The State of the Union – Pre-Euros, 4CC and Worlds

Ahhh! Euros are here already? Ok. Start!

In my head (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) the figure skating season (or more precisely, the ISU-sanctioned competitions) is divided into two. First you have all the Grand Prix events culminating in the Grand Prix Final and then we have the major international competitions: the European Championships, Four Continents and Worlds. (The Olympics are sort of an anomaly while the World Team Trophy is a cheesefest for the ISU to earn a little more money and by the looks of the last competition, a way to right a few erroneous results at Worlds, though the title isn’t as prestigious.) I divide the season like this because the two halves sort of run with slightly different rules or at least the placements get shaken up a bit.

The changes in placements don’t quite affect the top echelon of A-list skaters or the B-list and below but it does shake things up with the lower end of the A-list. This is partly because of the way the competitors are stacked up at each half. The Grand Prix events have few A-list skaters and so it’s pretty obvious most of the time who are podium contenders are. Some skaters don’t start out well early in the season and don’t make it into the final but are a force to be reckoned with in the second half. This is especially true if the skater is from a country with a strong figure skating union and has the union’s political support. In the second half, political support has a bit of a stronger effect on the placements. The ultimate cream of the crop  of the top GP contenders will likely get higher scores and/or placements while those who are slightly below may find themselves lacking even more points from their PCS. Sometimes, political support can change the placements between two contenders from the same country.

In any case, to make everything short, it’s a slightly different ball game when it comes to Euros, 4CC, Worlds and to some extent, the Olympics. This year, the World Championships take on another level of significance because the placements this season will determine the number of spots each country gets for the Olympics. So without further ado, here are a few comments on the state of figure skating just before Euros are about to start.

Carolina Kostner 2013 SP

Carolina beckons you in. More

Highlights and a few comments on the NHK Trophy 2012

Highlight: Yuzuru Hanyu beating his own world record in the short program. At the tender age of 17. Wow.

I adore this program. My favourite part? The footwork into the 3A. So difficult but he makes it look smooth as butter.

I think his gold here at NHK has set him up quite well for Sochi. He’s proven that he’s a tough competitor who can beat Daisuke and be the #1 Japanese man. Aka the one the JFSA will politick for next year. He just needs to keep up his consistency and work on his long program but this kid is on the right track to a bright future. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll notice that he’s the only skater I’ve pegged so far as the future of figure skating. I’ve been reluctant to do the same for some other bright talents (ie. the baby Russian divas, Adelina Sotnikova and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva) because none of them have talent that stood out like Yuzuru’s. I’m so excited for this young man’s future.

Highlight: Despite the change in coaches, Yuzuru still has his Winnie the Pooh tissue box. And Brian Orser carries it around. (This picture was from the Finlandia Trophy but Orser did carry Pooh bear around at the NHK Trophy.)

Also, anyone else noticed that Brian was more chummy with Yuzuru than Javier? Poor Javi, such talent but he has no powerful figure skating union to back him up.

Highlight: Akiko Suzuki skating a fabulous long program. So focused, so lovely. She gets better with age.

However, despite winning the long program, she totally got tanked by her PCS which made her lose the gold. I’m sorry, Mao, but I don’t think popping or doubling jumps and shaky landings constitute as good skating skills. Or at least skating skills rated as 8/10. That abnormally high bit of PCS on Mao’s score in the LP was what gave her the gold medal. Frankly, I’m very disappointed in you, judges. And the JFSA.

Highlight: Richard Dornbush. I’ve been told about this youngin’ though I haven’t had much time to follow up and watch his skating. But now that I have, I admit, despite the mistakes, he has great potential. I love the lines he makes with his arms and the smoothness in his skating. I hope this guy improves.

Highlight: Zijun Li has utterly boring programs and her PCS are a bit high seeing that she skates like a junior but this girl was refreshing to watch. She’s a natural jumping bean! She reminds me of a young Mao, though her aura is definitely a lot different. I’d love to see her with a different choreographer. She wasn’t that far behind Mirai Nagasu for bronze so I’d say that she has a little time to show everyone what’s she’s got and I’m excited.

What were your favourite moments of the NHK Trophy?

~The Rinkside Cafe

Checking in with Yuzuru Hanyu

I was taking a break from what my life is right now and suddenly thought of my bronze prince aka Yuzuru Hanyu (who I hope will be World Champion one day). Since last season, he’s been training in my darling hometown of Toronto with Brian Orser and I was wondering about his progress. I thought that videos of THE ICE or something will pop up so I decided to take a look. Alas, no skating shows but there was this fluff piece. My Japanese is definitely rusty and Yuzuru speaks very fast so I wasn’t really able to get what he was saying. (I also don’t have the time or attention span to decipher the captions right now but I might in the future, or maybe if a wonderful reader will do it for me, that would be much appreciated.)

Those quads are quite lovely, by the way. He lands them so deep in the knee and has excellent flow out of the jump!

EDIT: A wonderful, wonderful reader, DaisukeFS has provided a translation for the video. I cannot express how thankful I am right now. (You should go to the comments and thank them too if you enjoyed the translation!) Here is the translation:

(Narrator) A remarkable male (figure skater) is a 17-year-old hopeful, Yuzuru Hanyu.
(Caption) His name and age with “a young phenomenon in Japan”

(Narrator) Last season he won the bronze medal at the World Championships. He is a young phenomenon.
(Caption) Bronze medal at the 2012 World Championships (The youngest Japanese medalist in the World Championships history)

(Yuzuru) I start thinking that I should aim higher and higher. Of course, I must not be satisfied with myself like this.
(Caption) The same as above.

(Narrator) For his further improvement, he changed his training base to Toronto, Canada. His new coach is Brian Orser, who led Yuna Kim to the gold medal in Vancouver Olympic games. His training time in Canada is nearly twice as long as the training time in Japan.
(Caption) 5 to 6 hours practice per day

(Narrator) He has received intensive coaching through the coach’s motions. Even off the rink, his training does not end. To develop a broad range of his expressions, he is learning the hip hop dance. He can dance as is shown.

(Yuzuru) (His life in Canada is) really fulfilling. I feel as though I just lie down on a bed to sleep immediately when I finish the practice.
(Caption) The same as above.

(Narrator) For the ideal skating that he envisions, he is now into skating.

(Yuzuru) I want to be a skater who can do anything. Being able to jump and spin, I want to be someday a skater who is close to perfect in all aspects of skating.
(Caption) The same as above.

There’s also a part of the video with him learning hip hop. The intensity of his face is remarkable. If he can’t skate anymore (heaven forbid), he could be the next big Japanese pop star. I mean he dances well and you can autotune anything nowadays. Case and point:

Hope you had your day’s dose of Yuzuru and pop culture!

~Rinkside Cafe

New coaches for two Japanese men: Daisuke and Yuzuru

This is old news by now but I needed time to mull over things and form my opinion. In any case, we all know now that Daisuke Takahashi is going back to Nikolai Morozov who will be his assistant coach/advisor. (Thanks, Rino!) I’m weeping in my heart, just a little because first Lori and now the Morozombie. Aunt Joyce has expressed his opinion in this post and is not too concerned about the move because of these programs:

I, on the other hand, reasons that those programs are 4 years old and Morozov may have burnt out completely by now. When I think of Morozov, all I can think of is this fuckery:

I think I lose brain cells every time I look at that costume, let alone watch the entire program.

I really don’t have much else to say. Anyone else have comments?

Moving on to Yuzuru, it’s also really old news that he’s now training with Brian Orser and David Wilson. This new combination took a little more time to really settle into my brain. On one hand, Yuzuru’s relationship with his former coach, Nanami Abe was super sweet. I love how she always held his Pooh Bear tissue box and how he would put his medals around her neck. The Romeo and Juliet LP she choreographed this season was quite extraordinary and suited him perfectly – his age, his flair for drama and his ability to emote. Absolutely glorious.

On the other hand, Yuzuru needs his quads steady and his stamina built up if he wants to be a contender for the Olympics. At his age, he can go to two but at the same time, with a World bronze medal on his neck, he has the potential to go far at Sochi. I’m not too worried about Brian Orser’s commitments to Yuzuru despite the fact that Orser is also in charge of Javier. The difference between Javier and Yuzuru is that little Yuzuru has a skating federation with money and who cares a little more despite the fact that Yuzuru’s only the #3 man in Japan. I don’t doubt that he’ll rise further up in the ranks very soon despite Oda coming back and Takahiko working on a comeback. He already seems to be getting more fans than Takahiko and Oda probably still hasn’t passed Counting 101.  I’m also pleased with the fact that Yuzuru will probably be working with David Wilson for choreography and I love how Wilson makes programs that play up each skater’s strengths while downplaying their weaknesses.

Case and point? Yuna and her terrible extension. (Face it Yunabots, she’s not totally perfect – just like any other skater – and she really only improved this aspect of her skating after she left Orser.) Wilson made several programs that made that weakness a moot point while emphasizing her ability to be dramatic or flirty.

Nonetheless, my issue with Yuzuru’s coaching situation is mainly, Brian Orser. At this point, I’m doubting his abilities as a coach. Yes, there was Yuna Kim but here are some of his other “big name” students: Christina Gao who, like Yuna has poor extension and turnout, lacks confidence and star power and has gotten accepted at Harvard. The last point is not a detriment to her character but a potential reason for retirement, of course. There’s also Adam Rippon who does the most gorgeous Rippon Lutzes, was touted to be the next star in American men’s figure skating but barely has a quad or a triple axel at this point in his career. That is something that he should be very worried about if he wants to be competitive in the World stage right now. He seems to be worried since he left Orser. The latest pupil, Javier Fernandez had a promising start this season – two silvers in his GP events and then a bronze in the final but then something fell loose – 6th at the European Championships and then 9th at Worlds. He was good enough to win bronze but did not even break the top 5. Maybe my expectations were too high but the way this guy started his season was a breath of fresh air. Oh well, time will tell.

In any case, I will not forgive Orser if he turns Yuzuru into a “has been” skater. Yuna, her unexpected success and her popularity was what made Orser into the superstar coach he is now. Yes, Yuna was good and Orser made her better but she was also from South Korea, a place where competitive figure skating is unusual and a country that embraces their celebrities very ardently. If Yuna were from France, where there is a decent history of competitive figure skating and a strong union to back up their skaters, she would not have the underdog story which will make her even more famous that she was for winning things and beating the Japanese and she would not have opened up a new market to figure skating for the ISU. Part of Yuna’s superstardom, I may argue derives from her country of origin but the main point is that Orser also became a superstar with Yuna’s success. In some ways, I feel that Yuna made Orser into a larger than life coach than he actually was and his more recent students, I feel that there is validity in my worries over Yuzuru’s skating career. Then again, like everything else, time will tell.

Opinions? Please share!

~The Rinkside Cafe

Brian Orser loses another star pupil…

According to this article, Adam Rippon is leaving Brian Orser for Ghislain Briand. The parting seems a lot more amicable and less dramatic than the Yuna-Orser split. Then again, Adam doesn’t have a band of rabid fans who worships everything she touches and says. With Adam gone, I’m starting to wonder about Orser’s future career as a coach. Right after the Olympic season, skaters started flocking to Orser in the summer, just to test him out. Right now, he just seems to be losing one high profile student after the other.

Adam has been hailed to be the next great American male skater and it seemed as if Orser did not need Yuna to maintain his top coach status. I’m not trying to question Orser’s coaching ability at the moment, but I’m just wondering what’s going on. Was it just coincidence that Adam is leaving so soon after Yuna’s departure? Is Orser not the hot shit we all supposed him to be? Orser’s next hope lies in Christina Gao and if she fails to make waves in the figure skating world (and she’ll have to beat out really tough competition from Japan and Russia to do this), Orser will be known as the one who once coached Yuna Kim and Adam Rippon.  Oh yes, and an Olympic silver medalist – never gold, like most Canadian skaters.

What do you think is going on?

~The Rinkside Cafe

Moment in History: The Definitive Carmen

I’ve been reading a book on George Bizet’s “Carmen” and it’s been interesting so far. Spain is currently considered to be part of Europe so we forget that it was once considered to be part of the “exotic Orient” and that Bizet’s opera(s) was/were a product of the prevalent Orientalist attitudes of his time. All of that interesting scholarly analysis aside, I wonder if Bizet ever knew that his opera would end up as the most overused piece of figure skating music of all time. Almost everyone who skates has skated to “Carmen” at some point in their career. It’s classical but everyone knows it, so it’s a way to get the crowd while showing that you can skate to a classical piece.

In any case, of all the Carmens out there, it seems to be general consensus that Katarina Witt skated the definitive “Carmen” in her short (thanks Ay-sa) long program – complete with her dying on the ice – for the 1988 season, where she won Olympic gold against her main competitor, Debi Thomas, who also skated to Carmen in the battle of the Carmens.

Here is Debi Thomas’ Carmen if anyone was wondering:

I also just wanted to post this because it’s so rare. Sasha Cohen skating a long program to Carmen… but she doesn’t fall! There were 2-footed jumps, unsteady landings and a hand down but *gasp* no falling!?

Another interesting tidbit – Carmen on Ice starring Katarina Witt (Carmen), Brian Boitano (Don Jose), Brian Orser (Escamillo):

(Prelude + Parle-Moi de Ma Mere)

Part II
Part III

Part IV

Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII
Part IX
Part X

All in all though, this woman is THE definitive Carmen.

And that, is today’s moment in history.

Enjoy~!

~The Rinkside Cafe

Just for Fun: Top 5 Coaches

I was inspired by this post by From the Boards and thought that I’d compile my own list of top 5 coaches (and I’ll do  a second part with choreographers later) ’cause it’s fun! I’ll try and make my list a little dissimilar to spice things up! So without further ado…

The Rinkside Cafe’s picks for Top 5 Coaches

1. Tatiana Tarasova

Tati may not have been able to focus her attentions on Mao because she had to take care of her sick mother (and if you can sympathize with Joannie Rochette, I think you can also sympathize with Tati), but Mao’s choice for her as coach was not illogical at all: Tati has coached more skaters to World Championhood and Olympic Gold more than anyone else. Some of her past students include Alexei Yagudin, Katia Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, Shizuka Arakawa and Illia Kulik. At the moment, I think she’s only “advising teams” (although her mother passed away in the summer) but all in all, Tati, with her diva fur coats and hair, is undoubtedly, a force to be reckoned with.

2. Frank Carroll

Frank Carroll is a legend thanks to Michelle Kwan. He and Lori Nichol used to be a dream team. It’s just a pity that the student that would finally give him Olympic Gold is the epileptic arm-waving, giant bad Vera Wang-clad contorting spider called Evan Lysacek. Carroll is known to make his skaters do full run throughs which makes them improve very, very fast. Right now, his star students at the senior level (Mirai Nagasu and Denis Ten) are known headcases but I’m hoping that he could work some magic on them.

3. Igor Shpilband

Team Shpilband and Zueva have worked miracles and have taken teams with potential and worked with them until they meet that potential. Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir had trouble with lifts, speed and power during their teenage year and look at them now! Under their tutelage (and Igor paired them up), Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto began to give notice to the world that North America is capable of producing good ice dancers in a European-dominated sport. In fact, thanks to team Shpilband/Zueva, North America has emerged as a powerhouse for ice dancing in recent years, therefore  beginning the campaign to rid the world of what Aunt Joyce likes to call “Eurotrash” programs, which is definitely a good thing. Also, Katia Shpilband, Igor’s daughter has become a competent figure skater at the intermediate junior level. Videos of her skating have yet to emerge on the internet but I must say, I’m excited.

4. Alexei Mishin

Although several current children’s books hail the Weir-Lysacek rivalry as the most epic rivalry in history, I care to disagree. Actually, any good figure skating fan would know that the most epic rivalry was between Alexei Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko. Unlike Weir and Lysacek who only really competed with each other on the national level (with a lot of trash talking), Yagudin and Plushenko were competing with each other for The Top Spot in EVERY competition they were in together. For about eight years, if your last name was not Yagudin or Plushenko, you would not win gold or silver at Worlds. Bronze would have been a great achievement back then. In any case, these two and their talent and fierce and epic rivalry was created or fostered by Papa Mishin. You may criticize him for choreography with excessive arm-waving but his mind games and toughness has produced two legends of figure skating. Although Plushenko’s performance at the Olympics (and every competition during the 2009/2010 season) left much to be desired, it’s a pity that this legend had to be beaten by someone whose “artistry” involves re-enacting a seizure on ice. In any case, another star by Mishin is on the horizon by the name of Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. If she survives her growth spurt, watch out for her at Sochi.

5. A tie between…

Brian Orser

I was going to exclude Orser from the top 5 not because he’s not a great coach, but because he’s only coached 1 superstar and 1 upcoming star. Although Yuna Kim is a super-duperstar at the moment, Orser does not have the coaching record as some of the other coaches on this list. At the moment, he has 1 Olympic gold medal, 1 World gold and 2 World bronze. A fair achievement, by 1 skater but compared to people like Tati and Igor, he has a way to go with his coaching career. Still, Kim’s achievements have been great but we’ll have to wait and see how Orser fares with his other skaters. At the moment, Christina Gao is being buried by the Russian girls and Adam Rippon still has consistency issues. His reputation amongst Korean fans has gone down since the crazy drama with the Kim-Orser split. And he doesn’t have a South Park theme song. In any case, we’ll have to wait and see what else Brian has in store for us, although if anything, CBC will still be a huge fan of his.

Nikolai Morozov

Morozov is a badass Russian Gino who can do voodoo and somehow get gorgeous girls despite his gino-ness. I admit, some of his programs are some of the worst crap I’ve ever seen (aka Morozombie programs). Miki’s Ando’s programs are clear proof of that, however some of his other programs are pure, pure gold. Like this one, which is a collaboration with Tatiana Tarasova:

Despite his choreography with tons of pauses, weird arm movements, a lack of personality and jump-laden in the second half programs, Morozov’s legacy and coaching prowess stems from the fact that he produces consistent skaters with correct, huge and powerful jumps. Just look at Miki Ando and Nobunari Oda.

Anyways, what is your list of top 5 coaches?

~The Rinkside Cafe