Throwback Thursday: Xue Shen & Hongbo Zhao

The Olympics are upon us! Hooray! This post marks the last Throwback Thursday post for the Sochi Olympics. The next Throwback Thursdays will come if this blog is still alive in 4 years for Pyeongchang 2018.

Shen and Zhao - Olympics SP

For my last Throwback Thursday post, I wanted to feature skaters who I thought exemplified the best of the Olympic spirit.

Firstly, it must be said that Shen & Zhao’s success grew out of someone else’s resolve after their own personal failures. That person, is their coach, Bin Yao. Bin Yao’s story is a favourite among commentators: back when Bin Yao was a pairs skater himself, China was still quite closed off to the rest of the world and figure skating was indeed a very foreign sport in China. Yao could only learn about pairs skating elements through photographs in books. In all their competitions, Yao and his partner never did very well – in fact, the audience was laughing at them at the 1980 World Championships. However, 30 years later, Yao established himself as one of the foremost coaches in pairs skating and he has single-handedly turned China into a pairs powerhouse. At the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, his students placed 1st, 2nd and 5th. Now, Shen & Zhao coach alongside Bin Yao, inspiring and improving the next generation of Chinese pairs skaters.

Shen & Zhao is a beautiful team not only because of their love for each other but for the love of their sport. At the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, they were aged 31 and 36 respectively. In terms of pairs skating, that is considered to be very ancient since the competitive life of a figure skater is short. The sport is dominated by teenagers and skaters often retire by age 25. Injuries are not unusual and in a discipline that requires athletes to throw or be be thrown around, being young is always helpful. Yet, despite all of this, Shen & Zhao persevered, set records throughout that season and became Olympic Champions.

For showing us that the impossible was possible, for showing us that age does not always prevent you from triumphing in a sport ruled by teenagers and for inspiring a new generation of skaters with their resilience, love of sport and ambition, I present to you Xue Shen & Hongbo Zhao, the last athletes for the Sochi 2014 Throwback Thursday posts.

Gold medallists China's Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo pose during the medals ceremony after the pairs figure skating finals at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics

The Olympics are here! Are you excited?

~The Rinkside Cafe

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Throwback Thursday: Joannie Rochette

It’s Throwback Thursday time! Each Thursday until the Sochi Olympics, I will feature a skater or a program from the last Olympic season. This is the 5th and second last post. Wah! The Olympic games start in a week!

This week’s Throwback Thursday features Joannie Rochette, who has one of the most touching and poignant stories from the last Olympics. For those who may not have paid attention to the last Olympics or forgot, Joannie’s mother passed away days before Joannie competed in Vancouver. However, despite the pain, Joannie found the courage to skate and win the bronze medal in the ladies event. In the hearts of many Canadians and fans though, the true colour of Joannie’s medal was gold for finding the strength to skate so well after her tragic loss.

Truth be told, I wasn’t a huge fan of Joannie’s more clunky, athletic skating style – I tend to prefer skaters with graceful lines, flexibility and extension. However, this performance blew me away – her jumps were textbook and she had a musicality and expression that fit perfectly with her tango program and music. That and I think anyone with a soul wanted to give the girl a hug in the kiss and cry.

Anyways, that’s all for this week’s Throwback Thursday. Next week will be the last Throwback Thursday post until the next Olympics in Pyeongchang, 2018.

~The Rinkside Cafe

Throwback Thursday: The Compulsory and Original Dances

It’s another Thursday, and Sochi hasn’t arrived yet so it means that… it’s Throwback Thursday time! Each Thursday before the beginning of the Sochi Olympics, I will feature a program/skater/team from the last Olympics just for fun.

This week is a little unusual because I’m not showcasing a particular program or skater(s) per se, but I’m commemorating segments in the ice dance competition that don’t exist anymore. There used to be three segments in ice dance and starting in the 2010/2011 season, that number was reduced to 2. Two segments of the dance competition, the Compulsory Dance (CD) and the Original Dance (OD) were eliminated and in a way combined to make the Short Dance (SD) we see today.

I’m not completely surprised they eliminated the CD considering that every skater had to skate the exact same thing. Each year, the ISU would choose a two CDs for skaters to perform at international competitions. It was the most boring to watch of all the competitions because of it but the CD was a segment that allowed skaters to clearly show the judges their technical ability. With everyone skating the same thing, the judges could see clearly who was skating faster, with deeper edges, with more power, etc; Still, it gets a little exhausting watching good and bad teams skate the same program so… they got rid of it. The Tango Romantica is now officially the last compulsory pattern skated at an Olympic games. Here were the performances by the podium finishers:

I wasn’t a fan of this team at all in Vancouver but I agree with the judges that they had the best Tango Romantica of the night. Domnina’s long limbs and regal presence gave it that extra touch even though the other two teams featured below got tips from the dancers who created this pattern.

Were you happy that this part of the competition was gone?

The other dance that was eliminated was the original dance. In the original dance, skaters must perform a program to a rhythm set by the ISU every year. For the 2009/2010 and consequently the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, the rhythm was folk or country. While competitors can chose their own music but within a certain tempo range. (I’m a little sad that the ISU decided to get rid of the OD since the 2010/2011 rhythm was supposed to be rhythms and dances from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Disco Fever!) In any case, here were the ODs from the podium finishers except for Domnina & Shabalin because I can’t find their Olympic OD on youtube. You’re not missing much… their OD cause quite an uproar because it was supposed to be an Australian aboriginal dance but the pair didn’t do their research well and the program offended a lot of aboriginal groups.

I love that Indian/Bollywood OD. That was a great program choreographed by Marina Zueva.

Do you guys miss the CDs and ODs? Or do you prefer the new short dances? Let me know in the comments!

~The Rinkside Cafe

Throwback Thursday: Mao Asada

It’s Throwback Thursday time! Each Thursday until the Olympics, I will feature a skater/team/program from the last Olympics.

mao asada 10 olympics lp

This week’s Throwback Thursday skater is Mao Asada. This may come as a surprise to some, especially since Mao’s programs that season weren’t quite suited to her and weren’t artistic masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination. There’s also the obvious reason that she was eventually beaten by Yuna Kim who skated brilliantly at the Olympics. However, for this Throwback Thursday I just want to celebrate the small contribution that Mao has made to innovate and advance ladies figure skating through her accomplishments during the last Olympics. Let’s take a look at her programs from the last Olympic season, shall we?

What was so impressive about this set of programs is the total number of triple axels she in from both programs: 3. She was the first lady in history to do this as the triple axel has rarely been done successfully in competition by the ladies. For anyone who has read my Skating 101 post on jumps, the axel is the most difficult triple jump. Many elite men, including the Olympic champion, Evan Lysacek and current World champion, Patrick Chan have struggled with this jump.

But what exactly was Mao’s contribution to ladies’ figure skating?

Well, if you look at Mao’s short program, you’ll notice that her jumps, in order are: triple axel-double toeloop (3A-2T), triple flip (3F) and double axel (2A). In present day, Mao mostly does her triple axel alone and not as a combination jump in her short program. That was because before the 2010/2011 season, ladies were required to do 3 jumping passes in total:

  • A combination jump with a 2 and 3 rotations or two jumps with 3 rotations.
  • A jump with 3 rotations.
  • A double axel.

If you’ve read my Skating 101 post on program elements (coming soon!), you’ll know that this list is slightly different nowadays as ladies can do EITHER a double OR triple axel in the short program.

I believe at the end of the 2009/2010 season, the Japanese figure skating federation argued that if one lady could do the triple axel in competition, then all ladies should be able to attempt the 2A or the 3A just as the men can in their short program. The bid for this rule change was successful and now, ladies are allowed to attempt a double or a triple axel in their SP as part of the requirements. There has yet to be a lady other than Mao who has taken advantage of this rule but at least the possibility is there and who knows, maybe one of the upcoming Russian phenoms will surprise us.

What do you think of the rule change? Let me know in the comments!

~The Rinkside Cafe

Skating 101: Olympic Berths

For anyone who has read my posts this season, you may know that I was a little frustrated with how spots are allocated to skaters for the Olympics (and the World Championships). The frustration is felt most deeply in Japan partly because they have so many excellent, world-class men and ladies competitors and partly because Japan has such strict immigration rules. (Japanese citizens renounce their Japanese citizenship if they apply for citizenship for another country. Or vice versa, people who apply for Japanese citizenship must renounce their citizenship to other countries. This citizenship law has already affected certain skaters like Mervin Tran, a Canadian skater who won bronze at the 2012 World Championships with his pairs partner, Narumi Takahashi. The pair broke up because Mervin wanted to keep his Canadian citizenship.)

In any case, how does the International Skating Union determine how many skaters go to the Olympics?

  • First of all, this a quota of 148 competitors for figure skating at the Olympics (30 men, 30 ladies, 20 pairs teams, 24 ice dance teams). There are exceptions to this quota for skaters who may compete for the team event but not the individual event.
  • For the individual event, each country is given a certain number of spots skaters/teams.
  • The number of Olympic berths/spots is determined mostly by the results of the World Championships from the previous season. From this competition, the ISU can allot up to 24 out of 30 spots for the ladies and mens competition. 16 out of 20 spots for pairs teams and 19 out of 24 for ice dance. The following table from wikipedia gives a clear and succinct explanation:

Olympic berths table

  • If the host country hasn’t earned a spot in the competition, they are automatically granted one. However, in this case, it’s safe to say that Russia, a figure skating powerhouse, has earned multiple spots in a few disciplines.
  • The next best ranked athletes from countries who did not earn multiple spots will get 1 spot until the quotas for the World Championships are filled.
  • For the remaining spots not filled by the results of the World Championships or if any nations who have earned a spot from Worlds but decides not to send anyone, the berths are given to nations with the best ranked skaters who have not yet qualified for any spots at the Olympics but have competed in the Nebelhorn Trophy in September. Some skaters have attempted to use this rule to compete at the Olympics. For example, Fedor Andreev of Canada had planned to apply for citizenship to Azerbaijan and then skate for Azerbaijan at Nebelhorn and the Olympics. He failed to get his paperwork done in time and couldn’t compete in Vancouver.

With that said, here is a table on wikipedia showing the countries competing in figure skating and the number of spots each country has for each discipline.

Note: For non-Olympic years, this system is also used to determine the number of spots for each country for next year’s World Championships.

If you look at the table, you will see that 31 men are going to the Olympics, 1 more than the quota allows. This is because… starting in the Sochi 2014 Olympics, there will be a team event where 10 countries can qualify. Great Britain did not earn a spot in the men’s individual event but they needed to send a man in to compete in the team event, which is why the quota was exceeded.

To qualify for the team event, the country must have competitors for at least 3 out of 4 disciplines and have the most points based on the rankings of the previous World Championships calculated by the ISU. The following 10 countries have earned spots for the team event at the Olympics this year:

  • Canada
  • Russia
  • United States of America
  • Japan
  • Italy
  • France
  • People’s Republic of China
  • Germany
  • Ukraine
  • Great-Britain

Ok, so my country has gotten x number of spots for the Olympics? How do we decide who gets to be on the Olympic team?

The decision of which skaters get sent to the Olympics rests ultimately on the specific country’s figure skating federation. In Canada, the decision would go to Skate Canada, in the U.S., it would be U.S. Figure Skating, etc; etc; Each figure skating federation has their own way of deciding their World or Olympic teams. In Japan, the Japanese Skating Federation takes into account the results of the Grand Prix Series from October to December as well as the results of their National Competition.

You might also notice that in the lull between the GP series and the Four Continents/European Championships (and this year, the Olympics), there are a lot of National Championships going on. That is because some skating federations, like the U.S. use solely the results of their National competitions to determine who gets to compete in the more prestigious competitions later on in the season.

So far, the Japanese Skating Federation has announced their team for the Olympics. U.S. Nationals is happening right now and Canadian Nationals will be bearing upon us soon. The Russian and Chinese Nationals have already happened but I’m having a little trouble finding a definitive list for their Olympic teams. If you have any information, please let me know in the comments! I will be forever grateful.

For more information on Olympic qualification for figure skating, you can consult this document written by the ISU.

~The Rinkside Cafe

Other Skating 101 posts:

History of the 6.0 and Code of Points Judging System

The Basics of the Code of Points Judging System

Olympic Berths and Teams: How We Decided Who and How Many Go to the Olympics

Figure Skating Jumps

Figure Skating Spins

Pairs Skating Elements

Ice Dance

Throwback Thursday: Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy

It’s Throwback Thursday time! As a countdown to Sochi, I will be posting a program from the previous Olympic season every Thursday~! And off we go!

This week’s Throwback Thursday program comes courtesy of Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy. When Vancouver 2010 came, many were expecting them to do well, if not win the Olympic gold, as they were the World Champions the season previous. Technically, they were a slightly above the rest and when they skated well, they were great. All of that changed when the legendary Shen Xue & Hongbo Zhao came back from their retirement and Savchenko & Szolkowy seemed shaken to the point of no recovery. When the Grand Prix Final of 2009 came along, it became clear that Shen & Zhao had taken their place as the favourites for Olympic gold.

Still, despite their struggles that season and what must, to them, be a disappointing Olympic bronze medal, I really loved their long program to the music of Out of Africa. I actually have something of a personal connection to this program. If you remember, Savchenko & Szolkowy skated to a different LP at TEB that year with hideous costumes and came back with this lovely program.

I was actually able to attend Skate Canada that year and I watched this program, though not live. Due to some miscommunication, a friend of mine who went to SCI2009 with me bought a ticket to the ice dance OD and pairs LP event when another friend (incidentally, friend and commenter, Ay-sa) and myself hadn’t. To rectify the situation, I bought a ticket to those events and split the price between Ay-sa and I because we were both poor students then and couldn’t afford to buy another whole ticket. We decided that since I was more interested in ice-dance, I would go to the OD while Ay-sa would take my ticket and watch the pairs LP. While she did that, I sat in the lobby to do some homework I brought to Kitchener. Eventually, I found out that there was a TV screen showing the pairs LP in the lobby and I got totally distracted – I kept looking for the score every 10 minutes. Eventually, I gave up on the homework and watched the event. Savchenko & Szolkowy were the last to skate and for four minutes, I was mesmerized, along with the rest of the people watching in the lobby. Samuel Contesti seemed to notice that and tried to creep discreetly under the TV to get to the dressing room. (It was kind of adorable.) Still, the performance was magical and this program remains to this day, one of my favourite pairs programs ever.

What did you think of Aliona & Robin’s Out of Africa program? Let me know in the comments!

~The Rinkside Cafe

Throwback Thursday: Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir

I figured this post would be appropriate seeing that Tessa and Scott’s new show was premiering today on W. This is a clip from the show. It makes me kind of sad because I always liked the idea of the friendly rivalry between these two and Meryl & Charlie. Then again, maybe they took this clip out of context so I guess I’ll have to watch this when it comes out.

Anyways, on to business: Throwback Thursday!

This Throwback Thursday features Tessa & Scott’s Mahler program. For me, I think this was the moment that defined the Olympics for me. I’m wary of nationalism and could care less about my country winning medals and whatnot but Tessa & Scott brought me back to watching figure skating and I was cheering for them all the way.

I remember watching this program at its beginning stages where it was not as smooth and there was a lift at the end that incurred deductions for it being too long. There was also a time when the “Goose” lift ended with Tessa doing a half loop on Scott’s leg and landing on the ice. I was there at Skate Canada when they did this program and I could feel myself holding my breath as they danced this program. When they won the Olympics, I was in tears from the performance and joy.

This program is almost the epitome of Tessa & Scott in a program. I enjoy watching these two most when I’m a little disheartened and lonely because they make me feel better by reminding me that there is love and that it is a beautiful thing.

What did you think of Tessa & Scott’s Mahler program? Let me know in the comments!

~The Rinkside Cafe

P.S. Here is a link to the first episode of Tessa & Scott’s show. I suggest you watch it ASAP since it’ll probably be taken down soon.

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