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.

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