Saturday, February 25, 2012

Protocol Smackdown: Davis/White's 4CC Free Dance Scores

I want to do a little analysis on the free dance at the recent Four Continents Championship—partially because I was asked to by a lovely reader/commenter, and partially because… well, did you SEE the disparity in the judging??—but before I do any of that, I should probably ask something else…

Um, I’ll rephrase it slightly: DID you see the disparity? COULD you see it? Did you choose to pay IceNetwork (or pay extra, if you were already a subscriber this year), or Universal Sports, or the ISU itself? Or did you just bide your time until the clips made it to YouTube? Admittedly, I bit the bullet and paid the extra $6 at IceNetwork, but in doing so I saw plenty of posts by disgruntled subscribers, outraged that the original package didn’t already include all the major events (particularly Worlds). Were you one of them? Or might you be, had you known such a thread had formed? I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on this…

Anyway, the primary question at hand—at least for some of us—was How did Davis/White end up losing the free dance by four points to Virtue/Moir when D/W appeared to skate as flawlessly as they have all season?

(And yes, I know V/M actually won the free dance at the GP Final too when all was said and done… but it was only by .5. Not eight times that amount.)

When you study the protocols for both teams at both events, you may marvel at the number of perfect “10” scores both teams received on the component marks. Ten 10s for V/M at the GP Final. Twelve 10s for D/W at the same event. Six more 10s for each team at 4CC. And by the scantest of margins—57.24 to 57.17—D/W won that battle.

Which leaves the technical score to be pulled apart, and that wicked four-point issue to rear its head again. On paper, it’s really quite easy to see how D/W lost: three of their eight necessary elements—the circular step sequence, the spin, and the twizzles, to be precise—were given level 3s at 4CC after being awarded level 4s at the GP Final, while difficulty levels remained identical from one event to the next in the case of V/M.

That means the circular step had a 6.5 base value, compared to an 8.0 at the GP Final (and about a TWO point difference once the GOEs were factored in)…

And the spin had a base value of 4.0 instead of 5.0, resulting in an overall loss of about .8…

And finally the twizzles, which had a 6.0 base value at the GP Final but only a 5.0 base at 4CC (leading to a loss of exactly one point).

The rest of the deficiencies came in the form of significantly slighter differences with the final three elements; both D/W’s straight lift and rotational lift received exactly the same number of points.

As I’ve said many times before, I’m in no shape or form an expert on the complexities and techniques of ice dancing. So maybe D/W truly did under-perform at 4CC—if you can explain the level 3s, please give it a shot! All I can say for sure is that I’ve re-examined the FD performances from both events, and D/W looked as good to me at one as they did at the other.

Some have speculated that the 4CC results were some sort of judicial payback to V/M after the error that was discovered in scoring the GP Final. It’s unlikely that theory will be proved or disproved; after all, I haven’t heard the D/W camp crying foul about anything (at least, not publicly). My simple thought about the whole thing? Better it happen here than at Worlds. It’s happened… it’s over… let’s move on.

What about the decision to leave Czisny and Mahbanoozadeh out of the 4CC lineup altogether? More about that coming soon...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Where Do Broken Hearts Go: Sale/Pelletier, 10 Years Later

Funny how February, as short of a month as it is, always seems to bring plenty of recollections with it. You can insert a favorite old Valentine’s Day story here…or a new memory of where you were last Saturday when you heard Whitney had passed away…

Or, of course, a weather-related tale is always a possibility—just last year we had a humdinger of an ice storm here at the top of February, and it resulted in my young daughter getting stitches in her chin after falling on our super-slick driveway. Hmmm, ice… that brings me to one more thing that creates a lot of February history.

This month is the 10-year anniversary of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. It’s also the 20-year anniversary of the 1992 Games in Albertville, the 40-year anniversary of the 1972 Games in Sapporo, and the 60th (!) anniversary of the 1952 Games in Oslo. But for all that Dick Button, Janet Lynn, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Paul Wylie brought to the sport from their respective Olympics, we all know that 2002 brought something very different—something that still manages to eclipse Sarah Hughes’ surprise gold, and especially Timothy Goebel and (sigh) Michelle Kwan’s respective bronze medals.

Maybe I say that from a slightly skewed perspective because as long as I’ve been checking on the “most viewed” posts at State of the Skate—a couple years running—there has been one post that has, almost exclusively, remained the most popular above some 500+ others possibilities. It’s
this one, about Jamie Sale and David Pelletier. The post is not about Skategate specifically (you know; the nickname for the game-changing judging scandal that involved their Olympic free skate), or Sale/Pelletier’s wedding in 2005, or even the son that resulted from that union in 2007. The post was primarily about their 2010 announcement of plans to divorce, yet continue skating together professionally… and some of the comments that followed shared the sadness (especially after seeing the former couple at Stars on Ice), while others speculated on the reasons for said divorce.

I remain intrigued every time I take note of how many readers—not just in Canada, but worldwide—take a look at this particular article. Are they learning what they wanted to learn about them? I wonder. Are they disappointed at the lack of “dishing” (except for the comments of others)? Did something new happen with Sale/Pelletier that I should know about?

The answer to that last question is, well, sort of. This
variation on the catching-up-with-the-Pelletiers article that ran in last week’s Globe and Mail indicates that, for better or worse, their on-ice partnership may now be all but over as well. Not because they can’t get along; the article points out on page two that they remain friends, and seem to get along professionally as well as they ever have. But the days of insane figure skating popularity were (let’s face it) already on borrowed time when the 2002 judging scandal broke out. Sale/Pelletier’s ebullient performances helped propel the love a little longer, but they simply aren’t getting the kind of offers (financially speaking) they used to. Is that because they can’t draw the audience of yesteryear… because fans don’t see the kind of magic they did when they were in love? Possibly. Is it because of the sport’s waning popularity? Probably.

But for them, it simply seems time to turn the page.

“I’m tired of being cold,” Sale says in the new article, her words perhaps carrying more meaning that the layperson might think. “I don’t like the rink anymore.”

As I wrapped up the chapter in Skating on Air that dealt with the events of Salt Lake City’s pairs event, I used a quote from an NBC producer/director that indicated the events from 10 years ago were “must-see TV” at its finest. I then mused that it wasn’t long after 2002 when the slogan might’ve been better suited to be “I’ve seen enough TV,” given how ratings for figure skating dropped significantly.

With any luck, though, even the most cynical fan will always keep a warm place in their memory trove for Sale/Pelletier. Their personal story, like their professional one, didn’t quite go according to plan. But nothing and no one can take away how their hard work once captivated the whole world.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

(Less than) "Breathtaking" 2012 4CC Observations

True confessions time: I've barely watched a minute of the 4CC’s ice dance yet, and am still catching up with some of the ladies and pairs’ free skates. So that may explain why this list of observations is men-heavy… or maybe there was more to notice there anyway?

Let’s start with the medal summaries:

MEN—Patrick Chan opened up what I thought was a questionably wide lead over Daisuke Takahashi in the SP, but definitely earned his overall victory when it came to his free skate. Dice-K easily took silver, while Ross Miner claimed his third major bronze medal of the season… just edging out Adam Rippon.

LADIES—Ashley Wagner skated like the new champion she is, and (in what is surely one of the bigger upsets of the season to date) won gold over Mao Asada—who is back on the triple axel trail, in case you haven’t heard. Caroline Zhang was surely more than happy to claim bronze, repeating an honor she also earned two years ago.

PAIRS—As I thought they might do, Sui/Han pulled out all the stops (including an oh-so-close throw quad salchow) and got their first international senior title. What I didn’t expect was to see not one, but two U.S. pairs joining them on the podium! Newly crowned U.S. champions Denney/Coughlin took silver, and Marley/Brubaker proved their world team berth was no fluke by taking bronze—their first international medal, I believe.

DANCE, which I at least read about—Virtue/Moir won this round of the cagematch, beating Davis/White by about three points. And some 16 points behind D/W was Weaver/Poje, who bested The Shibutanis for bronze.

As for some standout observations, here's what comes to mind:

Jeremy Ten’s free skate program. I haven’t seen much of the Canadian this season, what with previous injuries keeping him from any GP participation and all. And unfortunately he didn’t skate very well here (he fell three times in the FS alone, finishing 14th). But as programs go, his free skate to Il Postino was quite a lovely thing. Great music; elegant, nuanced choreography. With any luck he’ll keep it for next season.

Misha Ge—He first got my attention by using Saint-Saens’ The Swan for his SP (I don’t think I’ve seen a male skate to it since Weir and his red glove took it on back in 2005-6). He kept my attention with a passionate free skate, and punctuated his performance with some fierce footwork near the end. Representing Uzbekistan but actually of Russian, Korean and Chinese descent, Ge finished way down in 30th place at last year’s Worlds. If this 4CC 9th place finish was any indication, he’ll make a significant move up the ladder when he gets to Nice in about 6 weeks.

Battle of the Non-Russian Skaters Using Russian Folk Music: In this corner: USA’s Adam Rippon and his Korobushko SP… where he nailed his 3axel, but slipped on the exiting edge of his Rippon lutz and took the fall that helped keep him from challenging for bronze. In THIS corner: Tatsuki Machida of Japan and his Dark Eyes SP… where he definitely outskated Rippon… only to tank in the free skate and wind up 7th overall.

Reliable Ross—So are those skaters whose first name starts with an “R” destined to be known first and foremost as “reliable?” Of course their skating has to do the talking first… Rachael Flatt’s certainly used to, and now it looks like Ross Miner is picking up where she left off. His programs remain quad-free for now, but he’s a steady-eddie on most everything else... even when skating in that unenviable “final” slot. Yes, I’d have preferred to see Rippon get that bronze, but without a doubt Miner earned the hardware last weekend.

Nan Song & the oxygen tank (sounds like a great band name, huh?)— I’m sure there are other major competitive locations that pose big trouble for the AC (altitude-challenged) crowd, but Colorado Springs is perhaps the best-known (in North America anyway). The free skate always tells the tale; if a competitor breaks at the waist within milliseconds of hitting their final pose, look out. Several fit that description this year, but China’s Song was the only one I saw actually receiving emergency oxygen from a medic in the Kiss’n’Cry! Yikes. Unfortunately his troubles took him far away from his early season GP triumphs as he came in 11th—his worst 4CC finish in the three years he’s been competing it. Call it a different kind of "breathtaking" skating.

"Come on, put your hands together":
I heard this sort of thing quite often as the PA announcer tried to encourage a seemingly sluggish crowd to support unknown skaters (and there are plenty of those at 4CC). Does this happen at any other senior event? I wish it wouldn’t happen here. It makes me feel like I’m back at a tiny regional competition, trying to encourage a little speck of a skater who just had a rotten performance and looks like she’s about to cry her eyes out right there at center ice. Please, folks! He or she is probably well aware that Asada and Chan are going to get the biggest and best of the applause. Don’t patronize them. They can take it! (Or not, as the case may be.)

Dice-K’s “sanity”: Assuming that, as they did at U.S. Nationals, skaters got to choose the music that played between the previous competitor’s program and their own… it sounded like Takahashi opted for Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain” to pump himself up. Heh. Loved it. Would love it more if it was a thinly veiled message to the judges regarding some of their Chan-flated scores… Heh. Heh-Heh.

Dornbush’s redemption delayed: The demons that drilled Richard Dornbush’s Nationals SP into a sad series of missed jump passes may have taken a slight break during his free skate there, but they returned in full force for the 4CC journey. He finished 13th here, just as he did at Nationals. A rough end to what must’ve been a disenchanting season.

A few words about Kwak Min-Jeong: Remember her? The kid sister-like counterpart to Kim Yu-Na when the Korean team when to Vancouver two years ago? She did pretty well back then (13th!), but has had a rougher time of it ever since… even finishing down in 6th at her own recent Nationals. But she at least managed a clean SP here… and while her 10th place finish was her worst in three trips to 4CCs, it would be nice to see her manage a Caroline Zhang-esque recovery in the next couple of years.

Amelie Lacoste vs. Cynthia Phaneuf—Eighteen-hundredths of a point. That ended up being the difference between these two Canadians, between 7th and 8th place, between who goes to Worlds and who watches it from home. How much would that fraction of a difference show up in a track or swim meet? It’d probably be a toe… or a fingertip. Amazing. Here’s hoping Phaneuf uses the downtime to make a positive, well-thought out decision about her future in the sport.

At least Phaneuf had 4CC as that one additional chance to prove herself this year… according to
this recent Phil Hersh article , U.S. Figure Skating was responsible for at least two 4CC “snubs”—something we’ll take a closer look at soon.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Four Continents 2012... a Preview

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know that I’m always a little ambiguous about Four Continents. I know it’s intended to be a sort of non-European European Championships, and it allows the world to see more skaters from Australia, South/Central America, and Africa (yes, we have one entry from South Africa this year) than they would anywhere else… but when competing against skating powerhouses like Japan, Canada, China, and (oh, yeah) the U.S., it always seems more than a little lopsided.

But let’s look on the bright side regarding who’s there this year:

+ Virtue/Moir and Davis/White, who get another face-off before heading to Worlds
+ Weaver/Poje and the Shib Sibs, who will presumably have their own face-off for the bronze medal
+ Richard Dornbush, who, on the strength of last year’s Worlds (if not this year’s overall placement at Nationals), was called in to replace a hip-injured Jeremy Abbott
+ Patrick Chan and Daisuke Takahashi, arguably (?) two of the best male skaters in the world right now
+ Mao Asada, who gets a second chance to “warm up” before Worlds after having to withdraw from the GPF a couple months ago
+ Still relative newbies Marley/Brubaker, who need all the international experience they can get after snaring a spot at Worlds over Evora/Ladwig
+ All the “almost world team members,” for whom the season might otherwise already be over (e.g. Jeremy Ten, Evora/Ladwig, Agnes Zawadski, etc.)
+ And in what might be the most compelling sidebar of this event, at least as far as Canadian fans are concerned… recent champ Amelie Lacoste and former champ Cynthia Phaneuf are vying for the sole Canadian female entry at Worlds, with the job going to, I believe, the best finisher at 4CC.

It all starts tonight at 8:45 Eastern time with the men’s short program, so here go some predictions…

GOLD: Chan
SILVER: Takahashi
BRONZE: Nan Song (China)

Mr. Chan, all I ask is that if you win, please do it without becoming a human Zamboni this time. Thank you.

If Song isn’t skating with the same technical brilliance as earlier in the season, it would be lovely to see Adam Rippon win bronze.

GOLD: Kanako Murakami (JPN)
BRONZE: Ashley Wagner

This could be a Japanese sweep (Haruka Imai is beautiful to watch), but I’m still crossing my fingers to see Ashley skate strong enough to medal… hopefully while trying out the new combos she wants to add to her programs.

GOLD: Sui/Han
SILVER: Takahashi/Tran
BRONZE: Duhamel/Radford

Is this Sui/Han’s last senior event of the season? If so, I think they could skate lights out over everyone else, including the two couples listed above.

GOLD: Davis/White
SILVER: Virtue/Moir
BRONZE: Weaver/Poje

I think D/W will just keep doing what they’re doing—winning—while V/M refrain from pulling out all the stops just yet. They’ll save that drama for Worlds.

Oh, one more thing: If anyone remembers Christopher Caluza, who competed at U.S. Nationals last year… he’s now competing for the Philippines, and will be at 4CCs tonight. How about you?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Great-But-Mostly-Unseen Performances of 2012 Nationals

The irony here is that most of the following are so far only available on IceNetwork… and therefore may continue to go Mostly Unseen by some of you. But if you’ve got that IceNetwork subscription burning a hole in your pocket and you’ve no idea how to catch the highlights that have little to do with the medalists… you’re in luck.

(If you DO find a post to any of these, though, please share!)


Gretchen Donlan/Andrew Speroff -- SP to O Mio Babbino Caro
With a fine 3twist, nice lift positions, and a pretty throw 3sal, I was impressed with this relatively new senior pair. They came in 5th with this performance, and 4th overall.

Mary Beth Marley/Rockne Brubaker – SP to Singin’ in the Rain
It’s music from one of my favorite musicals of all time, so I may be biased… but they created one of the best surprises of Nationals with this performance. (Even if Brubaker had to put his free hand down to steady a death spiral.)


Haley Dunne – SP to a variation on Tosca
Skating relatively early in the lineup, Dunne pulled out good jumps (though the back end of her 3T/3T was probably underrotated), a great layback position, a solid tuck on her flying sit, and really nice emotion that helped endear her to the audience. No wonder they booed when her score was only a 51.41. (She was 12th in the SP; 16th overall.)

Kiri Baga—FS to La Strada
Four out of five successful triples (she popped her lutz) helped young Miss Baga rise above a sea of subpar jumping to finish 10th in her senior debut.

Sophia Adams—SP to Tim Janis’ Music of Hope; FS to Titanic
She finished way down in 17th place—primarily because she lacks the top triples, and barely completed any of those she DID have in her FS—but when her blades were on the ice rather than in the air… that’s when I liked her work.

Angela Wang—FS to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
I mentioned Wang last time as the most notable up-and-comer among the new senior ladies… this program, with 2 clean 3lutzes and 3 other successful triples, led me to make the note “I really like her and this program… very good jumping; above average everything else.”


Jonathan Cassar – FS to I Pagliacci
In the world of unseen skaters, Cassar must be some kind of royalty. Now in his mid-20s and seemingly unable to perform a triple axel or triple/triple in competition, Cassar may never find his way into the Top 10 men at Nationals… but as a certain commentator would say, “What he DOES do he does very well.”

Scott Dyer—FS to Grand Canyon Suite
On the other hand, Dyer was also sans triple axel in this event, but managed to hold down 10th place this year with a six-clean-triples free skate. And with me he also gets bonus points for an innovative combo spin, great posture and carriage, and a lovely sweeping nature about his skating overall.

Joshua Farris
I’ve no program listed because, frankly, Farris didn’t have a great Nationals (he finished 16th)… but I wanted to mention a wickedly awkward moment when, just as we saw Farris getting off the ice and hugging his coaches, Farris’ former coach Tom Zacrajek stood off in the distance, staring straight ahead. Though they failed to mention it during any of his performances at Nationals, it was his performance last year (when Tom Z. was his coach) that ultimately had him skating on a broken fibula. Obviously he’s physically healed from that trauma, but still left Tom Z. behind shortly thereafter. Zacrajek was standing in the aforementioned shot because his current student (Brandon Mroz) was next to skate… and presumably he had his full focus on Mroz. Still…

Adam Rippon SP to Korobushka
(OK, so this is admittedly a SEEN skater. Humor me here.)
This was the kind of SP that fills me with joy, but worry tries to supplant the joy as I wonder if he’ll be able to skate it that well again the rest of the season. The most important thing, though, is that this time there actually is a rest of the season for Rippon. So I’m going to pretend not to care if he peaked with that one. Because it was AWESOME.


Kriengkrairut/ Giuletti-Schmitt FD to Walkin’ in the Sand

Quick poll here: should we refer to them in the future as K & G-S or Lynn & Logan? Because I see more GP assignments in their future at the very least, and I’ve gotta get them a nickname. Anyway, I’ve got to admit I’m not a huge fan of their FD music because this particular arrangement gets a little redundant—there’s THIS tempo, and then THAT tempo, and THIS one again, and THAT, and oh-look-here-comes THIS again… etc. But it was still refreshing, and different, and certainly beats the Popera option so many have employed. Plus, they have some killer innovative lifts (as evidenced in both performances). With D/W and the Shib Sibs presumably locking up 1st and 2nd until further notice, it would be great to see a few different teams win bronze. Let’s hope this team is one of them.

Chock/Bates FD to Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor

It was finally time to see which of the new dance partnerships of the past season turned out on top… and while Hubbell/Donohue emerged victorious in that regard, I’ve still got my eye on Chock/Bates. I wanted to dislike them on some level, actually, out of some sort of surely misplaced sympathy towards Emily Samuelson. But I can’t help it… these two created a couple of slinky, sexy, and fun dances this year and skated them with a confidence and assurance that was quite appealing.

Lichtman/Copely FD to Austin Powers

Though they only came in 10th for their senior debut, these two channeled a little bit of Navka/Kostomarov from 7 or 8 years ago and came up with a fun way to splash into the deep end of the icy pool.

Next up? Predictions for 4CC (if I can get them posted before things get going!)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Way Outta San Jose: Nationals Post-Mortem, Part 1

So what I’ve decided to do this year is put some of my Nationals analysis into a pithy faux awards list. Hope you approve… even if some of the recipients might object!

The Persistence Pays Award: a tie between Ashley Wagner and Caroline Zhang

So we had Wagner in 3rd and Zhang in 4th after the SP. For Wagner to skate a clean short at Nationals was practically unheard of, so when she nailed it I figured she was on to something. Zhang was another story—several times in the past couple of years I’ve watched a solid enough short of hers, only to see her go to pieces (new improved technique be damned) in the free skate. While I was pleased to see her do a fine SP here, presumably giving her hope for the skate yet to come, I admittedly watched her step out of her opening FS jump and thought Oh dear, here we go again. But no! She didn’t go here… she swerved and went there! The place where young skaters go to get vindicated for years of unsatisfying results! And while it wasn’t her best finish ever at Nationals, I hope that little pewter medal they give for fourth place feels good as gold.

And as you might know, I’d only predicted bronze for Wagner… I’m afraid I’d become a member of the camp that thought she was destined to go no higher. In fact I thought bronze would be a victory in itself, considering how far she’s been from the podium at times in the past few years. But, bless her heart, she had other plans. She also had “help” from a faltering Agnes Zawadzki, who did a remarkable impression of Agnes 2010-11; the one who blazes through her SP but burns herself in the FS… and a frustrating Alissa Czisny, who I’m hoping will channel these disappointing performances into best-of-season work at Worlds.

I was also impressed with Wagner’s precise answers to questions about “having what it takes” to do well at Worlds: get the triple/triple back in her SP, fix the edge call on her lutz once and for all, etc. Pulling all that off is another story, but I liked that she pulled no punches about the relatively simple content of this winning free skate.

The Surprise, I’m still on the Podium! Award: Ross Miner
A show of hands, please: who thought both unexpected medalists from last year would be able to repeat in 2012? I thought one of them might, but I didn’t count on it being Miner. Not that he isn’t a fine athlete and competitor, but for me he still lacks a certain spark and identity. (As it happens, I saw a glimpse of him just before taking center ice for his Untouchables FS… with his dark costume and pale hair and complexion…and thought he was Jeremy Abbott.) Would he have a bronze medal this year if Richard Dornbush had not imploded during his SP? I’m not so sure.
But he did… and Miner didn’t. High props to Miner for that. As for “Ricky”…

The Funny-and-Sad-at-the-Same-Time Award:
The Facebook post by Dornbush this past Wednesday night… ‎

… Got back on the ice today, Mucked around a bit, Tried a short w/ no warm-up, clean, coach wants to kill me now, me too, FML.

Sigh. Poor kid. I guess every now and then someone has to
Oda their SP … but he’ll be back.

The What Does a Girl Have to Do to Get a Medal Around Here? Award: Christina Gao.

When you finish 5th at your first senior Nationals, you’re a head-turner. When you repeat that position the following year, you’re “consistent.” But when you remain in 5th place for three years… she seemed happy enough with her performances (which included a lovely triple flip/triple toe, thank you very much), but the head-turner might be a bit of a head-scratcher now, wondering how much farther she can realistically climb in the next two years… especially with an acceptance letter from Harvard awaiting her reply.

The Movin’ on Up Award (Men): Doug Razzano

Some skaters start- and finish- their Senior Nationals career in the Top 10. Some start and finish without getting anywhere near the Top 10. Razzano’s first Senior appearance, in 2008, left him in 16th place. Then up to 14th in ’09. Then down just a bit to 15th in ’10. Then up to 10th last year. And fifth this year. (Not to mention a solid 7th in his GP debut at Skate America a few months back.) At age 23 now, I’m curious to see how much higher he can climb in the next two years.

The Movin’ on Up Award (Ladies): Angela Wang

With so much shuffling among the same five ladies in the past five years—Czisny, Nagasu, Flatt, Wagner, and Zhang— it’s not easy these days for a new name to sneak into the mix. Zawadzki managed to do it last year, though, and the one who succeeded most this year was probably 15 year-old Wang. The fact that she landed a Top 10 finish her first time out (she was 8th) is even more impressive considering she only managed a 7th place finish in Junior Ladies a year ago.

The Happy Just to Be Here Award: Daniel Raad and Aimee Buchanan (tie)

If the names don’t ring a bell, there’s good reason: neither of them were originally scheduled to compete in San Jose last weekend. But when Samantha Cesario was forced to (yet again) withdraw, there was still time to get an alternate, and that alternate was Buchanan—the fifth place finisher at Eastern Sectionals. And likewise, Daniel Raad was tapped to fill a Nationals vacancy when Alexander Zahradnicek had to bow out of the event. Both had little time to prepare—especially mentally—and, perhaps without surprise, both finished the event in dead last. Would you feel good about unexpectedly competing in front of thousands of people at Nationals, even if you weren’t at your best (as I suspect was the case with Buchanan)? For their sake, I hope so.

The Sparkles, Gloves, Hair and Eyebrows Award (men): Johnny Weir

NOTE: I have NOT watched his commentary during the free skating yet; based on what I read in the comments, my opinion might change once I’ve done that. I’ll let you know…

Who else could we possibly be talking about? He made a small appearance on NBC’s coverage, but had a much bigger presence when it came time for him to do IceNetwork commentator duties alongside Tonia Kwiatkowski and Mike Mancuso for the men’s event (the same one he says he’ll be competing in one year from now). I don’t know about you, but I can’t say I was a fan of this setup. Weir did well, I thought, when he sat around the Universal Sports set and dished about Worlds with Peter Carruthers and company back in 2010. But those were small doses compared to this… comments that were 1/3 about the skating, and 2/3 about the amount of costume “sparkle,” the athlete’s hair, or the athlete’s eyebrows. Ay-yi-yi—is that really all he has to offer?

The Sparkles, Gloves, Hair and Eyebrows Award (women): Sarah Hughes

And this is where the “gloves” come in… for during Vanessa Lam’s free skate, out of nowhere Hughes voiced great fascination in the elbow-length gloves that Lam wore as part of her costume. (Apparently she hasn’t watched a lot of Russian skating lately.) But no one else did, and the comment fell flat. It was part of a very mixed bag that came with Hughes’ presence—sometimes she was helpful (e.g. explaining the benefits of selling a jump), and other times she seemed painfully out of place (“Are we (the commentators) allowed to stand up and cheer for a skater? I don’t even know…” she wondered on-air.) And as was also mentioned in the comments, her overall delivery wasn’t quite there yet; she sounded more like she was sitting around casually talking with friends at home, particularly alongside the crisper-sounding Kwiatkowski. (Frankly it kind of sounded like I do when I'm interviewing someone by phone... which sounds nothing like my "voiceover" voice, I can only hope.)

So I guess I can’t really call myself a fan of IceNetwork’s version of stunt casting this time around… I thought Tonia K. was doing fine on her own.

(I reserve the right to strike and/or rewrite that last sentence depending on how I feel after watching ALL the IceNetwork coverage.)

More observations to come… looks like I’ve somehow only covered the singles skating so far.