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. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

2013 Skate Canada Wrap-Up

Here's a look back at this past weekend's Skate Canada: 

GOLD Julia Lipnitskaia, RUS
SILVER Akiko Suzuki, JPN
BRONZE Gracie Gold, USA

Gumbyskaia skated very clean and very strong. Yes, she also skates like she’s 15, meaning her connections to the music and emotions (of which there are plenty when your FS is to Schindler’s List) are often tenuous at best. But she’s proving to be a fierce senior competitor with crazy-consistent jumps, speedy, well-centered spins, and as we all know, flexibility for days. Having turned 15 in June of this year, she is just barely age-eligible for the Olympics... meaning she may have the great fortune to compete at the biggest event of her sport while also being young enough to still have the waif-ish, girl’s body with which she mastered such tough elements. Just sayin’.

Meanwhile, Gold looked much better here than she did at the Utah Challenge event last month. That was expected, given her situation (“breaking up” with one coach while not yet fully signed on with another). But her 69+ SP score had to be a surprise, even knowing she’d skated well! Too bad she couldn’t keep it together well enough to retain her lead this time, but I’m sure her day is coming...

ALSO: Christina Gao, who has now finished 4th at three of her biggest international events of the past year (Trophy Eric Bompard, 4 CC, and this one) must feel like that “almost girl” weight is settling onto her shoulders now that Wagner has shrugged it off... it was a real shame that Kaetlyn Osmond had to withdraw after the SP (with a hamstring injury, not a re-visit to the foot injury she had recently)... Courtney Hicks didn’t exactly light up the joint in her GP debut, but her Evita FS was much better than her SP, allowing her to finish 6th instead of last.

GOLD- Patrick Chan, CAN
SILVER- Yuzuru Hanyu, JPN
BRONZE- Nobunari Oda, JPN

Team U.S.A.’s Douglas Razzano wondered (via Twitter) if any of these guys had any interest in winning this event—and if you were watching, you know why he felt compelled to say that. Popped jumps, missed jumps, tripled quads, fumbled spins... it’s like the minds of 9 guys got together and said So we know Chan is going to crush all of us, so let’s just get in and out and be done with it, OK? Save the fight for another time. And that’s too bad, because there are moments of brilliance in so much of what went down in the men’s event: Jeremy Abbott’s relatively successful quad (he still got negative GOEs for it I guess) in the SP... TWO successful quad salchows by Michal Brezina (yes, Brezina!) in the FS... a senior GP debut by Josh Farris that landed him in 5th overall, outscoring Abbott by less than 1 point. And let’s be clear: neither Oda nor Hanyu were slouches in their respective medal finishes—they both just had sub-par nights in a sport where the bar (especially for the Japanese men) is INSANELY high. But Chan could’ve gone out, doubled all his jumps, and still won... and we couldn’t have cried foul in good conscience. Having said that, Chan doubled enough jumps near the end (and singled an axel too) to underscore that fact just a wee bit. But two great quads (one in a 4/3 combo) within the first 90 seconds of the program was much more than necessary this time around.

GOLD- Stefania Berton/Ondrej Hotarek, ITA
SILVER- Sui Wenjing/Han Cong, CHN
BRONZE- Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, CAN

I’d said it was Duhamel/Radford’s to lose, and it was... and they did, after leading (though not by much) in the SP. Berton/Hotarek only managed 5th place at SkAM with these same programs, but this time around they surprised everyone (themselves included!) with Italy’s first-ever pairs GP victory. They were helped with some smaller mistakes on D/R’s part and one glaring one—an aborted lift in the FS. (I’d usually call such misses “rare” except it happened at least three different times in this event.) Sui/Han were right—as in less than half a point overall—behind the Italians, convincing me that they are not only healthier than they were earlier in the year, but are maturing nicely too. In the middle of the pack (5th and 6th) were the U.S. teams Denney/Frazier and Davis/Brubaker, respectively... not bad GP debuts, though disappointment was etched on Brubaker’s face, particularly after the SP.

GOLD-TessaVirtue/Scott Moir, CAN
SILVER- KaitlynWeaver/Andrew Poje, CAN
BRONZE- Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue, USA

Just last week I was saying something about the odds on successful completions of those soaring-yet-risky straight-line lifts. If I spoke too loudly for those angels who oversee such moves, I apologize... for here, the Russian team of Stepanova/Bukin suffered a big snag (though it could’ve been much worse) on such a lift, dropping them soundly from 6th place to last. Higher up the ladder were the usual Canadian suspects for gold and silver, with six points separating the two... and my dark horse pick Hubbell/Donohue easily bested the other Russian team (Riazanova/Tkachenko) for bronze, so I hope that bodes well for them as the U.S. battle for bronze continues to heat up.

Cup of China is the next stop on the GP circuit! Got any favorites competing? Post about them (or the SkCan results, if you prefer) in the Comments! 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

2013 Skate Canada Previews & Predictions

I hope you’re ready for Skate Canada 2013, because Skate Canada 2013 is certainly ready for you!  Here’s a link to the Skating Magazine Viewers’ Guide  ... and keep in mind that, unlike SkAM, all SkCAN events will wrap up by Saturday night. Consequently, NBC’s coverage from 4-6 PM (Eastern) on Sunday will be of the tape-delayed variety.

My predictions were 9-for-12 last week; let’s see if I have any chance of keeping that up THIS week...

Gold- Akiko Suzuki, JPN
Silver- Julia Lipnitskaia, RUS
Bronze- Gracie Gold, USA

Dark Horses: Kaetlyn Osmond, CAN/Courtney Hicks, USA

Notes: My thinking is like this: Suzuki’s “got it all,” while Gumbyskaia and Gold have the jumps and are working on the rest (with Advantage Gumby because Gold’s recent coaching change to Frank Carroll makes her a little bit of a wild card). Osmond was the surprise winner at this event last year, but a reported foot injury keeps me from putting her in the mix with confidence.

Gold- Patrick Chan, CAN
Silver- Yuzuru Hanyu, JPN
Bronze- Nobunari Oda, JPN

Dark Horse: Jeremy Abbott, USA

Notes: Chan was second here last year, so we know it’s at least possible in this day and age for him NOT to win on home ice. Still, I suspect the odds are in his favor. Oda’s Nebelhorn victory last month was decisive enough to make me think he can get on the podium if he nails at least one quad... though I’d still prefer it if the guy nailing the quad (and medaling) was skating to Exogenesis.

Gold-Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, CAN
Silver-Stefania Berton/Ondrej Hotarek, ITA
Bronze-Paige Lawrence/Rudi Swiegers, CAN

Dark Horse: Sui Wenjing/Han Cong, CHN

Notes: It’s Duhamel & Radford’s to lose. Berton/Hotarek might have a hiccup or two, since Hotarek’s skates went AWOL en route to St. John’s and they weren’t able to practice as much as planned today (word is that Ross Miner let Hotarek borrow his spare skates for the AM practice, but they did not attempt the PM one). I’m rooting for Lawrence/Swiegers as I always am... though something(s) invariably seems to go wrong for them... and I’m keeping my eye on Sui/Han since the one time we saw them compete last year—at Worlds—Sui nearly crumbled to the ice in pain by the end of their free skate. Bring the tricks, yes they can. I’m just concerned they bring them too much for their own good at times.

Gold-Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, CAN
Silver- Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje, CAN
Bronze- Ekaterina Riazanova/Ilia Tkachenko, RUS

Dark Horse: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue, USA

Notes: Again, gold and silver are not much of a question in this event. Riaz/Tka (ooh, that’s not much of an abbreviation is it?) took bronze here last year, so going with them again admittedly isn’t much of a stretch. But I’d happily be wrong if Madi and Zach can grab the medal they were just barely denied a mere week ago at SkAM.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013 Skate America Wrap-Up

A relatively quick look back at 2013 Skate America... 

GOLD Mao Asada, JPN
SILVER Ashley Wagner, USA
BRONZE Elena Radionova, RUS

Asada had only been at SKAM once before; her win here made her the only lady to have won all six of the current GP titles AND the GP Final. (Kwan, for those of you wondering, also won all available GPs in her time—and the final—but there were only five GPs back then.) Wagner’s silver medal is her 8th in the GP since she got on the circuit in 2007. Radionova took bronze in her senior GP debut, but as you may have heard several times on the NBC coverage... at 14, she’s not age-eligible for Sochi
Also noteworthy (for the right reasons) was Samantha Cesario, who skated a very solid and convincing Carmen FS on her way to a fifth-place finish in her senior GP debut. And noteworthy for all the wrong reasons, I'm sorry to say, was Caroline Zhang. With a FS that included several pops, only one triple attempt (on her once-reliable triple loop, which she fell on this time), and even a skate-through (total non-attempt) on one element, I couldn't help but wonder again why she'd received this GP assignment in the first place when the likes of National Pewter Medalist Courtney Hicks had to wait for a withdrawal at Skate Canada before getting any GP assignments at all. (For those wondering... so far I haven't heard any news of Zhang skating poorly due to illness or injury.)

GOLD Tatsuki Machida, JPN
SILVER Adam Rippon, USA

Machida’s win was a big surprise, especially in light of who he was up against (Takahashi, Kozuka), but maybe it shouldn’t have been—he DID win Cup of China last year, after all. I’m marveling even more at Rippon’s silver medal—it makes me so happy to see him skating so well! It was only his third medal ever won in the GP since 2008, and his best finish to date. He looks physically stronger, he’s skating with more command and polish (did you watch his hands? His hands alone were fantastic!), and both his programs fit him like a glove... unlike last year’s “Incredible Don Draper” FS, which we can safely say now was an unsuccessful experiment, yes? Oh, and the fact that he’s even got the quad lutz back in both programs gives me great hope. Never mind that he put his hand down on one of them, and crashed into the boards on the other. Just going for them puts everyone on notice that he is a CONTENDER this season.

GOLD Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov, RUS
SILVER Kristen Moore-Towers/Dylan Moscovitch, CAN
BRONZE Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov, RUS

No contest here, as expected... Volo/Trank (and Trankov’s quickly-becoming-infamous Yellow Pants) looked every bit the World Champions they are, both in short form and in long. M-T/M, as far as I’m concerned, have become an excellent team and are a definite possibility for an Olympic medal, but they have to be spot-on with every element just to stand a chance of making it close with Volo/Trank... and they weren’t, though the momentum they’re building for a great national showdown with Duhamel/Radford. The bronze medal here marks the second medal for Stolbova/Klimov since they started the circuit in 2010; this puts them on even footing with (4th place finishers) Denney/Coughlin’s GP medal pedigree. Incidentally, D/C used last year’s Phantom of the Opera FS here-- can anyone fill in if they are going to use Casablanca later this season, as previously announced?

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

Of course, no contest here either. The more uncertain result was likely the battle for bronze, and with good reason—the Shib Sibs grabbed it over Hubbell/Donohue by a margin of less than two points (though that would have been a tiny bit wider had Alex Shibutani not taken a quick tumble right at the beginning of their MJ free dance). Keeping in mind that the Shibs defeated H/D at Nats by well over 6 points, the question comes up again: are H/D that much improved... or are the Shibs doing that much more to find fault over? (As usual I leave this strictly-ice-dancing question to you guys.)

Incidentally, Hubbell/Donohue (and the aforementioned Hicks) are part of the U.S. contingency at this weekend’s Skate Canada... look for the preview/predictions on Friday!

Friday, October 18, 2013

2013 Skate America Airtimes and Predictions

IT'S FINALLY TIME!!!  For the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating, that is.

Here’s when you can catch 2013 Skate America on IceNetwork (and NBC) this weekend. (All times Eastern)

Fri., Oct. 18th: Men’s SP – 7:00 PM, SD – 8:45 PM.

Saturday, Oct. 19th: Pairs SP – 12:00 PM, Ladies SP – 1:30 PM, Men’s FS – 7:00 PM, FD – 9:00 PM.

Sunday, Oct. 20th: Pairs FS – 2:30 PM, Ladies FS – 4:15 PM (NBC ONLY), Gala – 7:30 PM.

Keep in mind there are other viewing options worldwide... this link from IFS Magazine should help you out with info on Canada’s schedule, the Universal Sports schedule, and Eurosport feeds, among others.

And now, here's my stab at who takes home what:

Gold Mao Asada, JPN
Silver Ashley Wagner, USA
Bronze Liza Tuktamysheva, RUS

Dark horses: Elena Radionova, RUS and Mae Berenice Meite, FRA

Notes: Asada and Wagner have become formidable opponents through the years, but Asada usually has the edge... especially when she brings her triple axel (and she already did one in competition a few weeks ago, though not a clean one). Wagner should be able to hold of Liza-With-A Lutzzzzz, though Tuktamysheva's Malaguena FS should serve her nicely this season. I have Meite as a dark horse because of her fierce jumping passes, while Radionova’s there because she’s making her senior GP debut... and like Tuktamysheva two years back, she could make a pretty big splash.

Gold Takahiko Kozuka, JPN
Silver Daisuke Takahashi, JPN
Bronze Max Aaron, USA

Dark horse: Artur Gachinski, RUS

Notes: Like the rest of you, I had to do some mental re-shuffling with the recent withdrawals of Brian Joubert and Denis Ten in this event. Of the eight guys remaining, I’m picking Kozuka over Takahashi—mostly because of the way both skated at the Japan Open. I’m perfectly aware they could flip-flop, but I’m too troubled by Dice-K’s BeatleMuzak FS to give him the benefit of the doubt right now. With Ten and Joubert out of the mix, I think Aaron’s got a clear shot at bronze—but keep in mind the last time I predicted bronze for him was at U.S. Nationals. (And he won instead.)

Gold Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov, RUS
Silver Kristen Moore-Towers/Dylan Moscovitch, CAN
Bronze Caydee Denney/John Coughlin, USA

Dark horse: Stefania Berton/Ondrej Hotarek, ITA

Notes: Did you know the yellow pants worn by Trankov in the Jesus Christ Superstar FS have their own Twitter account? But if you watch SKAM you’ll likely see that, pants aside, the reigning World Champs remain very tough to beat. M-T/Mosco should be an easy fit for silver; I’m actually torn between the US team and the Italians for bronze, so I may be showing my national bias by picking the former. So be it!

Gold Davis/White, USA
Silver Cappellini/Lanotte, ITA
Bronze Shibutani/Shibutani, USA

Dark horse: Hubbell/Donohue, USA

Notes: A year from now, this title may be up for grabs. But until then, consider it D/W’s so long as they take the ice. The Italian champs very nearly took bronze at last season’s Worlds, so I see them taking silver ahead of the Shib Sibs... even though I’m as eager to appreciate their MJ free dance as anyone. Look for Hubbell/Donohue to make a very compelling case for a medal as well. 

I'll be on a weekend trip and won't get to see most of this until next week, so post your thoughts on SKAM and I'll get mine up ASAP!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Six New Programs to Chat About As Skating's 2013 Pre-Season Wraps Up

Skate America (#SA2013 on Twitter) may be less than a week away, but I’m still thinking about the flurry of skating events that took place about 10 days ago.

With so much to watch, I felt I was doing well to whittle my viewing list down to 25 select performances from Finlandia Trophy, Ondrej Nepela Memorial Trophy, and the Japan Open. What I’ve done from there is distill it to a half-dozen (seen below) that I think are remarkable for a variety of reasons. So whether you’ve struggled to find the time to watch everything noteworthy... or were so overwhelmed by the options you crawled into a closet with just your IPhone to track time until #SA2013... I hope you’ll find this cheat sheet helpful:

(In alphabetical order)

Mao Asada’s FS to Piano Concerto #2 (Rachmaninoff): Asada won the (free skate-only, no SP) Japan Open with this new program to very familiar music for skating fans. Considering her FS choices over the past few years (Swan Lake, Liebestraume), it shouldn't be surprising that she’s chosen a war horse in what will likely be her final competitive season. And maybe both Asada and Akiko Suzuki (who’s using Phantom this season) have both wanted to skate to these particular pieces of music their entire career... a “save the best for last” sort of choice. So while I wasn’t blown away by Asada’s take on Rachmaninoff just yet, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and hope she can infuse this piece with her effervescence and incredible skill, the way she’s done so many other times. One thing’s for sure—it’s no Bells of Moscow (her FS music from 2009-10). And that’s a very, very good thing. 

Chock/Bates’ FD to LesMiserables: Despite a flat-out splat on Bates’ part in the SD twizzles, C/B still finished a distant second to Virtue/Moir at Finlandia Trophy. But while I found their “No Business Like Show Business” SD quite fun, I cannot yet say the same for their FD. Not that it’s intended to be “fun” with a name like Miserables, of course... but to me, last year’s Dr. Zhivago FD was special. This one isn’t—not yet, at least. Maybe it’s the music cuts; an early part of the program includes crowd cheers/applause on the recording, and I’m never a fan of that. And the later part of the dance had several intersecting vocals and sounded too “busy,” which was distracting. What did you think? I think the chemistry and talent this couples shares makes for powerful performances, but I’m sad to say they’re missing the mark so far on this. 

Ross Miner’s FS to Michael W. Smith’s “Glory”: Miner was not at his best at the Nepela Memorial Trophy, taking 4th behind Tomas Verner, Takahito Mura, and Peter Liebers. But his much talked-about free skate—sub-titled Boston Strong as it is a tribute to his hometown’s weathering of the Marathon Bombing—was a sight to behold nonetheless. Miner’s artistic side shows a little bit more with each season, but the emotion behind this program carries potential of making this a great season for Miner. Especially if he can start landing his quad salchow in competition... 

Daisuke Takahashi’s FS to a Beatles Medley: he took fourth at the Japan Open behind Javier Fernandez, Takahiko Kozuka, and Jeremy Abbott... but that surprise was nothing compared to the realization that Dice-K’s FS swan song is a fairly Muzak-ish muckup of Beatles music. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Dice-K’s work when he skates clean. And I most definitely love me some Beatles music. But in its current form, this doesn't work for me. Again, it has to do with the cuts of music and their arrangements/orchestration. There are great instrumental Beatles arrangements out there, perhaps moreso than for any other contemporary artist. But this montage? Which includes three ballads, only one upbeat tune (“Come Together”), and a George Martin track from 1998 that wasn’t even recorded by the Fab Four? Oh, Dice-K Darling... no. Just no. 

Virtue/Moir’s FD to classical pieces by Alexander Glazunovand Alexander Scriabin: They won Finlandia; of course they did, and they deserved it because they are excellent athletes that gave another great performance. Prior to watching them, though, I’d seen some on Twitter coin it “Vancouver Pt. 2” or words to that effect, indicating the new FD is a retread of old Mahler grounds. I’ve seen it now, and I see their point... if their OGM skate was to resemble a wedding night (as I remember hearing at the time), you could quite possibly see this FD, four years later, as their much-delayed honeymoon—the lovey-dovey walking-around-town parts, not the bedroom scenes. (They did that via Carmen last year, didn’t they?) 

I don’t know if that was the intention, but on paper, it’s not necessarily a bad one. A little safe, maybe, but not bad. The problem for me again—and hopefully this is not a recurring theme for the season!—was the music selections, which felt herky-jerky and kind of forced. It’s tough, because Symphony No. 5 is such a beautiful thing; even when Team V/M edited it down to 4 minutes it was pretty seamless. This time around—at least, for now—the 4 minute “selection” seems more like a silk purse that’s coming apart on one side. With spare change and lipsticks falling out of it. (OK, enough imagery.)

Ashley Wagner’s FS to Romeo& Juliet (Prokofiev) was very interesting to see... not just because she did her triple flip/triple toe (under-rotated, but she did it), and not just because the “Bedroom Juliet” choreo clearly has the makings of a signature program for the two-time U.S. champ. For me, it was about the music cuts (who knew??). They were strong, yet unfamiliar, and unexpected... and best of all, they let Wagner take on a classic character and reinvent it in her own fashion. Is it ironic to hope that others follow her lead? 

What do you think about these performances—or others you might’ve caught in the past couple of weeks? Leave a comment if you’re so inclined!

(And yes, I plan to get a quick post up with Skate America predictions before things get underway on Friday evening.)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Nebelhorn 2013 Wrap-Up: So Many Active Competitors, and Melissa Bulanhagui Too

Holy bugle beads, Batman! So much skating coming up this weekend, and the Senior GP hasn’t even started yet! But I’ll get to all that in a minute. FIRST...


Miki Ando (who won silver) skates fantastic for a woman who just gave birth a handful of months ago and is essentially back to elite competitor shape. That’s the good news. The bad news is... she still skates like Miki Ando. Technically proficient, but just kind of there without generating much excitement.

Nobunari Oda, on the other hand, is back to skating his best—at least for the time being—and his best is pretty amazing. Quads, combos, soft-knee landings to die for, and no points left on the table for jumps that didn’t count. What more could we ask for? Only that his body and mind remember the season ends in March 2014... not December 2013.

Jason Brown has made waves on the junior international scene for several years... and with his senior international debut last weekend came a whole new ripple of interest (and the silver medal). Is it any wonder he was quickly chosen as the replacement for (the still ailing) Evan Lysacek at this month’s Skate America?

Canada’s Jeremy Ten may be in a tough battle for an Olympic bid, but at Nebelhorn, he made the best case for himself in years. “I won a medal?!” he said, bewildered, as his free skate stores came up. (Yes, Jeremy... a bronze one. Nice going!)

Volosohzar/Trankov of Russia look fairly world champion-like, as you might expect... so long as you overlook Maxim Trankov’s Jesus pants. That is to say, they are using Jesus Christ Superstar for their FS and Trankov’s costume—as Jesus, presumably—has pants that are either “banana yellow” or “harvest goldenrod”, depending on your level of kindness when describing them. Are they as jaw-droppingly atrocious as some of, say, his rival Robin Szolkowy’s ensembles? No! Of course not. But I’m still hoping for something more neutral-toned, perhaps, come GP time.

USA’s Hubbell/Donohue won the dance event with the help of an FD to the instrumental of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that has become as ubiquitous over the past few years for singles skaters as, say, any number of tangos. But H/D’s take on it is beautifully choreographed, setting the bar pretty high for other dance teams that want to take Queen’s epic tour-de-force ballad out for a spin. And watching them skate to this reminded me how much I’m going to wish the U.S. could send FOUR dance teams to Sochi rather than leave H/D, the Shib Sibs, or Chock/Bates behind.

Speaking of dance, the five available Olympic spots in this discipline went to: China (thanks to Huang/Zheng), Turkey (Agafonova/Ucar), Australia (O’Brien/Merriman), Japan (Reed/Reed), and Spain (Hurtado/Diaz). Australia and Spain have never before been represented at the Olympics in Ice Dance, so big congratulations to those teams in particular!

As for pairs, the four available Olympic berths went to: Great Britain (thanks to Kemp/King), Ukraine (Usmantseva/Talan), Estonia (Zabijako/Zaboev), and Israel (Davidovich/Krasnopolski).

The men earning Sochi spots at Nebelhorn include Alexei Bychenko (for Israel), Zoltan Kelemen, who was 29th in Vancouver (representing Romania), Michael Christian Martinez (Philippines—a first-ever berth in men’s for that country), Brendan Kerry (Australia), Yakov Godorozha (Ukraine), and Paul Bonifacio Parkinson (Italy). Martinez, only 16 years old and with Bielmann spins (or “MANbiels,” as I say when men do them) better than many a female version, will likely duke it out with Christopher Caluza to see who gets the Olympic honor.

And finally, for the ladies... six countries punched their ticket for the 2014 Winter Games. They are: Australia (courtesy of Brooklee Han), Georgia (Elene Gedevansihvili, now headed to her THIRD Olympics), Norway (Anne Line Gjersem), Austria (Kerstin Frank), Czech Republic (Elizaveta Ukolova, who at 15 is likely to be one of the Games’ youngest competitors), and Brazil (Isadora Williams, a U.S.-born skater with Brazilian citizenship through her mother).

Two countries you might have expected to see on this list have sad and/or perplexing stories on why they aren’t. Finland was a pretty sure bet— until Kiira Korpi damaged her left Achilles tendon in September and had to withdraw from competitions for the next several weeks. With sole Finnish rep Juulia Turkkila unable to finish any higher than 14th at Nebelhorn, Korpi’s Olympic shot is in serious, serious jeopardy.

Finishing several spots behind Turkkila was The Philippines’ Alisson Krystle Perticheto (in 18th), meaning there will also be no Filipino skaters represented in Sochi. Why did they send a relative unknown to this critical event rather than Melissa Bulanhagui, who won bronze there (for the U.S.) in 2010 and has represented the Philippines since 2011? God only knows. I read about the Bulanhagui snub a few weeks ago-- seems like a pretty raw deal to me; the kind usually made by countries that can afford to be more haphazard with their assignments.

Now 23, Bulanhagui appears to be out of Olympic options. What a crappy situation for a talented young woman, huh? I asked her (via Twitter) where she plans to go from here... she indicated she might try skating pairs with Taylor Toth. (Toth was most recently teamed up with Kiri Baga, finishing 8th at U.S. Nationals earlier this year.) In any case, her handle on Twitter is @melbulanhagui if you want to send any kind regards her way.

As for what’s in progress/starting this weekend (aside from the ongoing Junior GP series), we have...

n      The Nepala Memorial in Bratislava, featuring Ross Miner, Christina Gao, and several U.S. pairs/dance teams
n      Finlandia Trophy in Espoo, featuring Richard Dornbush, Douglas Razzano, Vanessa Lam, Mirai Nagasu... and the ice dance event includes Chock/Bates AND (as Canadian fans probably know by now) Virtue/Moir.

n      Finally, the Japan Open will be going on as well... a relatively small, singles-only, free skate-only event that traditionally features some pretty big names. This is where 2-time U.S. Champ Ashley Wagner plans to debut her Romeo & Juliet free skate, so keep your eyes peeled for that.