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! 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What's Left After Lethbridge: Skate Canada 2015 in Review (Ladies/Pairs)

Skate Canada International is in the books for 2015, with Canada taking three of four available titles and four medals in all. It was a competition with, perhaps, more than its share of surprises due to equal parts comeback misfires and what-just-happened? moments... and in some cases, a little of each. Here’s what caught my attention with regards to ladies and pairs:

+  I got a whopping FOUR of 12 predictions right this time—a slight upgrade from being 3-for-12 at Skate America last week—and one of them was Duhamel/Radford for gold. But it’s hard to imagine anyone predicting anything else... at this event at least, there was D/R and then there was the rest of the pack. Even at less than their best—and they were surely that, with at least one subpar SBS 3lutz and an imperfect SBS 3Toe combo—they proved majestic and unbeatable.

+ Unfortunately, my pick for bronze (Marchei/Hotarek) became more noteworthy when they withdrew from the event, apparently because Hotarek had suffered a concussion in practice that “got worse” after the SP. As you might know, this is at least the third concussion suffered this season by a big-leagues skater; reigning World Champ ice dancer Gabriella Papadakis and Team USA’s Josh Farris were the first two. I can’t help but wonder if the new attention given to head injuries (thanks, American football!) has raised awareness across the board for sports... or is there just a lot more head-banging going on lately?

+ The journey continues (pun intended) for USA’s Castelli/Tran in their second season together, and it appears to be making them stronger. In fact, they were neck-and-neck at SkCAN with another sophomore-season team (Canada’s Moore-Towers/Marinaro), with the latter edging the former for bronze by less than two points.

+  Honorable mention to Russia’s Bazarova/Deputat—not for their placement (a distant 5th to Cas/Tran’s 4th) or Bazarova’s costume, which looked more like it came from the set of The Dukes of Hazard than the Beatles era from which their music hailed. No, the “honor” came in Deputat’s nose getting bloodied during the FS, presumably from a collision with Bazarova mid-program. Last time I saw that happen was at a GP event (maybe this one?) during an early season of the Duhamel/Radford partnership. I’m guessing that’s way, way in the past for them now.

+  What an up & down weekend for the dozen that turned up in Canada! I’ll start near the top of the final standings with Liza T (Elizaveta Tuktamysheva), who overcame a circa 2013 GP performance in the short program (a.k.a. the season she finished 10th at Russian Nats) to win the free skate and finish with the silver medal.

+  But she was hardly the only one on a performance roller coaster. Also with weak SPs and much stronger free skates were Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman (5th overall) and Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Turnsynbaeva (7th overall)... while the reverse was true for Japan newcomer Yuka Nagai (bronze overall) and Sweden’s Joshi Helgesson (9th overall).

+  YIKES, and maybe a sympathetic pint of Haagen-Daz,  is about all I can offer for Kaetlyn Osmond’s rough return to the GP circuit. She got it started after having sustained some sort of ankle injury in practice last week, then fell no less than seven time (2 in SP, 5 in FS) combined to put her in second-to-last place overall. She was spared from the bottom spot mostly because her first two jumping passes in the SP—prior to the literal gut-punch of that death-drop crash—were superb.

+  Given all the above, the number of consistent-between-both-programs ladies—for better or worse—was relatively small. But you know which lady wasn’t anything but up up UP all weekend, right? That would be Ashley Wagner, who exceeded even my silver-medal expectations with back-to-back great skates, winning her fourth GP gold medal (and fifteenth GP medal overall) in the process. Take note, especially, of her new “Hip Hip, Chin Chin” SP. I know it’s early, but there are certain short programs that stand out all season long (think Javier Fernandez’s “Black Betty” from last year). I call them “IT” programs, and Wagner is on it for sure. Can you think of others (from this current season) that you’d put on such a list?

+  Finally, a little note about Polina Edmunds, who skated consistently enough but finished a disappointing 6th... I know her technical score on both performances was brought down some degree by UR (underrotation) calls on many of her jumps, but as I understand it she received zero points on one of her SP spins because the judges claimed she did not hit a low enough “sit” position?? I took another look, and still this decision surprises me. I assume this might be something that has changed, ever-so-slightly, for her as she’s gotten older... and taller. But how bewildering it must be for Edmunds to know that, on top of all else, she may need to adjust a spin she’s been doing “correctly” for more than a decade? Tweak the jumping technique, yes. But spins? We’ll see how much things change for her by the time Rostelecom Cup (her next event) rolls around.

Men and dance wrap-up will follow soon!