Monday, December 31, 2012

Ten Toepicks for Figure Skating in 2012, Part 1


In no particular order... here are five of my TEN TOEPICKS THAT GRACED/GAUGED FIGURE SKATING IN 2012:

+ After two years of buildup in the time since the Olympic cycle renewed itself, “Chanflation”—a.k.a. the perceived inflation of Patrick Chan’s scores based on the fact that he is Patrick Chantook center stage at 2012 Worlds.  The news wasn’t all that different from other times: Chan makes some obvious errors in performance... his closest competitors appear to be technically compatible, but skate cleaner... Chan wins anyway. But this was at Worlds, the biggest event our sport has in non-Olympic seasons. When Daisuke Takahashi was forced to settle for silver after his spellbinding free skate, skating fans—both in the arena and around the world—cried foul. And with any luck, sounded the alarm to the ISU: the clock is ticking on you folks to get this right. If it happens at the Sochi Olympics, get ready for a great big slice to fall away from the sport’s integrity... and what’s left of its audience.

+ When a skater has become so popular that his rinkside tissue box has its own Twitter account... it seems like a good sign that something significant has taken place. Yuzuru Hanyu is that skater, and the “something significants” keep on coming: a bronze medal at Worlds, two SP world records set within the past 6 weeks, a GPF silver medal (over Chan, no less!), and what must be the most difficult national men’s title to nab in the free world. What a run for a guy who only turned 18 a few weeks ago!

+ The (Gracie) Gold Rush: In the 2010-11 season she didn’t even get out of Midwestern Junior Sectionals. But by the end of the 2011-12 season, she was the World Junior silver medalist and one of only two U.S. senior lady representatives at the World Team Trophy. Is Gracie Gold suddenly part of a renaissance for American figure skating... or will she struggle and fizzle at the senior level, as have so many other junior phenoms? The jury’s still out, considering her GP assignments this season brought her everywhere from 2nd to 7th place. But with a last name like GOLD, how can the press resist pressuring encouraging her??

+ Some kind of wonderful is happening these days with reigning U.S. Ladies Champion Ashley Wagner... the kind that makes her fans excited at game time, rather than nervous/worried/anxious. Ever since relocating to the West coast and training with John Nicks, success seems to beget success for Wagner. And for the first time in a looong while, victories seem to take the pressure off an American contender rather than pile it on. With all due respect to her predecessors, THIS is what we desperately need as the Sochi Olympic approach oh-so-rapidly.

+ In a coaching calamity not seen since the Kim Yuna/Brian Orser fallout of 2010,  Igor Shpilband not just parted ways with longtime coaching partner Marina Zueva but was “fired” by his home arena (Arctic Edge), forcing such high profile names as Davis/White, Virtue/Moir, and the Shib Sibs to choose sides. Ultimately all three teams stayed with Zueva while Shpilband continued with, among others, the U.S. team of Chock/Bates. As with Kim, we’ll probably have to hope for a memoirs release to hear even one side of the story in its entirety.

In the meantime, another half of my TEN TOEPICKS THAT GRACED/GAUGED FIGURE SKATING IN 2012 awaits... tune in later this week!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Breaking Down TLC's "Jersey Ice"


With all the “Mayan Apocalypse” chatter that filled the air this week, skating fans could point to their own end-of-the-world signs: ankle surgery that’ll keep the Canadian team of Weaver/Poje out of ice dancing for the foreseeable future... citizenship issues that’ll keep World Bronze Medalists Takahashi/Tran from continuing as a pairs team... a Tweet from world-renowned Hugh Jackman that give shout-outs and praise to (skating) world-renowned Kim Yu-Na (not to mention a wish to meet her personally!)...

Or maybe it was the TLC airing of potential new reality series Jersey Ice that had you packing your post-12/21 survival kit? The 60-minute pastiche of elements from Jersey Shore, Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, and Dance Moms aired back on December 12—much to the dismay of true skating fans. Not that there were any great expectations; we know what to expect from these shows by now. But to see your beloved sport put through the so-called “entertainment” wringer this way—particularly when it’s difficult to find skating on U.S. TV otherwise—is especially disheartening.

I didn’t take any notes; I was too busy Tweeting my dismay at the time it aired, but here are my so-called “takeaways”:

+      The coaches involved (I think there were four women) were none that I’d ever want involved with a kid I knew. EVER. Start with the fact that none of the featured skaters seemed capable of getting off the ground with their jumps, let alone completing them cleanly. Continue with the fact that the coaches openly snipe at each other during practices, non-skating events, and—so it appeared—even at competitions. Finish with the fact that the show is about them... and they are nothing remarkable, other than loud, opinionated, and embarrassing to the sport in which they claim expertise. Jersey Ice had very little to do with the skaters, and even less to do with skating itself.

+      When the attention did turn to the kids, it focused on all the wrong things. No talk of technique. No talk of proper nutrition. One brief “concern” about a skater that might not have been getting enough sleep, and even that was kept in as a gateway to another sniping match between coaches (I think at least one coach was coaching another coach’s student). What WAS there? There were threats about kids getting it together before the upcoming competition “or there was no way they’d be going to Lake Placid” (where a larger event was looming)... and there was chatter about competition clothing options—surely more important than the “required elements,” yes? And there was another part featuring the children (technically speaking, anyway) at someone’s birthday party, and the coaches/moms went head-over-Toddlers-and-Tiaras with their games of one-upmanship (aka “my kid is better dressed than your kid”). Ah, how ironic that the network’s initials stand for The Learning Channel.

Of course the TV producer in me watched the show and said What do you expect? It’s “reality” TV. They’re looking for simplistic dramatics, one-note emoters, and a smattering of action to keep it from being wall-to-wall talking heads (hence the need for skaters). But that brings me to my biggest issue with making our sport the backdrop for Jersey Ice:

+      Skating—meaning Olympic-eligible, competitive figure skating—is already some of the best “reality TV” there is. It’s the ORIGINAL reality TV, according to one of the sources I interviewed for Skating on Air. So when you boil all that away, scrap it back together with gaudy duct tape, and schedule it alongside the likes of Sister Wives and Cake Boss... while the largest events in Olympic-eligible skating have to fight with all its toe picks just to get a fraction of the TV time they used to get in the U.S...

Well, among other things, it explains why no coach worth his or her PSA membership would have consented to having any part of what eventually became Jersey Ice. And with any luck, TLC will opt to do the same from here on out. As I understood it, the 12/12 airing was nothing more than a trial run—viewer interest would determine its fate from there. And in the Wednesdays that have passed since then, a series about competitive cheerleading has taken its place. Not that I wish the cheer teams of the world any ill will, but... let’s just say I might even attempt a back flip if they turn out to be the “winner” here. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Last Chance Looming for "Skating on Air" Book Giveaway

A quick reminder...

If you want your name in the drawing for the 2nd Annual Skating on Air book giveaway, check out this post ASAP... I plan to draw the winner's name Wednesday night! And if I get just a few more entries I'll give away TWO copies! So go check it out!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

ISU 2012 Grand Prix Wrapup... or, Who'da Thunk It?


Thanks for your patience in my this posted... I planned to have it up two days ago, but the tragedy in Connecticut made it pretty hard to get anything done on Friday (aside from hugging my kids extra tight, that is). 

Anyway, I went back to making some plain old observations during last weekend's GP Final... and when they started emerging as a stream of Who'da thunk it statements, I just went with it. See below:


MEN—Who’da thunk Javier Fernandez would’ve had the best free skate of those 6? Especially when the SP has arguably been his strength?

Or that said best free skater of the event would NOT make it to the podium at all?

Or that Patrick Chan would be 3rd? I’d ask when was the last time he wasn’t 1st or 2nd, but then the words “Japan Open” come to mind...


LADIES—Who’da thunk...that Mao Asada would be winning a major event at the same time as Kim Yu-Na would be winning a (relatively) minor one?

That an American (Ashley Wagner)had a legitimate shot at the title... and came pretty close to getting it too?

That Wagner would get the tar knocked out of her by, of all jumps, a double axel??


PAIRS—Who’da thunk that Duhamel/Radford, a team pulling off side-by-side triple lutzes (and lots of other great elements), still can’t get on the GPF podium??

That Kavaguti/Smirnov would end up all the way at the bottom of the heap?

That Volosozhar/Trankov would win despite having a fall on the side-by-sides AND (more importantly) a dangerous mistake on a throw jump that literally never got off the ground?

That Pang/Tong would still be on the circuit—winning bronze—some seven years after they won their first bronze medal at this event?


DANCE—Who’da thunk that an American team (Davis/White)could be rewarded with this international title four times (and counting)?

Or that Dmitri Soloviev could take a mistake (made in his free dance with Ekaterina Bobrova) so hard? Or Maxim Trankov (see Pairs), for that matter? Note to both: it’s not the Olympics, dudes. Chill out.

On a completely different note: did any of you watch the TLC pilot for Jersey Ice last Wednesday? If not, don't worry... I took the (painful) liberty of watching it for you. Details to follow.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Time For the 2nd Annual “Skating on Air” Book Giveaway!


Before I post about the Grand Prix Final, I need to get this out there...

If you’d like a FREE personally autographed copy of my book "Skating on Air: The Broadcast History of an Olympic Marquee Sport" for yourself, a friend, family member, random skating fan you met on the bus, etc... please email me at KLawrence997-at-gmail-dot-com. 

This is open to anyone no matter where in the world you live! The number of copies I give away will be based on how many entries are received. I’m posting about the giveaway on Twitter and on the book's Facebook page too, but nonetheless... please spread the word!!

The drawing will be next Wednesday, 12/19. GOOD LUCK!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

ISU Grand Prix Final Preview and Predictions (yes, predictions)


There are injuries/surgeries to talk about—namely would-be comebacker Evan Lysacek and, as of today, John Coughlin (of U.S. Pairs Champs Denney/Coughlin)...

And there are some especially interesting names turning up at the otherwise-lesser-known NRW Trophy in Dortmund this weekend—namely Michal Brezina, Savchenko/Szolkowy, and Yu-Na something...?

But the skating spotlight, for all intents and purposes, currently rests on the ISU Grand Prix Final in Sochi. Junior short programs get underway Thursday starting at 8:45AM Eastern time in the U.S., followed by 7+ hours of Junior/Senior action on both Friday and Saturday morning. I, for one, will not be following the Juniors as closely as I will the Seniors, but that shouldn’t stop you from paying attention to the ISU’s You Tube Channel as it downloads them in near-real time as they did throughout the JGP season. And Team USA’s chances for singles medals look pretty good—Jason Brown, Joshua Ferris, Angela Wang, Hannah Miller, and Leah Keiser make up nearly 50% of the entire singles roster.

As for Senior action (for which you’ll have to do a little more digging to find live video streams), I’ve opted out of the “wondering” I’ve done with earlier GP events (how can I “wonder” when over a half-dozen events have gone by already?!). Instead, I’m back to predictions. No explanations—yet—just predictions of the finishes for all four disciplines. Let’s see how much explaining I have to do after this weekend is over...

Men: 1) Patrick Chan 2) Yuzuru Hanyu 3)Daisuke Takahashi 4) Javier Fernandez 5) Takahiko Kozuka 6) Tatsuda Machida

Ladies: 1) Mao Asada 2) Ashley Wagner 3) Akiko Suzuki 4) Elizaveta Tuktamysheva 5) Kiira Korpi 6) Christine Gao

Pairs: 1) Volosozhar/Trankov 2) Kavaguti/Smirnov 3) Pang/Tong 4) Duhamel/Radford 5) Bazarova/Larinov 6) Moore-Towers/Moscovitch

Dance: 1) Davis/White 2)Virtue/Moir 3) Pechalat/Bourzat 4) Bobrova/Soloviev 5) Cappellini/Lanotte 6) Ilinykh/Katsalapov

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NHK 2012 and One More Round of This Year's vs. Last Year's Model


And suddenly, the road to Sochi looks a whole lot shorter.

No, not THAT Road to Sochi... I mean the little thoroughfare taking the top two dozen Grand Prix competitors (not to mention an equal portion of JGP entrants) to the Finals, A.K.A. the Sochi test event. But before we get there—in about 10 days—let’s do one more round of then-and-now free skate comparisons, inspired by the NHK performances from a few days ago:

Javier Fernandez (finished 4th): Verdi Medley (last year) vs. Charlie Chaplin Medley (this year)... We’ve seen Fernandez go from Pirates of the Caribbean (highlighted by a “drunken” in-character footwork sequence), to the slightly more straightforward Verdi, to the highly character-driven Chaplin. I like the ambitious nature of the new program, and the choreo’s terrific as always, but can Fernandez keep it going for 4 minutes without losing his jumps? Yes (at Skate Canada), but it was a NO here at NHK. True, he’s proven to run out of steam in a variety of free skate programs... but if “being Chaplin” exacerbates the problem, maybe he’s just not ready for it yet. Let’s see how he does at the GP Final...

Richard Dornbush (finished 5th): Western Medley by Morricone/Rossini (last year) vs. Wild Ones/Harlem Nocturne/Rooftops (this year). I want to say I like This Year’s Model better—Dornbush looks like he’s in better shape, and I’m hopeful that means he’ll take two steps forward this year rather than backward (as he seemed to last season). But... my problem is that Wild Ones feels like last year’s FS with a hipster vest where the cowboy shirt used to be. He’s got some campiness in his style to be sure, and maybe he simply doesn’t have many shades of camp to work with just yet. Perhaps a different choreographer would help?

Akiko Suzuki (was robbed won silver): Die Fledermaus (last year) vs. O (Cirque du Soleil) (this year). A dilemma of a different kind here... Fledermaus was superb, and propelled Suzuki to her first-ever world medal. And yet I adore her new FS sooooo much—the costume, the mannerisms/choreo, and of course her skating itself on a new level of exquisite—that I’m already a little bummed that it’s being used this season instead of next. I find myself wondering How will she top herself in an all-important Olympic year? But then again I’ve been known to worry too much...

Bazarova/Larionov (won gold in pairs): Dr. Zhiavago (last year) vs. Spartacus (this year)... ah, finally an easy one! The thing I can’t get over about this team are Bazarova’s itty bitty singles elements—when she DOES land her SBS’s, you can hear Dick Button in your head saying “There’s no JUMP in that jump!” And to me, if you’re going to trot out music as powerful as Spartacus, you’ll need to back it up with some fierce skating. “Fierce” isn’t what comes to mind when I think of Baz/Lar.

Davis/White (won gold in dance): Die Fledermaus (last year) vs. Notre Dame de Paris (this year)... Some time back, I compared Davis/White and their Great White North rivals by saying that D/W tend to skate with boldness and power while Virtue/Moir are more about subtle nuances—like comparing the color royal blue (the former) with periwinkle (the latter). This year in particular, I think the tables have turned. I’m not finding much that is subtle about V/M’s take on Carmen, whereas D/W’s Notre Dame is the kind of slow-building program that leaves you finding something new to love about it every time you see it repeated. I know many consider Fledermaus to be their masterpiece, and with good reason. But Notre Dame should find its own place on the Davis/White Wall of Fame in no time.

Monday, November 26, 2012

"Skating on Air" exclusive book offer for CyberMonday!

Since it IS, after all, CyberMonday... let's try something.

The first five readers to shoot me an email at KLawrence997-at-gmail-dot-com can get an autographed copy of Skating on Air for $30-- 25% off the Amazon list price-- and I'll cover the shipping charges!!

This promotion is open to North American readers only... but not to worry, I'll see what I can do at an international level as the holiday season progresses! 

My email address is listed in my profile page as well--  please send me a note rather than post your request in the comments. 

I look forward to shipping some books out!


Friday, November 23, 2012

NHK Trophy 2012: Call it an In-Progress Preview


NOTE: Since this edition of “Wonderings” is clearly posting well after Day 1 of NHK events are in the books, you’ll see that I’ve alluded to some of those Day 1 results... and in some cases, provided answers to my own (silly) questions.

Can Hanyu top the SP score he set records with at Skate America? (Yup.)

Will Rippon’s switch to the more traditional, less classic-rock driven version of Nessum Dorma allow him to reunite with his SP triple axel? (Um, nope.)

How will Takahashi’s work hold up side by side against heel-nipper Hanyu? (Round 1 went to Hanyu.)

Will Miner get his quad salchow this time? (Yes, I asked this same thing earlier in the GP season... the answer then was “no”... so it bears re-asking.)

Can either Nagasu or Makarova back up their SP scores with a dominant FS this time? Or will they both be outdone by China’s 15 year-old phenom Li Zijun (in 3rd after the SP)?

And speaking of Makarova—how soon before I’m able to see her brunette image on the screen without thinking I’ve called up the wrong video?

Can Castelli/Shnapir find the medal podium in a relatively lightweight pairs event?

Since we already know Davis/White are sure to win the event... will they be able to set a new SB in the free dance?

Will we be able to watch the Shib Sibs’ Memoirs of a Geisha FD without holding our breath every time Alex (and his previously troubled back) goes to lift Maia into the air?

And now that we know what is to come when Ilinykh/Katsalapov start their Ghost FD, what will our new reaction be at the “spoken word” portion of the program? (Assuming your initial reaction was something like mine: um, WHAT???)

I'll be back after the event, when the GP finalists are in place!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

This Year's Model vs. Last: Skaters at TEB 2012


This year’s Trophee Eric Bompard brought a healthy dose of surprise (Takahito Mura winning gold), disappointment (Jorik Hendrickx having to WD with an ankle fracture after a 4th place finish in the SP), and head-scratching (Tomas Verner’s continued inability to string two powerful clean jumps together, let alone six or seven). But when it came time to compare last year’s free programs with this year’s, I went straight to pairs and dance. (Mostly because I didn’t cover those at all last week.) Here are a few notables:

Kavaguti/Smirnov (won gold in pairs): Clair de Lune (last year) vs. February by Levashkevich (this year)... I’m very fond of Clair, but as with most programs, I’m not very fond of using the same music for two years straight. What’s more, it’s a very delicate work that, for me, fed into the idea that Kavaguti is a fragile athlete—not a very useful characterization for anyone! But in the two times I’ve seen the February program I can already see choreography (not to mention skating skills) that demonstrate a stronger, while still beautiful, pair of skaters.

Berton/Hotarek (won bronze): Adagio in G Minor by Giazotto/Albioni (last year) vs. Flamenco by Amigo (this year). This one is tough! Last year’s Adagio was lovely and worked very nicely for them, but using any Adagio for the entire duration of a free skate is challenging. On the other hand—I’m enjoying Flamenco (which seems to be a variety of cuts by modern-day guitar virtuoso Amigo), but I’d probably enjoy it more if it didn’t bear such a resemblance to other classical guitar choices for skating... or in the case of Peng/Zhang, the same choice. Nonetheless, I’ll choose Flamenco by a nose. Or is that by a ROSE (in the hair)?

James/Cipres (finished 6th): “Nostalgia” by Yanni vs. Pearl Harbor OST... Different story here in that it’s an easy choice. For one thing, I am not a Yanni fan. At all. For another, James/Cipres are really coming together as a pairs team this year, if the early returns are any indication. Yeah, they got 6th at TEB, but it was a lop-sided 6th (meaning a weak SP but a pretty solid FS)... so... if Hans Zimmer’s Pearl Harbor soundtrack is helping them get it done, how can I choose anything but this year’s model?

Riazanova/Tkachenko (won bronze in ice dance):  Blizzard OST vs. The Godfather... consider me four for four this week on choosing current programs over old ones! I took a look at R/T’s Blizzard FD a couple days ago to refresh my memory, and about 30 seconds in was all I needed. One simple melodic theme... repeated about 375 times. Yeah, it built as the program progressed, as most music does, but it was kind of like drawing a pattern with a pen, then the same pattern with a sharpie, then the same pattern AGAIN with a paintbrush, and a bigger paintbrush...

So, Godfather? Which has one very identifiable passage that R/T only use twice in their entire program, as I recall? Yep, works for me.

P.S. NHK Trophy gets underway in a matter of minutes, as I finally get this posted! The SP/SDs will run throughout the wee hours, so for me, that means... I’ll try and get a briefing posted before watching the highlights. Heaven knows I’ll be lucky to stay awake long enough to catch even one program on the live side!

Friday, November 16, 2012

2012 Trophee Eric Bompard Preview


As you may have heard, there have been cancellations a-plenty at this event: Johnny Weir is out with (I presume) the same injury that kept him from completing Rostelecom Cup last week... Savchenko/Szolkowy have scratched due to illness on Savchenko’s part (and unfortunately have also taken themselves out of the ISU Grand Prix Finals because of it)... and now word is that Gumbyskaia may withdraw due to an ankle injury. So, wonder #1: what will all these WD’s mean for the podium?

For the MEN:
Has Song Nan fully recovered from his Cup of China concussion?

Has Brian Joubert fully recovered from whatever illness prompted HIS CoC withdrawal?

Has Jeremy Abbott figured out whatever it was that kept him from firing on all cylinders at Skate America?

Is it “wide open” enough for someone like Takahito Mura or Florent Amodio to medal? Or any of the other less-than-usual suspects, for that matter?

LADIES:
If Julia Lipnitskaia does in fact scratch this event, is there anyone else in the field that can get in Ashley Wagner’s way as she tries for a back-to-back GP win?

Such as Liza Tuktamysheva (injury issues notwithstanding)?  Or maybe even Christina Gao?

Will Mae Berenice Meite skate with the kind of power that reminds us of another French skater from years gone by (Surya Bonaly)?

Can Jenna McCorkell make a splash by channelling her very recent successes on the “B” circuit (gold medals at both the Ondrej Nepala Trophy and Ice Challenge)?

PAIRS:

Could Duhamel/Radford put up a worth challenge for gold against Kavaguti/Smirnov?

Will James/Cipres be able to keep up the good work on home ice?

Can Berton/Hotarek do as well with their throw jumps as they do their SBS jumps?

Is everyone a lot less interested now that Savchenko/Szolkowy are missing this event?

DANCE:

Will Cappellini/Lanotte’s Carmen FD shine brighter away from Virtue/Moir’s shadow?

Can Gilles/Poirier surprise with a bronze medal? (I really liked them when they competed in Salt Lake City earlier this season.)

Will there be a lot of “tongue” in the crowd during Pechalat/Bourzat’s FD? (Rolling Stones tongues, that is)

Can any of the Russian teams erase the memory of Ilinykh/Katsalapov’s haunting-for-all-the-wrong-reasons Ghost FD?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Last Year's vs. This Year's Model: Rostelecom Cup 2012


Yes, I've once again focused on the men in my old/new model wrapup for Rostelecom Cup 2012... Will definitely need to give some equal time to pairs and dance in the last two GP events!

MEN FS: 
Patrick Chan (won gold): Concierto de Aranjuez (last year) vs. La Boheme (this year)... I’m voting for Boheme. Not to Chan-flate his status in the skating world any higher, but let’s face it—when he’s on (as he was at Rostelecom Cup), his work is quite a sight to see. Therefore, I’m fond of seeing such “sights” framed in music to match. Remember how Michelle Kwan used to choose music no one else was using/had used before (at least in the first half of her career)? I think that’s what Chan should be doing. Aranjuez, as much as I like it, has hit warhorse territory of late—which makes it a little pedestrian for Chan. Boheme is glorious stuff for glorious skating!

Takahito Kozuka (won silver): Fantasia for Nausicaa by Hisaishi (last year) vs. Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saens (this year) ... again, I’m choosing this year’s model. Kozuka hardly ever makes obvious music choices these days, which I deeply appreciate... but last year’s FS never really clicked with me on any level. Couple that with the fact that he’s now using Saint-Saens—the composer behind The Swan, among many others—and the choice is easy.

Nobunari Oda (finished 5th): Umbrellas of Cherbourg (last year) vs. Sorcerer’s Apprentice (this year)... I’m going three for three on preferring the new programs for these guys. To his credit, Oda can’t really get a fair shake for last year (he was injured and out for the season by late fall), so it’s hard to say if Umbrellas was a good fit or not. But ever since Bebe Liang used Sorcerer for her short program a few years ago, I wondered why it wasn’t used more often. For Oda to work with it is particularly amusing to me; as well-known as he’s become for NOT thinking on his feet, I feel some sort of odd connection between he and the title character (as portrayed by Mickey Mouse in Fantasia).

LADIES FS: 
Kiira Korpi (won gold): “I Got Rhythm” (last year) vs. Once Upon a Time in America (this year). Here’s a case where I DO choose the piece used more often these days. Why? It might be as simple as the fact that Korpi’s off to a better start this season than she’s ever had... but I just flat-out like the combination of music she’s chosen for both programs. Girl with the Flaxen Hair and OUAT in America really complement each other beautifully, don’t you think?

Adelina Sotnikova (finished 5th): Liebestraum (last year) vs. “Tough Lover” (from Burlesque) (this year). Liebestraum. No contest. It’s like asking whether you want to drink Ghirardelli cocoa, or would you rather lick the floor... which happens to somehow be caterwauling. I mean, have you heard this Aguilera-fortified selection of “music” she’s currently using?

Caroline Zhang (finished 10th): Cello Concerto in B Minor/Dvorak vs. Nessum Dorma (this year). Again I’m going with last year’s model for Zhang, and in this case it’s all about speed. Yes, Nessum Dorma is a warhorse... but it’s a powerful warhorse. Pair that with a relatively slow-moving skater—which Zhang, unfortunately, still is—and her lack of speed is magnified. With last year’s Dvorak piece, the music was less widely known so the expectations weren’t as great. This year, not only does the music bring a certain sort of expectations... we know in advance that she’s unlikely to reach them (even when she does hit the jumps). 

T.E.B "wonderings" coming shortly!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rostelecom Cup 2012 Preview


Rostelecom Cup 2012 is here, so I’ve been doing some more wondering... hmm...

Will anyone new be able to upset Patrick Chan? (Um, Takahito Kozuka? I’m looking at you)

Can Artur Gachinski relocate some of the form that put him on the World podium in 2011?

Will Richard Dornbush make the most of his GP shot? (a somewhat controversial one, considering he finished well out of the Top 10 at last season’s Nationals)

Just how long will the ovations last when adopted native son/comeback kid Johnny Weir begins and ends his programs?

Will a veteran like Kiira Korpi be able to outskate a young’un like Adelina Sotnikova?

Which Alena Leonova will show up on home ice—the one who claimed silver at Worlds, or the one who sank to 7th at Skate America last month?

Will Gracie Gold, Caroline Zhang, or Agnes Zawadzki be able to light up the rink in November the way they’ve been prone to save until January?

Will Volosozhar/Trankov push themselves to be “great” when they can probably win this event by only being “pretty good?”

Is there any chance that Denney/Coughlin might win silver over Bazarova/Larionov?

Will the Russian team of Martieusheva/Rogonov make a bigger mark here than they did three years ago (when they finished 7th in their only other GP appearance to date)?

Will Virtue/Moir be able to sell me any further on their retelling of Carmen?

Can the Shib Sibs make the transition from ballroom to... well, whatever “room” Memoirs of a Geisha finds itself in?

Will Ilinykh/Katsalapov turn more heads than usual with a free dance to music from The Ghost.

Can Coomes/Buckland upset for a medal?

And here’s some info to get you going...

Friday Competition Schedule (All times Eastern)

Ladies – 6 a.m.
Gracie Gold – 6:07 a.m.
Caroline Zhang – 6:14 a.m.
Agnes Zawadzki – 6:27 a.m.

Pairs – 7:40 a.m.
Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin – 8:00 a.m.
Caydee Denney and John Coughlin – 8:14 a.m.

Men’s – 10 a.m.
Johnny Weir – 10:07 a.m.
Richard Dornbush – 10:20 a.m.

Ice Dancing – 11:40 a.m.
Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani – 12:33 p.m.

And... NBC will broadcast Rostelecom Cup coverage of the ladies and men's free skates from 4-6 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 11.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

This Year's vs.Last Year's Model: Programs at Cup of China 2012


Three weeks into the GP and I'm still finding plenty of Free Skate/Free Dance debuts to compare & contrast to those used last season. I'll likely have to move to SPs/SDs soon, but till then, here's a then'n'now comparison for Cup of China's Men and Ice Dance: 

Tatsuki Machida (won gold; now qualified for GP Final): Quick, what did Machida use for his FS last season?  It was Don Quixote, and I had zero memory of it—probably because he was only in two major international events, and came in 7th both times (Cup of China 2011 and 4CC 2012). Therein lies the difference a year can make, and why I’ve no choice but to prefer this year’s Firebird.

Daisuke Takahashi (won silver): Wow...such a difference between Pagliacci (this year) vs. Blues For Klook (last year). Do I choose the apple or the orange? In this case, I’m picking last year’s model FOR NOW... because Dice-K owned that sucker. I know he wasn’t the first to use it—distinctive, outside-the-box choice that it is—but his interpretation is will stick with me for seasons to come. However, as great a skater as he is, I’ll allow for the possibility that Pagliacci will earn a spot among Dice-K’s greatest hits by the time the season is over.

Adam Rippon (finished 4th): Speaking of apples and oranges! Here we have the Don Draper-inspired Incredibles (this year) vs. Bach’s “Air & Toccata & Fugue” (last year). So, what’d you think? I think I missed his hair... sigh... oh crap, I forgot what we were talking about. (This year’s model vs. last year’s... focus, Kelli, focus)

I will go ahead and pick The Incredible Don Draper, even though I don’t watch Mad Men and have no clue if he’s getting the characterization right. All I know is the new FS is not floaty, or dreamy, or portraying Rippon as angelic in any way, shape or form... so... SOLD! Even though, ironically, the program seems to drag/meander a bit between 2:36 and 3:27 (mostly a footwork sequence).

Incidentally, my husband IS a Mad Men fan, and when I asked if he’d be able to discern any Don Draper-esque moves in a skating program, he winced a little and said “I don’t know... is there anything in there to indicate womanizing?” (I’m getting back to him on that one.)

Pechalat/Bourzat (won gold): Hmmm—last year’s Skate Like an Egyptian (a.k.a. Mummy & Pharoah) vs. this year’s Stones Medley. No contest—Stones by a landslide, and I’m not even a Stones fan. But I seem to be even less of a fan of heavy-handed theme programs, particularly in ice dance, and the Pech/Bour FD catalog of the past 5 seasons is a case in point: circus theme in 2008-09, TIME theme in 2009-10... Chaplin in 2010-11, MUMMY in 2011-12. Stones for this season... which means something heavier is probably in store for Sochi. SIGH. Well, I’ll enjoy them twizzling their rock-n-roll hearts out while I can...

Bobrova/Soloviev (won silver): Faust (last season) vs. Once Upon a Time in the West/Tosca (this season). The piece they use from Once Upon a Time is called “Man with a Harmonica,” by Morricone, and it’s wistful and dramatic and haunting in a manner similar to the song “Calling You” (from Baghdad CafĂ©). So despite the dash of Tosca they add to the mix near the dance’s end that nearly ruins the whole thing, I’m choosing this season over the overwrought Faust.

Weaver/Poje (won bronze): Je Suis Malade (last season) vs. Humanity in Motion (this season). Let me begin by saying I’m very fond of W/P—great chemistry there, and I’ve enjoyed their relatively rapid rise through the ranks in the past few years. BUT (hiding behind my chair now for when you start to throw tomatoes my way)—I’m not loving this new FD so far. As I sit here thinking about it, maybe the problem I have with the so-called “heavy-handed themes” is that one or both of the skaters is often cast as something that starts out as distant, unapproachable, and less than human. Pharaohs and mummies? Check. The Hands of Time (Pech/Bour 2010)? Check. And now we have Weaver as something statuesque—Lady Liberty? Is that confirmed or just a guess?—and it just doesn’t seem to move me. I’m not sure what the solution is, since doing a relationship piece such as a gut-wrenching French ballad (in a slipdress slipping off your shoulder) wears out its welcome too. I’ve read that W/P are, understandably, disappointed with their pair of GP bronze medals and are rarin’ to improve on the program for future events. We'll see what happens...maybe some improved tech scores will make the difference. 

Anyone else out there feel like I do about this program? I'd love to know I wasn't alone on this. OR, if you're crazy about Humanity in Motion, please speak up... I'm all ears!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cup of China 2012 Preview


Time for some more wonderings about a GP event-- this time Cup of China 2012, which takes place this Friday/Saturday. But first, for those still "wondering" what time their fave event happens...

  • Friday, November 2
    4:00 a.m. ET
    Short dance
    5:30 a.m. ETLadies' short program
    7:30 a.m. ETMen's short program
    9:15 a.m. ETPairs' short program
  • Saturday, November 3
    3:00 a.m. ET
    Free dance
    4:40 a.m. ETLadies' free skate
    6:35 a.m. ETMen's free skate
    8:35 a.m. ETPairs' free skate 
As for where to watch these fave events live if you don't have Universal Sports... I'm not nearly as helpful on this one. If you have a link, please feel free to post it in the comments. As for me, I'll be trolling Twitter and You Tube in an effort to put the pieces together...

Wonderings about the men:

Will Nan Song do as well at this event this year as he did last year (when he blew the lid off the place with his astounding athleticism and won his first senior GP medal)?

Will Brian Joubert succeed in his bid to win all senior GP events at least once? (CoC is the only one left on the list.)

Will Adam Rippon’s new programs be the all-that-and-a-bag-of-Trader-Joe’s-Pita-Chips that I’ve been hoping for since he announced them? And is he truly BFFs with his triple axel, as was his reported mission at the start of the summer?

Oh, and will Daisuke Takahashi be stupendously awesome this weekend or just kinda awesome?

Wonderings about the ladies: 

Will Mao Asada run away with this one? Or will Gumbyskaia (aka Julia Lipnitskaia) prove as formidable an opponent in her senior GP debut as she’s been elsewhere?

Will Kiira Korpi’s stunning SP (as evidenced at Finlandia Trophy recently) help secure her a spot on the podium?

Will Mirai Nagasu make a dent anywhere higher than 5th place?

Wonderings about the pairs (of which there will only be six this time):

Will Kavaguti/Smirnov skate like true champions, or more like champions-until-one-or-two-other-Russian-teams-take-the-ice?

Will Pang/Tong find enough duct tape and safety pins to hold their “old” selves together on home ice? (See THIS ARTICLE for reference.)

Will Moore-Towers/Moscovitch have an early season peak here, as they’ve had (early) in the past two seasons?

And as for ice dance:

Will Pechalat/Bourzat prove to have the Moves Like Jagger in their free dance? (sorry, someone has to say it)

Will Weaver/Poje have a head-on competitive collision with Bobrova/Soloviev (the same team they competed against at SKAM) ...and maybe win the battle this time?

Will Chock/Bates find their way to their first GP medal?

Stay tuned for answers to these questions and more, more, more!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

This vs. Last Year's Model: Pairs Free and Free Dance, Skate Canada 2012


Time to compare and contrast programs old and new! This time I'm using the Pairs Free and the Free Dance from last weekend's Skate Canada as my launching point:

Savchenko/Szolkowy (won gold): Last year’s Pina vs. this year’s (Flamenco) Bolero... sorry, but my heart still belongs to Pina, which is probably my favorite FS of theirs to date. So far I see nothing distinctive about their Bolero... other than the costumes. And in this case, “distinctive” means I spent all my time trying to determine which work of modern art chose to vomit on Szolkowy from all directions. No bueno!!

Duhamel/Radford (won silver): Last year’s Concierto de Aranjuez vs. this year’s Angel... I’m picking this year’s model. Canada’s top pairs team keeps getting stronger, and this year in particular, Angel feels like something they can really make their own.

Lawrence/Swiegers (finished 4th): Last year’s Man in the Iron Mask (in part; two other pieces of music were involved) vs. this year’s War Horse... can I pick none of the above? I only say that because I really enjoyed their Van Helsing free skate from a couple years back. OK, sorry to digress—I’ll go with War Horse for the simple reason that they are skating to a soundtrack from a movie called WAR HORSE. Write your own punch line!! (Maybe Lawrence/Swiegers already have—they seem to have a good sense of humor from what I’ve seen...)

DANCE:
Virtue/Moir (won gold): Last year’s Funny Face vs. this year’s Carmen... I’ll go with Carmen. Not because I’m completely sold on what I saw over the weekend, because that’s not the case... at least not yet. (I see earthy, primal moves here and there, but they feel contrived to me. Complex and difficult, to be certain, but contrived.) I’m preferring this year because Carmen feels inevitable for these two—a must-do in the season just before Sochi, because if not, when? (assuming they have no interest in putting “their” Carmen into the same Olympic basket as Witt, Lysacek, and Navka/Kostomarov, among others...)

As for Funny Face, it was whimsical and sweet, but I never really got where it fit into the V/M story.

Cappellini/Lanotte (won silver): Last year’s La Strada or this year’s Carmen... in this case, I have to side with last year’s model. La Strada was an engaging, charming fit for Cap/Lan, while Carmen feels like... well... another Carmen, especially when going against the likes of V/M.

Hubbell/Donohue (finished 5th): Last year’s I Put a Spell on You or this year’s Flamenco? I’m favoring the Spell. To me, it was an out-there declaration that this was NO brother/sister team (as Hubbell was paired with her brother Keifer for a decade prior to this). The Flamenco just seems too ambitious for them at this point—it’s an intense, passionate work that only V/M have really tackled of late (and even they only did it as their OD!). Just seems like too much of a leap to make in what is only their second season.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

2012 Skate Canada Preview


As Skate Canada gears up for events starting on Friday, my skating-obsessed head wonders things such as the following with regards to its most prominent competitors:

FOR THE MEN:
Will Patrick Chan get his groove back—and by “groove,” I mean to fall only 2 or 3 times in the free skate (as opposed to 4 times at the Japan Open) and still win on his PCS scores?

Will Nobunari Oda bring some of that early-season fire he’s become known for?

Will the steadily improving Ten (as in Denis, not Jeremy) make a mark?

Will Javier Fernandez have enough stamina to make his FS as captivating as his SP?

Will Ross Miner land his quad salchow?

FOR THE LADIES:

Will Kaetlyn Osmond make a big a splash here, in her senior GP debut, as she did at Nebelhorn Trophy a few weeks ago?

Now that she’s a few years older, will Kanako Murakami continue to be able to distinguish herself from the ever-growing field of uber-talented Japanese athletes?

Is reigning World Bronze Medalist Akiko Suzuki the favorite at SKCAN? Or is it Russian phenom Liza Tuktamysheva (who won this event last year)? And how will both ladies respond to the pressure?

Is Gracie Gold (like Osmond, also in her senior GP debut) as much a contender as any of them?

FOR THE PAIRS (of which only 7 teams will compete; Kemp/King have withdrawn due to injury):

Can anyone come close to Savchenko/Szolkowy?

Will anyone get a better ovation than Canadian faves Duhamel/Radford (another team enjoying slow, steady, solid improvement)?

Will the bronze medal be a toss-up between Berton/Hotarek, Lawrence/Swiegers, or Americans Vise/Baldwin?

FOR ICE DANCE:

How will I feel about hearing Carmen for the bajillionth time once Virtue/Moir take the ice?

Are Cappellini/Lanotte as logical a guess for silver here as I think they are?

Will Gilles/Poirier light it up at SKCAN as much as I think they’re capable of?

So... what are YOU wondering about? If it’s “Where can we watch it if we don’t get Universal Sports, don’t want to wait a week for Ice Network coverage, and am currently trapped under a fallen piece of furniture and can’t access You Tube for a while?”, well... see if you can reach your TV remote, because NBC is scheduled to have coverage from 2-4PM Eastern this Sunday.

For any other “wonderings,” be sure to leave a comment! 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Last Year's Model: Comparing the old and the new at 2012 Skate America


Here's what I'd like to do... for each senior Grand Prix event that transpires this season, I'll choose a few competitors for whom I'll compare/contrast last year's program to this one (the Free Skate in this case). Do we like the new stuff we see? Do we miss the stuff we don't? Can we miss it if it hasn't gone away (aka keeping last year's music)? Let's find out...

Jeremy Abbott (finished 5th)—so far, I’ve got to admit that his new FS (to “Bring Him Home”) is not my favorite of his. And that’s not because he had difficulties with it at SKAM. When Abbott said in the spring that he’d be keeping one of last year’s programs into 2012-13, I hoped it would be the Muse piece (“Exogenesis Symphony Pt. 3”). Seems he had a change of heart somewhere in there. To me, the new FS feels like a Muse sequel of sorts—similar in theme, and lovely enough, but not quite able to compete with “the original.” At this point, I kind of wish he’d gone in a whole different direction... (especially when it comes to choreographing back-to-back triple axels-- no, that's insane, cut it out!!)

Michal Brezina (finished 6th)—aha, a trick question because it’s the same “Untouchables” program as last year. Though I haven’t checked the numbers, I read that this year’s performance at SKAM actually scored higher than last year’s—which won the event! In any case, I wish he wasn’t in the habit of keeping programs for 2 seasons each. What sounded exciting for him last year is already sounding tired to me.

Yuzuru Hanyu (won silver)—last year’s modern-day Romeo & Juliet vs. this year’s more traditional Notre Dame de Paris? I choose Notre Dame...so far... but then again, I wasn’t a huge fan of his other program.

Ashley Wagner (won gold)—I’m going to vote for the new FS (Sampson & Delilah) even though I LOOVED her Black Swan. Why? It’s about timing: Black Swan was her breakout season. Sampson feels more like music for someone who has already “broken out” and is now ascending at a healthy pace. I’m not sure yet about the orange dress (then again, I’m not a big fan of orange), but I like the progression just fine.
Christina Gao (won silver)-- aha, another FS repeat from last year (Liebertango)... perhaps because she’s a Harvard student now and was doing well just to train and get ONE new program together? Whatever the reason, I wasn’t even sure it was the same thing until I looked it up—that’s how night-and-day different this was from her last GP performance of it... at 2011 Rostelecom Cup, where she finished 10th.

Alena Leonova (finished 7th)—Uh, what was the new FS? Oh, a flamenco number called “Poeta” (Vicente Amigo)... why don’t I remember it? Because she skated in the first group Sunday and I haven’t even taken a look at it yet. That being said, I still choose this year’s music. Why? Because it contains nary a note of anything from Requiem for a Dream (Nightmare), that’s why. And that’s all I need to know.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Five Highlights From Four of the Last Five Skating Events (WHEW!)

Here I sit, about 6 hours away from the first real vacation I’ve been on in 6 years (!!)... and still so much to say about what went on in figure skating last weekend (which is to say nothing of what’s happening this weekend and next weekend!!!). I’m not at all sure if I’ll be able to post in the coming week or so, but at least I can still get caught up a little...

So—There were five major international events last weekend, and I’m here to report on the five that stood out for me in each one. (Well, almost. Sorry Ondrej Nepala Memorial, you were the odd one out this time.)


Finlandia Trophy

Richard Dornbush (won silver): for looking fit, skating hard, and putting folks like me on the path to believing in you again (not easy after last season)...

Hubbell/Donohue (won bronze): for throwing down a decent flamenco routine. This one, Chock/Bates’ Dr. Zhiavago FD, and K/G-S’s Adele medley are the most likely candidates when determining the bronze medal at 2013 Nationals. Who would you go with at this point?

Kiira Korpi (won silver): for winning the SP—and the love of her home crowd—easily with her Girl with the Flaxen Hair program. She may not have taken home gold here, but she didn’t completely self-combust under the pressure either. Is Korpi poised to make a big move on the World stage this season?

Julia Lipnitskaya (won gold): for still earning her nickname of Gumbyskaya as she made her senior international debut, hyperflexing her way to a win right out of the box.

Johnny Weir (finished 4th): for coming through with a respectable, if not jaw-droppingly awesome, return to competition. Not an easy task for anyone!


JGP Croatia

Nathan Chen: For proving to be “only human” after all when an injury forced his WD from this event following the SP. Unfortunately, the injury also cost him a likely spot in the JGP Final...

Harrison Choate (won bronze): For earning his first-ever JGP medal!

Hannah Miller (won silver): For staying consistent in this early part of the season... consistently good enough to punch her ticket for the Final, that is!

Angela Wang (won gold): For really making me eager to see all the U.S. ladies at Nationals in a few months... she’s looking like a formidable challenger! Who will be ready to bring it when it counts the most?? (She's also headed to the Final, by the way)

Zaitsev/Stevens (finished 11th): Why mention the U.S. pair that had the weakest showing at this event? Because they happen to hail from my adopted hometown of Indianapolis, and any “local” skating news is good news in my book. Shout-out!!!!


Medal-Winners Open:

This was the event Kurt Browning referred to a few weeks ago; one where pro skaters competed and were judged, I believe, on the IJS guidelines... most of whom were long-retired from eligible skating by the time it came into play. (The results—and protocols-- can be found here if you’re interested:)

Kurt Browning (won silver): For breaking out the Singin’In The Rain routine he first presented on Canadian TV in 1994, and still making it sing proud...even though, at age 46, he was easily the “most experienced” competitor out there.

Jeffrey Buttle (won gold): For skating with more confidence and awesomeness (if that’s a word) than ever. Hard to believe he’s four years retired already. Especially since he competed in TWO events in Japan last weekend! (He won bronze at the Japan Open too...more to come on that.)


Kimmie Meissner (finished 6th): For taking on Romeo & Juliet when it might’ve been tempting to ease back into competing with less demanding music. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a piece she’d once hoped to compete with before her eligible career was stopped so dreadfully short...


Irina Slutskaya (won bronze): For holding her own against more recent Olympic Bronze Medalists (Joannie Rochette, who took silver here).

Alexei Yagudin (finished 5th): For actually holding down the back end of a three-way tie for bronze with a thrilling program where he played the role of a fugitive... and immediately made you miss the days when you could watch his footwork every other weekend. (Yagudin, Takeshi Honda, and Ilia Kulik all finished within one point of each other.)


Japan Open

Patrick Chan (finished 6th): For falling four times and finishing dead last... a far cry (and much more just) than falling three times and winning.


Evgeny Plushenko (finished 4th): For coming back in Japan much as Weir did over in Finland: credibly, but not remarkably. Not yet, at least. (I guess I’m one that likes to see these comeback kings prove to be mere mortals after all... too bad Evan Lysacek’s “proof” befell him before he even made it to Skate America. But thank goodness it gives well-deserving Armin Mahbanoozadeh a spot! OK, tangent over...)


Akiko Suzuki (won bronze): For previewing what looks to be a completely enchanting FS that immerses her in the role of a bird (complete with a STUNNING costume). I say “previewing” because her jumps looked half-baked and unsteady this time around, like she was still getting familiar with their places in the program. But by December... (between Suzuki and Mao Asada’s Black Swan FS, the birds are well-represented in Japan this year!)


Daisuke Takahashi (won gold): For returning to classical this year for his FS and abandoning his quad flip attempts to instead deliver not one, but TWO quad toes... and winning, in this case!


Ashley Wagner (won gold): For skating like a National Champion right from the get-go. Even if she hadn’t won with her new Sampson & Delilah FS, I’d feel good about where she’s headed this year.



FOR ANYONE TRYING TO FIND THESE LAST TWO EVENTS ON YOU TUBE: look under MWO 2012 for the Medal Winner’s Open, and JO 2012 for the Japan Open.



OK, I’m out for now. Senior GP is just about here!! Get psyched everyone!!!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Quick, before they're overtaken!! Skaters of interest this past week

Maybe it’s just me, but for a “pre-season” (as I tend to call any skating events prior to the kickoff of the ISU Senior Grand Prix), there sure is a hot mess of stuff to cover. FIVE events this coming weekend alone (!!), the specifics of which I’ll be discussing shortly.


But first: a tiny recap of figure skating newsmakers from the past week or so, for any ripples they made in the pool are about to be overtaken by some big ‘ol waves...(I’ve added news and/or video links to each)

Kurt Browning—because, as stated in his own words, he’s dusted off and re-booted his Singin’ in the Rain program for a competition over in Japan (“the specifics of which I’ll be discussing shortly”)...


Cynthia Phaneuf—because she’s retiring after a rough year, and that can’t be easy...


Katelyn Osmond—because she just beat Adelina Sotnikova in an international event, and that can’t be easy either...

Josh Farris—because after last weekend (at JGP Bled/Slovenia), he’s a double gold medal winner this season and is therefore in the JGP Final for sure. Check out his most recent FS here


Aldridge/Eaton— Ditto. And their most recent FD (to Fiddler on the Roof) is here.


Nobunari Oda—because he’s back to doing what he does so well: lighting up the leader boards in the first half of the season. Watch his FS from Nebelhorn, which handily defeated 4th place Brezina and 5th place Verner (both of whom are still using last season’s FS, incidentally).

OK... now... the following events will be taking place this weekend (or have already started):

Ondrej Nepala Memorial

Finlandia Trophy

JGP Croatia

Japan Open

Medal Winners Open (the one featuring Browning)

Who's in what event? Who's in which place so far? I will do my level best to keep up on these (though one is likely to be the Odd Event Out-- my money's on Nepala) over the weekend, either over here and/or on Twitter (@KLBSt8ofSk8).