nagasu dreamed of making a notable improvement to her skating here, just one week after coming up with 5th place at Sk8CAN.

DREAM COME TRUE… sort of. While her Spartacus free skate (not to mention her Danzarin SP) seemed more inspired, and she “improved” her way to a silver medal… the edge calls on her triple lutzes continue to be her undoing… and might make all the difference in a close “race.” (This wasn’t close, though.)

Adelina Sotnikova dreamed of doing what teammate Liza Tutmyskeva had done the previous week: blast by the competition in her senior GP debut.

DREAM COME a little bit TRUE. Maybe she was a little disappointed with the color of her medal, or the quality of her performance, but I hope not… a bronze for her first time out is wonderful. (And while I’m at it, Kexin Zhang’s 4th place debut was very notable too.)

Kanako Murakami dreamed of continuing at the GP with the same bubbly spunk and precision that gave her two medals on the circuit last year, a bronze at the GP Final, and a top 10 finish at Worlds…

NIGHTMARE. Things just weren’t coming as easily this time around for the 17 year-old, and it showed on her distressed face in the Kiss-n-Cry. Is her 6th place finish an attack of the body-altering puberty monster, or a fluke? Time will tell…


Kavaguti/Smirnov dreamed of a Cup of China being the competition where their still-growing talent could shine without getting lost in the shadow of current Russian champs Volosozhar/Trankov

DREAM COME TRUE. No quad tricks these days; just solid elements melding together well enough to put them ahead of the Zhang/Zhang veterans. And might I add…it’s such a relief to watch them and not be worrying if Kavaguti is going to have to spend half the program popping her dislocated shoulder back in place.

Evora/Ladwig dreamed of getting to a GP podium again, as they’ve only made it there once in nine previous attempts (a bronze at Cup of Russia last year).

NIGHTMARE, if only because it’s almost always the same thing that trips them up—the side-by-side jumps. Their spins are great; their lifts are sublime, and their throw
jumps are increasingly consistent and solid. But if either of their SBS triple toe passes (in the SP or FS) had been clean, they could have had that bronze… less than 1.5 points separated them from actual bronze medalists Moore-Towers/ Moscovitch.

Sui/Han dreamed of… getting a break?
(OK, maybe that’s me thinking of what I’d want if I were them… two years of JGP events followed immediately by GP events? Jeez Louise. Take a nap or something.)

If this was indeed a dream of theirs (admitted or not), then DREAM COME TRUE… at least in the sense that, with their quad twist crash and 5th place finish, Sui/Han won’t have to worry this year about qualifying for both finals.

So let’s skip the NIGHTMARE possibilities, and leave it at that!


Bobrova/Soloviev dreamed that with the help of a dark, dramatic-themed free dance, they’d be the next great Russian dance team to twizzle all over the competition and win by a crazy, 15-point margin…

DREAM COME TRUE…except that this was Cup of China 2011, not Winter Olympics 2014.

The Shibutanis dreamed they’d remain in the GP medal hunt throughout the series… kind of like last year, except it wouldn’t take anyone by surprise…

DREAM COME TRUE… IF, in fact, that’s all they dreamed about. If they had visions of rivaling Bobro/Solo, that aforementioned 15-point margin wasn’t particularly encouraging.Time will tell if the Shib Sibs are simply having to deal with raised expectations now that they’re World Bronze Medalists… or if the Glenn Miller free dance this year is hurting more than helping.

Coomes/Buckland dreamed of staying within reach of the podium after their SD put them in 3rd place…

NIGHTMARE. A tumble near the very end of the free dance did them in, losing the bronze medal to Carron/Jones by less than half a point. Ah, hang in there kids… your 4th place finish was still way better than the pair of 8th places you came up with last season at the GP…

Thursday, November 3, 2011

2011 Cup of China Preview

The 2011 Cup of China is about to get underway!
First, here’s where to watch (particularly if you live in the U.S.):

On Ice Network.com (subscription required):

Friday, Nov. 4

3:30 a.m.: Short dance
5:00 a.m.: Ladies short program
6:45 a.m.: Men's short program
8:45 a.m.: Pairs short program

Saturday, Nov. 5
2:30 a.m.: Free dance
4:15 a.m.: Ladies free skate
6:15 a.m.: Men's free skate
8:30 a.m.: Pairs free skate

On Universal Sports (available over-the-air or via dish/satellite, depending on where you live):

Saturday, Nov. 5
6-8 p.m. Ladies free skate & Free Dance
10-12 midnight Men’s & Pairs free skate

NOTE: While Cup of China will NOT be covered on NBC, you CAN find last week’s Skate Canada Ladies free skate on NBC from 4-6 p.m. this Saturday. The broadcast will then repeat on Universal Sports from 6-8 p.m. this Sunday.

And now, some quick takes on this weekend’s lineup (details of which can be found


Replacements from original lineup:
No replacements; the TBD skater for China is Nan Song. However, Brian Joubert has withdrawn due to a back injury… and it appears Jinlin Guan (of China) has also withdrawn, leaving only 8 competitors.
Top 5 guess in alphabetical order: Jeremy Abbott, Artur Gachinski, Yuzuru Hanyu, Nobunari Oda, Ricky Dornbush
Dark Horse: Kevin Reynolds
Has a quad, or quads: Reynolds, Hanyu, Oda, Gachinski
Has a quad maybe: Abbott, Dornbush
Senior GP Debut: None
Favorite: Though I’m personally rooting for Abbott, the rest of the world is probably looking at either Oda or Hanyu to emerge victorious.
Other: 18 year-old reigning World Bronze Medalist Gachinski is the youngest competitor (and only teenager).


Replacements from original lineup: No replacements; the TBD for China is Qiuying Zhu.
Top 5 guess in alphabetical order: Christina Gao, Carolina Kostner, Ksenia Makarova, Kanako Murakami, Adelina Sotnikova
Dark Horse: Bingwa Geng
Who might have a 3/3 (triple/triple): Makarova, Kostner, Sotnikova, Murakami
Senior GP Debut: Zhu, Gao, Kexin Zhang
Favorite: Although Kostner was mighty good at Sk8AM, she might get overshadowed here by Sotnikova, who could make as big a splash as Tutamysheva did last week in Canada.
Other: Kostner’s teammate Valentina Marchei is the oldest competitor here (age 25).


Replacements from original lineup: Two from China: Sui/Han and Yu/Jin are replacing Pang/Tong and Zhang/Wang
Top 4 guess in alphabetical order: Kavaguti/Smirnov, Moore-Towers/Moscovitch, Sui/Han, Zhang/Zhang
Dark Horse: Evora/Ladwig
Senior GP Debut: Steele/Schultz (of Canada)
Favorite: I’ll go with Zhang/Zhang, who looked better at Sk8AM 2 weeks ago than I’ve seen them look in a long time.
Other…: Evora/Ladwig are using Daphne et Chloe (Ravel) and Reverie (Debussy) for their free skate; please correct me if I’m wrong but I think this combo is very similar to the selection put together for Sarah Hughes 2002 Olympic free skate.


Replacements from original lineup: the new U.S. team of Samuelson/Gilles replaces Russia’s Monko/Khaliavin; Huang/Zheng are the TBD from China.
Top 4 guess in alphabetical order: Bobroba/Soloviev, Carron/Jones, Samuelson/Gilles, Shibutani/Shibutani
Dark Horse: Coomes/Buckland
Senior GP Debut: Samuelson/Gilles, Lichtman/Copely
Favorite: I’m guessing Bobrova/Soloviev, though wouldn’t be surprised if the current World Bronze Medalist Shib Sibs were favored over them
Other…: Although it’s their senior GP debut, U.S.’s Lichtman/Copely were the World Junior Bronze Medalists last year… I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the top 5.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Skate Canada 2011 in Review: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly "A-Spin"

Here's a little list of my observations from last weekend's GP event:


Terry Gannon, upon introducing Canadian team Harvey/Gagnon’s FD (set to a Rolling Stones medley): “Gagnon playing Mick Jagger here; we’ll have to see if he has the moves like Jagger too.” Ah, that Terry with the pop culture drop-ins… he’s the best!

High props to Adam Rippon and Denis Ten. Sure, they only finished 4th and 5th respectively, with programs far from perfect. But Rippon needed to start somewhere with getting experience on his shiny new quad lutz, and Sk8Can was as good a place as any—even if it was something of an incomplete mess, good for him actually going for it! And Ten’s pair of fifth-place finishes (at Sk8Can and earlier at Sk8Am), reinforced with steadily improving quad toe attempts and NICE 3axels, is refreshing to see… especially knowing how he’s struggled in the past year.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge the quad twist executed by rising stars and possible perennial munchkins Sui/Han… nicely done, as Scott would say! Also rather satisfying to see Duhamel/Bradford make it to the podium, especially after being reminded multiple times how she broke his nose 6 months ago.

Over in ice dance, Virtue/Moir unveiled their Funny Face free dance for the GP crowd, with predictably joyous results. (Check it out here; it's the Clip of the Day.) It’s delightful, whimsical, and all the other “-als” you might be able to come up with… and, it made me think more about the differences between V/M and Davis/White. What I come up with is a color analogy: if D/W is an eye-popping indigo blue, V/M is a dreamy sort of periwinkle. If D/W is a rich, lush burgundy, V/M is a stunning shade of rose. Which is not at all to say that V/M is some sort of paler, less interesting version of D/W… but rather something subtle & intriguing in a manner that’s as successful as D/W’s deep, bold tones. Does this idea work for any of you?

I had to laugh when Gannon mentioned, during Coach Frank Carroll’s time in the Kiss-n-Cry with Denis Ten, that Carroll is frequently seen passing the time with a book at these GP events… presumably because these “events” are so ordinary for him by now. So if anyone sees him reading Skating on Air (MY book), let me know ASAP :-)

But nothing made me laugh more than poor Ashley Wagner… not because she skated badly (quite the opposite—yea!), but watching her try and get off a greeting to her fans in the K-n-C while coach John Nicks talked to her sporadically was a hoot. Every time she looked into the camera and started to say “Hi everybody” there was Nicks coming up with something new to tell her, seemingly oblivious to her attempts. Then, when she let several seconds of silence go by before trying again… the director went to the replays of her jumps. “Oh my goodness,” she sighed… much more politely than I might have under the circumstances!


Elladj Balde’s free skate. Sure, the Canadian newcomer finished last, but I was actually referring to his choice of music. Guess he didn’t get the memo that 2010, not 2011, was the year of the Michael Jackson FS medley…

Rachael Flatt’s free skate. I was going to say that her debut interpretation of Firebird—with only ONE clean triple to speak of—was sadly reminiscent of either her injury-plagued FS at Worlds earlier this year, or her dismal FS at last year’s GP Final. But in looking at her scores for each, I see that I was wrong… this one was worse than both of them. And without an injury cited (would she dare to admit an injury this season, I wonder?), I can only guess she hasn’t worked the delicate skating/Stanford balance out just yet… she did mention some sleep deprivation issues prior to the event, after all. Kidding or not, methinks she may have a point.

Kevin van der Perren. I’m not sure when the Sk8AM silver medalist came in to replace Alban Preaubert, but right about now he’s probably wishing he could hoist his 8th place finish on Preaubert too.

And finally, THE UGLY…

Peter Carruthers isn’t candy-coating it any more—especially when he’s commentating with Gannon, who lives to egg him on at times. Carruthers is not a fan of the A-spin, plain and simple. Know which one I’m talking about—where the skater spins with both his (it’s usually a male) legs straight while he’s bent over, with his tush in the air? Yeah, gotta say I’m not a fan of it either. Anyway, it played a part in at least 3 or 4 of the men’s free skates at Sk8CAN… much to Carruthers’ chagrin (and Gannon’s delight).
“There it is again!” Gannon prompted, the moment a skater assumed the position, as it were…
“I HATE IT!” Carruthers eventually came to bellow with each one.

Or maybe it was only once or twice at this event. We can only hope for more A-spin taunting at Cup of China… which comes next. Look for a preview here on Thursday.