First of all, condolences to Mao Asada, whose mother recently passed away at age 48. Mao was to have skated in the Grand Prix Final, but returned to Japan on Thursday upon learning that her mother was in critical condition.
For some reason, the ladies have not been terribly impressive to me in recent years. Everyone talks about how lyrical and graceful Carolina Kostner is, but she still looks a bit like a colt who has yet to grow into its legs for me (not as much as she did when she was younger, but still..) Also, it speaks to the relative weakness of the ladies’ field when a skater that still doesn’t do all of the triples can win a competition against the best in the world. Actually, not doing all the triples has done wonders for Kostner, but that’s not the point. She had some errors (a hand down on the 3F and a singled Axel), but still won quite handily.I don’t mean to be “Kostner bashing”, but her music makes me sleepy as well. I do love how Akiko Suzuki looks like she loves skating whenever she’s on the ice; it makes me want to be out there with her. Alena Leonova tried something a bit different than most of her previous programs with her long program to “Adagio for Strings/Requiem for a Dream”. I really like the program. It builds to a nice climax with her straight-line footwork sequence. She’s had a pretty good season.
We are starting to see some of Russia’s very young and very talented skaters come on to the senior international scene. Even though Elizaveta Tuktamisheva had a rough short program, she obviously shows great potential. It will be very interesting over the next couple of years to see her, Adelina Sotnikova, and some of the other young up-and-comers mature. Will they be derailed on the hormonal highway? Tuktamisheva reportedly can do a triple Axel. But was anyone else who watched the GPF uncomfortable seeing her revealing free skate costume? I know it’s flesh-colored fabric, not real flesh, but still, she’s only 14!! We won’t be seeing either Tuktamisheva or Sotnikova at Worlds this year; they’re both still too young. (BTW, is Elizaveta Tuktamisheva Johnny Weir’s younger sister? They look so much alike in the face!!)
Alissa Czisny suffered a left ankle injury in GPF practice, and she probably should have pulled out of the event. Every time she went up for a jump, I cringed. Picking in or landing on that leg was quite obviously painful for her, but she skated anyway. I don’t remember if she landed one fully-rotated, clean jump in the free skate. With US Nationals only about six weeks away, I hope she can recover in time. Even if she does, she will surely lose practice time, not good for a skater who has had major confidence problems in the past. She is probably the only ladies’ skater who can match Kostner’s composition marks, so the US needs her on the world team. We’ll see what happens…
Well, this final was billed as the Battle of the Titans, with the current world champs Davis/White going head-to-head with the reigning Olympic champions Virtue/Moir for the first time this season. I really wanted to see who the judges would put on top if both teams skated well. Both teams did skate pretty well, but Scott Moir’s fall in the short dance meant that we will have to wait for Worlds to see who comes out on top if both teams go clean. The commentators on Universal Sports here in the US (Terry Gannon and Tanith Belbin) said it over and over, and it’s true–comparing Davis/White’s free dance to “Die Fliedermaus” and Virtue/Moir’s Audrey Hepburn/Fred Astaire number really is like comparing apples and oranges. Both free dances show off the best characteristics of their skaters. Davis and White’s free is technically packed and builds to a fast pace that they have the strong technique to handle seemingly with ease (although we all know it’s not as easy as they make it look). The Mozart also shows off Charlie’s natural exuberance. While I appreciated the technical difficulty of their tango free last year, I find this year’s free dance much more accessible. Virtue/Moir’s free shows off their great unison and chemistry, as well as Scott Moir’s wonderful back posture, which I think is the best in all of skating. I have a slight personal preference for Davis/White’s free, because it always leaves me smiling (how’s that for a scientific reason ;)?) Can’t wait to see them go at it again at Worlds. I know Marina Anissina was recently quoted as lamenting the “Americanization” of ice dance (see http://www.championat.com/other/_skating/news-977455.html for a Russian version), but if that means clean costume lines, lack of sturm and drang, and not needing pamphlets to explain the deep meaning of your programs, I’m all for it. Four of the six teams in the GPF this year were North American; it still seems unbelievable to me after so many years of Russian/former Soviet dominance. I found Nathalie Pechelat’s free dance costume mildly distracting and Ekaterina Bobrova’s extremely distracting, but in Bobrova’s case, it may be trying to distract observers from noticing how much she and her partner break at the waist when they skate (watch them; it’s unbelievable how much they both do it. Thank you for pointing that out, Tanith). I think Weaver/Poje’s free shows a great connection between them, and the Shibutanis are scary good for their age (and SO smooth).
I’ve enjoyed watching the Grand Prix pairs events all season, and the final was no exception. The top three pairs skated exceptionally well, and the gold medalists and silver medalists were separated by fractions of a point. Had Savchenko/Szolkowy not missed their usually spot-on throw triple flip in the SP, it would not have been quite so close. I’m still not a huge fan of their “Pina” long program music; I find there are too many music cuts for my taste. One certainly can’t argue with the way they skated it here, though. The quality was high from beginning to end. The fact that Volosozhar/Trankov have been together for such a short time and are having such great success is nothing short of amazing. Their unison is almost unbelievable in a pair that has not been together very long. “Black Swan” is a good vehicle for them. I love Kavaguti/Smirnov’s long program to “Clair de Lune”; he presents her perfectly and they show more connection to each other on the ice than I think we’ve seen in the past. Zhang/Zhang have never been huge favorites of mine. Her lack of emotion and lack of change in facial expression have always left me cold. Hao Zhang looks positively emotive next to her. They have been on the scene a long time, and I don’t see her getting “artistic religion” any time soon. Their lack of connection with each other and the audience may stand up for now, but Sui/Han already have that emotiveness (is that a word? Well, if not, it should be 😉 ); once their technical skills and consistency mature, Zhang/Zhang are going to have all kinds of trouble. Duhamel/Radford and Takahashi/Tran did well to make the final, but they were outclassed in this field.
Overall, this was a fairly well-skated event. They skated their free programs in reverse order of the short program placement (anyone else miss the old random draw)? Michal Brezina skated solidly but not spectacularly. Daisuke Takahashi had some major problems in the short–his quad was short, and he didn’t do a combo–so he was in fifth place heading into the long, about 10 points or so behind SP leader Chan. His long was spectacular. He had a respectable quad toe attempt but stepped out on the landing. Otherwise, the program was technically good and artistically wonderful. His interpretation of “Blues for Klook” didn’t come across that well at Skate Canada, but he was truly marvelous both here in Quebec and at the NHK trophy. When he skates the program with swagger, it builds to a climax (and makes me wonder how someone can do all that footwork on ice and make it look like he’s on a floor). Yuzuru Hanyu is only 17, and it shows in his lack of mature artistry yet, but his jumps are pretty spectacular and he’ll hopefully continue to grow artistically as he matures. If he can get artistry to match his jumping, he’ll be a formidable force in the future. Javier Fernandez has put himself, and Spain, on the skating map this year. He’s got no glaring weaknesses and pretty consistent quads (toe and salchow so far), along with a nice carraige and musicality. Jeremy Abbott has been plagued by consistency problems this year. Unfortunately, this has been a pattern with him. His free skate here in Quebec had a the best quad toe he’s done all year, but he fell twice later in the program (on the second 3A and a 3Lz). He continues to push the boundaries artistically, but his music choice for this season’s long (“Exogenesis:Symphony” by Muse) is a bit too quiet for my taste. I do love when he stops and touches his palm down during his footwork sequence though. And Patrick Chan, oh, where do I start? Great skater, don’t get me wrong, but the judges seem to have blinders on where he is concerned. I mean, in his short, he crashed into the boards after adding a triple toe to his quad toe at the last minute, and he also touched a hand down on the triple Axel. However, two judges gave him execution scores of 9.00, and two others gave him 9.50!! IN WHAT UNIVERSE?? Only one judge bothered to give him any composition scores below 8.00 of any kind. At any rate, his long program had two marred quads (not major mistakes though) and a fall. How, then, does he outscore Takahashi in the long program?? Yes, he has two quads to Takahashi’s one, but Takahashi just flat-out skated better. It doesn’t surprise me that Chan won the competition, given his lead over Takahashi from the short, but he should not have won the long program. I realize that none of this is Chan’s fault–he has no control over how he is judged–but I am sure I am not the only one who is tired of Chan getting the benefit of every doubt and mega-component scores even if he doesn’t skate that well (who can forget 2010 Skate Canada’s short program where he fell on all three jumping passes and still was in fourth place)? Sigh…
One would think that someone who wanted to write a skating blog would have written about the six Grand Prix events that have taken place this fall. I have a good excuse, however. I was part of a grand experiment this fall. Stanford University offered three of their computer science courses online for free this fall, and I took one of them (Introduction to Databases). It was quite difficult, but I learned a lot and enjoyed doing the work for the most part. However, keeping up with the class took virtually all of my free time this fall (that’s what happens when you take a class with people a lot younger than you who have had a lot more computer science than you have). I have watched the last four of the Grand Prix events on my DVR this past week, so I am just now “catching up” with skating. Hopefully I’ll do a better job of planning my time next fall!
At any rate, I did mostly enjoy the GP series this year. In the men’s, since Chan did two quads in his world-champion free skate in Moscow, the other men seem to be trying to get the quad into their programs as well, with mixed results. There are a few guys (like Chan) who land them relatively consistently, but many others don’t seem to have a whole lot of success with them in competition.
I love pairs anyway, and have enjoyed the GP pairs events. I’m not crazy about Savchenko/Szolkowy’s free skate this season. There are too many music cuts for my taste. However, their technical prowess is usually on good display. Without Pang and Tong competing this season, Zhang/Zhang should theoretically be the next leading Chinese pair. I have to confess that I’ve never been a huge fan of this team, primarily because she has the same expression on her face at all times and emotes not at all. Sui/Han are still immature, but Sui can already emote circles around Zhang Dan!
To no one’s surprise, the cream of the crop in ice dance are the reigning world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White and the reigning Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. I can’t wait to see them go head-to-head in the GP final. It will be a difficult comparison between D & W’s “Die Fliedermaus” and V & M’s Fred Astaire; the programs are just so different.
The ladies’ events in the GP this year could be subtitled “The Russians Are Coming”, with Elizaveta Tuktamisheva (14) and Adelina Sotnikova (15) making a big splash. Neither one is old enough to compete at Worlds this year, but Tuktamisheva won both her GP events to easily make the final. We’ll have to see if these girls get derailed by the hormonal highway, but the future of Russian ladies’ skating is looking pretty bright leading into Sochi.