The Future is Here! All Hail Yuzuru Hanyu – Olympic Champion!

Yuzuru Hanyu 2014 OWG LP

The men’s competition in Sochi was packed full of surprises for better and worse. The result is still a little bit of a shock but somewhere deep down, I think I was expecting it. Or maybe, a lot of us just managed to see what a talent this guy was back at the beginning of the Olympic cycle and he certainly proved us right. Thanks, Yuzuru!

Also, the men’s figure skating Olympic curse seems to be in full effect after taking a small break in Vancouver. (For those of you who don’t know, the “curse” is that the man who was World Champion from the previous year/season will not win Olympic gold. All the figure skating “curses” were broken in Vancouver but so far, they seems to be in full effect.) Anyway, let’s start this brief recap of the men’s figure skating competition with one of the biggest game changers… More

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Japanese Olympic Team Announced!

FSAKTE-JPN-OLY-2014

The Japanese Figure Skating Championships are one of the few more exciting National Championships out there because the entire competition isn’t just a one pony race. In the singles events, the field is tough and the sad thing is – if some of the lower ranked competitors were from some other country, they’d be going to Sochi right now. In any case, here is the video announcing the Japanese team for Sochi 2014.

In case you can’t quite pick out the names in the flurry of Japanese, they are: More

Favourite Programs of the 2013/2014 Season

It’s that time again! The Grand Prix events are over save the final and that means that we’ve seen most of the programs for this season! I have to say, I’m very impressed with the programs this season as the skaters have stepped it up to bring their A-game to the Olympics.

I’ll start off the post with a special mention since there’s usually a picture after this introduction blurb. The special mention goes to Nelli Zhiganshina & Alexander Gazsi for their programs – both the SD and FD. In terms of choreography, they’re nothing remarkable but there’s something unique about taking the storyline of the SD and continuing in the FD. I think this team knew they probably weren’t going to win a lot of important events but I’m glad they took this creative risk. Kudos for that!

zhiganshina gazsi 2013 sdfd

Now, onto my favourite programs of this season by event…

Men’s Short Program: Daisuke Takahashi, Sonatina for Violin in C-sharp Minor

This program does feel a little front-heavy but this clean performance and Daisuke’s commitment to the program shines through and by the time he does his step sequence, I forget all about that. After a year of disappointing programs and performances by Daisuke, this was a breath of fresh air and I’m glad this program shows off what he does best: his musicality and expression. That crisp quad toe and triple axel definitely helped the flow of this program as well.

Men’s Long Program: Han Yan, Gourmet Valse Tartare & The Blue Danube

None of the men’s programs really stood out for me in terms of choreography but I did like the light and airy quality of this program and how Yan was able to carry it out.

Special mention: Han Yan’s short program. I didn’t know that he was capable of such edginess. I swear his movements and expression were almost Daisuke-esque.

Ladies Short Program: Elena Radionova, Anna Karenina soundtrack & Two Steps from Hell

I can’t tell you how impressed I was with this program and this young lady when I first saw her skate this at the Nebelhorn Trophy. Just, wow. You can see just how much power and edge control she has within the first minute and it’s hard to believe that a 14 year-old can carry this music right until the end. You can’t take your eyes off her and this isn’t easy music to skate to. Subdued, quiet and yet very elegant, Elena skates to this music with a quiet strength that belies her age. What I love about this program is how the elements are woven in seamlessly and you forget you’re watching a program choreographed to gain points from judges. I seriously watched and re-watched this program after I found it and I hope you enjoy as much as I do.

Ladies Long Program: Mao Asada, Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2

Mao hasn’t skated this program perfectly this season but I love this program because it shows off the best of Mao: the talent and the growth. The elements flow well into each other and there are all these complicated transitions that Mao does as if they were child’s play – the pseudo-spin into the camel spin, the footwork into the 3F at the beginning… Mao skates them as smooth as butter. There’s a strength and athleticism from her that we haven’t seen as much before and you can just see that her crossovers and strokes carry her faster and farther. Mao’s also shown that her musicality has improved- that upper body movement in the first three seconds and the darker tone of the music are expressed a lot better and without any awkwardness like in her “Bells of Moscow” LP in Vancouver. Mao’s journey has been one of growth and improvement and I wish her the very best this season.

Pairs Short Program: Cheng Peng & Hao Zhang, The Eternal Vow (From the Soundtrack of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

The thing about this program is that if you break it down into its elements, you can see that “checklist” of required elements. There aren’t that many transitions between the elements and quite a bit of forward two-foot skating. However, this program is unusual in that a lot of elements (i.e. the death spiral, pairs spin) aren’t left to the end as they usually are and for a relatively new team, the music was one of those more subdued pieces and therefore, more difficult to pull off without losing the audience’s attention. What really makes this program shine is the connection that exists the two partners despite the vast age difference and the long flowing lines in the choreography that fits the music very well. For a team that has yet to reach the highest level of skating, this simpler program dazzles with the chemistry between the two partners, very well-executed elements and well thought-out choreography that suits the music and the skaters.

Pairs Long Program: Cheng Peng & Hao Zhang, Yellow River Piano Concerto

I tried, really, I did, to find another pairs LP I liked better but I couldn’t. I think the reason I like this team and their choreography is because they remind me of pairs skating at its best: elegance, chemistry and big tricks. Here we have another program skated to subdued music but you’re mesmerized by their flow and carriage across the ice. That quad twist was just amazing as well. I seriously hope these two can somehow get to the Olympics.

Ice Dance Short Dance: Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron, Cool Cat in Town, Burlesque soundtrack

These two are a non-entity in the top echelons of the skating world but I really enjoyed this jazzy, energetic Finnstep SD done without using irritating music – a sin that a lot of teams seem to be committing this season. (I fully admit that I HATE the song, “Big Spender” and “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” purely on the subject matter and lyrics of the song. The tunes are pretty annoying as well.)

Ice Dance Free Dance: Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, Petit Adagio, Waltz in Concerto No. 2, Allegro Moderato

Tessa & Scott have yet to skate this perfectly but I like the concept of this program in that it combines difficult choreography with the story of their career. The details, the elegance and the “clean” feeling of this program makes it breathtaking. It was really difficult choosing between this program and Meryl & Charlie’s Scheherazade program (I love the tension and crescendo) but I think there’s more of a storyline here even though D/W have the pre-written story of One Thousand and One Nights. I will do this though…

Special Mention: Meryl Davis & Charlie White, Scheherazade

Ice Dance Special Mention: Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov, Swan Lake

Yes, I’ll admit to liking this. Even if the music is overused. And there’s a few pauses in the choreography. And even if Morozov probably choreographed it. Now excuse me while I wallow in shame.

What were your favourite programs from this season? Let me know!

Also, I’ll be coming up with a favourite costumes post soon as well!

~The Rinkside Cafe

Comments on the NHK Trophy 2013

I managed to catch the competition on CBC this week for the NHK Trophy and now that the coverage has ended, let the commentary  begin!

Daisuke still has IT

I admit, I didn’t really enjoy Daisuke too much last season. His programs were forgettable and there lacked a spark in his skating that draws you to his performances. With a disappointing 4th place at Skate Canada, I thought we were going to see more uninspiring Daisuke but I’m so glad he proved me wrong. I’m still not a huge fan of his LP but his SP was mesmerizing, just as all Daisuke programs should be.

The program was smooth, his jumps were solid and his performance and expression were beautiful as always. I hope we see more of this Daisuke this season.

Look out for Adam Rippon

I know that most people are looking at Jeremy Abbott right now for unexpectedly winning the bronze at the NHK Trophy but I think the one we should really be keeping an eye out for is Adam Rippon. While Jeremy did win a bronze here, he did finish 6th at Skate Canada when he could’ve finished a few places higher. Despite a 4th place finish, what Adam Rippon has shown is that he has become increasingly consistent by finishing in the top half (and winning a silver at Skate America) in both his GP assignments. Abbott, on the other hand, has shown more of the same old: when he’s good, he’s very good and when he’s bad, he’s very bad.

Super Javi falters

PJ Kwong pegged Javier Fernandez for gold while I pegged him for silver. Either way, both of us expected him to finish on the podium at NHK. For a bit, my prediction seemed to ring true until he tripped up and made a lot of mistakes in his long program which led him to a 5th place finish. Javier was a strong contender for the men’s field going into the Olympic season but now that the Olympic season has started, I wonder if he has the momentum to get on the podium with this relatively poor result for him at NHK. Time will tell, I suppose.

Mao is going up

mao 13 nhk lp

Mao has been having a few rough seasons since the Vancouver Olympics but it looks as if she’s back on track for this season. She might need to up her technical ability in order to beat Yuna but every performance has been a steady improvement for her as the GP series has gone on. I’m very impressed with the expression, grace and maturity she’s shown this season and I look forward to seeing her skate again in the Grand Prix Final. Her two golds have guaranteed a spot there.

Honourable Mention: Akiko Suzuki

Akiko finished lower than expected with a bronze medal at the NHK Trophy but in my eyes, she’s still an amazing skater. I hated her Phantom of the Opera LP at the beginning of this season, partly because I generally don’t like skaters using this overdramatic, overused piece of music (with some exceptions… like this* and this) and partly because I couldn’t quite look past the mistakes and see the choreography and skating. This time however, Akiko managed to sell her program a lot better despite the mistakes and I’ve grown to like it better. I’m so sad she’s going to retire at the end of this season. I mean, look at this, she just gets better at expressing the music with her skating every year, mistakes or no mistakes…

*Note: Even though I do like Davis/White’s Olympic FD, I’d still wish they skated with similar choreography to some other uber dramatic music.

We’re going to miss you, girl.

Rising Star: Elena Radionova

I’m very miffed at myself for not factoring her in my predictions even though she is one of my favourite skaters this season. If my brain had been working, her name would’ve registered and I would’ve probably put her in for bronze rather than Gracie Gold. Well, the deed is done and my predictions would’ve been wrong anyways since she’s won the silver! She’s probably earned a spot in the GPF and I can’t wait to see her there. So much potential and star quality in spades.

She could’ve finished off her movements a little more in this performance but this might be the best she’s skated this program this season.

The way Olympic spots are awarded to each country is total bullsh**

I really hate the way slots are allotted to each country for each Worlds and the Olympics. Please refer to the table on this wikipedia page for more information. What I hate about the way they give spots to each competitor is that they do it by country. If you haven’t read the wikipedia page, the basics of it is that each country has a certain amount of spots at the Olympics according to how well the country’s competitors rank in the World championships in the season prior to the Olympics. This may seem fine at first glance but the problem comes when certain countries have tons of talented skaters but not enough spots. These skaters may be much better than most of the field but they won’t be able to qualify for the Olympics because some of their fellow countrymen are better than they are.

Case 1: Japanese single skaters – In the men’s competition at Japanese nationals this season, Daisuke Takahashi, Yuzuru Hanyu, Takahito Kozuka, Nobunari Oda and Tatsuki Machida are going to duke it out to take 1 of 3 spots at the Olympics. Three out of five of these men have won medals at the World Championships while all of them have had many medals and victories in the GP series. I would honestly rather allow Japan two extra spots and watch two more amazing performances at the Olympics than give two spots to skaters whose careers have been much less illustrious and will likely give out two (at best) mediocre performances.

Case 2 (and why it’s pertinent to the NHK Trophy): China only has 2 spots at the Olympics and this week, Peng & Zhang have skated well while their teammates, Sui & Han have suffered in their scores and rankings since Sui was sick while she was competing. Either way, both teams have shown themselves to be worthy of future medals but only one will make it to the Olympics. What makes me angry is that the teams who have ranked under them consistently this season (*cough* pointing at Swiegers/Lawrence and pretty much all the American pairs teams) might or will likely get a spot because the competition isn’t as stiff in their respective countries. Sigh.

So, let’s be clear on a few things:

1. It is so frustrating to see really talented competitors not make it to the Olympics just because they happen to be in a nation where they might not be at the top but they are on the A-list of competitors anyways.

2. Yes, I know I can be a bitchy figure skating snob. Deal with it.

Shibsibs recover, Ilinykh & Katsalapov still #2 in Russia

maia alex 13 nhk fd

Yes, yes, Meryl & Charlie won (FD here). That’s no surprise anymore. The Shibutanis, however, seem to have recovered and got back on the podium! I was surprised because I thought that Ilinykh & Katsalapov were going to take the bronze but the Shibutani siblings seem to have improved and have captured the bronze.

A bronze for I/K may have been a signal that times were changing and that they were challenging Bobrova & Soloviev, the top Russian team. By being in that top spot nationally, they have a shot a fighting for Olympic bronze but it seems as if I/K need a lot more work, especially since there are so many “empty” spots in their program… usually full of posing.

I’m happy that the Shibutani siblings did well this competition but their FD still confuses me. That slow musical part in the middle of their FD makes it a little incoherent and I’m confused as to what the concept of the FD is.

As for the SDs in ice dance, I have yet to find one I’m totally in love with but I think that’s the nature of the beast. At least, for me.

The Trophee Eric Bompard is next week! (Sorry for the lack of accents.) Are you excited? Let me know why in comments or share your thoughts on the NHK Trophy!

~The Rinkside Cafe

 

Predictions: NHK Trophy 2013

I’m still sorting out my thoughts on the Cup of China this year so there may be a combination CoC and NHK thoughts post in the future but for now, a predictions post is due.

daisuke 13 sa

Let’s hope these predictions will go a little better this time…

Men

There are three Japanese men skating at NHK this week and somehow, I can only see one man skating well. Usually, I’d name Daisuke Takahashi to that charge but Daisuke hasn’t been skating to the standard I expect from him lately. Instead, I’ll pin my hopes for two solid skates on Nobunari Oda, who’s done well this season and would’ve won silver at Skate Canada if he hadn’t violated the zayak rule within the first minute of his long program. (Yes, I’m still miffed about that.)

However, another person to watch would be Javier Fernandez who took the bronze at Worlds this year. I expect him and Oda to be duking it out for gold. It’ll be a tough call as to who will win.

Adam Rippon may be another skater to watch since he’s seems to have matured and done rather well at Skate America. I’m not sure if he’s still at that stage where the audience has no clue which Adam will show up (the angel or the headcase) but I guess this is a test. If he skates well here, I may have to peg him as a serious competitor in all my predictions this season.

Predictions:

Gold: Nobunari Oda
Silver:
Javier Fernandez
Bronze:
Daisuke Takahashi

Ladies

I cannot tell you how happy I was to see Mao Asada skating well again. This season, Mao just looks longer, leaner and skating with a maturity and strength that I’ve never seen before. Yes, her programs have not been perfect but her win at Skate America might give her some good momentum for the Olympics this season. As for this competition, I think she can grab the gold if she skates well. She’ll have tough competition from her fellow countryman, Akiko Suzuki, who won silver at Skate Canada.

I think that the podium will be rounded off by Gracie Gold, who’s shown that she’s something of an entity in the Grand Prix circuit but will need to skate more consistently and give us more if she’s to become the top U.S. lady.

Predictions:

Gold: Mao Asada
Silver:
Akiko Suzuki
Bronze:
Gracie Gold

Pairs

There is no doubt in my mind that the winners of this event will be Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the gold was theirs every time their name pops up. Looking at the competitors, I’m sure they could fall once or twice and still win.

Two Chinese teams showed that they still had it this season and I expect them to round out the podium as well. I’m talking about Wenjing Sui & Cong Han and Cheng Peng & Hao Zhang. The former won silver at Skate Canada while the latter won bronze, to my utmost surprise last week at the Cup of China. Stylistically, there’s an elegance reminiscent of Shen & Zhao that I see in Peng & Zhang but I think Sui & Han might have the advantage this season at least for their big tricks. We’ll see how these these two teams do. I’m so sad that China only has two slots for pairs at the Olympics and one of these teams will likely not go.

Predictions:

Gold: Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov
Silver:
Wenjing Sui & Cong Han
Bronze:
Cheng Peng & Hao Zhang

Ice Dance

I’m pretty sure that the number 1 and 2 slot will be filled in quite handily by Meryl Davis & Charlie White and Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte, respectively. It’s the bronze that might be a bit of a tough call. The fight for bronze will likely be a showdown between Maia & Alex Shibutani and Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov. We have yet to see I/K’s programs but I can’t quite seem to connect with the Shibsibs’ MJ/whatever free dance. It’s a strange choice for the Olympics since it’s not at all anything that we’ve seen from them and the concept of it is unclear to me. I think for that I’ll give the edge to I/K. Who will hopefully give us something better than that terribly tacky Ghost FD from last year.

Predictions:

Gold: Meryl Davis & Charlie White
Silver:
Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte
Bronze:
Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov

What are your predictions for the NHK Trophy? Let me know in the comments!

~The Rinkside Cafe

Predictions: Skate America 2013

I am heartbroken right now. I was supposed to go to Skate America or Skate Canada but things fell through and alas, I will be stuck watching this at home. Sigh. Well, here are my predictions, whether or not I’m in Detroit.

shibsibs

Men

As predicted in this post of mine written last month, I said, ” [Evan] 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.” It seems that the latter has come true, according to this article. Lysacek has a hip injury that will conveniently take him out of competition until some B-list events like the NRW Trophy that Yuna Kim competed in last year. I kind of like the snarky reference to the sponsor issue in the Chicago Tribune article and honestly, I call bullshit to some degree about sponsors not factoring into his decision. Skating is an expensive sport and sponsors are important. I suppose I should cut him some slack since most people would say that money is not an issue to look less… mercenary (using a word from Pride and Prejudice). Evan Lysacek aside…

Takahiko Kozuka looked in good shape at the Japan Open this year, after a disappointing season last year, as he handily beat fellow countryman, Daisuke Takahashi, who will also be competing at Skate America. I’m not sure if Daisuke’s expressivity will be able to trump Takahiko’s clean(er) program and solid skating skills. Daisuke’s jumps and spins looked terrible at the Japan Open and he’s also the type of competitor who’s a little weak at the beginning of the season. In any case, I just hope that Daisuke can at least get on the podium but his level of skating leaves the door quite open for other skaters.

A wildcard that can surprise a whole lot of people here is Denis Ten who was a surprise spoiler for silver at the World Championships last year. The only problem with Denis is that he is completely unpredictable. His sudden rise at Worlds was completely unexpected because he’s a known headcase but let’s hope that things go well for him. Good skating is always appreciated. UPDATE: Denis Ten will not be competing due to illness. More info in this article.

Max Aaron also has a chance to take a medal on home ice. After all, he did win U.S. Nationals last year and his results at other competitions haven’t been terribly atrocious. As well, home ice does tend to favour their own people.

This will be a difficult prediction to make…

Predictions:

Gold: Takahiko Kozuka
Silver:
Max Aaron
Bronze:
Daisuke Takahashi (please don’t let me down, Daisuke)

Ladies

The contest for gold I think will come down to two ladies here at Skate America: Mao Asada and Ashley Wagner. Mao’s looking more solid than she’s been in the last two seasons and she seems to have grown into longer and leaner body. However, with a home ice advantage and a solid skate at the Japan Open a while back, I think the gold will go to Wagner. Whether she can stay near the top for the rest of the season is altogether another debate.

As for the bronze medal, I’m hoping that the little phenom, Elena Radionova, will dazzle us all. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva might be able to squeak a win but she’s grown inconsistent of late. I’m sure there will be fans arguing on behalf of Caroline Zhang, who has improved in the last few seasons and Samantha Cesario, who seems to have quite a few fans but I’ve never quite understood the hype about this girl.

Predictions:

Gold: Ashley Wagner
Silver:
Mao Asada
Bronze: 
Elena Radionova

Pairs

Without a doubt, Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov will win this competition. They are a head and shoulders above the rest. As for the harder predictions to make, the silver and bronze – well, let’s just say I’m really unenthusiastic about making these predictions because the pairs field is once again, really lame. I’d say the silver will go to Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch. They’re not a bad pair but they’ve been tumbling down the ranks in international competitions because *The* new Canadian pairs team, Duhamel & Radford. As for bronze, I’m hoping for a victory for Stefania Berton & Ondrej Hotarek since I like their classic pairs style of skating but they’ll face competition with Caydee Denney & John Coughlin on home ice and of course, another Russian team, Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov.

Predictions:

Gold: Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov
Silver:
Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch
Bronze: 
Caydee Denney & John Coughlin

Ice Dance

Without looking at the roster, I know already that the winners here will be Meryl Davis & Charlie White. I just hope that they’ve improved since their last competition. At Skate America, Meryl & Charlie just need to concentrate on improving themselves, the rest of the competition don’t really matter. Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte will likely place second after finishing strongly in 4th at Worlds last season. This means that they’ll likely beat siblings, Maia & Alex Shibutani. Who knows, I’m hoping for surprises here.

Predictions:

Gold: Meryl Davis & Charlie White
Silver:
Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte
Bronze: 
Alex & Maia Shibutani

Thoughts on Programs from the Finlandia Trophy and the Japan Open

More pre-season skating videos have popped up and here are my two cents again! There weren’t that many A-list competitors at Finlandia, so I decided to combine this post with my thoughts on some of the Japan Open programs.

Finlandia Trophy

Tessa and Scott 2013 Finlandia FD

First of all, can I say, I am so thankful that the Yankee Polka is done. Honestly, the next skater(s) who do a cowboy program, I’m just going to walk away from my laptop before I break something. As for this SD, I like the songs but I wonder why Marina never gives Tessa and Scott an SD with music derived from one soundtrack or source like Meryl and Charlie. I find SDs that take their music from one source are a little more coherent and these two work well when they have characters. Overall, there were a few bobbles, especially with the twizzles but I’m not too worried since I know these two can do better than that. I’m not sure if I’m totally sold on the program (I don’t think I’ve been sold on a lot of Marina’s SDs to be honest) but I’m curious to see what will happen to it in the future. So far, it looks like the classic Tessa and Scott elegant dance sort of theme but I wonder if there’s a way to take this program up a notch and make it stand out a little more.

I like Tessa and Scott’s FD a lot better than the SD – it has a clean, elegant vibe that brings out what fans love best about these two: their chemistry, lines, elegance and romance. Luckily for them, Marina didn’t totally succumb to overly-cluttered lift-itis for this program as she did for a lot of her programs in the past two seasons. (I love that first lift especially, if only the camera angle could show it off better.) Overall, I’m glad that this could be their Last Program. It’s a good last hurrah for them as it has echoes of some of their greatest moments (Mahler, Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and it feels like it’s the story of Tessa and Scott in a program. A fitting goodbye if they decide to retire after this season. A few minor changes I wouldn’t mind seeing – changing the lines in that lift where Tessa flips onto Scott. The lines feel a little jarring but maybe that’s just me. Also, this is such a flowing program that it would be really nice if they could stop that momentary pause before going into their dance spins. Actually, it’s a little frustrating that at their level, they’re not transitioning into their dance spins like Meryl and Charlie, which is more difficult and adds to the flow of the program. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing this program again.

Madison Chock & Evan Bates took the silver at Finlandia but their SD was definitely not their best performance, with Evan falling on the twizzles. Also, it is just me or is the music as irritating as f$%&? I also felt that their midline step sequence was soooo slow. Come on, I expect more from a team that trains under Igor – even if it is the pre-season! As for anyone who thinks Meryl and Charlie’s FD was “pose-y,” I’ll reiterate again that I disagree and point to this program as an example of too much posing. At the beginning and in the middle. Let’s hope their FD is a lot better than this.

Chock and Bate’s FD. W.T.F. My brain is having such a hard time processing it that I’m not even typing properly. Let’s make a list to help me work through my confusion:

1. Were they trying to emulate Meryl and Charlie? I mean, I swear Meryl and Charlie have done those exact lifts or something really similar in the past.

2. Was there cheering in their music cuts? Addendum: Isn’t that kind of lame?

3. All those voices… so much going on in the music. The simple movements don’t match. Nor does their on-ice presence. Is Igor trying to shoot these two in the foot?

4. The first set of twizzles were spot on… the other two… not so much.

5. I just don’t understand the chaos that is the music. I just don’t.

One silver lining: that light but pretty transition into the dance spin. That’s something I’d like to see from Tessa and Scott.

This is a lovely program for Akiko – very warm and graceful. She’ll have to work on her jumps but overall, I think she’ll grow into this program quite well.

It makes me really sad to see Akiko messing up her jumps AND skating to the “Phantom of the Opera” after she skated to such a masterpiece like “O” as her LP last year. I really hope that Akiko can sprinkle her magic dust on this program later in the season because this is just painful to watch.

I was curious about Julia Lipnitskaia after learning that she won gold at Finlandia. I can see that she’s beaten Akiko with her jumps but to me, Lipnitskaia looks and feels like a mini and awkward version of Sasha Cohen. Without Sasha’s musicality. She’s still quite young so who knows if that will change in the future.

While watching Julia Lipnitskaia skate this long program to “Schindler’s List,” I couldn’t help but notice how 1. her jumps are a little low and 2. how she comes out of a lot of her jumps with such little speed. She’s 15 now but I’m not sure if those jumps will last. She also seems like another “checklist skater” where her program is a list of things she needs to do. Maybe musicality will come to her with age but this is a good start to her season, she beat Akiko Suzuki at Finlandia to win the gold.

Yuzuru reused his “Parisienne Walkways” SP for this season. I love this program but what makes me angry is that he messed up the 3A – his best jump and the best jump in that program because of that difficult entry. Get it together, Yuzuru!

I was surprised to see Yuzuru skate to Romeo and Juliet again. I prefer the other version better but what can we do, really? Yuzuru did land two quads, which is impressive but let’s hope he doesn’t completely tucker out during the second half of the program. Maybe then we could have a veritable rival for Chan.

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva had a rough SP with a popped jump and fall. This girl still has starpower in spades but I’m not sure if her newfound curves will allow her to skate in the top echelons of the sport anymore. On the bright side, she did win bronze in this competition.

Elizaveta’s LP wasn’t as disastrous and was less painful to watch. There were a few bobbles here and there but she reminded us here how she can sell a program so well. Malaguena is an overused piece of music but she made it her own. I’m happy that she’s proven that she’s better than that SP at Finlandia.

Japan Open

Japan Open 2013 Figure Skating

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Daisuke so sloppy and uninspiring. If it weren’t for that final step sequence, I would have totally forgotten why I liked this guy in the first place. It is the beginning of the season and mistakes are aplenty but I have the sad feeling that the his reign as the top Japanese man is decisively at its end with the only consolation that Prince Yuzuru is a worthy successor. Daisuke is as expressive as ever but his jumps seem to have failed him and his final spins were rather sloppy. Furthermore, I actually have more scruples with his program more than anything. I love the Beatles and all but a depressing accordion (or accordion-sounding) version of Beatles songs? And don’t get me started on the numerous pauses throughout the program. I hate pauses in ice dance programs but even that pales in comparison with the long, unnecessary, nonsensical, pose-y pauses in singles skating. I smell Morozov, even though the internet says Lori Nichol choreographed this.

This wasn’t a terrible skate other than the singled triple axel combination jump but why is it that I can’t seem to remember any distinctive aspect of this program? Takahiko Kozuka is talented but we’ve seen the same thing for so many years. In terms of his actual skating, it’s miles ahead of where Daisuke is right now. I think if we combined Daisuke’s flair for drama and emotion on ice with Takahiko’s current skating ability, we’d have a great skater who might be able to beat Yuzuru at Nationals (and a less tough decision as to who to send to the Olympics) but right now, the Japan’s figure skating union seems to have a very interesting conundrum on who to send to Sochi.

Some minor bobbles, but Javier Fernandez is off to a good start. Did I count 3 quads in that program? I think this program will grow on me as the season goes by but it’s quite a charming thing – very Kurt Browning-esque. What I am worried about it that Javier tends to peak early in the season and he tends to lose a little steam after the GP series. However, if his bronze at the last World Champions is any indication, I think he’s getting better at being prepared for some of the more important competitions at the end of the season.

I think this is the best I’ve seen Mao skate in a while. Her triple axel was two-footed and there were a few bobbles and a double rather than a triple-toe tacked on the back of a double axel but there was something in that performance that I haven’t seen in a while from Mao. Also, I can’t help but feel that Mao looks taller, longer and just lean this season. She doesn’t look like the wisp of a thing she was even back in Vancouver and I can’t help but wonder if she had her growth spurt a little later. In any case, this is actually quite a good program for Mao. It’s heavy but not too heavy like her “Bells of Moscow” LP from the last Olympic season and she’s matured to the point where she can be fierce and pretty. I like this new Mao and I hope that she grows stronger and stronger.

Ashley Wagner had the most solid skate of the Japan Open performances which will get her fans very excited. Somehow, though, I’m left feeling nothing. From the katakana text on the video, I believe she was skating to “Romeo and Juliet” but I don’t get that impression, even though she clearly stabs herself at the end and there’s a lot of angsty, angry music. Maybe it was the windmill arms during the first step sequence or that my brain is shouting at me, “She’s acting!” rather than “She’s living the character,” but that’s all a matter of opinion, I suppose. I think her fans will be happy that Ashley’s off to a great start while I will sit here for another five minutes to ponder upon how I felt about this performance. So far, I feel nothing, which confuses me a bit because, as I said, it’s a solid skate.

Watching Adelina Sotnikova skate made me want to pull out my hair. Actually, it would’ve been better if you watch this program on silent because Rondo Capricioso (at least, that’s what the Japanese text said what the music was called) is quite a pretty tune but the costume and the program just screamed tacky. I also didn’t even know what happened to that double axel in the middle of the program. What *kills* me is that Adelina could be so much better if she had better programs. Sigh. I’m not sure if I can digest that program again this season.

You could tell that Kanako wasn’t happy with that performance and I will tell you now, neither was I. Ok, she missed quite a few jumps – I’ll let that slip for now since it’s the beginning of the season and from what I’ve seen so far, there were a lot of uninspiring performances at the Japan Open. What bugged me even more than the missed jumps was the lack of expression. Last season, Kanako impressed me so much with this newfound maturity and musicality. Her “Prayer for Taylor” SP was gorgeous – great choreography, well-skated and with a calmness and quiet passion that went perfectly with the music. Her tango LP became a tough contender for my favourite LP of the season – and this is quite a statement seeing that her competition was Akiko Suzuki’s magnificent “O” program. I’m disappointed because I know that Kanako can do better than checking off a to-do list – which seems to be what she did here. This is “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” from Yentl. The song lyrics and melody and the plot of the film is simple enough – a daughter yearns for her dead father. I’m not too fond of the music cuts but the plaintive, sad melody shouldn’t be out of Kanako’s acting range.

So, in short, I expect Kanako to do better next time and I know she will too. I’m looking forward to seeing this program grow and develop though. I think this program has the potential to be heart-wrenching.

What are your thoughts on the figure skating pre-season?

~The Rinkside Cafe

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