Twizzle Talk


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5 Thoughts On Rostelecom Cup 2017

I’ve got five thoughts to share on Rostelecom Cup 2017, and they all have to do with music, or musicality. I realized the common thread as I was jotting down my notes after watching the NBC recap show on Sunday afternoon. Some people’s perfect fall Sunday involves a hike or an apple orchard, but mine includes an afternoon of skating narrated by Terry, Tara, and Johnny. At least I had a nice cup of tea and my pumpkin-scented candle burning, to set the seasonal mood.

    1. I love Mariah Bell of the U.S., but I don’t love her “West Side Story” program. I got my hopes up when she teased “Beauty and the Beast” for this season on Instagram last spring, because I love that music and character — and hello, gorgeous yellow dress potential. I think it would have fit her style so nicely. So when Mariah came out with this “West Side Story” number this year, I was already disappointed, before even seeing the program. After a few outings with it, she’s still not hitting the notes of the music with her movements, whether it’s those famous snaps or even just the right beats during her footwork sequence. Mark Hanretty, one of my favorite commentators, made the same point in the British Eurosport broadcast:

      I’ll just be over here in the corner, hoping she brings back last year’s “East of Eden” long, which brought me to tears when I saw it live at Skate America. And if you think Mark Hanretty is as awesome as I do, check out his guest spot on the Ice Talk podcast last year.
    2. Not to pile on Team Raf (the group that trains with Rafael Arutyunyan in southern California), but U.S. all-star Nathan Chen is also slightly off the music with his movements, especially in the intense middle section of his long program. I really like this section, and the footwork, so I hope he tightens it up. Maybe time for a visit to Marina Zoueva, who he worked with on choreography last season? Or, someone devoted entirely to choreography in the Arutyunyan camp?
    3. Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau of Canada are two of my favorites in the pairs field. They have such a pleasant, joyful energy about their skating, and are working their way back after two injury-ridden seasons. The music change at about the 3-minute mark in their long program is very effective — it happened juuust as the repetitiveness of the song was making me want to zone out. I also kind of loved how the lift coordinated with the words (“she was carried up into the clouds”), but I know not everyone appreciates that level of cute/corny.
    4. Carolina Kostner of Italy is just a delight to watch. I wanted her to get that early triple-triple combo! The dress is a lovely color and a super weird cut, but it is all overshadowed by the pure joy on her face. There has been plenty of criticism/bemoaning of her watered-down technical content, but I’m hoping that she is ramping up and getting her feet back under her with a plan to do more as the season goes on. Honestly, I’d take this kind of performance over one where the skater guts out 7-8 triples without any artistic expression. Which is, of course, why we have the program components mark, and why I think it is a bit of a travesty that she received almost three points less than winner Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia on that front. Evgenia is a beautiful skater and commits to both the artistic and athletic aspects of the performance, but there is a genuineness and honesty missing from her programs that is in Carolina’s.
    5. And a general note on the ice dance field, where music is arguably the most important: I wish NBC would broadcast more of the dance events. I understand for Rostelecom, that there weren’t names that would be as recognizable to the casual skating fan, but later in the season I hope to see more than just the winning free dance. I’m still mulling over the Shibutanis’ new Coldplay free dance, to “Paradise.” I was caught off guard by the interjection of one lyric from “Fix You” in this cut of the free dance — an interesting nod to their past? Trying too hard? I need to mull this over more. I thought “Fix You” was a complete masterpiece, and [nerd confession alert] probably watch it on YouTube every few months and cry every time. Share your thoughts in the comments if you’d like!
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What I’ve Been Up To

After a quiet summer on Twizzle Talk, I want to share some exciting news: I’m writing for Figure Skaters Online!

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If you don’t know it, FSO is an awesome news site for skating fans. They also provide websites for some of today’s top skaters — including 2015 U.S. Junior Champion Bradie Tennell, whose site was created by yours truly.

I have grand plans to revive this little space as well, but in the meantime, here are links to what I’ve been working on for FSO:

Thanks for reading, and enjoy Rostelecom Cup this weekend!


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On Boots and Blades and Taking Care of Them

I got my skate blades sharpened this afternoon. [Non-skaters who read this blog, we sharpen our skate blades so that the edges can better grip the ice. Each time we skate, the blade gets dulled down by the jumps, spins, and footwork.]

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Image Source: Wikipedia

I last had them sharpened in January, so my blades were getting pretty dull and in need of a sharpening. I usually skate three times a week myself, and have recently taken up teaching learn to skate classes again (one of which is a hockey class, believe it or not. A story for another time.), which has me on the ice four times a week as a teacher. To keep practicing the loops, twizzles, and rockers on my junior moves test to the best of my ability, it was time to get those skates sharpened.

Equipment is a major factor for any figure skater. Basketball players can make it work if their ball is in need of some air, or their sneakers are a little old. It’s not ideal, but it won’t stop them from playing. But dull blades or broken down skates spell doom for skaters. Not only will the usual tricks become impossible, but they can be downright dangerous.

We saw how American phenom and national champion Nathan Chen struggled with boots that weren’t supportive enough at the 2017 World Championships. Check out how he looks down at the boot and adjusts his skate after a fall on his opening quad in the long program:

Skating boots are normally stiff and supportive, almost immobile around the ankles, but Chen’s broken down and soft boots (from his hours of practicing) couldn’t take the force of his landing on a huge, four-revolution jump. Chen’s boots take such a pounding during practice that he gets new skates every month or two, according to USA Today’s Christine Brennan. [For the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I’ll just note that I wore my last pair of skates for more than 7 years. I don’t skate nearly as much as Nathan Chen, ha.]

At the 2017 Four Continents Championships, U.S. champion Karen Chen said that she had “no support at all” from skate boots that had “collapsed at the very sole at the bottom,” according to Bay Area newspaper The Mercury News. She finished in 12th place at that event, and also spent the 2015-2016 season unable to find a pair of boots that fit properly, struggling in competition.

To non-skaters, it almost sounds crazy: How can you not find a skate that fits? How can it be that hard? Don’t you know your own shoe size?

I’m writing this as someone who once bought a pair of boots that was a half-size too big, and also happened to be in a mislabeled box—so the size 5.5 I thought I was wearing was actually a 6, and what I needed was a 5. It took a few weeks, but I started to realize that my heels were lifting out of the boot when I jumped and did spins, and so, back to the skate shop I went for a new size. I’ve got weird bumps on my heels to this day from the boot rubbing against my heel.

Fitting skating boots is not an exact science, because they need to support the incredible force created by jumping and spinning, while still being comfortable enough to wear for hours of practice. They definitely, and unfortunately, don’t equate to your shoe size or wearing a shoe. As someone who has messed up the fit of her boots herself, I have sympathy for both Chens in this scenario.

But part of me wants to say…COME ON, GUYS.

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You are the U.S. Champions. You need to figure out the boot situation before you get to two of the biggest events of the year.

From where I sit, there isn’t really an excuse for that at the elite level. I would hope that they have the resources and support to get the boots they need, when they need them, so it is just a matter of timing and planning.

Knowing what we know about how equipment failure can trump training and preparedness, we’ve got to eliminate “boot problems” as a cause when skaters don’t perform well. Unlike mental toughness and nerves, this is something that is well within the skater’s control, just like the number of hours spent training.

And skate scientists out there, in the meantime, maybe you can work on some sort of magical comfort foam skate interior that works for everybody’s feet? We saw you all in action fixing Mirai Magasu’s ripped boot at U.S. Nationals in 2016.

Us skating fans will be over here crossing fingers that this was a productive learning experience for both Nathan and Karen, and that we won’t be hearing the words “boot issues” in Pyeongchang next year.


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Worlds 2017 Postmortem for Team USA

If you look at 2017 Worlds purely from a medal count or placement perspective, Team USA had a pretty rough outing in Helsinki.

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Image Source: helsinski2017.com

  • Ashley Wagner, usually so reliable on a major stage, skated as poorly as she did in the long program at U.S. Nationals in 2014, without her usual fight and verve.
  • All eyes were on Nathan Chen to get to the podium—many people, including me, had him pegged for the top spot—but boot problems thwarted him and his quads were not nearly as consistent as usual. (Stay tuned for a post with my thoughts on the boot problems that plagued both Americans with the last name Chen this season, because I have strong feelings.)
  • With U.S. Champions Haven Denny and Brandon Frazier not qualifying for the free skate, Team USA only earned one Olympic spot for pairs.
  • And Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue were en route to a medal before disaster struck on their twizzle sequence.

I could go on, but it has already gotten a little too depressing, huh? There is plenty of dejection out there right now, as well as some doomsday predictions for U.S. prospects at the 2018 Olympics. So I’m going to interject some positivity into the skating interwebz today, because there were some encouraging bright spots for Team USA at Worlds this year:

  • Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim’s comeback was inspiring. Despite her surgeries and the fact that it was only their second event of the season, they still earned the top scores by a U.S. pair this year. They are the best pair that the U.S has had in years, and I hope they can grab back on to the momentum that they had going before her stomach issues.

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    Image Source: mercurynews.com

  • I had my doubts about Karen Chen at this event after her dismal showing at Four Continents, but she held her own and proved me, and a lot of other people, wrong. She gave two steady performances that were absolutely essential to the U.S. maintaining three spots in the ladies’ event for the Olympics.

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    Image Source: Newsday

  • I know all the talk about Jason Brown is that he still doesn’t have that quad consistent, but the numbers he is putting up without quads are huge. His free skate total at 2016 Skate America (with a quad deemed underrotated) earned 182.63 points, and is the 7th highest score this season, behind the six guys who have multiple quads in their long programs. And it is 15 points higher than the 167.37-scoring long program that won Evan Lysacek the 2010 Olympic Gold Medal without a quad [It should be noted that there have been rule changes since 2010, and that it’s not an exact comparison, but it does speak to how well Brown maximizes every point possible in terms of grade of execution and difficulty of spins and footwork.].

  • I thought Ashley Wagner’s spins (always a spot where she leaves points on the table) significantly improved for this event. The ISU rules for 2016 state that each spin position needs at least three revolutions to count, and every time she did a position with only two revolutions, I would just cringe. Unfortunately, this bright spot is one that I saw but the judges apparently missed—in comparing her free skate scores from U.S. Nationals and Worlds, I expected the spin points to be significantly improved at Worlds, but was I ever wrong. She actually earned a few tenths of a point lower on her first two spins, and the exact same points (3.36 to be exact) on her final combo spin.

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    Image Source: USA Today

  • But by far the brightest and, I think most admirable, display by Team USA at Worlds was their sportsmanship and team spirit. Wagner was candid and gracious about how Chen’s performance locked in three spots for the women’s team at the Olympics next year, and Chen was gracious in return. Check out their Twitter exchange:
    SportsmanshipAnd Brown posted a celebratory video with Nathan Chen after they cemented three spots for the men with their 7th and 6th place performances, respectively:

 

Skating can be known for cattiness and rivalries, from Tonya vs. Nancy to this little gem from 2008, starring Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek:

As humorous and ridiculous as that clip is—and as much as I’m sure the NBC producers loved playing up that rivalry for ratings—I’m happy that this current generation is the type to support their fellow Team USA skaters, rather than take them down. Not only because I’m a fan of positivity (hello, this post), but because it will create a stronger Team USA down the road. With team events like World Team Trophy (WTT) and the Olympic team event growing in popularity and importance, they need to cultivate a team atmosphere a la gymnastics or swimming relays to be successful.

And if nothing else, it will help them have the most enthusiastic and spirited cheering section at WWT later this week!


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2017 Worlds Predictions: Ladies

Alright, Worlds officially begins tomorrow (yay!) and it’s time to make my last round of predictions: the ladies.

Sentimental:
Gold – Carolina Kostner, Italy
Silver – Ashley Wagner, USA
Bronze – Evgenia Medvedeva, Russia
Bonus: Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond in 4th and American Mariah Bell in the top 8 (to guarantee three Olympic spots for the U.S. women)

My sentimental predictions are really out there, and most likely impossible, I’d say. Carolina is on the comeback trail, and while she has made steady progress, her technical content doesn’t quite measure up to the top ladies yet. But I just love watching her skate, and the fact that she has made a comeback after her controversial ban. I’m all about the skaters here for the love of the game. Like my girl Ashley Wagner, who I would love to repeat as World silver medalist.

I think she has a great shot at the podium (both my sentimental and rational one), because she is such a fierce competitor and wants to prove that last year’s medal wasn’t a fluke. The withdrawal of Satoko Miyahara of Japan also helps, as unfortunate as that may be.

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Image Source: icenetwork.com

Rational:
Gold – Evgenia Medvedeva, Russia
Silver – Anna Pogorilaya, Russia
Bronze – Ashley Wagner, USA

Medvedeva is so ridiculously consistent that I’d be crazy to have her off of either of my podiums. If she doesn’t win this event, it will be because she had to withdraw. She’s only lost once in her senior career, after all, and it wasn’t to anyone in this field (it was to fellow Russian Elena Radionova at the 2015 Rostelecom Cup). Russian teammate Anna Pogorilaya has had such a consistent season that I think she will land on the podium as well.

My bonus sentimental picks for Osmond in 4th and Bell in the top 8 are because those two ladies are some of my personal favorites – I love the spunk and flair in their skating, and will cross fingers that the jumps are reliable in Helsinki. A top 8 finish by Bell and a medal from Wagner would ensure three spots at the Olympics for the American women. Bell and U.S. champion Karen Chen both said in their pre-Worlds teleconferences (you can listen under the Video tab on IceNetwork) that they aren’t thinking about it, and that skating their best should be enough to lock it up for the U.S. I think it’s safe to say that even if those two allegedly aren’t thinking about it, it is at the forefront of every fan and journalist’s mind at this point, on both the ladies’ and men’s side for the U.S. men.

I’ll be crossing my fingers and watching the live streams. Let the fun begin!


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2017 Worlds Predictions: Pairs

Of the four skating disciplines, pairs tends to be the one that I don’t follow as closely. I certainly know less about it – despite my childhood dreams of being a #pairgirl because of how fun the throws looked. Not only was there a shortage of male skaters at my rink, but I was also too tall by the time I was approximately 10. Hat’s off to the brave pair ladies in this discipline.

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Image Source: icenetwork.com

In listening to the awesome episodes of the Ice Talk podcast with Nick McCarvel and Jackie Wong on Ice Network, I’ve not only learned more about pairs this year, but loved hearing firsthand from some of the teams, in particular, France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres and Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. You should check out their episodes if you haven’t already!

I have less of a blind loyalty/emotional attachment to any of the pairs as compared to other disciplines, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t have strong opinions about it. So here goes:

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Image Source: vancouversun.com

Sentimental:
Gold – Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, Canada
Silver – Wenjing Sui/Cong Han, China
Bronze – Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres, France
Bonus: Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau of Canada and Americans Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim in the top 6

Rational:
Gold –Wenjing Sui/Cong Han, China
Silver –Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, Canada
Bronze – Evgenia Tarasova/Valdimir Morozov, Russian

I’ve loved Duhamel and Radford since Sochi – when they skate with true ease and joy, it is completely infectious. It would make my sappy little heart so happy for them to win a third World title after an up-and-down season. Sui and Han were beautiful at Four Continents, especially considering it was their first competition of the year and a comeback after injury for Sui. That performance was so solid that I think they are likely to take the title, and the Russian team is riding a wave of success after victories at the Grand Prix Final and Europeans.

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Image Source: goldenskate.com

My bonus sentimental predictions are for two teams whose style and attitude I love. The Canadians skate with a lightness that is a pleasure to watch, and I’d love to see them succeed. The married Knierims are coming back from a terrible injury to Alexa, and yet still posted the highest scores of a U.S. pair this year in their comeback outing at Four Continents. I think the odds are good that they skate well, and it would be well-deserved after all they have been through.

Last but not least, my ladies predictions are up next!