Thursday, November 27, 2014

2014 NHK Trophy Preview/Predictions

Happy Thanksgiving, American readers... let's get to these podium guesses!


Gold—Satoko Miyahara (JPN)
Silver—Gracie Gold (USA)
Bronze—Kanako Murakami (JPN)

Dark Horse: Polina Edmunds (USA)

I know I might be on a pretty big limb with this one, but to me, Miyahara’s got the best programs and the most consistent elements of the bunch. (Also because the Russian athlete-of-the-week is veteran Alena Leonova, and based on what I’ve seen of her this season I don’t see her having a shot at this event.)


Gold—Takahito Mura (JPN)
Silver—Sergei Voronov (RUS)
Bronze—Jeremy Abbott (USA)

Dark Horse: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)

Last week I predicted a Japanese man and a Russian man would go 1-2, and the results were actually the opposite. So what do I do this time? Go with the Japanese man, naturally. Am I just a slow learner? We shall see. As for head-wounded Hanyu, I really don’t want him to skate at all. Even if he happens to do well, I am not convinced that he is doing well for himself in the long-term.


Gold—Kavaguti/Smirnov (RUS)
Silver—Duhamel/Radford (CAN)
Bronze—Yu/Jin (CHN)

Dark Horse: Bazarova/Deputat (RUS)

Throw Quad SHOWDOWN!! For the first time this season, two teams are likely to attempt throw quad salchows. They are the top two teams on my list... but more than the complex elements, Kav/Smir and Duh/Rad are two veteran teams with programs as interesting as they are. Hard to see anyone else getting near the top in this field.


Gold—Weaver/Poje (CAN)
Silver—Sinitsina/Katsalapov (RUS)
Bronze—Coomes/Buckland (GBR)

Dark Horse: Monko/Khaliavin (RUS)

While I’m still on the fence regarding this year’s Vivaldi FD, Wea/Po is the crème de la crème here no matter what they’re skating to. But I’m also hoping Coomes/Buckland will pull down their second consecutive medal, as this season’s programs indicate real progress for them!

Looks like this week’s Twitter hashtag is #NHKTrophy... follow that thread when things kick off at 12:45AM tonight (technically Friday morning). Or you can just follow me (@KLBSt8ofSk8)!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bon Soir, Bordeaux: 2014 Bompard in Review

Trophee Eric Bompard (the 2014 edition) is in the books. Here's my take on the event:

The ladies’ podium at TEB looked, well, just like I thought it would (for once!). Elena Radionova continued to hit her jumping sweet spot and claimed gold... Julia Lipnitskaia recovered fairly well from her nightmarish Cup of China appearance (though not perfectly) and took silver... Ashley Wagner nailed the performance, if not all the jumps, and accepted bronze. There were no close calls in terms of points; no judging controversies, at least among the top three. The most noteworthy happening of the free skate, to be honest, was Russia’s Maria Artmieva and her curious costume choice—the majority of which appeared to me a button-down shirt(!) as she skated to Chopin selections(?!).  She’d competed at Rostelecom Cup a week earlier, in more typical competition wear, so the prevailing thought on Twitter was that something must’ve happened to her costume at the last minute. If so—maybe her alternate choice didn’t have sufficient shoulder coverage, and the shirt was the best thing they could come up with on short notice? Either way, I think it was a Grand Prix first... and, with any luck, will also be a GP “last”.

If you haven’t looked it up or read it elsewhere already, I bet you’re wondering what’s what for GP Finals as we head into the final week of competition. Here’s the scoop where the ladies are concerned:
+ Unsurprisingly, four Russian teens already occupy 4 of the 6 slots: Radionova, Lipnitskaia, Elizaveta Tutkamysheva, and Anna Pogorilaya.
+  Next in the points is Wagner, followed by Japan’s Rika Hongo.
 Four skaters competing at NHK are capable of doing well enough to challenge Wagner’s and Hongo’s tentative spots on the roster: Kanako Murakami, Satoko Miyahara, Gracie Gold (all of whom would need to place 2nd or higher), and Polina Edmunds (who would have to win).


I was very sorry I’d discounted Denis Ten from my predictions... until it almost didn’t matter. His early-season history is such that I figured him to be a 4th place TEB finish at best. But then he went gangbusters on his short program, earned 91+ on it, and the tide appeared to be changing! Ack, what was this? My gold medal prediction in 2nd place; my silver medal prediction in 6th?! But then Maxim Kovtun proved to be the Last Man Standing in an event that saw programs rapidly lose steam (Chafik Besseghier, Konstantin Menshov), never really have steam to begin with (Ricky Dornbush), or simply had too many errors to win (Ten, Tatsuki Machida). In other words... not the best event to witness.

And before any of this even happened there was Yan Han’s free skate. Technically, it went better than it did at Cup of China (by about 16 points) and he pulled up to an 8th place finish. But seriously, why was he there? All I could think as I watched him last weekend was It’s too soon and I hope he doesn’t fall any more (he accumulated 3 falls between the two programs; two were pretty awkward-looking tumbles on 4Toe attempts). I’ve been watching the IceNetwork home page like a hawk all week, hoping to see that Yuzuru Hanyu has withdrawn from NHK Trophy... but to no avail. He’s going. So we’d better practice holding our breath.

And as for the Men’s GRAND PRIX STANDINGS...
+  Kovtun, Javier Fernandez, and Machida are all locks for the GP Final.
+  Further down, on a very tentative bubble, are Nam Nguyen, Jason Brown, and Ten (all with 20 points).
+ All three of those guys could be bumped out this coming weekend by: Hanyu (who’d need to finish 3rd or higher), Takahito Mura (4th or higher), and Sergei Voronov (3rd or higher). 


So I guess I’d better start giving more consideration to the Chinese team of Wang/Wang...before I could figure out who they are (and I still am, by the way—the male Wang has been on the scene a while; the female Wang has not) they’d already gone and won two GP bronze medals this season! Something’s definitely clicking there...

Meanwhile, I’m starting to wonder if the French team of James/Cipres will ever catch a break. Despite solid skating from them over the past few seasons—no small feat, given the inconsistencies and weaknesses of other pairs teams—they’re all but guaranteed a middle-of-the-pack finish. They’ve got to be wondering What do we have to do...

Looking at the GRAND PRIX STANDINGS among pairs teams...
+  Stolbova/Klimov, Peng/Zhang, and Sui/Han have spots in the GP Final.
+ Tarasova/Morozov, Denney/Frazier, and Wang/Wang are on next in line.
+ Four teams are capable of qualifying via NHK: Kavaguti/Smirnov and Duhamel/Radford (both of whom are in the Final with a 4th place finish or higher), Yu/Jin (who’d need to finish 3rd or higher), or Bazarova/Deputat (who would have to win).


Will Pechalat/Bourzat feel one more twist of the knife in their collective gut if their French successors (Papadakis/Cizeron) become as decorated in their 2nd year on the GP circuit as P/B was in half their entire, storied career? Two events, two gold medals. BOOM. There’s something very elegant yet earthy about them this year. And not at all over the top (at least not yet—I know they’re young)! I look forward to their continued evolution.

So are you excited to see Gilles/Poirier as 2-time GP medalists this season, or do you miss their Psycho FD too much to care? I find myself as fond of this year’s old-school feel as I was last year’s spooky trip down Hitchcock Lane, but I realize I might be in the minority... until I remind myself that the judges have put them on the podium this year. Repeatedly.

And finally... although I’m glad Hubbell/Donohue made the podium again, and I liked their new free dance costumes a little better than the old ones... I still can’t say I fully appreciate their current FD (though I really want to!)

The GRAND PRIX STANDINGS for dance go like this...
+ Chock/Bates, Papadakis/Cizeron, The Shibutanis, and Gilles/Poirier are all Final-bound.
+ Ilinykh/Zhiganshin and Hubbell/Donohue are on the bubble.
+ Four teams are still within reach: Weaver/Poje (who need to finish 4th or higher at NHK), Coomes/Buckland (who need to be 3rd or higher), and Sinitsina/Katsalapov or Monko/Khaliavin (both of whom would need to win).

Speaking of NHK, my predictions on that event should be up, as usual, no later than an hour or so before the first event begins. (U.S. readers, that means you’ll likely be past your post-turkey nap, and well into your third slice of pie. NHK actually starts on the east coast at 12:45 AM Friday morning!)

Friday, November 21, 2014

2014 Trophee Eric Bompard Preview/Predictions

Trophee Eric Bompard finds itself in Bordeaux this weekend rather than the traditional Paris! Will there be other surprises? Will each skater take a bow when announced for their warm up, like last year? And will that cool guy who’s always sketching the TEB skaters still be around? Answers to those and other outlying questions will arrive by Friday afternoon. Here are some predictions in the meantime:


Gold—Tatsuki Machida (JPN)
Silver—Maxim Kovtun (RUS)
Bronze—Richard Dornbush (USA)

Dark Horse: Yan Han (CHN)

With just a couple weeks to go in the initial 6-week stretch of the Series, we start to see previous podium winners resurface. How will they fare when pitted against each other—for the second time, in some cases? Machida (along with Takahito Mura) started the season with a stunning 1-2 punch from Japan, and I’m looking forward to another marvelous effort from him. Kovtun won the now-infamous men’s event at Cup of China a couple weeks ago, but had been so thrown by The Grand Collision (as IFS Magazine’s calling it) that he didn’t seem to give his victory much value when he spoke about it. I hope he ends up feeling better about this week’s results, even if it leaves him with silver. And I’ve gone ahead and put Dornbush in bronze position because Yan has to be one of the truest Wild Card picks this week (1st event back since the crash! Has he really recovered enough to compete well?). Dornbush, on the other hand, has proven that medals can happen when you nail a quad in your lovely Coldplay FS...


Gold—Elena Radionova (RUS)
Silver—Julia Lipnitskaia (RUS)
Bronze—Ashley Wagner (USA)

Dark Horse: Courtney Hicks (USA) or Samantha Cesario (USA)

Another GP event, another Russian teen for the win? Sure seems likely to me. And with Radionova and Lipnitskaia the ones in question, I’m giving the nod to the former. For the record, though—while Lipnitskaia comes here on the heels of giving one of her (self-described) worst-ever free skates, I don’t expect her to keep on crumbling. Leave points on the table, maybe. But there’s got to be a lot of strength, mental and physical alike, amid all that flexibility... don’t you think? Meanwhile, I look forward to the strong U.S. women in this event skating very well. Just not well enough, judicially speaking, for the top spots.


Gold— Stolbova/Klimov (RUS)
Silver—Sui/Han (CHN)
Bronze—James/Cipres (FRA)

Dark Horse: Scimeca/Knierim (CHN)

With Stolbova/Klimov looking as strong as they did a week ago, it’s hard to begrudge them this gold prediction—even if the back-to-back events exhaust them a bit. Sui/Han could lock up their own GP Final berth with another silver medal... and I’m going with the home team for bronze on the thought that a) they might be able to break through a first-ever podium finish with the support of the French crowd, and b) Scimeca/Knierim haven’t been as strong yet this season as I was hoping they’d be. (But with their American in Paris FS, this would sure be a good time (and place) for them to make a move up the rankings.


Gold— Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA)
Silver—Gilles/Poirier (CAN)
Bronze—Hubbell/Donohue (USA)

Dark Horse: Paul/Islam (CAN)

It happens, sometimes... a team withdraws from a competition not due to injury or illness, but because they feel their programs need so much tweaking they feel it’s not even worth coming to the starting line. Such as the case this time around for Cappellini/Lanotte. The reigning World Champs ended up 3rd behind a relatively new French team two weeks ago, and that could not possibly have sat well with them. So when faced with the same dance team—on their home ice, no less—C/L have opted not to show. Will that adversely affect the competition? Not if you’re okay with a possible repeat of silver and bronze from Skate Canada.

Look for #TEB14 as the hashtag if you are on Twitter. Things kick off with the pairs short program at 9:30AM ET... bonne chance with your viewing!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Moscow in a Minute: 2014 Rostelecom Cup in Review

Revenge of the Dark Horses!!

That’s my subtitle for this Rostelecom in Review... mostly because it sounds so much better than I couldn’t pick a podium to save my life this week. To summarize:

+      My dark horse pick of Rika Hongo upset Anna Pogorilaya for the ladies title.
+      My dark horse picks of Sergei Voronov and Michal Brezina finished 2nd and 3rd, respectively, behind Javier Fernandez.
+      My dark horse pick of Coomes/Buckland claimed bronze (their first GP medal in 5 years of trying!)
n      And my dark horse pick of Astakhova/Rogonov also claimed bronze! (Over my original bronze medal pick of Denney/Frazier. By 1/100th of a point. 
OK, never mind; I’m not happy about that one at all.)

But what else did we learn last weekend? Well..

+      Even Pogorilaya’s not a perfect jumping machine; and the pressure of being the “heavy favorite” on home ice surely didn’t help. I’m really, really hoping she didn’t overhear someone muttering “Good thing we didn’t send HER to Sochi, eh?” Because I’m sure she’s got enough on her mind.
+      As I alluded to before, Denney/Frazier is the 2nd U.S. skater/team this GP season to miss out on bronze by the smallest fraction of a point (Stephen Carriere being the first to do so, at Skate Canada). The fact that it happened on Russian turf, among a fleet of Russian pairs, just twists the knife a little. (And that they finished four points ahead of two such pairs in the free skate? Agony.)
+      Even Jason Brown cannot be happy all the time. No it wasn’t his best weekend, competitively speaking (he was 5th, which all but ended his chances of making the GP Final), and that might wipe the smile off of anyone’s face. But young Jason had also received word on this trip that his agent, Shep Goldberg, passed away from cancer last week. (Goldberg was perhaps best known in the skating world as longtime agent of Michelle Kwan and Evan Lysacek; this article by Amy Rosewater can tell you more about him.) So that moment when he covered his face with his hands at the end of the program? Probably more about the wealth of emotions that comes with one’s passing than anything else.
+      Brezina can land his quad salchow in competition! And when he does, he’s better able to sustain his energy throughout his free skate! No, I don’t have a lot of facts to back this up... just his Moscow performance, actually. But it’s a start, and he needed that pretty badly considering this was the first medal he’s won on the GP circuit in 2 years. While (as I said a few weeks back on Twitter) I can’t help but see Ryan Bradley following him and mocking his every move to this Mozart/Marriage of Figaro FS... hey, whatever it takes!
+      I guess my new Russian dance team of choice (Stepanova/Bukin) isn’t All That when skating alongside Ilinykh/Zhiganshin (or IZ as I might start to call them). Or, at least, when IZ is making its major Russian unveiling on the heels of Sinitsina/Katsalapov’s major Russian unveiling. The audience love was clearly on IZ’s side, and that wasn’t just because they outscored S/K by 13 points.
+      Remember that thing I said about breakout athletes and seemingly dull-without-the-stars competition? I have a few examples for you now: Misha Ge of UZB (finishing 4th), surprise winner Rika Hongo of JPN, Alaine Chartrand of CAN (winning bronze), both just-out-of-juniors pairs teams from RUS (winning silver and bronze), and Kaitlyn Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker from the U.S... they didn’t win a medal; in fact, they finished 6th of 8. But their Romeo &Juliet free dance really clicked for me, and not just because it wasn’t THAT R&J... or even THAT one. (It was music from a U.K. version released in 2013. Yup, I looked it up.)
+      NBC lessons part 1: Send Terry Gannon to cover golf in Mexico, and the skating natives get restless. (Apparently THAT is where Gannon was last week. But hopefully not THIS week.)
n      NBC lessons part 2: If you are an ice dance team from the U.S. and your last name doesn’t start with a D or W, you’d better kick some serious ice with two GP victories if you want them to throw you a crumb of coverage. By “ice dance team” I mean Chock/Bates, and by “crumb” I mean 15 seconds. Let’s look on the bright side, though: if C/B happen to win the GP Final, they might give them an entire 30 seconds!

What will Trophee Eric Bompard bring us this weekend? I’ll be back later on tonight with a preview... and hopefully a decent prediction or two. Or five... five wouldn’t be bad.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

2014 Rostelecom Cup Preview/Predictions

Rostelecom Cup is upon us this Friday and Saturday! The headliners are sparse, but that doesn't mean it's destined to be dull viewing. On the contrary, these are the events that are capable of real breakout performances by relative unknowns. Here's what I'm seeing for medals this time:

Gold—Anna Pogorilaya (RUS)
Silver—One of the Marias (RUS)
Bronze—Mirai Nagasu (USA)
Dark Horse: Rika Hongo (JPN) or The Other Maria (RUS)

Pogorilaya's got the jumps she needs to win, and she's got them consistent enough to know this won't be much of a contest now that OGM Adelina Sotnikova is out of this event (and the GP series as a whole) with an injury. I know so little about the other two Russian skaters in this event, I've written the above so they're interchangeable. Still, in a relatively thin field I'm guessing (heavy emphasis on the word guess) the judges might choose a relatively untested new Russian skater over a GP veteran that's constantly getting dinged for underrotations (that would be Nagasu). Hongo did well enough at Skate Canada that I'll give her a dark horse shot at a medal here. 
Gold—Stolbova/Klimov (RUS)
Silver—Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)
Bronze—Denney/Frazier (USA)
Dark Horse: Astakhova/Rogonov (RUS)
So far, this has not been a great season for reigning Olympic medalists. Of the ones who have chosen to compete we have those that got injured early on (Volosohzhar/Trankov), those that got injured very recently (Sotnikova), and those that got the living daylights smacked out of them on a 6-minute warmup last week (Yuzuru Hanyu). And of those competing medalists NOT injured, we have upsets big and small (see Cappellini/Lanotte and Denis Ten). So all that being said, reigning OSMs Stolbova/Klimov might be doing well just to finish this week's event injury-free and on the podium somewhere. But I'll go ahead and predict them for gold. Why? Because, once again, it's a surprisingly shallow talent and/or experience pairs pool here at Rostelecom Cup. 

Gold—Javier Fernandez (ESP)
Silver—Jason Brown (USA)
Bronze—Max Aaron (USA)
Dark Horse: Michal Brezina or Sergei Voronov

Fernandez is, in a way, a tentative choice after seeing his Skate Canada debut (and upset) and reading this week that he's suffering from tendinitis in his knees. But I can see him winning this time on the considerable strength of his "Black Betty" SP. Particularly since the Japanese men's representative this time is Takahiko Kozuka-- who started the season with two startlingly weak placements (6th at Japan Open; 8th at Skate Canada). I'd love to see him bounce back in Russia, but I'm not betting a placement on it. Two previous GP medalists this season (who happen to represent the US) get the nod from me instead.
Gold— Chock/Bates (USA)
Silver— Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)
Bronze— Ilinykh/Zhiganshin (RUS)
Dark Horse: Coomes/Buckland (GBR)

Oh, the drama! This will be, I think, the first major competition that pits against each other two Russian teams that did a partner change-up in the off season. It's GP event #2 for Ilinykh/Zhiganshin, and it's the GP debut of Sinitsina/Katsalapov, but I'm picking Skate America bronze medalists Stepanova/Bukin to finish higher than both of them. (Not to mention U.S. Nationals front-runners Chock/Bates to finish higher than ALL of them.)

#COR14 is the hashtag if you plan to follow along on Twitter (I just checked it... sorry some of these tags have been inaccurate!). Ladies SP starts at 7AM ET here in the States. I'll be watching live, at least on Friday! Hope you can join me.

NOTE: IceNetwork had Friday's start time as 6AM earlier in the week, but apparently they were off by one hour. Consequentially, I had it listed as 6AM in my original post. Apologies to anyone that got up too early!!!!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Shanghai Strangeness: Reflecting on a Chipped 2014 Cup of China

I still have the scar from my most significant collision with a fellow skater during a freestyle session. It was the late 70s; I was about 9 years old, the colli-dee (?) was even younger than that, and was setting up for a lutz jump. Her blade made contact with my right shin, piercing my tights and puncturing my leg, drawing enough blood (if I recall correctly) to take me off the ice for the remainder of that day while I got bandaged up. Thirty-some-odd years later, the scar on my leg is colorless—always has been—but there remains a small indentation that’s pretty easy to feel.

When Yuzuru Hanyu collided with Han Yan over the weekend at 2014 Cup of China, one of the most important notables is that neither saw the other coming AT ALL. There was no last-second skidding in a desperate attempt to minimize impact. Just... POW.

Comparing their crash to mine is like comparing the impact of semi tractor-trailers to that of a couple of tricycles. This I know. But thanks to my own little boo-boo—and witnessing several other, bigger ones through the years—I think a lot about angels when I watch skating practices. 

The potential for collisions during such practices is tremendous; all things being equal, they should happen far more often than they do. So I imagine angels assigned to these sessions, invisibly steering this skater a few feet to the left, giving that skater an extra push so they’ll get out of the lutz corner in time.

So what about accidents like we witnessed last weekend? Where were the angels for THAT doozy?

It’s my theory that... well... they blinked.

Or they got momentarily distracted. Or they couldn’t find their way to the Shanghai rink in time. Endless explanations. But of course, it’s tough to talk in exact terms when you’re talking about angels. So my theory will forever remain unproven for mere mortals like you and me...

But anyway, about that accident. By now you’ve either watched it a dozen times, watched it exactly once (and that’s enough, thank you very much), or have vowed not to watch it at all—because seeing a dazed and confused Olympic Champ struggle through the free skate while bandaged up like a combat victim is punishment enough. And by now, maybe the majority of us can agree on certain things:

1) That taking a FULL MINUTE for the on-duty medics to scurry out to the still-prone Hanyu (and finally, officially, stop the warmup) was about 50 seconds too long. Were they not already rinkside, monitoring the event? If not, where were they and why?

2) That head injuries, no matter how slight, are very different from other injuries and should be treated as such.

3) That neither  Yan Han nor Yuzuru Hanyu should have skated after that crash. Never mind the risk involved with the jumps and potential falls/additional head injury... at this level of skating, the spins alone could’ve/might’ve scrambled their fragile eggheads into further damage. (As I write this I’ve just learned, via Twitter, that Yan is now confirmed to have a concussion and is “suspected to have a pulmonary hemorrhage”...??!?!?! And he was the one who emerged in slightly better shape!)

4) That neither Yan nor Hanyu should have been making the decisions after that crash... and if it was somehow impossible to stop them from taking the ice—that is to say the coaches, or referees, or SOMEONE other than the head-injured athlete was not allowed to withdraw or disqualify said athlete—that’s a change the ISU needs to make as soon as humanly possible. There’s too much awareness these days about sports and head injuries to turn a deaf ear to this.

5) That a free skate with five falls equaling the second-best FS score of the night is more than crystal-clear proof that the points-for-rotating-it philosophy of IJS is ridiculous... it’s a sign that it’s actually rather dangerous. Hanyu was praised by some for “going for everything” (and getting points for such) despite his pain and disorientation, but what if IJS gave no points for missed jumps, as so many maintain is the way to go? Is it possible that someone in Hanyu’s camp (if Hanyu was not in his right mind to do so) would have thought twice, or thrice, or whatever it took before sending him out there?

In case you were wondering (I certainly was), here’s the protocol breakdown for the five jumps that Hanyu did not land:

4S (quad salchow)  10.50 -2.86 -2 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -2                 7.64
4T (quad toe loop) 10.30 -3.00 -2 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3                 7.30
3A (triple axel)     9.35 x -3.00 -2 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3                  6.35
3Lo< (UR triple loop) 3.96 x -2.10 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3           1.86
3Lz (triple lutz)   6.60 x -2.10 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3                  4.50

TOTAL tech score (for just these elements): 27.63- 5.00
(deduction for falls @ 1.00 per fall)= 22.63 Net total

If you go to this link written by the incomparable Jackie Wong, you’ll see a more extensive look at the situation... as well as a perfectly feasible solution.

And by the way, in “other” Cup of China news...
+  Liza Tuktamysheva was back on top for the ladies, as Julia Lipnitskaia’s FS came apart in a way we hadn’t really seen from her before. She claimed second (and caught an ISU fine for her absence from the medal ceremony); Kanako Murakami took third. (Polina Edmunds of the U.S. was 4th)
 Pairs was a veritable Who’s Who... As in “Who’s that team? And what about that team—who are they?” In the end, it was a Chinese medal sweep of names I barely know, save for Uncle Hao and his lovely niece (aka Peng/Zhang). I hope to do a post in the near future teaching us how to differentiate between the two younger teams.
 Dance brought a first-time GP victory (and an upset) for Papadakis/Cizeron of France, a bronze for presumed victors Cappellini/Lanotte, and a silver (plus an SD win) for the Shib Sibs.

So much to talk about from last weekend; I surely didn’t do it all justice, so be sure to cover what I missed (and/or your own 2 cents) in the Comments!

Rostelecom Cup (of Russia) is next! Is it okay to pray for an, um, less "eventful" event?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

2014 Cup of China Preview/Predictions

Get your (figurative) Cup of China ready with your beverage of choice... here comes the preview!

Gold—Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)
Silver— Shibutanis (USA)
Bronze—Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA)

Dark Horse: Ilinykh/Zhiganshin (RUS)

With the exception of the Shib Sibs, I haven’t yet seen any of this CoC ice dance field this season. That makes it a little tough to predict; I can’t even lean on personal preferences! So I’m going on reputation... which means reigning World Champs Cappellini/Lanotte should have a fairly easy time of it, and the Shibs stand a good chance of being runners-up. I’ll say the young French team for bronze, if only because I’ve no idea what to expect from the new Russian pairing of Ilinykh/Zhiganshin... except that one of them has an Olympic Bronze Medal. So, potential abounds... dark horse vote it is!

Gold—Julia Lipnitskaia (RUS)
Silver—Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS)
Bronze—Polina Edmunds (USA)

Dark Horse: Li Zijun (CHN) or Kanako Murakami (JPN)

The Best in Boneless Skating returns! Lipnitskaia makes her GP season debut in China with an R&J (Romeo & U-no-who) free skate planned. She’s another sight-unseen choice for gold here; Tuktamysheva has had a great season so far but was finally starting to look a little tired at Skate America a couple weeks ago. Probably still good for silver, though. At bat for the U.S. is Polina Edmunds in her first-ever senior GP event, and I think she’ll do well—after all she’s already got one international victory under her belt this season (U.S. International Classic). The other U.S. ladies in attendance—Christina Gao and Ashley Cain—are relative wild cards, with only Cain having made an earlier appearance this season (3rd at Ondrej Nepala Trophy).

Gold—Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
Silver—Yan Han (CHN)
Bronze—Maxim Kovtun (RUS)

Dark Horse: Nam Nguyen (CAN) or Richard Dornbush (USA)

Get out your Winnie-the-Pooh box of Kleenex, because our reigning OGM is back in action starting this weekend! And get ready for POTO (Phantom of the Opera) Hanyu-style, because that’s his FS music this season. (SIGH.) I don’t have a good enough case for any of his competitors to force an upset, but if he loses, we’ll surely get into it in great detail next week. In the meantime, have you seen the FS selections for the others I’ve listed here? They include “Fly Me to the Moon” for Yan (not the Sinatra version though)... Coldplay selections for Dornbush, in what I found to be a surprisingly good program when I saw it... and would you believe “Exogenesis: Symphony” by Muse for Kovtun? I’ve no idea how similar the cuts are to what Jeremy Abbott used in what now has to be considered one of his most iconic programs, but I guess we’re about to see how the pieces fit on a new athlete—ready or not.

Gold—Peng/Zhang (CHN)
Silver—Bazarova/Deputat (RUS)
Bronze—Calalang/Sidhu (USA)

Dark Horse: Della Monica/Guarise (ITA)

Take a look at the eight entries in this division and you’ll likely say the same thing as I did: Who the heck are these people? The only noteworthy team is Peng/Zhang, and the only note I took watching them at Skate America was “underwhelmed”. Still, they’ll probably prove to be the best of the bunch. I put Bazarova/Deputat second simply on recognition of Vera Bazarova’s name (Deputat is a new partner for her), and even Calalang/Sidhu of the U.S. doesn’t bring a lot of name recognition. But if they manage a medal at CoC this weekend, that could change in a hurry.

Coverage starts on IceNetwork at 3AM ET Friday... I will NOT be up that early, but should definitely be watching (and live-Tweeting, and yawning) by the time the Men’s SP starts 3 ½ hours later. Follow me @KLBSt8ofSk8 or use #COC14 to follow the whole event! 

Calling Back Kelowna: 2014 Skate Canada in Review

Two weeks into the Grand Prix series and it feels like we never left!
For some of our skating favorites, though, it looks like they aren’t really back yet... unless they’re the ones that have clearly been doing pushups and squats in the basement all summer, getting stronger. Here’s my take on 2014 Skate Canada International:


GOLD: Takahito Mura (JPN)
SILVER: Javier Fernandez (ESP)
BRONZE: Max Aaron (USA)

+  Before predicting Javier Fernandez to win, I should have had a little conversation with Johnny Weir. Then I would have realized Fernandez has been in “show mode” the entire off-season (as opposed to just the late spring), and wasn’t ready yet for this level of competition. While his “Black Betty” short program was stellar and showed signs of becoming one of the “IT” SPs of the season, the Rossini FS was off from his first jump, and never really came together. (I’d like to think the costume for that one is also “not ready”; could that bland ensemble really be what he wears all season?) In any case, he’s scheduled to be at Rostelecom Cup in two weeks so we’ll see if he’s able to gain any ground in that time.

+  Adam (Rippon) and Taka (Kozuka) are both trying very hard to break my heart. Both are beautiful, accomplished competitors with a history of inconsistent finishes (but considerable triumphs among them). One has struggled with triple axel demons for years; the other has only recently done so. Watching each of them barely break 200 points in their totals last weekend left me, and maybe countless others, wondering: does either guy stand a chance of making their respective World teams this year... and will they compete any longer if they don’t?

+  I want to know who it was in the USFS organization earlier this year that zeroed in on Stephen Carriere—a former U.S. medalist, now in his mid-20s, who had finished 10th at Nationals two years running and had not been a part of the Grand Prix since 2010—and said “This guy gets two GP events next season.” Because it just might’ve been... genius?!  The fact is, Carriere used to be assigned to these events regularly, and even medaled at them. Twice. But we’re talking six and seven seasons ago, when he was fresh off of winning Junior Worlds in 2007. Since early 2009, his results have been by and large less than spectacular... and time will tell if 2014-15 will truly be any different. He DID win the Ondrej Nepala Trophy earlier in the season, though—his first international win in three years—and followed it up by being thisclose to a bronze medal (or, technically speaking, 0.1 points) here at Skate Canada. Do we call it a comeback yet? Rostelecom Cup is his next stop...


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

+  Duhamel/Radford won in such convincing fashion, I’d completely forgotten it was their first-ever GP title! But indeed it is. Kudos to the ever-challenging Canadian team!

 Speaking of Canadian teams, Kirsten Moore-Towers made her GP debut with new partner Michael Marinaro, finishing a solid 6th here (and only a few points from 5th). Not bad! But for now, I must admit I miss Dylan Moscovitch...

+  I saw a lot of “When did Sui/Han grow up??” comments on Twitter, and with good reason. Maybe the long-awaited retirement of Pang/Tong has something to do with it; maybe we can just blame the good old passage of time, but Sui/Han did more than just win silver at Skate Canada—they looked, more than ever before, like a long-term future for China.

+  As for a long-term future for U.S. pairs... eh, we’re still working on that. But in the meantime, our reigning Junior champs Madeline Aaron/Max Settlage are certainly doing their part. Not just at SkCan, where they finished a solid 4th, but at SkAM a couple weeks ago (finishing 5th), Nebelhorn a few weeks before that (6th), and even the U.S. Classic a few weeks ahead of that (3rd). Busy much?? Thankfully, The King and I—I mean, “she”... get a well-deserved rest, of sorts, for the rest of the year before heading into their Nationals senior debut.


GOLD: Weaver/Poje (CAN)
SILVER: Gilles/Poirier (CAN)
BRONZE: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)

+  Gilles/Poirier for the surprise silver! I did pretty well with most of my SkCan predictions-- except here in Dance, where I couldn’t find silver and bronze to save my life. Apparently I should’ve put more faith in my Dark Horse choice. I couldn’t imagine saying that after watching Poirier’s twizzles spin out of orbit during the SD, but they pulled it together nicely the next day. Guess their old-fashion-ish FD (set to four different pieces of music that I’m just not going to name here, sorry) is going over better with the judges than Psycho did—at least so far.

+  Let’s talk about Hubbell/Donohue’s FD, set to music from the Great Gatsby soundtrack. I wanted to like it, I really did. But I didn’t... at least not yet. I’m glad they won bronze here, but even their FD score (in the high 80s, compared to 90+ for both U.S. dance teams at SkAM a week earlier) seemed to reflect a certain sense of “meh”. Or maybe I’m just missing something. What did you think?

 Obviously Weaver/Poje were finally able to move out of the bridesmaid role and claim their first SkCan title in fine fashion. Less obvious, to me, were enough problems in the Hurtado/Diaz FD to set them solidly in last place (a place they were NOT in following the SD).  I like this up-and-coming couple very much, and it usually seems the judges do as well...but I couldn’t find any egregious errors here and I’m puzzled. Ice dance details are not my strong suit, though. Can anyone else explain it?


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

+   I think many people thought this event was Ashley Wagner’s to lose, but as you know I called it for eventual winner Anna Pogorilaya. What I didn’t make clear in the predictions post was that I did so almost entirely for content/difficulty reasons. Even before I saw the already-retooled-since-Japan-Open Wagner FS... knowing the jumping passes Pogorilaya is capable of, and executes with fair success in most every program (save for her apparent nemesis, the SP double axel), it simply seemed that those points would pile up quickly. Add in the more likeable FS this season—maybe not saying much, but I still prefer her “Firebird” to her “Mermaid” of last year—and the strong PCS scores were sure to follow. Even against the more complete, mature package that is Wagner.

+  Speaking of Wagner: Spartacus SP was very nice (another Adam Rippon choreo project, if I’m not mistaken). Moulin Rouge FS... not my favorite, but I can live with it. The jumping strategies involved are actually more interesting to me right now than the programs. Yes, the skating purist in me cringes at that sentence as it shakes a fist at the sky and growls “Curse you, IJS!!” But I know Wagner’s skating by now, and how it’s grown in eight years on the senior circuit. So if she and her team want to tinker with the jump placement, jump combos, and even (in the case of her lutz) jump omissions, all in order to maximize points... I say tinker away. (As long as she keeps doing all she can to get things rotated.)

+  Satoko Miyahara. Is that name burned into your brain yet? Methinks it just might be by the end of this season. She’s special. She might be Akiko Suzuki-special, with time. And if the puberty monster is kind, of course... (she’s 16 and not even 5 feet tall yet).

Back later with Cup of China predictions!