Tuesday, May 31, 2011

End-of-May Rink Roundup: Weir, Plushenko, Kerrigan... and Midori Ito?

We seem to be taking a breather from retirements, break-ups, reconsiderations, and the like in skating’s off-season… at least for the moment… so while I mull over any final thoughts for the 2010-11 season, I’d better at least get caught up on the headlines:

Johnny Weir named Grand Marshal for L.A.Gay Pride parade…
I’m surprised this article in the
Hollywood Reporter doesn’t mention the date of the parade. But then again, the article refers to Weir as a “reality star” well before it mentions he’s a two-time Olympian… and it never acknowledges him as a 3-time U.S. Champion. Does anyone know when the parade occurs? Are any of you planning to go?

AND, he’s still pondering a return to competitive skating…
Oh wait, never mind… according to
this Phil Hersh article, the parade will be on June 12. But read the rest of the article, if you’re curious where the Weir Barometer currently sits on this topic.

AS is Evgeny Plushenko… you know, the banned one…
Depending on which story you believe, the ban placed on Plushenko from Olympic-eligible competition is either as good as lifted, or headed that way.
Here’s one that suggests it will officially be decided within the next few weeks.

But you know who’s REALLY interesting that’s coming back?
If you said “1989 World Champion and 1992 Olympic Silver Medalist Midori Ito,” well, maybe you read
this article already. (OK, she won’t exactly be in the ISU Grand Prix, but who cares?)

On a very different note (and speaking of 1992 Olympic medalists)…
The trial involving Mark Kerrigan (brother to Nancy Kerrigan) and the death of their father has played out in a Boston courthouse over the past few weeks. In short: both Nancy and her mother took the stand in defense of Mark, and in fact he was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter. But he still has to serve time for assault and battery.
Here’s one of the stories covering the sentencing.

And the verdict is in for PSA’s Coach of the Year…
After the podium sweep at Worlds, could there be any doubt this would go to Igor Shpilband and Marina Zueva?
This is the IceNetwork article.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Skating on Air: The Broadcast History of an Olympic Marquee Sport" is Now Available!

I'm happy to tell you all-- especially those who have seen it advertised on the side of this blog for months, wondering if it would EVER be out of "pre-order" mode-- that my book is finally, officially, released as of last Wednesday!

Skating on Air: The Broadcast History of an Olympic Marquee Sport can be purchased a few different ways...

1) Click on the link "Order your copy online!" seen in the left margin of this blog.

2) Go to your favorite bookstore. They are unlikely to have any in stock, but should be able to order a copy for you... that way you're supporting not only my book, but bookstores in general

3) Yes, it's also available through the biggies such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com.

I'm still working on getting reviews for the book, but for those who'd like to know a little more about it (and haven't tired of hearing me talk about it on this here website), check out these two interviews:

--At the World Figure Skating blog (3/22/11)

-- At Lifeskate; also includes press release (4/12/11)

Got a question about the book? Feel free to email me or post it as a comment...


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Retirements, Reverse Retirements, Breakups, Teamups… 9 days in the Life of the 2011 Skating Off-Season

Maybe it’s because Worlds took place as late as it did this year, but wow, are the off-season announcements coming at us fast and furious these days! I was still working on my Worlds post-mortem when this wheel started turning… so rather than sprinkle these around, I’ve got what I think is the scorecard to date listed below (as well as a little bit of commentary):

May 10th--
Ryan Bradley announces his retirement

Surprise factor (on a 1-10 scale): 2
…although, as seems to be the trend these days, he’s “retaining eligibility” should he decide to return to competitive skating.

Impact factor on his discipline: 3
While his showmanship and sense of humor is most definitely valued (especially at Nationals year after year), Bradley’s never had much of an impact on the international scene… after all, he never made an Olympic team, never cracked the Top 12 at Worlds and only won 2 medals (neither of them gold) in all his years of senior GP competition.

May 12th--
U.S. ice dancers Hubbell & Hubbell announce break up

Surprise factor: 6
This is mostly because I can’t, off the top of my head, recall any sibling teams that have broken up and then continued with other partners… as appears to be the Hubbells’ plan.

Impact factor: 2
Because the Hubbells may have been rising stars, but they hadn’t yet placed higher than 6th at a senior GP event. Let’s see what happens when they change partners and keep dancing…

May 13th--
Italian ice dancers Faiella/Scali announce their ”return”

Surprise factor: 9
What the what??! Apparently their “retirement” had all the duration of a maternity leave.

Impact factor: 6
Yes, they’re older had a bummer of a season in 2010-11, but that World Bronze they won wasn’t THAT long ago.

May 17th--
U.S. Pairs skaters Denney and Coughlin announce partnership

Surprise factor: 7
If I was spending more time on skating message boards I suppose this number would be lower, as I heard there were rumors circulating about this possibility about as soon as the Yankowskas/Coughlin split went public. But silly me, I thought Coughlin was simply ready to move on…

Impact factor: 6
All we’ve got to go on are past histories with former partners, which makes this prediction little more than a stab in the dark. But if those past histories have anything to do with the Dennlin future, there could be some interesting things to look forward to. Providing they stay together long enough to find out, that is.

May 18th--
Evora/Ladwig commit to the 2011-12 season

Surprise factor: 5
In a sea of short-term partnerships, these two just completed their NINTH season together. Perhaps the bigger surprise is that they aren’t retiring. But with all the podium partner shakeups, I’m guessing they want to make a run for the national title more than ever.

Impact factor: 4
It’s hard to know if E/L can surpass their surprise top 10 Olympic finish; aside from their first-ever GP bronze medal this season, it wasn’t a stellar follow-up year for them. But if just one pairs team can be inspired next season by their beautiful lifts, all the better.

So... which headlines (if any) took YOU by surprise?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

2011 Worlds Recap-- Fractured Fairytales Pt. 4: The Ladies

As I launch into this final installment of Fractured Fairytales, please know that I'm keeping tabs on all the various breakups/pairups/retirements/reverse retirements that have already taken place in the early weeks of the "off-season"... and will post about them later this week. (Another one of the above is bound to happen by then anyway.)

So let's dedicate this edition of FF to THE LADIES...

The Battle Royale

Once upon a time in the Far East, there were two countries considered to be “rivals”—something which manifested itself in different ways through the years, not the least of which came to be figure skating. One country, Japan, built up a deep team of very talented men and women that could overtake any competition at any given time. The other country, South Korea, found itself putting most of its competitive hope in just one young lady, known as Kim … but oh, how that young lady could steal the show! Even the most formidable Japanese opponents were often forced to take a back seat to her. There was only one problem with this-- if Kim opted not to compete for a while, there wasn’t much of a backup plan… other than to feverishly await her return.

So when the all important World Championships came around, fourteen months after Kim had become the newest Olympic figure skating queen, 13 months since she had last competed, and about 9 months since an infamous falling out with her now-ex coach, a string of questions hung thick in the air: was she as great as she’d ever been? Could she sweep in at the end of the season and take the biggest crown of the year with zero mileage on her 2011 programs? Or would one or more of Japan’s finest, who had been representing their country proudly all year long and felt even more of a need to do so in this… arguably one of Japan’s darkest hours… step up for the win?

Once it became clear that Japan’s youngest representative at the event wasn’t quite ready to challenge for the throne, and perhaps its best-known representative simply wasn’t up to the challenge this year (see the bonus Fractured Fairytale The Girl Who Started All Over), it came down to one relentlessly consistent young woman by the name of Ando. And when all was said and done, there was one clear winner… on paper anyway…

Total jumps: Ando’s 45.53 to Kim’s 42.07
Total spins: Ando’s 16.00 to Kim’s 15.42
Total footwork: both earned 4.23
Components average: Kim’s 8.358 to Ando’s 8.058 (per component)

But whether you thought Kim wasn’t being rewarded enough for her OGM grace, or was getting too much of a free pass with her imperfect short program, it’s hard to deny what kept Kim from victory: the jumps, pure and simple. She may have been the most gifted all-around skater of the day—her components were certainly scored as such—nonetheless, singular but major flaws in both programs kept the Korean queen from her throne. Which left a proud Ando with something to make the people of her country smile… even if it was for just a minute or two.

The Belle of the Bronze

Who knew 3rd place could be such a coveted position in the World Championship rankings? Three maidens named Leonova, Kostner, and Czisny… that’s who.

Leonova was a sprightly Russian skater with hair of many colors… not many colors all at once; rather, a multitude of shades over time. This time she was a relatively bright shade of red, in a season that had proven at that point to be anything BUT bright. Kostner was a pretty tall Italian lass who had managed a pretty good season, despite having to forego two of the most difficult jumps in her repertoire. And Czisny was an elegant American lady who had spent the past year chasing her demons down in various corners of rinks around the world, determined to redeem herself for missing the Olympic team. She had been successful, for the most part. And her success had led her to Worlds, where she sat in 4th after the SP. There in Russia, where Worlds was held, Leonova had the crowd wrapped around her satin-gloved finger. The longer she skated, the clearer it became that she had risen to the occasion as she hadn’t done all year, especially in the way she landed her jumps solidly rather than stepping or flipping quickly out of them. It was a lovefest like no other as Leonova’s scored sailed her into second place…

She was down to third place when Kostner took the ice and, to the bewilderment of some (and probably many in the arena) when she skated a pretty, but technically less challenging program… and ended up beating Leonova for bronze by less than one point. To break it down by the numbers, it went like this:

FREE SKATE RESULTS (NOTE: Leonova and Kostner were in a dead heat going into the FS)

Total jumps: Leonova’s 43.34 to Kostner’s 39.92 +3.42
Total spins: Kostner’s 15.05 to Leonova’s 14.71
Total footwork: Kostner’s 5.33 to Leonova’s 4.30
Components average: Kostner’s 8.078 to Leonova’s 7.728 (per component)

As for Czisny, well, the legend will go that a fall on her first triple lutz—a fall she attributed to “nerves,” the all-purpose name for many of those demons she’d been chasing—cost her from upsetting both Leonova and Kostner for the bronze medal. But even without the jump, she had a better overall jump score in the free skate than bronze-medalist Kostner. And her magnificent spins—as much a trademark of the maiden as her soft-spokenness—earned her more points than any other lady in the event, including Kim and Ando! But her footwork was deemed a point or so less complex than Leonova’s… and 2 points or so less complex than Kostner’s. And when it came down to the all-important components, Czisny’s averaged 7.642 points. It was just a shade below Leonova’s average, and quite a bit below Kostner’s… nothing strong enough to transcend the rest. And so Czisny came up a little short for a medal, and yes, perhaps a few straggling demons came and held it out of her reach this year. But she’d stayed in the hunt throughout, something she'd rarely done before… and won over plenty along the way.

And learned that sometimes, all that glitters doesn’t have to be gold. Or bronze, for that matter.

The Song of Sarah

Finally, we come to the story of a Swiss miss who’d had a somewhat turbulent career, punctuated by ill-timed injuries. Although she was an 8-time national champion, a 2006 GP bronze medalist, and even a two-time European silver medalist, she’d never cracked the top 5 in three Olympic runs and nine World Championships. In fact, at 2010 Worlds she suffered a wrenching fall in the SP and failed to qualify for the finals. Still, she wasn’t ready to call it a career. At age 26 at the start of the 2010-11 season, she pushed through additional injuries to get to one last competition—the 2011 European Championships—where she finally claimed gold.

In other words… Sarah Meier was not even present at these World championships; she retired immediately after Europeans in February after calling her victory “the perfect ending.” Which goes to show just how difficult it can be to find an Un-Fractured Fairytale in figure skating.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Worlds 2011 Dance Recap: Fractured Fairytales, Pt. 3

Apologies for taking longer with these “tales” than planned… my daughter was in a play this week, which galvanized a lot of our time around here!

Here are three more Fractured Fairytales straight out of Moscow’s World Championships…

The Bridesmaid Who Wore Black to Her Wedding

In the far-off land of Michigan, there once lived a fine young ice dancer named Davis who was often said to resemble a Disney princess. Quite the compliment, it would seem… and yet, Davis longed to resemble something else: the best ice dancer in the whole world. It wasn’t that she and her dance partner hadn’t been presented with countless trophies, ribbons and medals through the years… they were very appreciative of all their hardware. But in recent memory, time and time again, the medals for the biggest events were for SECOND place… SECOND best. And to complicate matters, Davis and her partner White always lost to the same couple… also living in the far-off land of Michigan. They (Virtue and Moir) were known as “friendly rivals,” for everyone reportedly got along famously, but Davis couldn’t help but feel like a bridesmaid to Virtue’s “bride”… over and over again. There was nothing to do but work hard… at the most challenging dance she and White could muster… and keep going. Maybe Disney princesses would wither under the strain, but this Davis girl was nobody’s princess. She and White persevered, and eventually skated away with at least one World title to call their own… all while tango-ing in dramatic black. And THAT’s how the bridesmaid became a bride… at last!

The Curse of the Slippery Dance Floor

In the spirit of certain old adages such as a stitch in time saves nine and actions speak louder than words, every now and again the skating world is reminded of a very special adage of sorts: ice is slippery. Sure, it seems more like a cold hard fact (no pun intended) than a wisdom-laden saying, but when the ice dancing world is at its best—as it often is by World Championships time—it soars with blissful ease over that ice, and we start to forget the repercussions of One False Step. But this year we were reminded of it at least twice…

+ A Czech Republic pair known as Mysliveckova/Novak suffered a fall in the Short Dance (OK, it was just Novak’s fall) which contributed greatly to their failure to qualify for the free dance. Despite finishing 16th at their Worlds debut last year, the young Czech team had to settle for 22nd this time.

+ And as you might have heard and/or seen a million times by now, a much better known team from France known as Pechalat/Bourzat suffered a similar fate… the would-be heirs to the podium tumbled to the ice during their otherwise enchanting free dance, thereby tumbling out of 3rd place as well… wherein yet another of our Fractured Fairy Tales lies.

An Odd Sort of Homecoming

Once upon a time there were two Moscow-born Russian—a man and a woman—who left Russia (individually) in the early 1990s with North America in their sights. Approximately 10 years later, the man (named Spilband) and the woman (named Zoueva) joined their coaching and choreographic forces… nearly a decade after that, they found themselves coaching two teams to Olympic gold and silver medals. As if this wasn’t crazy enough… the following year saw a complete sweep of the podium by Zoueva/Spilband dance teams. Ironically, not one of their podium teams represented Russia…and even more ironically, their podium sweep on non-Russian dance teams took place in Moscow—their hometown! An odd sort of homecoming indeed.

The final installment of Fractured Fairytales to come in the next few days!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Worlds 2011 Men's Recap: Fractured Fairytales, Pt. 2

Welcome to another edition of Fractured Fairytales, aka my take on some of the stories of the 2011 World Championships. This time around, a few tales (and a weak limerick or two) about the Men's event:

The Boy Who Couldn’t Count

Once there was a boy known to dazzle the crowds with his handsome jumps—most notably a triple axel delivered with the “softest” knees known to figure skating—and charm them with whimsical artistry and choreography. He won the Junior World Championships in 2005, and appeared to have won Nationals and be headed to the Winter Olympics one year later, when a strange thing happened: the judges discovered he’d done too many combination jumps in his Nationals free skate. When all was said and done, he did NOT win his Nationals, and had to settle for attending 2006 Worlds instead. Years went by, and although the boy grew to be a young man (and soon fathered a boy of his own), he still loved dazzling the crowds with his jumps SO much that he continued to do too many of them (in combination) at the most critical times. By the time he made the mistake yet again at 2011 Worlds, sending him from a 2nd place SP to a 7th place overall finish, his fans had an epiphany of sorts… realizing his tendency for soul-crushingly simple mistakes had been right there in his name all along…

(As in Oh, DUH!)

Will he ever get it right, or will his fans simply learn to live with lowered expectations? Check in next year, when (maybe, just maybe) he’ll become a name dropper a la Cher or Usher, simply going by Nobunari.

The Skating Singer… or, The Skater Who Skated to Singing

Once upon a time there was a fun-loving young competitor by the name of Amodio who adored skating to up-tempo, contemporary music in even the most tense of competitions. And people were happy to watch him do so. Then one day the people watched him skate to a collection of music they thought he’d been skating to all season long… except this time they heard the strangest noises alongside it. What is that?? They wondered. It’s distracting! And their curiosity turned to shock as they realized “that??” was vocals, and “that??” was considered illegal in this particular world. Soon both the crowd became confused—still excited and happy for the young man, but with mounting frustration to counter such emotions. AMODIO! Some wished to bellow.
What are you thinking? This is not an exhibition; it’s the biggest competition of the year! The judges will never forget this… and some of them may never forgive it either. For SHAME!

And Amodio’s fans became even more confused when his scores came up, and there was no mandatory deduction for the glaring vocal faux pas. (They would later learn that the judges put it to a vote, and the majority ruled against the deduction.) In any case, young Amodio went from 5th to 7th… well out of the placements to get an invite to skate, with vocals or without, at the Gala the next day.

“It’s too late to apologize…” was said to be heard from all parties involved…

The Once and Future Skating King

There once was a boy named Gachinski… and everywhere he went they simply… asked for one thing—skate as fine as The King—and he said (to himself) then this task, it will be.

(Editor’s note: Sorry, tried to make a limerick there but I had trouble rhyming much of anything relevant with “in-ski”.)

Here’s another way to put it: In Russia, there was an undisputed king of the figure skating world. Even when he was no longer commanding their attention on the ice, his likeness was often suspended multiple times in signs and banners around the arena. Nobody was more aware of this than 17 year-old Gachinski, a rising star who had The King’s coach, trained in The King’s old stomping grounds, and skated at a time when not one Russian man had come remotely close to The King’s success in several years of trying. It was now Gachinski’s turn to try. His earlier efforts in the international season had earned him decent marks—6th and 7th in his inaugural GP events, for instance—but they were far from remarkable. But then a series of strange and wonderful things happened for the lad… for just when he thought his “year” was over, he skated well enough at Europeans to receive an invite to Worlds. And then, just when it looked as if though Worlds would not be able to happen at all, it DID happen—in Gachinski’s hometown. And if that wasn’t enough, he managed to put together his two best performances of the year in front of that home crowd. No wonder they went wild when he earned himself a bronze medal, one of the biggest surprises of Worlds that year. And no wonder Gachinski felt aglow with pride when he realized The King was there, in the home crowd, cheering him on. In that moment at least, it seemed a torch had been passed.

And here’s one more quick one I have to work in…

The Odd Couple

When the one-time champ took a break
To fix a loose screw on his skate
The crowd watched a shot
Of Ottavio and Scott
Nearly steal the main dish off its plate

(Another limerick attempt… sorry, I just had to work something in about Scott Hamilton seen alongside Ottavio Cinquanta in the stands together… it was too weird!)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Worlds 2011 Recap: Fractured Fairytales, Pt.1

Sometimes the so-called “human drama of athletic competition” results in storybook endings for what’s perceived as the most deserving participants. More often than not, though, they miss the mark. What I’m doing with the recent World Championships summaries is take a few stories from each discipline, and put my own little spin on them (including how they’ve turned out… for now). Starting with pairs this time…


The Princess and the Pancakes

Once upon a time there were two good pairs skating teams. One featured a strong and likeable guy known as Trankov, but he was paired with what appeared to the world to be a fragile princess… with whom he couldn’t find chemistry if he was stuck with her overnight in a laboratory. The other team sported a fine lady known as Volosozhar… but her partner Morozov, with whom she found some success both on and off the ice, tragically had the physical build of a stack of pancakes. Eventually Trankov left the princess behind, Morozov opted for retirement, and a new partnership was born…Volosozhar/Trankov, who, thankfully, are now helping explain the difference between good and great pairs skating teams.

The Accidental Bloodletter

There once was a lovely young lady named Duhamel who faced one teeny tiny problem with her pairs partners… she created emergencies at the damndest of times. With a fellow named Buntin, she famously sliced his hand into a bloody mess at a 2009 GP event when her skate blade came too close for comfort during their free skate. Then, upon Buntin’s retirement, she teamed up with a fellow known as Radford. With whom she even more famously broke his nose during the 2011 Worlds (during the triple twist in their SP). Will Radford run in fear once the swelling in his nose goes down? Tune in for next year’s thrilling sequel, The Man Who Got Stabbed in the Leg During a Throw Triple Lutz.

The American Dreamers

Once upon a time there was a U.S. pairs team who worked very hard to get as consistently good with their free skate as they typically were with their short program. One season they finally succeeded with this mission, became filled with promise for the future, and… oh, wait. Never mind.

Coming next time: the men’s wrapup!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Yankowskas/Coughlin: From "Congratulations" to "I'm Sorry" in Less Than A Week

It's getting to where any U.S. pair that shows signs of success on the international front is about one press lift away from dissolution.

First we had McLaughlin/Brubaker, two-time National Champions who couldn't make the World team in its last two efforts, missed the Olympic team as well, and broke up a year ago. (Brubaker now skates with Mary Beth Marley.) Then we had Denney/Barrett, 3-time National medalists who won gold in 2010 and represented in Vancouver's Olympics... who split after their sub-par 2010-11 season a couple months ago. (Denney is reportedly looking for a new partner.)

And now, sadly, we can add Yankowskas/Coughlin to that list. A week ago, we were celebrating the fact that they turned in an impressive 6th place finish in the senior Worlds debut-- the best U.S. finish since Inoue/Baldwin reached 4th at the 2006 Worlds. Turns out it will be their only finish at a senior Worlds, as they announced the end of their partnership. Coughlin, age 25, is "weighing his future options" while Yankowskas (about to turn 21) is looking for a new partner.

The only pressing question I have right now is... why leave when the going is finally getting good? It appears that McBru and D/B fell apart when each team fell on relatively tough times. Au contraire, Yankcough easily had their best season ever, one that only improved as it progressed.

So frustrating, although we of course wish only the best for Yankcough in the future.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Worlds Wrap-up Still to Come

Sorry I haven't posted more today, guys... all that Worlds-watching over the past few days got me way behind on my regular deadlines, so I'm trying to catch up in a big way!

I've definitely got more to say, though, and I'll get it written down as soon as I can. Stay tuned... and if there's something specific you'd like me to address, let me know. Thanks! More soon.