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!

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