Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Grand Prix in Review: What Have We Learned?

First, to review who just medaled at the GP Final, here’s your cheat sheet...
GOLD: Hanyu, JPN
Hanyu’s siiiiick score in the SP (missed 100 by thatmuch!!) helped him defeat Chan, who skated right after that SP and “only” got 87 with a fall out on the triple axel and a hot mess of a double (not triple) lutz. Oda was a best-of-the-rest case in an event where the quads were off for damn near everyone.
GOLD: Asada, JPN
SILVER: Lipnitskaia, RUS
A lot of us were scratching our heads at Adelina Sotnikova’s 2nd place SP finish—particularly when both Wagner and Gumbyskaia skated clean, and had more difficult 3/3 combos—but in the end, Gumby no-boned her way to silver and once again gave notice to those on Sochi watch (probably everyone reading this, right?). Wagner, for her part, “left some points on the table” as she herself said (with a fall on her lutz and a 2-footed triple loop), and it sounds like she’s planning on doing some FS re-tooling with the spins and footwork during this brief pause before U.S. Nationals.
GOLD: Sav/Szol, GER
SILVER: Volo/Trank, RUS
BRONZE: Pang/Tong, CHN
Aha, the upset! It came just in time to make this race more interesting by Olympic time... even though I have a hard time seeing this scenario repeat itself this season. And just as I was casting doubt on Pang/Tong because of Tong’s SBS jump inconsistencies, he gets it together and Moore-Towers/Moscovitch (my bronze medal prediction) are the ones with the problems.
GOLD: Davis/White, USA
SILVER: Virtue/Moir, CAN
BRONZE: Pechalat/Bourzat, FRA
D/W got it in their first twizzle-to-twizzle with V/M of the season, but it wasn’t by as much as one might expect from a “dominating” team, so that’ll probably turn out to be a good thing for all involved. And it looked like Bob/Solo was going to make the podium a complete rerun of Worlds until... whoopsie... the ugly trip-up. You know who else is familiar with ugly trip-ups that cost them a medal? Pechalat/Bourzat. Except this time they were the ones standing by, catching the bronze in their bare hands as Bob/Solo hit the ice. (I’d say what goes around comes around except that doesn’t work in this case; the Shib Sibs were the ones that benefited from P/B’s mistake at 2011 Worlds.)

The battle for Olympic bronze is sooooo on—especially in ice dance. It appears to be advantage Bobrova/Soloviev, despite the GPF finish, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a time when so many teams had a legitimate shot at it. (Question for Cappillini/Lanotte fans: 4th at Worlds, but solidly in 6th at this GPF... what do you suggest for them?)
There’s a great future for skating—at least when it comes to the athletes themselves. All things being equal, we have good reason this season to keep our eyes peeled for the progression of Jason Brown (USA), Samantha Cesario (USA), Elena Radionova (RUS), Han Yan (CHN), and Satoko Miyahara (JPN), to name a few. I’d put Peng/Zhang (CHN) on this list too, but at age 30-something will Zhang really continue beyond this Olympics? Maybe “the future” is Peng with a new, more age-appropriate partner...
Is the future NOW? Lipnitskaia, aka The Best in Boneless Skating, is the most consistently good singles skater Russia has right now (male or female). I really think she is well-poised to be a spoiler in the Yuna vs. Mao quest for Olympic gold... IF she is able to withstand what’s sure to be enormous home-country pressure, that is. And another Russian on the rise, GP Finalist Maxim Kovtun, looked very much to be a threat to Plushy’s latest Olympic journey until the wheels started coming off in his past few performances. If the aforementioned pressure hasn’t already gotten to him, and he can regroup in time for next week’s Russian Championships (to be held right there in Sochi, no less!), Kovtun could make the Olympic selection committee regret the jobs with which they’ve been entrusted.
Who to worry about (based on GP performances): Fernandez. Amodio. Brezina. Kostner. Reynolds (because boot issues kept him from competing at all). Denis Ten (because multiple illnesses/ailments allowed him to compete only once, and he didn’t make the podium). Maybe Duhamel/Radford too? Yes, they made the GPF, but for World Bronze Medalists I don’t think they look as solid as they should at this point in the season.
And don’t write off the following skaters just yet: Pang/Tong. Rippon. Takahashi. Abbott. Suzuki. Oda! Nagasu! The list could probably go longer... who would you add? To this or any of these lists?
As the holidays approach and then pass, so are the national championships for many countries of note. Some of those dates are listed below; keep your eyes and ears open for streaming links!!
Japanese Nats: Dec 20-23
Russian Nats: Dec 24-27
U.S. Nats: Jan 5-12
Canadian Nats: Jan 9-15

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Want to Win a Copy of SKATING ON AIR Before 2013 Ends? Keep Reading!

(OK, this isn't a GPF wrapup/analysis either. It's coming. Promise. But first...)

I hope you're ready for another contest, because it's time for my annual book giveaway for the holidays! Whether you want a copy of Skating on Air: The Broadcast History of an Olympic Marquee Sport for a friend/family member, or still need one for yourself... this is the drawing you want to enter!

Here's how this works: 

1) I'm giving away some copies from my own paperback stash-- in other words, no Ebooks. Sorry.

2) How many I give away depends on how many entries come in.

3) If you've previously won a copy from my giveaway or someone else's, please refrain from entering this time.

4) If you win, I'll make every effort to ship it to you before Christmas (No promises on when it arrives though). And, of course, I'll sign it for you-- or for someone else if it's a gift!

5) To enter, please shoot me an email at KLawrence997-at-gmail-dot-com. Put Skating on Air 2013 Giveaway in the subject head. I'll send you back a confirmation email when I see it.

6) I plan to do the drawing NEXT WEDNESDAY EVENING (12/18).

Any questions? Please leave 'em in the Comments.

Good luck! 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Your Chance to Win a Personalized Skate Stocking Starts Here...

Before I get to a Grand Prix Final summary/commentary... I have a quiz for you. Well, some of you. Specifically, anyone who has read my book Skating on Air: The Broadcast History of an Olympic Marquee Sport and is interested in winning a personalized Christmas stocking courtesy of!

I received a plush white figure skate from a few years back... it's a lovely gift for any skating fan. To get your own (or a black hockey skate), please answer (in the comments) the following question I pulled from the pages of SOA:

What was the name of the TV program on which Carol Heiss was interviewed in 1957... one where she recalls the cameras started setting up in her house "in the morning", and she "got to wear a new silky blue dress for the program"?

Good luck! First correct answer in the comments of this post wins!!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

ISU Senior Grand Prix Predictions (a.k.a. Possibly the Shortest Post Ever)

The GPF is starting in a matter of hours! So let’s get right to it...

Need the Senior GP schedule? Here it is.

(And, for good measure, here’s the Junior GP schedule too... ) 

As for senior GP predictions, mine for gold-silver-bronze go like this:

Ladies: Asada, Lipnitskaia, Wagner

Men’s: Chan, Hanyu, Oda

Pairs: Volo/Trank, Sav/Szol, M-T/Moscovitch

Dance: Davis/White, Virtue/Moir, Pechalat/Bourzat

Let’s pore over all the videos and meet back here early next week!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

From Nebelhorn to Ice Challenge... The Best of the 2013 "B"'s

While we wait for the Grand Prix (and Junior GP) Final to get underway later this week, I’ve rounded up all the winners of the “B” events thus far this fall. Some I’ve discussed in previous posts; some events, such as Golden Spin of Zagreb (featuring Kim Yu-Na) haven’t happened yet. But in the interest of checking out all that has been happening around the world (OK, Europe) in the shadow of GP events, here you go.

Although I’m not including point totals with these gold-silver-bronze listings, I’ve boldfaced every finish that had a point total that would have put the skater (in theory, anyway) into the top 10 of their discipline at 2013 Worlds. There’s not a lot of them—only 12 finishes out of the 60 listed here—but it helps to separate the contenders from the rest of the pack. Please note that Tomas Verner is among them. Twice!

By the way, my predictions for the GPF itself will be up... um... sometime before the first senior event starts. Tick-tock, I know...

MEN: Oda (JPN), Brown (USA), J.Ten (CAN)
LADIES: Radionova (RUS), Ando (JPN), Cain (USA)
PAIRS: Volosozhar/Trankov (RUS), Wende/Wende (GER), Vartmann/Van Cleave (GER)
DANCE:  Hubbell/Donohue (USA), Monko/Khaliavin (RUS), Paul/Islam (CAN)

MEN: Verner (CZE), Mura (JPN), Liebers (GER)
LADIES: Imai (JPN), Gosviiani (RUS), Gao (USA)
PAIRS: Donlan/Speroff (USA), Martyusheva/Rogonov (RUS), Scimeca/Knierim (USA)
DANCE: Coomes/Buckland (GBR), Guignard/Fabbri (ITA), Kolbe/Caruso (GER)

MEN: Hanyu (JPN), Voronov (RUS), Gachinski (RUS)
LADIES: Lipnitskaia (RUS), Suzuki (JPN), Tuktamysheva (RUS)
DANCE: Virtue/Moir (CAN), Chock/Bates (USA), Plutowska/Gerber (POL)

MEN: Verner (CZE), Menshov (RUS), Bush (RUS)
LADIES: Artemyeva (RUS), Baga (USA), Weinzierl (GER)
PAIRS: Prolss/Blommaert (GER), Calalang/Sidhu (USA), Wende/Wende (GER)
DANCE: Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA), Alessandrini/Vaturi (ITA), Monko/Khaliavin (RUS)

MEN: D. Ten (KAZ), Pfeifer (AUS), Gorskov (RUS)
LADIES: Hicks (USA), Ando (JPN), Rajicova (SLO)
PAIRS: Donlan/Speroff (USA), Wende/Wende (GER), Kayne/O’Shea (USA)

DANCE: Cannuscio/McManus (USA), Beaudry/Sorensen (DEN) , Kolbe/Caruso (GER)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

2013 Rostelecom Roundup as the GP Finalists are Determined

Here's a roundup of Rostelecom Cup of Russia 2013; scroll down further to see a list of the Grand Prix Finalists... 

Gold- Julia Lipnitskaia, RUS
Silver- Carolina Kostner, ITA
Bronze- Mirai Nagasu, USA

I was way off on my “dark horse” pick for this one... I said to keep an eye on Kanako Murakami, but while she rebounded very nicely in the free skate, her last-place SP was a sad sight to see (and it’s hard seeing such a normally cheerful young woman so disappointed in herself). Nagasu did what teammate Agnes Zawadzki did not: skate two strong programs, easily breaking the virtual tie between them (after the SP) to grab bronze while Zawadzki tumbled to 6th. Gumbyskaia got the overall victory here, but based on her exit interviews seems none too happy with her performance (a sizeable points cushion after the SP allowed her to edge out Kostner by the slimmest of margins). But no worries, O Bendable One; even the best have their “off” days. (I have it in quotes because the performance in question was still quite good.)

With this silver medal, Kostner will miss the GP Final for only the third time since 2007. By the way, what’s the consensus regarding her new Scheherazade ensemble? I (kiddingly) mentioned on Twitter that with all the beading and crystals weighing down the front side of the bodice, I worry now that she’s going to faceplant on a spiral. I DO like this dress better than the other one, but not by much. How about you?

Gold- Tatsuki Machida, JPN
Silver- Maxim Kovtun, RUS
Bronze- Javier Fernandez, ESP

I got the order all wrong, but was right about there being no other guys for the podium but these three. (Though Konstantin Menshov got much closer than I’d ever have guessed.) Machida now heads into the GP Final as the only man besides Patrick Chan with two gold medals—who’d have called THAT at the season’s start? But there wasn’t much contest here after Kovtun delivered a less-than-impressive free skate. In fact about the only performance I can think of in the FS that was MORE unimpressive was that of Fernandez—in fact, Kovtun and Fernandez were 4th and 5th in the FS behind 3rd place Menshov and 2nd place Richard Dornbush (who was still 20 points behind Machida and, thanks to a lackluster SP, brought home another 5th place finish).

Gold- Savchenko/Szolkowy, GER
Silver- Bazarova/Larionov, RUS
Bronze- Moore-Towers/Moscovitch, CAN

Did Baza/Lario get THAT much better in a week (between TEB and CoR)? Well, their SBS elements were more successful—still didn’t look great, but at least the rotating was kept to a max while falls were minimized. But they also got some help from M-T/M, who seemed oddly off their game here... not just with the jumps, but did you see that one exit from a lift where M-T ended up falling forward? Oof. As for Sav/Szol, it was gold medal business as usual, save for the throw triple axel splat in the SP. Kudos to them for replacing it with their throw triple salchow in the waning moments of their Nutcracker Free Skate; they certainly didn’t need the points to win this event. But some said Savchenko was crying in the apt-named K’n’C after the botched attempt, as if in pain. While I understand the reasoning behind wanting to keep this high-risk/high-reward element in their arsenal, I wish there was some other way they could be compatible for Olympic gold.

Gold- Bobrova/Soloviev, RUS
Silver- Weaver/Poje, CAN
Bronze- Chock/Bates, USA

Welcome to the Controversy of the Weekend. Wea/Po actually won the free dance here, but it was likely a hollow victory knowing the insurmountable advantage B/S had after the SD. It’s not that B/S were overscored there; it’s that Wea/Po appear to be seriously underscored, considering the nine point difference from their SkCan performance. Looking at the protocols from both events, it’s about the levels—a 2 for their curve lift at CoR (compared to a 4 at SkCan), and two patterns (I’m guessing that’s what they were?) that went from 4’s for both to a 2 and a 1, respectively. Pretty blatant stuff happening there. Have there been such disparities in any other couple’s TES dance scores this season?

As for Chock/Bates, their 2nd bronze of the GP season is surely a nice boost as they work toward the medal they want the most (the one that’ll qualify them for Sochi). Their 153.37 overall score here is enough of an improvement on their NHK score to put them in a much tighter battle with Hubbell/Donohue, but the Shib Sibs remain untouched by other U.S. teams in terms of the silver spot (behind Davis/White, of course).

So here’s the lineup for each discipline at the GP Final. I’ve included the 1st and 2nd alternates in bold, as they often get called up to replace someone in an Olympic season:

LADIES: Asada, Lipnitskaia, Wagner, Pogorilaya, Sotnikova, Radionova, Suzuki, Kostner

MEN: Chan, Machida, Hanyu, Kovtun, Takahashi, Yan, Oda, Rippon

PAIRS: Volosozhar/Trankov, Savchenko/Szolkowy, Pang/Tong, M-T/Moscovitch, Duhamel/Radford, Peng/Zhang, Sui/Han, Barton/Hotarek

DANCE: Davis/White, Virtue/Moir, Bobrova/Soloviev, Pechalat/Bourzat, Weaver/Poje, Cappellini/Lanotte, Ilinykh/Katsalapov, Shibutanis

Thursday, November 21, 2013

2013 Rostelecom Cup of Russia Preview & Predictions

Rostelecom Cup of Russia predictions are here! Please note that I’ve added some chatter about making it to the GP Final in lieu of my regular notes...

And for the CoR timetable, click here.

Gold- Julia Lipnitskaia, RUS
Silver- Carolina Kostner, ITA
Bronze- Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, RUS

Dark Horse: Kanako Murakami, JPN

Who’s at the Final for sure: Asada, Wagner, Pogorilaya, and Sotnikova
Who’s on the bubble: Radionova, Suzuki

To get to the Final: Lipnitskaia gets there for SURE if she’s anywhere on the podium here. Kostner, Tuktamysheva and Murakami can only get there for SURE if they win. (Getting silver would put each of them at 24 points for the season along with Elena Radionova and Akiko Suzuki, so tiebreakers would come into play.)

Gold- Maxim Kovtun, RUS
Silver- Javier Fernandez, ESP
Bronze- Tatsuki Machida, JPN

Dark Horse: Honestly, with so many withdrawals from this event (Plushenko, Joubert, Reynolds)... I can’t find one.

Who’s at the Final for sure: Chan, Hanyu
Who’s on the bubble: Takahashi, Yan, Oda, Rippon

To get to the Final: Kovtun gets there if he gets anywhere on the podium... Machida gets there if he finishes 4th or higher... if Fernandez (or Richard Dornbush or Joshua Farris for that matter) WINS, it would put him on the 22-point bubble with Rippon, but numerous other things would have to fall into place for him to get there. In other words, it’s still mathematically possible for these three but not very likely.

Gold- Savchenko/Szolkowy, GER
Silver- Moore-Towers/Moscovitch, CAN
Bronze- Bazarova/Larionov, RUS

Dark Horse: Scimeca/Knierim, USA

Who’s at the Final for sure: Volosozhar/Trankov, Pang/Tong
Who’s on the bubble: Duhamel/Radford, Peng/Zhang, Sui/Han, Berton/Hotarek
To get to the Final: Savchenko/Szolkowy need to finish 4th or higher... Moore-Towers/Moscovitch need to finish on the podium... Bazarova/Larionov have a chance if they finish on the podium, but it’s another case of other-things-needing-to-happen-as-well.

Gold- Bobrova/Soloviev, RUS
Silver- Weaver/Poje, CAN
Bronze- Riazanova/Tkachenko, RUS

Dark Horses: Chock/Bates, USA or Gilles/Poirier, CAN

Who’s at the Final for sure: Davis/White, Virtue/Moir, Pechalat/Bourzat, Cappellini/Lanotte
Who’s on the bubble: Ilinykh/Katsalapov, Shibutani/Shibutani

To get to the Final: Both Weaver/Poje and Bobrova/Soloviev need to finish somewhere on the podium... Chock/Bates have an outside chance if they win bronze and a better shot if they finish higher than that (seems very unlikely given their competition, though). 

2013 Trophee Eric Bompard Results and Review

I know the final GP event before Finals starts up soon, but here's a look back at the Trophee Eric Bompard results before we head to Moscow...

Gold- Ashley Wagner, USA
Silver- Adelina Sotnikova, RUS
Bronze- Anna Pogorilaya, RUS

*  Both Russian girls missed the double axel in their SP, and while that surely helped Wagner gain a six-point lead on them, her components helped too... though in the case of Sotnikova, not as much as I thought. Sotnikova in particular gave Wagner a great run for her money, skating perhaps better than I’ve ever seen in her free skate win.

*  What’d you think of Wagner’s new FS “Juliet” dress? I like this one a lot and prefer it to the old one,which for me was too close in color to last year’s “Delilah” costume.

*  Samantha Cesario, who finished 4th here, continues to be a force of nature among the U.S. ladies and absolutely should NOT be counted out of an Olympic spot this season simply because she finished down in 8th at last year’s Nationals. Christina Gao, meanwhile, had the kind of free skate you want to forget and turned up down in 8th place. Her Tweets, however, indicate she’s moving on quickly towards prepping for Nationals.

Gold- Patrick Chan, CAN
Silver- Yuzuru Hanyu, JPN
Bronze- Jason Brown, USA

*  As at Skate Canada, props go out once again to Chan. Not just for his sublime-beyond- words, World Record-setting free skate, but the fact that he skated “lights out” when he didn’t need to (to win). He now heads into the GP Final as not only the reigning World Champ, but the most consistent jumper among the top men.

*  Hanyu continues to struggle somewhat this year—to look at his first two (missed) quad jumping passes in the FS was to figure he was about to skate his way right off the TEB podium—but he pulled it together after that, and his SP was much better this time around too.

*  China’s Han Yan didn’t skate much like he did at Cup of China—a step out on the combo in the SP; a series of bobbles in the FS that increased as he ran out of gas—and he proved no match for the top skaters...

*  ...One of which turned out to be Jason Brown. With no quads and a still-inconsistent triple axel (he popped his second one in the FS), Brown is currently the kind of skater who needs the quad guys to miss if he’s to be competitive. Yes, he finished ahead of Han in the SP, but had Han hit his toughest jumps in the longer FS (where more points are accumulated), he would’ve gone ahead of Brown. That said, Brown LIT. IT. UP. in Paris, continuing to share his brand of Ponytail Power all over the world.

Gold- Qing Pang/Jian Tong, CHN
Silver- Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, CAN
Bronze- Caydee Denney/John Coughlin, USA

How I wish Tong wasn’t struggling with his SBS jumps... the Thirtysomethings of Olympic-eligible pairs skating were otherwise looking pretty good (again) over the weekend. And I didn’t realize they’d never won TEB before, so that victory had to be especially sweet. Duhamel/Radford looked better here than at SkCan, but of course with the higher risk elements come bigger knocks when they don’t happen as planned. And speaking of side-by-side jumps, it appears to still be Bazarova/Larionov’s weakness—if she wasn’t missing them, he was (or was too worried about her to focus, as Peter Carruthers might say). In any case, Denney/Coughlin were the ones to medal, and high time they did this season.

Gold- Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, CAN
Silver- Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov, RUS
Bronze- Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat, FRA

There wasn’t as much of a point spread among these three as you might think... and you may have noticed they weren’t in the order that I, for one, was expecting. Are I/K on track to be the breakout team of the season? A theory I posed on Twitter during the FD was that their centerpiece last season (the Ghost FD, with the wildly distracting dialogue and drama) held them back from showcasing how much they were fusing as a team... so perhaps their Swan Lake looks that much better to us (and the judges) in comparison. Will they turn out to be yet another viable contender for the Olympic bronze?

In any case, I broke out the technical FD protocols for both I/K and P/B so you can see who won which individual battle. Levels-wise, both were getting 4’s on everything except the dance spin (where P/B got a level 3). I’ve highlighted the higher score on most of the elements.

STw4 (twizzles) 6.86

SILi4 5.21 (Li= LIFT)
CuLi4 4.93
CuLi4 5.00
RoLi4 4.86
ChLi1 0.86

CiSt3 7.93 (St= STEP SEQUENCE)
DSt3 8.07

Sp3 4.43 (Sp=SPIN)

STw4 7.29

SlLi4+RoLi4 10.86
SiLi4 4.93
RoLi4 4.93
ChLi1 0.93

CiSt3 7.93
DSt3 7.64

CoSp4 6.00

So this round went to I/K, but it’s P/B that already have a spot in the GP Final... I/K, with a 4th place finish at NHK, are most likely to be the 1st alternate depending on what happens at Cup of Russia this weekend. It starts FRIDAY (at 6AM Eastern time), so I’ll get my preview/predictions posted later this evening! 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Trophee Eric Bompard Preview & Predictions

Leg five of the 2013 ISU Grand Prix is Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris ! Here’s the event schedule... want to see where my guesses are going this week? Read on...
Gold- Ashley Wagner, USA
Silver- Adelina Sotnikova, RUS
Bronze- Anna Pogorilaya, RUS
Dark Horses: Christina Gao and Samantha Cesario, USA
NOTES: Even the article at IceNetwork indicates this ladies’ event is all about the Americans and the Russians (who comprise ½ of the competitors) . Wagner will have to do as she did at SkAM, and then some, to hold off “the teenagers” who earned hardware at Cup of China two weeks ago. We know they can skate; we know they do well under pressure. My hope is that, all things being relatively equal on the tech side, Wagner’s experience and “whole package” maturity will put her on top. And if, by chance, any of these three have a rough weekend... either Gao or Cesario could make it to the podium instead. 
Gold- Patrick Chan, CAN
Silver- Han Yan, CHN
Bronze- Yuzuru Hanyu, JPN
Dark Horse: Florent Amodio, FRA
NOTES: If Han skates anything like he did at Cup of China, this is going to be quite the event. Not that I think he can beat Chan, but I think he (Chan) should plan his full arsenal... it won’t be as easy as SkCan was. I did decide to give Han the nod over Hanyu because I haven’t seen Hanyu skate clean since before Worlds. I’m also not feeling much love for his new Romeo & Juliet free skate; it just doesn’t feel like it has its own personality yet. As for Amodio—call me crazy for giving him any consideration after Cup of China, but he’s the sole French representative in this year’s men’s event.  Consequentially, I’m hoping he makes it interesting. (By the way, USA ’s Ross Miner was scheduled to compete but withdrew with an ankle injury. Jason Brown will be the only U.S. competitor.)
Gold- Qing Pang/Jian Tong, CHN
Silver- Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, CAN
Bronze- Caydee Denney/John Coughlin, USA
Dark Horse: Vera Bazarova/Yuri Larionov, RUS
I’m not sure on this one. Call it a sentimental wish: Pang/Tong are primed to win (no kidding!) the 30th medal of their GP career at TEB, so I guess I’d like to see it be a gold one. D/R weren’t as polished as I thought they’d be at SkCan, but they skate with more technical difficulty than P/T so I’ll cut them some slack... but am doubtful that they’ll have all their rough spots fixed two weeks later. I’ve yet to see Baza/Lari this season—had to look them up just to make sure they were still competing this year, in fact—and that’s the main reason why I’m putting them behind the boundless power that is Denney/Coughlin.
Gold- Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, CAN
Silver- Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat, FRA
Bronze- Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov, RUS
Dark Horse: Papakadis/Cizeron, FRA
The love will be both with veterans Pech/Bour and senior GP rookies Papa/Ciz (teenagers that did very well on the junior circuit last year), but Virtue/Moir shouldn’t have any trouble securing their place in the GP Final with another TEB win. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

2013 NHK Review & Results

NHK Results... and yes, I’m painfully aware my predictions were only 25% accurate this time! Yikes. (This time I highlighted the correct guesses.)

GOLD Mao Asada, JPN
SILVER Elena Radionova, RUS
BRONZE Akiko Suzuki, JPN

At least I was close on this one—had Suzuki been successful with her two triple lutz attempts (she popped one, fell on the other), second and third results would have at least been closer if not reversed. Radionova continues to shine in her debut season on the circuit, and will surely make the GP Final... where we may hear the usual rhetoric about it being a crime that one of the most successful athletes currently in the sport is too young to qualify for Sochi. At which time I’ll point to Asada (also clearly destined for another GP Final, the sixth of her career) and say “She needs to take this one.”

Meanwhile, Gracie Gold turned in a solid (if not stupendous) pair of performances at NHK to finish in fourth... actually tied with Radionova in the SP, but a few errors in the FS plus a wipeout on her triple lutz/triple toe took her out of the medal hunt. Incidentally, I’ve put my finger on what I don’t like about her music this season—and no, I’m not talking about the “screechy” violins that some seem to dislike in her Gershwin SP. (They don’t bother me. Honestly. If it’s Gershwin, I’m almost always on board.) I’m talking the last cut of her Sleeping Beauty FS. It’s not fast enough. It does pick up a little by the time she hits her final spin, but for me it’s too little too late. Anyone else?

GOLD- Daisuke Takahashi, JPN
SILVER- Nobunari Oda, JPN
BRONZE- Jeremy Abbott, USA

Who’d have thunk it: the ONE guy I guesstimated correctly this time (or close; I had him for bronze) was Oda. Javier Fernandez—in second after the SP—was at least within striking distance of the gold I’d predicted for him, but an 8th place (eighth place!) free skate changed all that. And Max Aaron (who finished 7th) continued to be less than quad-solid with both programs; consequently, he was nowhere near the podium either. Who WAS there was the Dice-K man, who perhaps took his recent 4th place finish at SkAM (his worst GP finish in four years) as a much-needed wake-up call. Ditto for Abbott, whose 6th place at SkCAN was his worst GP finish since 2007 (when he finished 8th at the same event)! But they had to come at these “comebacks” with decidedly different angles: Dice-K blazed through his SP and earned over 95 points, while Jeremy came out forward on his SP quad toe (not a good sign for ANY jump) and could only secure a 78.78. So one had to basically hold his own in the free skate, while the other needed to skate as he knew he could, but had failed to do in most of his outings this calendar year. Bravo to both of them for showing the fight that remains... a fight that will be absolutely essential for both of them as they make their way to their respective Nationals.

One confession I must make though: when I watched Adam Rippon’s NHK FS (another strong one!) without the benefit of commentary, I thought he’d done enough to possibly move into third. And when I saw Fernandez tank, I really thought it. So when I checked the final results and saw Abbott’s name ahead of Rippon’s, I was more than a little surprised... and definitely bummed out on Rippon’s behalf. This, coming from a huge Abbott fan! It’s not that I begrudged him the medal... but Rippon was in 4th after the SP (with a quad toe this time; had to put a hand down but got credit for full rotation!) and I think I forgot about the fact that 4th and 7th were separated by only a few points. Was this outcome an omen for Nationals? You’ve gotta wonder...

GOLD- Volosozhar/Trankov, RUS
SILVER- Peng/Zhang, CHN

It’s been a long time since a pairs team has looked this unstoppable, hasn’t it? Even in terms of the Russians I think it’s true. Count one more runaway win for Volo/Trank as we try to put the yellow pants out of our minds until the GP Final.

Meanwhile, China only gets to send two pairs teams to the Olympics... and that race took on a new dimension as Peng/Zhang placed higher here than teammates Sui/Han (who had a hot mess of an FS, only staying on the podium because the rest of the teams were so far behind the top three). P/Z really look to be up to speed in only their second season together, so at this point it’s anyone’s guess which team will join Pang/Tong in Sochi. Both are likely to make the GP Final now; we’ll have to see how they fare in that event.

GOLD- Davis/White, USA
SILVER- Cappellini/Lanotte, ITA
BRONZE- Shibutani/Shibutani, USA

It was business as usual for D/W and C/L, so the Shibutani subplot was what had my attention: could their Michael Jackson free dance outscore Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov’s Swan Lake? With the fans, yes. With the judges, I wasn’t sure... particularly since I/K outscored the Shibs at this event last year (with that Ghost program I was so unfond of). But they did, which should keep their spirits going as they continue the Olympic fight. In case you’re wondering, by the way...

Shibutani GP scores this season: 154.47 (SkAM)/157.58 (NHK)
Hubbell/Donohue GP scores this season: 152.98 (SkAM)/153.20 (SkCAN)
Chock/Bates GP scores this season: 150.53 (Cup of China)/TBD at Rostelecom Cup

I’ve heard it’s not really fair to compare scores from different events, but nonetheless it surely wouldn’t hurt Chock/Bates to step up their game when they get to Russia in a couple of weeks...

As for this weekend, it’s Trophee Eric Bompard time! Look for a preview and predictions in the next two days. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

2013 NHK Trophy Preview and Predictions

NHK 2013 officially gets underway at 12:50 AM FRIDAY (U.S. Eastern time), so get your video source lined up (Here’s the schedule of events, according to IceNetwork)  and see if your guesses for the podium match mine...

Gold- Mao Asada, JPN
Silver- Akiko Suzuki, JPN
Bronze- Elena Radionova, RUS

Dark Horse: Gracie Gold, USA

Notes: Here they are again—Asada and Suzuki, skating it out on home country ice. Suzuki won this in ’11. Asada won it last year (and a couple other times ahead of that), though it was by the slimmest of margins in ’12—five-hundredths of a point! Remember that? One of those cases where she was saved by her short program...

As for this year? With Asada trying her triple axel on a regular basis again in both programs (and usually landing it in some fashion at least once), I’ve got to give her the edge... though I’d admittedly find some delight in seeing Suzuki take the title one more time.

Bronze is a tough call this time too—we’ve got Radionova here; she won bronze at SkAM three weeks ago. We’ve also got Gold, who won bronze at SkCAN two weeks ago. Both have consistent triple lutz/triple toes in both programs, but... I’m giving the advantage to Radionova because she’s more consistent in general right now. On the other hand—she might be due for an off day, just as Gracie might get even better than SkCAN as her training under Frank Carroll progresses. So your guess is as good as mine who’s got this!

Gold- Javier Fernandez, ESP
Silver- Max Aaron, USA
Bronze- Nobunari Oda, JPN

Dark Horse: Adam Rippon, USA

Notes: The reigning World Bronze Medalist Fernandez should not have any big difficulty winning this. SHOULDN’T. Doesn’t mean there isn’t a margin for mucking up, but if he can keep his crazy good jumps under control, I think he’s got it. As for the rest... I’m looking at recent outings when I put Aaron in the silver spot and Oda in bronze. Could easily be reversed, but—again, based on the past couple weeks—I think Aaron’s improving on the season while Oda’s best might already be behind him. The Dark Horse here could be Rippon, or Takahashi, or Abbott for that manner, but Rippon’s the one of the three who has delivered the GP goods so far this season.

Gold-Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov, RUS
Silver- Sui Wenjing/Han Cong, CHN
Bronze-Peng Cheng/Zhang Hao, CHN

Dark Horse: Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir, USA

Notes: With Volo/Trank skating as impressively as they have this entire year (last season included), anything less than gold for them here would be a substantial upset. Silver and bronze seems destined for both Chinese teams; I’m choosing the new and improved Sui/Han over Peng/Zhang because they have more mileage as a team—but Zhang may have more “mileage” than Sui + Han put together, so you never know! Not much here in the way of outside shots at the podium, but I’m choosing Castelli/Shnapir on the chance that they hit their throw 4sal (or whatever monster throw they’re currently working on).

Gold-Meryl Davis/Charlie White, USA
Silver- Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte, ITA
Bronze- Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov, RUS

Dark Horse: Maia & Alex Shibutani, USA

Notes: Gold is sewn up, right? And so is silver, don’t you think? Bronze is another story, and it’s an interesting one as we’ll have the Russians (I/K) free dancing to Swan Lake while the Americans (Shib Sibs) do their MJ medley. Tchaikovsky vs. Jackson! Who will the odds favor? If the NHK crowds have anything to do with it I’m guessing they get a lot noisier for the Shibs—but, unless I/K have a major error, I’m hard-pressed to think the judges would lean towards “the Swans”. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

2013 Cup of China in Review

My medal predictions percentage keeps dropping as the GP progresses this season: 75% accurate for Skate America, 50% for Skate Canada, and now only 42% for Cup of China. Gotta turn that around with NHK!!

In the meantime, check out the CoC weekend in review below...

GOLD Anna Pogorilaya, RUS
SILVER Adelina Sotnikova, RUS
BRONZE Carolina Kostner, ITA

I didn’t like it. So... very... much... didn’t... like... the color of the bodice, the color of the skirt, the handkerchief design of the skirt that made me think she wanted to be able to yank one off at any time in case she gets another nosebleed like she did at Worlds...

Oh, sorry! I was busy thinking about Kostner’s FS costume. Unfortunately her skating left something to be desired too; so far, I’d say her take on Scheherazade is a work in progress at best. The Russian “A Team” (Anna & Adelina) delivered the goods much better—or at least in greater quantities—and deserved their 1-2 finish. Is it the ushering in of a new era? I wouldn’t say so just yet, considering no one in the event (including the two of them) had spotless programs. Maybe two weeks in a row of dazzling performances a la Skate Canada were too much to ask for.

Further down the hill, in 7th place, was Agnes Zawadzki of the U.S. Not a great finish, particularly in light of other national medal contenders that have GP’d ahead of her this year, and a lot of people probably pointed to the fact that she just made a coaching switch. Does the fact that Gracie Gold did pretty well in her first new-coach scenario mean that Agnes Z. is in trouble? I don’t think so... she didn’t have a great GP season last year either, and yet she still brought it when it counted at Nationals. In fact, she’s brought it two years running. So we’ll see!

GOLD- Yan Han, CHN
SILVER- Maxim Kovtun, RUS
BRONZE- Takahiko Kozuka, JPN

I saw Kozuka land his quad toe in the SP and thought Well, so much for him being inconsistent! Unfortunately, then there was the free skate... yet he still earned bronze, which tells you how “off” everyone else was. Except for “the teenagers” Yan and Kovtun, who obviously suffered very little in the way of first-time jitters at their respective GP debuts.

As for my prediction that gold would go to Florent Amodio—wow, that was a bust. Not only were his clean quads MIA, but his free skate (bow-tie and all) lacked some of the charm and breezy interpretation that has become his hallmark... not to mention a significant part of his score. His sixth-place finish was even bested by Richard Dornbush (finishing 5th), skating sub-par this week to a(nother) Beatles Medley. I could go for Dornbush taking on the Fab Four, but-- as with Daisuke Takahashi—the song selections and their respective arrangements aren’t cutting it for me. This time the crime comes in choosing several of their earliest hits. As my Twitter pal Truly S. (@hotincleveland) wrote, “Early Beatles should NEVER be orchestrated. That's elevator music, people. John and George are rolling over in their graves.”

And I’ve grown accustomed to seeing Dornbush cut loose a bit in the final minutes of his FS, but that’s precisely where the Muzak “Hard Day’s Night” and its counterparts come in... and this time, the fun expressions and hand gestures feel forced. Blah.

GOLD- Savchenko/Szolkowy, GER
SILVER- Pang/Tong, CHN
BRONZE- Peng/Zhang, CHN

Let me start by saying Pang/Tong never cease to amaze me. All teasing about their ages (born in the 1970s!!!) and alarming endurance (you know they’re held together these days by Scotch tape and poster putty, right?) aside, they are here for one more Olympic push and weren’t far from winning their event at Cup of China. Take that, whippersnappers! And their teammates Peng/Zhang (the latter of whom is nearly as old as they are) are improving enough to take bronze, although I still feel like the age and size difference between the two makes for an awkward, uncle/niece relationship on the ice.

As for Savchenko/Szolkowy... in using the Pas de Deux from The Nutcracker for this Olympic year’s FS, it feels to me like they’ve cleaned up the house (because company’s coming!), scrubbed up, and slapped on their Sunday Best. In other words, I’m not sure I’m buying it yet. Especially if they keep that throw triple axel in the final seconds, as they’ve got it currently. If they land it—as they did at 2013 Worlds—it could be epic IF the rest of their FS goes well. But they wiped out here in China, and that’s something they can ill afford to do once competing against the Russian World Champs. Why not go back to the throw triple salchow they used to do at that spot? Isn’t the risk/reward ratio pointing more in that direction?

GOLD- Pechalat/Bourzat, FRA
SILVER- Bobrova/Soloviev, RUS
BRONZE- Chock/Bates, USA

Apparently it was something of a surprise that P/B won this one. Really? Not that Bob/Solo’s World Bronze Medal is a fluke, but when both teams are skating their best, the nod tends to go P/B’s way. As for their respective FDs—I enjoyed Le Petit Prince et Sa Rose quite a bit. It’s refreshing and sweet, and I haven’t even studied the story behind it yet! Yes, the costumes look “like sherbet” (thank you Aaron @skating102 for that one), but what can I say? I guess I can go for sherbet every now and again. Bob/Solo’s Four Seasons was captivating and intense, but has that THIS IS AN OLYMPIC PROGRAM feel to it that, ironically, fails to stand out yet for me.

As for the U.S. reps here, Chock/Bates ended up bringing home the sole American medal for the weekend with their take on Les Miz. I’m still not crazy about the musical cuts, but it went a little better-- I didn’t get as much of that “rushed” feeling from them as I did when they competed it a few weeks earlier. Aldridge/Eaton are taking an interesting turn with a Bollywood FD this season—and while no one is likely to draw up any reasonable comparisons to Davis/White’s iconic OD from four seasons ago, it’s probably a good way for them to set themselves up for recognition in future years. (They’ll have to keep working hard though; it’s much more difficult to keep a genre like Bollywood going and in character for four minutes than it is for two-and-a-half.)

Watch this space for the NHK overview and predictions!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

2013 Cup of China Predictions

Oh, how the time gets tight when the GP events start up in the middle of the night! (In my neck of the woods, that is.)

Here's the Cup of China schedule... remember highlights will air on NBC from 1:30-3:30 Eastern. And the predictions...

Gold- Carolina Kostner, ITA
Silver- Kanako Murakami, JPN
Bronze- Li Zijun, CHN

Dark Horse: Agnes Zawadzki, USA

Kostner’s take on Scheherazade makes its season debut this weekend, so that alone may be reason enough to get up at 4:40AM Eastern time (in the U.S.) and watch the Ladies final live on Saturday morning. I don’t know if I’d go THAT far :-), but I’ve no reason to doubt that she is the favorite this weekend with very good reason. Murakami just missed the world podium last spring, so I expect she’ll give Kostner a decent run for her medal money here. Li was one of the more successful up-and-coming teens on the senior circuit last season, so this debut on “home ice” should be a great opportunity to see how she’s coming along. She managed 5th at this event last year, so bronze would be a nice step up. But she’ll have to hold off Zawadzki first, who earned her first GP bronze at Rostelecom Cup last season... and is, of course, one of the most likely contenders for That Third Spot on the U.S. Olympic Team.

And everyone I just mentioned should probably watch out for the three Russian teens also in China: Nikol Gosviani, Anna Pogorilaya, and Adelina Sotnikova. They finished 6th, 5th, and 3rd respectively in Russian Nationals; Sotnikova is the only one with senior GP experience under her belt.

Gold- Florent Amodio, FRA
Silver- Takahiko Kozuka, JPN
Bronze- Denis Ten, KAZ

Dark Horses: Song Nan, CHN/Yan Han, CHN

Welcome to my long shot of the week! With Ten arriving to China at far less than 100 percent (illness, back pain) and Kevin Reynolds struggling with boot issues and withdrawing from the event altogether, the search for a favorite is a lot tougher. I adore Kozuka (as you probably know), and would love to see him win here, but his jump consistency—particularly with his biggest point-getters—isn’t what it once was. As for Amodio, he’s got increasingly consistent quads, new coaches, and reportedly a finer-tuned work ethic. I’d say he’s got as good a shot at victory here as anyone.

Nonetheless, watch for home country faves Song and Yan... the latter is making his senior GP debut... both men can deliver some pretty sick quads. Ricky Dornbush of the USA could also be in the mix if his jumps are on.

Gold-Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy, GER
Silver-Pang Qing/Tong Jian, CHN
Bronze-Anastasia Martiusheva/Alexei Rogonov, RUS

Dark Horses: Peng/Zhang, CHN and Scimeca/Knierim, USA

Here’s a jaw-dropping Fun Fact for you: if Pang/Tong medal at this event, it will be the 29th medal they’ve won in GP events ALONE. Surely they’ve already set some kind of record, or will by the end of this season... and they’re not even at the top of their game anymore! (Nor would any of us be if we were still doing throw triple salchows into our mid-30s.) Anyway, I see silver for them here, with Sav/Szol taking the top spot. I’m really not sure about bronze—this is a “when in doubt, go with the Russians” sort of wager. (Um, Scimeca/Knierim? That’s your cue to prove me wrong.)

Gold-Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat, FRA
Silver- Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev, RUS
Bronze- Madison Chock/Evan Bates, USA

(Really, Really) Dark Horse (because there isn’t a particularly deep field beyond the three I mentioned above): Aldridge/Eaton, USA

It’ll be an easy win for P/B... or will it?? At Worlds, they seemed to be all set to claim their second straight bronze medal, but Bob/Solo went lights out on their FD while the French faltered. Bronze went to the Russians. Still, I give the advantage to P/B most any day of the week... and I’m hopeful their much-discussed Little Prince and his Rose FD will be worth the wait.