Friday, October 30, 2015

2015 Skate Canada International Preview/Predictions

I was only 3 for 12 with my Skate America podium predictions—let’s see if I can do any better this week when the Grand Prix parade moves to Lethbridge (Alberta) for SKATE CANADA INTERNATIONAL!!


CONTENDERS: Weaver/Poje, Bobrova/Soloviev, Monko/Khaliavin, Fournier Beaudry/Sorensen, Shibutanis

GOLD: Weaver/Poje
SILVER: Shibutanis
BRONZE: Monko/Khaliavin
DARK HORSE: Bobrova/Soloviev

Weaver/Poje have competed at SkCAN five times so far, have medaled four of those times, finally winning in 2014. They missed the mark at Worlds, but they won’t miss it here. Be on the lookout for the Shib Sibs’ FD to Coldplay’s “Fix You”. My initial take? It’s good, but I look forward to it getting even better as the season rolls out.

I have Bob/Solo as my DH but they’re really more of a wild card, given that they haven’t competed at ANY major event since Sochi.


CONTENDERS: Kaetlyn Osmond, Elizabet Tursynbaeva, Alena Leonova, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Polina Edmunds, Ashley Wagner

GOLD: Tuktamysheva
SILVER: Wagner
BRONZE: Osmond

World Champ Liza T. is here, but for me, the bigger story is the return of Kaetlyn O. (as in Osmond). She missed last season due to a broken leg, but also withdrew from both her GP events in 2013 because of a torn hamstring... so barring any new injuries, this will actually be her first full GP appearance aside from the 2012 edition of SkCAN (where she emerged with the win). I anticipate her doing well here, but also think adrenaline and excitement might lead to a few mistakes—which is why I put Wagner ahead of her.

But I’m keeping an eye on Edmunds, who is capable of pulling down some HUGE technical scores thanks to her ample arsenal of 3-3 combos.


CONTENDERS: Duhamel/Radford, Moore-Towers/Marinaro, Marchei/Hotarek, Tarasova/Morozov

GOLD: Duhamel/Radford
SILVER: Tarasova/Morozov
BRONZE: Marchei/Hotarek
DARK HORSE: Moore-Towers/Marinaro

Can anyone beat Duhamel/Radford these days?? Yeah, sure, I can think of a few possibilities. But whoever it is, they won’t be competing at SkCAN this year.

USA Alert: Marissa Castelli/Marvin Tran will make their GP debut here. Castelli used to pair with Simon Shnapir; Tran is a veteran Canadian pairs skater who won Worlds bronze representing Japan... then represented Canada for a year... and now reps the U.S. but is competing in Canada. For the United States. Got all that?


CONTENDERS: Patrick Chan, Nam Nguyen, Yuzuru Hanyu, Daisuke Murakami, Alexander Petrov, Adam Rippon

GOLD: Hanyu
BRONZE: Rippon

It’s the headliner! The great re-match! The Thrilla in... Alberta? Whatever you call it, Chan vs. Hanyu starts all over again here at SkCAN, and it’s what everyone wants to talk about... with good reason. Hanyu’s healthy again after a rough 2014-15 season. Chan’s back after taking a year off to reflect on life post-Sochi Silver. Who will prevail? Who???

Here’s what I know: I can’t recall the last time I saw Hanyu skate a clean FS (though he often wins anyway). I don’t recall SkCAN going balls-to-the-wall fantastic for Chan in any particular circumstance (though he’s won this event four times). Both would get outrageous component scores even if they just stood on the ice reading the side of a box of Apple Jacks. BUT... Hanyu’s training 2 quads, and Chan’s only training one. Advantage Hanyu? We shall see.

This is a tough one to predict for bronze too. I had Nguyen in there until I saw his unusually rough FS at the Autumn Classic a few weeks ago (though he still managed silver behind Hanyu). As young as he is, and as fresh as THAT is... well, that’s part of why I decided to go with Rippon. It’s also because Rippon’s Beatle-icious FS is really, really good. (So is his Queen SP—we’ll have to see what happens with his quad lutz, though.)

USA Alert: Timothy Dolensky (who finished 14th at Nationals) is Rippon’s teammate at this event; he replaces Joshua Farris, who was sidelined with a concussion.

What do YOU think about Hanyu vs. Chan... or any other aspect of this event?

If you’re watching online, follow me at @KLBSt8ofSk8... or follow the event in general at #SCI15

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Beer, Brats & Skate America: A Milwaukee Roundup (Dance & Men)


+      According to the total scores at the most recent Worlds (if not a consensus of skating fans), less than five points separates the reigning gold medalists, Papadakis/Cizeron of France, from reigning bronze (Canada’s Weaver/Poje). In between the two are Chock/Bates, who won this event last season with scores remarkably similar to what they won with this time (70.56 for the SD; 102.66 for the FD)... though most I heard from agree that C/B continues to grow and refine themselves as a team in this, their fifth season together. Incidentally, this current FD (to Rachmaninoff selections) is their first time using classical music since going with Chopin in their initial season.

+      What a difference a season makes for Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov! Last fall they were a newly-minted, post-Sochi dance team that was still finding its feet. They fared so badly at one event—NHK Trophy—that Katsalapov, a reigning Olympic Bronze Medalist (with Elena Ilinykh), had the dubious honor of receiving the lowest free dance technical score of any team in the GP series that season. But he and Sinitsina made dim memories of all that with last weekend’s performances (particularly with their “Io Ci Saro” FD). Yes, they were still a good 11 points behind Chock/Bates; nonetheless, silver had to look pretty fine overall.

+      Meanwhile, Canada’s Gilles/Poirier—who did no worse than 2nd at the GP events last year—had to settle for bronze behind the Most Improved Russians. As firmly as C/P is now embracing the quirk in each and every program, I have to wonder if they will find themselves “settling” (and thinking they deserved better) more and more often. Quirky ice dance history suggests the odds lean towards that conclusion... but I DO hope they keep it up, as I enjoy them most of the time.* *Except for their Sgt. Pepper-inspired SD costumes—yikes. Keep it on the album cover, kids.

+      A very Honorable Mention to the two other U.S. dance teams at SkAM, both of whom, interestingly enough, are doing FDs this year that pay tribute to famous men as they become afflicted with hearing loss (Beethoven, for Cannuscio/McManus) and ALS (Stephen Hawking, for Hawayek/Baker).


+      MAX! There probably hasn’t been this much attention on Max Aaron since he won his “surprise” U.S. title in 2013. Back then, it was for marvelous quad jumps and the fact that he had one or two of them and no other American man really did (at least, not as consistently). As for now... remember when Peggy Fleming routinely cited a couple of skaters each season, saying “And this is what ____ has really been working on this year... the artistic side...”? Well, it applies exponentially to Aaron from what I’ve heard—and now seen. John Curry he may never be, but Aaron’s own brand of artistry is really starting to come through. Hopefully that gold medal he earned last weekend is also providing a much-needed sense of validation. We’ll see how it goes when he competes at TEB in a few weeks.

+      UNO! He has the power of Hanyu, the knees of Oda, the emerging style of Takahashi... or is it the power of Takahashi, the grace of Hanyu... ah, whatever. He’s seventeen. SEVENTEEN! With (hopefully) miles to go until his skating career sleeps, so he can take his time emerging as whatever kind of athlete he wishes to be. For now, silver at his GP debut is a pretty good start.

+      BROWN! I predicted him for bronze, but wasn’t sure he’d finish anywhere near it after seeing his 8th place SP. Kind of a mixed bag for him here... yes, his components/artistry are everything we’re coming to expect, but the slip in jump consistency is a little concerning, considering he’s at a disadvantage. Yes, he’s getting closer on his quad-in-competition, but in the meantime his absolutely-must-have triple axel (not to mention triple axel/triple toe) still seems shaky half the time. Hopefully Brown’s persistently upbeat nature will keep him moving in the direction he belongs.

+      KERRY! (As in BRENDAN!) You may not have seen much of him before—this was his GP debut. And you may not see much of him again for several months—this was his only GP appearance. But the 20 year-old Australian threw down one of only a few successful quads in the SkAM Men’s free skate, and earned himself an ISU personal best score that was good enough for 8th overall.

+      TEN?? I didn’t expect Denis Ten to skate well in Milwaukee, but that’s because he never does well in the GP events (with only one GP medal to his name in 7 seasons of competition). What we know now is that he skated with at least one or two injuries, and probably left his FS with at least a few more. He’s already indicated he might scratch from his other GP assignment (TEB); at this point, I’ll be downright alarmed if he does show up.

+n      MINER? AMODIO? Both men have had their moments in the GP sun from time to time—two bronze medals for Ross Miner, two bronzes and a silver for Florent Amodio. Both men are now in their mid-20s. Their respective styles couldn’t be more different, but it’s their technical content—or lack thereof—that they also have in common of late. For Miner (finishing 7th here), he’s not skating badly per se—but his once semi-reliable quad salchow is AWOL, and he doesn’t have the triple/triples, let alone the Brown-esque artistry, to rise above the pack as he has in the past. As for Amodio (down in 11th), whose last significant top 5 finishes happened three whole seasons ago—aaugh! Every performance is a technical roller coaster with more plunging lows than hopeful highs, leaving us (and surely him) feeling rattled and asking “what just happened??”

That’s it for Skate America in review... Skate Canada is up next! I’ll bring the preview and predictions sometime before the SPs get underway.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Beer, Brats, & Skate America: A Milwaukee Roundup (Ladies & Pairs)

As a figure skating supporter who lives in the U.S., there’s so much to love when the ISU Grand Prix delivers Skate America: It’s the first “A” event of the season! It features the largest crop of American skaters we’re likely to see until Nationals! It’s right here in the States, so one doesn’t have to alter their sleep habits just to watch it live!

And as with many host countries, the U.S. usually brings in a decent medal haul with its own event—five medals in ’13, five in ’14, and five this year, to be specific with recent showings. Some of those medals were definitely more expected than others. A closer look follows:

+     I was very impressed with the new U.S. team of Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillian (finishing 8th), and not just because they used Sara Bareilles’ stunning ballad “Gravity” for their SP. Put it this way: given that they nailed all their SBS triples in a major competition with a mere three days’ notice, does this mean we should totally re-think the way USFS does pairs GP assignments? Hmmmm...

+     Another U.S. pair, national bronze medalists Tarah Kayne/Daniel O’Shea, had a hot & cold FS (finishing 6th overall)... but kudos for trying their first-ever throw quad salchow! (As you might guess by their placement, Kayne fell on the under-rotated attempt.)

+      Each discipline at SkAM had unexpected highlights this year; in pairs, it was Canada’s Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau (who won bronze). Just 18 and 20, respectively, SegBilo finished an impressive 8th at Worlds but were still something of a revelation in their FS to an orchestrated version of Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale”. No quad twists or throw triple axels yet... just great skating and great chemistry!

+      Another unexpected highlight: Wenjing Sui (of Sui/Han)’s angular new haircut—which proved a perfect accessory to their already-impressive Samson & Delilah FS. Sui/Han won easily; one of only three predictions I nailed this time.

+      And while current U.S. champs Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim seemed to buckle under that at-the-top pressure in their Elizabeth: the Golden Age FS, they did have that fab SP (to Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”) which put them on top in the first place... and was largely responsible for them claiming silver when all was said and done.

+      Gracie Gold (winning silver) did a lot better than I thought she would, given the stiff competition she faced from the usual suspects (Russia, Japan) and her own sub-par performance at the Japan Open a few weeks ago. From her Louboutin (black w/peekaboo red) SP dress to the pair of crisp new programs she’s got for this season, Gold looks to be in great shape as she sets out to achieve all those goals mentioned by Terry Gannon and the Shimmer Twins (Tara & Johnny) on NBC: GP Final, re-claiming her U.S. crown, etc. Yes, it’s being said by some that she “gave away” the title by doubling a critical jump in both performances, but until I see this become a reliable habit of hers—think Angela Nikodinov—I’m not fussing about it.

+      I predicted Japan’s Satoko Miyahara to win, but while she was pretty much “on” throughout this event (with two new programs I thoroughly endorse)... but compared with Russia’s latest showstopper (and SkAM gold medalist) Evgenia Medvedeva, Miyahara’s itty-bitty jumps were not nearly as much to sneeze at. Bronze medal it is!

+      Unexpected highlight #1 from the ladies FS came in the form of 4-foot, 7 ½ -inch Elizabet Tursynbaeva (of KAZ), another itty-bitty presence who skated large enough to finish 4th with her lovely “Papa Can You See Hear Me” FS.

+      Unexpected highlight #2 was Nicole Rajicova, a first-generation American who has been representing her parents’ homeland of Slovakia for several years now. Her SP landed her in last place, but her Dr. Zhivago FS was everything a competitive program should be— content-sturdy, well-paced, elegant, CLEAN (as far as I could tell, anyway), and delivered with a great deal of joy. She finished 5th in the free skate and 7th overall. A fluke? Maybe. But 20 year-old Rajicova was 15th at the most recent Worlds, and way down in 25th  the year before. She sure seems like a skater on the rise, and the ISU must think so as well—she’ll make another GP appearance in France in a few weeks.

+      Both Karen Chen (finishing 5th) and Mariah Bell (8th) did the home country proud in their respective GP debuts. Bell bounced back from 11th in the SP and did NOT fall on her FS triple lutzes as she has in just about every other competition she’s participated in this season, so surely that was a victory in itself for her. Chen apparently expected a podium finish for herself, and saw her 5th place as a disappointment. Sportswriter/resident skating curmudgeon Phil Harsh—oops, I mean Hersh—made a point of this in his SkAM roundup column, applauding her for skipping the platitudes and acknowledging that “results matter”. Think he had certain past-and-present U.S. skaters in mind when he wrote that? I do.

+      One definite LOWlight of this event, at least for me: Julia Lipnitskaia (finishing 7th in the FS, 6th overall). No, it’s not because of her costume choices—an SP dress that looks like an experiment from back when movies were brought to us in Glorious Technicolor; a FS outfit that someone in the Twitterverse compared to things worn on The Jetsons. It’s not even because her jumps are not what they used to be due to training issues, mental toughness issues, Puberty Monster issues, whatever. It’s because she looks so sad. Like she doesn’t want to be out there. At all. Forget what I said in last week’s post about her possibly being “back in the hunt”... it’s more likely that she and her Elvis music have already left the building.

More on SkAM soon as I turn to the Dance and Men’s event next time! 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Skate America 2015 Predictions

Who has two thumbs and is back to make some Skate America 2015 predictions?? THIS WOMAN!

Here are the times to watch (on IceNetwork)... and here’s when to watch on NBC and Universal Sports...

And here are my thoughts on who might shine in Milwaukee this weekend...


CONTENDERS: Yan Han, Takahito Mura, Shoma Uno, Denis Ten, Konstantin Menshov, Max Aaron, Jason Brown

GOLD: Shoma Uno (JPN)
SILVER: Takahito Mura (JPN)
BRONZE: Jason Brown (USA)

DARK HORSE: Max Aaron (USA), Han Yan (CHN)

Reigning World Bronze Medalist Denis Ten might be the favorite (??) but A) Historically speaking, he doesn’t skate well early in the season... and B) I simply can’t forget Shoma Uno’s marvelous free skate at the Japan Open a few weeks ago. Maybe he can’t replicate it here—he didn’t do so great at the U.S. Classic, after all—but if he’s anywhere close, look out! Also, keep a lookout for Mura’s SP—none other than Charlie White is listed as choreographer.

USA Alert-- Our entries are Brown, Aaron, and Ross Miner, the latter of whom is using Queen’s “Who Wants to Live Forever” for his free skate. (Fellow American Adam Rippon, who skates next week, uses the same song for his SP this season.)


CONTENDERS: Satoko Miyahara, Yulia Lipnitskaya, Evgenia Medvedeva, Karen Chen, Gracie Gold

GOLD: Satoko Miyahara (JPN)
SILVER: Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS)
BRONZE: Yulia Lipnitskaia (RUS)

DARK HORSE: Gracie Gold (USA)

Medvedeva, a junior GP star making her senior GP debut here, is currently a jumping machine! I’m giving Miyahara the nod here because of the component score expectations, but if she misses a jump or two Medvedeva could “jump” right in there.

I saw Lipnitskaia at her warm-up event (Finlandia Trophy) and think she may well be back in the hunt... but I don’t think she can beat Miy or Med just yet.

USA Alert—Gold, Karen Chen, and Mariah Bell are our entrants. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chen get into the top 5 here, especially if she can skate anything like she did at Nationals last season.


CONTENDERS: Sui/Han, Stolbova/Klimov, Asakhova/Rogonov, Scimeca/Knierim

GOLD: Sui/Han (CHN)
SILVER: Stolbova/Klimov (RUS)
BRONZE: Asakhova/Rogonov (RUS)

DARK HORSE: Scimeca/Knierim (USA)

I can’t imagine this will be that difficult for the reigning World Silver Medalists to win, even with the reigning OSMs in the hunt. Would love to see Sci/Kni get that bronze.

USA Alert—In addition to Sci/Kni we are represented by Kayne/O’Shea and Pfund/Santillan... and if you’re saying “WHO?!?” on that last one, it’s because they just replaced Donlan/Bartholomay this week due to Gretchen Donlan recovering from an illness. I can tell you Joshua Santillan competed in senior pairs with another partner last January and finished 11th; Jessica Pfund did the same in 2014 and finished 10th. What a place for a new partnership to make a senior competitive debut! Wish them luck!


CONTENDERS: Gilles/Poirier, Sinitsina/Katsalapov, Chock/Bates, Hawayek/Baker, Yanovskaya/Mozgov

GOLD: Chock/Bates (USA)
SILVER: Gilles/Poirier (CAN)
BRONZE: Yanovskaya/Mozgov (RUS)

DARK HORSE: Hawayek/Baker (USA)

C/B started a very successful season with a SkAm win last year; no reason I know of that they shouldn’t successfully defend their title. Bronze is sort of a tossup, but I’m picking the rising Russian stars over the rising U.S. stars this time.

USA Alert—Cannuscio/McManus are the other US team here; they took bronze at the Nebelhorn Trophy a few weeks ago. 

I'll be live-Tweeting as much as I can, so follow me at @KLBSt8ofSk8 or follow the event in general at #SkateAmerica or #SA2015 (I'm currently seeing both hashtags in use)!