Predictions: Skate Canada International 2014

duhamel radford

So, it seems as if I’m three quarters of the way through my bandwidth limit for this month so I will likely be more conservative this week with my internet consumption. Consequently, I probably won’t be watching the first group for most of the events. However, I can still provide predictions to the event so… onward! More

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Predictions: Cup of China 2013

Ahhhh! I have 16 hours to make these predictions. Bloody time differences. Ok, lunch first.

Done.

Zijin Li 12 lp

Onwards to the predictions for the Cup of China 2013!

Men

First up, the men!

Ah, come on, really? Am I seriously supposed to make predictions based on this clusterf*** of a roster? So many of the frontrunners are so inconsistent. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!

Ok. Problem solving skills. Go.

Some names that pop off right off the bat: Takahiko Kozuka, who had a really rough start at Skate America this year but still has the potential to grab a medal… I think. Denis Ten, last year’s World silver medalist who’s win was a complete surprise because he has the potential but his previous results have always put him in the second group of skaters at GP events. Then, there’s Florent Amodio… WHO GOT NEW COACHES! *opens up some champagne* YES. This kid has potential but those horrific programs with a gazillion pauses were weighing him down. This is great news. Han Yan also has home-ice advantage and a lot of potential. A good candidate to snatch a medal off a veteran’s hand if they don’t skate well.

So now that the initial list is done, I’m really not sure how to rank them. It could honestly go any way. Let’s just throw caution to the wind and randomly come up with a ranking.

Predictions:

Gold: Florent Amodio
Silver:
Denis Ten
Bronze:
Han Yan

Ladies

With a newfound consistency and beautiful performances, Carolina Kostner, will likely win the gold. Adelina Sotnikova‘s terrible programs (and hence, lower PCS) and Kanako Murakami‘s lower TES make them somewhat at the same level and these two will likely duke it out for silver and bronze. If any of them make a mistake, fresh-faced Zijun Li could also grab a medal and hopefully her Coppelia LP will be great since I’ve pegged that as a fantasy program for her in this post.

Predictions:

Gold: Carolina Kostner
Silver:
Kanako Murakami
Bronze:
Adelina Sotnikova

Pairs

Barring some freak accident or injury, former World Champions, Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy, should be able to take the gold. They might face some strong competition from Qing Pang & Jian Tong, who took a year off last season but are likely still better than the rest of the competition. I’m almost tempted to say that I refuse to pick a bronze medal winner but I’ll just close my eyes and point to a name on the screen. It’s anybody’s game at this point. Anastasia Martiusheva & Alexei Rogonov. Ok, done!

Predictions:

Gold: Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy
Silver:
Qing Pang & Jian Tong
Bronze:
Anastasia Martiusheva & Alexei Rogonov

Ice Dance

The ice dance competition will likely be a three-way race between Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev, Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat and Madison Chock & Evan Bates. I’d give the edge to the first two teams though even when you narrow the gold medal choices down to two, it’ll be interesting to see who prevails. B/S has been beating P/B for a little while now but P/B have switched to Igor Shpilband, which might give them that extra boost they need to regain the top European spot. This will be a tough call.

Predictions:

Gold: Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev
Silver:
Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat
Bronze:
Madison Chock & Evan Bates

What are your predictions for the Cup of China this year? 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

Cup of Russia 2012: Predictions

This week will be busy again so I’m writing these predictions quickly.

Men

Even though Patrick Chan got defeated by Javier Fernandez at Skate Canada (shock!), I still think he has enough skating cred with the judges to muster a win here. Some interesting contenders for the rest of the podium would be the Japanese men, Nobunari Oda and Takahiko Kozuka. This competition could be really important for them since it could help the JFSA decide who the #3 Japanese man is. Oh yes, and Johnny Weir will be back and we get to see how he stacks up against some tough international competition here.

Predictions:

Gold: Patrick Chan
Silver: Takahiko Kozuka
Bronze: Nobunari Oda

Ladies

The ladies competition could potentially be the contest of the young’ins. Adelina Sotnikova will have home ice advantage. In Russia. A year before the Olympics. In Russia. Alena Leonova had a really bad showing at her last grand prix but who knows what will happen. In Russia. That aside, Kiira Korpi is the only lady with a mature grace and may be able to medal here though she will face competition from some young ladies such as Kanako Murakami, who gave notice to not completely discounted when she won the bronze at Skate Canada. Gracie Gold is also on the roster but after her performance at Skate America, I’m not sure what to make of her anymore.

Predictions:

Gold: Adelina Sotnikova
Silver: Kanako Murakami
Bronze: Kiira Korpi

Pairs

The two Russian teams have it to take the first two spots on the podium though the gold will undoubtedly go to Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov. If Vera Bazarova manages to get her tiny, tiny frame off the ice and land her jumps, she and Yuri Larionov can take the silver. If this is the case, the bronze should go to Caydee Denney & John Coughlin.

Predictions:

Gold: Tatiana Volsosozhar & Maxim Trankov
Silver: Vera Bazarova & Yuri Larionov
Bronze: Caydee Denney & John Coughlin

Ice Dance

Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir will be back with their sexy Carmen which should propel them into gold. What will be interesting to see is the margin between them and Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov. Rumour has it that Elena’s with Morozov now and we all know what happens when a girl dates Morozov… The Shibutanis will probably fall victim to politicking on the eve of the Sochi Olympics but it’ll be fun to see their polka since I think their bright and happy feel/style should make for a good interpretation in the SD. Their “Memoirs of a Geisha” FD on the other hand, I’m not so thrilled.

Predictions

Gold: Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir
Silver: Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov
Bronze: Maia & Alex Shibutani

What are your predictions for the Cup of Russia?

~The Rinkside Cafe

Skate America 2012: Predictions

THE GRAND PRIX SERIES HAS BEGUN! HURRAH!

Meryl and Charlie beckons you to read on… More

Japanese Nationals: All Hail Queen Mao and King Daisuke~!

The Grand Prix series are over but that means that a slew of national competitions are a-coming. For the more avid figure skating fans, we know that national competitions are not created equal. Some of them are a lot more exciting to watch than others, while some national competitions are only worth watch because of one event. For Japan, they have one of the best national competitions because of their singles field. The top 3 contenders in ladies and men are competitors who have the potential to clinch a medal at Worlds – either this season or in a future season.

In terms of the podium, the rankings were pretty predictable once Papa Oda withdrew from injury. With that note, let’s start with the men.

Daisuke obviously won gold at Nationals but not without his fair share of mistakes. His SP was mesmerizing and complete with a lovely 4T-3T that was – finally – clean. His flow and expression are absolutely gorgeous and I think this is the best he’s ever skated this SP so far.

His LP, however, was not as great. From the outset, you could tell that this was not going to be his best skate. He was leaning too forward in the air in his 4T at the beginning of his program but at least he recovered well for his lovely 3A. What I love about Daisuke is that he always sells his program because of his wonderful musicality and expression. In comparison, I think the only time I’ve seen Chan really relate to his music was with Phantom of the Opera at 2011 Worlds and even then, he can’t quite compare to Daisuke. Then again, it’s the judges opinions (sadly) that matter. Unfortunately, this performance was also marred with a fall on the second 3A and a 3Lz. Not his best but we know that he can do better.

On the bright side, this is the first time that I actually *got* the choreography. Maybe I’m just dense or I wasn’t watching closely enough but the movements are choreographed very precisely to the music. I’m very impressed that Daisuke managed to keep up with it with all those mistakes. In any case, ganbare Daisuke, even though you won’t win Worlds. Even if you skate clean and Chan falls. At least we’ll have another beautiful gem to add to the figure skating library.

In second was the shy and understated, Takahiko Kozuka.What was impressive about his SP was that there were interesting intricacies and his jumps were so fast and tight in the air. What did not impress me was 1) his penchant for skating to elevator music 2) the fact that the song is called “Inner Urge” but there was no sexiness to it and 3) he had just as much expression as PChan in his “Take 5” program which in other words, means not a lot. It’s such a pity because this kid has wonderful edges and great flow but I’m not quite feeling his pointing and head nodding and large arm movements. I think there was more expression in his face when he did that fist pump after his program ended. Sigh. Come on kid, take some acting classes. Anything. Please.

Takahiko’s long program went pretty smoothly even though he fell on his second 3A. However, I thought that the bigger problem was again his inability to emote. Joe Hisaishi is a genius and a lot of the Japanese crowd have watched Nausicaa and the Valley of Wind. It’s not a boring movie/manga. It’s actually quite deep and if you read the comic, the characters are absolutely fascinating. This program, however, is not. I can’t get over how boring it is to be able to appreciate the finer points of the choreography. It’s such a pity because I love the music (even though I don’t love the film – the comic was so much better) and I think the skater is talented but he’s just not working it.

My darling boy, Yuzuru Hanyu took the bronze without shoving Oda off the podium. Oda was off with injury and Yuzuru naturally took his place. The youngster did encounter problems in his SP, however, he tripled his quad and 2-footed it and ended up in 4th place. The good news? At least he knew how to count and understood the zayak rule and doubled his 3T at the end of his combination. In that respect, we can confirm that he’s better than Oda. His 3As are seriously impressive as well. He always makes the entrance into them difficult but he lands them beautifully. For a youngin, he sells his programs the way that Takahiko can’t and even though this wasn’t his best performance, I have to say that it was mesmerizing to watch. Like Daisuke, this kid has really good flow and expression.

Yuzuru did recover in the LP with my absolute most favourite program of the season. He singled the last salchow – there’s always some sort of problem with that salchow – and was clearly slower in the 2nd half but he gave that program his all. His passion clearly shone through and I think what makes this program so amazing is that Yuzuru really does portray Romeo. As much as I hate the play, I love the music and Yuzuru is that young, impulsive, passionate Romeo we see in the story. He’s convincing and sells the program like no one else. The music is overused but I think this kid has really made it his own. If Yuzuru improves his stamina, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him run past Takahiko on the podium next year. This kid already has a lot more fans.

Mao, our darling trooper, competed at Nationals despite her personal tragedy. She was second in both portions of the competition but managed to scrape a win. Her SP was clean but no 3A. The choreography wasn’t exactly the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen but Mao’s athleticism and speed shows through. Strangely enough, she was only second to Kanako by 0.16.

Mao skated a lovely program but lost steam in the last part of her program. She doubled a 3S and a 3Lp (she also stepped out of this) and didn’t do the 3A. Nonetheless, this is a good skate for her and the smile and the teary look she had said it all. This girl is so brave. She never gave up even when her career looked like it was in shambles after a successful Olympic season and now she’s skating through the hurt of her personal tragedy. You go, Mao-chan!

Akiko Suzuki came in second place – not unexpected but this girl is also a trooper but in a different way. Being perennially in second place is tough because let’s face it – the worst demon you ever have to face is yourself. The feeling of always being second place brings about thoughts of giving up. Then there was Akiko’s disastrous season last year when she was beaten by the young Kanako Murakami. Akiko’s return to the Japanese podium is definitely a triumphant one and she should be seeing it as an all-around victory, rather than another silver medal. Akiko still has a lot to work on but the way she’s holding herself with more confidence this season marks a change for the better.

You can actually see this so clearly in her short. Akiko started her program badly by singling the 3T at the end of her 3T-3T combination. However, from the outset, there was a commitment and passion in her. This girl wants to win and she’s not giving up. The best quality to Akiko’s skating is that she never lets any of her mistakes affect the rest of her performance. She seemed to skate with an even bigger determination after her botched combination. Don’t be upset with yourself, Akiko, you can do better next time!

There were quite a few mistakes in Akiko’s LP and she didn’t quite skate with as much gusto as she did her SP but she still managed to win that portion of the competition somehow.

Kanako Murakami had to settle with the bronze this year, though this is not unexpected since her season hasn’t been as successful this year as it was last year. Some of this could be attributed to boot problems. However, Kanako still managed to win the SP but placed 6th in the LP. Still, she managed to scrape a bronze medal. I’m not sure if I should be losing hope for Kanako at this point in her career. On one hand, she’s young but on the other, she’s always lacked consistency in her LP. I guess this is another one of these “time will tell” things.

From the results of Japanese Nationals, I think that public sympathy and clean skates should be able to propel Mao back to her World title while Akiko should definitely try her best to get on the World podium this year. Some of her competitors will have to make mistakes but she’s definitely within reach of the top 5. As for the men, I think that Daisuke will be able to give us some spectacular performances at Worlds but ultimately lose against Chan, who could fall numerous times and still win.

What are your thoughts on the strong Japanese singles field?

~The Rinkside Cafe

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