Thursday, November 15, 2018

Rostelecom Cup 2018 Preview/Predictions

Here's what I've got for ROSTELECOM CUP predictions: 

GOLD: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
SILVER: Keegan Messing (CAN)
BRONZE: Mikhail Kolyada (RUS)

I wasn’t really expecting to predict Messing for another podium spot, but after looking over the field I’d say he has a very good shot at it.

EYES ON: Germany’s Paul Frentz, if only to see what he’s got up his sleeve after slaying the Twitterverse during the Winter Olympics with his Paul-Anka-Swings-“Wonderwall” SP.

GOLD: Alina Zagitova (RUS)
SILVER: Sofia Samodurova (RUS)
BRONZE: Mako Yamashita (JPN)

I’m looking to Japan to break up a Russian sweep here, naturally.

EYES ON: Gracie Gold. Because she’s on her way back. That is all.

GOLD: Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)
SILVER: Efimova/Korovin (RUS)
BRONZE: Pavliuchenko/Khodykin (RUS)

On the other hand, a Russian pairs sweep looks downright unavoidable.

EYES ON: Whoever you like—everyone at this event has already competed once before in the GP this season

GOLD: Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)
SILVER: Hurtado/Khaliavin (ESP)
BRONZE: Carriera/Ponomorenko (USA)

Yes, I really think it’s possible for Spain to get their first-ever GP dance medal here in what’s a relatively light field (Russians included). 

EYES ON: Allison Reed—the younger sister of Chris & Kathy Reed—now representing Lithuania with third dance partner Saulius Ambrulevicius. She has previously represented Georgia and Israel.    

GP Helsinki & NHK Trophy: when What Just Happened?? meets Here's What Happened!!

Since I didn’t get to post my GP Finland recap ahead of NHK… and now we’re less than 12 hours from the start of the next event… here is a single post combining thoughts from the past two weeks. The first list stems from the often-treacherous debut of GP Finland; the second is borne of the excitement from NHK Trophy.

GP Finland: Six What just happened?? Moments that sometimes felt like hours

1)      Don’t go with the recent medalists, I said… unlikely that Michal Brezina and Cha Jun-hwan will be factors with Mikhail Kolyada and Jin Boyang here, I said. BWAHAHAHA! Such a fool I was. Unfollow me now.

2)      The Ladies SP… ugh. From Rika Hongo’s struggles at the bottom the pack to Angela Wang’s popped flip to OGM Alina Zagitova’s popped loop to Kaori Sakamoto’s TWO falls (and the tears that followed immediately after the program was finished)... rough stuff from several skaters we’re invested in by now. (One bright spot, though, was Loena Hendrickx getting the 3rd best SP score after succumbing to the flu at Skate America.)

3)      The Ladies FS… while higher in quality overall… came with some head-scratchers of scores. Particularly those of Stanislava Konstantinova—who many on my Twitter feed (including me) felt should have finished well behind a rebounding (and, thank goodness, joyous) Sakamoto… and a ridiculously high lead, overall, for a good-but-not-great Zagitova. Someone on Twitter snarked that GP Finland might be better called Rostelecom Cup West after all that (Hee!)

4)      Stellato/Bartholomay in the pairs FS. I love Stellato’s renaissance story (comeback seems the wrong word, two years in), and I want them to make that Nationals podium. But then they get to Helsinki and skate with all the SBS wipeouts and throw jump stepouts of… well… any other US pairs team. COME ON you two. I don’t want any more kiss’n’cry shots where Deanna’s body language is wailing I gave up being a director of anesthetics for THIS?

5)      But then again, the Helsinki pairs event in general left much to be desired. Those that did better (somewhat) with their SBS jumps—and, subsequently, podium placement-- didn’t draw me into their programs; those that finished somewhere in the middle either left me groaning at the last minute (looking at that botched lift, Ziegler/Kiefer!) or wondering exactly when the North Korean federation is going to spring for new programs and costumes for their only high-profile team (why French easy listening music two years straight for Ryom/Kim? Why???).

6)      Finally, a different, better sort of What just happened?? Showed up when Yuzuru Hanyu threw down a 4Toe, then stepped directly into a triple axel for a whole new FS jump sequence experience. Thanks for saving the day, Hanyu-san.

And Notes of a Musical Nature…
The Good: Hable con ella (soundtrack) by Alberto Iglesias, which was Jin Boyang’s free skate music and I liked it enough at the time to take note of it.

The Bad: Rachmaninov’s “Prelude in C# Minor,” which is Andrei Lazukin’s FS music and is also known as Bells of Moscow which is also known as That Awful Dreary Music that Sucked the Life Out of Mao Asada’s Skating Back in 2010.

Then, from NHK Trophy only a week later: Six Here’s What Happened…! Moments

1)      The LADIES! Almost everything that was wrong with Helsinki was made right in Hiroshima. Triple axels (including one in combination)? Check. A podium built entirely on exquisite skating? Check. Future forces to be reckoned with in Mai Mihara, Eunsoo Lim, and Mariah Bell (who finally went virtually clean in her free skate)? Triple check. Alena Leonova, competing relatively well and finishing 7th in her ELEVENTH GP season? Check. Even Angela Wang managed a finish here that was nearly 10 points better than Helsinki. (Thank God, I imagine she’s saying…)

2)      The MEN... um, barely. There was Shoma (Uno), and there was Sergei (Voronov), and… nine others. 30 points separated silver medalist Voronov from bronze medalist Mateo Rizzo, and HALF the pack didn’t even break the 200 mark. Yikes. One unexpected bright side to this: Alexander Johnson, who typically struggles with jump content (and did in Hiroshima as well) but shines artistically, proved a standout among the guys which much less to offer when the jumps go AWOL. Hopefully, there’s a Japanese branch of his fan club started by now…

3)      Hawayek/Baker! The US team that has yet to finish on the US podium nabbed their first-ever GP victory as they unveiled new programs showcasing their growth and grace. Perhaps they’re not quite ready to make the crowd say “Papadakis and Cizer-WHO?” (for they were supposed to compete here, you see), but I certainly think they made their mark.

4)      Yellow pants! On Deniss Vasilijevs! For his SP! It’s what we needed that we didn’t even know we needed (possibly paraphrasing Ashley Wagner there). But perhaps someone should let Maxim Trankov know, in case he’s missing his… :) 

5)      A U.S. pair took bronze! No, really! Congrats Alexa and Chris!

6)      The British Breakouts (aka ice dancers Fear/Gibson ALMOST got a bronze on their 2nd GP outing! Incredible!

And as for Notes of a Musical Nature, we had…
The Good (“Papa was a Rolling Stone” by The Tempations, used by Vasilijevs for his SP… I’ve been waiting for someone to use “Papa” forever so I’m a little biased)…
And The Bad, which isn’t even really “bad” in this case… I’m speaking of Lim Eun-Soo’s use of “Chicago” for her FS. Simply stated, her Somewhere in Time SP plays gloriously for a 15 year old such as she… and “Chicago” does not. It’s great music, and the choreo from Akiko Suzuki surely helps, but for now, Lim looks in this program like a little girl trying on Mom’s stilettos and finding they’re nowhere near as fun to walk around in as she thought they’ be.  

Thursday, November 8, 2018

NHK 2018 Preview/Predictions

Here are my NHK picks for 2018!

GOLD: Shoma Uno (JPN)
SILVER: Dmitri Aliev (RUS)
BRONZE: Sergei Voronov (RUS)

Uno was far from peak form at Skate Canada, but he still won by over 12 points. I’m looking over those in the NHK field with the most reliable quad power, and… well, I guess I’ve got them in 2nd and 3rd. (Aliev I’m basing more on last season’s efforts, since I haven’t seen him lately.) I’d love to put Vincent Zhou up there, but we all saw how he was “rewarded” for his efforts at Skate America a few weeks ago…
EYES ON: Kevin Reynolds (CAN), because he announced on Twitter on 10/31 that he had to put together a new FS due to “an ongoing dispute with one of the shared rightsholders of (his old FS) music”. Said music was selections from the video game Ni No Kuni. Wikipedia has his new FS as selections from the video games Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. I sense a theme here.

GOLD: Satoko Miyahara (JPN)
SILVER: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS)
BRONZE: Rika Kihira (JPN)

This one is TOUGH. If Empress Tukta lands one or both triple axels, her odds of victory go much higher. And, Kihira has landed triple axels in international competition too… in fact, she was the first woman to land a 3ax/3Toe, at last year’s JGP Final. I’m going to stay with Miyahara here, as she proved at SkAM she’s even stronger now than she was last season… but her work is cut out for her.

EYES ON: Lim Eun-soo, a 15 year old up-and-comer from South Korea whose FS (to selections from Chicago) was choreographed by none other than Akiko Suzuki.

GOLD: Zabiiako/Enbert (RUS)
SILVER:  Moore-Towers/Marinaro (CAN)
BRONZE: Peng/Jin (CHN)

Zab/Enbert won GP Helsinki a week ago. That’s pretty much the only reason I’ve got them on top. They don’t do anything for me, but they seem to be more consistent than others. (Can you tell I’m just marking time until we can see James/Cipres again?)

EYES ON: Kayne/O’Shea. Mostly because I’d really like to see a US pair shine early in the season, and we’re running out of options. (But beware… made a coaching change to Dalilah Sappenfield a mere two months ago.)

GOLD: Zahorski/Guerriero (RUS)
SILVER: Hawayek/Baker (USA)
BRONZE: Parsons/Parsons (USA)

This was supposed to be the GP season debut of reigning World Champs (and OSMs) Papdakis/Cizeron, but unfortunately they were forced to scratch from NHK a few days ago due to a back injury on Cizeron’s part. With no one else of quite their caliber competing here this weekend, my guess is that it’s Zahorski/Guerriero’s title to lose. But in any case, I’d better see reigning Four Continents Champs Hawayek/Baker on that GP podium. (They haven’t been there in four years, believe it or not.)

EYES ON: Misato Komatsubara/Tim Koleto, a married dance team representing Japan in only their second GP appearance. (Yes, Koleto is American-born and represented the US as a single skater until 2012.)

Friday, November 2, 2018

2018 Grand Prix Helsinki: Preview and Predictions

Don’t look for Cup of China this GP season… it’s a Cup of Finland instead!

(OK, don’t look for Cup of Finland either; the official title I believe is GP Helsinki.)

Here’s who to look for…

PAIRS (starts Friday at 9AM Eastern)

GOLD: Zabiiako/Enbert (RUS)
SILVER: Ryom/Kim (PRK)
BRONZE: Stellato/Bartholomay (USA)

Could North Korea emerge from Helsinki with a first-ever GP medal? Aside from Zabiiako/Enbert being favored to win here, everything seems up-for-grabs. I therefore am taking a calculated stab in the dark to say Ryom/Kim will reach the GP podium in their very first try. Americans for bronze? I say why not.

Eyes on: Della Monica/Guarise (ITA), because they did much better at Worlds than Ryom/Kim and might make my prediction look completely ridiculous.

LADIES (starts Friday at 10:54 AM Eastern)

GOLD: Alina Zagitova (RUS)
SILVER: Kaori Sakamoto (JPN)
BRONZE: Stanislava Konstantinova (RUS)

It would appear to be Alina Z’s event to lose, though to be honest I’m about as interested in watching her take on Carmen (as she’s doing this season) as I am in watching another political ad on the eve of the election. Sakamoto seems a pretty good lock for silver here. Bronze is tougher, but I’m calling it for Konstantinova based on a fairly solid “B” season (4th at Finlandia; 3rd at Ondrej Nepela). Angela Wang (7th at 2018 Nats) will represent the US this weekend.

Eyes on: Loena Hendrickx (BEL), because I said to do the same at Skate America but then she got sidelined by the flu. Here’s to second chances. (And maybe a GP medal.)

DANCE (starts Friday at 12:47 PM Eastern Time)

GOLD: Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)
SILVER: Guignard/Fabbri (ITA)
BRONZE: McNamara/Carpenter (USA)

Both my silver and bronze picks made very good impressions at Skate America a couple weeks ago (with the latter just missing bronze), but Stepanova/Bukin at Finlandia Trophy made a GREAT impression with their bluesy FD to Beth Hart’s “Am I the Only One”.

Eyes on: Spain’s Hurtado/Khaliavin. Hurtado previously paired with Adrian Diaz, who finished 5th last week in Canada with current partner Olivia Smart. It’s been a couple years now since the Hurtado/Diaz split, so perhaps there’s no rivalry whatsoever at this point. But it’s ice dance, so I’m gonna assume the teams are keeping each other’s scores closely monitored…

MEN (starts Saturday at 6:45 AM Eastern Time)

GOLD: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
SILVER: Mikhail Kolyada (RUS)
BRONZE: Jin Boyang (CHN)

Despite the fact that recent GP medalists Michal Brezina and Cha Jun-hwan are competing here in Helsinki this weekend, I’d be surprised if either was a factor against a field that includes reigning OGM Hanyu and two-time World Bronze Medalist Jin. Alexei Krasnozhon represents the U.S. here in his senior GP debut.

Eyes on: Andrei Lazukin (RUS), mostly because I think Elizaveta Tutkamysheva has predicted he’ll win, and I want to know why.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Six Takeaways from 2018 Skate Canada International

Here's your half-dozen takeaways from 2018 Skate Canada International...

+      Liza comes through with the win, but just barely
Elizaveta Tuktumysheva landed a humdinger of a triple axel in the SP. She also crashed to the ice on the same jump in the FS. In an event with such strong competition at the top, “The Empress” needed both of those 3As to slam dunk her way to first place all-around. Since she didn’t manage that, she had to settle for victory by less than half a point over newcomer Mako Yamashita. Of course none of that matters when you’re collecting GP points…

+      Speaking of that newcomer…
We know the pool of talented skating ladies runs deep both in Russia and in Japan, but with Yamashita’s clutch performance—senior GP debut, poised to medal, skating last—the 15 year-old who already performs a convincing Madame Butterfly FS has given notice that she’s ready to take on the more seasoned athletes (which, somehow, 20 year-old Satoko Miyahara has already become). Yamashita will get a chance to qualify for the Grand Prix Final when she competes at Rostelecom Cup in a couple of weeks.

+      The “Best Week Ever” award goes to…
Put it this way: Keegan Messing got engaged, then ended up in first place after the SP at his home country event, then held his own well enough (while skating last, no less) to claim his first-ever GP medal, a silver, at age 26. Not too shabby for a guy who jumps and spins like a powder keg… but also tends to look like his fingers have been glued together whenever he takes the ice.

+      James/Cipres take the reins!!
And speaking of late bloomers—it’s taken eight seasons and six trips to the podium, but Vanessa “Best in Unitard” James and Morgan “Please Come to a Complete Ending Pose Next Time” Cipres finally got some GP gold when they won Skate Canada this year. (Moore-Towers/Marinaro, who I predicted for gold, settled for bronze in another extremely close points battle with China’s Peng/Jin.)

+      Near the top in Ice Dance: Something old (and Russian), something new (and French), and something Canadian bouncing back in starry, starry blue

While Gilles/Poirier nearly took themselves out of the medals with their boards-skimming-in-a-bad-way Rhythm Dance, another team of veterans—Sinitsina/Katsalapov, who’ve only made it to Worlds once, three seasons ago—showed up in 2015 form and actually outskated Hubbell/Donohue in the FD. Meanwhile, the #2 French team of Lauriault/LeGac proved the best of the pop-infused FDs as their Bruno Mars medley took them to a solid 4th place finish. They had previously finished no higher than 6th in a GP event. (Perhaps they got a mental boost from a sort of “home ice” advantage; Lauriault was actually born in the competition’s host city of Laval, Quebec and obtained French citizenship just in time for the recent Winter Olympics.)

+     Last but not least, some Notes of a Musical Nature…
o       The good (Wakaba Higuchi’s SP to “Energia” by Sofi Tukker, which I ordered from the library shortly after hearing it)
o       The bad (Mako Yamashita’s SP, which is a surprisingly irritating version of “Una Voce Poco Fa (Barber of Seville)”) 
o       And the please don’t do that! (Boikova/Kozlovskii’s FS, which takes the perfectly lovely Pas de Deux from act II of The Nutcracker and interrupts it partway through for an excerpt from the Snow Queen’s music from earlier in the same ballet. Just… no.)

Friday, October 26, 2018

Skate Canada International 2018: Preview/Predictions

The new Olympic cycle might just be impacting Canada more than any other major player in elite figure skating. Patrick Chan retired, Duhamel/Radford retired, Virtue/Moir retired (for now?? again???), and reigning world champion Kaetlyn Osmond is on a break, undecided about her future in the sport. All have long been dominating forces at Skate Canada International for obvious reasons. Can this season’s “home team”—four members of which are making their senior GP debut here—find a place on their respective SCI podiums?

In almost all disciplines, I think the answer is still yes. Here are my predictions. 

MEN (Starts Friday, 3:52 Eastern)
Gold: Shoma Uno (JPN)
Silver: Kazuki Tomono (JPN)
Bronze: Keegan Messing (CAN)

It’s hard to dispute Uno’s place as the favorite this year… a reigning Olympic and World Silver Medalist who won SkCAN last year, and already won once internationally this season (Lombardia Trophy). Tomono, on the other hand, is really known best at this point for one thing: his super-solid West Side Story free skate that put him in the Top 5 at last year’s Worlds at age 19. So consider this prediction a calculated risk on my part. Canada’s (or really, Alaska’s) own Messing might very well claim that silver spot, as he seems to have a new lease on his skating life since making Canada’s 2018 Olympic team. But there are still enough jumping inconsistencies in his game for me to put him behind Tomono here.

Eyes on: Jason Brown. Not only to support this new phase of his career (training under Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson), and see how he’s progressing… but to marvel at how he looks without his trademark ponytail. (Or to mourn the passing of said ponytail, for some)

LADIES (Starts Friday, 8:45 Eastern)
Gold: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS)
Silver: Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS)
Bronze: Wakaba Higuchi (JPN)

You’ve probably heard that reigning OSM Medvedeva left Eteri Tutberidze’s camp over the summer and, like Jason, now trains with Orser & Wilson in Canada. So she might not yet be at top form as she continues with the transition. But even if she was, I’m not sure I could resist putting Tukta on top… Miss Everything of 2015 has roared back to life with triple axels galore and victories both at Finlandia Trophy and Lombardia Trophy (even though said triple axels got negative GOEs). She’s also become a force of fluent English wit and sass on Twitter, whether she’s being self-deprecating or calling out racist Russian journalists. I’m rooting for both of these young women in a big way!

Eyes on: Daria Panenkova, a 15 year old Russian (and another recent Tutberidze student gone elsewhere) in her first of two Senior Grand Prix events this season.

PAIRS (Starts Friday, 2:27 Eastern)
Gold: Moore-Towers/Marinaro (CAN)
Silver: James/Cipres (FRA)
Bronze: Peng/Jin (CHN)

M-T/M are probably the Canadians Most Likely To (win gold), so I hope they’re able to handle the home team pressure here as it may prove a good indicator of future situations, such as Worlds ’19.

Eyes on: Boikova/Kozlovskii, a young Russian pair that held their own at Finlandia Trophy and Lombardia Trophy earlier in the season (making the podium each time).

DANCE (Starts Friday, 7:10 Eastern)
Gold: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
Silver: Gilles/Poirier (CAN)
Bronze: Sinitsina/Katsalapov (RUS)

G/P’s free dance—to “Vincent (Starry Starry Night)”—is flat-out exquisite. I don’t know how much of a run they can honestly give H/D since they tend to score so much lower in general (6th at Worlds this year compared to H/D’s 2nd, for example), but I can’t wait to see them try.

Eyes on:
Lauriault/LeGac (FRA), Skoptcova/Aleshin (RUS), and Smart/Diaz (ESP), all of whom will be free dancing to the work of specific pop/rock stars (Bruno Mars, Michael Jackson, and The Beatles, respectively).

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Six Takeaways from 2018 Skate America

I came up with a half dozen of the happenings at this year’s Skate America that I found the most noteworthy. (Actually I came up with a longer list, but whittled it down for your sake and mine! Here’s what I’ve got, in no particular order:

+  East Coast Chen. There was plenty of noise made (at least on Twitter) about Nathan Chen’s mighty head of hair, but it’s just as well that Kevin Reynolds proved once again he forever wins that contest. For of course it was Chen’s jumping prowess and marvelously constructed/executed programs that deserved the most attention. His efforts at SkAM were about what I’d have counted on IF he was still training on the west coast, and IF he hadn’t fared poorly at Japan Open a few weeks ahead of SKam. But he’s Nathan, so I’m learning to expect the unexpected.

+  Fifth Place?? I’d picked Vincent Zhou to win bronze at SkAM, and IMHO he did at least that well. But as anyone knows that was watching, the newly-turned 18 year old got dinged HARD for jumps that were deemed underrated as per new standards laid down by the ISU. Despite landings that commentators and spectators alike insisted to be “clean”, Zhou got UR calls on SIX different jumping passes total (2 in the SP; 4 in the FS) and most calls came on his biggest point-getters. The result was a finish that was .06 away from 4th, and .69 away from 3rd. Yes, it’s only SkAM and not Nationals or Worlds, but in terms of racking up points in hopes of making the GP Final? He probably can’t now. No matter how well he might do at his next event (NHK), the likelihood of making the Final with a 5th—worth only 7 points compared to 11 for a 3rd and 13 for a 2nd—is pretty low.

+  Now Hiring: One pairs coach. As SkAM unfolded we learned that current U.S. champs Scimeca-Knierim/Knierim had parted ways with Aljona Savchenko, who’d begun coaching them over the summer. How much that affected their overall performance is a matter of opinion I suppose; on the other hand, it’s a matter of fact that Cain/LeDuc were the U.S. team on the podium this time.

+  Podium so close… Senior GP rookie dance team McNamara/Carpenter finished only .05 (!!!) behind SkAM Bronze Medalists Zahorski/Guerreiro.

+  And podium so close… until it wasn’t. While it’s a shame that Julian Yee had a classic case of Coming Undone After Doing So Well—3rd in the SP, but 9th in the FS and 7th overall—it’s exciting to know so early in the season what he’s capable of. He’ll get another chance to represent Malaysia to new figure skating heights at Rostelecom Cup in a few weeks.

+  Last but not least, some Notes of a Musical Nature…
-- The Good: Kaori Sakamoto’s SP, which is titled “From My First Moment” but is actually Eric Satie’s Gymnopedie #1 with lyrics and vocals (the latter courtesy of Charlotte Church). Can you name a U.S. champion figure skater that utilized Satie’s instrumental during her competitive career? (If so, leave a comment)
-- The Bad: Alexei Bychenko’s “Requiem for a Dream” FS. Because honestly, I could have gone the rest of my life without hearing that in competition again.
-- The HUH?: Michal Brezina, with a free skate that started with Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man” but jumped all too soon into ACDC’s “Thunderstruck”… definitely an oil/water combination to me, even though he came away with his first GP medal in four years.