Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Beer, Brats, & Skate America: A Milwaukee Roundup (Ladies & Pairs)

As a figure skating supporter who lives in the U.S., there’s so much to love when the ISU Grand Prix delivers Skate America: It’s the first “A” event of the season! It features the largest crop of American skaters we’re likely to see until Nationals! It’s right here in the States, so one doesn’t have to alter their sleep habits just to watch it live!

And as with many host countries, the U.S. usually brings in a decent medal haul with its own event—five medals in ’13, five in ’14, and five this year, to be specific with recent showings. Some of those medals were definitely more expected than others. A closer look follows:

+     I was very impressed with the new U.S. team of Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillian (finishing 8th), and not just because they used Sara Bareilles’ stunning ballad “Gravity” for their SP. Put it this way: given that they nailed all their SBS triples in a major competition with a mere three days’ notice, does this mean we should totally re-think the way USFS does pairs GP assignments? Hmmmm...

+     Another U.S. pair, national bronze medalists Tarah Kayne/Daniel O’Shea, had a hot & cold FS (finishing 6th overall)... but kudos for trying their first-ever throw quad salchow! (As you might guess by their placement, Kayne fell on the under-rotated attempt.)

+      Each discipline at SkAM had unexpected highlights this year; in pairs, it was Canada’s Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau (who won bronze). Just 18 and 20, respectively, SegBilo finished an impressive 8th at Worlds but were still something of a revelation in their FS to an orchestrated version of Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale”. No quad twists or throw triple axels yet... just great skating and great chemistry!

+      Another unexpected highlight: Wenjing Sui (of Sui/Han)’s angular new haircut—which proved a perfect accessory to their already-impressive Samson & Delilah FS. Sui/Han won easily; one of only three predictions I nailed this time.

+      And while current U.S. champs Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim seemed to buckle under that at-the-top pressure in their Elizabeth: the Golden Age FS, they did have that fab SP (to Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”) which put them on top in the first place... and was largely responsible for them claiming silver when all was said and done.

+      Gracie Gold (winning silver) did a lot better than I thought she would, given the stiff competition she faced from the usual suspects (Russia, Japan) and her own sub-par performance at the Japan Open a few weeks ago. From her Louboutin (black w/peekaboo red) SP dress to the pair of crisp new programs she’s got for this season, Gold looks to be in great shape as she sets out to achieve all those goals mentioned by Terry Gannon and the Shimmer Twins (Tara & Johnny) on NBC: GP Final, re-claiming her U.S. crown, etc. Yes, it’s being said by some that she “gave away” the title by doubling a critical jump in both performances, but until I see this become a reliable habit of hers—think Angela Nikodinov—I’m not fussing about it.

+      I predicted Japan’s Satoko Miyahara to win, but while she was pretty much “on” throughout this event (with two new programs I thoroughly endorse)... but compared with Russia’s latest showstopper (and SkAM gold medalist) Evgenia Medvedeva, Miyahara’s itty-bitty jumps were not nearly as much to sneeze at. Bronze medal it is!

+      Unexpected highlight #1 from the ladies FS came in the form of 4-foot, 7 ½ -inch Elizabet Tursynbaeva (of KAZ), another itty-bitty presence who skated large enough to finish 4th with her lovely “Papa Can You See Hear Me” FS.

+      Unexpected highlight #2 was Nicole Rajicova, a first-generation American who has been representing her parents’ homeland of Slovakia for several years now. Her SP landed her in last place, but her Dr. Zhivago FS was everything a competitive program should be— content-sturdy, well-paced, elegant, CLEAN (as far as I could tell, anyway), and delivered with a great deal of joy. She finished 5th in the free skate and 7th overall. A fluke? Maybe. But 20 year-old Rajicova was 15th at the most recent Worlds, and way down in 25th  the year before. She sure seems like a skater on the rise, and the ISU must think so as well—she’ll make another GP appearance in France in a few weeks.

+      Both Karen Chen (finishing 5th) and Mariah Bell (8th) did the home country proud in their respective GP debuts. Bell bounced back from 11th in the SP and did NOT fall on her FS triple lutzes as she has in just about every other competition she’s participated in this season, so surely that was a victory in itself for her. Chen apparently expected a podium finish for herself, and saw her 5th place as a disappointment. Sportswriter/resident skating curmudgeon Phil Harsh—oops, I mean Hersh—made a point of this in his SkAM roundup column, applauding her for skipping the platitudes and acknowledging that “results matter”. Think he had certain past-and-present U.S. skaters in mind when he wrote that? I do.

+      One definite LOWlight of this event, at least for me: Julia Lipnitskaia (finishing 7th in the FS, 6th overall). No, it’s not because of her costume choices—an SP dress that looks like an experiment from back when movies were brought to us in Glorious Technicolor; a FS outfit that someone in the Twitterverse compared to things worn on The Jetsons. It’s not even because her jumps are not what they used to be due to training issues, mental toughness issues, Puberty Monster issues, whatever. It’s because she looks so sad. Like she doesn’t want to be out there. At all. Forget what I said in last week’s post about her possibly being “back in the hunt”... it’s more likely that she and her Elvis music have already left the building.

More on SkAM soon as I turn to the Dance and Men’s event next time! 

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