Japan Open – Part I: Ladies Commentary

I started writing a blog post on notepad about the Japan Open and I was halfway done when I realized that the post was going to be a tad long. So I’m going to divide my thoughts on the Japan Open into 2 or 3 thoughts and hopefully, I’ll find time in my busy schedule to finally finish it all. So, here’s part I of my blog posts of the cheesefest competition.

The Japan Open came and went and I was absolutely shocked at the results. World Champions and Olympic medalists completely bombing their programs? Then again, there’s nothing to lose in this competition seeing that it’s not an ISU event. The Japan Open is clearly a cheesefest for money and entertainment and skaters will probably take it easy so that they don’t get injured for the beginning of the season or for their future skating shows. At the same time, the competition can also serve as a test run, where skaters can exhibit their new programs to an audience in a competitive and yet low pressure environment. Still, this extent of bomb-age is quite incomprehensible.

I expected Team Japan and Team North America to be neck and neck but Team Europe proved to be a formidable force, losing to Team North America by less than a point while Team Japan was slightly less than 40 points behind the silver medalists. So let’s see what transpired in the competition shall we?

The big surprise (to my delight) was Elizaveta Tuktamysheva – now the little ingenue – who outperformed World Champions and Olympic medalists in her unofficial debut with the big girls. The question for me was, did she do a triple axel? During the Russian test skates, she began both programs with double axels, which would be okay if one was to skate in the era of Michelle Kwan – the Kween often liked to warm up with a 2A in her programs – but nowadays, to start with such an easy jump (without a 3T tacked onto the back end of it) is unheard of. Consequently, I wondered if Liza was going to replace that jump with a triple axel once she had it down because videos have shown that she’s capable of landing one. The triple axel did not appear in the program but she began the program with a gorgeous and solid triple lutz-triple toe combination. Her next triple lutz looked easy but she popped her triple flip. Still, this is a definite improvement from the Russian test skate. After that, the program went wonky – choreography-wise.

The music sounds as if some drunk guy got a whole bunch of latin music and tacked one song to another in a very non-sequitur fashion. The problem is, Liza is perfectly capable of playing the seductress that the sultry latin music demands – just look at that spiral, the position’s not the prettiest but you can’t tear your eyes off her – but that sultry music is sandwiched between some weird elevator piano music. Another problem is the fact that somehow her choreographer – probably Papa Mishin – is giving her the ugliest spin positions possible. It’s already bad enough that she doesn’t quite have the extension in her sit spin but all the other spin positions in this program look plain awkward. The step sequence was a bit slow and didn’t go very well with the music but at this point, I’m not expecting much from this program – I’m only expecting Liza to skate well.

In any case, the triple salchow-triple toe combination at the end was impressive and her signature tano-double axel was fierce as usual. It’s just a pity that Liza is stuck with a program like this because she’s capable and she deserves a lot better. You don’t know how I long for the highly unlikely Liza-Diva Queen Tarasova pairing. This girl has so much charisma and star quality. If it were any other skater, I would’ve probably stopped the video midway through the program and gotten bored with it. This girl can go far, I wish someone would give her a great vehicle to take her to the top.

Joannie Rochette came in 2nd place in the ladies group in the Japan Open. Even as a skater who skates in shows, Joannie is often solid – unlike other show skaters… *cough*Sasha Cohen*cough* Joannie was a bit shaky at the beginning – she landed a solid triple lutz, only to land a shaky flip and then pop her triple loop. The rest of the program was skated in the strong, solid Joannie fashion and the choreography (to Stravinsky’s “Firebird”, though not completely spectacular, was more coherent and had a climax compared to Liza’s weird program. The step sequence was a lot more watchable and the entire program made a lot more sense in general but Joannie’s loss to Liza was most likely due to her lack of triple-triples which the young Russian diva had accomplished solidly in her program.

The third place finisher was Akiko Suzuki, the lady who got shoved off the Japanese National podium by young ingenue, Kanako Murakami. Her dress wasn’t doing her any favours but she’s skating to one of my most favourite pieces of music: “Die Fledermaus.” The first thing I noticed about Akiko was that she really took all the lessons from the previous seasons to heart. I wouldn’t be surprised if she thought that she was getting complacent: the format of her programs for the last couple of seasons has been pretty similar and this year, it seems that she’s taken on a new style and this new program definitely has a new flavour that we’ve never seen from Akiko before. I may have noted that Akiko’s arms naturally form angles but she seems to have smoothed that out and the lines from her arms look long and lean and absolutely wonderful. It’s very suited to this piece of music and I’m proud of her for that. It almost feels like we’re seeing a more mature and refined Akiko Suzuki this year.

Her one major mistake here was a popped jump but other than that, this program should improve over the course of the season. I would, however, like to see her skate this program with more attack and vivacity which I’m sure she’s capable of but this is a definite improvement for Akiko and I’m looking forward to watching her this season.

Alena Leonova is probably the only skater in this competition I’m not very enthused about. I think the only time anyone found her exciting was when she had the Slutskaya haircut (which made me naturallly dislike her) and consequently, people saw flashes of one of the Kween’s bitter rivals in her. Overall, the program was skated decently. The music was actually pretty well put together and if this is a Morozombie program, it’s not too horrendous. There were only a few minor mistakes, which were only a few step-outs from jumps. The big problem, however, is that this girl – unlike Liza – has no charisma at all. She kind of reminded me of the faded Caroline Zhang, no longer lean and doing her best to get the elements out of the way. She seems to have switched from the Slutskaya look to Liza’s look but unfortunately, she gotten none of Liza’s charisma in the process. Her 4th place was really the result of her competitor’s poor skating rather than her own achievements.

Perrenially well-dressed Alissa Czisny skated to another one of my favourite pieces of music: Sibelius’ “Valse Triste” and came in 5th. The program lacked the magic of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s 2006/7 free dance but Alissa’s interpretation was graceful, lyrical and well-suited to the music. The major problem, however, was Alissa’s tendency to underrotate her jumps, which included her opening triple lutz-triple toe combination. She also fell on a triple lutz and doubled a triple salchow. I don’t know how Alissa will do this season (she’s rather unpredictable) but I do hope that this program improves with use. It’s rather lovely, though throughout the entire thing, I felt as if it would suit Mao Asada a lot more than Alissa. I wouldn’t mind if Mao skated to “Valse Triste,” I think she’d do it justice.

Miki Ando’s performance was a hot mess. It was painful to watch. I don’t know if she was nervous, not concentrating, injured or just not trying but she didn’t land a single triple in the program and popped numerous jumps, hence her surprising score of 88.11.

Still, there’s one question lingering on my mind: where’s Mao? I wonder if she decided to not compete in the Japan Open and if so, what’s the reason?

Here are the standings and scores for the ladies:

1. Elizaveta Tuktamisheva RUS – 118.59
2. Joannie Rochette CAN – 112.74
3. Akiko Suzuki JPN – 112.46
4. Alena Leonova RUS – 108.39
5. Alissa Czisny USA – 107.64
6. Miki Ando JPN – 88.11

So far, I’ve only had time to watch Jeff and Takahiko’s programs. The post for the men will hopefully come in a day or two so stay tuned!

~The Rinkside Cafe


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