Tuesday, October 15, 2019

KNOW YOUR ELITE FIGURE SKATERS, PT 1: Russian Ladies' “A” Team


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--

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

2019 World Figure Skating Championship Predictions: Men and Ice Dance

As of this moment (meaning after the SP), neither of my gold-medal picks are looking like they’ll even make the podium, let alone win the whole thing! So admittedly I’m not approaching part two of my Worlds predictions with a lot of confidence… even though they feature more obvious favorites:

MEN 

GOLD: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
SILVER: Nathan Chen (RUS)
BRONZE: Shoma Uno (JPN)

Finishing in the 4th-6th range: Vincent Zhou (USA), Mikhail Kolyada (RUS), Cha Jun-hwan (KOR)

Finishing in the 7th-9th range: Jason Brown (USA), Alexander Samarin (RUS), Jin Boyang (CHN)

I know I didn’t even mention key names like Keegan Messing (CAN), Kevin Aymoz (FRA), Mateo Rizzo (ITA), and Deniss Vasiljevs (LAT). All four could make splashes here in place of the ones I mentioned. Super-tight times when these gentlemen take the ice for competition these days! But even while still dealing with some degree of injury, Hanyu seems unbeatable to me.

DANCE

GOLD: Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA)
SILVER: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
BRONZE: Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)

Finishing in the 4th-6th range: Chock/Bates (USA), Weaver/Poje (CAN), Sinitsina/Katsalapov (RUS)

Finishing in the 7th-9th range: Gilles/Poirier (CAN), Guignard/Fabbri (ITA), Fear/Gibson (GBR)

Ice dance predictions for the perpetually underschooled (such as myself) continue to be a dicey practice. But where it seems a coin toss could put “the other US team” or “the other Russian team” on the podium just as easy, I’m going with what I know and like better (in the case of Step/Buk) and with I suspect will be a meticulous free dance, in light of the unexpected minor error that made the difference at 4CC (Hub/Don).

And as you might guess if you’ve followed my posts this season, I’d gladly see Gilles/Poirier in a higher place (they’ve never finished higher than 6th at Worlds)… and if my breakout British faves of the season (Fear/Gibson) don’t make the Top 10 with their disco jukebox of fun FD, I might have to chase down a judge and slap them silly with a vintage pair of rainbow suspenders.


That is all. See you on Twitter (@KLBSt8ofSk8)! 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

2019 World Figure Skating Championship Predictions: Pairs and Ladies

Two days ago I was tap-dancing on a stage (with about 40 others) in front of a sold-out crowd on the near north side of downtown Indianapolis… the last of 11 performances of Singin’ in the Rain, which is how I’ve spent a substantial chunk of my time the past several weeks. It will go down as one of my favorite experiences in the 45 years (!!!) that I’ve been doing theater, and I’m eager to tell you all about it. With any luck, some of you will be mildly eager to hear about it. But “it” will have to wait, because THE 2019 WORLD FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS ARE ABOUT TO BEGIN.

PAIRS
GOLD: James/Cipres (FRA)
SILVER: Sui/Han (CHN)
BRONZE: Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)

Finishing in the 4th-6th range: Boikova/Kozlovskii (RUS), Della Monica/Guarise (ITA), Moore-Towers/Marinaro (CAN)

Finishing 7th-9th: Zabiiako/Enbert (RUS), Peng/Jin (CHN), Cain/LeDuc (USA)

This truly feels like Vanessa and Morgan’s time. It has this entire season. I know Sui/Han have a sublime FS (as was unveiled at 4CC), but I also know injuries continue to hinder them… to the point where they’ve barely been seen on the international circuit post- Pyeong Chang. They might come through with the gold—particularly if J/C falter at a critical moment, which they’ve certainly been known to do in the past—but I’m still sticking with hopes for a historic French win.

LADIES 

GOLD: Rika Kihira (JPN)
SILVER: Sofia Samadurova (RUS)
BRONZE: Satoko Miyahara (JPN)

Finishing in the 4th-6th range: Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS), Kaori Sakamoto (JPN), Alina Zagitova (RUS)

Finishing 7th-9th: Elizabet Tursynbaeva (KAZ), Bradie Tennell (USA), Eunsoo Lim (KOR)

Here’s what I want as I make this list: at least SIX medals. Medvedeva for her perseverance this season. Tursynbaeva for finally shaking up her mid-pack status. Sakamoto for making everybody smile when the rest of their day is a trainwreck. Wakaba Higuchi—last year’s World Silver Medalist, who didn’t even make the Worlds cut this time—for still being awesome. Oh, and let’s not forget The Empress Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who looked absolutely Worlds-bound this season… until she wasn’t.

But of course, we only have the three. So I’m predicting one for an outstanding young skater with a consistent triple axel… one for a dynamic rookie to the senior ranks with a consistent everything-else (aka Zagitova through February 2018)… and one for the “whole package” skater who, at all of 20 years of age, would somehow be the podium veteran if my predictions proved correct.

(And given all this… yeah, I’d be extremely surprised if Tennell and Mariah Bell were able to net the U.S. three spots for next year.)

Friday, February 8, 2019

2019 Four Continents Predictions (Pairs and Dance)

PAIRS

GOLD: Sui/Han (CHN)
SILVER: Peng/Jin (CHN)
BRONZE: Kayne/O’Shea (USA)
Dark Horse(s): Moore-Towers/Marinaro (CAN), or any other U.S. team

It probably should be noted that an already small field of competing pairs teams (11) has shrunk even smaller (8) with the absence of the Australian, North Korean, and Japanese teams. That leaves 3 Canadian teams, 3 U.S. teams, and 2 Chinese teams. That’s it! But of those remaining, the Chinese are the most reliable to do well (especially Sui/Han, despite the fact that injuries take them out of half the season more often than not). I’m giving the other podium nod to K/O because they historically have done well at 4CC (including winning it last year)… and I’m hoping for a strong rebound after that heartbreaking missed final lift at Nats.

DANCE
GOLD: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
SILVER: Weaver/Poje (CAN)
BRONZE: Gilles/Poirier (CAN)
Dark Horse: Chock/Bates (USA)


Hawayek/Baker won this last year—and they’ll be competing this year—but last year most of the bigger names were bypassing 4CC while they prepped for their Olympic close-up. My choice for bronze is more of a sentimental one; G/P seem to get outscored technically on a regular basis, but DANG do I enjoy their Vincent FD this season.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

2019 Four Continents Predictions: Ladies and Men

Once again I didn’t get an analysis of the last event I posted about (U.S. Nats) posted before the next big figure skating event (Four Continents Championship/4CC) was begging our collective attention.

At least this time I kind of have a good excuse. My current state of blog-post-pokiness has increased since early January because that’s when rehearsals started for a local production of Singin’ in the Rain… and I made it into the cast! Just in the ensemble, mind you—something I’ve done many times before—but it’s special to me for many reasons. Mostly because I turned 50 last August, and will be tap-dancing on stage among a cast that is largely half my age, and the last time I got to tap on stage I was… um… about half my age! Also because this is my first time at a new theater (new to me; the theater has been around 60 years or so, I think). Also because the show is based on one of my favorite films of all time! So anyway, we were learning choreography in January and are “putting it all together” in February (with performances in March). It’s great fun, but if you’ve ever been in a stage production of any kind you know it takes a LOT of time.

Fortunately, though, the week leading to opening night—also known as Tech Week, but better described as Hell Week—doesn’t come till the end of February, somewhere between 4CC and Worlds. (Whew.) Which brings me to the event at hand this week!

LADIES
GOLD: Rika Kihara (JPN)
SILVER: Kaori Sakamoto (JPN)
BRONZE: Mai Mihara (JPN)
Dark Horses: Bradie Tennell (USA) & Lim Eun-soo (KOR)

There are 22 ladies representing 12 different countries this time, yet three ladies from ONE country (Japan) are likely to dominate. It’s not a slam dunk—several competitors have the goods to spoil that sweep, including the two I mentioned above. And here’s the crazy thing: SO good are the three representing Japan this time, it’s hard to find one who’s completely dominating. Sakamoto won Japan Nationals, for instance, but if Kihara hits her triple axels at 4CC, look out. I’ve actually put her in front here as a litmus test as to where I may put her when it’s time to make Worlds predictions.

MEN
GOLD: Shoma Uno (JPN)
SILVER: Cha Jun-wan (KOR)
BRONZE: Vincent Zhou (USA)
Dark Horses: Keegan Messing (CAN), Kozuki Tomono (JPN), Jason Brown (USA)

Uno doesn’t seem to skate clean all that often, but what he gets done is often extraordinary nonetheless, putting him right up there with Nathan Chen and (of course) Yuzuru Hanyu. But both of them tend to beat him when going head to head, and neither of them are here—which should also leave room on the podium for both Zhou and South Korea’s breakout star of the season (Cha).


Pairs and Dance predictions for 4CC coming shortly!

Friday, January 25, 2019

2019 U.S. Figure Skating Predictions (Dance and Men's)

DANCE PREDICTIONS

GOLD: Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue
SILVER: Madison Chock/Evan Bates
BRONZE: Kaitlyn Hawayek/Jean Luc-Baker
PEWTER: Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons

In a season that has been without the Shibutanis and Chock/Bates (and continues to be without the former), it’s been a bit of a mystery how this year’s podium would shake out and who might be new to it. And as excited as I am to see Hawayek/Baker finally get there, I’m putting them behind C/B out of some concern that H/B might crack a little under the podium pressure. Also because I saw C/B’s debut of their free dance a few weeks back, and yeah… they’ll be plenty competitive.

MEN'S PREDICTIONS

GOLD: Nathan Chen
SILVER: Vincent Zhou
BRONZE: Jason Brown
PEWTER: Andrew Torgashev


Nathan may be at Harvard now, but his LDCR (Long Distance Coaching Relationship) with Rafael Arutyunyan is going GREAT so far. So an upset seems unlikely… but of course, Zhou should never be counted out completely (though his technique/under-rotation issues of earlier in the season had better be a thing of the past for that to happen). Brown has been working his way back from last year’s crushing 6th place finish all season long, so bronze definitely seems within his reach even without a solid quad. As for who comes after that… well here’s the thing. In deciding between three relative rising stars—Tomoki Hiwatashi, Andrew Torgashev, and Alexsei Krasnozhon—I initially gave Krasnozhon the nod for the 4th place medal. But when I went to type out my initial list of predictions, I kept typing “Torgashev”. So I took it as a sign. We shall see. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Predictions (Pairs and Ladies)

2019 U.S. Senior Nationals are here… who will reign supreme in the always extra-intriguing post-Olympic season? I’m starting my guesses with the two disciplines getting underway on Thursday 1/24…

PAIRS PREDICTIONS

GOLD: Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea
SILVER: Alexa Scimeca-Knierim/Chris Knierim
BRONZE: Deanna Stellato-Dudek/Nate Bartholomay
PEWTER: Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc

13 pairs are vying for the podium this year. Who’s got a shot near the top? Honestly, several of them. While pairs continue to be anything but the U.S.’s strongest discipline (as evidenced by the fact that only ONE team will represent at 2019 Worlds), around 5 or 6 teams are pretty evenly matched. Honestly, any of the teams listed above could win… or even a team that isn’t (Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov, who won Junior Nats last year and competed the GP circuit this past fall).

LADIES PREDICTIONS

GOLD: Bradie Tennell
SILVER: Mariah Bell
BRONZE: Alysa Liu
PEWTER: Starr Andrews

No Wagner or Nagasu this time… and as of earlier this month, no Chen, Gold or Wang. It’s definitely a year for new (or newer) athletes to make a move. But Tennell, while no longer the “never-miss” champ, is still more than reliable enough to lead this year’s pack. But she’s not without legit challengers, so I’m thinking of Bell’s NHK free skate, Andrews at last year’s Nats, and Liu’s triple axels (yes, she’s got a consistent triple axel) when I list them for filling out the rest of the podium.


And while I haven’t had a chance this year to check out YouTube to get acquainted with this year’s rookies aside from Liu, I’m keeping my eyes open for Megan Wessenberg (6th at Skate America in the fall) as a potential dark horse. 

I'll post my Men and Dance predictions Friday!