Friday, February 22, 2013

The Men, and the Ladies, and the multiple meanings of Four Continents 2013


Sometimes we get mad when the men’s event becomes a quad contest. And sometimes we get mad when it seems a clean quad hasn’t been landed in months—right around the time nay-sayers lament “the sport isn’t progressing!”

Lately, we’ve been hit with a couple of quad contests. We saw it at U.S. Nationals, where both Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon ceded the world team spots to a couple of guys who could land what they could not. And then we saw it again at Four Continents, when Daisuke Takahashi faltered to a trio of young quadmasters (not to mention U.S. Champ Max Aaron’s FS rally to 4th place). It’s more complicated than that, of course. We know Abbott's artistic scores could’ve kept him on the team if he could’ve landed all the triples he had planned, and that Takahashi had lots of little mistakes (2-footed quads, stepouts etc.).

But if you've been waiting for Kevin Reynolds to get his Canadian-quad-king due, this was YOUR event. Part of his problem in the past has involved quads that looked clean initially, but were later found to be under-rotated. Another part of his problem has involved triple jumps (especially axels) that were blown or, more typically, popped after he’d put all his energy into the quads. But none of that was in evidence here, landing 3 quads in the FS as well as all his planned triples. Has he turned a corner... just in time for Worlds? We’ll know in a few weeks.

As for Yuzuru Hanyu—if ever there was a sign he was here to stay (like the GP series wasn’t enough?) it would be here, with a relatively subpar but still silver-worthy skate. He doubled his quad salchow and popped a triple lutz (both in his FS), but he was by far the best of the Japanese men. Maybe the crazy-competitiveness of so many excellent athletes took its toll here? Or they’re all subconsciously harvesting their energy for Worlds? Let’s face it, Japan could’ve sent Mura with Kozuka and Oda to this event (or maybe even a name further down the list) and gotten similar results to the 2nd/7th/8th generated by Hanyu/Takahashi/Mura. Great, now I’m sitting here pouting about how I’d have rather seen Kozuka skate... and I still can’t believe he won’t be at Worlds... WAAAH.

Anyway, 4CC occasionally serves a very important purpose in that it actually affects decisions about who goes to said Worlds. Last year, Canada used it to determine whether Cynthia Phaneuf or Amelie Lacoste would get the lone ladies spot available to them. This time, former junior skater Yan Han did so well in his 4CC debut (bronze medal!) that many suspect he’ll be representing at Senior Worlds rather than Junior Worlds (as he was slated to do until a few days ago). Since Song Nan finished out of the top 12 last year, China gets only one spot for men’s singles... and Song was only able to finish 6th here at 4CC... Aw, rats. Now I’m upset at the thought of Song missing Worlds too. (NOTE: as of now, I believe Song is still the one listed. Don't know if that's official yet, as they were still deciding Russian spots for Worlds up until today!)

About the 4CC ladies... Well first let’s consider ALL the top ladies, worldwide... 

It’s a given that the Japanese ladies (Asada, Murakami, Suzuki) are tough to beat at any event. Another given: Kim Yu-Na wasn’t at 4CC, but even if her skating at Worlds is not a technical match with the top ladies, her component score will be there and keep her in contention.

Let’s hop continents and focus on Europe next. With Kiira Korpi withdrawn from the event for the second straight year (due to injury), the top contenders look to be Italian and Russian. Reigning World Champ Carolina Kostner, while (so far) no match for Kim on the Olympic front, could otherwise be quite similar: not all there technically with count-on-it components (And a steadily improving Valentina Marchei can’t be ruled out to make a dent of her own). Russia, meanwhile, will bring Adelina Sotnikova and Liza Tuktamysheva to the party along with last-year’s-silver-medalist/this-year’s biggest wild card Alena Leonova.

Now, if we hop one more time and land on North America... and look around for the leading contenders... it’s not that we don’t HAVE them; rather, it’s that they don’t make as convincing a case. This (finally!) is where this year’s 4CC comes in:

+ USA’s rising star, 17 year-old Gracie Gold, was there. Canada’s rising star, 17 year-old Kaitlyn Osmond, was also there. But they finished sixth and seventh, respectively... not just behind the Japanese team (natch), but also Christina Gao of the USA, and Zijun Li of China.

Wait a minute... are you talking about Gao, perpetually 5th-place-at-Nats Gao but also GP- ladies- finalist Gao? 

Yes I am. Gao outskated Gold and Osmond AND Agnes Zawadski at 4CC. While it’s nice that each of these 3 U.S. skaters has had a chance to shine in the past few weeks—Zawadski in the SP at Nats, Gold in the FS at Nats, and Gao at this entire event—it also plays up a dogged lack of consistency among them. Sure, they’re young (17-18), and the consistency may come with time and experience... but 2 out of 3 of the Russians are that age or younger. Kanako Murakami is young. Zijun Li is younger (16), and had one of the best free skates at 4CC.

And consider this: last year Ashley Wagner attended 4CC fresh off her first-ever U.S. title... and won this event too, defeating the tough-to-beat Japanese women in the process. Which set her up for Worlds very nicely, and left little surprise when she almost reached that podium too.

Her newly consistent self hit a wall, some might say, with the GP Final and (recent) U.S. Nationals free skates. It’s unfortunate that illness plus injury (and the recovery time needed for both) kept Wagner from defending her 4CC title—now we’ll all have to wait a few more weeks to see if she can regain her consistency WHILE beefing up the difficulty necessary to stay in the hunt. Because based on a season’s worth of results, she’s still our best chance for that.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"Carmenus Interruptus" and Other Pairs/Dance Observations from 2013 Four Continents

Some 4CC thoughts for you...

PAIRS: Simply stated, the World Team goals for the top North American pairs teams seem to break out like this:

Canada—get on the podium.
U.S.—break into the Top Six.

With no Pang/Tong (Injured? Exhausted?), no Sui/Han (Long-term injured? Long-term exhausted?), and no Takahashi/Tran (broken up), this year’s 4CC was all about Canada and the U.S. And they fell in line as you might expect: Canada 1st and 2nd; U.S. 3rd and 4th. The good news for Canada is that their one-two punch keeps getting stronger. Duhamel/Radford’s total score of 199.18 would have given them the bronze medal in last month’s European Championships, while Moore-Towers/Moscovitch’s total of 196.78 would’ve been plenty for fourth place. Even better news for Canada—maybe— is that Duhamel/Radford in particular had plenty of room for technical improvement in their free skate. So in theory, they could do even better at Worlds. But will they...? Or will M-T/Mosco get the advantage (and the medal)?

The good news for the U.S. pairs of Castelli/Shnapir and Zhang/Bartholomay is that they gained much-needed international experience and skated fairly well (in “Euros” terms they’d have ended up in the 6th/7th place range). The bad news for the U.S. is that we just do NOT have a one-two punch. And with only one of the U.S. 4CC teams headed to Worlds, while another (Denney/Coughlin) tries to heal up in time for the trip... and all other recent Worlds pair competitors from the U.S. either split up (Marley/Brubaker, Evora/Ladwig) or re-teamed and split up AGAIN (Davis/Ladwig, who parted company last week)... momentum simply continues to elude us.


Without Weaver/Poje at this event, the top skaters were all-American with a big dash of Canadian at its core. Because the rookie team of Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier is progressing quickly, but not quite that quickly, you know? (Kudos to them for finishing 5th nonetheless.)

So a battle for bronze emerged between the U.S.’s Shib Sibs and Chock/Bates... the very same teams that twizzled it out for Nationals silver a few weeks ago. With the same outcome, save for the 1-point deduction the Shibs got at Nats.

Chock/Bates: 160.42 4CC; 175.91 Nats
Shib Sibs: 159.97 4CC; 174.21 Nats

So whether skating for international judges or national ones (with traditionally higher scores all-around), it has become a virtual dead heat—with Chock/Bates getting the edge both times, and in this case, the Shib Sibs just missing out on the 4CC bronze medal for the second year in a row. Shibs devotees must be losing their minds as we head into Worlds, wondering what it could possibly take for the Sibs to feel the judicial love that was first heaped upon them two years ago. And it surely doesn’t help that, as some of you mentioned in the last post, that these two teams also represent opposite sides of the Zueva/Shpilband coaching split of last summer.

And then came a little something I’m calling CARMENUS INTERRUPTUS. If you haven’t yet seen Virtue/Moir’s FD from a few days ago, take a look at it here  ... it’s at the 2:56 mark when they seemingly missed a lift, then stopped the program altogether, then ping-ponged back and forth between their coaches and the judges a few times (well, Scott did anyway), then picked up where they left off 4 minutes later and finished the rest of the program—complete with the previously aborted lift. No, they didn’t win—Davis/White did, with another season’s best score I believe—but their silver medal-worthy performance has generated plenty of chatter just the same: Why no deduction for stopping down the program? Why was so much time allowed for them to regroup and continue? Why did they get another shot at that lift? Was it really another case of leg cramps for Virtue (as she indicated later), or did Moir screw up the lift the first time around?

Even though the deduction thing has been explained here and there (with the most recent non-deduction happening with the Shib Sibs during last fall’s GP series), I think the questions will remain for a while—at least until we see what unfolds at Worlds next month.

Personally I try to cheer on V/M as much as I can—for a D/W fan, anyway—but I can’t help but feel Moir is developing an above-the-law attitude I can neither appreciate nor relate to in any manner. And last weekend’s events only reinforced that feeling.

Men’s and Ladies commentary still to come... can you believe I haven’t yet taken a look at Kevin Reynolds’ gold-medal free skate??

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Post-Omaha, Nationals 2013: Men's Overview

Last but not least, the MEN of U.S. Nationals... Men's Overview

Top 6 Men: Max Aaron, Ross Miner, Jeremy Abbott, Joshua Farris, Adam Rippon

The debate: Did Aaron deserve to win?

I made a prediction on January 21st that Aaron would win bronze to Abbott’s gold and Miner’s silver. Had Abbott executed all his planned triples, my prediction probably would’ve been more accurate (although Aaron’s TWO quad salchows kept him a step ahead of Miner’s ONE quad salchow). But I’ve got some of the free skate protocols here in front of me, so let’s take a look at them in an effort for some clarity:

Aaron had four double-digit point-getters... the 4sal/2toe (13.94), solo 4sal (12.93), solo 3ax in 2nd half of program (12.06), and 3toe/loop/3sal in 2nd half (10.88).

Miner’s double-digit point-getters numbered four as well... the 4sal (12.64), 3ax/2toe (11.80), 3lz/3toe (10.20), and 3lz/loop/3sal in 2nd half of program (12.37).

In the wake of his fall on the quad toe, Abbott only had three double-digit point-getters ... 3ax/2toe (11.51), solo 3ax in 2nd half of program (11.78), and 3lz/3toe in 2nd half (12.41).

In terms of points for the ELEMENTS, the top 7 free skate guys shook down like this:
Alexander Johnson (who we’ll talk about in a future post)—81.35
Ricky Dornbush—75.87

While in terms of points for the COMPONENTS (artistic score), it looked like this:


So considering Aaron’s 2 quads were worth about 26 points ALONE, it’s easy to see how he could build up such a lead in an event with no compatible quad success stories. And while his components were nearly 10 points lower than Abbott’s, they were still pretty good (third best of the event). It could be argued that those were too high, but I’m not sure what sort of case could be made against his elements score... unless you want to argue that quads are scored too high, in which case I can think of more than a few skaters who’d want to take the counterpoint position.

Going back to Abbott’s elements... he earned a 3.67 for his 2Lo/2toe combo; had he done a 3Lo/2toe as planned, I think it would have been at least 4 points higher. And the 2sal he did at the very end earned him only 1.43 points; a 3sal would’ve been at least 3 ½ points higher. That’s around 7 ½ points left on the table at an event where there was less than 6 points separating 1st and 3rd place. In other words... in theory, at least... Abbott could have won.

Or if he’d have tripled ONE of those last two as planned, he’d have been in 2nd. Not the winner, but at least he’d have made the world team.

Instead, his season is over in a most maddening fashion... both for him, and for his fans.

All of which should take nothing away from the fact that Aaron and Miner are extremely deserving world team members. Miner (who carries the highest GP point totals of any U.S. skater this season) has been sitting on the bronze side for the past two years, so it’s especially rewarding to see him do so well—almost winning the whole thing, if not for a popped triple axel. As for Aaron, who has cut a fine impression for himself on the junior circuit but is very new to this whole senior thing... I’m honestly not sure what they’ll do with him. IF he has as much quad success at Worlds as he did at Nats, they’ll have to reward him properly. But it’s only part of the picture, and his international components are likely to be considerably lower in London, ON than they were in Omaha.

Will Aaron and Miner be able to win back a third U.S. men’s slot for Sochi? All I know for sure is that Abbott’s already had his turn at this. And had it, and had it, and had it even a fourth time. Given the way those turned out... and given that a third spot might be Abbott’s best bet for a shot at Sochi come this time next season... perhaps these results will prove to be the best thing that ever happened to the guy I used to refer to (with fondness) as JEREMEEEE.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Post-Omaha: Nationals 2013: Ladies Overview

Are you tired of waiting for “some thoughts” yet on the men and ladies? Because I am. Let’s see what I’ve got:

Ladies results, US Nationals 2013 (top 5): Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold, Agnes Zawadski, Courtney Hicks, Christina Gao

The debate (a real one for some fans): Was Gold “robbed”? And/or was Wagner held up by components?  

To spice things up, here are write-ups on the topic by USA Today’s Christine Brennan and Chicago Tribune’s Phil Hersh.

As for me, I agree with the placement. Easy for me, right... I’m one of those who predicted pre-Nats that Wagner & Gold would go 1-2 (and was hedging her bets after the short program). But Gold made two gasp-worthy mistakes in the SP, so combine that with her understandably “1st year senior lady” (quoting Sandra Bezic there) artistic scores and you get what she got—ninth place. Wagner skated like a seasoned pro for the SP, skated clean, and came out on top. Different story for the free skate—Gold was a healthy, uninjured, “angry” (so we heard) girl on a mission for redemption; Wagner was a lady recovering from recent injury and illness (salmonella—ugh!!) determined to get through a long, long four minutes. Oh, and to pull off back-to-back titles a la Kwan. I wasn’t at all sure she’d gotten it done until the scores came in. (Neither was she, in case you couldn’t tell.) But she did. Some might argue that the judges “held her up” by inflating the always-subjective artistic scores, but even if they did... it’s probably happened a time or two to any well-regarded skater that’s hung around long enough to earn the benefit of the doubt. I can live with that. More importantly, I’m not convinced that was even the case. But let me take a closer look at the protocols before commenting further on that.

(By the way—raise your hand if you began to worry for Wagner as soon as she did that slight 2-ft thing on the triple salchow... the flaw that used to be her undoing at many an event!)

Is “Ash” in trouble? Difficulties with the FS at the GP Final, difficulties at Nats—are there more than simple ailments to blame? I’m not ready to declare that just yet... I DO think Wagner needs at least a good performance at Worlds (“good”= top 6) to get her groove back. But in any case, I’d rather be Wagner than Gold over the next 12 months.
You may have heard/read/been beaten over the head with the news that Gold has now proven herself to be America’s Next Big Skating Thing? NBC clearly has put all its money on her, and for the sport’s sake (in America, at least) it would be nice if it worked out that way. But the post-Kwan shadow is a mighty long one, and the last young woman in the U.S. to be anointed “Next” was a certain phenom with the last name of Meissner. Then it was Nagasu. Then Flatt. All in about 3-4 years’ time.

Sure, Gold may “love attention” as Bezic and Hamilton mentioned last Saturday night... but I, for one, hope the skating media does her a huge favor this coming year and BACKS. OFF. ALREADY.

Anyway, my bigger debate than all that is this: Agnes Zawadzki in 3rd place rather than Gao?

Does anyone else have a problem with this? Not just because Gao got that bummer 5th place AGAIN, but because she they believe she deserved 3rd?

OK, so admittedly I say this without studying their protocols either. Let me know what you know, and I’ll see what I can find.

Ran out of time for the Men’s mini-analysis, will do that this weekend!