Thursday, October 31, 2019

Skate Canada 2019 Recap

What stood out at Skate Canada this year? Let's see...


+      There were at least three great surprises at SkCan last weekend, and two of them came with the men. One was Camden Pulkinen’s 2nd-place SP (and subsequent shocked reaction in the Kiss’n’Cry), which also happened to be his senior GP debut. Another was Nam Nguyen winning 2nd place overall, a feat I wasn’t sure we’d ever see him accomplish! (BTW I intimated last week that Nguyen had yet to make the podium at SkCan… while that was true, he did win bronze at Skate America back in 2014.) Can Nguyen keep this going? Stay tuned for his results at Rostelecom Cup.

+    Oh, and while Yuzuru Hanyu’s victory was most definitely NOT a surprise, this was his first-ever SkCan gold. He has three silvers from past SkCan attempts; one of them dates back to 2013.


+      It was a high risk/reward event as advertised, with most of the high risks paying off… Sasha Trusova isn’t allowed to put quads in her SP (yet), so without a triple axel in her arsenal she had to save her heavy hitters for the free skate—and with the exception of the quad salchow, they all worked in her favor for a victory of nearly 11 points over silver medalist Rika Kihira. Kihira, in turn, nailed 2 triple axels (stepping out of the third one) in Kelowna, securing 2nd place over Young You by nearly 13 points. And while You only went 1-for-2 in terms of triple axel success, it was enough to make the difference for bronze over Bradie Tennell.  (Who has 2 very strong programs this year, and skated them quite well at SkCAN… but alas, no medal this time.)

+      Trusova’s win set off a new version of what I always think is a highly valuable debate about component scores. (It also perpetuated the newer debate about the toll quad jumps might be taking on a teenage or prepubescent girl’s physical health and development, but that’s a whole blog post in itself.) Trusova’s average component score was an 8.43, while Kihira averaged an 8.94, Young You averaged 8.16, Tennell averaged 8.70, and Evgenia Medvedeva (who finished a disappointing 5th) averaged 9.22. The question hanging in this particular competition: should the components of a 15 year old senior “rookie” such as Trusova-- and Young You, for that matter—be within-a-point compatible with three more seasoned competitors, one of whom has logged time on both world and Olympic podiums? Does jump difficulty equate with better skating skills, music interpretation, and performance?     


+      Boikova/Kozlovskii won this event in a way that made me say sorry I doubted you; I won’t make that mistake again.(In other words, they were quite good.)

+      Meanwhile, Tarasova/Morozov almost lost the bronze to the Knierims… which can either be interpreted to mean the American team has really improved in the off-season, or the Russian team faltered in a big bad way. (My interpretation: a little bit of both, but with a decisive lean towards Russian faltering.)

+      And home country Canada had to be equal parts disappointed with Moore-Towers/Marinaro’s failure to top the podium, and delighted with Ilyushechkina/Bilodeau’s ability to make such a strong impression with their 5th place GP debut. Ily/Bilo skate like a brand new team that was told: OK you two, every other pair trying to make the 2022 Beijing Olympics has a full year on you…so GET MOVING. Which is true. Which is also to say they already look like a team in the mix as much as any of them.


+      Surprise #3 (remember I said there were at least 3 of them) was, of course, Gilles/Poirier’s upset win over Hubbell/Donohue… their first Grand Prix win in eight seasons, SIXTEEN events, and NINE trips to the podium. And while I still don’t think “Both Sides Now” necessarily tops last year’s “Vincent”, it appears to be excelling at a more accessible level, if that makes sense.

+      It was a noteworthy treat to get an apples-to-apples (or at least, Gala to Honeycrisp) study in free dance when both Popova/Mozgov and Lajoie/Lagha skated back to back with their “Bohemian Rhapsody” programs. Who wore it better? Advantage La/La, who scored 5 points above Pop/Moz and finished the day two placements higher.

+      One more note about music, which comes with one more slight change of heart: I was thrilled when I heard Fear/Gibson were taking on a Madonna medley this year, but was somewhat disappointed to find that the FD was bookended by the same song (“Vogue”). Since I’m reasonably knowledgeable of Madonna’s discography, my mind ran to all the other options: “Holiday”… “Deeper and Deeper”… “Ray of Light”… “Causing a Commotion”… (no, just kidding, the interim between True Blue and Like a Prayer was a lousy part of Madonna History). Using “Vogue” twice? Really? But now that I’ve watched it a couple times, I think it kinda has to be that way for the sake of the ending. “Vogue” has a great, splashy, definitive ending. Not many songs do. (Yeah, I could still make an argument for “Express Yourself”, but the groove on that one is very similar and probably not worth the exchange.) In any case, Fear/Gibson nabbed their first-ever GP medal at SkCan so I doubt they’re looking to re-work anything too drastically at the moment.

Friday, October 25, 2019

2019 Skate Canada International: Previews & Predictions

I love how fast everything starts rolling once the ISU Grand Prix season comes along... even if it sends bloggers like me into a tailspin at times!

Here are some guesses for the action in Kelowna, B.C. this weekend: 


GOLD: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
SILVER: Gilles/Poirier (CAN)
BRONZE: Hawayek/Baker (USA)

Let’s be honest-- I’m pretty much going by world rank here. If you read my Skate America recap, and/or followed my Twitter feed, you know I’m not yet a fan of H/D’s free dance this season. But, barring a skating-world disaster, they’ll win this one. To be honest, I’m not yet a full-blown fan of the new Gilles/Poirier “Both Sides Now” FD either (after having seen it at the Autumn Classic last month), but I’m required to cut them some slack because I’m not sure how they can top their “Vincent” FD from last season. On the other hand, I DID enjoy Hawayek/Baker’s FD when I caught it at Nebelhorn Trophy (Sharp!! I wrote in my notes). So don't miss that!

Eyes on: Marjorie Lajoie/Zachary Lagha of Canada, the young’uns (18 and 20) and current World Junior Champs, making their GP debut on home ice this weekend. 


GOLD: Alexandra Trusova (RUS)
SILVER: Rika Kihira (JPN)
BRONZE: Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS)

Dang, does this SkCAN ladies field make last week’s impressive ladies roster look like amateur night or what? Notice how I don’t have Bradie Tennell (SkAM’s silver medalist) on the podium—that’s because I think she’ll do very well to place 4th or 5th here. Same thing with reigning Olympic Silver Medalist/ 2017 World Champion Medvedeva. Last year was a “rebuilding” season for her; she looks better and better with each event. Still, stacked against one young lady bearing multiple consistent quads (Trusova), and one with at least a fairly consistent triple axel (Kihira, who may or may not be introducing a quad this year too), I’m not confident that even a spot-on Medved can win. Again, a medal of any color will be a triumph for the ladies of SkCAN.

Eyes on: Young You, who first made headlines winning the South Korean Nationals at age ELEVEN. Now 15, she’s got two Top 10 World Junior finishes under her cap and makes her GP debut here at SkCAN. (And may be another one attempting a triple axel.)

GOLD: Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)
SILVER: Boikova/Kozlovskii (RUS)
BRONZE: Moore-Towers/Marinaro (CAN)

I haven’t caught a lot of early-season pairs action, so I had to look up the music being used to have at least a vague sense of familiarity… and it appears Tara/Moro (everyone’s favorite blonde & ginger Russian team) are taking on Bolero for their SP. I think that’s as strong a sign as any that their brand of GP hardball isn’t expected to let up anytime soon. I also expect the Russian teenager team (Boi/Koz) to capture silver over M-T/M, who remain a reliable team… if not necessarily one that’s still improving.

Eyes on: The new Canadian partnership of Ilyushechkina/Bilodeau; she was with Dylan Moscovitch until last he retired last year, and Bilodeau was partnered with Julianne Seguin until July 2018. Together, Ilyushodeau already claimed an impressive 3rd at Finlandia Trophy this season. (Does anyone know if Seguin has re-partnered yet? I'd like to see her back in competition too.)

GOLD: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
SILVER: Matteo Rizzo (ITA)
BRONZE: Keiji Tanaka (JPN)

I know, I know… this is the fourth trip Hanyu has made to SkCAN, and so far he’s yet to win anything higher than silver. But like Nathan Chen last weekend, I just don’t see any of the men in this field beating him, even on his worst day. (Apologies to Hanyu if I just jinxed him for the worst upset ever.) And if you’re thinking I wonder what she’s thinking with Tanaka in 3rd; his only GP medal was won FOUR years ago… I admit it’s a risk, but Tanaka’s also coming off a win at the U.S. International Classic. So I haven’t completely lost it… yet.

Eyes on: Nam Nguyen, Nicolas Nadeau, and Roman Sadovsky (ages 21, 22, and 20, respectively), Canada’s representatives at the event, all eager to get on the SkCAN podium for the first time.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Skate America 2019 Recap

Let's take a quick look back at last weekend's Skate America, shall we? 

I kind of felt like no one wanted to even try to challenge Nathan Chen. There were so many missed or popped quads in this discipline, it either makes you appreciate the first-ever pair of quad lutzes landed by Anna Shcherbakova all the more… or it makes you all the more worried for what the women’s event might become if there’s an onslaught of quad jumps.

Glad to see Keegan Messing representing as well as he did (3rd in SP, 4th overall), even if he wasn’t able to perform his free skate well enough to make the podium. 

On the other hand, it was rough to see Michal Brezina down in 11th place overall when just a year ago he was having such a renaissance season (2 silvers on the GP circuit). Alexei Bychenko, too, was tough to watch. I’ve been a big fan of his efforts in recent years, but his free skate performance to Pirates of the Caribbean felt so laborious and tired to me, I was certain he’d recycled it from another season. (He didn’t.)


When Shcherbakova squeaked out a landing, then caught an edge and fell during her SP footwork, I’m sure a lot of people rolled their eyes and wondered what the ShcherbetHype was all about… but it all became clear about 24 hours later. What can you do with a competitor that lands TWO quad lutzes (and everything else she attempts, including six triples) but put her in 1st? We’ll likely get a similar question at Skate Canada this coming week as Alexandra Trusova takes this ice in her senior GP debut.

Shcherbet’s historic performance all but stole the thunder from other medalists, both of whom had extremely impressive skates in their own right. USA’s Bradie Tennell (silver medalist) has two programs this season that showcase her very nicely, and she skated both of them virtually error-free in Las Vegas—but, alas, even her toughest triple-triple combos pale alongside quad-triple combos in terms of base value.

And Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS), now putting the senior in seniors as a Russian woman competing at the ripe old (!!) age of nearly 23, could only snag bronze despite landing three triple axels at SkAM. In her case, lower-than-expected component scores were partially to blame. “She does a lot of posing (rather than complex transitions),” offered Johnny Weir during the NBC coverage. We’ll have to wait until her next GP event (Cup of China) to see if anything changes in terms of her choreography.

Did anyone else feel like they were at U.S. Nationals when Denney/Frazier were completing their Lion King free skate? That’s how significant this virtually clean performance seemed to be from a team that has S T R U G G L E D with injuries, and the ability to gain any level of competitive consistency because of said injuries. Their bronze medal at SkAM—their first GP medal of any kind in three years— came behind the first GP silver medal for Pavliuchenko/Khodykin, and the first GP gold for Peng/Jin. 

Denney/Frazier will get a chance to gain more competitive traction at the GP France in a few weeks.

As with many of you, my predictions that come closest to accurate at SkAM were in ice dance… and even with that, I completely missed the mark for the bronze medal! No complaints on the actual results, though, as Fournier-Beaudry/Sorensen delivered a very enjoyable pair of performances to earn their first-ever GP medal. (This is their first full season competing for Canada; from 2013-18 they represented Denmark.)

While Hubbell/Donohue came in 1st at SkAM overall, Russia’s Stepanova/Bukin won the Free Dance. And while (as usual) I’m no expert on the technical differences between different teams/performances, here’s what leapt to mind as I sat down to string together a few feelings about H/D’s FD to music from the recent remake of A Star is Born

(Hum the McDonalds jingle here)

Bah da bah bah bah… NOT loving it. (At least, not yet.)

I’ve been hot and cold on H/D programs throughout their partnership, and of course it’s early in the season so it may be subject to change anyway. But whether it’s the country groove of “Alibi” (the upbeat portion of the dance), the dialogue snippets from the film (never again, I always say about dialogue as I recall a certain FD to Ghost), or the lack of a gorgeous lift (or ANY lift) during the climactic moments of “Shallow”, I’m just not feeling much of their program in its current state. H/D are competing at Skate Canada this coming weekend, so perhaps we’ll all discuss this on Twitter again in a few days (as many of us did during SkAM).

One more thing about last weekend’s ice dance competition: what stood out for me, aside from those at the top, were Careirra/Ponomarenko’s Spanish-themed FD and Smart/Diaz’s circus-inspired one… the latter of which was charming and inventive (at least, to me), and didn’t get as much Twitter love as I thought it deserved. But it did generate a 4th place finish, which is this Spanish team’s best GP result to date. (Maybe Diaz just needs a different costume to win over some fans?)

Friday, October 18, 2019

SKATE AMERICA 2019: Previews & Predictions

Skate America is in Las Vegas this year, so... cue the "what are the odds" banter!

Except that I don't do odds. I just make my semi-informed predictions, try to provide some information you might not know already, and get on my merry way to Twitter. So let's get to it!

PAIRS (Starts at 4PM Eastern Time Friday)

GOLD: Peng/Jin (CHN)
SILVER: Cain-Gribble/LeDuc (USA)
BRONZE: Pavliuchenko/Khodykin (RUS)

They were silver medalists everywhere they went on the GP circuit last season, including the GP Final… then finished 4th at Worlds. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say gold is within reach at Peng/Jin’s first visit to SkAM. And while my silver/bronze guesses may be reversed in reality, I’m going with Americans in America with hopes that CGLD (my nickname for newlywed Cain-Gribble and her partner) will build on last year’s momentum and improve on last year’s bronze finish here.

EYES ON: Zoe Jones (and partner Christopher Boyadji) of the UK. Because as long as there are people—in this case, a woman—competing at the highest level of this sport in their 30s—in this case, THIRTY-NINE—I’m gonna sing praises all day long.

MEN (Starts at 5:26 PM Eastern Time Friday)
GOLD: Nathan Chen (USA)
SILVER: Dmitri Aliev (RUS)
BRONZE: Jason Brown (USA)

While I don’t know that Chen will bring his full-on “A” game this early (he left a little of it behind when competing the Japan Open a few weeks ago), I think he’ll still walk away with his third consecutive SkAM victory. Aliev has yet to win a GP medal, but he’s had a great start to the season with gold & silver medals at his two “B” events. Could be his time. Brown, meanwhile, hasn’t been at SkAM in 3 years… so I’m really pulling for him to resume his GP medal-winning ways (though from what I’m hearing, he’s still not solid on his quad salchow).

EYES ON: Keegan Messing (CAN). If Brown can’t get to the podium, I hope Messing can. When I watched his SP to Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” early in the season I was taken by how grown he seemed, as if his newlywed status had manifested itself on the ice somehow. But since then, Messing had to endure a dreadful loss as his younger brother was killed in a motorcycle accident. Keegan doesn’t strike me as someone who wears his broken heart on his sleeve, but as a young man in mourning, I can’t help but root extra hard for all the additional growing he has to do right now.

DANCE (Starts at 10:05 PM Eastern Time Friday)
GOLD: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
SILVER: Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)
BRONZE: Zahorski/Guerreiro (RUS)

With the notable exception of 4 Continents (where they finished a surprising 4th behind a surging Chock/Bates), H/D were living their best dance life last season as Romeo & Juliet. This year, they went to the more modern tragic love story found in last year’s A Star is Born OST. (If you know anything about that film, you likely know the “Star is Born” story in itself is anything but modern, but I digress.) They won here last year; I don’t know of a reason to doubt them this time around.

EYES ON: Smart/Diaz (ESP) when they bring Grease to the Rhythm Dance… complete with “Sandy” in the now-legendary black better-shape-up wear of the final scene. 

LADIES (Starts at Midnight Eastern Time Saturday)
GOLD: Anna Shcherbakova (RUS)
SILVER: Elizaveta Tuktumysheva (RUS)
BRONZE: Kaori Sakamoto (JPN)

If you caught my post earlier in the week about Russia’s “A” Team, you know that “Shcherbet” is my nickname for the phenom GP rookie who debuts at SkAM this weekend. And that she’s got a quad lutz in her arsenal. And that her FS dress appears to change colors mid-program like a warp-speed mood ring of the ‘70s. SkAM is Shcherbet’s first big test in the senior-level frozen waters, and while I think she has plenty of artistic development to do (like most 15 year-olds in this sport), the content of her program will likely be strong enough to surpass her slightly more seasoned competitors—including teammate Tuktumysheva, who still brings a triple axel or two to the party.

EYES ON: Karen Chen (USA), who had to sacrifice most of last season to injuries. Now 20 years old and (presumably) healthy, Chen is now balancing training with life as a student at Cornell University. Her preseason included a 4th at Canada’s Autumn Classic. The highest placement she’s received at a GP event was 5th, back in 2015.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


When Act 1 of the 2019-20 figure skating season officially launches with Skate America this coming weekend (YAY!), you might come into it having last seen the sport back in the spring, when the 2019 World Champions were crowned. 

On the other hand, you might be a die-hard fan who’s kept an eye on everything from the Junior Grand Prix to senior-level “B” events since August (which I call skating’s pre-season). 

Or you could be doing well to name any 2018 figure skating Olympian besides Adam Rippon. 

Or, maybe you can ONLY name Rippon, and were reminded of figure skating in the past week because he just put out his memoir. 

However you got here, there are two things you’ll pick up on right away:
1) Sprinkled throughout this fall’s ISU Grand Prix Series are several Russian teenagers that are extremely gifted jumpers.
2)Odds are pretty strong that the gifted Russian teen you see has a first name that starts with “A”.

Because of the eight Russian women planning to compete in the GP’s six different events, HALF of them go by either Alina, Alena, Alexandra, or Anna.

With three of those four being rookies to the international senior ranks, their respective faces, ballerina buns, and tiny-but-mighty skating strengths could be the source of much confusion this year—particularly for anywhere-but-Russia skating fans.

But take heart, I’m here to help! Take a look at my little who’s who, from A-to…A 😀

NAME: Alena Kostornaia 

Online nickname I’ll be using: "Kosto"
Age: 16 (born 8/03)
Height: 4’10 ½”
Current hair color: light brown
Current Free Skate music: Music from Twilight
Biggest titles to date: JGP Final Champion 2018
GP Events: GP France and NHK Trophy
Distinguishing feature on the ice: Triple axel, personality for days

Kosto is a two-time bronze medalist at Russian Nats but snagged a lot of attention just last weekend when she joined the super-elite Women Who Land Triple Axels in International Competition Club (she landed two, actually, on her way to winning gold at Finlandia Trophy). Oh, and the aforementioned Adam Rippon caught her Finlandia performance live and has now proclaimed her to be his “favorite skater”. So, there’s that.

NAME: Anna Shcherbakova 

Online nickname I’ll be using: "Shcherbet" (pronounced sherbet)
(Possibly SPELLED “Sherbet” if I can’t keep my Hs in the right place)
Age: 15 (born 3/04)
Height: 4’11”
Current hair color: medium/dark brown
Current Free Skate music: “Gnossiennes” (Satie) & “The Firebird” (Stravinsky)
Biggest titles to date: Current Russian Nats Champion, Current World Junior Silver Medalist
GP Events: Skate America, Cup of China
Distinguishing feature on the ice: Quad lutz, and THAT DRESS*

*THAT DRESS is the costume most likely to get all the attention at Skate America next weekend… one that ups the ante for the convertible/reversible costume trend by transitioning from blue to red while Shcherbet is mid-spin (and as her music transitions to “Firebird”, non-coincidentally). You can see what I’m talking about in her recent LombardiaTrophy performance (where she won gold). 

NAME: Alexandra Trusova 

Online nickname I’ll be using: Trussy! Nah, I think I’d better stick with what I believe is her actual nickname of “Sasha”.
Age: 15 (born 6/04)
Height: 5’1”
Current hair color: light brown
Current Free Skate music: Game of Thrones
Biggest titles to date: 2018 & 2019 Junior Worlds Champ
GP Events: Skate Canada & Rostelecom Cup
Distinguishing feature on the ice: Multiple (!!) quad jumps.
Much less important but still unique: She reportedly has yet to ever endure a haircut (save for trims), which probably qualifies her ballerina bun as a sort of superpower.

Sasha has been setting “youngest-ever” and “most quads ever” records throughout her tenure in the junior ranks… and she quickly established herself among senior ladies early this season, both with a win at Ondrej Nepela Trophy and a win in both the team and individual portions of the non-sanctioned Japan Open. (In Japan, she blew even more minds by landing FOUR quad jumps. See it here.

NAME: Alina Zagitova

Online nickname I’ll be using: "Zags"
Age: 17 (born 5/02)
Height: 5’2”
Current hair color: medium brown
Current Free Skate music: “The Feeling Begins” (P. Gabriel)/ Lawrence of Arabia
Biggest titles to date: 2018 Olympic Gold Medalist, 2019 World Champion
GP Events: GP France & Rostelecom Cup
Distinguishing feature on the ice: Since she’s by far the member of Russia’s “A” Team with the best hardware—at least, for now— I suspect she can’t help but carry herself with at least a little extra spring in her proverbial step. And her recovery last season from Sophomore Slump to World Champ showcased a surprising amount of resilience. Now we’ll have to wait and see how she fares among her slightly younger, quad-and triple-axel squad teammates.

In the meantime, she’s also distinguishable as the one with the exhibition skate using “Bad Guy” by current spooky pop phenom Billie Eilish.

Will YOU have a favorite “A” by season’s end?
Do you have one already?
Or is your favorite “A” a none-of-the-above Alysa (as in Liu, current U.S. champ who’s still too young to compete on the senior international circuit)?

We’ll get our first look when Anna “Shcherbet” Shcherbakova competes against 11 others at Skate America—which starts THIS FRIDAY!

And as for where I think she’ll end up… you’ll have to come back and check out my preview & predictions for SkAM later this week. See you then--