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Four Favorites: NHK Trophy 2019

Well, the 2019 Grand Prix season has flown by and the field is set for the Grand Prix Final. Part of me wishes that there could be a little more time between each event (I bet the skaters who have to compete back-to-back could get behind that as well!), because trying to keep up with all four disciplines at each event this year kind of felt like drinking from a fire hose. Hence, I’m skipping favorites from Cup of China and Rostelecom Cup and jumping right to last weekend’s NHK Trophy for my next post.

This Four Favorites series was initially meant to acknowledge greatness that didn’t always end up on the medal podium, or fantastic moments within a program. So that’s how you’re about to read a post about “favorites” that doesn’t include the brilliance of three of the gold medalists here: Yuzuru Hanyu, Sui/Han, and Papadakis/Cizeron. They were indisputably amazing here (though not perfect and, therefore, a good reminder that they are human) and everyone could see that. So here are my four favorites from each discipline, beyond that trio – who will surely go down as legends of our sport. Alas, no videos via YouTube to share because of copyright, but I’ll do my best to describe each moment/element and hope you’ll go re-watch them on NBC Sports Gold or wherever you get your skating.

Ladies

Karen Chen’s spiral sequence in her free skate is like a big, relaxing exhale. Her extension is gorgeous, and she holds the movement longer than anyone else on the ladies circuit these days. It is a throwback to the glorious days of her fellow Americans Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen and the required ladies spiral sequence. Spirals are my personal favorite skating move, too, so I’m always ready to applaud an old-school spiral sequence.

Men

A wally was far from my favorite back in the days when I was jumping more, so I really appreciate a well-executed, springy wally. Just like the one Kevin Aymoz of France did in the steps into his triple axel in the short program. We’ve been seeing a lot of the rocker-rocker-power pull entry, which is difficult and looks good, but I appreciated Aymoz’ different approach.

Pairs

Americans Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea had a rough short program here and an okay long program. Even with the falls and bobbles, the ending of their short program really stood out to me. They did their final lift, which had good speed, ice coverage, and extension, and then transitioned directly into a lower rotational lift, followed by O’Shea flipping Kayne in a cartwheel position into their ending pose. I think it can get even sharper as the season continues, but enjoyed the interesting ending.

Ice Dance

In the rhythm dance, Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin of Russia had a really difficult and innovative exit to their lift. She is straddling his shoulder in the final position of the lift, and he sets her down and then ducks under her back leg to finish the exit. So difficult, but they executed it really smoothly.

Now we have a week off, then it’s time for Torino and the Grand Prix Final!


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Four Favorites: Internationaux de France 2019

Cup of China has come and gone, but here I am looking back at Internationaux de France from (not quite) two weeks ago. I was out of town the weekend of the competition for an excellent coaching seminar with Learn to Skate USA and got behind in my skating viewing, hence posting about France after the next event has already been completed. The skating was honestly a little haphazard in France, so I went with fashion for my four favorites from this event:

Ladies

Poor Maria Sotskova of Russia finished last here, and looks to really be struggling to regain the form that earned her a spot on Russia’s 2018 Olympic team. While her jumps didn’t look good, her short program dress really did. Unfortunately, the last place finisher apparently doesn’t make it to YouTube or Google Images, so I’m utilizing some very professional screenshots of NBC Sports Gold from my browser. All rights to NBC Sports Gold and the ISU, of course.

Front:

Maria Sotskova 2019 SP Dress Front

Back:

Maria Sotskova 2019 SP Dress Back

I love the color against the white ice, the asymmetrical cutout, and the hint of sparkle. It was very classy without being too traditional or expected. This was her only Grand Prix assignment of the season, and with the Russian ladies field as stacked as it is, I’m not sure we’ll see Sotskova or this lovely dress again this year, outside of Russian Nationals.

Men

Shoma Uno of Japan had a disastrous competition here, and in the long program, especially, his falls were wild and troubling. His free side was completely out of control and it looked like he was going to really get hurt if he kept going. But apparently the theme of this post is me loving the outfits of people having tough performances, because I thought his long program shirt was gorgeous. It looked like a starry night sky, or the lights of a city as viewed from an airplane window. Here’s a fan video of the program:

Pairs

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier’s “Lion King” program re-run made my favorite programs list after Skate America, and I mentioned then how much I liked their outfits. I noticed them in even more detail at Internationaux de France, including the subtle leopard print! The brown is a color you don’t see often in skating, but this one is a deep enough shade that it looks great against the ice and is not drab. You can check out photos of Denney and Frazier from the competition via the event coverage on Figure Skaters Online.

Dance

In a year of Broadway-themed rhythm dances, there are no shortage of fun and memorable costumes. Spain’s Olivia Smart and Adrian Diaz were my favorites here, with their very authentic Grease getups. (I’m choosing to ignore the questionable message of the movie/musical, that a girl needs to change who she is for her boyfriend…) With these two, there is full commitment to the Grease theme, right down to Smart’s curled hair a la Olivia Newton-John; does Diaz need to add a bit more gel to his look to really nail the Grease theme? This photo of the costumes is from an early-season event, but they are the same ones the duo wore in France:

Now I’m off to go finish watching the men’s and the ladies events from Cup of China!


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Four Favorites: Skate Canada 2019

This week’s Four Favorites installment will cover four favorite elements from last weekend’s Skate Canada International competition. From insane lift transitions to incredible jump combinations, there were some highlight moments in programs across all four disciplines:

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Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier Interview: Duo Takes New Approach to Choreography for 2019-20 Season

Practice ice starts today at Skate Canada International in Kelowna, British Columbia, and the competition kicks off tomorrow. Last week, I joined the pre-competition media call with Canadian ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier to hear about their goals for this competition and the season ahead. Check out my article for Ice-Dance.com for all that, plus the different approach they took with choreography this year:

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Photo by Robin Ritoss; Courtesy ice-dance.com

Gilles and Poirier Kick Off Grand Prix Season at Skate Canada

Read the full article at Ice-Dance.com, and check out their awesome Reference section if you want to learn more about ice dance terminology and competition requirements!


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Four Favorites: Skate America 2019

The Grand Prix series is back in action, and so are my four favorites posts! Here’s my favorite program in each discipline from Skate America 2019:

Ladies

Kaori Sakamoto of Japan skated her long program to “The Matrix,” and I thought it was fantastic even before the music started. Her costume caught my eye on the warm up and I, admittedly, did not know what her music was, but knew it would be something different in a good way because of how fierce and streamlined the costume was.

When the music started, it was giving me major flashbacks to Brian Joubert’s Matrix long program, which the world medalist used several times throughout his career. He was one of my favorites in the early 2000s.

Sakamoto’s program was fresh and fun. You could tell that she really enjoyed the music and was inspired by it, rather than just skating with music behind the movements. No video to share, unfortunately, because it seems like most of the videos have been removed from YouTube because of NBC broadcasting rights.

Pairs

I’m always a little skeptical when skaters keep the same program for multiple seasons, because it can get stale or uninspired. In some cases, it makes total sense, like when a previous season is cut short due to injury or if something else interferes with the timeline of off season preparation (more show skating, etc.). But the part of me that has a list of “skateable” songs that is a mile long sometimes wonders how skaters can’t find a new piece that inspires them. All that to say that I was a little unsure when Haven Denny and Brandon Frazier of the U.S. decided to bring back their 2014-15 free skate to “The Lion King.” The live-action movie came out this summer, so there was some natural impetus. And after watching their performance here at Skate America (and crying by the end), I’m on board with this re-run. I also love the new costumes — much more sophisticated than the 2014-15 version.

Ice Dance

On Ice Perspectives gave us a great preview of the flamenco free dance for Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko of the U.S. on Instagram in August. The speed was apparent in this unique on-ice viewing, and their attack and commitment to the performance at Skate America made me love the program. Looking forward to seeing how this evolves and continues to grow throughout the season.

 

 Men

This one was a tie, I couldn’t help it. Alex Krasnozhon’s short program was going to be my choice here, until I saw “hip hop Nathan Chen” emerge during the choreographic sequence at the end of his free skate. I’ve interviewed Alex for Figure Skaters Online and have been impressed by his career journey. Krasnozhon’s short program was choreographed by former Team USA skater Alex Johnson, who was another favorite of mine. I appreciate his long lines and lyrical style (and his impeccable choice in skating wardrobe). Johnson’s influence is a great one on fellow American Krasnozhon here, who seemed to be taking his time and connecting with the audience in the performance. I’m not the biggest fan of the shirt he was wearing, which sported two giant flowers. Maybe Johnson can loan him one of his former competition numbers?

As for Chen, I loved the unexpected turn to hip hop at the end of his Rocketman medley program, and how he was able to let loose and enjoy trying out this new style.

For photos from Skate America and exclusive backstage coverage, check out my friends over at Figure Skaters Online! Our reporter Claire Cloutier of A Divine Sport was on hand at the event.


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Interview with Frank Carroll

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Photo Courtesy Carroll Private Archive

I had the chance to speak with the great Frank Carroll for a story about the Ice Theatre of New York, which is honoring him with a lifetime achievement award on Monday. Carroll has always been one of my dream interviews, because of his incredible coaching expertise and longevity in the sport. It was so much fun to talk to him about his decades on the ice, as a skater, performer, and coach.

Check out this Q&A for how Carroll approached big competitions, the advice he gives other coaches, his thoughts on Gracie Gold’s comeback, and why he never makes predictions in figure skating:

Legendary Coach Frank Carroll Talks Skating with Figure Skaters Online

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Photo Courtesy Carroll Private Archive