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