Thursday, December 10, 2015

2015 Senior Grand Prix Final Predictions!

For the Senior Grand Prix Final predictions I’ve kept it simple... in a way.

My guesses are below; you’ll see that I’m attempting to predict ALL the placements this time around. However, I offer no explanations yet for said predictions. (That’s the “simple” part.) That is partly by design, and partly because I want to get this posted before the event actually gets underway. My thought is that I’ll work my reasonings into my GP wrap-up... where it will surely become crystal clear why I got the guesses so backwards!

And here is the TV Schedule... NBC viewers, take note: coverage will not air until NEXT Sunday...


Gold: Duhamel/Radford (CAN)
Silver: Stolbova/Klimov (RUS)
Bronze: Kavaguti/Smirnov (RUS)
4th: Peng/Zhang (CHN)
5th: Scimeca/Knierim (USA)
6th: Yu/Jin (CHN)
7th: Seguin/Bilodeau (CAN)


Gold: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
Silver: Patrick Chan (CAN)
Bronze: Jin Boyang (CHN)
4th: Shoma Uno (JPN)
5th: Javier Fernandez (ESP)
6th: Daisuke Murakami (JPN)


Gold: Weaver/Poje (CAN)
Silver: Chock/Bates (USA)
Bronze: Shibutanis (USA)
4th: Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)
5th: Bobrova/Soloviev (RUS)
6th: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)


Gold: Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS)
Silver: Elena Radionova (RUS)
Bronze: Gracie Gold (USA)
4th: Mao Asada (JPN)
5th: Satako Miyahara (JPN)
6th: Ashley Wagner (USA)

Don’t forget to use #GPFBarcelona on Twitter... and look for me @KLBSt8ofSk8 !

Rostelecom and NHK Trophy in Review, Pt. 2 (Men/Dance)

Time to continue this dual recap of Rostelecom Cup and NHK Trophy as we move over to cover the other two disciplines...


            Yuzuru Hanyu—When he came off the ice at the conclusion of a near-perfect pair of NHK performances, coach Brian Orser said “I have no words!” with good reason. All the superlatives you’d typically go with—breathtaking, brilliant, lights-out!—had already been used a number of times on his less perfect skates. How could they have a place now? But since that day, I’ve thought of three “words”—a.k.a. multiple words strung together as sentences:

1) The desire to post his NHK performances to Olympics-only skating fans on Facebook, saying “THIS is why he’s the Olympic Gold Medalist”... but of course that’s kind of silly; it’s hard enough to get performances like this in a relatively minor event, let alone the Olympic stage. That’s why it was special.

2) In fact it’s almost as silly as Hanyu being asked after NHK if he was going to retire now (that he’d skated the perfect competition). Retire?! He just turned 21... an absolute adolescent by today’s skating standards! (Just ask Konstantin Menshov.)

3) The perfection of Hanyu in that competition may not be attained again for a long, loooong time. And that’s okay.

      Russian Roll Call: There’s a lot of talk on the NBC coverage of these events—mostly by Johnny Weir—about Russia’s ongoing search for The Next Plushenko. But isn’t that about as productive as when the U.S. was “searching for the next Kwan”? Michelle and Evgeni (and let’s be honest, Evgeni and Alexei Yagudin) were talents beyond their time. Meaning more than just a particular era. Irreplaceable. Sure now we have a U.S. rivalry between Gold and Wagner that will be looked on fondly one day, but that nearly a decade (after Kwan’s final U.S. title) to develop. And, arguably, neither of today’s top ladies has approached Kwan territory yet (if ever they will). Likewise, Plushy and Yag challenged each other at the top—not even considering how long it took for them to get there—for years! It’s an unmatched battle! So meanwhile, as Yag has long since retired with hip injuries and Plushy keeps on threatening to return, major back surgery be damned, Russia struggles to find a single superskate hero, let alone a pair of them:

+      32 year-old Konstantin Menshov, who has yet to medal at a GP event and has never been on a world or Olympic team

+     28 year-old Sergei Voronov, whose best Worlds finish (7th) was 7 years ago

+      22 year-old Artur Gachinsky, who was 3rd at his first Worlds (in 2011), 18th at his next a year later, and hasn’t been back to Worlds since.

+      20 year-old Maxim Kovtun, a two-time national champ whose initial big chance to shine was, ironically, taken away from him when Plushenko was chosen over him to represent at Sochi.

+      17 year-old Aidian Pitkeev, recent Rostelecom Cup silver medalist who is too young to have his career thwarted by Plushadow Plushenko. Yet.

            My point, which understandably has only trace connections to my topic of choice (sorry) is this: Maybe it would behoove Russia to remove the specters of Olympics past from current conversation.

      GP Finalists 6, USA Men 0... but not for lack of trying.
+      Jason Brown had a shot at the Final for sure until an injury forced him from NHK.
+      Max Aaron seemed a lock for the Final after Skate America, but then TEB ended before he got to redeem his 7th place SP.

And with Joshua Farris out recovering, the chances got even slimmer:

+      Ross Miner and Adam Rippon took on Rostelecom and did well... very well in Miner’s case... but were still nowhere near Final qualification.
+      Grant Hochstein and Richard Dornbush, meanwhile, both took on their 2nd Asian GP assignment of the season. Dornbush, sadly, seems to have stalled out much the way Rachael Flatt did when she worked the collegiate balance... and Hochstein, with two 4ths, did exceedingly well this GP season—and like Courtney Hicks, I have hope he can leverage that success to a best-ever Nats finish. However, his best work is not anywhere near GP Final best.


            Here are the top GP scores from U.S. dance teams so far this season:

174.43—Shibutanis at NHK Trophy

173.22—Chock/Bates at Skate America

169.16—Chock/Bates at Cup of China

168.36—Shibutanis at Skate Canada

167.49—Hubbell/Donohue at NHK Trophy

So just how important is this GP Final for the U.S. dance teams? Important enough that winning the whole thing would be great, but getting the top U.S. score would seem to be the goal.

On the international front... I’d say the following battles were critical:
            Chock/Bates vs. Weaver/Poje
            Weaver/Poje vs. Cappellini/Lanotte
            Bobrova/Soloviev vs. The Universe (where do they really fit in now that they’re back?)

Meanwhile, everyone’s got to be wondering about Papdakis/Cizeron, who like Volosohzar/Trankov will be the (missing) elephant in the GP rink this weekend... even more so, in their case, because they’ve yet to return to competition. (Welcome to the real reason anyone internationally might pay attention to French Nationals this year.)

Stand by for my full list of senior GPF predictions! 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Rostelecom AND NHK Trophy in Review, Pt. 1 (Ladies/Pairs)

The field is set, as they say!

Gracie and Ashley! Weaver and Poje! Sui and Han! Wait, they’ve scratched (due to injury)... Peng and Zhang! Yuzuru and... oookay fine, he’s currently standing all by himself after last weekend. But we’ll get to that later.

First, as promised, let’s take a step backwards and see what was worth remembering at Rostelecom Cup AND NHK Trophy:


+  Rostelecom Russian Sweep: Many predicted it; I was not one of them (sigh)... but give Russia this: they picked the right young women for this event. Medeveda is Russia’s current “It” girl, Radionova was last year’s “It” girl (if you consider Tuktamysheva last year’s comeback queen, that is), and Sotnikova and her OGM probably made her the headliner above both of them. Then, for an added twist, Radionova got the win! One prediction I got correctly here was Sotnikova for bronze, and while I actually think bronze should’ve gone to Polina Edmunds, Sotnikova’s first time back in the GP ring was good. Not great, but good. Which, I think, is how I’ve characterized her skating all along. And I still don’t think she’s ever really elevated beyond “good”. Not even in Sochi.

+  Pogorilayaaaaaaah!!!: Then, Russia sent the struggling Anna Pogorilaya to NHK Trophy a week later... and we witnessed one of the most painful SPs we’ve seen this season (the other one that comes to mind is Kaetlyn Osmond’s at Skate Canada... back to her in a moment). Three jumping passes, three falls. Hard falls. No, make that brutal, sprawling, spirit-crushing falls and a couple “OMG did she hit her head??” comments on Twitter. It thumped her to last place—and while she bravely eked out a much more on-her-feet FS that landed her in 9th overall, you’ve got to feel for her as they head towards Russian Nationals. I can only speculate, but right now it seems like it’s between Pogo, Tukta, Sotnik(ova) and Lipnit(skaia) for that third World Team spot. Oof. Advantage Tukta, without a doubt.

+  Chartrand’s chances of holding her SP spot (when attempting a triple axel in the FS): slim to none. Alaine Chartrand may very well become the first Canadian woman to land a triple axel in competition... but based on results, maybe she should shift that goal to next season. Twice she’s attempted it in this season’s GP, twice she’s fallen on it, and twice the rest of her FS has been a wash. The 88.80 last place score she got at Skate America was merely a morale-guzzler, since she was 6th after the SP. Rostelecom, though, saw her in 2nd place (over Evegenia Medeveda, for heaven’s sake!!) after the SP... so even though she was able to improve on the SkAM debacle by some 17 points, that skid down to 6th place overall had to hurt, especially since she made the podium last year. She’s clearly capable of very good work, so I hope she takes a cue from Adam Rippon and ditches the huge points-getter that ain’t getting her any points. A World Team spot at Canadian Nationals may depend on it.
+ Osmond’s rocky road back: She’s getting there—just not at the pace she hoped for. After experiencing ankle pain, a blistering flying spin wipeout, and a dizzying array of stumbles and falls at Skate Canada that left her in 11th place, Kaetlyn Osmond was decidedly in the middle of the pack with a 6th place finish at NHK. The near 25-point gain she made from one FS to the next was definitely helpful... still, like Chartrand, I’d say absolutely nothing is guaranteed to her come Canadian Nats. Perhaps she said summed it up best in this Twitter post shortly after NHK:
    Everything is a learning process. Practices have been         perfect, just getting used to competing is the trick. I       know I can just keep building.

The American trail mix: we had an interesting assortment of U.S. ladies’ performances over the past few weeks. Up in Moscow, current pewter medalist Polina Edmunds turned in a pair of pretty strong skates only to find herself in that familiar 4th place. The good news to be found from that: she lagged behind reigning OGM Sotnikova by less than 2 total points. The bad news: in my opinion, she shouldn’t have. In the FS in particular, Edmunds had the higher tech score. But—oh hello, more subjective components—Ade got an average score of 8.67 compared to Pol’s 7.59. This goes back to what I said about Ade being good-not-great... I think her components should be a fair shot lower. No more than a 7.9 to Pol’s 7.6. But oh, what a judge’s world must look like through OGM-colored glasses...
    Anyway, NHK proved interesting for all the reasons           Ashley Wagner didn’t want it to: a few misses in the       SP? Check. A few more in the FS? CHECK. Finishing off       the GP podium for the first time in 4 years? CHECK!           While your teammate finishes ahead of you? Ai-yi-yi...

    Speaking of the teammate! Courtney Hicks kept the         mustard FS dress, but left behind the jitters that took       her out of the running the last time she had a top-3 SP     to build from. Well, she left behind some of them,             skating fairly well in a sea of disappointing                       performances (save for Miyahara, the NHK winner). But     that first-ever GP medal she won could go a long way       when it comes to confidence at Nationals.

      (For Hannah Miller and Mirai Nagasu, who also competed at Rostelecom and   NHK, respectively, I’m leaving them out of the trail mix conversation because   Miller’s 10th place and Nagasu’s 5th were pretty much what I expected—both before and after they skated.)


+  Honestly, I don’t have a whole lot to say about either the Rostelecom OR the NHK pairs event. All three from the Rostelecom podium (Stolbova/Klimov, Kavaguti/Smirnov, Peng/Zhang) are competing at the GP Final now that Sui/Han have scratched due to injury, and all three from the NHK podium (Duhamel/Radford, Yu/Jin, Scimeca/Knierim) will be at the final too.

+  One notable addition to this list: Seguin/Bilodeau of Canada, who turned out to be the sole beneficiaries of the rule adjustment made by the ISU in the wake of the cancelled Trophee Eric Bompard event. One notable absence: Volosohzar/Trankov, the reigning OGMs back from their one-year hiatus. Since they only competed at TEB, there was no way for them to rack up enough points for the Final. Those awaiting a Russian/Canadian showdown between this team and Duh/Rad—who have won every major event they entered within the past two seasons to this point—looks like you’ll be waiting until Worlds.

 Speaking of Duh/Rad (that looks so silly; I think I want to change that abbreviation to Doo-Rad), I want to talk about THAT MUSIC. Even if you don’t recognize the song they’ve chosen for this season’s FS, you might have already deciphered it to be sung by the currently omnipresent Adele. “Hometown Glory” is the closing track on Adele’s debut album from 2008; it was also the first single released from that album and is reported to be the first song Adele ever wrote. The team of Doo-Rad is not the first to use “Hometown”—Jeremy Abbott, to name another, made it an exhibition piece from 2010 through 2012—but with vocals only in their second year of use in competition, I happen to think Doo-Rad are making an excellent case “for” the vocals side of debate. (And yes, I still plan to dedicate a post to that topic!)

+  On the “against” side: the 70s mix tape that the Italian team of Marchei/Hotarek have for their FS. I was a little concerned when Wikipedia listed their FS music as The Way We Were followed by Saturday Night Fever (meaning some sort of medley from the film’s soundtrack, I assumed, since unlike “The Way We Were”, “Saturday Night Fever” is not an actual song). But the actual program contained not only those unlikely music bedfellows, but—in between SNF cuts—a snippet of the 1977 megahit ballad “You Light Up My Life”. WHAT?? I then had an indelible image in my head of Debby Boone (the squeaky-clean singer of that song) trapped in Studio 54, begging to be released but going unheard amid a relentless Bee Gee bass line. GAH! Mar/Hot, for heaven sakes, turn off the disco ball and go get a new program before Euros gets any closer!

Next up, Next time: Men and Ice Dance! 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

2015 NHK Trophy Preview/Predictions

Here are the times for NHK Trophy viewing via IceNetwork...

And TV coverage can be found here... 

CONTENDERS: Kaetlyn Osmond, Mao Asada, Satoko Miyahara, Anna Pogorilaya, Ashley Wagner

GOLD: Asada (JPN)
SILVER: Wagner (USA)
BRONZE: Miyahara (JPN)
DARK HORSE: Pogorilaya (RUS), Osmond (CAN)

I know Asada just barely won Cup of China after a tripped-up FS, but I just don’t see her being beaten by anyone in this field. Pogorilaya and/or Osmond could make some podium noise, but only if one of the other has a major turnaround from their previous GP outings.

USA Alert: Both Courtney Hicks and Mirai Nagasu are here for the U.S. as well.

CONTENDERS: Jin Boyang, Yuzuru Hanyu, Maxim Kovtun, Richard Dornbush, Grant Hochstein

GOLD: Hanyu (JPN)
BRONZE: Kovtun (RUS)
DARK HORSE: Dornbush (USA), Hochstein (USA)

Knowing what sort of technical score Jin is capable of even when he does NOT land all his jumps, I could be out of my mind in putting Hanyu ahead of him. Oh well. I blame all the Thanksgiving carbs.

CONTENDERS: Megan Duhamel/Eric Radford, Yu Xiaoyu/Jin Yang, Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres, Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim

GOLD: Duhamel/Radford (CAN)
BRONZE: Scimeca/Knierim (USA)
DARK HORSE: James/Cipres (FRA)

Nothing but room here for Duh/Rad to show what they can do. I’ve got the French team as possible spoilers because their 2nd place SP at the aborted Trophee Eric Bompard deserves some credit.

USA Alert: Jessica Calalang/Zach Sidhu are here as well, making their only GP appearance this season.

CONTENDERS: Penny Coomes/Nicholas Buckland, Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev, Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin, Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue, Maia/Alex Shibutani

GOLD: Bobrova/Soloviev (RUS)
SILVER: Shib Sibs (USA)
BRONZE: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
DARK HORSE: Coomes/Buckland (GBR)

I wouldn’t mind seeing the Shibs win this at ALL, and in fact they just might since they beat Bob/Solo a few competitions ago. But I’m thinking the Russians might leapfrog to the top now that they’ve got their first-competition-in-forever event out of the way.

USA Alert: Anastasia Cannuscio/Colin McManus are here as well; earlier in the GP season they finished 5th at Skate America.

As you’ve surely noticed by now, I didn’t get a Rostelecom Cup in Review post completed yet. So my plan right now is to combine my NHK and Rost Cup reports into a couple of posts in a few days... when, among other things, I don’t have another major competition staring me down at the end of the week!

As usual NHK is a tough one to watch live in my time zone, so if you don’t catch me live-tweeting #NHK15 be sure to comment/ask me stuff using my Twitter handle @KLBSt8ofSk8 !

Thursday, November 19, 2015

2015 Rostelecom Cup (of Russia) Preview/Predictions

Here’s when to catch Rostelecom on IceNetwork (starting Friday at 7AM Eastern Time):


CONTENDERS: Nam Nguyen, Takahiko Kozuka, Adian Pitkeev, Sergei Voronov, Javier Fernandez, Adam Rippon

GOLD: Fernandez (ESP)
SILVER: Nguyen (CAN)
BRONZE: Pitkeev (RUS)

I don’t think Javi will have a lot of difficulty with this field, though my silver and bronze picks might be able to meet him quad for quad (or better, depending on how tired Javi looks in the second half of his FS).


CONTENDERS: Roberta Rodeghiero, Rika Hongo, Yuka Nagai, Evgenia Medvedeva, Elena Radionova, Adelina Sotnikova, Polina Edmunds

GOLD: Medvedeva (RUS)
BRONZE: Sotnikova (RUS)
DARK HORSE: Radionova (RUS), Nagai (JPN)

Russian sweep in Russia? Yep, maybe... especially since the role of Russian Phenom is currently being played by young Medvedeva. But that’s a lot of pressure... and Radionova has already shown she might not have the instant triple-triple power that she had last year. (Hongo, meanwhile, could be on a roll. And remember, she won this last year.) Sotnikova’s last time competing in an ice arena in front of the Russian crowds was... um... dang, what was that?? Anyway, this is her first GP appearance since 2013, and her first time back to Rostelecom Cup since 2012. Your guess is as good as mine as to how she’ll do here... bronze seems possible, though.


CONTENDERS: Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro, Peng Cheng/Zhang Hao, Valentina Marchei/Ondrej Hotarek, Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov, Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov

GOLD: Stolbova/Klimov (RUS)
SILVER: Kavaguti/Smirnov (RUS)
BRONZE: Peng/Zhang (CHN)
DARK HORSE: Moore-Towers/Marinaro (CAN), Marchei/Hotarek (ITA)

Whew. Tough one. And I’m going against recent GP history with my 1-2 prediction, but I feel like living on the edge.


CONTENDERS: Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje, Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte, Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri, Elena Ilinykh/Ruslan Zhiganzhin, Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov

GOLD: Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)
SILVER: Weaver/Poje (CAN)
BRONZE: Sinitsina/Katsalapov (RUS)
DARK HORSE: Ilinykh/Zhiganzhin (RUS)

The battle for gold—between two previous winners on this year’s circuit—should be fierce. And the battle for bronze—between two Russian teams that used to be one Russian team (Ilinykh/Katsalapov)—sounds melodramatic, even on paper. Bring your popcorn.

2015 Trophee Eric Bompard (such as it was) in Review

So what did YOU do over the weekend with your P.A.S.T. (Previously Allotted Skating Time), once you realized that Trophee Eric Bompard would not continue due to last Friday’s terrorist attacks on Paris?

Here’s what I did (in no particular order):

+ Ate a bowl of mini-wheats. Because breakfast.

+ Checked news sources to make sure no further attacks had happened in Paris since Friday evening.

+ Took my daughter to Nutcracker rehearsal at her dance studio. (She’s a soldier in Act 1 and an Arabian coffee merchant—that slow, slinky music that Peng/Zhang used for their SP last season—in Act 2.)

+ Prayed for the people of Paris... and other countries, as we came to learn of multiple weekend attacks... and was especially grateful that TEB has not taken place in the City of Lights for the past couple of years.

+ Cut back about two-thirds of the growth in my gardens, in preparation for winter. (I should’ve had most of this done already; of course, I place the blame squarely on Cup of China, Skate America, Skate Canada...)

+Thought about catching up on some of the writing work I did NOT get done during TEB short programs on Friday. Put off doing anything about it until late Saturday afternoon. Consequentially didn’t get enough done to feel satisfied.

+ Picked up my son from school once they’d learned for sure that his marching band had missed the cut for Band of America finals. (They’d performed at semi-finals earlier in the day. He came home very tired. And hungry. And probably ate the rest of the mini-wheats.)

+ Tried to put my aforementioned daughter’s mind at some sort of ease regarding what happened in Paris. Was probably more successful with the unsatisfying work catch-up.

Yet here we are again on the Thursday before a GP event. TEB was cancelled, and as of this moment we don’t yet know what the ISU has decided about GP scoring in TEB’s wake. But there were certainly an abundance of noteworthy short programs skated in Bordeaux on Friday the 13th, and I need to get to them before Rostelecom Cup (of Russia) looms any closer! So... I kept it short and sweet; three words each for nearly 3 minutes of skating. Top five finishers in singles; top 4 in pairs/dance.

One caveat—if you didn’t see these programs yet you may not get what I’m saying about some of them. Here we go...


1stGracie Gold (USA)—Sharp. Sassy. Fantastic!

2ndJulia Lipnitskaia (RUS)—Dress! Better! Panda!

3rdRoberta Rodeghiero (ITA)—Surprise! 3rd! (Who?)

4thKanako Murakami (JPN)—Popped axel. Gah!

5thElizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS)—Oh no! Again??


1stShoma Uno—God, he’s good.

2ndMaxim Kovtun (RUS)—He can’t dance. (Hey, the song said it, not me.)

3rdDaisuke Murakami (JPN)—Quad salchow. BOOM.

4thDenis Ten (KAZ)—Injured. Please rest.

5thPatrick Chan (CAN)—Pop! Goes (the) combo.


1stVolosohzar/Trankov (RUS)—No explanation necessary.

2ndJames/Cipres (FRA)—Second! Hooray! Unexpected!

3rdSeguin/Bilodeau (CAN)—So. Dang. Adorable.

4thCheng/Zhang (CHN)—Father-Daughter Dance?


1st-- Hubbell/Donohue (USA) – Glory glory Hallelujah!

2nd-- Gilles/Poirier (CAN)—Ahh! My eyes! (Bright Sgt. Pepper costume alert)

3rd—Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)—Sit-spin twizzles!

4thCoomes/Buckland (GBR)—Missed them! Much!

NOTE re: Rostelecom Cup... IceNetwork’s original posted schedule was off by one hour. I’ll include a link to the amended schedule when I post my preview/picks later tonight.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

2015 Trophee Eric Bompard Preview/Predictions

It’s late here in the Eastern Time zone, so (almost) just the facts...

WHAT: Trophee Eric Bompard, or TEB
WHERE: Bordeaux, FRA
WHEN: IceNetwork times are here 
And TV coverage times can be found here 

CONTENDERS: Patrick Chan, Daisuke Murakami, Shoma Uno, Denis Ten, Maxim Kovtun, Max Aaron

GOLD: Chan (CAN)
DARK HORSE: Kovtun (RUS), Murakami (JPN)

Chan’s shown us where he’s at now, so I’ve no problem predicting him to win here.

CONTENDERS: Gabrielle Daleman, Mae-Berenice Meite, Yulia Lipnitskaya, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Gracie Gold

GOLD: Tuktamysheva (RUS)
DARK HORSE: Daleman (CAN), Lipnitskaya (RUS)

I’m willing to bet that Liza T. won’t have as much difficulty here as she did at Skate Canada. The bigger gamble, I suppose, is putting Meite in the bronze slot.  But I’m plain tired of seeing her get 5th place (which she’s finished at TEB three times in a row... does that make her the Christina Gao of France?).

USA ALERT: Angela Wang, 15th at U.S. Nationals and 9th at last year’s Rostelecom Cup, is also among this weekend’s competitors.

CONTENDERS: Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau, Peng Cheng/Zhang Hao, Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres, Evgenia Torasova/Vladimir Morozov, Tatiana Volosohozhar/Maxim Trankov

GOLD: Volosohozhar/Trankov (RUS)
SILVER: Peng/Zhang (CHN)
BRONZE: Torasova/Morozov (RUS)
DARK HORSE: Seguin/Bilodeau (CAN)

The newlyweds (Volo/Trank) are here! Who wants to buy them a blender?
Also starting their GP season here is Peng/Zhang. Seguin/Bilodeau, the sweethearts of Skate America, are here too—though I think the competition’s a bit stiffer here.

USA Alert: Castelli/Tran are here too, on their second GP assignment of the season. They finished 4th at Skate Canada.

CONTENDERS: Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier, Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin, Penny Coomes/Nicholas Buckland, Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue

GOLD: Gilles/Poirier (CAN)
SILVER: Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)
BRONZE: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
DARK HORSE: Coomes/Buckland (GBR)

As you’ve probably heard by now, the long-awaited return of World Champs Papadakis/Cizeron has been delayed until French Nationals as a safety precaution (Papadakis suffered a concussion over the summer). Soooooo... wide open field? Maybe, but I think frequent GP silver medalists Gilles/Poirier have the best shot at the title. 

Shanghai Shenanigans: 2015 Cup of China in Review (Ladies & Pairs)

I must confess that I paid quite a bit more attention to the ladies than the pairs at Cup of China. OK, let’s keep it 100—that’s probably true at every event. But it was especially true at CoC, if only because there were no US pairs competing.

There were still some very cool, NOTEWORTHY things happening with pairs, though...

+  Kavaguti/Smirnov... I must admit, they never cease to amaze me. Like ice dancers Cappellini/Lanotte, this is their 10th GP season together. Unlike C/L (who have placed all over the map), Kav/Smir have medaled at every GP event at which they’ve competed—save for the Finals—since 2006. Think about that. Unfortunately, the best they’ve ever been able to place by season’s end (at Worlds) was 3rd, and those times were several years back. Smirnov is 31; Kavaguti will turn 34 in about a week. Like Pang/Tong (who I think have finally retired for good), they are trekking well past the average expiration date at this point in their careers. But here’s the thing: Pang/Tong—or, more accurately, Pang—was not completing, let alone attempting, quad throws in her 30s. In admittedly oversimplified terms, that makes Yuka Kavaguti either a crazy woman or a badass.
    I’m gonna go with badass. And in saying that, I take         back anything I might have said on Twitter                       reminding us how soon she’d be AARP-eligible in the         US.

+ The Kava/Smir win kept home faves Sui/Han from a second consecutive victory this season (though like Chock/Bates, they’re still an early entrant in the GP Final). They, too, have a throw quad—the salchow—but appear to be saving it for later in the season. That strategy may have worked against them here, but then again, Sui/Han are the current World Silver Medalists. They’re clearly doing something right. And as it happened, they lost by less than one point... and one point was deducted from their FS score due to a time violation. So make of that what you will.

+  So if Sui/Han are poising themselves for Shen/Zhao-like domination... and the role previously occupied by Zhang/Zhang is now played by... um... Cheng/Zhang (who make their GP season debut this coming weekend)... who are the “new” Pang/Tong for Chinese pairs? Yu/Jin, with their balletic qualities, seem to fit that bill. Though they were a distant 3rd this year, they’ve done as well as 2nd at CoC. And since they’ve been on and off the GP circuit since 2011, they’re already building up some P/T longevity...


+  USA’s Hannah Miller (in 10th) and China’s Li Zijun (in 9th) were something of a study in contrasts. Miller, 19 and making her GP debut, looked unhappy as soon as her FS ended... though to me it was a pretty good, to-be-expected kind of outing. Li, 18 and now in her 4th GP season, seemed fairly pleased with what she’d done... yet that FS (to The Artist) had sparkle factor that never seemed to kick in, and the 5th place she’d earned in the SP went down the drain.

+ The Russian Report: Elena Radionova took bronze here—by a paltry .12 over teammate Anna Pogorilaya—and she did so with a Titanic soundtrack FS that, unfortunately, checked all the wrong boxes for me. Repetitive, middling tempo? Check. Redundant melody that we’re all a little too familiar with? Check. Lots of overemoting on Miss Rad’s part? Check. Annoying voiceovers throughout the program that bring the infamous Ghost free dance back to mind? Oh, no, where’s that pen... check check check. I DID think her FS dress was a vast improvement on last year’s bead-heavy blue thing, so hooray for that.
   What about Miss Pogo (who is taking on Scheherazade       for her FS this year at the tender age of 17)? I actually      liked her overall skating and presence much more              than previous years. But as soon as I’d be thinking that    for more than 30 seconds, she let loose with one of          those horrifically hard falls that spoiled the effect.          We’ll see her get another shot at the podium when NHK    Trophy rolls around in 2 weeks; Radionova will be back       in the hunt next week at Rostelecom Cup.

+  USA’s Karen Chen and Courtney Hicks finished down in 5th and 6th respectively, though Hicks made things interesting with the 3rd best SP of the event. What happened during her FS to plummet her from podium status? You can call it nerves if you like. Me, I’m blaming the dress. I presume she was going for something to reflect her music (to Elizabeth: The Golden Age), but all I saw was something reminiscent of Dijon mustard that didn’t compliment her skin tone at all. What did YOU think of it? Or maybe the better question is, what color would you put her in for this program?

+  Finally, the Japanese headliner became the Japanese headliners (plural) after that free skate! Thank goodness Mao Asada nailed that FS triple axel with even more strength and flow than usual—she wouldn’t have eked out a victory without it. But if there was an upset to be had, Rika Hongo would have deserved the win. Fierce, that one is, digging in and proving that last year’s surprise Rostelecom victory was no fluke. She may not be the most elegant athlete on the Japanese roster—not yet at least; she’s only 19—but she’s a competitor through and through who skates with a lot of joy and heart. “Reel Around the Sun” (a.k.a Riverdance) is a great vehicle for her strengths. I smell a breakout season ahead.

Gotta go make some Bompard predictions next...! 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Shanghai Shenanigans: 2015 Cup of China in Review (Men & Ice Dance)

My first site of the Cup of China Men’s Final did NOT involve a guy with his head swaddled in bandages this year. And that’s a good thing. Even if the Men’s Final was lacking in terms of excitement—or excitement per capita, at least, given the amazement surrounding one particular competitor. (And big-time underperformance of my longshot pick—Elladj Balde—for bronze. Ugh!) Let’s get into it—

+  U.S. Guy #1 (Richard Dornbush, finishing 7th) had muddled his quad toe attempt but was surely looking forward to nailing the rest of his SP ) had muddled his quad toe attempt but was surely looking forward to nailing the rest of his SP when YIKES!!! Along came one of the worst (or best, depending on your viewpoint) case of waxelitis I’ve ever seen. He caught his toepick on the launch, and instead of being up in the air for a triple axel he was skidding across the ice on his hands and knees like a speed skater breaking hearts at the Olympics. Zero points. Non-element. Which had at least something to do with Dornbush trailing far behind...

+ U.S. Guy #2 (Grant Hochstein, finishing 4th). Kind of like Stephen Carriere at last year’s Skate Canada, Hochstein went from being a GP also-ran to someone who more than made the most of his spot on the comeback. His quad wasn’t there (he doubled it), but his triple axels and the rest of his repertoire was solid and polished. Yes, it helped that much of the competition was quad-poor and overall meh—particularly with 3rd and 4th place SP’ers Sergei Voronov and Song Nan falling to 5th and 9th, respectively—but hopefully this finish will give Hochstein a nice boost as he trains for Nationals.

+ Yan Han (of China, winning bronze) was half of last year’s warmup collision (the half that did not sport a head wrap later) and he ended up in 6th overall... quite a difference from the gold he was able to grab at this event in ’13. This year he split the difference and came away with bronze—which I’m happy about, as I’m fond of his skating—but it wasn’t a gangbusters event for him. In fact, his overall score here was about 6 points below his Skate America score from a few weeks ago (where he finished off the podium). Seems strange to say this, but at age the ripe old age of 19 (!!) I hope he can get his “youthful” mojo back sooner than later.

+  Is Yan intimidated in any way by Jin Boyang, a.k.a. the hotshot who wheeled off quad lutzes last weekend like they were waltz jumps? Frankly, I think it’s a little soon to name Jin as heir to Javi’s (or Yuzuru’s, or Chan’s) throne. Yes, he can jump. Nearly 100 TES points (!!!) underscored that at this event. But he can also bungle a jump or two. And get sloppy. And had only the 6th best artistic score (and some would call that generous). Bottom line? He’s barely 18 years old, just out of Juniors, and just over 5’1” at this point. It’s exciting that he’s raising the quad bar, but as with so many other things... time will tell. (So will NHK Trophy, where he’ll appear next.)

+  As for our reigning World Champ Javier Fernandez, there is good news and bad news. The good—I love both his programs this year (as opposed to just his SP last season). I don’t know if that was the majority opinion or not, particularly with Guys & Dolls (his FS, highlighted with Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady”), but I’m quite fond of that show—and its music—and appreciate seeing it here on the ice, skated with David Wilson’s fine choreography. The bad news? He’s in the same sort of GP shape he’s been in for the past few years. Which is to say... not so great. The last 90 seconds of his FS looked like he was running on fumes, with his final spin in danger of grinding to a halt and toppling him over. The difference is that now he’s World Champion... a title that some might say he only won because Patrick Chan wasn’t there and Yuzuru Hanyu wasn’t 100%. I guess I’m saying I wish he’d live up to the title a little more. We’ll see what he’s got at Rostelecom Cup in a couple of weeks.

+  A Chinese team (Cong/Sun) withdrew before the dance event got underway, and an American team (Hawayek/Baker) withdrew before the free dance was complete due to Hawayek suffering from food poisoning (!!). So only six teams finished this event, and the three that reached the podium are collectively loaded down with World and Olympic medals. So, not much of a challenge there. But their placement on the podium? Another story...

+ Cappellini/Lanotte (winning 1st) have been on the GP circuit since 2006, finishing everywhere from 8th to 2nd and making the Final three different times. This was their 11th GP medal, and the first gold one. With this new FD—a Fellini medley, skated with a lot of charm and character and cool straight-line lifts—they are clearly poised to get back on the podium they missed at Worlds last March.

+ Were they better than Chock/Bates (winning 2nd)? I don’t have the expertise to take a crack at ice dance; I can only tell you from an error standpoint that Chock had a small mistake on the first round of twizzles in the SD, and I read that they got a couple of “level 2s” in some part of this competition. For me, their Rachmaninoff FD flows like one long scarlet ribbon rippling through the winter sky—and their over FD score was actually a little better here than at Skate America, where they did win 1st. So they presumably just need to keep doing what they do as they head towards the GP Final (for which they’ve now qualified).

+  Ilinykh/Zhiganshin (finishing 3rd) made it especially interesting with their SD choices for a waltz tempo (Queen’s “Somebody to Love”) and a march (Queen again with “We Will Rock You”), both of which worked quite well. But their FD to the Frida soundtrack was a bit underwhelming for me. The judges may see it differently, though: the 95+ points they earned for it at CoC rivals the score they got for their FD at the end of last season (at Worlds). (But for those keeping score with her former partner, I/Z finished 4 points behind Sinitsina/Katsalapov’s silver-medal FD score at Skate America in October.

I’ll talk about CoC Ladies and Pairs soon! 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cup of China 2015 Preview/Predictions

It’s time for the super-early morning (in the States, anyway) party known as Cup of China!!

If you’re following in real time (I will NOT be, for the most part), here’s the IceNetwork schedule... 

And here is where you can find the time it’ll make an NBC appearance...

And HERE (below) is where I’m taking my stabs at podium predictions!

CONTENDERS: Elladj Balde, Jin Boyang, Yan Han, Sergei Voronov, Javier Fernandez, Richard Dornbush, Misha Ge
GOLD: Fernandez (ESP)
DARK HORSE: Yan (CHN), Dornbush (USA)

You’re looking at Fernandez for gold and saying Well sure, reigning World Champ, no real competition here, so... duh. To that I say: Look out for Jin Boyang, an 18 year-old 2-time Chinese Champion making his GP debut here—and oh, by the way, he eats quads and quad combos for breakfast. Lots of them. As many as can fit into his 5’1 ½” frame. He won’t have the components of Fernandez, and whether he can keep it together at this event remains to be seen. But if he does, and if Fernandez stumbles a time or two... LOOK. OUT.
As for Balde in the bronze slot, you’re thinking Um, you DO know he’s never done better than 6th at a GP event, right? Yep, he’s probably one of the biggest gambles I’ve made this season... but did YOU know he just won Nebelhorn Trophy? Over Skate America champ Max Aaron, no less? So maybe not such a gamble. Let’s see what he can do here.

USA Alert: Ricky Dornbush won bronze here last year so there’s a podium possibility for him... Grant Hochstein, who was also at Nebelhorn (finishing 7th ), is making only his second GP appearance in six seasons! Whew!

CONTENDERS: Li Zijun, Mao Asada, Rika Hongo, Anna Pogorilaya, Elena Radionova, Karen Chen, Courtney Hicks
GOLD: Asada (JPN)
SILVER: Radionova (RUS)
DARK HORSE: Li (CHN), Pogorilaya (RUS)

Asada’s back. Anything else is a big ol’ stupid upset. I’m not sure there’s more to discuss here, so I’ll just point you to the...

USA Alert: We’ve got three here (though, alas, no reps in Pairs). Reigning U.S. Bronze Medalist Karen Chen will try to improve on her 5th place SkAM finish... Courtney Hicks makes her GP season debut (and might attempt a triple axel? But don’t quote me on that), and Hannah Miller hits the GP circuit for the very first time with this CoC appearance.

CONTENDERS: Iliushechkina/Moscovitch, Sui/Han, Yu/Jin, Astakhova/Rogonov, Kavaguti/Smirnov
GOLD: Sui/Han (CHN)
SILVER: Kavaguti/Smirnov (RUS)
DARK HORSE: Astakhova/Rogonov (RUS)

I adored Sui/Han at SkAM, and fully expect them to nail it again here. As for Kavaguti/Smirnov, did you know this is their 10th GP season?? So I certainly hope their efforts here are medal-worthy. We’ll see if they can hold off Yu/Jin, who won silver here last year.

CONTENDERS: Cappellini/Lanotte, Ilinykh/Zhiganshin, Chock/Bates, Hawayek/Baker
GOLD: Chock/Bates (USA)
SILVER: Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)
BRONZE: Ilinykh/Zhiganshin (RUS)          
DARK HORSE: Hawayek/Baker (USA)

It’ll be interesting to see what Cap/Lan look like this season as they free dance to a Fellini Medley... and Ili/Zhig make their GP debut here too, with the Frida soundtrack. (I’ll be more interested in their “Somebody to Love/We Will Rock You” short dance, but that’s just me.) Chock/Bates for the relatively easy win, though.

I’ll be following the men’s and pairs events in real time for Cup of China (#CoC15); as always, look for me/ask me a question on Twitter @KLBSt8ofSk8 ! 

What's Left After Lethbridge: Skate Canada 2015 in Review (Men/Dance)

NOTEWORTHY DANCE (from Skate Canada):

+ Truth is, I don’t have a whole lot to say about the dance event aside from props in general to the top three. Russia's Bobrova/Soloviev came back from some 20 months away from competition and, aside from some (occasionally significant) speed issues, they had the “like they never left” sort of comeback they had to be hoping for. Scores were very compatible with their most recent GP appearances; third place suited them well here. (And the Anna Karenina FD is lovely.)

+  And I knew I would be very fond of The Shibutanis’ “Fix You” FD (which now has an instrumental passage from another great Coldplay song, “The Scientist”) from the moment I heard that’s what they’d chosen this season. Particularly for them—a brother/sister team that has built-in challenges avoiding overtly romantic themes—this contemporary song of healing and hope is ambiguous enough to work beautifully for siblings. (Not to mention a build and climax that work beautifully for ice dancing.)

+  Still, I was kind of surprised to see their scores a little closer to Weaver/Poje than they were at Worlds—where they finished 5th to Wea/Po’s 3rd. Perhaps they are already getting judicial recognition for the “Fix”--? As for Wea/Po, they’re looking as solid and charismatic as ever, and they won SkCAN by over 5 points. But everyone knows they are displeased, to say the least, with the World Bronze Medal (especially considering how they’d won everything in their path last season up to then), and will be satisfied with nothing less than World/Olympic gold. I wish them well—the narrowing-of-the-gap here has more to do with the Shibs’ progress than any regression on Wea/Po’s part—but dang, it is crowded at the top.

NOTE ABOUT THE NOTEWORTHY MEN: Unofficially, I was thinking around the time of making my predictions that NONE of the men that eventually ended up on the podium would skate a clean FS. Wrong!! Two of the three did(!!)... it was the SP that got mucked up by many. Like...

+  Yuzuru Hanyu, whose artistry could not help him any higher than 6th when clean jumps eluded him. Didn’t help that Patrick Chan was back in the house... though his SP was most definitely what he wanted, either. As for their respective free skates—I love them both, and Chan’s was quite possibly the best he’s ever done with a FS at Skate Canada. But Hanyu landed multiple great quad jumps, where Chan landed only one. I know Hanyu was the one with a fall (on—surprise!!—a triple lutz), but he only beat Chan’s FS technical score by 3 points and some change... and then Chan doubled down on the Olympic Gold Medalist with components (95 points to nearly 89, respectively). So even if they’d been neck-and-neck after the SP, and all other things were equal, Chan STILL would have won? It’s enough to make a busy woman want to spend time studying the protocols from this event rather than, say, go make chicken tacos for the kids. (But I didn’t yet... sorry... the struggle is real!)

+  I really felt for Daisuke Murakami (representing Japan, finishing with bronze). As the improbable SP leader who had the dubious honor of skating his FS right after Chan brought the house down, I admit that I was among those who thought he might do well to deliver a middle-of-the-pack free skate (or worse) and finish off the podium. Except he didn’t—he defied the odds and did very well, with his best quad (the salchow) in fine form! But when everything was totaled and bagged, his score still couldn’t come close to Chan’s or Hanyu’s. It’s no wonder, then, that I heard James Ingram singing the opening lines of THIS as Murakami learned his third-place fate...

+  Murakami’s bronze, of course, kept 4th-place Adam Rippon from the podium. While that’s not great news for fans of the current U.S. silver medalist, it was a clear improvement from last year’s SkCAN finish (10th). The bugaboos haven’t changed—quad lutzes still unsuccessful (with no other quads in the arsenal), triple axels 2-for-3 here—but what was better this time was his attack. He went for everything—no pops, no doubles-meant-to-be-triples. We’ll see if he can keep it up and/or improve; he’ll get another GP shot at Rostelecom Cup.

+ You know who had a higher technical score in the FS than Rippon? His teammate, Timothy Dolensky. Making his GP debut at SkCAN, Dolensky had a troublesome SP (finishing 11th of 12) but skated lights out in the free to finish 7th overall. He doesn’t compete with a quad, but his triple axel (and 3axel/3toe combo) were spot on. ThisIceNetwork article discusses Dolensky’s debut—but savor the performance; he is not scheduled to compete on the circuit again this season. Not yet, anyway...

That does it for Skate Canada! Cup of China predictions are next!