State of the Union: 2015/16 Season

shibsibs sci15 fd

I usually write my State of the Union posts in January so that it coincides with the actual American SOTU address but things kept coming around and I find myself writing this now. Which in hindsight, isn’t actually that bad because some monumental things have happened at National-level competitions, which change the tone of the figure skating world going into the World Championships.

This season, I’ll change it up a little. This post used to be a long rambling of all the bits and pieces and I figure I’d try a new format and focus on four main themes, one for each discipline.

Men: Can anyone beat Yuzuru?

One thing this season is for sure: Yuzuru Hanyu has wowed us from beginning to end with stunning skates all season, even breaking world records. Twice.

Most of the top skaters at the beginning of the season were more inexperienced like teammate Shoma Uno and quad lutzer Boyang Jin. Against the youngin’s the only person in Hanyu’s way was Javier Fernandez, who has yet to find his creative spark. Under both Nikolai Morozov and Brian Orser, Fernandez’s programs fall in the charming/fun or sexy category, which I find a pity because Javier is talented. What I want to see him do is stand out amongst the talent by thinking about what his strengths and weaknesses in terms who he portrays on the ice. I’d like Javier to take the reins a little more and  decide what sort of programs would challenge him during a non-Olympic year and what programs fit him like a glove so that he can be more prepared for 2018 and a better rival for top spot. For this year, Fernandez has yet to beat Hanyu and for this season at least, it looks like Fernandez’s ability to beat Hanyu rests more heavily with Hanyu than himself.

One skater that did differentiate themselves from the pack since 4CC, however, was Patrick Chan. While watching his LP in Taipei, I felt a little sad thinking that there was a possibility that he could lose the gold because of his rough finish in the SP, leaving him 13 points behind the leader. Longtime readers will know that I’ve given Chan a lot of flak for his inflated scores back in the day but his LP at 4CC was a clear indication of what some of the younger skaters lacked – refinement, musicality (which Chan can have if he relaxes into the music) and pure skill at manipulating the blades during non-jump moments. Flawless, smooth and breath-taking, THAT is how you are supposed to make up a 13 point deficit. If he had wiped his ass on the ice twice and gotten the score that he did, I would’ve raised a fury as I have done in the past. Still, with rough performances throughout the season, I’m not sure if Chan has the momentum or the consistency to beat Hanyu.

So, in a nutshell, do I think anyone can beat Hanyu? If Yuzuru skates flawlessly, then no. If he skates less than ideal, I’d look towards the two other skaters I’ve highlighted here to snatch the crown away.

Ladies: Skating skills vs. Pizzaz

Satoko Miyahara is one of those introverted skaters that may be more impressive on camera than in person. I’ve heard this many a times from readers and I definitely don’t doubt you. Miyahara’s skating is less about the theatrics and more about the way her blade moves across the ice as if she was weaving an intricate pattern with wonderful control that many of the top ladies have yet to achieve. Still, despite proving many times that she is a capable skater, Miyahara’s PCS, especially in skating skills and transitions, have been consistently undermarked.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the young Russian ladies like up and coming Evgenia Medvedeva who won against veterans and youngin’s alike at the GPF and Elena Radionova, who has oozed Star Power since day 1. They don’t quite have the control Miyahara has over their blades but they are of the typical young phenom sort coming out of Russia these days – fantastic jumpers and good at selling their story on ice.

In an ideal world, a skater should blend the technical and artistic aspect of skating together and produce something magical but with the ladies field still in the works, there has yet to be a clear leader among the pack. There is Mao Asada, of course, but with a season full of ups and downs, there is doubt as to whether she will step up to the plate and seize the crown. Evgenia Medvedeva has probably enjoyed the most success so far this season but it is rare for the judges to reward a new skater so handsomely so soon. Frankly, the ladies field is still a bit of a jumble but Worlds will be another step towards clearing the fog and separating the chaff and wheat.

Pairs: An open field now that Duhamel & Radford have lost their momentum

With a loss in the GPF, a chink appeared in the armour for Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford. In the previous season, no team was able to stand up to their technical arsenal and the judges had to award them huge TES, leaving their opponents behind, even those with higher PCS. This year, the pairs field has responded and many teams have upped their game, adding quads and other risky elements.

With the gap in TES closing, especially when D&R were making mistakes, it almost felt inevitable that they would end their winning streak at the GPF. With the team withdrawing from 4CC due to illness, they’ve lost even more momentum this season. Being very competitive, I expect D&R to rebound with a vengeance at Worlds but they will be facing off against the current Olympic Champions, who are strong technically and their Olympic gold guarantees them a very solid PCS. Throw Stolbova & Klimov, winners of the GPF and Sui & Han, who have rebounded since their injury and you’ll have an exciting competition at Worlds this year.

Frankly, I don’t know what will happen at Worlds this year. What I can say that those who dreaded and hated D&R as World Champions last year can breathe a little easier this year. Their victory doesn’t feel inevitable anymore, rather it’s quite the opposite.

Ice Dance: Shibutanis blooming at the right time

Back when I made my disastrous GPF predictions, I said that if the Shibsibs wanted to topple Chock & Bates at Nationals, they should try to do it this season when they had fantastic programs and they should do it at the GPF because the results will likely translate to their ranking at Nationals. Boy, I am on a bad streak right now.

The Shibsibs beat Chock & Bates at Nationals in a surprise upset and they solidified their place above them by winning 4CC. They have been skating well and more importantly, they’ve been connecting well with the audience with their energy and their programs. All I can say at this point is that home ice advantage is a powerful thing, especially when the Next Great American Ice Princess Candidate is failing to deliver at major international competitions and they have no more contenders for gold medals in Boston. Let’s hope they don’t waste this chance.

The only teams that have a possibility of standing in their way are European Champions Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron, who scored very well in their FD (which is gorgeous by the way) in their comeback at Euros, and Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje, who won the GPF though I’m not sure if anyone knows what their FD is about this season.

I admit, I’m cheering very hard for this team  of siblings. Partly because I’ve enjoyed watching them since they came out of the junior ranks and partly because I truly do love the concept of showcasing programs that aren’t about romantic love or sex and that there’s a ton of possibilities out there – it’s just a territory that few teams try to explore because it’s so nebulous and vast.

In any case, that concludes this post. Stay tuned for a special announcement early next week!

~The Rinkside Cafe



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