Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why Seeking Junior GP Assignments is Becoming My Summer Olympic Pasttime

It’s Olympics time.

I know it’s not the one we figure skating fans plan our lives around every four years—unless you happen to be just as big a fan of swimming, or the decathlon, or archery. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that...)

But still, it’s Olympics time. It’s competition after competition after competition that matters so much more than any other competition EVER for athletes from all over the world. It’s often thrilling to watch, sometimes heartbreaking to hear, and riddled with spoilers if you are five hours behind London (as we are) and anywhere near social media (as I usually am).

So I sit here with gymnastics on the TV, trying to get a new post to my skating blog because y’all know it’s overdue, and it’s hard to do when skating’s distant cousin keeps snaring my attention. But if it’s not this, it’ll be swimming, or the decathlon, or archery. For the next two weeks. (You know why.)

Here’s the other problem: I was hoping to write about the Junior Grand Prix assignments—particularly since it’ll be starting up in less than a month, and with any luck, the U.S. will have some true contenders in the mix. But it’s hard to write about something that hasn’t happened yet, and outside of the first event (which I’ll get to in a minute), the assignments are still To Be Determined.

Say what? Senior assignments were made months ago for competitions that are still months away, but these September events are still up in the air? Can that be right? Surely not, I thought several times this week as I checked Wikipedia... and IceNetwork... and Googled it... and did a few other things... and finally headed to the page. Where I found “information” such as this.  And this.  And not to mention this

So I feel like I missed a memo. Can anyone explain why this process takes so long... why these kids will apparently learn about competing in Lake Placid (USA), Linz (Austria), Istanbul (Turkey), Bled (Slovenia), Zagreb (Croatia), and Dresden (Germany) only a handful of weeks before they take place? Is it a life lesson in patience? Are there talent scouts patrolling the rinks, gauging whose triple lutz is ready for prime time and whose isn’t? Is there a Powerball lottery drawing involved? Or maybe Hedwig the Owl has already informed each of the athletes privately and they’re sworn to secrecy like Amazing Race contestants?

That’s all the brainstorming I’ve managed; obviously, I’m not getting very far. As I await enlightenment, here’s the list of U.S. competitors at the JGP season opener (in Courchevel, France, August 22-26; no pairs competition at this event):

MEN: Jason Brown, Harrison Choate

LADIES: Ashley Cain, Vanessa Lam

DANCE: Holly Moore/Daniel Klaber, Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter

And the only thing that immediately came to mind upon seeing this list was Jason Brown STILL hasn’t moved up to the Senior GP? But a) he’s still quite young, b) I still haven’t seen him try triple axels in competition, much less nail them, and c) he wasn’t able to move up the ranks this year at senior Nationals (9th two years in a row).

But other than that, I’m out (for now). Unless you’ve got the news we can use, maybe you should be “out” too.

Know why?

Because it’s Olympics time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

When Everything Old is New Again: Skating Music Selections Made for 2012-13

We’re hitting that time of year when “new” music selections for the 2012-13 season start revealing themselves... whether it’s via an article a la Ice Network, or via word of mouth as the off-season competition circuit (if there is such a thing) runs its course. Of course, we have to use quotes around the word new because 9 times out of 10 it really isn’t—at least not to skating fans. But hope springs eternal that in such cases, the carousel of warhorses and WITs (Warhorses in Training) will, in fact, pair up with Just The Right Skater and be reborn in favorable fashion.

You may have already heard that U.S. Silver Medalist Adam Rippon plans to get his Don Draper on as he channels the Mad Men character for his new free skate (using music from The Incredibles) may also have gathered that U.S. Bronze Medalist Ross Miner is brushing up on his Errol Flynn films as he prepares a FS to Captain Blood (music which was once skated to, famously, by Dorothy Hamill at the ’76 Winter Olympics).

Miner has also announced his SP music—"Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini", which didn’t quite make it onto my Top 10 Warhorses list from back in January but was mentioned among the readers’ comments. As you study this list of choices made thus far for U.S. skaters, you’re bound to see other titles you recognize:

Jason Brown (9th at Nationals & World Junior Champ): SP "The Question of U" (Prince); FS "Liebestraume" (Liszt)

Prince for a competitive program? Color me intrigued... and it reminds me that someday soon we’ll have to get to talking about the upcoming vocals-in-competitive skating change. (Which doesn’t leave me intrigued; leaves me suspect is more like it. But I digress...)

Liebestraume, probably considered Warhorse territory by some, was most recently used by the likes of Mao Asada and Pang/Tong (and one other big name I think...?)

By the way, Brown’s choreographer for both is Rohene Ward—probably not well known on the international circuit, but a guy who made a splash at several U.S. championships despite never finishing higher than 14th (in 2002).

Gracie Gold (National Junior champ; Junior World Silver Medalist): SP "Hernando’s Hideaway"; FS Life is Beautiful

I’m tickled to see "Hernando’s Hideaway" on the list (originally from The Pajama Game, a 1954 Broadway hit), though it makes perfect sense given the number of tangos we’ve been witness to lately. Hernando has the potential for some campy fun, though, so I hope Gold works it well (I suspect she will). Life is Beautiful, of course, is the soundtrack of the 1997 Italian hit film La vita è bella and was utilized by Jeremy Abbott for his 2010-11 free skate.

Marley/Brubaker (National Silver Medalists, pairs): FS Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Taken from the soundtrack of another foreign film (1964’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, starring Catharine Deneuve), this WIT has been used by Virtue/Moir several years back and Nobunari Oda just last season (to name a few).

Agnes Zawadzki (National Bronze Medalist): SP Sex and the City 2

... which I presume to be a bouncy mambo-esque number in similar style to the original Sex and the City theme song. (Sorry— didn’t catch the sequel.)

By the way, she appears to be keeping her Rhapsody in Blue free skate from last season.

Caroline Zhang (National Pewter Medalist): FS "Nessum Dorma"

... ah, THERE’s the warhorse! Knew it’d find its way in here sooner or later.

Like Zawadzki, Zhang looks to be keeping a program from last year—in this case it’s the SP of "Rushing Wings of Dawn" by Tim Janis.

Oh, and Johnny Weir is rumored to be using the WIT Requiem for a Dream. Someone please wake me from that nightmare and tell me it isn’t true!

So what do you make of these choices thus far? Got any music recommendations for the remaining athletes? Be sure to sound off here!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Emperor Cinquanta’s New Clothes—Er, I Mean ISU "Resolution"

When I posted a few weeks ago with a dizzying array of mostly-true skating headlines from last month, there was a big one that I deliberately left out... mostly because I wasn’t sure yet of the story behind it, and I didn’t want to speculate out of turn. (As opposed to my typical, well-timed speculations... ha ha)

But thanks to this column by Monica Friedlander, I’ve got it. You should, too, if you don’t already—in other words, go read this article. RIGHT NOW. I’ll wait.

(And don’t forget to read the comments below it... which include one from 1968 Olympic Silver medalist and 1969-70 World Champion Tim Wood, and another one from 1973-75 U.S. Champion Gordon McKellan. Here's a clip of Wood's Olympic performance in case you're interested.)

OK, any questions? Well... yes. A few. I’ll speculate on what “we” might be asking/answering, anyway...

Q: So as I understand it, current ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta has strong-armed, or bribed, or as the article says, “asked” the ISU to extend his reign of terror term through 2016 since he’s age-ineligible to run again when his term actually expires (in 2014). Does this mean I'm finally allowed to punch Mr. Cinquanta in the face?

A: Punching Mr. Cinquanta in the face is not recommended, as he is not worth the paper on which your formal assault charges would be written. You may, however, feel free to dream about it.

Q: But I’m so ANGRY! First he mishandles figure skating into near oblivion, then he remains arrogant enough to think he’s doing the sport a favor instead... then the ISU is either too corrupt or too brainwashed to elect him out of office... THEN they sign on for TWO MORE (unnecessary, violating) YEARS?? REALLY?!?

A: Um, yeah, seems like it.
 Q: There must be something the skating community and its fans can do about this, right?

A: Name some options.

Q: They could abandon the ISU and form their own governing body, away from speed skating and short-track skating...
A: “They” tried—almost a decade ago. It was called the World Skating Federation. And not only did the effort prove unsuccessful, it resulted in at least a half-dozen ISU officials/WSF supporters losing their ISU positions for life. (This link off of FS Universe can provide more details.) In any case, the whole incident has thus far scared off any other prospective ISU dissidents. Name another option, please.

Q: How about if all those previous champions who are leaving the door open for an Olympic-year comeback makes headlines by announcing instead that they won’t return to the sport under these current conditions? Wouldn’t that shake things up?

A: That could be interesting... but Weir, Lysacek, and Plushenko are already plotting their respective returns. Miki Ando? The same. And now Kim Yu-Na has announced plans to throw her little black Bond Girl dress back into the ring. All these comebacks are bound to be interesting, but it’s like they’re uniformly saying Competitive figure skating is a hot mess... still... give me MORE! Know what I mean?

(Especially for Weir. At least the others have Olympic and/or World titles to their names.)

Q: OK, another option... fans could abandon the sport on grounds of misrepresentation—“figure skating” seldom involves figures nowadays, “free skates” are too shackled by IJS requirements to be truly free, etc...

A: It seems a great number of former fans have done just that. Sadly, Cinquanta & Co. appear far too deep into their own self-appreciation to notice and/or care.

Q: But how can fans cease to support those that somehow transcend the rules and make us love figure skating in spite of the shackles? Jeremy Abbott, Daisuke Takahashi, Akiko Suzuki, Davis/White... they deserve better, don’t they?

A: Of course they do.

Q: So how can this “dictatorship” of a sport be saved?

A: Maybe by way of this very tool at your fingertips. Think of how frequently the internet and social media are used nowadays for change—sometimes mind-blowing, positive change. Fans of figure skating could do the same thing, it seems.

Q: How?

A: Well-- clearly, I’m just one writer. But there are lots of us out there, and plenty of ideas to be communicated. Did you read Vlad’s ideas at his World Figure Skating blog several days back? That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about... and there’s so much more out there. I hope I sound optimistic (rather than simply naïve) when I say we have the collective ability to pull skating’s ice out of the fire... hopefully sooner rather than later.