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.

 

 

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Random thoughts about the Olympic skating season so far….

Apologies for not posting for a while; health issues (sigh). Let’s just say I won’t be sorry to see 2013 in the rear view mirror!! Lots has happened in the skating world, as I’m sure most of you know.

The 2013 Grand Prix season is in the books. I love that there is a competition each week from a spectator standpoint, but that has to be so hard on the skaters to do all of that travel and competition in such a short time. Also, sometimes the competitors’ list from one GP event to the next can be very inconsistent; you can have several top skaters facing off one week, and a relatively weak field the next…

Mao Asada has come back with a vengeance this season. She struggled through some rough times while tearing down and rebuilding her jump technique, and she is now reaping the benefits. The fact that she is the only woman to be doing the triple Axel right now doesn’t hurt either. She is clearly the favorite going into Sochi. Yes, I know, Yu-Na Kim will be competing too, but Zagreb aside, she’s hardly competed in the last few seasons. Asada and Kim will in all likelihood be competing for gold and silver, but there are several contenders for the bronze medal: a bevy of Baby Russians (Lipnitskaya, Sotnikova, et.al.), Kostner, Wagner, Suzuki….

Speaking of the Baby Russians, some of the early candidates are getting older now (of course, “older” is a relative term!!) Elizaveta Tuktamysheva just turned 17, and we’ve seen her struggle this year with the hormonal highway; she’s grown a lot and her jumps have suffered. She is certainly young enough to make a run at 2018 if she adjusts to her body changes, but she is going to have a rough time even making the Russian Olympic team with all of the young talent behind her.

Russian Ladies’ Nationals are going to be tough, but the world’s toughest ticket is probably a spot on the Japanese men’s team. It’s no accident that half of the competitors at the GP Final were Japanese, and Nobunari Oda replaced Daisuke Takahashi, who withdrew due to a right knee bone bruise. The fact that Yuzuru Hanyubeat Patrick Chan at the GP Final was very interesting. We all know about Chan’s sometimes “untouchable-ness” in the eyes of the judges; despite talking a good game, I’m sure Chan was a little shaken by the GP Final result. It certainly makes the Sochi men’s competition more intriguing!!

Max Aaron is obviously trying to show his artistic growth by choosing to skate to Carmen this year, a skating chestnut if ever there was one. Am I the only one thinking that this choice shows a real lack of originality?

At least NBC at least mentioned pairs in some of their Grand Prix broadcasts, but showed virtually none–BOO. Just because it’s the weakest of the American disciplines doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching in the USA.

Other tidbits:

    Evan Lysacek will not be competing at US Nationals, which is not a huge surprise given his injury problems in the last few seasons.

    NBCSN will be broadcasting many Olympic events live, which means (a) set your DVRs or (b) get up in the middle of the night to watch 🙂 !!

    Brian Boitano has come out publicly.

Recent skating tidbits!

Here we are in the off-season. Those of you who have followed skating for a long time know that lots can happen at this time of year: pairs/dance/coach-skater partnerships break up and reform; skaters work on their new programs for next season, with next season having just that much more import since it’s an Olympic year (yay!); and talk inevitably turns to the current sad state of figure skating (in the US, anyway).

Here are some notable skating happenings since Worlds:

1) The USA won the World Team Trophy in Japan. Patrick Chan expressed his indifference to this post-Worlds competition, and says that he favors skaters’ forming a union to prevent exploitation:

Patrick Chan favors figure skaters’ union

While I often think that Chan has skate-in-mouth disease, he raises some valid points.

I would ask: why did Chan feel that he was forced to compete in the WTT while Davis/White and Virtue/Moir were not (perhaps D/W is not a valid comparison, since they are under a different federation’s sway)? Does the WTT have greater import now that the Team event has been added to the Winter Olympics?

2) John Nicks has decided he no longer wants to travel, thereby leaving Ashley Wagner without a coach to travel with going into an Olympic year. She and her choreographer (Philip Mills) have parted ways as well. What’s going on here??

3) Skate America will be held in Detroit this fall (October 18-20). Boston will have the US’ bid to host Worlds in 2016. I am definitely rooting for Boston to get Worlds, since any time I can take Amtrak instead of flying is a good time 🙂 !!

4) New US pairs teams: Lindsay Davis (formerly of Davis/Ladwig) has teamed up with Rockne Brubaker; Becky Bereswell and Joshua Reagan (who just ended a partnership with Caitlin Yankowskas) have teamed up under the coaching of Jason Dungjen and Yuka Sato. I wish Caitlin could find a partner; she’s too good to waste on the sidelines. Like Reagan’s former partner Ashley Cain, Becky Bereswell is on the tall side for a skater (5’6″). Reagan is about six feet tall.

According to Reagan:

“Caitlin (Yankowskas) and I skated together for a year, and certain things worked, certain things didn’t,” Reagan said. “Johnny (Johns) kind of sat us down and said he didn’t think we were the right match for each other, and that was kind of it. It wasn’t a particular element, it was more overall training; we just weren’t right for each other.”

Yankowskas had no comment.
Ice Network article

 

2012 Grand Prix season in the books; looking ahead to many national championships

Well, the 2012 Grand Prix season is in the books, with some surprises, some notable absences, some not-so-successful comebacks:

  1. Patrick Chan is no longer invincible: Last year, pretty much everything Patrick Chan touched turned to gold, and he seemed to be blowing away the rest of the men’s field. This year, he finished second at Skate Canada to Javier Fernandez of Spain, and took the bronze in the Grand Prix Final behind Daisuke Takahashi (one of my favorite skaters…) and Yuzuru Hanyu. Fernandez actually won the long program on the strength of three quads, but was fifth in the short; a stronger short would have put him on the podium, since Chan just beat him for the bronze by fractions of a point. The men’s competition at Worlds is shaping up to be a good one!
  2. Notable absences: Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir were both attempting comebacks this year. Lysacek had sports hernia surgery in late November and will almost certainly miss Nationals in Omaha (although he and Weir are still on the qualified entrants’ list): Senior entrants for 2013 US Nationals. This is the second season in a row that Lysacek has wanted to return to competition and has been unsuccessful (last year, it was some amorphous financial dispute with the USFSA; this year, injury). Weir has already announced that he will not compete in Omaha either. His reasons are less clear than Lysacek’s; I have read that Weir was somewhat surprised by the higher technical level of competition since he last skated (really??) 2010 Olympic champion Kim Yu-Na sat out the GP season, but won the NRW Trophy in Dortmund to qualify for 2013 Worlds. She posted the highest total score of any woman this season (201.61). Carolina Kostner was thought to be considering retirement, but decided to just sit out the GP season instead. She did recently win the Golden Spin competition and is next due to skate at Italian Nationals this week. Aliana Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy missed their second Grand Prix assignment due to Savchenko’s severe sinus infection; they had already won their first GP outing at Skate Canada.

In other skating news:

  1. Denney and Coughlin to miss US Nationals: Reigning US Pairs Champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin will not be able to defend their title in Omaha. John underwent hip surgery to repair a torn labrum on December 4th.
  2. Takahashi and Tran split: 2012 World Pairs bronze medalists Narumi Takahashi and Mervyn Tran have split, just days before Japanese Nationals are due to start. They missed the GP season due to Takahashi’s shoulder surgery, and Tran’s getting Japanese citizenship in time for Sochi was always a dicey proposition (he is a Canadian national, and Japan has very strict requirements).
  3. Weaver/Poje will not compete at Canadians: 2012 Canadian Ice Dancing silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje will not be competing at Canadian Nationals in Mississauga, Ontario from January 13-20. Weaver sustained an ankle injury in practice.
  4. Julia Lipnitskaia still recovering: 2012 Russian Ladies’ silver medalist Julia Lipnitskaia is still recovering from a concussion she sustained prior to the GP Final, necessitating her withdrawal from that event. She will miss Russian Nationals next week, but hopes to skate in Junior Worlds later this season.
  5. US National sites announced: 2015 US Nationals have been awarded to Greensboro, NC, site of the 2011 Championships. 2016 US Nationals will be in St. Paul, MN.

Many national championships are taking place in the next few weeks; Japan’s are this week, Russia’s next week.

2012 Grand Prix assignments; Czisny to undergo surgery

(Thanks to my friend C. for pointing out that the assignments had been posted by the ISU).
ISU Grand Prix assignments lists

Interesting points for the men’s entries:
1) Johnny Weir  returns to Olympic-eligible competition with two slots, the first one in Russia.
2) Wonder if Evgeny Plushenko might take the TBD Russian spot at Cup of Russia? My friend C. also said that may be a possibility for Lysacek at Skate America as well? Would really like to know more details about Lysacek’s financial dispute with the USFSA; what gives??
3) No spots for Armin Mahbahnoozadeh, but two spots for Richard Dornbush? Hmmm….

Ladies:
1) Flatt, Nagasu, Czisny only get one spot each. According to Phil Hersch, Czisny is scheduled to have surgery on her left hip (labrum). She requested the latest possible GP assignments, and is hopeful that she might get a second spot if she heals from surgery in time: Phil Hersch article
2) US Junior Champion Gracie Gold gets two spots, as do US Senior Champion Ashley Wagner, Agnes Zawadzki, and a resurgent Caroline Zhang.
3) Miki Ando returns to GP competition.

Pairs:
1) New US pairings Caitlin Yankowskas/Joshua Reagan and Lindsay Davis/Mark Ladwig make their GP debuts.
2) The field for Cup of China is jam-packed: Pang/Tong return to the GP, new Chinese pairing Peng/Zhang debuts, Sui/Han, World bronze medalists Takahashi/Tran, and Kavaguti/Smirnov are also scheduled to compete. Tough place for Yankowskas/Reagan to debut!!

Dance:
1) As usual, the two top dance teams in the world will not face each other until (most likely) the GP Final: Davis/White will bracket the season at Skate America and NHK, while Virtue/Moir will be at Skate Canada and Cup of Russia.

Skating this ‘n that: 5/17/2012

Here are some skating tidbits as we begin the off-season:

  • Skate America 2012 to be held in Kent, Washington: The event will take place October 19-21. I guess the ISU has abandoned the idea of rotating which Grand Prix event is held first in the season (I know Skate America was the inagural Grand Prix event last year, but wasn’t sure if that was because it was its “turn” to go first)? Skate Canada will be in Windsor, Ontario from October 26-28.
  • Yuzuru Hanyu has enlisted Brian Orser as a coach. According to Ice Network, he will still be attending high school in Japan. Toronto to Japan is quite the commute….
    Hanyu Ice Network article
  • Michal Brezina  will now be coached by Viktor Petrenko: Ria Novosti article
  • Long-time Chinese pairs partners Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao have parted ways. Zhang Dan is retiring, while Zhang Hao has already partnered with 16-year-old Peng Cheng. According to China Daily, Zhang Dan’s height (she is 1.69 m tall, which for us metric-challenged Americans is a bit over 5’5″) has been a problem for the pair: China Daily article . Their biggest accomplishment as a pair was their memorable silver medal at the 2006 Olympics, which they won in spite of a very difficult fall on a throw quad attempt.
  • American pairs skater Mark Ladwig has partnered with Lindsay Davis, who formerly skated pairs with Themi Leftheris. They will be coached by Lyndon Johnson, who was Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig’s coach.
  • 2012 World Pairs Bronze Medalist Mervyn Tran, who skates for Japan but is a Canadian citizen, is having some problems getting Japanese citizenship so that he and partner Narumi Takahashi can represent Japan in the 2014 Olympics. He has never lived in Japan, and the pair trains in Quebec. Mainichi article

Grand Prix Final–December 8-11, 2011–Quebec City, Quebec, Canada–Ladies

LADIES

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.

Pl Name Nation Points SP FS
1 Carolina KOSTNER ITA 187.48 1 1
2 Akiko SUZUKI JPN 179.76 2 3
3 Alena LEONOVA RUS 176.42 3 4
4 Elizaveta TUKTAMISHEVA RUS 174.51 5 2
5 Alissa CZISNY USA 156.97 4 5
Withdrawn
Mao ASADA JPN

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…

Grand Prix Final–December 8-11, 2011–Quebec City, Quebec, Canada–Ice dancing

ICE DANCING

Pl Name Nation Points SD FD
1 Meryl DAVIS / Charlie WHITE USA 188.55 1 1
2 Tessa VIRTUE / Scott MOIR CAN 183.34 2 2
3 Nathalie PECHALAT / Fabian BOURZAT FRA 169.69 3 3
4 Kaitlyn WEAVER / Andrew POJE CAN 166.07 4 4
5 Maia SHIBUTANI / Alex SHIBUTANI USA 160.55 5 5
6 Ekaterina BOBROVA / Dmitri SOLOVIEV RUS 157.30 6 6

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).

Grand Prix Final–December 8-11, 2011–Quebec City, Quebec, Canada–Pairs

PAIRS

Pl Name Nation Points SP FS
1 Aliona SAVCHENKO / Robin SZOLKOWY GER 212.26 2 1
2 Tatiana VOLOSOZHAR / Maxim TRANKOV RUS 212.08 1 2
3 Yuko KAVAGUTI / Alexander SMIRNOV RUS 187.77 4 3
4 Dan ZHANG / Hao ZHANG CHN 182.54 3 4
5 Meagan DUHAMEL / Eric RADFORD CAN 170.43 5 5
6 Narumi TAKAHASHI / Mervin TRAN JPN 164.42 6 6

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.

Grand Prix Final–December 8-11, 2011–Quebec City, Quebec, Canada–Men’s

MENS

Place Name Country Points SP FS
1 Patrick CHAN CAN 260.30 1 1
2 Daisuke TAKAHASHI JPN 249.12 5 2
3 Javier FERNANDEZ ESP 247.55 3 4
4 Yuzuru HANYU JPN 245.82 4 3
5 Jeremy ABBOTT USA 238.82 2 5
6 Michal BREZINA CZE 218.98 6 6

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…