Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Oda and Ando: Two Careers in Retrospective

Happy New Year to all my SOTS readers!!

It’s been so long since I posted that I neglected to mention the winners of my 3rd annual Skating on Air holiday book giveaway... so before I do anything else, congratulations to Cecilia Quick of San Jose, CA and Jenny Moynihan of Essex U.K.! Each won a signed copy of my book.

For the rest of you—especially those on the fence about buying a copy of it—please check out this all-new review of SOA as well as this interview I just did with the My Friend Amy book blog to accompany the review!

In other (undoubtedly bigger) news...

The Japanese Olympic team is set! The Russian team, not so much.
The ladies weren’t much of a surprise, though the finishing order probably was to most: Suzuki/Murakami/Asada rather than Asada/Suzuki/Murakami... though anything putting Mao Asada in 3rd would be a surprise, considering she’d finished no lower than 2nd since 2005.

This was Akiko Suzuki’s first-ever national title in thirteen appearances! (No wonder she/everyone was so happy!) Asada’s subpar score was largely due to triple axel trouble, so the question seems to be back as to whether or not she should include the maneuver in her Olympic routines. But you know when this conversation last came up? About this time in 2010, when (as I recall) she was popping her triple axel more than she was landing it successfully. Then she went to Vancouver and nailed it when it counted. Twice! So... will she reconsider for Sochi? I’m thinking no...

The men’s finish was more complex... the top three were Hanyu/Machida/Kozuka, with Nobunari Oda in 4th and Daisuke Takahasi in (gasp!?!) 5th. But as you’ve probably heard by now, Dice-K was chosen for the Olympics anyway. Kozuka was bumped off to alternate status; this decision saddens me, as you probably know how fond I am of Taka’s sublime work. But I’m well aware that he may have “peaked” at 2011 Worlds, as he’s been somewhat inconsistent since then. The same might be said for Dice-K, but his bright moments (such as this year’s NHK Trophy) have been pretty spectacular. And knowing this is his final season, how could there have been much debate?

Speaking of final seasons... these respective men’s/ladies outcomes led to a pair of retirement announcements. Oda and Miki Ando, both 26, both missed the mark for their Olympic dreams and have decided to call it a career.

ODA’s fourth-place score, for what it’s worth, topped Max Aaron’s score at the most recent U.S. Nationals by about 4 points... so that might give some perspective to the incredibly deep pool of men’s talent in Japan! His career certainly had its share of high, low, and altogether strange moments:

n      His senior debut was in 2005... he’s earned 17 GP medals since then; five were gold, four were from GP Finals for which he qualified (2006, 2009, 2010, 2013).
n      He competed at Worlds from 2006-2011, with his highest finish coming in his first time there (4th). He made the national Japan podium six times between 2005-11, winning the national title once, in ’09.
n      He was also the 2006 Four Continents champ, this despite a memorable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons FS where he crashed hard on a triple axel attempt, then spent a significant part of the program looking like he couldn’t recall his choreography.
n      He made the 2010 Olympic team, but a broken skate lace during his Chaplin FS contributed to him skating far below his best (finishing 7th).
n      He became infamous for “miscalculating” his free skates, putting in too many jumps (usually triple toe-loops) and costing himself points—and placements—in the process. The biggest events in which this happened: 2010 Japanese Nats, where Daisuke Takahashi officially took the title after the jump miscalculation was discovered... also 2007 Worlds, and again at 2011 Worlds. And in yet another bizarre turn, he ended one of his strongest seasons (2009-10) by failing to make it out of qualifying round at 2010 Worlds. The problem? He singled all the jumps in his SP.
n      Finally, he remains the only elite skater in recent memory to be arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated—an action that essentially cost him the entire 2007-8 season—and is one of the few (if not only) men on the elite circuit who is married with two sons.

ANDO didn’t compete the past two seasons, but made headlines when she revealed she’d given birth to a baby girl in spring of ’13. She made a respectable comeback this season in an effort to make the Olympic team, finishing 2nd in three different “B” events this past fall... but finishing 7th at these Nationals prompted her retirement. (All things being equal, her total score of 171.12 would have placed her 8th at the most recent U.S. Nats.) Her highs and lows were many as well:

n      She debuted on the senior level at 2004 Worlds and finished 4th her first time out! This led to a total of six finishes at Worlds between ’04-11, winning gold twice (’07 & ’11).
n      She won 13 medals on the GP circuit between 2004-2010, including 5 golds.
n      She is considered the only lady to date to have completed a quad jump (salchow) in competition—waaay back on the junior GP circuit at the 2002 JGP Final.
n      She is a two-time Olympian: 2006 (where she finished 15th after falling three times during her FS, including a quad sal attempt), and 2010 (where she finished 5th). She is also a 3-time Japanese national champ (2004, 05, 11).

In any case, BIG KUDOS to both these immensely talented athletes as they move on to the next chapters in their lives.

As for Russian Nationals, I’m not going to comment yet because I haven’t had a chance to watch any of it yet! But the biggest news to report is that Evgeni Plushenko (aka “Plushy”) did not win the Men’s title... and, as this article indicates, will not be competing in Men’s Singles in Sochi. (That honor goes to Maxim Kovtun, who I suppose provided the upset but I think many of us thought it was likely to happen.) But what about that all-new Team Event? Plushy indicates “it would be enough” for him to represent Russia for that event... and considering such an action would probably make him the only man in figure skating to ever compete in FOUR Olympics, I see his point. But will he be chosen over Kovtun? Doesn’t sound like that’s been decided yet. 

No comments: