Wednesday, December 6, 2017

2017 GP Final Predictions

The rapid-fire timing of these competitive events is definitely getting to me.

Skate America ended over Thanksgiving weekend, and my plans for posting about that sometimes bizarre event fell to the wayside when all the writing I postponed over Thanksgiving weekend snapped its fingers at me (if writing had fingers, that is… don’t take it too literally… I’ll move on now).

Then last week there was continued catching up to do (spoiler alert: I’m a slow writer). So still… no SkAM recap. There was some pretty big news about Russia and the upcoming Olympics, but no SkAM recap.

As I turned something in today I thought Hey, now I can finally get that SkAM recap done just before I do predictions for the GP Final! Until I was flipping through my list of upcoming recordings and found that the GP Final starts at 4:30 AM (Eastern Time) on THURSDAY, not FRIDAY. Whoopsie.

So now we launch into Plan B, or maybe Plan C: No SkAM recap for now… jump straight to GPF predictions… AND, because time is tight, no explanations on why I’ve set my predictions as I have. At least not yet.

1st: Sui/Han (CHN)
2nd Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)
3rd Savchenko/Massot (GER)
4th Duhamel/Radford (CAN)
5th Stolbova/Klimov (RUS)
6th Yu/Zhang (CHN)

1st Nathan Chen (USA)
2nd Shoma Uno (JPN)
3rd Sergei Voronov (RUS)
4th Mikhail Kolyada (RUS)
5th Adam Rippon (USA)
6th Jason Brown (USA)

1st Papdakis/Cizeron (FRA)
2nd Virtue/Moir (CAN)
3rd Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
4th Shibutanis (USA)
5th Chock/Bates (USA)
6th Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)

1st Wakaba Higuchi (JPN)
2nd Alina Zagitova (RUS)
3rd Maria Sotskova (RUS)
4th Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN)
5th Satoko Miyahara (JPN)

6th Carolina Kostner (ITA)

Friday, November 24, 2017

2017 ISU Grand Prix Round 6: Skate America Preview & Predictions

The ISU 2017-18 Grand Prix season boils down to Skate America, taking place in Lake Placid today (Friday) through Sunday. Here are my predictions:

GOLD: Nathan Chen (USA)
SILVER: Jin Boyang (CHN)
BRONZE: Adam Rippon (USA)
DARK HORSE: Sergei Voronov (RUS)
WILD CARD: Maxim Kovtun (RUS)

Depending on how many Americans tune in to NBC, Olympic Channel or IceNetwork for this year’s Skate America, this event could be a sort of “introduction” to The Kid in the Commercials. Even if Nathan doesn’t deliver every jump exactly as planned, I think he’ll prove as formidable as advertised at this event.
The only newbie to my collection of names here is Kovtun, who withdrew from events earlier in the season with a back injury, so…. Given his recent competitive history… better make that a DOUBLE wild card. (If such a thing exists.)

GOLD: Savchenko/Massot (GER)
SILVER: Duhamel/Radford (CAN)
BRONZE: Yu/Zhang (CHN)
DARK HORSE: Zabiiako/Enbert (RUS)
WILD CARD: Any U.S. pairs team at this event

News went out earlier today that Bruno Massot has finally passed all the requirements for German citizenship after several attempts, so I think it would be especially cool if that feeling of relief was demonstrated in his and Alina’s skating this weekend. But something I look to do with ALL the teams at SkAM… monitor how the side-by-side jumps are going, and how it relates to overall placement. Just a little experiment which should be particularly worthwhile given that 3 of the 8 teams in contention are Americans.

GOLD: Polina Tsurskaya (RUS)
SILVER: Ashley Wagner (USA)
BRONZE: Gabrielle Daleman (CAN)
DARK HORSE: Satoko Miyahara/ Kaori Sakomoto (both JPN)
WILD CARD: Bradie Tinnell (USA)

I’m as much of a homer as anyone, so I’d really like to see Ashley win her final time at SkAM. But Tsurskaya has the jump passes and the track record to get the win, so rather than jinx Ash’s chances… ;)
Daleman’s something of a longshot, given how she handled her SP lead at Cup of China a few weeks ago, but I still think she’s got a better shot at bronze than the Japanese women at this event. Tinnell—whose best finish at U.S.Senior Nats is 6th, in 2016—is  making her GP debut at SkAM and isn’t really “in the conversation” for PyeongChang at this point (as Ryan Bradley and others like to say ad nauseum on The Olympic Channel). But we all know stars have been born here under stranger circumstances, so…

GOLD: Shibutanis (USA)
SILVER: Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)
BRONZE: Gilles/Poirier (CAN)
DARK HORSE: Sinitsina/Katsalapov (RUS)
WILD CARD: Hawayek/Baker & Parsons/Parsons (both USA)

This seems pretty self-explanatory so I’ll just leave it there. I was going to try and explain who still had a shot at making the GPF, but I’m certain I’m not the best one for that gig. I CAN tell you that Virtue/Moir, Papdakis/Cizeron, and Chock/Bates have made the cut thus far…

FYI: NBC is scheduled to air the Men’s Free Skate LIVE on Saturday and the Ladies’ Free Skate LIVE on Sunday, both at 4PM ET. Terry Gannon, Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir—who will be the “A” team covering figure skating in February—are on hand this weekend as well.

2017 Internationaux de France Roundup

Internationaux de France was yet another stop on the 2017-18 GP circuit that brought as many head-scratching moments as it did awe-inducing performances. In fact… since there isn’t much time left until Skate America (GP stop #6) gets started, I’m ditching the discipline-by-discipline approach this time. Instead:


*  Misha Ge (UZB). “One more year,” he said. No quads, just a re-dedication to his love of the sport, we were told. What was underestimated: how much the sport would benefit from this decision. At an event where more men than ever seemed to come unglued at free skate time, Ge was serene, skated clean, and came away with something he never had before: a Grand Prix medal.

*  Yuna Shiraiwa (JPN). NHK left her in 8th place, and IFP didn’t SEEM to demonstrate that much improvement if you go by her placement (6th). But in a field of ladies’ short programs so troubled that some of us were left wondering if a curse had descended upon Grenoble, Shiraiwa’s rose enough above the fray for 3rd place. Then she also managed to hang in with the powerhouses that emerged on day 2, only faltering a bit in the final minute of her FS. In a sea of incredible 200+ total scores, Shiraiwa sat just outside the pack with 193.18. Is she considered a serious contender for those 2 Japanese Olympic spots? She should be.

*  James/Cipres (FRA). Every time I see them take the ice this season I get a little more excited about their skating, and their PyeongChang prospects. This time the GP medal they won was silver, and the place they came in on the FS portion was 1st (outskating the reigning World Bronze Medalists in the process).  Momentum much?

* Weaver/Poje (CAN). True, Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA) were nothing short of breathtaking yet again. But watching Wea/Po at this event felt a little bit like watching their career compressed into 2 days: a twizzle falter takes the otherwise-on-track-for-the-podium team down to 5th, leaving them little option but to throw themselves into their Je Suis Malade FD and hope for the best…. And in the end, they still finish off the podium. But it must feel like the world is on their side for all the love they’ve been shown. Hopefully that’ll help.


*  Many, if not most, of the quad-attempters. The early strategy talked about so frequently this season for USA’s Vincent Zhou seems to have spread to other camps, and that strategy is GO FOR ALL THE QUADS… and like spaghetti thrown against a wall, see what sticks. One little problem I have with this: skaters aren’t spaghetti. If they aren’t able to land the jump clean, I’m finding myself more eager to see their keister hit the ice than an awkward, pained attempt to keep on their feet that could very well result in an ankle injury similar to what Yuzuru Hanyu is recovering from right now. And this from the likes of Olympic medal contenders like Uno and Fernandez! Yikes! We get it, guys. Why try just one quad when you can try four? Eh, I can think of a couple reasons…

*  Meanwhile, over in the ladies side of things I see Elizaveta Tuktumysheva in a high-stakes battle of her own, not unlike the one being waged this season by USA’s Mirai Nagasu. Each is struggling to get back on their national podium after several years away from it. Each is potentially dealing with a deep pool of talented competition (though at times this GP season has tried to prove otherwise. Each has a “secret weapon” (commonly known as a triple axel) that could, if properly executed, get them the higher points they seek. But mar the jump, and the rest of the program runs the risk of having the life sucked out of it. Tukta suffered this fate in France. While she didn’t seem gutted by her performance (or lack thereof)—it’s not like she had a chance of making the Final—the wheels of Russian Nats outcomes had to be churning in her head.

* Nagasu might not have the fight for an Olympic spot that you might expect, however. Polina Edmunds received praise in Grenoble for “moving in the right direction” points-wise (finishing 16 points higher than at Finlandia Trophy), but still finished in the double digits placement wise (10th).

*  The good news for Chock/Bates part 1: they were able to profit from Wea/Po’s mistake and finish 2nd in France. Good news part 2: They’ve made the GPF for the fourth year in a row. The bad news: they are still Chock/Bates, and as Charlie White opined during Olympic Channel coverage last weekend… they just don’t seem to possess the je ne sai quoi to take them to the world podium. At least, not anymore. 

Finally, I’ll close with this note about 37 year-old British pairs skater Zoe Jones. I pointed her out in my preview post for one very obvious reason (her age). But even though she and partner Chris Boyadji struggled mightily in their GP debut, her efforts should be celebrated for a number of reasons:

1) Being a singles skater in the first act of her career, she took on a whole new, elite-level discipline of the sport incredibly late in the game. Most of the 30-something women we see competing pairs have been doing it for EONS. Not in this case.

2) Unlike 34 year-old Deanna Stellato of the U.S., she’s a mother of three—nine year-old twins and a four year old. I cannot even BEGIN to fathom competing at this level when you’re on to a whole other part of your existence (motherhood).

3) Something I learned from my FB/Twitter friend Linda Tannock McChlery (a former ladies champion for Scotland) was that Jones had the additional burden of competing in Grenoble while suffering from the flu! She and Boyadji got the GP assignment only a few weeks before it happened, and since (unfortunately) they weren’t able to secure a spot for the Olympics due to a subpar showing earlier in the season, one would reason there was little reason to knock themselves out trying to make the most of what might prove to be their only GP assignment ever. Yet that’s exactly what they—and especially SHE—did. What a story.

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!!

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.

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.

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.

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)...

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 :) 

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.


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.


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:


*   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?


*  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.


*  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!)


*  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:

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.

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.

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.

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:

--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.

--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…

--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.

--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:

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.

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…

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”.

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 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…

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.

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.

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.

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!