Friday, October 31, 2014

2014 Skate Canada International Preview/Predictions

Fun fact about Kelowna, B.C. (location of this year's Skate Canada International): It was the shooting locale for Fido, "a comedy/horror/thriller movie about zombies" that debuted at the Toronto Film Festival in 2006. 

How do you like that? I've got the preview up 2 hours in advance AND have provided you some Halloween-ish trivia. Yay! 

So let's get down to business...
GOLD: Javier Fernandez (ESP)
SILVER: Takahito Mura (JPN)
BRONZE: Max Aaron (USA)

Dark Horse: Adam Rippon (USA) and Michal Brezina (CZE)

I pick Fernandez easily in what is, frankly, a sea of not-so-heavy hitters this year (Patrick Chan taking the year off and all). Mura could upset, but I'd be amazed if anyone else did. Brezina's new Marriage of Figaro FS looked pretty good in the early season, but I still question his stamina issues too much to make him more than a dark horse option. Rippon's FS to Piano Concerto #1 (Liszt) looked even better when I gave it a look a few weeks back; if he had to move on from last year's glorious Debussy program (and given the sadness he must've felt in not making the Olympic team, well, who can blame him?), this is a good way to go. But let's see him put a good SP & LP back to back... then I'll look for him back on the podium.

P.S. While I'm not fond of Aaron's "Footloose" SP, and he made some silly mistakes in his season debut 2 months ago, I still point to his quads as a worthy reason to put him 3rd.

GOLD:  Duhamel/Radford (CAN)
BRONZE: Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)

Dark Horse: James/Cipres (FRA)

Duhamel/Radford have their own throw quad salchow now; it was unveiled at the Autumn Classic a few weeks back. Pair that with side by side triple lutzes, and they now have some of the most technically challenging programs in the business. Sui/Han usually have a few quad tricks up their sleeve as well, so they're an easy pick for silver (and could win if D/R fall apart). New on the senior scene is Tarasova/Morozov; listen for the familiar strains of Lionel Richie's "Hello" (in orchestral form) when they perform their FS.

GOLD: Weaver/Poje (CAN)
SILVER: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
BRONZE: Zhiganshina/Gazsi (GER)

Dark Horse: Gilles/Poirier (CAN)

W/P for the win? Easy. The rest? Heh. But I'm pulling for the sometimes overlooked Hubbell/Donohue to get silver with a Great Gatsby-themed FD. Zhiganshina/Gazsi are always wildly entertaining, if not technically outstanding, so I see them possibly edging out Gilles/Poirier (who I prefer, to be honest) with Z/G's "Swan Lake Reloaded" FD.

GOLD: Anna Pogorilaya (RUS)
SILVER: Satoko Miyahara (JPN)
BRONZE: Ashley Wagner (USA)

Dark Horse: Alena Leonova (RUS) or Courtney Hicks (USA)

I love Wagner's skating, and I'm glad she's continuing beyond Sochi. But, like Nagasu, she's developed a reputation for UR jumps that I'm afraid will be tough to shake... even when she does fully rotate them. (Reputations are like that.) I tend to think she'll be outskated here by both Miyahara (who has a charming Miss Saigon FS) and Pogorilaya, who managed to make Firebird infinitely more interesting-- when she skated it at the Japan Open-- than the Mermaids (Pirates of the Caribbean) FS of last season. 

Both Leonova and Hicks earned 2nd place finishes at Challenger Series events earlier in the season, and I think either one could make a podium visit if they are "on".

Remember, Skate Canada International only lasts Friday (today) and Saturday-- nothing on Sunday! Check this link for start times. I'll be off-and-on live tweeting both days... find me @KLBSt8ofSk8 and/or use #SC2014. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Gone With the Windy City: 2014 Skate America in Review

I’m so out of BlogShape... post some predictions, watch some skating, tweet about it, drum up a commentary, make some more predictions... all within a week or so?? Really?

Oh wait, I forgot—I’ve done this drill the past eight years. Just because I became a slacker this off-season doesn’t mean I’ve lost all my muscle memory. So here’s a look back at last weekend’s Skate America—where I managed a 6-for-12 with the medal predictions—and while you’re reading this, I’ll be on the treadmill for the next one.

SkAM 2014 in Review

Machida (1st overall)—No contest. Even with a couple flaws.
Brown (2nd overall)— He did better at Nebelhorn, but I like these programs. Especially his Tristan & Isolde FS.
Ngyuen (2nd in FS, 3rd overall)—My biggest underestimation of the event. What an impressive senior GP debut! Reminds me of the guy who won bronze at this event last year (who happens to be the guy who won silver that I just talked about)
Ten (4th overall)—The pattern continues... meaning one where you can see where the reigning OBM intends to take us with his programs but isn’t able to get the job done. Yet. The last minute or so of his FS promises to be especially moving if gets the jumping passes on his side.
Abbott (2nd in SP, 6th in FS, 5th overall) – Sigh. Speaking of a pattern continuing... what can I say? At least he didn’t seem too upset about it.
Razzano (8th overall) – I’m starting to think of Razzano as the U.S.’s Jeremy Ten—an athlete whose work shines through his competitive jumping errors just enough for us to see what a beautiful skater he really is. But unfortunately, for now, the inconsistencies take center stage as they did here.

Radionova (1st overall)—The skating world wouldn’t be the same without some perpetual force of Unstoppable Dynamo, and for the time being, that force is Radionova. Fortunately she doesn’t yet seem to feel the weight of the world on her diminutive shoulders... no matter how many crystals and stones they pile onto her FS costume.
(Have you taken a good look at that thing? It’s bench-pressable!)
Tuktamysheva (2nd overall)—I should have taken into account how many back-to-backs she’s done; we’re not even out of October yet and she’s competed internationally FOUR times, winning the other three events! And she still won the SP here!
Gold (3rd overall)—She goes into this season for the first time as The Hunted, a.k.a. National champ and highest finisher in Sochi among the U.S. ladies. Not an enviable position. She’s now 19 years old and 5’5”... not a young sprite by skating standards (even though she’s only been in the spotlight a couple of years). So while I’m not saying she’s lucky to have any medal at all from this event, based on how she skated, it’s understandable why it was bronze this time. I think she’s capable of more. We’ll see if it happens.
Cesario (4th overall)—She’s increasingly fun to watch, even in her second year of using Carmen for her FS (dare I say, especially when she’s using Carmen? Nah, I’d better not. We all know the reality of Carmena Overdosa...)
Park (of S. Korea, 5th overall)—Kim Yu-Na’s influence is clear with Park as she skated here more like she did at last season’s Worlds (where she finished 9th) than the Sochi Olympics (where she ended up 21st). It will be interesting to see if she can keep this up at Rostelecom Cup in a few weeks.
Nagasu (6th overall) – making up for a dismal SP with a score in the upper 40s (!!), Nagasu skated a clean FS—or seemed to, until the jump downgrades chipped away at her TES. Were they all justified? Or is her reputation her destiny? Honestly the bigger problem, for me, is that she looks to be skating emotion-free. To Madame Butterfly, no less. Maybe it was due to a determination to focus and bounce back at this event, but I got a similar vibe (or lack thereof) when she skated the same program at Japan Open a few weeks ago.

Kavaguti/Smirnov (1st overall)—apparently Moskvina really came up with the perfect vehicle for them while Smirnov was resting his injured shoulder last year. What a comeback!
Denney/Frazier(2nd overall)—Armed with a Lion King FS, these two got the best finish by a US couple at a GP event since 2008!
Peng/Zhang (3rd overall)—Had I seen their new FS in advance, I might not have predicted them to win. It didn’t rub me the right way.

Chock/Bates (1st overall)—I like this An American in Paris FD much, much better than their Les Miz offering last season. Did you know Bates and his former partner Emily Samuelson had American/Paris as their 2010-11 FD? Sadly most of us never saw it, as an injury crushed that entire season for them. I wonder how Samuelson feels about his using it four years later? But I digress...
Shib Sibs (2nd overall)— Their Blue Danube FD definitely brings back the clean lines of their Nat King Cole-infused heyday of a few years ago. But it wasn’t much of a showdown between the Shibs and Chock/Bates; the 10+ point gap between 1st and 2nd allows plenty of room for yet another U.S. dance team to sneak into the mix. What’s a top brother/sister team to do? (That doesn’t have to be rhetorical; if you have a suggestion for them leave it in the comments!)
Stepanova/Bukin (3rd overall)—I like ‘em. I like their music choice (haven’t heard Eleanor Rigby in the FD since Davis/White used it many years ago), I like their simplistic look, their lines, and their rather unique choreographic moments. They’re young, so I know all this (sigh) might change in a year or two. But for now? StepKin is somethin’ somethin’ :-)



Friday, October 24, 2014

2014 Skate America Preview/Predictions

Well it's that time again! #SA2014 here I come. I swear Worlds ended last month... What happened?! Lol

So Tweeted one Jeremy Abbott to his 45 thousand-plus followers, a day or two ago. And while those days between Worlds and SkAM may or may not have flown by for the rest of us, it’s most definitely time for the latter. In my home town, no less!

(Well 27.4 miles northwest of my home town, if I’m being honest. But it’s all part of what they call “Chicagoland” back home.)

Much as I hoped to be there at SkAM myself, selling & signing copies of Skating on Air on the concourse... sadly, it’s not to be. (But if YOU want a really good price on a signed copy of my book, you know where to find me, right? Send me an email! Seriously!)

The consolation prize is my updating the blog twice in two days—yes, it’s really me; I know I’ve only averaged one post (or less!) a month since Worlds and it might seem like trolls have taken over the blog at last. But could trolls make Skate America 2014 podium guesses like this?:

Gold—Chock/Bates (USA)
Silver—Shibutanis (USA)
Bronze—Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)

Dark Horse, A.K.A. Watch out for... Orford/Williams (CAN) or Guignard/Fabbri (ITA)

The U.S. ice dance crown is truly up for grabs this season, and Chock/Bates appear to be heirs to the Davis/White throne. But the Shib Sibs have voiced every intent to make a run for the title themselves. I suspect C/B still has the edge, but watch this showdown closely as the tone—maybe for the entire season—is set.

Gold—Tatsuki Machida (JPN)
Silver—Jason Brown (USA)
Bronze—Jeremy Abbott (USA)

Dark Horse: Denis Ten (KAZ)

Last year, Machida claimed the SkAM crown so convincingly (with a total score in the 260s!) you’d have thought he was a favorite for the podium in Sochi. Now that he’s come pretty close to that latter feat—finishing 5th at the Games—it all comes to be a bit more expected now. Which is why I’ve picked him to defend his title successfully here, with Brown (who just won Nebelhorn Trophy a few weeks back) the runner-up. As for Abbott, count me among the few (?) who have not seen a speck of his new programs yet... but he hasn’t received many SkAM assignments through the years, and has yet to medal at the event. Despite my misgivings about him continuing to compete (see my September post), I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt this time around and peg him for bronze.

But all this could be for naught if reigning Olympic Bronze Medalist Denis Ten does something rare for this early in the season, and outshines the pack. He’s a wild card for me right now, particularly since he wasn’t able to compete at his “B” assignment (Nebelhorn).

Gold-- Peng/Zhang (CHN)
Silver-- Kavaguti/Smirnov (RUS)
Bronze-- Scimeca/Knierim (USA)

Dark Horse—Denney/Frazier (USA)

With OGMs Volo/Trank out with an injury, there is no defending pairs champ on hand this year at SkAM. In fact, I just looked over last year’s field and realized at least half those pairs teams aren’t even together anymore! But Kavaguti/Smirnov, bless their hearts, are pressing on past last year’s season-ending injury... and I expect to see them make the podium, just like old times. BUT Peng/Zhang were becoming quite the force as last season progressed, so I’m giving them the upper hand for now. What I’ve seen of Scimeca/Knierim and Denney/Frazier this season makes them pretty evenly matched, so consider that bronze prediction a coin toss.

Gold—Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS)
Silver—Elena Radionova (RUS)
Bronze—Gracie Gold (USA)

Dark Horse—Mirai Nagasu (USA) or Samantha Cesario (USA)

Although I’m not fond of her new costumes—too billowy, in my opinion, and unable to show off her body lines as they should—Liza T. looked very strong in her “B” events and could well re-claim the SkAM title she first won back in 2011. If not her? Then I look to Radionova, who was a tiny powerhouse in the GP last year but ultimately too young for Olympic competition. I saw no signs of the puberty monster hitting her yet at the Japan Open a few weeks ago, so it should be an interesting showdown between the Russian teens. USA’s own Gracie Gold could prove a spoiler, but only if she seriously improves on her Nebelhorn performance (where she finished 10 points behind Liza T.).

OK, gotta get this posted because things are getting started VERY SOON!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

In a Nutshell! Skating's 2014-15 Pre-Season/JGP Season/"B" Season

Skate America gets underway in Hoffman Estates (aka Suburban Chicago) Friday night at 8PM Eastern time, which means the unofficial official season start is close at hand! 
(So close, in fact, that I’ll include THIS LINK to Ice Network's "Viewer's Guide" so you can be ready when that Short Dance kicks things off...)

But have you been following the sport since late August? There’s plenty of need-to-knows floating amongst figure skating’s unofficial pre-season. Let’s see if I can boil it down to FIVE:

1) If you haven’t been to lately, go check it out. A major summer overhaul benefits it greatly, at least in terms of keeping track of which competition is happening where and when. A simple horizontal “Upcoming Events” calendar makes it easy to see and click through (if you like) on not only the GP sched, but the ISU Junior Grand Prix and the new-but-really-it’s-not ISU Challenger Series, featuring 11 “B” meets including the debut of the Skate Canada Autumn Classic (held just this past weekend).

2) Winners from the Challenger series to date include Polina Edmunds (U.S. Int’l Figure Skating Classic), Richard Dornbush (Lombardia Trophy), Kavaguti/Smirnov (Nebelhorn Trophy), The Shibutanis (Ondrej Nepala Trophy), Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (Finlandia Trophy), and Ross Miner (Autumn Classic).

3) The JGP wrapped up in Zagreb a couple weeks back... here’s the list of those teenagers who made it to the JGP Final, held at GP Final time in mid-December:

MEN: Jin Boyang (CHN), Shoma Uno (JPN), Alexander Petrov (RUS), Lee June-hyoung** (KOR), Sota Yamamoto (JPN), Roman Sandovsky **(CAN)

LADIES: Serafima Sakhanovich **(RUS), Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS), Wakaba Higuchi **(JPN), Maria Sotskova (RUS), Yuka Nagai (JPN), Miyu Nakashio (JPN)

PAIRS: Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN), Maria Vigalova/Egor Zakroev (RUS), Lina Federova/Maxim Miroshkin (RUS), Kamilla Gainetdinova/Sergei Alexeev (RUS), Daria Beklemisheva/Maxim Bobrov (RUS), Chelsea Liu/Brian Johnson (USA)

DANCE: Anna Yanovskaya/Sergei Mozgov (RUS), Mackenzie Bent/Garrett MacKeen (CAN), Betina Popova/Yuri Vlasenko ** (RUS), Alla Loboda/Pavel Drozd (RUS), Madeline Edwards/Zhao Kai Pang (CAN), Daria Morozova/Mikhail Zhirnov (RUS)

** = Skaters in the JGP that stood out for me this season. Other names on that list that did NOT make the Final include Chase Belemontes (USA), Amber Glenn (USA), Shpilevaya/Smirnov, Dance (RUS), Luke West (USA), Andrew Torgashev (USA), Anastasia Gubanova/Alexei Sintsov, Pairs (RUS)

4) Injuries! Yep, they’ve been cropping up ahead of GP season, and all of the following have bowed out of their GP events as a result:
Volosozhar/Trankov, RUS (injury to Trankov)
Bobrova/Soloviev, RUS (injury to Soloviev)
Valentina Marchei, ITA
Kaetlyn Osmond, CAN
Peter Liebers, GER
Joshi Helgesson, SWE

5) Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge an official changing of the (skate) guard... first announced several weeks back... that got a big push from the Today show a few days ago: Terry Gannon, Johnny Weir, and Tara Lipinski have supplanted Tom Hammond, Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic as NBC’s broadcast team for all things figure skating. Considering the fact that Hammond/Hamilton/Bezic go at least as far back as the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, and have been the premier team since NBC took the skating coverage reins from ABC/ESPN in the 2008-9 season, this is a significant development for those of us who watch faithfully!

Or will you be forced to watch with the sound turned off now because you can’t stand Johnny? Or Tara? Or both? (Please don’t say you can’t stand Terry Gannon. EVERYONE like Gannon. Every. One.) Let me know if you’ve got an opinion on this one... I really want to re-visit this particular topic when time allows.

Speaking of which, I’d better get to work on my second (second?? Yes, she said second) post of the week where I make crazy semi-informed guesses as to how Skate America will go.