Thursday, December 10, 2015

Rostelecom and NHK Trophy in Review, Pt. 2 (Men/Dance)

Time to continue this dual recap of Rostelecom Cup and NHK Trophy as we move over to cover the other two disciplines...


            Yuzuru Hanyu—When he came off the ice at the conclusion of a near-perfect pair of NHK performances, coach Brian Orser said “I have no words!” with good reason. All the superlatives you’d typically go with—breathtaking, brilliant, lights-out!—had already been used a number of times on his less perfect skates. How could they have a place now? But since that day, I’ve thought of three “words”—a.k.a. multiple words strung together as sentences:

1) The desire to post his NHK performances to Olympics-only skating fans on Facebook, saying “THIS is why he’s the Olympic Gold Medalist”... but of course that’s kind of silly; it’s hard enough to get performances like this in a relatively minor event, let alone the Olympic stage. That’s why it was special.

2) In fact it’s almost as silly as Hanyu being asked after NHK if he was going to retire now (that he’d skated the perfect competition). Retire?! He just turned 21... an absolute adolescent by today’s skating standards! (Just ask Konstantin Menshov.)

3) The perfection of Hanyu in that competition may not be attained again for a long, loooong time. And that’s okay.

      Russian Roll Call: There’s a lot of talk on the NBC coverage of these events—mostly by Johnny Weir—about Russia’s ongoing search for The Next Plushenko. But isn’t that about as productive as when the U.S. was “searching for the next Kwan”? Michelle and Evgeni (and let’s be honest, Evgeni and Alexei Yagudin) were talents beyond their time. Meaning more than just a particular era. Irreplaceable. Sure now we have a U.S. rivalry between Gold and Wagner that will be looked on fondly one day, but that nearly a decade (after Kwan’s final U.S. title) to develop. And, arguably, neither of today’s top ladies has approached Kwan territory yet (if ever they will). Likewise, Plushy and Yag challenged each other at the top—not even considering how long it took for them to get there—for years! It’s an unmatched battle! So meanwhile, as Yag has long since retired with hip injuries and Plushy keeps on threatening to return, major back surgery be damned, Russia struggles to find a single superskate hero, let alone a pair of them:

+      32 year-old Konstantin Menshov, who has yet to medal at a GP event and has never been on a world or Olympic team

+     28 year-old Sergei Voronov, whose best Worlds finish (7th) was 7 years ago

+      22 year-old Artur Gachinsky, who was 3rd at his first Worlds (in 2011), 18th at his next a year later, and hasn’t been back to Worlds since.

+      20 year-old Maxim Kovtun, a two-time national champ whose initial big chance to shine was, ironically, taken away from him when Plushenko was chosen over him to represent at Sochi.

+      17 year-old Aidian Pitkeev, recent Rostelecom Cup silver medalist who is too young to have his career thwarted by Plushadow Plushenko. Yet.

            My point, which understandably has only trace connections to my topic of choice (sorry) is this: Maybe it would behoove Russia to remove the specters of Olympics past from current conversation.

      GP Finalists 6, USA Men 0... but not for lack of trying.
+      Jason Brown had a shot at the Final for sure until an injury forced him from NHK.
+      Max Aaron seemed a lock for the Final after Skate America, but then TEB ended before he got to redeem his 7th place SP.

And with Joshua Farris out recovering, the chances got even slimmer:

+      Ross Miner and Adam Rippon took on Rostelecom and did well... very well in Miner’s case... but were still nowhere near Final qualification.
+      Grant Hochstein and Richard Dornbush, meanwhile, both took on their 2nd Asian GP assignment of the season. Dornbush, sadly, seems to have stalled out much the way Rachael Flatt did when she worked the collegiate balance... and Hochstein, with two 4ths, did exceedingly well this GP season—and like Courtney Hicks, I have hope he can leverage that success to a best-ever Nats finish. However, his best work is not anywhere near GP Final best.


            Here are the top GP scores from U.S. dance teams so far this season:

174.43—Shibutanis at NHK Trophy

173.22—Chock/Bates at Skate America

169.16—Chock/Bates at Cup of China

168.36—Shibutanis at Skate Canada

167.49—Hubbell/Donohue at NHK Trophy

So just how important is this GP Final for the U.S. dance teams? Important enough that winning the whole thing would be great, but getting the top U.S. score would seem to be the goal.

On the international front... I’d say the following battles were critical:
            Chock/Bates vs. Weaver/Poje
            Weaver/Poje vs. Cappellini/Lanotte
            Bobrova/Soloviev vs. The Universe (where do they really fit in now that they’re back?)

Meanwhile, everyone’s got to be wondering about Papdakis/Cizeron, who like Volosohzar/Trankov will be the (missing) elephant in the GP rink this weekend... even more so, in their case, because they’ve yet to return to competition. (Welcome to the real reason anyone internationally might pay attention to French Nationals this year.)

Stand by for my full list of senior GPF predictions! 

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