Thursday, December 6, 2018

2018 ISU Senior GP Final Predictions

Yes, I realize I haven’t posted notes from either Rostelecom Cup or Internationaux de France yet… but once again the next event is upon us already, so allow me to jump to Senior Grand Prix Predictions!

Here is the schedule if you’re on Eastern Time like me… (late starts on things because Vancouver is on Pacific Time, as 2010 Winter Olympics viewers may recall)

10:45 PM Men’s Short Program
MIDNIGHT Ladies’ Short Program

10:05 PM Rhythm Dance
11:20 PM Pairs Short Program
12:35 AM Men’s Free Skate

4:55 PM Ladies Free Skate
10:00 PM Free Dance
11:20 PM Pairs Free Skate

With only 6 in each category, I’m going to do what I think I’ve done in the past (?) and try to predict all the placements. Remember that the number of points someone has going into the Final is not necessarily representative of how they’ll fare in this particular field.

Also, remember that Yuzuru Hanyu scratched from this year’s GPF due to injury (replaced by Canada’s Keegan Messing).

GOLD Shoma Uno (JPN)
SILVER Nathan Chen (USA)
BRONZE Sergei Voronov (RUS)
4 Michal Brezina (CZE)
5 Cha Jun-hwan (KOR)
6 Keegan Messing (CAN)

Neither Uno nor Chen has been flawless this GP season; if both continue as such here at the Final I think the judges will favor the reigning OSM.

GOLD Rika Kihira (JPN)
SILVER Alina Zagitova (RUS)
BRONZE Satoko Miyahara (JPN)
4 Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS)
5 Kaori Sakamoto (JPN)
6 Sofia Samodurova (RUS)

I’m admittedly counting on Kihira to hit at least one of her triple axels to edge Zagitova out what should be a pretty tight battle.

GOLD James/Cipres (FRA)
SILVER Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)
BRONZE Zabiiako/Enbert (RUS)
4 Peng/Jin (CHN)
5 Pavliuchenko/Khodykin (RUS)
6 Della Monica/Guarise (ITA)

A pretty messy pairs season thus far, even for those who usually skate rather clean… but J/C and T/M should top this field.

GOLD Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)
SILVER Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
BRONZE Sinitsina/Katsalapov (RUS)
4 Guignard/Fabbri (ITA)
5 Zahorski/Guerreiro (RUS)
6 Hawayek/Baker (USA)

H/D have been fantastic thus far in 2018-19, but Step/Buk seem to have the extra firepower going for them.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

2018 Internationaux de France Previews/Predictions

After finishing my kitchen cleanup from serving Thanksgiving dinner S E V E R A L hours ago, here are my GP France predictions. One more event until we know who’s in this year’s Final-!!

GOLD: Nathan Chen (USA)
SILVER: Alexander Samarin (RUS)
BRONZE: Boyang Jin (CHN)

Samarin seems like the only one in the field who might have the quad consistency to be runner-up to Chen here. (Of course Chen will bring a whole lot more to the event than quads, making him the only possible victor here unless perhaps he falls ill, or gets trapped under a car.)

EYES ON Dmitri Aliev, who could easily outskate Samarin or Boyang for a medal.

GOLD: Rika Kihira (JPN)
SILVER: Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS)
BRONZE: Mai Mihara (JPN)

Medved is still in this hunt for sure, but after what she threw down at NHK Trophy, Kihira’s triple axel-hitting odds are too strong to overlook.

EYES ON Marin Honda, who only finished 8th at Skate America earlier this season but is most definitely still a top contender for just about any podium. Don’t underestimate her!

GOLD: James/Cipres (FRA)
SILVER: Boikova//Kozlovskii (RUS)
BRONZE: Ryom/Kim (PRK)

Is it OK to say it’s been a lackluster pairs season thus far except for the front-runner emergence of James/Cipres? I think I just did. (Can I also say I REALLY look forward to Sui/Han’s return? Good.)

GOLD: Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA)
SILVER: Gilles/Poirier (CAN)
BRONZE: Hawayek/Baker (USA)

Eyes on Papa/Ciz because this is their season debut, and what else are you going to want to look at once they’re on the ice?

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.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Skate America 2018: Ladies and Dance Predictions

Now let’s move to the LADIES (starts at 10:19 PM Eastern Time Saturday):

Gold: Satoko Miyahara (JPN)
Silver: Sofia Samodurova (RUS)
Bronze: Bradie Tennell (USA)

This is a field of 11, not 12, as Russia’s Elena Radionova scratched earlier this week with a back injury and was not replaced. That means the Russian contingency consists of 16 year-old Samodurova—new to the senior GP, but 2nd place winner at Lombardia Trophy recently—and 17 year-old Polina Tsurskaya, who showed promise in last year’s GP but only finished 5th at Russian Nationals (missing the Olympic team). I expect Samodurova to make a splash here, but if Miyahara can fully rotate her jumps—particularly the triple lutz, which she’s reportedly been UR’ing in SkAM practices—then I think she can “complete package” her way to 1st place here.

The U.S. ladies field may be surprisingly obscure at this year’s SkAM (aside from reigning champ Bradie Tennell of course), but remember that both Ashley Wagner and Mirai Nagasu are taking the “break” that you’d expect veterans like them to take once their second Olympic run was over and they weren’t quite ready to call it a career just yet. This sends other potential headliners such as Karen Chen and Mariah Bell to later GP events, although Chen just scratched from her first event (GP Finland) due to injury… in any case, USFS chose Starr Andrews (6th at Nationals) and Megan Wessenberg (17th at Nats) to represent, so it’ll be interesting to see how each responds to their own particular sphere of pressure. As for Tennell, who beat out Evgenia Medvedeva (!) for gold at the Autumn Classic earlier this season, I think she’d do well to duplicate her SkAM results from last year.

Eyes on: Loena Hendrickx of Belgium… not only because she’s an up-and-comer (5th last Euros, 9th last Worlds, 3rd at Nebelhorn, but because when I tried to watch her Nebelhorn FS on YouTube, it was audioblocked :( … seeing it live might be the only way!

And finally, ICE DANCE (starting at 12:19 AM Eastern Time Sunday):

Gold- Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
Silver Guignard/Fabbri (ITA)
Bronze Zagorski/Guerreiro (RUS)

I went mostly by worlds standings for this; with H/D the only ones in this field to medal last spring, they’re the clear favorite here. Both the Italian and Russian teams were further down the pecking order— Zag/Guer was 8th ; G/F 9th – but I’m putting the Italians ahead based on their 1st place at Lombardia Trophy.

Eyes on: McNamara/Carpenter is the one Americans are likely to pay the most attention to, as they turned in a 5th place GP finish last year and are one of the teams gunning for the vacancy left by the currently-hiatusing Shibutanis. But my attention will be on a new-to-the-GP British team of Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson, whose Free Dance is an infectious mix of Rose Royce, Donna Summer, Earth Wind & Fire, and Michael Jackson. They’re likely to skate early, but try to catch it—unless you despise disco, that is…

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Skate America 2018: Pairs & Men's Predictions

OK! Time to talk competitors… or at least, competitors that have a better shot at the Skate America podium this weekend. As usual I’m going by event order:

PAIRS (Starts at 10:30 PM Eastern Time Friday)

Gold- Tarasova/Morozov  (RUS)
Silver- Efimova/Korovin (RUS)
Bronze- Scimeca-Knierim/Knierim (USA)

True confession: I looked at the list of 8 pairs at this event and was surprised to see I only recognized 4 of the teams. No lie. And only one of those teams made the top 10 at the Olympics (Tarasova/Morozov); two of the other three teams are American, so…um, no top 10 of any kind there. My prediction for silver could be seen as a nod to SWR (Skating While Russian) since I’m not super-familiar with Efimova/Korovin, but they just won Nebelhorn Trophy a couple weeks ago and that’s a much more legit reason. As it happens, the team right behind them at Nebelhorn was our own S-K/K. So, yeah… let’s see if they can nab a medal here. If so, it’ll be their first GP medal in three years (and third overall).

Eyes on: Digerness/Neudecker—the #3 U.S team this weekend (Cain/LeDuc are #2)… they were the Junior National Champions last year. This is their senior GP debut.

MEN (Starts at midnight Eastern Time Saturday)

Gold- Nathan Chen (USA)
Silver- Sergei Voronov (RUS)
Bronze- Vincent Zhou (USA)

On the other hand, the men’s event caused the phrase you’re still here?? to leap to mind more than once… that’s because 28 year-old Kevin Reynolds, 28 year-old Michal Brezina, 30 year-old Alexei Bychenko AND 31 year-old Sergei Voronov comprise one-third of the SkAM field this year. And if that isn’t interesting enough… I think the oldest of the ones I just named stands the best chance of medaling. (It helps that he took 2nd at Nepela Trophy last month.)

The other side of the men’s SkAM spectrum contains young-uns, among them new Yale undergrad (and reigning World Champ) Chen and still-only-17 Zhou. From what I’ve seen and/or read, neither of them are close to their “A” game right now—Chen’s been ill and is still adjusting to his whole new Ivy League world, and Zhou dealt with back injuries over the summer—but even so, I think they’ll outskate the rest of the pack.

Eyes on: Nam Nguyen—the 20 year-old Canadian has had a whole lot more downs than ups in recent years, but he pulled together a win for September’s U.S. Classic… could be the start of something bigger. Let’s see what he does here.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Hello Skating Fans, and Here We Go Again

Welcome once again to a new season of State of the Skate, where it all starts with good intentions for posts in late summer/early fall, and it all REALLY starts around this date in October… at least, it’s been this way for the past few years.

Once again there were plenty of figure skating-related things to talk about in the off-season. Adam Rippon’s meteoric rise in pop culture. Gracie Gold on the comeback trail. Evgenia Medvedeva and Jason Brown’s respective moves to Canada. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva’s Twitter feed. Denis Ten. Good Lord, Denis Ten. Still so hard to wrap my head around that one.

And then there are all the things I think about writing here that have nothing to do with figure skating. I’ve probably mentioned them before, kind of like I’ve “mentioned” giving this entire blog a makeover…

But alas, we are just a couple days away from the start of the 2018-19 ISU Grand Prix.

No, gotta rephrase (because it feels much more like this…)


So, if you’re not clear yet on where to find coverage in these post-IceNetwork times… this might help   .

Want to get a look at who’s competing? The Wiki page for 2018 Skate America is up to date…

And if you’re new here, please allow me to (re)introduce myself with this post from almost exactly two years ago… I don’t think a whole lot has changed!
I’ll be back tomorrow with some predictions!

P.S. If you leave a comment I’ll be SO excited for proof that SOTS still gets readers!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Last Stop, Milan: 2018 World Figure Skating Championship Predictions

Perhaps more than ever, I look forward to Worlds right after the Olympics because it creates an opportunity for new stars to shine. Here are my predictions for the action this week in Milan…

(Aside from 2 of the 3 US ladies, I fared pretty badly with my Olympic picks! This time I’ll be less specific on 4th through 10th and see what happens…)

GOLD: Alina Zagitova (RUS)
SILVER: Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN)
BRONZE: Satoko Miyahara (JPN)

4th through 6th, no particular order: Carolina Kostner (ITA), Wakaba Higuchi (JPN), Maria Sostkova (RUS)

Rest of the Top 10, no particular order: Gabby Daleman (CAN), Mirai Nagasu (USA), Bradie Tennell (USA), Choi Da-bin (S. KOR)

(Wow, I barely predicted anything for them Olympics-wise. Let’s change that…)

GOLD: Savchenko/Massot (GER)
SILVER: Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)
BRONZE: James/Cipres (FRA) (pleeeeeaaaase)

4th through 6th, no particular order: Marchei/Hotarek (ITA), Yu/Zhang (CHN), Zabiiako/Enbert (RUS)

Rest of the Top 10, no particular order: Astakhova/Rogonov (RUS), Seguin/Bilodeau (CAN), Moore-Towers/Marinaro (CAN), Della Monica/Guarise (ITA)

(Ooh, did a little better with these Olympic predictions. How about this time…)

GOLD: Shoma Uno (JPN)
SILVER: Nathan Chen (USA)
BRONZE: Jin Boyang (CHN)

4th through 6th, no particular order: Mikhail Kolyada (RUS), Dmitri Aliev (RUS), Vincent Zhou (USA)

Rest of the Top 10, no particular order: Max Aaron (USA), Aleksei Bychenko (ISR), Keiji Tanaka (JPN), Keegan Messing (CAN), Misha Ge (UZB)

(Didn’t do too bad with these Olympic predictions either, though I had Russia’s Bobrova/Soloviev too low. Oopsie. They’re not here anyway…)

GOLD: Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA)
SILVER: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
BRONZE: Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)

4th through 6th, no particular order: Weaver/Poje (CAN), Chock/Bates (USA), Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)

Rest of the Top 10, no particular order: Gilles/Poirier (CAN), Guignard/Fabbri (ITA), Hawayek/Baker (USA), Hurtado/Khaliavin (ESP)

OK, that should do it! Follow me on Twitter @ KLBSt8ofSk8 as I follow as much of the action “live” as I can!

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Good, The So-So, and the SERIOUSLY?: Evaluating those "what happened to U.S. Ladies Figure Skating?" Articles

I may have mentioned here before that of my five siblings, three of them have had sports-oriented careers—one was a pro baseball player for 10 years, another is a swim coach who also has a management role with USA Swimming, and still another is a physical education teacher who spends many a weekend working track & field meets all across the country. Their feelings about figure skating are mixed; one seems to appreciate and respect it as a port but probably doesn’t know much about it beyond whatever I’m posting on Twitter, one is essentially an Olympic-year fan who asks me about certain skaters from time to time, and one makes homophobic jokes about it and sends me pics of Johnny Weir in high heels. (Sigh. Two out of three ain’t bad, I guess.)

I bring all this up because one of these sibs (the swim coach) inboxed me on Facebook the night of the ladies’ short program in PyeongChang last month and, shall we say, questioned the quality of those representing the United States. (The exact words were a wee bit harsher, but hey, if he wanted those exact words out there he wouldn’t have messaged me privately.)

We went back and forth a bit—me pointing out Russian hyper-competitive program blah blah this and that, he listing some of the criteria they use at USA Swimming to analyze performance—but as I only semi-jokingly reminded him in the end, the book I wrote is about what’s happened to skating via the American TV screen… not what’s happened to American skating in general.

Of course, my brother and others that helped liven up my inbox during the Winter Olympics were just a miniscule sampling of those asking similar questions and making similar comments last month. Which, inevitably, led to “answers” in the form of articles—some written with value-added input from others, some that came across as little more than disgruntled op-eds.

You probably saw some of them, if not read completely through a few of the pieces. Me, I made it through at least five or six.  But whether you couldn’t bring yourself to push past the depressing headlines, or you’re just dying to compare assessments, read on… I’ve got some skater’s digest versions below!

Writer: Martin Rogers (includes quotes from Chen and Nagasu from the post-event news conference in Korea)

In Short: Our ladies were an embarrassment and their explanations were worse

Rating: 1 Toepick out of four
(I considered giving each article positive or negative GOEs, but I want to keep it simple)

First problem here: the hyperbole. Words and phrases like “collective wreck”, “historically bad”, and “stumbled/faltered/tumbled” (used in describing each young woman’s biggest errors) set the piece up as a prolonged gripefest—though, to be fair, that is exactly what it is. So, um… well done??

Second problem: the shameless passing of judgment. After the inevitable comparison to American OGMs from yesteryear, Rogers alludes to “explanations” and passive/aggressively suggests “we” are owed these explanations as if “we” are the skaters’ coaches and/or parents. (Last time I checked, we are NOT.)

Then, showing clear disdain for said explanations, Rogers mocks Karen Chen’s yearning for her mom’s presence (stacking it alongside a reference to new OGM Alina Zagitova which implies real winners don’t need their mommies by their side no matter how young they are).

Bradie Tennell wasn’t spared either. After being called “robotic” in terms of her skating style (“artistically underdeveloped” could have worked too—just sayin’) and cited for all the ways she wasn’t technically “on” during the ladies’ event, Rogers shares Bradie’s response to the Impossible Question someone apparently posed to her in the post-event presser: How can the U.S. possibly hope to close the gap on Russia?

I say “impossible” not because it can’t be answered (as you'll see in other articles), but because it was posed to a 20 year-old athlete in the thick of it all—Olympic hype, disappointment, discovery, recovery (?). She can’t possibly see the future forest for the trees, not in that moment, anyway. On top of all that, Bradie tends to give the most succinct responses of any skater out there right now. Her actual response—a simple “Anything’s possible”—was really the best she could’ve done under the circumstances. Of course, Rogers called her out on it as “not too positive” nonetheless. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t I guess…

The reality of this year's Olympic situation—that there wasn’t much hope for a medal from any of the Team USA ladies to begin with—isn’t voiced until the ninth paragraph of the article. That’s when the Mirai Nagasu-bashing occurs. And yeah, I agree that some of the things she said and the way she said them post-event (the DWTS reference, the over-claiming of Team Bronze, singling out Gabby Daleman’s poor performance, the ‘in my mind I went for it’ line regarding the triple axel-turned-waltz-jump)… were nonsensical at best, poorly chosen at worst. But to say “she’ll be remembered more for what she said afterward” than for landing the first triple axel in U.S. female Olympic history—that’s the talk of people who care little about the sport itself even in Olympic years, if you ask me.

(It’s also the talk of perennial parade-rainers Phil Hersh and Christine Brennan, who seem to care a great deal about the sport but nonetheless are prone to giving its athletes the verbal beat-downs of an over expectant parent… but I digress. Brennan actually gave one of the more metered assessments of things in PyeongChang, as you’ll see later.)

All in all, RogersUSA Today article carried the gravitas of a random guy at TGI Friday’s making a bet with the bartender on Ivett Toth’s podium chances because her unitard caught his attention. “You’d like to see some steel,” Rogers sneered in his article, in response to Karen’s so-called excuses. 
I’d like to see some substance in this little more than mean-spirited assemblage of words.

Writer: Bryan Armen Graham 

In Short: Our ladies aren’t great any more, and we might as well get used to it

Rating: Two Toepicks

According to this piece from The Guardian, failure is the new normal in light of no U.S. women making the “individual” podium. First problem I have with this is that age-old argument of success vs. failure… it wasn’t even “failing to make the podium is the new normal”; just out-and-out FAILURE. Give me a break.

Or rather, give them a break—if the results of Mirai, Bradie and Karen are proof of anything, it’s that none of them really should have been expected to medal. Back at the 2006 Games, Johnny Weir was in 2nd after the short program—SECOND!—only to falter badly in the free skate and drop all the way to 5th. And (as previously mentioned) at these Games, reigning World Bronze Medalist Daleman was still “within striking distance” of Olympic Bronze, as they say, when she started the Free Skate night in 7th place… but had difficulty with just about every jumping pass in her “Rhapsody in Blue” program, taking her all the way down to 15th by night’s end. 

Not trying to sound snarky here, but THOSE two examples are much closer to what I’d call failures than what our team of women delivered that night. Mirai was 10th at her last Worlds appearance, Bradie has not yet been to a senior Worlds, and while Karen Chen was fourth last year, I don’t think anyone seriously anticipated her finishing at the Games in the Top 5, let alone on the podium. (Gotta remember that Chen benefited greatly last year from not only Anna Pogorilaya’s crash-and-burn free skate, but Wakaba Higuchi’s egregious SP error that ultimately cost the Japan team an Olympic berth.)

As for the “so what happened?” part of Graham’s article, the explanations (“a constellation of factors”) are as wide-ranging as they are brief—and are attributed to no one other than Graham himself. It’s not that he’s off the mark necessarily; it’s that he seems to use them simply to underscore the idea that our Olympic wanna-bes are hosed for the foreseeable future. While not nearly as vindictive-sounding as the Martin Rogers USA Today piece, it still paints a pretty grim picture.
Writer: Dvora Myers (w/quotes from Tom Zakrajsek and Jackie Wong, among others)

In Short: Here are some well-informed theories about the state of U.S. ladies figure skating at the Olympics

Rating: three and a half toepicks

Of course the proof this is a better article is better is in its title—it’s about “failing to medal”, not out and out failure. Writer Dvora Myers clearly appreciates the difference.

And she doesn’t shy away from the facts about the medal drought, nor does she bury the 9-10-11 placement. But then she gets right to it: the what’s going on? question, followed by an IJS-rooted premise explained by Zakrajsek, Wong, and USFS high performance director Justin Dillon.

As for the premise itself—definitely worth a read, if you’re not familiar with it already. In short, I believe this premise is what Johnny and Tara offered when faced with the same question during the Games except a) it’s not delivered at breakneck speed in between skating performances (or worse yet, between skating elements)… and b) it’s straight-from-the-source (with the details and examples deserved), rather than seeming speculation.

My only wincing moment in the article came in the final two graphs, where USFS spokesperson Barbara Reichert claims “they weren’t concerned” about the U.S. men when others were years ago (years ago? I’m still concerned about them now!) and speaks with a confidence about the 2022 U.S. ladies that seems more than a little premature… like she’s trying too hard to pin a big bow onto a poorly wrapped package and call it all beautiful. Not that that’s surprising—PR spin is PR spin, no matter what brand you’re dealing with. I just think the article would’ve been better without it.