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!