Skate America 2014 – Highlight and Commentary

Last weekend was Skate America, the first senior Grand Prix event and somehow an event that made me regret the spectacular Olympics that was Vancouver 2010.

Why do I mention Vancouver 2010 now, do you ask? Well, Vancouver was an exceptional Olympics, figure skating curses were broken and a whole lot of talent competed. Some triumphed while others were left hungry and hungry enough to stay for another 4 years. However, once that next cycle was over, all of those talented, hungry skaters left, leaving a huge void that clearly showed last weekend.

kavaguti smirnov sa 2014 lp

I’ll tell it to you straight: I was bored during 98% of Skate America. So be warned, I’m not going to have a lot of nice things to say here.

I’ll forgo my usual order of men, ladies, pairs and ice dance to start with the biggest highlight of the event for me, which was, surprisingly, Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov. I had written these two off because, face it, they haven’t really made much of a mark on pairs skating ever since Volosozhar & Trankov came onto the scene. I thought that they were going to make enough mistakes to not be a contender for the top spot but still be better than most of the newbies out there. Boy, was I wrong.

The highlight of this entire competition was their drama-filled long program to Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony. It’s been a full day since I first seen it and I still can’t quite process it. On one hand, I tend to shy away from overly theatrical or angsty programs (*cough* Evanescence, Volosozhar & Trankov*cough*) and yet, Moscovina seems to have found the right package for a team whose defining characteristic is Yuko’s cold demeanor and lack of facial expression. Combined with the solid skating, everything just *works* and I can’t explain it. I can’t wait to see this program again, polished and stronger than before because right now, I can’t imagine another program that can top this this season.

As for the rest of the competition, Nam Nguyen delivered a pretty solid performance in the LP, propelling him to the bronze medal. A lot of my readers and Twitter followers sang praises of him and although I do think that he has room to grow as a performer, I think he’s done a pretty good job of making a name for himself on his first year at the senior level. Tatsuki Machida delivered two clean programs to win by 30 points and despite the huge win, I can’t quite get into his skating style. I appreciate Machida for his clean programs but his performance reminds me of that guy in drama class that tries so hard that his acting becomes terribly awkward. Nonetheless, I appreciate the effort and I encourage him to continue working on his artistry.

Jason Brown, on the other hand, I would say he should stop doing what he’s doing – in terms of choreography at least. I can’t deny that Brown has some talent but he is a lot better than his programs allow him to be. There is so much kitsch that I can’t really see beyond that to really watch his skating. A great skater does not need costumes or glitter to really convey emotions on the ice. I think his fellow countryman, Jeremy Abbott was trying to convey just that… except in true Abbott fashion, he completely unraveled in the LP to fall out of podium contention. My issue with Jeremy Abbott is similar and yet different from that of Brown – he has the ability to skate well but he’s been packaged the same way for so many seasons (I’ve lost count) that I am bored out of my mind when I watch him. I have seen a version of his programs sometime in the past – they feel the same and I’m sure if someone took the time, you’d find similar choreographic elements and having a boring song with lyrics isn’t going to change that.

Speaking of lyrics to music, I have yet to see a program that effectively uses lyrics in some clever way – as a highlight or as a crescendo or as something somewhat creative. The worst offender had to be Arthur Gachinski who skated to Michael Buble. Seriously, I might as well have put that program on mute and put on Ariana Grande and it would’ve felt the same. It felt as if he was skating and Buble happened to be playing. *headdesk*

As for the ladies, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva surprised us by leading after the SP and then holding on enough to win a silver overall. Sadly though, Liza’s choreography is disjointed, lacks transitions and basically any sort of thought or plot. Little Russian star, Elena Radionova won the competition overall and as much as I do enjoy watching her skate, I have to say that her SP is dreadful. Haphazard music cuts, random movements, disjointed choreography – in short, a hot mess that’s made somewhat palatable thanks to Elena’s star quality. Her LP was a lot better but nothing really to write home about. Radionova has a long way to go before she reaches the level we’ve seen from Mao Asada, Carolina Kostner and Yuna Kim – she needs to fix her free foot, finish her movements and find that firmness in her edgework – and the sad thing is, she has a shot at being the top lady when there is clearly so much work to do.

Gracie Gold made me so bored that I was wishing that her programs were over before the halfway point of both her programs. As the top U.S. lady who’s pretty and has the perfect last name, Frank Carroll has officially sold her to the American public as the next American Ice Princess. And while this might get Gold a lot of sponsorship deals, gone is the spark that made the figure skating world so fascinated with her a few years ago when she was an emerging star. Instead, we get a girl skating to pretty music that will not offend or inspire. (Not to mention, she not only skated to the old warhorse of the Phantom of the Opera but she also skated to a very badly sung version of it.) Seriously, they should’ve just made her skate a competitive program to the soundtrack of Frozen. It would have been just as cheesy, she would still be skating pretty rather than feisty and there is the added bonus of her possibly becoming a viral internet sensation. She wouldn’t even need to skate well to get endorsements that way. Honestly though, Frank Carroll might want to let it go with that ice princess image and let Gracie be herself because otherwise, she’s not going to be endearing to anyone, whether or not she wins anything. (I mean, we all remember Rachael Flatt, right?)

As for ice dance, the one thing that we should officially report (though I’m sure everyone  knew it was coming) that the new top U.S. ice team is Madison Chock & Evan Bates now that Meryl & Charlie are sitting out. Again, I was bored for both programs. There’s really only so much I can be impressed with Madison’s presence before I start zoning out. Their FD was 4 minutes of meandering whatever on ice and I could feel myself tempted to play Candy Crush…

As for the Shibutanis, their programs weren’t bad but the issue for them is that they’ve been stagnating since they won that bronze at Worlds in 2011. Their FD is along the same lines of a lot of their previous programs and it might be about time they try to think of other venues and themes for the programs to overcome the barrier of them being a brother/sister team.

So, I apologize that this has been kind of a sad post but the week is new and another competition is on the horizon. As for my negativity about the state of the figure skating world right now, I will try to…

What are your thoughts on the Skate America competition last weekend? Let me know in the comments! Also, follow me on Twitter @RinksideCafe for live tweets and blog updates!

~Rinkside Cafe

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. MMM
    Oct 28, 2014 @ 01:09:37

    Not going to lie, I wasn’t really impressed with the programs either. Maybe it’s the fact that it is the Post-Oly year. I don’t know how else to explain it. I didn’t like any of the Ladies programs except maybe Mirai’s FS, which was an upgrade in my opinion from last year. The Men were meh & bleh. I have to agree the only thing I really liked out of this whole competition was Yuko/Alexander. That might be the best LP I’ve seen in years for Pairs (or at least for me anyway post-2010).


  2. Fuchsia G
    Oct 28, 2014 @ 05:09:35

    I so agree with you on so many things. And I don’t really like the lyrics. It’s distracting. When Abbott started his SP I thought someone was screaming in the audience, until I realized it was the music ^^


  3. Andrea K
    Nov 01, 2014 @ 07:43:45

    Agreed, especially when it comes to Gold. I can’t help wondering which century she’s skating in. Radionova’s music is woefully put together. I was most distracted by the lyrics.


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