Lyrics in Singles and Pairs….

So by now skate fans know that lyrics are now allowed in the singles and pairs disciplines (they’ve been allowed in Ice Dance since the 1997-98 season). What is YOUR opinion of the use of lyrics in all of the disciplines?

I was originally against the use of lyrics in singles and pairs, and two competitions into the Grand Prix skating season, I can’t say that my opinion has changed very much. Watching skating for many years I have heard all kinds of music butchery, as well as skating warhorses being beaten to death (“Carmen”, anyone?) I wasn’t afraid of lyrics per se, but of lyrics being done poorly. Also, it is going to take a long time for me to stop thinking “exhibition” when I hear lyrics. Since I much prefer competition skating to exhibition skating, this is not a good portent for me.

Using lyrics can have its advantages if done well, though. Javier Fernandez‘s SP this year is “Black Betty”, and he’s now able to use the version that most of us are familiar with. However, during Skate America, I heard yet another musak version of the Beatles, and thought “Why would you not have Sir Paul singing instead of the elevator version of “Eleanor Rigby??”

I’ve seen a few cases so far when lyrics have been used to good effect. This season, Madeline Aaron/Max Settlage (USA) are skating their free to “The King and I”, and making sparing but effective use of lyrics:

In Aaron/Settlage’s case, the lyrics are not overwhelming nor terribly distracting.

But let’s look at Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford‘s SP. “C’est bon”? Someone caterwauling in French is not my idea of good!!

Their skating is quite wonderful, but it was really hard  to pay attention to it with my hands over my ears. In this case, the lyrics totally overwhelm the skating.

With lyrics allowed, one would think that skaters would be choosing a greater variety of music, but we’ve certainly seen our share of Carmens (thankfully sans lyrics), Malaguena (with lyrics, ick, ick), and Argentine tangos. I like Samantha Cesario‘s “Carmen”, but she has the fierceness to pull it off. Skaters, when your coach suggests one of the tired old nuggets, unless you are a skater with the chops to bring something new to a piece that’s been beaten within an inch of its life,  JUST…SAY….NO.




Liberty, er, Philadelphia Summer Champs 2014

Hey sk8fans, I just got my summer dose of ice by attending the nearby Philadelphia Summer Championships (PSC), held at IceWorks in Aston, PA from July 15-19.  They may have changed the name, but I will always think of this competition as “Liberty”!

The field of entrants this year was not quite as star-studded as in the past; other fans and I were speculating over the reasons. Obviously it’s a post-Olympic year, which may have led to skaters getting a bit of a late start on their new programs. There was no senior pairs’ event this year, again for obvious reasons: so many US pairs have broken up, switched countries, retired, or are injured that you need a scorecard to keep track 😦 . There was a junior pairs’ event, with one team competing in both the SP and FS and two other teams competing in one event each. However, out of those three teams, two were Canadian. Also, coaches and skaters pick their summer events by choosing those they consider well-run or close by. I can’t speak for the coaches/skaters, but I do know that last year, the extremely warm weather led to difficulties in keeping the ice frozen in some of the rinks at IceWorks, and that played havoc with the schedule….

Ashley Cain was at the PSC. She was on the roster to compete, but decided not to. I heard various reasons: she’s breaking in new boots, she has two GP events (Cup of China and Rostelcom) and Champs Camp coming up and needs a rest. It’s too bad she didn’t compete. Her SP this year is “Mission: Impossible” and FS is “Evita”. For more on Ashley Cain and this year’s PSC, read Lynn Rutherford’s Ice Network article .

There was again a large contingent of Canadian ladies at PSC, and Veronika Mallet won the FS with 94.74, followed by Maria Wang  (Washington FSC) and Roxanne Rheault (CAN). Franchesca Chiera (Panthers FSC, FL) won the SP, followed by Mallet and Rheault. Junior lady Rebecca Peng (SC of Boston) bested all female competitors with her winning Junior Ladies’ FS score of 104.78, followed by Brynne McIsaac and Elise Romola (both of Washington FSC).

The men’s field had a few more well-known names than the ladies’ event. Ross Miner, Jimmy Ma, and Alexander Aiken (who returned to competition after 18 months) all skated Senior Men. Miner kept his “The Way We Were” SP from last season; his new FS is to Andrea Boccelli’s “Romanza”, choreographed by Lori Nichol.  His Axels were not quite up to par, but he exhibited great flow, speed and musicality. He placed second in the SP and won the FS. Alexei Bychenko (ISR) won the SP and did not compete in the FS. The big men’s buzz at PSC was the Junior Men’s Champion Andrew Torgashev (Panthers FSC, FL). He won both the SP and FS by wide margins, and is only 13! His speed and flow was, as Unca Dick would say, first-rate. Keep an eye on this kid…

And, by the way, BOO-HISS to the referee at PSC 2014 for scheduling the Senior Men’s FS and Junior Men’s FS in different rinks at the same time! That hasn’t happened in the past several years, and I hope will not happen again.

Great to see some of the usual suspects: Gail, Andi, Margaret, Ann, Lisa, Delle, Carol. Missed you: Tonya, Teri and Elaine!

I will add a link to the Official Results page once IceWorks posts it.

The blogosphere vs. the Twitterverse

You might have noticed that I have not posted anything on this blog in some time, in spite of the fact that much has gone on in the world of figure skating. The Olympics (and its wonky judging), Worlds, Cinquanta’s more-than-usual idiocy, Meryl and Charlie on DWTS, and more have passed without a word from me. That is not strictly true, however–I have become enamored with Twitter. Before I started to use Twitter, I thought it was yet another outlet for the navel-gazers of the world. You know what I mean–“This is what I had for dinner”, “Look at the funny face my cat made”, “Here is how much my baby has changed since literally yesterday”. But Twitter is also a great place to share an interest like figure skating. I get the latest news virtually immediately, or at least as often as I check my feed. Twitter, unlike Facebook, also allows you to interact with celebrities (in my case, skaters) more. Yes, you can look at someone’s FB page even if they’ve not friended you, but on Twitter, you don’t need to be someone’s friend to send something to them and perhaps have them favorite it, retweet it, or even reply directly to you. Also, Twitter shows you ALL the tweets of the people you follow, not just selected ones like FB does.

I do enjoy writing “longform” occasionally, but not enough to keep a blog truly active. There are some skating blogs out there that are really good, like Ryan Stevens’ Is That A Skateguard In Your Pocket Or Are You Happy To See Me? (don’t let the name discourage you; it’s an excellent blog) and Kelli Lawrence’s State of the Skate , among others.

If you would like to stay up on all the breaking skating news, please join me on Twitter @sk8maven , or read my feed in this sidebar.

One more thing: please sign one or both of the current petitions on (here or here) that call for Octavio Cinquanta’s ouster and rejection of his current proposals to the ISU. He has done nothing but drive figure skating into the ground, and his latest call to abolish the short program is lunacy. SPEEDY’S GOT TO GO.

US team event lineup

According to Christine Brennan at USA Today (article), the lineup for the USA in the Team Event is as follows:

Men: Jeremy Abbott SP, Jason Brown FS
Pairs: Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir
Dance: Meryl Davis/Charlie White
Ladies: Ashley Wagner SP, Gracie Gold FS

A team is only allowed to “split duties” in two of the four disciplines. I have to admit to being a bit surprised that the US is not splitting the pairs team event, since the pairs’ short program is the first of the non-team events on February 11th.

How much do you want to bet that Russia will somehow say Plushy is “injured” in the team event, and then substitute Kovtun or Voronov into the Men’s event? (A team cannot substitute due to injury during the Team event).

Mirai’s reply…..

Mirai Nagasu posted this on her Facebook page yesterday (January 30th):

“I want to take this moment to thank everyone, fellow skaters and fans of the sport, who have reached out to me to offer support after the US championships. Not being chosen to represent the United States at the Olympic Games in Sochi and at the 2014 World Championships in Japan has been extremely disappointing to me, and it has been very difficult for me to process.
I know that I performed my best at the US Championships in Boston. I am proud of the way I skated and of being awarded the Bronze Medal.
The 2010 Olympics in Vancouver was one of the best experiences of my life and I am proud that I finished in 4th place. For the past four years my goal had been to make the Olympic Team again and pick up where I left off.
Not being selected to this year’s team was devastating and I remain confused by US Figure Skating’s decision to not select me for the 2014 Olympic or World teams. Once I have time to fully process the impact of these decisions, I do know it will renew a fire inside of me. My Olympic journey does not end here. I will continue to work hard, to train and grow and improve as a skater and realize my dream of once again representing the United States at an Olympic Games. In the immediate, I will jump back into my training in the event that I should be needed in my role as alternate for the Olympics or World Championships.
Most importantly, I want to wish Gracie, Polina, Ashley and the rest of the US Team the best of luck at the 2014 Olympic Games. Representing your country at the Olympics is one of the biggest honors and best experiences in an athlete’s life, and I hope they all do well and have a great time. I will be watching and cheering them on.”

I think this is a classy response to a devastating experience. Good on her.

Russia makes it official: Plushy is their man

The Russian Skating Federation has made it official: After skating in a closed-door test skate, Evgeny Plushenko will be the man representing them in the men’s event at the Sochi Olympics. As my friend T has said, “If he can walk, they will send him”. The also-rans didn’t help their cases any at Euros. Maxim Kovtun, fresh off of his besting Plushy at Russian Nationals, could only manage fifth place. Sergei Voronov took the silver at Euros, but was a long shot anyway. Konstantin Menshov had a great free skate to take the bronze after being in 11th place after the short (!), but he was never really under consideration. I for one have seen enough Mishin-inspired arm flailing for two lifetimes, but certainly think that Plushy is the Russians’ best shot if his injury-wracked self holds up. Since Russia only qualified one man to the Olympics, this means that Plushenko would have to skate the entire team event plus the men’s event. Countries are allowed to have different skaters skate the short and free in the team event, but the skater has to have qualified to the Olympic team in his/her/their individual event first. I think this may preclude Plushenko’s competing in the team event and then pulling out with an “injury”, with one of the alternates (Kovtun or Voronov) replacing him in the men’s event. However, if there is a way to do it, Russia may find it….

And while on the topic of Euros, I have to say that the artistry (lack of artistry would be a better term) exhibited in the top flight of the men’s event was alarming after seeing Jeremy Abbott, Jason Brown, and Joshua Farris in Boston. IJS programs all the way at Euros (sigh).

The rest of the Russian Olympic team is no surprise. 2014 European Champion Julia Lipnitskaya and European silver medalist Adelina Sotnikova will skate in the ladies’ event (Alena Leonova is the alternate). Volosozhar/Trankov, Baranova/Larionov and Stolbova/Klimov (who won gold, bronze, and silver, respectively, at Euros) will be the pairs, and Bobrova/Soloviyev, Ilinykh/Katsalapov, and Sinitsina/Zhiganshin the dance teams.

Liberty Summer Competition changes its name….

The Liberty Summer Competition, a lovely dose of live skating in the off-season, is changing its name to the Philadelphia Summer Championships, and will be held at the IceWorks in Aston, PA from July 15-19, 2014. Here is a link to its page so you can keep abreast of developments: 2014 Philadelphia Summer Championships. Hope to see you there; please say hello!

My opinion of the US Ladies’ Olympic Team selection

People who know that I follow skating have asked me my opinion of the USFSA’s decision to send fourth-place finisher Ashley Wagner to the Olympics instead of the 2014 US bronze medalist, Mirai Nagasu. Of course, my opinion counts for nothing in the selection process, but had I been on the committee, I would have advocated to send the podium as it was (Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds, Mirai Nagasu). As heartbreaking as that would have been for Ashley Wagner, I feel like she didn’t skate well at Nationals when she needed to, and Mirai Nagasu did. The USFSA has never tampered with the order of finish at Nationals for the Olympics, except in cases where a skater could not compete due to injury and received a medical bye. They have done it for the World Team many times, though, and the rules are quite clear that they are justified in naming whatever team the USFSA deems best.

Even though I would not have made the same decision the USFSA did, I understand why they did it. Ashley Wagner had by far the strongest international competition season of any US woman this season and last. She is a two-time national champion, and her strong finish at last year’s World Championships, along with Gracie Gold’s, regained the third spot for the US women for these Olympics and Worlds. In other words, had Ashley not skated as well as she did at least year’s World Championships, we wouldn’t even be talking about a third ladies’ spot now. But at Nationals, Ashley skated poorly. When her long program scores came up, she could be seen on camera saying “too high”: she knew that the judges had given her a bit of a gift.

Mirai Nagasu did not get the same international competition opportunities as Wagner this season due to Mirai’s 7th-place finish at 2013 US Nationals; she has been 5th, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 7th and 3rd at Nationals since winning the US title at age 15 in 2008. She is currently without a coach, and has a reputation (deserved or not) of not always training to her full potential. The national judges were fairly kind to her this time, but she also has a history of having her triple jumps marked down for underrotation.

I am sure all of these things came into consideration, but I am more an advocate of “put up or shut up”, and Mirai put it all out there at Nationals to claim the bronze, while Ashley had major mistakes in both her short and long and was somewhat held up by the judges in the long to claim fourth place (she did finish about ten points ahead of the fifth-place finisher; I don’t know if the judges held her up by more than ten points or not).

Had 15-year-old Polina Edmunds finished third instead of second, they probably would have bumped her from the team. I would have had no problem with that, since the Olympics will be Edmunds’ very first senior-level international competition (gulp). But Edmunds finished in the silver-medal position, and as I thought, the committee was loathe to replace the 2nd-place finisher with the 4th-place finisher.

It was pretty disappointing to read some of the dreck in the “general press”, the Wall Street Journal especially. Jeff Yang’s editorial alleged that the selection process might have been racist, choosing the blond white girl over the Japanese-American. GET A GRIP, WSJ. For a supposedly reputable publication, you really missed on this one. You need to look no further than the rest of the Olympic skating team: Felicia Zhang is Chinese-American, and the Shibutanis are Japanese-American. Sheesh. (Here is a link to the editorial.)

One other thing: I’m sure there’s an issue that had nothing to do with the selection, and shouldn’t have, but bugs me nevertheless. Figure skating has suffered from a lack of credibility with the general public, especially since the Salt Lake City judging scandal. The USFSA passing over one athlete who competed well and replacing her with one who clearly skated poorly isn’t going to help matters any. Just sayin’.

What I took away from Boston Nationals

I had an awesome time at 2014 US Nationals in Boston. However, I could not blog from the arena; I am old-fashioned in that I do not have a smart phone. I do have an iPad, but the TD Garden wifi was impossible if there were more than 250 people in the arena. Perhaps I need to move into the 21st century 🙂 !!

Here are some of the things that I took away from the competition:

1) Jason Brown is my new favorite skater.
Jason Brown SP

I have been following skating for many years now, and I have not been this excited about seeing a skater develop since seeing a young Michelle Kwan at US Nationals in 1994. Jason is only 19, but has a fully mature artistic and musical sensibility. He only began competing the triple Axel last year, and it is looking more and more solid (although I am looking forward to his speeding up the Axel entrance, since its slowness now gives me a heart attack every time). If he gets a quad, he is going to put up monstrous scores. His components are already very high, and deservedly so. Every movement of the feet, hands, head is timed to the music, and he has a lovely back and wonderful upper-body carriage. As humble and unprepossessing as he is off of the ice, he commands the arena from the moment he takes the ice. A truly extraordinary talent, and I can’t wait to see his new programs each year.

2) Watching the greatness of Meryl Davis and Charlie White in person is a privilege.

I will be the first to admit that ice dance is my least favorite of the four disciplines, but to watch Davis and White is to truly be in the presence of greatness. Watching them on television is great, but seeing them up close is astonishing. Their power, precision, edging and speed are breathtaking. American ice dancing used to be the also-ran of the ice dance world, but years of expat coaching and talented young skaters have led to the emergence of not just the great Davis and White, but an amazing last flight of dance at US Nationals that would have been unthinkable fifteen years ago.

3) I think American singles skating will become more relevant in the coming years.

When Michelle Kwan stopped competing, US Ladies skating was without a rudder. Last year was the first year that someone successfully defended the US title since Kwan, and we had a new champion this year again. Is Gracie Gold someone that can make the American ladies a force on the world stage once more? She is only 18, and already jumps like a pro. Her artistry is not yet fully formed, but she made good strides this year. If she’s got the artistry in her, who better to bring it out than Frank Carroll? Gold is only two years removed from being the US Junior Champion, and my jaw hit the floor when this year’s junior champion, Amber Glenn, landed two triple-triple combos and a Rippon Lutz on the way to her junior title. And Polina Edmunds, 2014 Ladies’ silver medalist, is only 15 (but still has to successfully navigate the Hormonal Highway).

On the men’s side, we’ve got the aforementioned Jason Brown, Joshua Farris, Max Aaron, and two-time junior champ Nathan Chen coming up behind them. The future looks pretty bright to me.

Japanese and Russian Nats; off to Boston!!

I’m off to US Nationals tomorrow for the 20th reunion of my skating fan group–can’t wait!

Japanese Nationals took place in Saitama from Dec. 20-23. The huge thing to come out of these championships was the selection of the men’s team for Sochi. Yuzuru Hanyu, Tatsuki Machida, and Takahiko Kozuka won the medals, but Kozuka was not named to the Olympic or World teams. The third men’s spot will be filled by Daisuke Takahashi, who finished fifth. This is no doubt a nod to Takahashi’s great career, but it’s got to be heartbreaking for both Kozuka and Nobunari Oda, who was fourth. Kozuka had a really rough Grand Prix season, and Oda can’t keep track of his jumping passes, but it’s a rough go nevertheless. Oda has since announced his retirement. I personally love Takahashi’s skating, and am happy for him (I can’t forget seeing him live for the first time at 2005 Skate America in Atlantic City and being so excited). But I am sad for Kozuka who has such wonderful knees. Kozuka was named to the Four Continents team, and is the alternate for both Olympics and Worlds.

The ladies’ competition held surprises as well: after a hugely successful season in which she seemed to set herself apart from the pack, Mao Asada only managed a bronze at Nationals. Akiko Suzuki and Kanako Murakami won the gold and silver. However, unlike the men, all three ladies’ medalists will be on the Olympic team. Asada was named in the second spot, and Murakami in the third spot.

Narumi Takahashi and her new partner Ryuichi Kihara will represent Japan in pairs, and Cathy Reed and Chris Reed in Ice Dance.

Russian Nationals took place from Dec. 24-27 in Sochi. Unlike Japanese Nationals (and US and Canadian Nationals, for that matter), Russian Nationals are not the primary selection competition; Russia’s team will not be selected until after Europeans. The European Championships will be in Budapest from January 15-19.

Russia only has one men’s spot in Sochi. Maxim Kovtun took the gold at Nationals over Evgeny Plushenko and Sergei Voronov. Plushenko has since said that he would skate in the team competition and not the men’s, but it’s unclear if the rules allow this. It would shock no one if Plushenko skated in the team event and then withdrew due to injury, leaving Kovtun to skate in the men’s; after all, this is the Russians (if I knew how to say “Rules were meant to be broken” in Russian, I would insert it here 😉 )!! However, the team won’t be named until after Euros.
Kovtun, Voronov, and 4th-place finisher Konstantin Menshov were named to the European team.

Russia’s baby ballerinas dominated the ladies’ podium, with Adelina Sotnikova, Julia Lipnitskaia, and Elena Radionova winning the medals. All three were named to the European squad.Other notables: Alena Leonova was fifth, Anna Pogorilaya was eighth, and defending champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva was 10th. The fourth-place finisher, Alexandra Proklova, is 13 years old.

Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov did not defend their title at Russian Nationals, but they were named to the European team. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov won gold, Vera Bazarova/Yuri Larionov silver, Maria Vigalova/Egor Zakroev bronze. Volosozhar/Trankov, Stolbova/Klimov and Bazarova/Larionov will represent Russia at Euros.

Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev took gold in Ice Dance, followed by Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov and Victoria Sinitsina/Ruslan Zhiganshin. Bobrova/Soloviev are not scheduled to skate at Euros, but will certainly be on the Olympic team. Ekaterina Riazanova/Ilia Tkachenko round out Russia’s ice dancing team for Euros.