Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Wrap-Up of International Nationals to Close Out 2011...

Updates, as promised, on two recently completed Nationals…

In what may have felt a little like an emotional repeat of Joannie Rochette’s performances at the Vancouver Olympics, Mao Asada completed her own return to the ice (following her mother’s recent passing) with a national title— her fifth. Although Kanako Murakami was the “overnight leader” (meaning after the SP), she was only able to hang on to bronze by the event’s end. In between the two was Akiko Suzuki, who actually bested Asada by one point and won the free skate (a sort of reverse on their performances at NHK, if memory serves me correctly). Fourth place went to Haruka Imai; fifth to Miu Sato, sixth to Satoko Miyahara. Can anyone share if the top three (Asada, Suzuki, Murakami) are officially representing Japan at Worlds, or if Four Continents results will have any bearing on that decision?

By now you probably know the answer to my earlier question about Evgeny Plushenko competing at Russian Nationals… yes, he did, and yes, he did in fact win the event. How will he fare against the likes of Javier Fernandez at Europeans (not to mention Chan and Dice-K at Worlds) remains to be seen. What’s that you say—Plushy can’t compete at Worlds this year; he can’t possibly have the ISU point minimum, since he hasn’t competed since Vancouver? Well, not to worry, according to
this article that ran at Golden Skate:

Plushenko…faces an unexpected challenge on his road to the ISU Championships: he does not have a minimal score which the ISU requires, and there are no competitions for Senior single skaters planned until the Europeans in the end of January.

“We are aware of the problem,” said coach Mishin. “We are working on it, but I am not going to tell you what we are doing.”

Without even speculating on what that might mean, can I just say that this is one of the reasons I don’t like Plushenko returning to competition. That above-the-law vibe is already creeping in… just sayin'.

Enough about that. The ladies event saw Adelina Sotnikova take home her third straight national title, with Julia Lipnitskaia (the one with the insane extensions that I’d like to re-name Julip Gumbyskaia) taking silver, and Alena Leonova getting bronze (she took a tumble on her 3T/3T in the short program; not sure about her free skate). Ksenia Makarova, she of the very rough GP season, managed a 4th place finish. As for Liza “with a triple lutzzzzzz” Tutkamysheva, she too fell on her planned 3/3 in the SP and had to settle for 6th place this year. But, like Sotnikova and Gumbyskaia, she is too young to compete at Worlds this year anyway. That results in Leonova and Makarova heading to Euros, with the third spot apparently up in the air between 7th place finisher Polina Korobeynikova (who apparently may have visa issues) and 9th place finisher Sofia Biryukova.

The pairs event was made a lot less interesting with the absence of both Volosohzar/Trankov and Kavaguti/Smirnov—both of whom got waived from the event due to injury (but will still be able to compete at Euros based on their strong GP performances). This cleared the way for Bazarova/Larionov to win their first-ever national title, with Stolbova/Klimov in silver and Martiusheva/Rogonov in bronze. As for dance, Bobrova/Soloviev nabbed their second straight national title, with Ilinykh/Katsalapov and Riazanova/Tkachenko rounding out the top 3.

This is likely my last post of the year… and incidentally, I’m told this is my 500th post since this blog launched in April 2008. So thanks as always for reading… Happy New Year, wherever you are… and here’s to (at least?) 500 more posts at State of the Skate!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

While the U.S. Nats are a Month Away, the Rest of the World Says...Game On!

Just a quick recap of some International Nationals... if you know what I mean...


MEN: Dice-K got a freakin’ 96+ on his SP, allowing him to win the title (his 5th one) despite having only the third best FS. Yurzuru Hanyu, who pulled off the top-scoring FS of the event, moved from 4th to 3rd overall and earned his first-ever spot on the world team. Sandwiched between the two was Takahiko Kozuka, whose scores indicate he was very, very good, but just not The Best (which as we all know is blazing amazing over in Japan). Fourth place went to Tatsuki Machida, 5th to Takahito Mura, and 6th to Daisuke Murakami. If you’re wondering about Nobunari Oda, you probably didn’t hear that he withdrew from Nationals due to an ongoing injury in his left knee. (I didn’t read as to whether or not his injury attributed to his Trophee Eric Bompard meltdown in the free skate.)

LADIES: Only the SP has been skated as of this posting; with a difference of just .16 points, Kanako Murakami leads Mao Asada (competing for the first time since her mother’s passing just a few weeks ago). Akiko Suzuki is almost four points behind, in 3rd, with Yuki Nishino a little more than a point behind her… and Haruka Imai less than a point behind her, in 5th. So it’s as fierce as ever, the battle for this title.

If you have something you’d like to say once the free skate takes place, please leave a comment!

Elsewhere around the globe:

Russian Nationals are just getting started; rumor has it Plushenko is competing this year. Any confirmations?

French Nationals are complete; Brian Jourbert (remember him?) won easily over Florent AmodioYretha Silete won for the women, with Mae Berenice Meite serving once again as runner-up.

And also complete are the Czech, Slovak, and Polish Nationals (one nationals for all three countries)… where Tomas Verner (remember HIM??) won easily over what must’ve been a way-underperforming Michal Brezina. But thanks to Brezina’s 4th place at Worlds last season, I believe both men will be able to represent their republic in Nice a few months from now (unless the outcome of Europeans can play a factor…?)

The holidays may keep me from posting again for a few days, but I hope to at least post some updates on Japanese and Russian Nationals. Until then… best wishes of peace and happiness to you as we near the end of 2011!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

We Have A Winner!

Congratulations to Krista H. of Ft. Worth, Texas... her name was the one drawn tonight for a personally autographed copy of Skating on Air!

And big thanks to all who entered; it was great to hear from so many of you! I'll have to consider doing another one of these giveaways somewhere down the road...

Last Chance to Win a Copy of Skating on Air!

Just a quick post to remind everyone that the drawing for a free, personally autographed copy of Skating on Air will be TONIGHT! If you haven't entered yet, please drop me an email with your name and location (city and/or state/province/etc. is fine)at KLawrence997-at-gmail-dot-com. As long as you don't see a post here announcing that we have a winner, there's still time...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Silver and Bronze... a Different View of the 2011 Grand Prix Final

As this first half of the 2011-12 figure skating season came to its unofficial close over the weekend, there were two sorts of questions filling my head. One was the short, impetuous sort—

Chan feels underappreciated in Canada??
Chan won that free skate over Dice-K???
Do I like the silver unitard look for Kostner? Well, do I???

And then came the more contemplative kind, where I ruminated over the placements of all the skaters… particularly the ones who finished with silver and bronze. Have you noticed that medals are often accompanied by one of three emotions: relief (see Jeremy Abbott at Cup of Russia, where he “held on” by the skin of his components scores to win the bronze)… joy (see Nan Song’s story thus far this season)… or disappointment, often of the bitter variety (see Nancy Kerrigan, Surya Bonaly, Irina Slutskaya…).

So which emotion likely dominated with this GPF’s runner-up medalists? Let’s see…

Akiko Suziki’s Silver? Joy. When have we seen her exhibit anything else? Suzuki’s love for this sport lights up her whole body, trails out of her fingertips, and leaves little sparkles on the ice when she’s done spinning on it. And while she surely would have loved to come out at the top of the leader board here, a silver is still her best finish ever at this event… bring on Japanese Nationals, for we’d better see her at Worlds this year!

Alena Leonova’s Bronze? Big-time joy. For in my alternate universe (and maybe even hers), a non-injured Alissa Czisny would have come away with at least a bronze at this event. Which is not to say that Leonova was lucky to get anything—she’s having a great season, and definitely earned it, in my estimations—but in an event that anticipated the pain-free presence of both Czisny and Mao Asada (not to mention Carolina Kostner and everyone else), a medal for Leonova was far from a lock.

Daisuke Takahashi’s Silver? Let’s call it “gracious relief.” Coming back from a fifth-place SP to win any medal at all would have been impressive… but he more than did that—he won the free skate! Or so I hoped, after seeing all the errors that (once again) plagued Patrick Chan’s program. You’ll see from
this article that Dice-K acknowledges Chan’s flaws at the GPF… but rather than complain about his scores, he rationalizes them, concluding that Chan’s jumping technique must be superior to his, and confirming his need to bring a more consistent quad jump to both programs. Was he just being polite, hiding away frustrations? Beats me. All I can say is that Dice-K is one classy gentleman.

Javier Fernandez’s Bronze? Absolute freakin’ joy. I mean, think about it: I remember being happy for him last year because he’d cracked the top 5 at Skate Canada. Now look at him: two effortless quads… two silver GP medals… and now a bronze GPF medal to boot? What a season so far! And to think, this guy was barely breaking into the top 20 at Worlds back in ’09…


Volosohzar/Trankov’s Silver? Disappointment, to judge by the look on Trankov’s face after the scores went up in the Kiss’n’Cry. It was thisclose, to be sure—only .18 separated them from winners Savchenko/Szolkowy—and their content was pretty compatible. But Sav/Szol got the upper hand on the element score, with just enough of a boost on the component side to help them overtake Vol/Trank. Was it a case of the German’s experience helping them “earn” higher components? Maybe. Was Trankov justified in his disappointment? Maybe. But if I was Trankov, I’d cool my jets. His time is coming… and by the way, don’t you love this well-matched rivalry that has developed? (Sorry to say that I love it quite a bit more than Savchenko’s new hairdo.)

Kavaguti/Smirnov’s Bronze? I’m going with relief here… got to admit I’m feeling for these two just a little; it must be hard to basically tread water at an advanced level for several years while others (particularly teammates) swim over and under them. They finished this event a good 25 points behind the top two, so there just isn’t much of a contest for them for gold right now. It’s all about bronze, and they bested their closest competition (Zhang/Zhang) by about 5 points… so I hope they’re reasonably happy with their prize.


Virtue/Moir’s Silver? Well, these good-natured kids just seem to go back and forth with the top prizes, volleying with Davis/White, and it’s “only” the GPF, not Worlds, so…

Wait a minute. Did you read what I read about Scott Moir’s reaction to silver? It’s a piss-off? Bitter pill to swallow? Implications that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet; just wait until his wrath is unleashed if they lose gold at Worlds this year… Look out! The little knit stretchy gloves are off! I smell a rumble!!

In other words, pour V/M a big steaming cup of disappointed. With a bitter chaser, thank you very much. So we’ve got an ongoing (but still building) rivalry in Dance, and a fast-developing rivalry in Pairs. LOVE it! Game on, everyone!

Oh, and lest I forget: Pechalat/Bourzat’s Bronze? Let’s call that relative joy—surely they feel things are back in place with this event, having edged out Weaver/Poje and easily defeated the Shib Sibs (aka The Ones Who Got The Bronze When Bourzat Went Down). But, like Kavaguti/Smirnov, they are still no match for the Top Two in their field. And I don’t know if this Skate-Like-An-Egyptian-themed FD is going to get them any closer; last year’s Chaplin program remains my favorite from them.

One more thing to mention: I haven’t mentioned the Junior GPF lately. I plan to rectify that later in the week as I do some more “catching up,” but until then… be sure to watch Jason Brown’s gold medal-winning free skate. He’s still lacking a triple axel—or at least isn’t doing it in competition yet—and of course, that won’t get him very far at the senior level. But when others in this event faltered on that coveted jump, Brown’s stellar technique and beyond-his-years sophistication put him at the top of the heap.

***Don’t forget to enter your name for the chance to win a free, personally autographed copy of my book Skating on Aircheck this post from the other day for details. The drawing will be this coming Saturday, December 17.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Le 2011 Grand Prix Finale At-A-Glance

Welcome to Quebec City… the capital city of the Quebec province, home to the stunning Chateau Frontenac, and the only place I’ve ever been where I could find Crush Crème Soda (with pink labels on the bottles). My husband and I spent part of our honeymoon in Vieux-Quebec back in 1997, and hope to get back there someday. It won’t be anytime soon, unfortunately… so I’ll have to report on the ISU Grand Prix Final and Junior GP Final from my home office, as usual.

(And as you might guess—especially with it not being readily available on IceNetwork—I’m not going to do much with the JGP this week except take note of the placements, especially when they involve Americans.)

Here’s the IceNetwork schedule for the Senior GPF this weekend:

Friday, Dec. 9

1:00 p.m.: Senior ladies short program
2:05 p.m.: Senior short dance
8:00 p.m.: Senior pairs short program
9:15 p.m.: Senior men's short program

Saturday, Dec. 10

3:40 p.m.: Senior ladies free skate
4:55 p.m.: Senior men's free skate
8:15 p.m.: Senior pairs free skate

Sunday, Dec. 11
1:50 p.m.: Senior free dance

And here’s the schedule for Universal Sports, as posted at the USFSA site a few months ago (please note that NO schedule was posted at the Universal web site as of Thursday evening)

Friday, Dec. 9
Ladies short & Short dance (LIVE) - 1-3 p.m.
Pairs short & Men's short (LIVE) - 8-10:30 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 10
Men's free (LIVE) - 5-6 p.m.
Pairs free (LIVE) - 8:30-10 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 11
Free dance - 5-6 p.m.
Ladies free & Men's free (NBC re-air) - 8-10 p.m.**

** Which means, I believe, that you should be able to see the Ladies and Men's Finals on NBC Sunday afternoon. (UPDATE: A Tweet from Michael Weiss-- who's doing commentary this weekend-- says it'll be at noon Eastern time Sunday.)

So real quick, here are the senior GP Final entrants (last names only) as well as a brief list of some of their strengths/weaknesses:

MEN: Chan, Takahashi, Abbott, Brezina, Fernandez, Hanyu

Chanplus: Reigning World Champion, home-country fave, judges love his mastery of everything artistic
Chanminus: Occasionally falls all over the place,

DiceKplus: Can (at least) match Chan artistically
DiceKminus: Not as many consistent quads, occasionally falls all over the place

Abbottplus: Breathtaking choreography and execution
Abbottminus: Is zero-for-2 on quad attempts this year

Brezinaplus: Solid triple axel, two quads in arsenal
Brezinaminus: Stamina issues; sometimes listens to bad (coaching) advice

Fernandezplus: Wonderful jumping technique; arsenal includes two quads
Fernandezminus: Hasn’t yet earned the component love from judges

Yuzuruplus: Is developing strong sense of artistry at early age
Yuzuruminus: Lacks the experience of his competitors

LADIES: Tuktamysheva, Kostner, Suzuki, Czisny, Leonova

NOTE: Mao Asada was scheduled to compete, but returned to Japan today when she learned her mother is critically ill. It happened too late for an alternate to be brought in.*** UPDATE*** The Japanese press is reporting that Asada's mother has now passed away. She was only 48. Very sad. Prayers and peace to the Asada family.)

Tuktaplus: Has a triple lutz/triple toe, jumps are technically superb, she is waay younger than all other ladies here
Tuktaminus: Triple flip occasionally a problem, not as artistically advance as others

Kostnerplus: Fast, has elegant lines, has an occasional triple toe/triple toe
Kostnerminus: No triple lutz at all, let alone a 3lutz/3toe

Czisnyplus: Is a spinner extraordinaire, amazingly smooth, may try her own triple lutz/triple toe
Czisnyminus: Is frequently dinged for underrotated jumps, still battles nerves on occasion

Suzukiplus: Wonderfully musical, skates with obvious joy
Suzukiminus: Jumps can be inconsistent

Leonovaplus: Very animated; jumping technique seems improved over last year
Leonovaminus: See Suzukiminus

PAIRS: Volosozhar/Trankov, Savchenko/Szolkowy, Kavaguti/Smirnov, Zhang/Zhang, Takahashi/Tran, Duhamel/Radford

Vol/Trankplus: Power skaters, very consistent, great chemistry
Vol/Trankminus: Still lacks team experience of other top couples

Sav/Szolplus: Power skaters, reigning world champs, inventive FS
Sav/Szolminus: Occasionally self-destructs mid-program

Kav/Smirplus: Artistically more delicate, jumping has improved
Kav/Smirminus: Throw jumps aren’t as steady as other two

Zhang/Zhangplus: Tons of experience, huge throw jumps
Zhang/Zhangminus: Can seem emotionally detached from programs

Taka/Tranplus: Young, budding talent with fresh music and moves
Taka/Tranminus: Inexperience amongst veterans

Duh/Radplus: Power skaters, good jumping
Duh/Radminus: Have been known to engage in (unintentional) bloodshed during programs

DANCE: Davis/White, Virtue/Moir, Shibutani/Shibutani, Bobrova/Soloviev, Pechalat/Bourzat, Weaver/Poje

Davis/Whiteplus: To-swoon-for twizzles, reigning world champs, FD that many are already saying should become “their signature dance”
Davis/Whiteminus: As White demonstrated at Cup of Russia, they are hardly infallible as skaters. A stumble like he took there in the SD could make all the difference in a tight race with V/M.

Virtue/Moirplus: Reigning OGMs, home country advantage, charming FD
Virtue/Moirminus: though they haven’t competed head-to-head since Worlds, V/M’s FD has not scored as highly as D/W’s in both couples’ two outings so far this season.

Shibsplus: Classic dance style, well-established for their ages
Shibsminus: Current free dance might be seen as too similar to previous free dance

Bobroplus: Classic Russian style, FD is drama-riffic
Bobrominus: Drama-riffic might cross the line to overwrought

Pech/Bourplus: Strong, inventive, Bourzat skating healthy again (following a bronchitis-laced trip to Skate America)
Pech/Bourminus: in a likely battle for bronze, Pech/Bour could be outdrama-ed by either Bobrova/Soloviev or Weaver/Poje

Weaver/Pojeplus: Home country advantage; plus their stock continues to rise even with V/M on the scene full-time
Weaver/Pojeminus: Weaver can’t seem to get the strap fixed on her FD costume (KIDDING)

Enjoy the weekend of skating, everyone!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Want to Win a Free Copy of "Skating on Air"? Read on...

So in this holiday season of giving, what better time to give away a free, personally autographed copy of my book Skating on Air?

You see a little description for it on the left side of the page, and have probably "heard" me talk about it from time to time. You can read more about it
here ... and if you'd like to enter a drawing for a free copy, please send me an email at KLawrence997-at-gmail-dot-com (sorry, got to spell it out to avoid the spammers).

This is open ALL readers from ANY country-- if you're unable to get a copy of Skating on Air where you live (such as many countries in Asia, where I don't think McFarland has a distributor)... here's your chance to get one shipped for free!

If you have any question about the email address, check out my profile further down the page... you should find it there as well.

I'll post another notice about this drawing after the ISU GP Final, and then plan to do said drawing on Saturday, December 17 (10 days from now).

Any other questions? Please shoot me an email or post it in the comments.

Good luck!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Meanwhile, Back At the Ice Ranch… (catching up on non-GP developments)

As you’re probably aware, the world kept right on spinning as the ISU Grand Prix progressed between October and November—even when it came to the rest of the figure skating world. Among the most noteworthy developments (in chronological order):

+ Lepisto is out for the season… again
For those who say nerves have been the downfall of many a great skater— in a literal sense, that applies to athletes in general. Here in Indianapolis we’re still waiting to see if nerve damage to the neck of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning can ever heal well enough for him to play at all, let alone this football season. And over in Finland, nerve damage is also at the heart of what’s keeping 2010 World Bronze Medalist Laura Lepisto out of her sport of choice. In her case, it’s apparently nerves in one of her feet that need to heal before she can take the ice again… which she says is unlikely to happen this season. Lepisto will turn 24 next April.

+ Lady is a Champ: Bonhomme wins Battle of the Blades
For followers of the hit Canadian TV series Battle of the Blades, things really came full circle this particular season. As I mentioned
here at the end of August, the planned “twist” was for one of the hockey players-turning-figure-skaters to be, for the first time ever on the show, a female (Tessa Bonhomme). But the entire show (not to mention hockey fans) were dealt a savage blow when, less than a month before its season premiere, fellow competitor Wade Belak died at age 35. The show soldiered on, however… and by its conclusion in November, the winner was none other than Bonhomme (skating with David Pelletier). If you’re curious how she and Pelletier looked out there in front of the cameras, check out this clip from week 7.

+ Phaneuf joins team Orser
If you’re a veteran elite figure skater who has remained with the same coach/coaches since the early days, chances are slim that you’ll jump ship, even if your skating is in a sub-par slump. But if you’re Canadian champion Cynthia Phaneuf—who, aside from that national victory, has been unable to duplicate the jumping consistency that helped her come in 5th at Worlds in 2010—you don’t have much use for the odds at this point. So in the wake of back-to-back disappointing GP outings (7th at Skate Canada; 9th at NHK Trophy), the 23 year-old Phaneuf has parted ways with Annie Barabé and Sophie Richard to relocate to Toronto, and train with Brian Orser. She had been coached by Barabe/Richard since age 9. Orser’s other high-profile students include USA’s Christina Gao and Spain’s Javier Fernandez; in the past, he coached Adam Rippon and (of course) Kim Yu-Na.

+ Kwan is among the HOF nominees
Some might say “It’s about time!!” but, in all fairness, it happened as soon as possible: Michelle Kwan is among the
new batch of nominees to the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame. Now that Kwan has been out of competitive figure skating for six years, she is eligible… along with fellow nominees Rudy Galindo (1996 National Champion and ’96 World Bronze Medalist) and Robert “Bobby” Specht, who medaled nationally in pairs (1941) and won the men’s title in ’42. Jef Billings (designer) and Lori Nichol (choreographer) are nominated too, under the “creative impact” category. The official HOF Class of 2012 will be announced later this month, with the induction ceremony taking place at 2012 U.S. Nationals in San Jose.

+ Lysacek Won’t Be at Nationals… Either
Speaking of 2012 U.S. Nationals—if you were crossing your fingers for Evan Lysacek to make good on his early-season assertions to be competing in San Jose, it’s time to put your fingers to better use. Whether he wants to be there or not, it appears that U.S. Figure Skating and the Creative Artists Agency (which now represents Lysacek) could not reach the proverbial agreement necessary to get him out there and see how he ranks nearly two years past Vancouver. According to, CAA is citing “contractual obligations” for Lysacek’s absence. Chicago Tribune’s Phil Hersh continues to track the gory (read: money-related) details of Lysacek’s “negotiations,” so you can read much more about them

+ Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Plushy
And speaking of Vancouver… Evgeny Plushenko continues to rattle his platinum medal-lined cages every so often to make sure we know he plans to be competing in 2014. The latest rattle came last week, when he announced he’s “leaving politics” in order to train for Sochi. What, you didn’t know he was in politics? Feel free to read the
article that details his involvement a little further. Don’t care WHERE he is or WHAT his plans are? Well, join the club… that’s why my mention of him ends here.