Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rostelecom Cup in Review… and Oh the Many Ways to Fill That Cup

With all due respect, I’m not going to talk much about the Pairs and Dance events in Moscow last weekend. For the most part, they unfolded as expected. Yes, Charlie White stumbled in the SD, but he and Meryl Davis still won handily. And yes, Savchenko/Szolkowy had (most of) their groove back and defeated Kavaguti/Smirnov, but we all know the real fun will come when these two are competing against Volosohzar/Trankov in the Final.

So… let’s instead get into what some of the single skaters appeared to have in their respective “Cups” of Russia:

Cup of good fortune:
Yuzuru Hanyu
He was sort of in that Jupiter-must-align-with-Mars situation as far as qualifying for the GP Final went… which included winning at CoR, which meant defeating the likes of Abbott (Cup of China winner), Brezina (Skate America winner), and Fernandez (2-time silver medalist this season). And guess what? He pulled it off, despite two falls in his own program. Not bad for a kid young enough to make Justin Bieber look a little old.

Cup of tears:
Brandon Mroz
OK, so he may not have wept publicly. But does Mroz know how to ride the gamut of highs and lows or what? In 2009 he’s a U.S. silver medalist; in 2009-10 he couldn’t compete well to save his life. In late 2010 he soared on the GP circuit; that same season he finished well out of the medals at Nationals. This season he becomes the first-ever on the quad lutz list; this same season he finishes in last place at both his GP assignments! It’s enough to give a guy career whiplash… but on the bright side…he’s due for a positive shift. Maybe at Nationals 2012?

Cup of relief*:
Jeremy Abbott
Hanyu’s not the only recipient of good fortune, as Abbott himself surely knows: he won Cup of China with third place finishes in both the SP and FS, and he won bronze (and qualified for the GP Final) with a fifth place FS finish at CoR. But make no mistake, when it all comes together—as it did with his top-flight SP here—he is right in the mix with the best of them.

*(Yes, I considered “cup of blood from his own hand” but that seemed so tasteless…)

Cup of angst with a dash of never mind:
Javier Fernandez
Three-hundredths of a point—that was the difference between gold and silver in the men’s event. Remember when Fernandez came off the ice with a self-deprecating, universally understood “Aaugh!” after doubling part of his combo in the SP? Turns out it was with good reason: that triple could have easily put him in the winner’s circle a day later, had all other things been equal. But as nice as that win would have been… the important thing was that he’d done enough (with a silver) to go to his first-ever GP Final. Bien hecho, Javier!


Cup of Sweet Components: Mao Asada
Cup of Wuz Robbed pt. 1: Alena Leonova
“Asada’s got history and the component edge”… so I said last week as I guesstimated a favorite for this event. But when I mentioned skaters with a technical advantage, I failed to mention Alena Leonova. My mistake… for while she doesn’t have the triple lutz/triple toe of some of her younger countrywomen, she’s got a reliable 3Toe/3Toe and seems to have much better jumps all around this season. Step-outs and hop-outs of poorly checked landings used to hinder her spunky performances… but not so much now. Yes, she had a fall in her FS here (on a double axel near the program’s end), but she also had twice as many successful triples than Asada. It wasn’t that she wasn’t recognized for this; she had the higher technical score of the two. But Asada out-component-ed her more than she out-techincal-ed Asada. It happens. The good news is that both ladies are in the GP Final.

Cup of wuz robbed pt. 2: Sofia Biryukova
I admittedly wasn’t paying as much attention to this battle as much as the previous one, but if you take a look at Vlad Luchianov’s Commentary, you can see something similar took place in the battle for bronze: one Russian skater, 17 year old Sofia Biryukova, lost the battle for third place against 15 year old teammate Adelina Sotnikova. This, despite a fall on the triple lutz in Sotnikova’s SP, and a fall on the triple flip in the FS (among other things)— while Biryukova’s programs were clean. Yes, Sotnikova’s jumps were slightly more difficult—which is apparently why the two were nearly even on the tech side (with a slight edge from Biryukova). But components saved the day again—this time for Sotnikova, whose scores totaled as much as a three point difference between she and Biryukova… and put the bronze in Sotnikova’s hands, also putting her in 1st alternate position for the GP Final. What Vlad drew attention to in his post is now Sotnikova has been touted by the Russian Skating Federation as the “main hope” of Russian skating at the Sochi Olympics… and the judging at Rostelecom already had the not-so-faint air of someone getting “held up” by the components (read: artistic scores) when their technical skating was subpar. Stay tuned, folks…

Cup of what’s up?: Rachael Flatt & Agnes Zawadzki
In 19 year-old Flatt’s case, the guess is that Stanford’s eating into her training time—while she at least skated clean here, her Firebird FS was lutz-free and lacked a spark. For Zawadzki, my hope is that she’s grown taller since last year (now standing 5’6”) and is still adjusting… darn puberty monsters and all that. But both ladies have been rather painful to watch this GP season, especially knowing what they are (or were once?) capable of.

Cup of tears: Christine Gao
On the other hand, Gao looked quite good at her first GP assignment… but completely fell apart in Moscow, staying soundly in last place throughout. “We’ll get through this… all right?” we heard her coach Brian Orser saying in consolation as she came off the FS nearly crying already. By the time her overall score (of 117) was posted, they were at least trying to make light of the fact that a 117 is what she more likely expects from the free skate alone. Back to the drawing board she goes…

So real quick, here are the senior GP Final entrants:

MEN: Chan, Takahashi, Abbott, Brezina, Fernandez, Hanyu
ALTS: Song, Kozuka, Rippon

LADIES: Tuktamysheva, Asada, Kostner, Suzuki, Czisny, Leonova
ALTS: Sotnikova, Nagasu, Wagner

PAIRS: Volosozhar/Trankov, Savchenko/Szolkowy, Kavaguti/Smirnov, Zhang/Zhang, Takahashi/Tran, Duhamel/Radford
ALTS: M-T/Moscovitch, Bazarova/Larionov, Sui/Han

DANCE: Davis/White, Virtue/Moir, Shibutani/Shibutani, Bobrova/Soloviev, Pechalat/Bourzat, Weaver/Poje
ALTS: Cappellini/Lanotte, Ilinykh/Katsalapov, Tobias/Stagniunas

Next stop (in 2 weeks): Quebec City! But don’t worry, there’s be some blog posts in the interim…

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