Friday, November 17, 2017

2017 ISU Grand Prix Round 5: Internationaux de France Preview & Predictions

Gotta keep this short and sweet-- the event is about 5 minutes from starting as I type this sentence!!

MEN 
GOLD: Shoma Uno (JPN)
SILVER: Alexander Samarin (RUS)
BRONZE: Alexei Bychenko (ISR)

DARK HORSE: Max Aaron (USA), Vincent Zhou (USA)
WILD CARD:  Misha Ge (UZB), Javier Fernandez (ESP)

Fernandez as a wild card?? Why not? Whether his poor showing in China was due to illness or some other force, it still leaves me with no idea what to expect. And let’s face it… even if he improves on last time, he still might not make the podium.

LADIES:                       
GOLD: Alina Zagitova (RUS)
SILVER: Maria Sotskova (RUS)
BRONZE: Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN)

DARK HORSE: Mai Mihara (JPN)
WILD CARD: Polina Edmunds (USA)

I’d rather see Osmond win again, but between The Red Ballerina (Zag)’s bonus point strategy and the remarkable consistency between both Russian ladies… I think they have the edge(s) here. And if you’ve seen the now 19 year-old Edmunds lately, you might understand when I say it’s kinda like she’s a kid from a TV sitcom that you come back to a couple years later and say Wow, she’s not like I remember her AT ALL. Then to make things a little more complicated, her comeback started with a poor showing at Finlandia Trophy (13th). Hoping the best for her here, of course.


PAIRS
GOLD: Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)
SILVER: James/Cipres (FRA)
BRONZE: Peng/Jin (CHN)

DARK HORSE: Della Monica/Guarise (ITA), Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch (CAN)
WILD CARD: Jones/Boyadji (GBR)

A tip I just learned: Zoe Jones (of Jones/Boyadji) is 37 YEARS OLD.
She’s like the USA’s Deanna Stellato, if Stellato was 37 YEARS OLD. (She’s only 34.)
Welcome to what is already my favorite story of the Internationaux de France.

DANCE
GOLD: Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA)
SILVER: Weaver/Poje (CAN)
BRONZE: Chock/Bates (USA)

DARK HORSE: Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)
WILD CARD: Guignard/Fabbri (ITA)


Because I don’t think C/B can challenge Wea/Po… especially now that Wea/Po has its secret WeaPo(n) of “Je Suis Malade” back. (see what I did there)

2017 NHK Trophy Roundup

I managed some pretty good guesses on my NHK picks… the only completely-out-of-nowhere interloper on the podium was Sergei Voranov. Clearly I should have given him more credit! After all, he has managed 7 GP medals since 2007, not to mention a bronze at the GP Final in 2015. It’s just that he tends to come undone in his free skates, when endurance comes into play a lot more (and of course him being 30 years old doesn’t help the endurance battle much!). Anyway, props to him for his first-ever GP gold!

A few other thoughts about the men:

*   Let Yuzuru Hanyu’s cringe-inducing fall on a practice quad lutz serve as a PSA that what happened to him could happen to ANY of the guys currently training quads so hard.  The risk factor is so very high, and we tend to forget when so much is going well… Hopefully Hanyu will make a full recovery, and Brian Orser & Co. will work OVERTIME keep him from trying to rush things.

*  Though he couldn’t have beaten Voronov on the technical side, I was rather disappointed to see Jason Brown go down on both triple axel attempts (effectively ending any chance at podium finish). Not sure if I’ve seen that since… maybe when he was first including them? (Maybe not even then!)

*  Adam Rippon’s first major event since breaking his foot earlier in the year was just that—an EVENT! And then to add icing to that cake, the guy turns 28 that weekend and ends up being the youngest of the three men on the podium (with bronze going to 29 year-old Alexei Bychenko).  

I’ve actually got nothing to say about pairs this time; the podium unfolded as I figured it would, and the front-runners for that sole U.S. Olympic spot (The Knierims) were middle of the pack instead of at the bottom. Side by side jumps were a no-go. Again. I’m bored talking about this already. NEXT!

About the ladies—I got this podium right too, so just a couple things:

*  Much as I wish Satoko Miyahara’s “first major event since…” proved as successful as Rippon’s, it clearly was not. Will she turn out to be someone who peaked in the wrong part of the Olympic cycle? Last year at this time I’d have thought her to be a lock for PyeongChang. But stack last weekend’s efforts against those of Mai Mihara, Wakaba Higuchi, and senior newcomer Marin Honda… and suffice to say the pressure is on. Japan Nationals, by the way, start December 20.

*  Meanwhile, the U.S. Nationals will start on December 29—and if GP performances are indicative of anything, I’d say Mirai Nagasu is gaining ground and Mariah Bell is losing it, even though neither one of them has done better than 4th (Nagasu’s placement at NHK). But we’ve also seen many a skater flounder on the circuit only to completely kill it at Nats (Karen Chen and Polina Edmunds come to mind), so…

*  Gotta give a little shoutout to Russia’s Alena Leonova, who has struggled since her 2012 peak amongst the deep pool of Russian girls-to-women. She threw down the cleanest FS at NHK that anyone’s seen from her in EONS. Even though I’ve never been much of a fan, it was quite gratifying to see. (Russian Nats, by the way, are on a similar schedule to Japan Nats and will start on December 20.)

And finally, a few words about the stunningly low FD score of the UK’s own comeback kids, Coomes/Buckland. Though they were 5th after the SD with a decent score of 65+, their FD only brought in a 92.51 (25 points less than Virtue/Moir, and 12 points below 4th place-finishers Sinitsina/Katsalapov). I did something I rarely do, especially at GP events—broke out the protocols and tried to make sense of Coo/Buck’s harsh score. As you might guess in an ice dance event with no egregious errors, it was all about LEVELS:

**Only ONE level 4 (their curve lift)

**A level 2 for their diagonal step sequence, netting them only a 6.07 compared to a 10.64 for Cappellini/Lannotte

**Level 3s for most everything else, including twizzles (a 5.77 for them vs. an 8.14 for the level 4 twizzles of Sinitsina/Katsalapov) and their dance spin (a 5.46 vs. a 6.80 for S/K).


Coo/Buck’s total NHK score of 158.15 was light years behind the personal best they obtained at Nebelhorn earlier this season (a 177.13, which would’ve put them in virtual tie with S/K here). The good news, though, is that they’ve presumably got much more time to work than others I’ve mentioned here… their next pressure-cooker event isn’t until Europeans in January.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

2017 ISU Grand Prix Round 4: NHK Preview & Predictions

Here are my picks for Stop #4 on the GP Circuit (NHK Trophy)...

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

DARK HORSE: Seguin/Bilodeau (CAN)
WILD CARD: Scimeca-Knierim/Knierim (USA)

Everyone above has already skated at a GP event this season except the Knierims. Much as I’d love to predict a podium finish for them outright… well, as I said… we’ve seen all the others :) 

LADIES
GOLD: Evegenia Medvedeva (RUS)
SILVER: Carolina Kostner (ITA)
BRONZE: Polina Tsurskaya (RUS)

DARK HORSE: Satoko Miyahara (JPN)
WILD CARD: Mariah Bell (USA), Mirai Nagasu (USA)

Medved and Kostner finished 1-2 at Rostelecom a few weeks ago, and I don’t see a lot coming between them doing the same this weekend. At least, not a lot I feel super-confident about: Tsurskaya (making her GP debut) was a top-rank junior competitor, and  Miyahara is the 2015 World Silver Medalist… who hasn’t competed in a major event since last year’s GP Final. I can’t wait to see her back in action this weekend, but is there some rust to shake off those itty-bitty blades? We shall see.

MEN

GOLD: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
SILVER:  Jason Brown (USA)
BRONZE: Alexei Bychenko (ISR)

DARK HORSE: Adam Rippon (USA)
WILD CARD: Dmitri Aliev (RUS)

BIG NOTE ON THIS ONE… earlier today (Thursday), there were reports (and corresponding video) that Hanyu had taken a hard fall on a quad lutz in practice, causing him to refrain from any jumping for the rest of the day. As of this moment, he’s still competing as far as I know. But if he ends up scratching this event, that’s why. Or if he dials back his quads… that’s why.

But as long as he’s still gonna give it a go, I’ll keep him at the top of my predictions. I just don’t see anyone else coming close… which is why I’ve got Brown down for another silver GP medal here. (Though Bychenko will surely have the tougher jumping passes…)

IF Hanyu scratches, consider my predictions to be Brown-Bychenko-Rippon, with Aliev as the Dark Horse.

DANCE

GOLD: Virtue/Moir (CAN)
SILVER: Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)
BRONZE: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)

DARK HORSE: Coomes/Buckland (GBR)
WILD CARD: Siuitsina/Katsalapov (RUS)

Another late development at NHK was that Coomes/Buckland was coming in to replace Tobias/Tkachenko (ISR). That’s great news for us C/B fans, who have watched Penny agonize over a gob of months as she underwent surgery for a shattered kneecap (have you SEEN the scar on that?? Quite terrifying), pulled through all the therapy, and then kicked off this season with a pair of wins at Nebelhorn and Cup of Nice. I honestly don’t know how those victories will stack up against the top 3 here at NHK. I don’t think they’re quite at GP podium status yet. But I can’t wait to see them try…

As always, the Asian schedule will make it tough for me to follow all the NHK action in real time. But I’ll be keeping up with it all weekend anyway, so look for me on Twitter @KLBSt8ofSk8!



Wednesday, November 8, 2017

2017 Cup of China Roundup

I was due for a not-so-good week of predictions, and the results from last weekend’s Cup of China definitely fit that bill. I nailed down 3 of the 4 winners, but yikes! Not much else… at least some of those guesses were still in the ballpark. Some notes:

DANCE

*   Good Lord that Papadakis/Cizeron “Moonlight Sonata” free dance is a sight to behold. This weekend was my first time seeing it, and more than one genuine Oh, WOW came out of me during their inventive-yet-still-buttery lifts and spins. They are clearly not looking to forfeit their chance at OGM status.

*  I did it again—overestimated Bobrova/Soloviev’s finish… but I thought the fluke mistake they made at Rostelecom on their dance spin made most of the difference. Apparently not!

*  Thoughts on new Chock/Bates FD (“Imagine”): I like the contrast from last year’s “Under Pressure”. I like the universal idealistic theme. I like the whole package! And yet I wonder if it’ll be enough to let them shine in a crowded field of stars. What did YOU think?


LADIES

*  Alina Zagitova FTW I got right, but man this was a tough field… the top FOUR ladies had point totals over 200! And 5th through 7th place were within 5 points of 200! By comparison, only Skate Canada winner Kaetlyn Osmond broke 200 at that event… and the score earned there by bronze medalist Ashley Wagner would only have been good enough for 8th (!!) place in China.

*  While I’m very eager to see Satoko Miyahara return to competition next weekend at NHK, Wakaba Higuchi’s efforts are definitely growing on me.

*  Elena Radionova’s bronze medal may not seem like much, considering she came in 4th at Rostelecom (which means she’s far from a GPF lock). But if I were on the Olympic selection committee in Russia, her 3rd place here would be noteworthy for a few reasons:  1) Because she racked up over 200 points earning it, 2) Proving she held her own in a ladies event that may prove to be the toughest of the GP season, and 3) and she did so with all the pressure and disadvantages that come with being the final skater in such a competition.

MEN

*  What happened to Javier Fernandez? As I mentioned in the preview, I didn’t think he’d be in fighting shape to win against, specifically, the likes of Boyang Jin (who ultimately finished 2nd). But he was there without longtime coach Brian Orser, who was recovering from gall bladder surgery (word is that he’ll be back this weekend, accompanying Yuzuru Hanyu to NHK)… and probably more to the point, he was suffering “a stomach upset” according to IFS magazine. In any case, his 6th place finish at CoC takes him out of the running for the GP Final. Who will benefit? We’ll know for sure by the month’s end.

*  All apologies to Max Aaron! Vincent Zhou may have indeed been the U.S. man with the best chance at the CoC podium, as I suggested in my preview last week. But Aaron was the one that actually stood there when all was said and done (with Zhou finishing 4th). It was nice to see, too, given Aaron’s spotty history at non-Skate America GP events… 4th place at last year’s CoC was his best international finish until now.

*  Did I underestimate Mikhail Kolyada (who left CoC with his first GP title)? I named him a “dark horse” for the podium because he clearly had potential to be there… but he also hadn’t put together anything close to two clean programs in an event this season. He still hasn’t. His SP here, though, showed he is capable of landing one of the highest-quality quad lutzes known to the sport. The more he stands up on it in competition, the more consistent a threat he’ll be. (He HAS, in the meantime, already punched his ticket to the GPF!)

PAIRS

*  Who will be reigning World Champs (and CoC winners) Sui/Han’s fiercest foe this season? Maybe the question is WHAT, not “who”… with that “what” being the calendar, and the fact that Sui has either endured injuries or surgery recoveries in three of the past five seasons. Stay injury-free, kids. Skating needs you!

*  With a relatively shallow pool of pairs at CoC, it looked like there was a chance for an Italian team to make the podium—which is noteworthy since neither of the top two Italian teams have done so in their several years of competition. Alas, neither Della Monica/Guarise nor Marchei/Hotarek got it done. (Honors instead went to Canada’s Moore-Towers/Marinaro, giving them the second GP bronze of their partnership.)

*  Meanwhile with US pairs… yet ANOTHER second-to-last finish (this time for Cain/LeDuc). At this point, Scimeca-Knierim/Knierim are all but guaranteed for the sole U.S. Olympic pairs spot if they simply show up!


Onward to NHK! My preview and predictions will be posted Thursday.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

2017 ISU Grand Prix Round 3: Cup of China Preview & Predictions

Stop #3 on this season's GP circuit is Cup of China! Here are my podium picks:


DANCE
GOLD:  Papdakis/Cizeron (FRA)
SILVER: Bobrova/Soloviev (RUS)
BRONZE: Chock/Bates (USA)

DARK HORSE: Zahorski/Guerreiro (RUS)
WILD CARD: McNamara/Carpenter (USA)

I’m most eager to see the debut of C/B’s Free Dance, which was just revealed in this IceNetwork article to be a customized version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. Oh and by the way, there’s a pretty passionate rivalry continuing between this team, Rostelecom Cup Champs The Shibutanis, and Skate Canada bronze medalists Hubbell/Donohue.

LADIES
GOLD:  Alina Zagitova (RUS)
SILVER: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS)
BRONZE: Mai Mihara (JPN)
DARK HORSE: Gabby Daleman (CAN), Wakaba Higuchi (JPN)
WILD CARD: Marin Honda (JPN), Elena Radionova (RUS)

Zagitova is only 15, so it’s possible she is too young to compete in PyeongChang. But she had off-the-charts success in the junior ranks, and if her skate at Japan Open a month ago is any indication, she’s about to blaze a trail in seniors too. (And if that proves true, get ready for the “one of the best skaters in the world can’t compete at the Olympics?! Outrageous!” conversations that crops up every so often.)
NOTE: I have Daleman—current World Bronze Medalist—as a DH because I’m not fully convinced she can “put it all together” well enough yet… especially early in the season. The same could be said of Tuktamysheva or Mihara, though. So stay tuned.

MEN
GOLD: Jin Boyang (CHN)
SILVER: Javier Fernandez (ESP)
BRONZE: Vincent Zhou (USA)
DARK HORSE: Mikhail Kolyada (RUS)
WILD CARD: Kevin Reynolds (CAN), Yan Han (CHN)

Fernandez, I’ve heard, gets a late start on his training compared to others because he’s on holiday late in the summer (as are many in Europe). This Olympic season might be different, but I still expect Jin to come out on top at his “home” competition. And of the three U.S. men in attendance, Zhou is by far the one with the best shot at the podium.

PAIRS
GOLD: Sui/Han (CHN)
SILVER: Yu/Zhang (CHN)
BRONZE: Marchei/Hotarek (ITA)
DARK HORSE: Della Monica/Guarise (ITA)
WILD CARD: Moore-Towers/Marinaro (CAN)

Somehow there are NO Russian pairs at Cup of China this year. Does this mean the U.S. representatives (Cain/LeDuc) stand a chance, for once? Um… no. But the Italian representatives might. (Behind the Chinese teams, of course… let’s not get ridiculous.)


While I won’t be watching a whole lot of Cup of China (#CoC17) “LIVE”—if it works where YOU live, more power to you—I’ll be keeping up with it all weekend as best I can… Look for me on Twitter @KLBSt8ofSk8!

2017 Skate Canada International Roundup

The 2017 edition of Skate Canada International was another wild ride, with true triumph co-mingling with cringe-worthy mediocrity. My podium picks were spot-on for Dance (a fairly easy one) and Ladies (slightly harder), but not so much for the Men and Pairs disciplines…giving me 28.5 points out of 36  (and a .792 batting average for SkCAN.)

Here are some notes:

LADIES…
--Back to Back to Black to Black: Oh, what a time for a pair of Black Swan free skates to take place! We got Kaetlyn Osmond, Canada’s sweetheart—who triumphed at the most recent Worlds with a silver medal—skating the part well enough to win the event (definitely not her best, but still better than the others). Then we got Anna Pogorilaya, Russia’s most recent World Bronze Medalist—who crumbled like a pastry when we last saw her complete a competition—get chased around by Tchaikovsky’s music (and some particularly ominous-sounding cuts, at that) until this Black Swan all but drowned. If Pogo is healthy enough to compete at Skate America (her 2nd GP assignment), I can’t help but feel she should ditch the Swan and return to the Scheherazade FS that got her that World Bronze. It’s not like she’d be the first to re-visit a program this season…
--A few words about the three U.S. women that competed… 1) Seeing Ashley Wagner’s Moulin Rouge for the first time in 18 months felt better than I thought it would—maybe the fact that she rallied for a medal helped—but I’d still prefer a chance with the La La Land program that she ditched. 2) Courtney Hicks has a LOVELY footwork sequence for her Rohene Ward-choreographed SP, and did you notice that Wagner edged Hicks out for bronze by less than 1.5 points? (Hicks had the higher TES in the free skate, but Wags had the second-highest PCS of all the ladies.) 3) It’s looking like Karen Chen will put that peaks-at-the-best-times thing to the test in January, because she and her non-Carmen FS weren’t quite ready… and her 7th place finish at SkCan means she won’t have the GPF to worry about in December.
--Keep an eye on Marin Honda. A problematic SP took her out of the medals at SkCan, and even if it hadn’t, it’s anyone’s guess which two Japanese women will represent in PyeongChang. But her FS—the third-best at this event—is highly reflective of her promise.

DANCE…
--In a sea of revisited programs,Weaver/Poje’s choice to bring back 2011-12’s “Je Suis Malade” might be my favorite of all. (How can we miss the ones that have barely ever gone away?)
--Watching Hawayek/Baker do “Liebestraume” so nicely made me wish, once again, there was some way they could find their way to the U.S. podium. Yes, I know Hawayek botched her SD twizzles, but one look at the 24-point gap here between them (in 4th) and last year’s U.S. bronze medalists Hubbell/Donohue (in 3rd) and you know how far they still have to come…
--Meanwhile, Hub/Don. My goodness, they make me BELIEVE they could really fulfill their no-more-third-place-in-the-country goals… even if they had to settle for 3rd here. But they were less than one point from overtaking Weaver/Poje for silver. I smell determination in the air…

MEN
--While not the quad splatfest that was Rostelecom Cup, SkCan’s men were still largely a disappointment. No offense to Jason Brown, whose skating abilities remain top-notch, but when you nab a silver medal these days with no successful quads, a couple problematic landings, and a popped jump… there’s a bigger issue at hand.
--Shoma Uno was undeniably the best of the field, but his Turnadot FS was definitely a tour of hot and cold in terms of the jumps. And newcomer Alexander Samarin (RUS) has the kind of jumps right now to prompt Olympic team talk, but his artistry is most definitely a work in progress. The fact that he was able to medal at SkCan is as much a testament to flawed performances as Brown’s medal is.
-- Placements off the podium didn’t really tell the whole story, either. Youngsters like Cha Jun-hwan (S.KOR) and Nicholas Nadeau (CAN)—who finished 9th and 7th, respectively—showed a lot of promise, particularly in the FS. But at this event, it sucked to be 26. Patrick Chan’s lackluster free skate, which took him off the podium for only the second time in his 9 trips to SkCan, was the clearest evidence of guys-who-are-just-hanging-on-till-February. But Takahito Mura (JPN) finishing last? Not even coming close to breaking 200 points? Yeah… that should serve to remind that even some of the most reliable guys may not get the option of “hanging on”… their seasons may end in December or January.

PAIRS…
--Here’s the prediction I really screwed up. I picked China’s Peng/Jin to win largely because a) they had such a great freshman season together (including the GP Final!) and b) they defeated the likes of Stolbova/Klimov last month at Finlandia Trophy. So of course… here, they end up 5th. But I’ve gotta admit it was well worth it to see Duhamel/Radford come roaring back with their best free skate in a long time. (They were only able to manage 7th place at the Sochi Olympics, so I’m really pulling for them to have a great season—which I also presume to be their last.)
--I also only picked James/Cipres as a “dark horse” possibility for the podium, but I’m thrilled they got there—it’s their first time doing so outside of the French GP (with the ever-evolving name). The way they’ve pushed their own limits in the past year and a half-- after a coaching switch to John Zimmerman and Jeremy Barrett—continues to amaze me.
--Just not much to say about the U.S. pairs so far… two GP events, two 7th places in a field of 8. They’re simply not competitive these days. Mr. & Mrs. Knierim are scheduled to make their return to the GP in two weeks with NHK Trophy, so maybe I’ll set my alarm to wake up when that happens.


Remember, Cup of China starts in the wee hours of Friday morning! My podium picks will be up sometime this evening.

Friday, October 27, 2017

2017 ISU Grand Prix Round 2: Skate Canada International Preview & Predictions

Skate Canada International, aka the 2nd stop on this year’s GP circuit, gets the competition ball rolling around 3PM Eastern today (Friday). Here are my guesses as to how the podiums will look on Saturday:

LADIES:
GOLD: Kaitlyn Osmond (CAN)
SILVER: Maria Sotskova (RUS)
BRONZE: Ashley Wagner (USA)

DARK HORSE: Rika Hongo (JPN), Marin Honda (JPN)
WILD CARD: Anna Pogorilaya (RUS), Karen Chen (USA)

Y’all know I like me some big, beautiful Osmond jumps, and last year she started to get her groove in a big way at this event (finishing 2nd behind Evgenia Medvedeva). The World Champ isn't here this time, so I’ll pick the reigning World Silver Medalist instead. As for the 2016 WSM (Wagner), I’m sorta reserving judgment on these “revisited” programs of hers—“Hip Hip Chin Chin” for the SP; Moulin Rouge (supplanting her planned La La Land) for the FS—because I’m admittedly disappointed, particularly about Rouge 3.0. But, as I say… trying to reserve judgment for now.

On the other hand, Chen recently announced she was bailing on her new Carmen FS in favor of an even newer one—a self-choreographed routine to Bill Conti’s Slow Dancing in the Big City. Color me intrigued.

DANCE:
GOLD: Virtue/Moir (CAN)
SILVER: Weaver/Poje (CAN)
BRONZE: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)

DARK HORSE: Loboda/Drozd (RUS)
WILD CARD: Hawayek/Baker (USA)

Meanwhile… we’ve got V/M doing Moulin Rouge (1.0) and W/P bringing back the Je Suis Malade FS that they initially used way back in 2012! Never a dull moment. AND we have perennial U.S. Bronze Medalists Hub/Don declaring third place isn’t good enough for them anymore. But can they do better than bronze here? Stay tuned…

MEN:
GOLD: Shoma Uno (JPN)
SILVER: Patrick Chan (CAN)
BRONZE: Jason Brown (USA)

DARK HORSE: Takahito Mura (JPN), Alexander Samarin (RUS)
WILD CARD: Keegan Messing (CAN)

At the top I have the World Silver Medalist that is determined to give Yuzuru Hanyu a run for his money, both at home and abroad, this season. Following him are two guys known more for their impeccable artistry… that’s because Mura has become more inconsistent with time, Samarin is making his senior GP debut (translation: he’s a teenager), and former U.S. competitor Messing pretty much puts the WILD in “wild card”.

PAIRS:
GOLD: Peng/Jin (CHN)
SILVER: Duhamel/Radford (CAN)
BRONZE: Savchenko/Massot (GER)

DARK HORSE: James/Cipres (FRA)
WILD CARD: Ilyusheckina/Moscovitch (CAN)

I went largely with how everyone’s competed so far this season to make these determinations—and both Duh/Rad and Sav/Mas look to be doing some fine tuning yet on their respective programs. Attention James/Cipres (whose FS to “Say Something” is a worthy follow up to “Sounds of Silence”) and Ilyu/Mosco (who are reportedly landing throw quad salchows in practice): this is your cue to push and pull for the podium!


Look for me on Twitter (@KLBSt8ofSk8); I’ll be live-tweeting and/or commenting with the hashtag #SCI17 throughout the weekend!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

2017 Rostelecom Cup Roundup

The first event of the GP season brought a couple of upsets, a few fully-expected turnouts, and of course a heaping helping of Olympic speculation. Full results and protocols can be found HERE  ; if you’re wondering how my predictions measured up, I’ll start by explaining the “rules” which are pretty similar to last year…

I get 3 points per correctly placed podium name
2 points per correctly predicted podium name
1 point per Dark Horse that reaches the podium (1/2 a point if I listed 2 Dark Horses)

And I’m calling out “Wild Cards” this year—meaning athletes that could make a splash but I haven’t followed their recent trajectory enough to say for sure—but don’t award myself any points if they make the podium.

So my score for Rostelecom was 7 points for the men’s podium… 5.5 points for the ladies… 6 points for the pairs… and 5 points for the dance, for a total of 23.5 points out of a possible 36. (Or a “batting average” of .653 if you’re a baseball fan!)

A few notes: 

MEN:   I know “no one wants to peak in October” … but dang, did these guys have to try so hard?? There were 18 points worth of deductions between 8 skaters… two of those 8 fell enough times to trigger the 2-deductions-per-fall rule that the ISU started last season… and of the 4 guys that didn’t get deductions, only one (the delightful Misha Ge) truly skated clean… albeit without any quad jumps.

Speaking of Uzbekistan’s finest… shame on me for underestimating Ge! I didn’t mention him at all in my predictions last week because I knew his jump repertoire was limited, figuring him to do no better than 5th. But the 4th place he earned in Moscow ties his best GP finish—which was also at Rostelecom Cup, three years ago. His next scheduled GP appearance is France, so I vow to give him more consideration there… 

The obviously headliner in the men’s event was a battle that, for me, lived up to the hype. Nathan Chen rightfully put the skating world on notice last season with a silver medal at the GP Final and a gold one at 4 Continents—defeating Yuzuru Hanyu for the first time in the latter—but his 6th place Worlds finish was surely a disappointment to some. Whatever the reason for it (Rookie nerves? Fatigue? Boot problems? BTW does anyone know how many boots he’s worn out since adding even more quads to his arsenal?), Chen is back to doing what he does—now with an even better defined look, choreo, artistry, etc.—and while Hanyu is hardly sitting on his jumping laurels, Chen proved himself again to be a most worthy opponent. With each champ scheduled next to compete in their respective home GP assignments, we’ll have to see if both make the GP Final, as expected, to see what happens next.

LADIES: Yes, Evgenia Medvedeva fell on a double axel in her FS and the skating world gasped in shock. Yes, she still won by 39 thousand points. The best news for me, though, was seeing her stick with the Anna Karenina program rather than her previously announced FS music (which included some, but not nearly enough, of George Winston’s “January Stars”).

Carolina Kostner proved podium-worthy in Moscow just as she did at this same event four years ago. Does that bode well for her chances on bigger podiums later in the year? (Remember, she returned to the competitive scene late last season and ended up 6th at Worlds.) Since her artistry is considered unparalleled at this point by many (Rostelecom judges aside, for they gave Medved the edge there as well)… I suppose she has a shot when those with tougher jump schedules fail to deliver (as Wakaba Higuchi, Elena Radionova, and Mariah Bell all did to some degree last weekend). Since even the likes of Tara and Johnny seem to disagree on her potential (I’ll be talking more about the NBC coverage at a later date), I’ll just say this: Kostner is the oldest (30) and still, I think, among the tallest (5’7”) of the Olympic hopefuls this season… so how can I not root for her?


Meanwhile, Mirai… oh, what to say? We hear good things, we get hopeful, we think the landings are clean… and now we hope the completed triple axel was fully rotated. But things happen, more often than not, that dim those hopes back down. Last year Nagasu was 9th at her first GP and 5th at her second one. This year, she came in 9th at her first GP. So if she happens to come in 4th or better at NHK, I guess things will be looking up. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

2017 ISU Grand Prix Round 1: Rostelecom Cup Predictions

As you might already know, the ISU has juggled the Grand Prix series once again… Rostelecom Cup leads it this year, with the order of subsequent GP events Skate Canada (10/27-29), Cup of China (11/3-5), NHK Trophy (11/10-12), Internationaux de France (formerly Trophee de France) (11/17-19), and Skate America (11/24-26), with the GP Final for both Junior/Senior held this year in Nagoya December 7-10.

This year icenetwork.com has LIVE coverage planned for all the GP events… BUT… the newly minted Olympic Channel, available “in more than 35 million homes” in the U.S. (according to information released upon the channel’s launch this past July), has it as well. At least, they plan to carry all the same Rostelecom coverage as IN this weekend… I happen to be one of those 35 million homes with The OC (hah—not sure if that abbreviation will work for me anywhere but here!) so I’ll be keeping a close eye on scheduling. In any case, coverage begins at 7AM EDT on 10/20.

Oh, and for NBC’s traditional 2-hour mash-up of highlights, check them out between Noon-2PM EDT this Sunday.

Here’s what I’ve got in the way of predictions this time around…

MEN
GOLD: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
SILVER: Nathan Chen (USA)
BRONZE: Mikhail Kolyada (RUS)

WILD CARD: Denis Ten (KAZ), Nam Nguyen (CAN)
DARK HORSE: Grant Hochstein (USA), Dennis Vasiljevs (LAT)

If you caught Hanyu at the Autumn Classic a few weeks ago, you might think he’s in early-season top form, or you might think he’s a hot mess—it all depends on if you saw his SP or his FS. Which Hanyu will show up in Russia this weekend? Beats me, but either way, he’s still the reigning OGM and World Champ… and that’s why I’ve got him defeating Chen in their first matchup of the season. Kolyada (one of the guys currently attempting a 4lz) rebounded from a subpar SP to win Ondrej Nepela Trophy, so I think he’s a good medal bet here at well.


LADIES
GOLD: Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS)
SILVER: Wakaba Higuchi (JPN)
BRONZE: Mirai Nagasu (USA)

WILD CARD: Mariah Bell (USA), Elizabet Tursynbaeva (KAZ)
DARK HORSE: Carolina Kostner (ITA), Elena Radionova (RUS)

You probably know Nagasu is including triple axels in her programs this season (for the first time in her long, distinguished career), but word on the street is that ALL her jumps are looking stronger than ever right now. I’m not convinced yet that she’s completely turned a corner—seems like it’s always more promise than delivery, and I’ll admit last year’s “Winner Takes it All” FS was ultimately a letdown for me. But what if triple axel success gives Nagasu the lift (pun intended) she needs on other jumps or overall performances?

Kostner’s artistic prowess remains fierce, even if her jump content can’t quite compete with the 3lz/3T queens of today… and Radionova remains captivating even if her consistency has dropped off somewhat. That’s why I’ve got them both as dark horses.


PAIRS
GOLD: Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)
SILVER: Stolbova/Klimov (RUS)
BRONZE: Seguin/Bilodeau (CAN)

WILD CARD: Astakhova/Roganov (RUS)
DARK HORSE: Marchei/Hotarek (ITA)

Gold and silver is just going in order of 2017 Worlds finishes (T/M took Bronze; S/K were 5th). Seg/Bilo actually finished behind Marchei/Hotarek last March, but the latter didn’t look particularly strong at Lombardia Trophy earlier in the fall—in fact, another Italian team (Della Monica/Guarise) finished ahead of them there.


DANCE
GOLD: Bobrova/Soloviev (RUS)
SILVER: Shibutanis (USA)
BRONZE: Gilles/Poirier (CAN)

WILD CARD: Guignard/Fabbri (ITA), Parsons/Parsons (USA)
DARK HORSE: Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)

My goodness… HOW long have Bob/Solo been on the GP circuit? (2007-8 season) And HOW many GP medals have they racked up in that time? (12)
And HOW many times have they won here at Rostelecom? (3 times in 5 attempts)

So, yeah… that’s why.

Look for me on Twitter (@KLBSt8ofSk8); I’ll be live-tweeting and/or commenting on #RostelecomCup2017 throughout the weekend!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fall 2017 Update I: Where's that TSL Interview...??

Hi!! 

I haven’t forgotten the blog, and I definitely haven’t forgotten that figure skating’s Grand Prix (2017 edition) begins later this week. More about both of those things shortly. But first I’m gonna talk about something that, apparently, WAS forgotten.

Some of you may recall me sharing-- many, MANY months back-- that I'd been contacted to do an interview about Skating on Air with Dave Lease of THE SKATING LESSON (TSL). The results were to be posted on the TSL website and YouTube channel in coordination with my book being chosen as TSL's next book club offering.

Well, late last year we met up on Skype and recorded around 90 minutes worth of material. About the book, about televised skating of the past, and how things have changed even since the book was published, and plenty of stuff in-between. It was fun. Even though I'm terribly unaccustomed to being on the receiving end of questions!

I was initially told the edited piece would be uploaded for all to see within the next couple of weeks. Then "a couple weeks" became months. And as the 2016-17 season wore on, I tried several more times to get a response out of Dave, figuring perhaps the season had just become too busy and my "evergreen" (meaning "relevant anytime") interview was getting saved for the lull just before Worlds, or perhaps was now being saved for the off-season. Unfortunately, Dave has not responded to any of my efforts since last December.

If you've been to the TSL website lately you might presume, like me, that the site is no longer owned by Dave (though it continues to be called The Skating Lesson). The TSL channel has again become active on YouTube, with Dave back to hosting “This and That” on a regular basis since late summer. And of course, TSL's Twitter account remains active on an almost daily basis.

What's going on? I couldn't really tell you, since my final attempt to get an explanation from Dave was as fruitless as the others. At this point, you probably know more than I do!

All I know is that my TSL interview looks to have gone to that dreaded location where the sun don't shine, unicorns don't run with the rainbows, and unpurchased TV pilots meet their final resting place. We shall accept it and move on. OK? OK.

I'm sorry you didn't get to see it. I didn't think it was half-bad myself!

In the event that you’d like to read and/or listen to interviews about Skating on Air that HAVE seen the light of day, try these:

THIS takes you to Allison Manley’s review of the book—and “Episode 58” (on the list immediately to the right of the interview) is the accompanying podcast. If you’ve never given a listen to Allison’s interviews before—or haven’t done so in a while—you might want to clear some time. The Manleywoman Skatecast is no longer in production, but it remains a great body of work!

THIS is my interview with Vlad Luchianov, who maintained the World Figure Skating blog before becoming a regular contributor to IceNetwork.

THIS link contains a nice review of the book courtesy of the My Friend Amy blog (which still reviews books on the regular)…

And here's an interview she did with me too.

Oh, and while I’m in shameless self-promotion mode… if you’d rather just skip to the book’s Goodreads page…  (Oh hey, someone named Lucia just gave my book a 4-star rating this past September 28. Thanks Lucia!)

Or my publisher’s page (the preferred place to order it online):

Or finally the Amazon page, where you can order it and/or read 11 reviews averaging 4.5 stars…

As for Regular State of the Skate Stuff—stay tuned, because I plan to post an update (including Rostelecom Cup predictions) later in the week. A hint… it’s not ending. It’s EVOLVING.


Thanks for your support, as always!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Helsinki Hopefuls: 2017 World Figure Skating Predictions, Part 3 (Ice Dance)

LAST YEAR’S TOP 10 DANCE TEAMS, IN ORDER:
Papadakis/Cizeron, Shibutanis, Chock/Bates, Cappellini/Lanotte, Weaver/Poje, Hubbell/Donohue, Coomes/Buckland, Gilles/Poirier, Sinitsina/Katsalapov, Guignard/Fabbri

(Two teams from this list are not at Worlds this year—Coomes/Buckland due to Penny’s continuing recovery from a shattered kneecap, and Sin/Kat because Bobrova/Soloviev’s return to the team & resulting success apparently bumped Sin/Kat from contention.)

What about 2017?

Since it’s ice dance, and I don’t have the skills to predict this like others can, I’m simply going to take what I know from this season & last season… work 3 “new” teams into the mix… and offer up this list without any further explanation. Enjoy:

GOLD: Virtue/Moir (CAN)

SILVER: Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA)

BRONZE: Shibutanis (USA)

4th: Chock/Bates (USA)

5th: Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)

6th: Bobrova/Soloviev (RUS)

7th: Weaver/Poje (CAN)

8th: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)

9th: Gilles/Poirier (CAN)


10th: Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Helsinki Hopefuls: 2017 World Figure Skating Predictions, part 2 (Men)

LAST YEAR’S TOP TEN MEN, IN ORDER…

Fernandez, Hanyu, Jin, Kolyada, Chan, Rippon, Uno, Aaron, Brezina, Hochstein
(The cross-outs indicate 3 of the 10, a.k.a. ALL the U.S. men from last year, will not be at Worlds this year.)

How about THIS year’s Top 10?

GOLD: Hanyu (JPN) … because he’s healthy this year (as far as I know), he’s an OGM, and I tend to think he’s carefully assessed the field this year (read: New guy Nathan) and will find what it takes to win… something he hasn’t done at Worlds since 2014.

SILVER: Chen (USA)… because I think he’s gonna medal, but I don’t think he can defeat a top-flight Hanyu… yet. P.S. I’ve heard some talk about him actually attempting SIX quads in his free skate this week, and I truly hope that’s not the case. C’mon, Raf (his coach), where’s that bubble wrap when we need it??

BRONZE: Fernandez (ESP)… because, simply stated, I think he’s been a little under par all season.

4th: Uno (JPN)… because his time is coming; in fact, it’s very close.

5th: Chan (CAN)… because despite having some exceptionally beautiful programs this year, his jump consistency has been spottier than ever. (Which is to say he’ll probably make the podium now that I’ve said this. Oh well. I stand by this guess.)

6th: Jin (CHN)… I know he’s the reigning Bronze Medalist, and that he’s got mad quads too, but his artistry-in-progress status puts him further down in the pack this season.

7th: Brown (USA)… because (sigh) without the quads—even if they’re wildly imperfect— this feels like a best-case scenario.

8th Kovtun (RUS)… when he’s “on,” look out. It doesn’t happen that often, but a top 10 finish would be a vast improvement over last season (when he finished way down in 18th place after a 21st-place free skate). So I’m wishing that for him… if only so it keep us from ever having to watch his “Hitchhiker” SP beyond this week.

9th: Bychenko (ISR)… because he still seems to be on an upward trajectory at age 29 (!!) but he’s never made the top 10 at Worlds before. Seize the day, Alexei.

10th: Kolyada (RUS)… because he was a surprise 4th last year, but to finish anywhere near that this season seems an even bigger surprise. Still, I’ve gotta root for this second coming of Ilia Kulik.


Who’d I miss? Michal Brezina (CZE) kind of feels like a top 10 coin toss at this point… Misha Ge (UZB) might be calling it a career after this season, so he might make a return appearance (his best finish was 6th, 2 years ago)… Denis Ten (KAZ) has his crazy, end-of-season ways of getting in there at times… and if none of them take advantage, Kevin Reynolds (CAN) or Keiji Tenaka (JPN) or Jorik Hendrickx (BEL) might be up for the challenge.  

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Helsinki Hopefuls: 2017 World Figure Skating Predictions Part 1 (Ladies/Pairs)

The ISU 2017 World Figure Skating Championships are upon us!!!
Who’s ready for it???

I’ll start by linking you to the broadcast schedule, which includes times for IceNetwork, NBC, and NBC SN…

And then I’ll offer the following disclaimer for my predictions (which start below with the Ladies and Pairs): I’m operating this “heavy machinery” (the computer) while medicated… picked up my son’s wicked cold over the weekend and now need drugs to keep my body temp under three digits (Fahrenheit). So if/when any of these guesses start to go waaay south, I’m going to claim delirium. You heard it here first! (Or DID you…??)


WORLD LADIES PREDICTIONS

Last year’s top 10, in order: Mevedeva, Wagner, Pogorilaya, Gold, Miyahara, Radionova, Asada, Hongo, Daleman, Nagasu
(As the crossouts indicate, half the women from that Top 10 will not be at Worlds this year)

So who will be in this year’s top 10? Here are my guesses:

GOLD: Medvedeva (RUS)… because she’s damn near unbeatable right now, even if I will once again cringe during her 9/11 free skate.

SILVER: Pogorilaya (RUS)… because she finally realized how good she could be at Worlds 2016, and she keeps on improving.

BRONZE: Wagner (USA)… not because her skating is no longer the quality that got her silver last year, but because Pogo improved that much (though I’ll take Ashley’s programs over Anna’s ANYTIME).

4th: Higuchi (JPN)… just a feeling I have.

5th: Kostner (ITA)… she’s baa-aack, and she’s looking very good. I expect her artistic scores to carry her where her technical scores can’t.

6th: Sotskova (RUS)… she’s not quite “soup” yet, as they say, but she’s got consistent jumps and good lines.

7th: Mihara (JPN)… because she’s got the goods, at least most of the time.

8th: Osmond (CAN)… whew! She’s here, and she’s healthy! The quality of her skating isn’t what is was at the start of the season, but I love her power and flair (not to mention both her programs this year), and really want to see her up in the top 10. Or better.

9th: Chen (USA)… because it sounds like her “boot issues” from 4CC are behind her, and a placement like this will comfortably give us the coveted “three spots” we need for next year.

10th: Daleman (CAN)… because Canada deserves to have two women in the top 10 this year. Them women are FIERCE.

Who’d I miss? Choi Da-Bin (S.KOR), Laurine Lecavelier (FRA), Rika Hongo (JPN), and of course Mariah Bell (USA) all could make a run for the top 10.


WORLD PAIRS PREDICTIONS

LAST YEAR’S TOP 10, IN ORDER: Duhamel/Radford, Sui/Han, Savchenko/Massot, Stolbova/Klimov, Tarasova/Morozov, Volosohzar/Trankov, Iliushechkina/Moscovitch, Moore-Towers/Marinaro, Scimeca/Knierim, James/Cipres
(The cross-outs indicate 2 of the 10 will not be at Worlds this year.)

This year’s top 10 as I see it?

GOLD: Sui/Han (CHN)… because they are as good (or probably better) than last year, when they won silver... and I can’t say the same right now about the reigning World Champs.

SILVER: Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)… their SP is dynamite; their FS, not so much (to me, at least)… but the judges have seen them very favorably all season.

BRONZE: Savchenko/Massot (GER)… because this relatively “new” team looks better and better, but they’re still capable of any variety of weird moments that might make the difference between silver and bronze.

4th: Duhamel/Radford (CAN): OH NO I DIDN’T! Yeah, I’m afraid I did… my prediction is that they will cap off a lackluster (for them) season with a podium miss. Sorry.

5th Stolbova/Klimov (RUS): I’m sorry, what programs are they skating again this year?

6th: James/Cipres (FRA): Wait, I can answer that last question for these two… Earned It (SP) and Disturbed’s version of Sound of Silence. I actually think they could place even higher, but their scores don’t always seem to match their caliber (grrr).

7th: Zabiiako/Enbert (RUS): Because the Cry Me a River pair could very well put all three Russian pairs in the top 10 (a feat they’re quite familiar with),

8th: Yu/Zhang (CHN): Because I can’t imagine the veteran-of-veterans, Zhang Hao, missing the top 10 with this partner.

9th: Seguin/Bilodeau (CAN): Because they’re freakin’ adorable and have charisma for days… if only they can keep their jumps under control.

10th: Knierim/Knierim (USA): Don’t hate me for trying to keep my expectations low for this hard-tested-in-life, but not-really-tested-on-the-ice (this season) team.

Who’d I miss?  Iliushechkina/Moscovitch (CAN) could crack top 10 again, and Denney/Frazier (USA) could pull a top 10 surprise too. And while they probably don’t stand much of a chance for it this year, keep an eye on the new Junior World pair champs representing Australia (yes, THAT Australia) Alexandrovskaya/Windsor.