Thoughts on some programs from the Nebelhorn Trophy

Elena Radionova 13 Nebelhorn SP

New videos from the Nebelhorn Trophy popped up on my youtube homepage today so I decided to watch them and give my two cents to the people of the internets. Just as a warning, I didn’t watch all the videos but the ones with skaters who might make a splash on the podium for events this season. Here goes…

Oda proves that he’s still got It…

Nobunari Oda won the men’s competition easily and he’s off to a good start. Oda’s not an actor like Daisuke or Yuzuru but he’s shown that his knees are still in good shape to be able to land those jumps smooth as butter. The choreography isn’t all that special but those jumps are solid. I have a feeling that Oda and Takahiko Kozuka will be fighting for that last spot at the Olympics this year. And maybe, Oda will be able to put up a pretty good fight this year. Someone should set up two bets: one to see which three Japanese men make it to the Olympics and the second to see if Oda loses his spot because he broke the zayak rule. Again.

So many surprises this season and the season hasn’t even started yet! Even better, the surprises are good ones! I have never seen Oda skate a program with so many transitions! This time both his jumps and skating were as smooth as butter! He has a long way to go before he gets to Jeff Buttle’s level but I like this change in Oda. Keep up the good work! Also, dude, the upper leg on your skating leg is NOT parallel to the ice on some of your sit spins. Come on, Oda, you have something good going on! No more junior mistakes! And please learn to count so you don’t violate the zayak rule anymore!

Two-Time World Champion Miki Ando gets Beaten by 14 year-old Elena Radionova

I haven’t enjoyed Miki Ando’s programs in a while. (One of her coaches may have had something to do with that…) I also didn’t expect her to come back to figure skating but I guess with Mao’s inconsistency, Miki does stand a chance in the hunt for gold. Or maybe not since she placed second in this competition after a little creature who I will rave about later. In any case, this program isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread but it’s elegant and clean. Miki looks a little rough around the edges in some of her spins and especially in the footwork but it’s still early in the season so I’ll be forgiving.

The long program gave me the painful reminder that Miki is better at the short program and it’s clear that she needs a little more work before she can really compete with the big guns this season. The second half of the program was a little hard to watch as she lumbered through that step sequence and fumbled a few of the jumps. The program itself is a little bland and in the end, I’m not really surprised that she won silver after seeing what the gold medalist put out.

Elena Radionova. My goodness. This little wisp of a thing blew my mind away… WITHIN THE FIRST TWENTY SECONDS OF HER PROGRAM. Those edges are what I’d expect from ice dancers. I watched Elena right after I watched Miki Ando do her SP and boy, did she make Miki’s step sequence look juvenile in comparison. This was a fabulous program – intricate but not cluttered, complex and well-skated. A pleasant surprise and a breath of fresh air. As for her long…

Wow. I did not expect a 14 year-old do be able to pull of a program like that. I decided to watch her programs from the Junior Worlds last year where she won gold but honestly, she wasn’t nearly this good last year. However… I’ll concede that I’ve taken note of her talent before in this post. Sad that she fell on the double axel but this girl is brilliant. I would grant her the title of the future of figure skating as I did with Yuzuru Hanyu but with girls, it’s so much harder to gain that title on this humble blog because of all the things that puberty can do. Still, I will keep an eye out for this one in the future.

Mixed Feelings about Mother Russia’s Top Team in Pairs

When I first saw that they were skating to “Masquerade Waltz,” I was very afraid. I actually really like this piece of music and it ranks as one of my favourite pieces of classical music ever. I could just imagine these two infusing the cheesy angst and drama that I’ve seen from them the past two seasons *cough* Evanescence *cough* so I had my doubts. Luckily though, my bar has been set so low in terms of choreography (not skating) for these two that I actually deem this program to be decent. It’s not a work of art like Shen & Zhao’s “Turandot” or anything by G&G or “Out of Africa” by their main rivals, Savchenko & Szolkowy but Volosozhar & Trankov have skated to worse programs and this is really not that bad for them. Also, were they trying to make it seem as if Max was trying to choke Tatiana in one of the pairs spins?

And this, ladies and gentlemen, will likely be the program that will win the gold. Please do not miss the sarcasm in that previous sentence. The skating was fine but the program… I’m at a loss for words because I’m just confused. Seriously. Just think what you will. I give up when it comes to these two.

This season is really starting to look good. I look forward to seeing the skaters improve on the road to Sochi.

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Thoughts on some programs at the U.S. International FSC

Meryl and Charlie 13 USFSC SD

While I was wandering the intertubes, I found these videos on youtube (channel: uzd fs) from the U.S. International Classic, probably a pre-season competition for skaters to get their programs out there and judged. There were a few skaters of interest and I decided to check out their skates. Without further ado…

Gracie Gold

The good news is, Gracie has shown more personality and expression in this program than all of her other previous programs combined. Bad news is, I’m starting to see signs of “windmill skating” common to Lysacek and Plushenko. Someone please fix this.

Come on, Gracie. You can do better than this.

Also, if you want to have a more “mature” program, I don’t care if you’re trying to be a witch or whatever but choose your music wisely. As in, don’t go for “Sleeping Beauty.”

Overall, I’m still on the fence about Gracie Gold. I can’t doubt that the 3Lz-3T is impressive but she lacks personality, consistency and an awareness of her limbs that would allow her to use them more effectively and expressively. I think with Ashley Wagner, it will a little bit before she feels the pressure of being the one to bring back the Olympic gold in ladies figure skating for the U.S. but I can’t say with certainty right now that her future will be filled with medals of all sorts.

Meryl Davis & Charlie White

Classic Meryl and Charlie SD – consistent music, happy-go-lucky mood, lovely costume for Meryl + a tux for Charlie and the fastest and best straight line step sequence in the business. Compared to their Giselle SD last year and their Happy Feet OD from a few years back, this SD lacks that extra sparkle. I think it’s an early in the season thing and so I expect them to be a lot better when I see this program again.

Meryl and Charlie’s FD this season is puzzling to me. No, seriously. These two are primed to win Olympic gold… (Sorry, Tessa and Scott fans but in terms of politicking, the USFSA has only the ice dance gold to hope for while Skate Canada will probably want the men’s gold which they’ve never won.) … and yet this FD isn’t doing very much for this team. The flowing parts of the music, which took up most of the program seemed to highlight Meryl’s lack of extension and awkward lines and every single lift looked cluttered, as if there was too much going on. Again, Meryl’s lines didn’t help.

For most of the program, I was waiting for the drama and the rushing music to happen – and we’ve heard Scheherazade enough to know that they exist (I mean, honestly, remember this?) – and it did, but only at the very end of the program. Like maybe 20 seconds or so? Maybe the sound on the video was terrible but I didn’t feel that the music or the choreography came to an amazing crescendo in the end. Either I just need to watch this program in a few weeks at Skate America where it’s improved and the sound quality is better on the videos or maybe they really need to use new music cuts and revamp their program a little bit. Either change will be greatly welcome.

However, let’s make a note of  a few silver linings – I love that exit out of the dance spins, it fit the program very well and it looked very pretty. I think I’ve read a few comments that have described the program as “pose-y” but I will defend these two and say that I disagree. Maybe my definition of pose-y/too much posing is different but I define a program with too much posing as one with moments where skaters stop on the ice or walk on their ice picks and pose. Notable examples – almost all Nikolai Morozov programs and some moments in Tessa and Scott’s “Funny Face” program (incidentally, perhaps my least favourite program from this team) when the music is very staccato. (If you’ve watched the movie, the music is from the part where Audrey Hepburn does that weird dance in the cafe/salon/bar/whatever it’s called.) Looking at this FD carefully, Meryl and Charlie skate and are only really stationary at some bits at the beginning of the program, which is normal. I would only really pick on the pose-yness of a program if the pauses are in the middle… *cough* Morozov programs *cough*

Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje

Kaitlyn & Andrew generally do good SDs and this one wasn’t bad either. There were a few blank areas in the choreography where the steps could’ve been more intricate but the program was well-timed to the music. One critique: I know this team was injured but despite it all, they were still zooming across the ice at Worlds last season. I need them to do the same during the Finnstep sequence.

On a final note, Kaitlyn pulls off the flapper look really well. Gorgeous colour on the dress.

For the past two seasons, I’ve been a big fan of Kaitlyn & Andrew’s FDs. “Je Suis Malade” was a refreshing program during a year of ice dance programs I’d rather not remember while their final version of “Humanity in Motion” was brilliant. Kudos to their choreographers. However, this year, I’m not a fan of the music. The vocals are flat, which is a pity because they’re emotionally intense and captivating but the boring singing ruins  everything for me. The ending was also a little sloppy but that’s a minor pre-season fix compared to the music.

CODA

So before I end this piece, I’ll put this message out there before I get lynched by angry fans. These are my opinions, feel free to discuss them. In the Olympic year, I expect all skaters to bring their best because this is the title and medal that they want most. At the same time, this level of intensity brings out a new desire in me: more than seeing my favourites win, what I want most is great skating. From everyone. I want to see competitions won by the tiniest of margins as the result of great performances by everybody rather than the clusterfuck that was the men’s competition in Vancouver. Or the 2006 Turin ODs.  That’s all.

Any thoughts?

~The Rinkside Cafe

Two Olympic Champions: Two Comebacks?

So, the Olympic season is upon us and of note this season, two Olympic champions are coming back. Sort of. And the “sort of”s mean different things in the two situations.

Yuna Kim 13 SP

Yuna Kim is the first Olympic champion is coming back to compete for a full season. Well, actually, a slightly less truncated season. It was announced recently that Yuna will be off the ice for 6 weeks due to a foot injury and as a result, will miss Skate Canada International. (Article here.) Sad, but with her result at Worlds this year, Yuna has shown us that she can come back and win it all without a shadow of a doubt. If Yuna can show the judges that she can skate two clean programs after her foot injury, I think she’ll have a good shot for gold. And yes, she will have to skate clean at the Olympics. Her jumps are fantastic, as always, but her extension still needs work and she really needs to push herself a little more in expressing the music. Her rivals will bring their all (or at least I hope they will) and I’m sure Yuna will want nothing but perfection in all her performances anyways.

I expect Carolina Kostner to be nipping at Yuna’s heels with her improved consistency, lovely flow and wonderful expressiveness – those who aren’t totally blinded by their fandom will have to admit, it was hard to keep your eyes off of Carolina last season. (Especially during her Bolero LP.) As for Mao, well… she’s been brave and she’s been trying and I hope to see her in tip-top shape. I’d love to have a season that harks back to the golden days of the Yuna/Mao rivalry (without the nasty racist comments) just for the sake of being able to watch purely beautiful skating. Rivalries are wonderful when they push two competitors to be at their best all the time.

evan lysacek windmill

Windmill Guy Seizures on ice Evan Lysacek

Evan Lysacek is supposed to be coming back this season but all in all, I highly doubt that Evan will either 1) be able to compete seriously and 2) be able to defend his title if he somehow makes it to the Olympics.

Exhibit A: Evan is only assigned to one Grand Prix event.

Grand Prix events are a season starter and a way to establish yourself in the game. Grand Prix wins may not lead to medals at Four Continents/Euros or Worlds but it helps the judges and fans figure out who the A and B and under-list skaters are. Many of those who come out on top during the GP series will be frontrunners at Worlds or in other events in future seasons. However, coming back and doing two GP events show that 1) you are serious about your comeback and 2) you think you can win with or without the home ice advantage that skaters like Lysacek get. Lysacek is assigned to Skate America and the roster is often compiled to give the home favourites an easy win so I’m guessing he may get on the podium at the very least at Skate America just to prove he still “has it” OR he’ll conveniently get an injury and not compete at all

Exhibit B: Lysacek won without the quad in Vancouver

Sorry, Windmill dude, but the quad is securely back in the men’s arsenal. As much as I resent Chan’s inflated scores and performances, I will give him credit for helping to put the quad back on the map in men’s programs. You can’t beat Chan without a quad nowadays and Chan is the one to beat. I will also admit the Chan is definitely the lesser of two evils between him and Lysacek because Chan can skate… without looking like a windmill. (For more information, check out Morozombie’s awesome post.) In any case, Lysacek faces tougher competition this season in Sochi than in Vancouver and he can’t sweep the rest of the competition away like Yuna can.

Wildcard: Lysacek’s legendary work ethic

Unlike some of Frank Carroll’s students, Lysacek does not suffer from a poor work ethic. Commendable, yes, but why Frank hasn’t made him work on not looking like a windmill skating to overused music is confusing to me. In any case, Lysacek can prove me totally wrong. Usually, I’d encourage skaters to do it but my dislike of his skating style makes me think that I may have to drink myself into oblivion if he wins another Olympic gold. And I don’t even drink. Often, that is.

What do you think of these two comebacks?

~The Rinkside Cafe

Things to Be Excited for in the New *Olympic* Season

tessa scott finnstep

So no, I’m not very happy about a lot of things going on in Russia right now but here are a few things I *am* looking forward to in the new figure skating season:

1. Despite the controversy over the Olympics in Sochi, I will say that I enjoy watching figure skating during the Olympic year because for once, people who aren’t usually into figure skating get into figure skating. I still cringe at their complete lack of knowledge of some of the rules as well as the blind nationalism that comes with the Olympics but at least I have more people to discuss the sport with!

2. Rivalries: Mao vs. Yuna, Tessa & Scott vs. Meryl & Charlie, the Japanese princes (Daisuke, Yuzuru, Oda and Takahiko)… another year, another set of new programs and more competitions to see who’s come out on top.

3. The Finnstep! I admit that I actually really liked the Finnstep when it first came out as a compulsory dance and now it’s going to be incorporated into the short dance with jazzy tunes! Love it! (Also, no more bloody Yankee Polkas! Hoorah!)

4. The growth. It’s always exciting to see how certain skaters mature. Most skaters will leave you deeply disappointed at their plateau while occasionally, one or two skaters will turn out to be a dazzling surprise. A few skaters I’ll be keeping my eye on this season: Kanako Murakami (after a year or two not being exciting), Zijun Li, Javier Fernandez, and Denis Ten.

5. The question: Can anyone beat the unbeatables? Aka can anyone topple Yuna Kim and Patrick Chan? Whoever beats Yuna will have to be spot on while Yuna falters. Carolina Kostner may be able to topple Yuna with a great performance full of expression and good choreography and maybe we’ll find that Mao still has what it takes to take down her arch-rival. Whatever the result, it’s exciting to think about. As for Chan… well… let’s hope the judges are fair this season when more eyes are on the sport. Figure skating can’t afford to lose any more credibility than it already has (or lacks).

6. New programs: There’s always a hope at the beginning of the new year that the programs this season will be better than the last.

7. Yuzuru Hanyu’s Pooh Bear tissue box. It’s so cute, I had to include it on the list!

A few things I’m not excited for:

1. The team figure skating sport at the Olympics. I can tell you now, the top for countries will be Japan, Canada, U.S.A and Russia in any order. The other countries don’t stand a chance.

2. How Canada will hype up Patrick Chan, who, as those of you who follow me will know, I’m not really a big fan of. And since I live in Canada, I will have the CBC commentators orgasming on how good he is even if he puts out a mediocre performance. (*cough* Worlds 2010 *cough*) Yes, even you, Kurt Browning, who I love and respect, was guilty of that last Olympic season.

3. The Russia government’s stance on homosexuality. I hope that all the athletes will be safe. And honestly,..

What are you looking forward to this season?

~The Rinkside Cafe

Mao Asada: Nocture then and now

As many of you have noticed, I’ve taken a little bit of a break from blogging, mainly due to the busy-ness of my life but things have slowed down a little bit and I will likely be writing more posts when the figure skating season kicks in. In any case, I thank all my readers for their patience and ongoing support.

mao 2006 nocturne

This blog post will be all about Mao Asada’s new SP for the Olympic season. (I get chills from typing that.) Mao is using Chopin’s Nocturne again. These pretty twinkly piano pieces are definitely her strength and unlike her last Olympics, she’s sticking with what she’s strong with this time. Her new SP needs time to develop, especially in terms of her jumps so I’ll refrain from passing too much judgment on the program for now.

Her original Nocturne SP from the 2006/7 season is in my favourites library. I love how ethereal she is and the elements are fitted well into the program. I especially love that arabesque spiral. She looks as if she’s floating on the ice. This is how spirals should be in figure skating. Too bad they nixed it in the short program though I guess it can be a good thing seeing that very few skaters have the extension to pull off half decent spirals nowadays.

 

Here is her new SP from The Ice 2013. There’s a maturity to her skating that you didn’t see from the original Nocturne and according to the commentators, she’s trying to express the feeling of first love. Honestly, I think she’s grown past that and she could just express what this piece is all about: a celebration of the night. Oh well, to each their own. Also, that step sequence at the end is superb. The quality of skating there is lovely. Let’s hope she gets her jumps back to pull this SP off.

What do you think of Mao’s Nocturne SPs?

~The Rinkside Cafe