Thursday, December 8, 2016

State of the 2016 Grand Prix Final Predictions

Since the ISU Grand Prix Final happens in conjunction with the Junior GPF, the entire event—in Marseille, France this time) takes place over three days instead of two. Which means the pairs and men’s SPs are coming our way Thursday afternoon! (ET)

But first, a couple of announcements…

+      I finally got my Cup of China review up a couple of days ago, but the one for NHK Trophy is still at large. I’m hoping for next week, of course, as I’ll be too busy tracking this GPF to devote any other skate time to it.

+      You may have read that me and my book Skating on Air: The Broadcast History of an Olympic Marquee Sport are to be featured on an upcoming episode of The Skating Lesson (the brainchild of National and GP medalist Jenny Kirk and Dave Lease; currently anchored by Lease while Kirk focuses on law school). While I can confirm that I was interviewed at length by Dave a few weeks ago, I don’t yet have a date that the edited interview will be released. He was hoping for this week when I last checked. I’ll keep you posted! It was a fun interview, once I got over my being-on-camera nerves…

+      For anyone that was trying to keep track of my GP prediction accuracy—here are my point totals out of a possible 36: 20 for Skate America… 23.5 for Skate Canada… 24 for Rostelecom Cup… 28 for Trophee de France… 30.5 for Cup of China… 28 for NHK.

Now back to GPF predictions. As with last year, I’ve gone ahead and attempted to guess ALL the placements, though my 36 point scale still applies (No credit for correct 4-5-6 guesses though).


GOLD: Javier Fernandez (ESP)

SILVER: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)

BRONZE: Shoma Uno (JPN)

4th: Patrick Chan (CAN)

5th: Adam Rippon (USA)

6th: Nathan Chen (USA)

I don’t know if predicting Javi for the win is calling a full-blown upset (over Hanyu), but that’s how I’m calling it.


GOLD: Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS)

SILVER: Anna Pogorilaya (RUS)

BRONZE: Satoko Miyahara (JPN)

4th: Elena Radionova (RUS)

5th: Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN)

6th: Maria Sotskova (RUS)

Medvedeva is far from my favorite skate right now, but she seems pretty darn unbeatable right now.


GOLD: Duhamel/Radford (CAN)

SILVER: Yu/Zhang (CHN)

BRONZE: Peng/Jin (CHN)

4th: Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)

5th:  Seguin/Bilodeau (CAN)

6th: Zabiiako/Enbert (RUS)

With no Savchenko/Massot in the mix (she’s still injured from their French GP appearance), it looks like a pretty straight shot for Du/Rad to continue their domination.


GOLD: Virtue/Moir (CAN)

SILVER: Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA)

BRONZE: Shibutanis (USA)

4th: Chock/Bates (USA)

5th: Bobrova/Soloviev (RUS)

6th: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)

V/M has already proved they can outscore Papa/Ciz; I don't think that much will change in 2 weeks time.

The IFS page of GPF streams, links, broadcast times, etc. can be found here

And if you’re on Twitter, don’t forget to look for me @KLBSt8ofSk8!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

2016 Cup of China Post-Mortem: Chan Triumphs While Wagner Misses the Mark

I know we’re all grieving the fact that there was no GP event going on this past weekend to take our minds off of all the things we need to think about and/or would rather not think about, but I’m trying to use these two weeks to get caught up on that which I haven’t reviewed yet. Like Cup of China, which took place only 2 1/2 weeks back but might feel exponentially longer with each day that passes. In other words, I’d better get this going.

CoCh LADIES was where…

Elena Radionova and Kaetlyn Osmond finished 1-2 and punched their respective tickets to the GP Final.

Ashley Wagner didn’t appear at first glance to have the kind of competition that takes you out of the GPF (no falls, no abundance of flip-outs, step-outs or popped triple jumps), but times are tight—and the relatively small errors she made all added up in the end to… sigh… a 6th place finish (lowest of her career as far as GP events are concerned) and a 1st alternate spot for the finale. It's the first time she’ll miss the GPF since 2011. And for those who were wondering… a 5th place finish at CoCh still wouldn’t have given her enough points when all was said and done. (Rika Hongo edged Ash out for 5th place by less than ½ a point.)

Liza Tuktamysheva went back to last season’s Peer Gynt FS—something I was glad to see, given that I feel this year’s Cleopatra music (from the 1963 OST) is clunky and disengaging—and delivered one of the better performances in her post-World Champion era. The results gave her 2nd place in the FS, 3rd overall, and the 2nd alternate spot for the GPF (right behind Wagner).

CoCh MEN was where…

Patrick Chan had me realizing I’m rooting for him a little more than usual this year. Why? Because as more and more younguns come out of the woodwork (or, more accurately, the Junior ranks) with quad this and quad-triple that, Chan’s one of those guys who was a little late to the quad game and now he’s probably working harder than he ever expected just to stay near the top. Granted, some of that may be on Chan himself—isn’t he the guy who once declared he didn’t need a quad (and certainly not TWO quads!) to win Worlds/Olympics/whatever?—but maybe that gives a little more reason to be impressed with his efforts. FWIW, Chan’s FS (to music composed by Eric Radford of Duhamel/Radford) is another exceptional work of art.

Chan did win in China, but by just a little more than one point. Boyang Jin followed up a rough effort at SkAM (where he finished 5th) to shine a lot brighter on home ice with performances that included his decidedly playful La Strada free skate that looks to be some sort of shoutout to those who slam the young World Bronze Medalist’s immature artistry. I think it’s a pretty good decision for him, actually… so long as a(nother) Charlie Chaplin routine isn’t in store for us come Olympic season.

As for the top U.S. man at CoCh, Max Aaron—there is bad news, and good news, and more bad news, and actually-pretty-new news to report (!).  The BAD: he under-delivered (again) on his “Nessum Dorma” SP and went into 5th place. (Though to be fair, it was several ticks upward from his Rostelecom performance of it 2 weeks earlier.) The GOOD: his Lion King FS was judged 3rd-best of the day, bringing him up to 4th overall. The MORE BAD: he missed bronze (awarded to Sergei Voronov) by about one single point. But if you’re as tired of seeing Max do the “Nessum Dorma” as I am—he’s had it as his short program for 2 ½ seasons!—here’s the ACTUALLY-PRETTY-GOOD-NEWS: Max is tired of it too. Or so one would assume via coach Tom Z’s Tweet on 12/4:

New @MaxTAaron bullfighting SP by PMills to music by @sandovalarturo1 to debut @KansasCity2017

So, yet another something-to-look-forward-to come late January…


Since this was in China, I’m taking this space to clarify the different teams representing it these days…
--Yu /Zhang—the team that won here, was 2nd at SkCAN, and will consequentially be at the Marseilles GPF—features veteran Zhang Hao in the third FP partnership of his enduring career… and already seems to have much better chemistry (though still in that fatherly sort of way) with Yu Xiaoyu than he ever had with Peng Cheng.

--Peng/Jin—the team that came in 2nd here, 2nd at NHK (the review I’ve yet to post), and also will be at the GPF—is the other side of China’s partner switcheroo from the start of the 2016 off season. In other words, what used to be Yu/Jin and Peng/Zhang is now Yu/Zhang and Peng/Jin. And to watch Peng/Jin in these last couple events—particularly their megacute SP, to “My Drag” by Jimbo Mathus (formerly of Squirrel Nut Zippers)—is to wonder why they didn’t put these two together sooner.

--Wang/Wang—who came in 4th, as they have 3 out of the past 4 years at CoCH—were called up to this year’s event with about one month’s notice. They’re the ones that had an SP to “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” and a FS to “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.” Of the top Chinese teams, this is the one I tend to forget about the most. (Harsh, perhaps, but accurate.)

--Which brings us to the best Chinese team of recent memory… Sui/Han… who were NOT competing this time (they were the team Wang/Wang replaced). Injuries (mostly affecting Wenjing Sui) have taken this still relatively young team down time and again; this time she is still recoveringfrom surgery and it seems the 2nd half of the 2016-17 season is still uncertain for them. Perhaps with next season culminating in Pyeongchang, it’d be best for them to sit it out. Surely Yu/Zhang and Peng/Jin can keep three spots for China come Worlds time…?


Since there were no real surprises at the top in CoCH dance—the Shib Sibs beat Weaver/Poje by a small but fair margin—I’d rather turn the attention briefly to “the Dirty Dancing couple”, AKA Kaliszek/Spodyriev. For a team that was 16th at Worlds this year (and 24th last year), they gained some pretty good traction so far this season. While the Johnny-and-Baby shtick may have a lot to do with it (Who doesn’t love that film for one reason or another??), their SD has nothing to do with the film and played a crucial role in their finishing 5th (of 9) in China and 7th (of 9) a week later at NHK. So here are a few quick facts about these potential rising stars Natalia & Maksym:

1)      They represent Poland, but he (Spodvriev) is actually from Ukraine. He received Polish citizenship this year, though, presumably so they can compete at the 2018 Olympics.
2)      According to his ISU bio, one of Spodvriev’s hobbies is skydiving.

3)      From the YEOW! Files (or more accurately, Wikipedia): “During training in early November (2016) they had a fall, related to poor rink conditions in ToruĊ„, that resulted in her blade cutting two of his fingers.SO… if you hear that little tale from Tanith and Johnny (or whoever) in Pyeongchang, round about 14 months from now… remember who stole borrowed it from Wiki first!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

State of the 2016 NHK Trophy: Previews/Predictions (ALL disciplines)

It’s Thanksgiving here in the States, so I’m going to make this relatively short and sweet because I’ve got a meal for 13 people to oversee/complete!

And the events, in order of occurrence…


GOLD: Du/Rad
SILVER:  Peng/Jin
BRONZE: Wang/Wang

DARK HORSE: Kayne/O’Shea

It’s another small pairs field at NHK; only 7 teams will compete. But the reigning World Champs (Du/Rad) are among them, and I think will easily defeat their closest competition (Peng/Jin, in my estimation) unless they skate super sloppy. Americans Kayne/O’Shea are my Dark Horse pick, but in this case it’s more like “best possibility to win 4th” because I don’t think they can reach the Chinese teams in terms of content.


GOLD: Anna Pogorilaya (RUS)
SILVER:  Satoko Miyahara (JPN)
BRONZE: Wakaba Higuchi (JPN)

DARK HORSE: Alaine Chartrand (CAN)

Another tough ladies field awaits us… but I think Pogo’s still got the upper hand here. Miyahara’s got the skating I prefer, but her tiny jumps are coming under increasing scrutiny and I don’t expect that to change here. Higuchi (impressive with a bronze in Paris a few weeks ago) seems very capable of claiming the remaining NHK medal… but as always this season I’m keeping an eye on the powerful Canadian skater du jour and this time it’s Chartrand.

Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen are the U.S. reps; both should finish within the top 6. What actually happens might be something else entirely…


GOLD: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
SILVER:  Nathan Chen (USA)
BRONZE: Jason Brown (USA)

DARK HORSE: Aleksei Bychenko (ISR)

With Hanyu skating relatively healthy (as far as I know), I don’t see how he does anything but win NHK for what would be the third time. His closest competition in the jumps department will be recent record-setter Chen; assuming he can hold it together a little better in the FS this time, his first GP medal may be imminent. Brown’s technique and artistry (and possible quad) put him in good standing to medal here as well. Bychenko is my dark horse because I spent a fair portion of SkCAN (his previous GP event, where he ended up winning his first-ever medal) wondering Why didn’t I make him my dark horse?? (I’m kinda weird that way.)  


GOLD: Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA)
SILVER:  Virtue/Moir (CAN)
BRONZE: Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)

DARK HORSE: Sinitsina/Katsalapov (RUS)

Ah, THIS is where it could get really interesting. It’s the first GP of the season (or ever?) pitting the reigning French powerhouse against the once and future Canadian powerhouse. Virtue/Moir almost lost SkCAN to Chock/Bates on the relative weaknesses of their FD. My guess is that, rather than change up what they’re doing yet, they’re waiting to see how they measure up to Papa/Ciz before making adjustments (with Worlds in mind). Papz/Ciz outscored V/M in Paris so barring disaster, I think they’ll take NHK too.

The U.S. is represented this time by Cannuscio/McManus (aka CanMan) and Hawayek/Baker (don’t have a good nickname for them yet). Mid-pack is my guess for both of them.

This is the last GP event before the FINALS in a couple short weeks, so let’s enjoy it! See you on Twitter… and back here next week (with results/analysis on this one coming after results/analysis for Cup of China). 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

2016 Trophee de France Post-Mortem: 2 more U.S. Medals & Medvedeva's FS: a Closer Look

Again, apologies for the delay but here is around 1000 words worth of Trophee de France in review…

LADIES:  Reigning World Champ Evgenia Medvedeva won by more than 20 points, despite falling on an element (either a 3Flip or 3Lutz) in the free skate, so that might give you an idea of just how dominant she continues to be in her sophomore year on the senior circuit… if you weren’t sure, that is. Speaking of Med’s FS—aka the 9/11 “tribute”—I’ve heard several different opinions (and I posted a survey about it on Twitter a few weeks ago). Some are intrigued by the choice; most are troubled by it, and a few are downright offended. My take is mixed: 1) given the prickly current state of affairs between the U.S. and Russia, I’m not sure a Russian skater depicting someone enduring one of America’s darkest days is going to be an easy sell anytime soon. 2) I don’t know how much Evgenia knew about 9/11 going into this season, nor do I know how much input she had (vs. her coach and choreographer) in doing this program in the first place. In short—she just turned 17, and I don’t think I can hold a 17 year-old young woman fully accountable for decisions like this. Having said all that… 3) The biggest problem I have with the program—aside from the infamous “phone call” at the end of the piece and the (dreaded) voiceover material that plays during her footwork sequence—is the fact that it IS a 17 year-old (from ANY country) doing this program.  When Julia Lipnitskaia did the Schindler’s List program, part of why it worked was because she was believable as The Girl in the Red Coat. But asking a teenager to take on the role of a grown woman, and all the emotions that might come with a horrific 9/11 realization? I think that’s asking too much. Even of an athlete as exceptional as Medvedeva.

OK, sermon over. What else happened at this Paris event a couple weeks ago?

With the ladies…
+  We discovered France’s Laurine Lecavelier, who was down in 31st at 2016 Worlds but finished a surprising 6th here (after 11th and 12th place finishes the past 2 years). We also discovered that while you CAN wear a convertible costume for your free skate… it doesn’t mean you SHOULD… for Lecavelier skated her Grease FS squeaky clean until she turned from Sweet Sandy to Slutty Sandy (the part skated to “You’re the One that I Want”). Maybe that was the idea? That only Sweet Sandy= squeaky clean? Nah, probably not.

+  And unfortunately we also witnessed some new lows for two accomplished skaters: USA’s Gracie Gold toughed out her post-Worlds issues, came in 8th (her lowest finish in five years on the GP circuit)…and Japan’s Mao Asada toughed out what we’ve since learned are continuing knee issues (she apparently didn’t want to talk about it much with the press, for fear it would sound like she was making excuses) to do mostly double jumps en route to 9th place… her lowest finish in—GASP—11 years on the circuit. With no GP Final in sight for these two, hopefully both will have the time they clearly need to prep for their respective Nationals (late December for Asada; late January for Gold).

MEN:  I know the big news was either back-to-back GP wins for Javier Fernandez—who is gunning for his first-ever GP Final title—or the halfway-to-spectacular GP debut of USA’s Nathan Chen (record-breaking quad-riffic SP; somewhat subpar FS that killed his podium chances). But for some of you (and me for sure), I’ve heard the most exciting thing to come out of the Paris men’s event was back-to-back clean programs from Adam Rippon that included his first fully-rotated and landed quad in competition. I think Adam’s hard-fought-and-won National title infused him with the same sort of confidence we’re now seeing in World Bronze Medalist Anna Pogorilaya—that “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet” vibe that, in Adam’s case, has so far resulted in his most exciting programs—and best finishes—to date. And there are a LOT of great programs in his scrapbook. Whether he adds the GP Final to his accomplishments depends entirely on NHK results this coming weekend; Yuzuru Hanyu and Jason Brown are the two most likely to advance if they finish on the podium—but something tells me Adam will continue to do well either way.

DANCE: Reigning World Champs Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron made their GP debut on home ice and it was every bit as splendid as you might expect, earning them the highest marks (both in SD and FD) of any GP debut this season. USA’s Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue took a distant 2nd (nearly 20 points behind); both Hub/Don and Canada’s Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier were able to gain some ground over Russia’s Elena Ilinykh /Ruslan Zhiganshin when a non-element fall on Elena’s part kept their FD score from improving on their SkAM FD score.

PAIRS: Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot made like Javier and earned back-to-back golds (here and the previous week at Rostelecom). Unlike Javi, they took an injury in the process—Aliona strained ligaments in her ankle with their attempt at a throw 3axel—and last I heard they’d already planned to skip the GP Final to rehab it properly.

But again, the real story of the pairs event for me was another team entirely… France’s own Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres finally won their first GP medal in 6 years on the circuit! (OK, technically they won their first medal at this event a year ago, but as you probably recall the event was rewarded on SP only due to the terrorist attacks in Paris causing the rest of the competition to be cancelled. Methinks this time around was slightly more rewarding.)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

State of the 2016 Cup of China: ALL predictions!

Since Cup of China runs overnight/early morning for U.S. audiences, I’m posting predictions for all four disciplines at once this time.

Here is that (hopefully helpful) ISU link I like to post…

I plan to join the Twitterverse starting with men’s SP at 6:05AM Friday!  


GOLD: Shibutanis (USA)
SILVER: Weaver/Poje (CAN)
BRONZE: Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)

DARK HORSE: Sinitsina/Katsalapov (RUS)

The Shibs drew first to skate in the SD, while Wea/Po and Sinit/Kat are the final two teams. All things being equal, that might cause the Shibs to score closer to 70 and Wea/Po to score 73— which are the “opposites” of their previous GP SD scores this season (Shibs had 73.04; Wea/Po had 69.81). However it turns out, I still think the U.S. Champs will beat out the Canadian Champs in the end of this one. After that, and the battle for which Russian team will get to the podium—I’ve got S/K as the Dark Horse because I haven’t seen them at all yet this season— the placement of the rest of the field is pretty incidental to me. (But if Cannuscio/McManus of the U.S. can secure a top 5 finish that would be pretty sweet.)


GOLD: Elena Radionova (RUS)
SILVER: Ashley Wagner (USA)
BRONZE: Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN)

DARK HORSE: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) or Mai Mihara (JPN)

Lots of interesting names in this field, which is why I’m allowing myself two dark horse options. Although I prefer Wag’s skating to Radio’s, and think she’s quite capable of the victory here, I’m going with Radio… by the point spread of a 3Lutz/3Toe to a 3Flip/3Toe and a few over-the-top emotional deliveries. If Osmond can keep her mega-powered jumps under control, I think a medal is easily within her grasp. But if not, be on the lookout for Tuktamysheva or Mihara. If both of them falter? Eyes to Courtney Hicks or home country fave Li Zijun, both of which did very respectably at Rostelecom a couple weeks ago.


GOLD: Patrick Chan (CAN)
SILVER: Jin Boyang  (CHN)
BRONZE: Sergei Voronov (RUS)

DARK HORSE: Alexander Petrov (RUS)

So there’s Chan for the win, and, um… gee, let’s see, who else?
Well… you’ve got Max Aaron and Michal Brezina, but both of them have unreliable quad salchows of late. You’ve got teenagers Daniel Samohin and Alexander Petrov, and they’re exactly that—(undercooked, inconsistent) teenagers. You’ve got Jin… another teenager, but this one’s out to prove he doesn’t understand this “sophomore slump” thing everyone’s been talking about since SkAM. And finally, you’ve got Voronov, who’s been skating remarkably clean this season. But he can’t possibly keep that up… can he?


GOLD: Yu/Zhang (CHN)
SILVER: Peng/Jin (CHN)
BRONZE: Wang/Wang (CHN)

DARK HORSE: Ilyuschina/Moscovitch (RUS)

A Chinese sweep? Yep, I think it’s quite possible. We already know Yu/Zhang are pretty good, and Wang/Wang won two medals on the GP circuit a couple seasons ago. Peng/Jin are the flipside of that change-partners thing with Yu/Zhang, except P/J make their debut here.

If I’m wrong about this potential sweep, the first one I’ve got in line to upset the applecart is Ilyu/Mosco… but they’ll have to skate a lot cleaner than they did at Skate Canada in order to do so. 

2016 Rostelecom Cup Post-Mortem: 2 More U.S. Medals and a Ladies' Podium Sweep Goes Awry

I know this is turning up almost two weeks after Rostelecom took place, but between prep for an interview I recorded with The Skating Lesson last week (!) and more than a little anxiety/distraction following the elections (!!), I’ve fallen behind. But I’m a No-GP Event-Review-Left-Behind kind of girl, so here we go:


1)      It was one of the collectively cleanest sets of SPs I can ever remember seeing in a GP event. The only fall, as I recall, was a fluke-ish one just after the double axel in Elizabet Tursynbayeva’s program (and she happened to skate last)!

2)      And the free skates were going fairly well too… all the way until Julia Lipnitskaia did that waltz jump that made everyone watching say UH OH. You’ve probably seen what happened from there— another non-jump, followed by around three minutes and 15 seconds of a bewildered Julia drifting between coach Alexei Urmanov and the judges/referees while she/he/they tried to determine what would happen next. Which, ultimately, was Julia insisting on completing her program… gamely and in obvious pain (and a hard fall on a double axel surely didn’t help). Here’s all I really want to say about this: Please, ISU, make a rule that if a skater has to stop a program due to illness or injury, the program music will not be re-started unless and until the COACH (not the skater) gives the signal to do so.

As British Eurosport commentators said at the time (paraphrased) about her (apparently supported) decision to continue: “She’s 18. Alexei Urmonov is not. He should know better.” Indeed.

3)      So Lipnitskaia finished dead last, and USA’s Courtney Hicks (who had already done well enough to leapfrog two skaters to move from 6th to a probably 4th place finish) claimed bronze. As Hicks herself said via Twitter, it wasn’t the way she wanted to end up on the podium. But the good news is that she skated quite well in both phases of the event (yes she was 6th after the SP but it was due to extremely tough competition, not any major errors on her part). And Hicks received two GP assignments—she’ll be at Cup of China—so while the competition there promises to be quite tight as well, she’ll get a second chance at the GP podium (unlike Mariah Bell, who despite her excellent showing at SkAM was passed over for an NHK spot when Polina Edwards had to withdraw due to injury).

4)      And as for Anna Pogorilaya—who also did back-to-back clean programs and easily won the event—there’s something I said about her on Twitter that others seemed to agree with: It's like she won World bronze she said "wait! If I can get this after the season I've had, I can get gold" & got to work right away. Honest to goodness this is a night & day difference from this time last year (except last year she wasn’t even one of the three Russian women invited to compete).


1)      While I’m proposing rules about coach-only music restarts, here’s another proposal: If a competitor is bleeding for any reason, cut their music. It’s rare (unless you’re pairs World Champ Meagan Duhamel, who has actually encountered this twice that I recall), but it does happen, sometimes in the form of a bloody nose as it did with Sweden’s Alexander Majorov at Rostelecom. Whatever triggered his—it seemed to start after he took a fall on his opening quad toe, though the fall didn’t look to affect his face in any way—it continued for the rest of the program, making for a long and uncomfortable 4 minutes as Majorov became clearly distracted and the rest of us became mindful of the possibility of bodily fluids on the ice. He did, however, manage to do most of his final footwork sequence while pinching his nose with one hand… does IJS have a component score for that??  

2)      Former U.S. men’s champ Max Aaron didn’t fare too badly in Moscow—rebounding from an 8th place SP to finish 4th in the FS and 5th overall—but something that I found myself asking as he struggled through that Nessum Dorma short program was “Why do I feel like we’ve been looking at the same SP for Max since 2003?” Answer—because we’ve been looking at it since early 2015 (when he replaced “Footloose” with ND for Worlds), and nearly three years in SP Time feels like approximately 12 years in real time. Please, Coach Tom Z, give Max an SP reboot in time for Nationals!

3)      A fascinating story to keep watching, particularly if he makes it to Pyeongchang in 2018, is that of Israel’s Alexei Bychenko… simply stated, Rostelecom provided him one of the best competitions he’s ever had at this level (Personal Bests all over the place, and a Bronze medal to boot)… with the possible exception of Euros earlier this year, at which he earned silver. This from a man who didn’t even qualify for the FS at Worlds in his first two attempts (2012-13). This from a man who was 21st at the Sochi Olympics, and last place at Skate America as recently as last year. This from a man who will be 29 years old in February! Let’s watch him at his other GP assignment (NHK) and see if he can stay consistent enough to be considered a serious threat to crack Worlds Top 10 this year.

Since this is coming so late, I’m again going to skip over the Pairs and Dance disciplines of 2016 Rostelecom… EXCEPT to say

1)      Savchenko/Massot won here, but Savchenko damaged ligaments in her ankle on a throw 3ax at Trophee de France (one week later). So despite a win in Paris as well, they’ve already opted out of the GP Finals for which they easily qualified.

2)      Both Bobrova/Soloviev and Chock/Bates qualified for the Final with respective gold and silver wins here. I picked C/B to win, but an egregious error on Bates’ part in the FD (with the twizzles) combined with remarkably higher scores all around for Bob/Solo (compared to SkAM). Weaver/Poje made their season GP debut here and got bronze; their 2nd run at gold will pit them against the Shib Sibs at Cup of China.

Speaking of which… CoC predictions, which I’ll be posting late Thursday night so that everything’s up in time for the SPs. Those will begin with Short Dance at 2:30 AM (ET) in the wee small hours of Friday morning. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

State of the 2016 Trophee de France: Men and Ladies Predictions

OKAY… single skating time at Trophee de France!


GOLD:  Javier Fernandez (ESP)
SILVER: Nathan Chen (USA)
BRONZE: Adam Rippon (USA)

DARK HORSE: Takahito Mura (JPN) or Denis Ten (KAZ)

In this week’s quad battle, the most noteworthy soldiers are a veteran (25 year-old Fernandez) and a newcomer to the senior GP (17 year-old Chen). If nerves don’t get to Chen (have they ever?) AND he’s fully recovered from surgery (I assume yes if he’s here??), I think he’ll be a fine runner-up… so long as Javi doesn’t get sloppy.

Interesting times for Adam… Friday is his 27th birthday I believe… and as he flew over to France for this event (during Election Day in the U.S. according to his Twitter feed), he surely was affected by the news that a man who is not held in high regard by the LGBTQ community (to say the least, and to say absolutely nothing of his moreso running mate) was just elected president. Will it be business as usual this weekend for our current U.S. champ? I hope so because his programs this season are marvelous in a whole different way than they were last year.

I have two DH’s here because Mura was a real study in hot & cold at his last event (great SP, forgettable FS) but the odds are in his favor at GP events I think… while Ten has gotta be everyone’s favorite GP wild card by now, right? So long as he’s not skating injured… I haven’t heard much about him lately. Anyone know?

And if ANY of the men I’ve mentioned falter, I hope Misha Ge can crack the top 5 at least. (But again, I think he’s battling injury…)


GOLD:  Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS)
SILVER: Wakaba Higuchi (JPN)
BRONZE: Maria Sotskova (RUS)

DARK HORSE: Gabrielle Daleman (CAN)

I’m not a fan of her free skate at this point, as I’ve stated, but if she skates anywhere close to the way she did at SkCAN Medvedeva’s looking at yet another victory. Her closest competition, in my estimation, is Higuchi (who won Lombardia Trophy already this year and was 2nd at Japan Nats) and Sotskova (who won Nepela Memorial already this year and was 5th at Russian Nats).

I’ve no idea how Gracie Gold is doing a mere 3 weeks past SkAM’s reality check, but I think a top-5 finish at this point would be just fine.

Daleman I have for DH because she’s “got the goods”, if she can deliver them.

NOTE: Look for a belated Rostelecom Review over the weekend!

State of the 2016 Trophee de France: Pairs & Dance Predictions

As the 2016 Grand Prix of Figure Skating makes its way around the world, Trophee de France—the Competition Formerly Known as Trophee Eric Bompard—will get underway a few hours later in the day (on Eastern Time, anyway) than Rostelecom Cup did last week. 9:40AM ET is the start time; here’s an IFS link to all the rest you need to know…
Aaaand here we go with predictions!

GOLD:  Savchenko/Massot (GER)
SILVER: Zabijako/Enbert (RUS)
BRONZE: Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)

DARK HORSE: James/Cipres (FRA)

It might sound like a rerun of Rostelecom last week, but Sav/Mass are back and so are Zab/En. The difference is that I’m not underestimating the latter this week! As for Tara/Moro… elements aside, their SP is delightful (my daughter’s dance company utilized the same music last season so I’m quite familiar with it), but their FS leaves something to be desired. Upon hearing it at SkAM a few weeks ago, I thought it kind of sounded like the quasi-hip theme song to a 1970s family drama that I somehow never managed to see. So I looked it up, and… yikes, I wasn’t too far off (except for the TV part): the song Tara/Moro use is actually a pop ballad called “Music”, which was a #3 hit in the UK for an artist named John Miles back in 1976. So those of you overseas who’ve heard of it, or even remember it from your youth if you’re from my generation and are wondering what my deal is… I should tell you that “Music” apparently stalled out on the U.S. pop charts at #88, effectively keeping it from becoming a radio hit over here.

So! Now that you know more about this “Music” than you ever cared to… I’ll add that I can’t quite fathom using it no matter how familiar you are with it. It’s like reaching for a box of processed cheese when you’re trying to spice up a meal—it just doesn’t work.

Having said all that, I know they’ve got more consistent elements but I’d love to see James/Cipres nail their stuff this time and get a medal—on home soil, no less.


GOLD:  Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA)
SILVER: Gilles/Poirier (CAN)
BRONZE: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)

DARK HORSE: Ilinykh/Zhiganshin (RUS)

I should start this by saying that of this field of 10 ice dancing teams, I’ve only heard of exactly half of them—and four of those five are listed above! I haven’t taken the time yet to see if the rest are young (read: recent JGP grads), or mediocre semi-veterans, or simply new to this level of competition… so, who knows, maybe another Papa/Ciz –esque star team will be born this weekend. But for now I’ll stick with those I know: reigning World Champs for gold, recent SkCAN medalists for silver (I’m already cheered by the thought of seeing Disco Paul again in the SD), and recent SkAM medalists for bronze.

I’m going to list the five lesser-known teams below; hopefully I’ll have something to add about at least a few of them when I recap this event:
(NOTE: Tobias/Tkachenko of ISR is the 5th of the 5 “known” teams above)

Viktoria Kavaliova/Yurii Bieliaiev  BEL
Cortney Mansour/Michal Ceska  CZE
Lorenza Alessandrini/Pierre Souquet  FRA
Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac FRA
Oleksandra Nazarova/Maxim Niktin  UKR

Men’s and Ladies predictions will be posted sometime before the guys get underway at 12:40 PM Eastern—and for those planning to watch Adam Rippon—he drew 1st to skate, so be on time!

Friday, November 4, 2016

State of the Cup of Russia: 2016 Rostelecom Cup Predictions (Ladies/Pairs)

Here’s what I’ve got in mind for the LADIES and PAIRS at Rostelecom…


GOLD: Anna Pogorilaya (RUS)
SILVER: Elena Radionova (RUS)
BRONZE: Yuka Matsuda (JPN)

DARK HORSE: Julia Lipnitskaya (RUS)

Had I known I’d be putting Pogo’s name at the top of this list a year ago, one hand would’ve grabbed the other as if to say Whaaat aaare youuu doiiing??? But this is not the same young woman we saw a year ago. This Pogo wins World Bronze Medals and doesn’t fling herself down onto the ice every other jump. This Pogo is skating more maturely, and carrying more confidence, and I had trouble recognizing at Japan Open earlier in the season… really!

Unless she IS the same one, and I’m gravely mistaken. Then the gold goes to Radionova. (Who I haven’t seen/heard about AT ALL lately, so I’ve no idea what to expect.)

I did see Lipnitskaya compete earlier in the season (she won silver at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial), but then she scratched from SkAM due to “a recurring injury”… which is why I’m making her the Dark Horse here rather than my pick from bronze. Instead, I’m predicting Matsuda, the 18 year-old from Japan, as an outside choice for stopping a Russian podium sweep.

The lone U.S. representation in Ladies is Courtney Hicks; I expect to see her finish around 5th or 6th.

GOLD:  Savchenko/Massot (GER)
SILVER: Seguin/Bilodeau (CAN)
BRONZE: Astakhova/Rogonov (RUS)

DARK HORSE: Marchei/Hotarek (ITA)

Gold? Easy. Silver? Easy. Anything else for this field of eight… three teams of which I’ve never even heard… is almost a coin toss. But I’ll put in the bronze slot the Russian team that finished 5th at SkAM, and give Marchei/Hotarek the DH role—even though they were a surprising 8th of 8 at that same SkAM event. In any case, Sav/Mass’s throw/twist moves are sure to be the highlight of the event, with Seg/Bilo’s adorability coming in a admirable second. (NOTE: there are no U.S. pairs teams at Rosteleom.)

Thursday, November 3, 2016

State of the Cup of Russia: 2016 Rostelecom Cup Predictions

Like Skate Canada last week, 2016 Rostelecom Cup (Cup of Russia) will be packing all the disciplines into two days (Friday 11/4 and Saturday 11/5)…

This time I have the link for Canadian & U.S. TV schedules, as well as start orders and other good stuff…

And we start with Men and Ice Dance, the latter of which gets started at 7:45 AM (ET) Friday…

(I’ll have my Pairs & Ladies preview up before the Pairs SP starts at Noon)


GOLD: Javier Fernandez (ESP)
SILVER: Shoma Uno (JPN)
BRONZE: Mikhail Kolyada (RUS)


Javi is keeping last year’s Malaguena SP and skates to an Elvis Presley medley in the FS, and I don’t see much keeping him from a third straight Rostelecom victory. His closest competition is likely found in the astoundingly good—if not quite World Champion good— Uno, who of course won Skate America a couple weeks ago. Bronze is a bit of a toss-up, but Kolyada was a surprise 4th at Worlds this year and therefore has the highest pedigree of the three Russian men competing (the other two being Gordei Gorshkov and Artur Dmitriev Jr.). I think he tends to be a more consistent competitor than Aaron (the only U.S. man in the event), and that’s why I’ve got him for bronze. But if Aaron can keep it together, I think he’s got a good podium shot.


GOLD: Chock/Bates (USA)
SILVER: Weaver/Poje (CAN)
BRONZE: Bobrova/Soloviev (RUS)

DARK HORSE: One of the other two Russian dance teams, and if they medal here I promise to use their actual names in the future

Remember Weaver/Poje? The long-suffering runners-up to Virtue/Moir that got as close as 2nd at Worlds two years ago, only to fall back to 3rd the following year and 5th in 2016? The ones who must have been the most thrilled of absolutely anyone to hear that V/M were returning to competition? Well… they’re here, and while this season’s FD to Concierto de Aranjuez doesn’t appear to be a break from their tradition of intriguing, highly dramatic free dances, their SD now promises some Michael Jackson hip-hop. Their SD dance rhythm was originally listed as “country swing” and featured the song “Black Velvet”… which I happen to despise… so I most definitely consider this a win-win. (Except that Chock/Bates will be the team that actually wins here.)

2016 Skate Canada Post-Mortem: 6 Canadian Medals and a Comeback Begins...

PREDICTION POINTS UPDATE: I did a little better on my SkCAN predictions than I did with Skate America… 6 points for the men, 5.5 for the ladies, 7 for the pairs, and 5 for dance. (That adds up to 23.5 points vs. 20 points for SkAM)

Since I shortchanged the Dance and Pairs disciplines when I recapped Skate America last week, I’ll start with them for this Skate Canada review…

DANCE: Hey, did’ya hear who won the free dance portion of SkCAN? That’s right, a couple of former champions… from the U.S. (psych!)

About Virtue/Moir: Yep, they’re back, and they look great, and they’re in it to win it (again), and their SD is to Prince music, and yes, just when we’ve all committed to new leaders for a post Davis/White era… here they are making things interesting again.

But I mentioned this on Twitter, and will bring it up again here: the back half of V/M’s FD is to the acoustic version of “Latch”. It’s lovely, it’s moving, it’s great to dance to… and I thought all those things (and more) about 2 ½ years ago, when Meryl Davis used it in her final, mirrorball-winning performance with Maksim Chmerkovskiy on Dancing with the Stars. Sure, it could be a kooky coincidence. Or it could be V/M throwing down a little Sam Smith-shaped gauntlet, silently saying Bet we can do it better, human Disney princess.

Or not. I’m just sayin’.

Behind V/M at SkCan came an important threesome of pairs (if that makes sense):

Chock/Bates, who are clearly Having a Moment with this “Under Pressure” FD… if they weren’t already, that moment began when they saw their SkCan score in the Kiss-n-Cry.

Gilles/Poirier, who have medaled on the GP before but I’m not sure they’ve ever beaten Cappellini/Lanotte before, so… another Moment. But as much as I enjoyed their FD tango (and I did, more than I expected I would)… their disco SD may prove to be my favorite in a sea of very cool hip-hop SDs. Mostly because Poirier is so committed to the look and energy of the era. It goes beyond the mustache-- way beyond!

Speaking of Cap/Lan… this team has competed on the senior GP since 2006—throughout Anna Cappellini’s twenties and then some, to put it in perspective. And while I’m always the first to say I don’t know as much about ice dance as I should, my prevailing thought during their Chaplin FD this season is that it’s quite charming. My second thought, though, is that I’ve seen charming on this particular team many, many times by now. You know how they first got my attention? With the dark, edgy FD about addiction they skated in 2009-10. They (very appropriately) used music from Requiem For a Dream for that one, and based on how much we heard THAT for the next five years, I’m certainly not saying they need to resurrect that particular program. But as this pre-Olympic season progresses… and this veteran team surely looks to the PyeongChang podium with a half-dozen others… I’ve got to wonder if Charming 4.0 is the best way to demonstrate their growth as a team.

They’ll be competing against V/M AND Papadakis/Cierzon (current World Champs) at NHK, their other planned GP event. It’ll be very interesting to see where they end up—or, assuming we have a good guess on that already, how close the scores are.

PAIRS: Duhamel/Radford were a lock for gold; the fact that they didn’t skate anywhere close to their best in the FS, yet still won the event by over 16 points, cements that theory.
LOVE their “Killer” SP this year; the Edith Piaf FS (with the dusty rose costumes that someone on Twitter said looks like Silly Putty in person—ha!) is not my favorite of theirs yet. But I’ve run hot and cold with their programs for years, and I was fond enough of last year’s “Hometown Glory” to know that’s a tough act to follow.

The early verdict on China’s latest pair-up (Yu/Zhang), for me at least, is pretty simple: it works better than Cheng/Zhang did. That team certainly gave it a go, but in four years the 4th place received at 2014 Worlds was apparently the peak of their work. Yu/Zhang could go further—there’s not as much of a child-bride vibe, which helps—but someone clued me into the way the commentators at British Eurosport gushed and GUSHED about how perfect they were together, how Zhang seems to “cherish Yu like the delicate flower she is”, etc. Um… yeah. Maybe. But calm down, guys. I know very few teams at this event were hitting their side-by-sides AND throws, but we don’t need to immediately anoint those that do. At least I don’t. They had a very good debut; let’s see how they do at Cup of China (where they’ll be up against the flipside of this exchange, AKA Cheng/Jin) and go from there.

Quick notes on the SkCan Men…

Yeah, kind of a mess. But Patrick Chan got most of it right, and I guess we need to give him props for trying to add a quad salchow to his repertoire (remember the days when he didn’t have consistent quads yet and indicated he didn’t really need them due to the caliber of his overall skating?). Yuzuru Hanyu, meanwhile, remains one quad ahead (if/when he nails them all, that is) but that also increases the margin for error, as we saw at SkCan. But he has less to prove right now in a battle with Chan, so while I’m sure he’d like to get over this little SkCan hump that’s growing in his path… NHK is most likely where we’ll see him shine. (And interestingly enough, his toughest quad competition at that event might be found in USA’s Nathan Chen.)

Oh, and kudos to Kevin Reynolds for rising above the fray (as well as the issues that have kept him out of the bigger events in recent years) and snagging a bronze medal on home ice! Unfortunately he is not scheduled for any additional GP events so it might take an injury or other WD for him to get another opportunity.

Even quicker notes on the SkCan Women…

Evgenia Medvedeva’s FS choice (with roots in the 9/11 attacks, complete with audio news clips) deserves more conversation than I can give it right now. In short: her skating is fine… the theme is questionable, particularly for someone as young as she is… but it’s the pantomime choreo that I just cannot get into. (No phone calls during the FS, please!)

Satoko Miyahara’s got the FS I prefer this season, and fortunately she skated it well enough to put her on the podium even after technicalities took her SP to 5th place. But I really hope her coach has a plan in place to put some Canadian-like power behind her jumps!

Kaetlyn Osmond—daaang, girl. Glad she’s back. Next step—do it all again at Cup of China!

Mirai Nagasu—No words. We’ve been here with her before, the only difference for me is that I like her programs better this year so I find myself wanting her to do them well all the more. We’re scheduled to see her next at NHK.

Rostelecom Cup is coming Friday (starting at 7:45 ET), so the predictions are headed your way soon!

Friday, October 28, 2016

State of the SkCAN: 2016 Skate Canada Predictions (Men/Dance)

(Scroll further down to get SkCAN Ladies/Pairs predictions OR to find a link to all U.S broadcast/streaming options)


GOLD: Patrick Chan (CAN)
SILVER: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
BRONZE: Takahito Mura (JPN)

DARK HORSE: Daniel Samohin (ISR)

When it comes to Chan vs. Hanyu showdowns… scratch that; I don’t have any stats available (yet). But one thing Chan has pulled off, time and time again, is SkCAN victories. I’m prepared to be completely wrong on this, but in the quad pissing-yet-artistic contest that looks to unfold this weekend in Canada (Chan debuting a quad salchow; Hanyu going for a reported 6 quads between his two programs), I think Chan will emerge on top in his homeland.

Samohin I have for my Dark Horse because last season he emerged as yet another young quad powerhouse (and won Junior Worlds as a result)… BUT… his pre-GP season was bumpy, landing him 6th at one event (Autumn Classic) and 13th at another (Finlandia Trophy). If he can get some of his groove back, he could be a threat for bronze.

Representing the U.S. at SkCAN are Ross Miner and Grant Hochstein—both outstanding skaters that I love to watch, but each has only ONE quad (can you believe we say “only one quad” now?) and neither has been super-consistent with it of late. A top-6 finish for either/both would be lovely; if one of them steps to the podium here, I may have to eat every cookie in the house in celebration.


GOLD: Virtue/Moir (CAN)
SILVER: Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)
BRONZE: Chock/Bates (USA)

DARK HORSE: Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)  

The jury’s still out on whether or not Davis/White will return to competitive ice dance—I, for one, think they’re doing just fine without it—but Virtue/Moir began their third Olympic journey earlier in the season via Canada’s Autumn Classic (where they won—surprise!). How they will fare amongst the likes of Papa/Ciz (aka the current World Champs) remains to be seen, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the 2010 Gold and 2014 Silver Olympic Medalists are back in the mix.

Cappellini/Lanotte defeated both Chock/Bates AND Gilles/Poirier earlier in the season (at Nebelhorn Trophy), which is why I’m choosing them for SkCAN’s silver spot.

C/B are using a Christopher Dean-choreo’d version of the Queen/Bowie classic “Under Pressure” for their FD. Let me know if you’re a fan—the edits/mixes they chose are somewhat non-traditional (at least they were when I saw it at Nebelhorn), but I really liked it. From what I heard, though, some “Pressure” purists were less than pleased.