Thursday, January 5, 2017

2016 NHK Post-Mortem: Last Stop before Marseille

(NOTE: Hi! Yeah, I know it's January and this event happened around six weeks ago. But keep reading... I think I've made it relevant to more "current" events.)

At 2016 NHK...

In PAIRS I predicted Duhamel/Radford to win, rising stars Peng/Jin for silver, and perennial sometimes-medalists Wang/Wang for bronze.

In reality: I got this one right all the way down the ticket—a feat that would’ve been more impressive if there had been more than 7 teams in the whole event, and more than half of them had a shot at the podium. BUT—Du/Rad were not particularly sharp here, and as we know by now the quality of their skating took another hit by the time GP Finals rolled around.

Know who was looking better, though? Kayne/O’Shea of the U.S., who skated as clean in their FS as I’ve seen all season—even though they somehow did not manage to top their SkAM FS score (they received 173.50 at SkAM; 172.20 at NHK). I’d like to think this gives them good momentum towards their next major event (Nationals), but I guess I still see it as anyone’s game in this era of so-so throw jump content and side-by-side triple wipeouts in the States.

In DANCE I predicted Papdakis/Cizeron to defeat Virtue/Moir, with Cappellini/Lanotte bringing in the bronze.

In reality: V/M set a new World Record with their score, and I walked back my hopes that Papa/Ciz can outskate them—at least this season. They’re just so damn good…

Also noteworthy at this event was the US team of Hawayek/Baker, whose “Liebestraum” FD netted them 104+ points and contributed to them finishing 4th… just a hairsprayed hair over Sinitsina/Katsalapov. Even more noteworthy: two weeks later, at Golden Spin of Zagreb, H/B pulled down a score of 107+… putting them in the same virtual air as the current U.S. bronze medalists (Hubbell/Donohue) who were pulling down 107+ over at the GP Final. Come Nationals, it appears the battle for US dance bronze will be just as fierce as the one for dance gold.
In LADIES I predicted Anna Pogorilaya to win, Satoko Miyahara for silver, and Wakaba Higuchi for bronze.

In reality: Two out of three ain’t bad?? I got Pogo and Miyahara right, but Maria Sotskova claimed bronze over 4th-place Higuchi.

Speaking of Sotskova—what do you think of her, a newcomer to the senior scene that did well enough at NHK (and Trophee de France) to make it to the GP Final at age 16? Obviously it’s not that unique an accomplishment, considering Evgenia Medvedeva just did the same thing a year ago. Arguably, Sotskova is not particularly close yet to the skater Medvedeva is; the case could easily be made that Sotskova only made it to the GPF because of a few surprises (Wagner at Cup of China, or Tutkamysheva at Skate Canada, or Gold at anything). But the thing I’m going to keep in mind about Sotskova is the fact that she is 1.7 meters tall… or, in U.S. terms, 5’7” (according to Wikipedia, which gets its info from her ISU bio). That’s around 5 inches taller than Medvedeva OR Tutkamysheva, and she’s landing her triple/triples consistently in competition. So unlike many of the so-called “baby ballerinas” who lose a critical part of that jumping magic if they grow beyond 5’3”, Sotskova seems to be over that hump. If she can build on her artistry as she matures, and continue to perform under pressure, even as that grip of pressure (and expectation) tightens… so yeah, I’m keeping my eye on her.

In MEN I predicted Yuzuru Hanyu for gold, Nathan Chen for silver, and Jason Brown for bronze.

In reality: See previous “in reality” statement (got gold & silver correct; bronze went to Japan's Keiji Tanaka).

You’ve probably heard it up the wazoo since NHK-- and the GP Final, more importantly-- about Chen, so let me instead throw in a few words here about Brown. 

(Yeah, I know, Tanaka’s the one who medaled… and although he was down in 7th at Rostelecom Cup, he in fact just earned silver at the Japanese Nationals, behind Shoma Uno but well ahead of Takahito Mura (Hanyu had the flu and didn’t compete). So he may be having a breakout year of his own. But it was Brown’s “off day” (more like off days) at NHK that took me more by surprise. It’s not that Jason hasn’t had problematic performances before, but NHK was kind of unprecedented—with multiple poor landings, underrotations, and doubled triples (in the FS). Was he sick? Is his back bothering him again? Was he having a crisis of confidence in the wake of all the quads being thrown down by Hanyu and Chen alone? Was Johnny Weir correct in his on-air assessment that the most physically flexible skaters (like Brown) tend to become inconsistent with their toughest jumps because their hips aren’t “closed” enough? I wonder these things because, as Lipinski said on-air in that same performance, Brown used to be as known for his jump consistency almost as well as he was for his off-the-chart skating skills. Has that changed since being sidelined most of last season? Maybe it’s still too early to say… save for NHK he’s had  a pretty good year so far (2nd at SkAM, 2nd at Lombardia Trophy, 1st at U.S. Int’l Classic). All the more reason to think he was ill, or otherwise not at 100%... but I haven’t heard anything to that effect. Guess we’ll have to hope he brings 100% of his A-game to Kansas City in a couple weeks.

Much like the hope we hold for Adam Rippon, who didn’t deliver at the GP Final quite as we’ve grown accustomed to this season. But I’ll get to my notes from that event next time.

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