I’m just going to come right out and say it.
All the “Phantom of the Opera” programs.
Why so many? Why?
Yes, it is beautiful, powerful, and emotional music. And it can be done really well (see: Davis and White’s 2010 free dance), but when it is the music of choice for more than half of the skaters on the NBC broadcast…they all started to run together. Terry Gannon had the best line, as the last skater came out with yet another Phantom program: “Have we heard this music before?”
The big story of NHK Trophy (besides all the Phantom programs) was that Frank Carroll coaches both the champions at the event. Gracie Gold powered through both performances for her first Grand Prix victory and Daisuke Murakami was the surprise winner in the men’s event. He came to the competition as a “host entry” and hasn’t skated in any other Grand Prixs this season, but he hit the ice like a seasoned competitor. His jump technique is superb and he has great presentation. He majorly proved himself here.
Gracie, on the other hand, looked a little nervous and it just came out today that she is withdrawing from the Grand Prix Final due to a stress fracture in her left foot. I wonder if the injury was bothering her last weekend? Though she looked nervous and had a few bobbles, the program has come a long way since Skate America. Her performance quality was unmatched in this competition, in my opinion, and hers is my favorite of all the Phantom programs. On a more superficial note, I continue to love the dress and the hairdo for this program.
As for the rest of the men, much of the attention was focused on Yuzuru Hanyu‘s return after his collision at Cup of China, and he still looked a bit out of it. There was a lot of internet chatter that he should still be resting, which is obviously a decision that should be in the hands of his doctors. What was more interesting to me is that, during the broadcast, Tracy Wilson reported an update on his condition without mentioning that she is one of his coaches. Shouldn’t that be acknowledged in some fashion? Not to say that her reporting is biased, but if it comes from a place of seeing him every day in training as opposed to “I just talked with him after the official practice last night,” it is pretty different.
American Jeremy Abbott‘s short program was one of his best, and I was really hoping he’d pull off a great long, but he had some bobbles and ended up 5th. There was no quad in the short, but the program was flawless. He looked so powerful and confident; maybe it is a better option for him to leave out the quad in favor of a clean skate in the short to set himself up for the free skate. His short is set to “Lay Me Down” by Sam Smith and he obviously loves the program and is inspired by the music. I was a huge fan of last year’s “Lillies of the Valley” short and don’t love this one as much; the lyrics seem almost overpowering, shifting the focus more to them than his impeccable skating. Though last year’s is my preference, with Jeremy it is so important for him to be really inspired and carried by the music and that is clearly what this short does for him, so I’m all for it.
I’ve got to mention Jeremy’s U.S. teammate Joshua Farris, who had two really rough skates and was last at this event. I loved him at U.S. Nationals last year. He is reusing his “Schindler’s List” long from last season and it looks even better than last year. His short program to an Ed Sheeran song also looks great, but unfortunately the jumps were not there for him at all in either program (fewer than 5 clean triples between both programs). If he had done those programs with all jumps intact, I think he would have challenged for a medal. But it was fantastic that he stayed committed to his performance even though the jumps were a disaster. It shows a lot of heart to keep fighting through. He was injured and withdrew from his first GP assignment, so I wonder if lack of preparation was a factor?
Going back to the ladies, the other two American entries, Polina Edmunds and Christina Gao, finished 8th and 9th respectively. Polina made some mistakes in the short, but skated a clean free. She looked a little tentative in the free, which is understandable after a rough short. Her style already looks much more mature than last year and you can tell she has worked on her extensions and presentation. One of the highlights of Polina’s program for me was actually her ending pose. A huge pet peeve of mine is when people don’t hold their ending pose; my coach always mandated that we strongly and confidently hold that final pose and make a moment of it. This is exactly what Polina did and it leaves a great last impression on the judges and looks so much better than when people are wobbly or trip out of their final pose.
Christina Gao looked great in the short program. I loved her purple dress (pictured, from a previous event) and her opening triple–double combo looked like she could make it a triple–triple. She looked like a different skater in the long, though—a little hunched over and tentative. So much so that I wondered if something was wrong, but I haven’t read anything to that effect.
Russian Alena Leonova earned the silver medal with two solid performances. She is 24 years old and didn’t make the Sochi Olympic team with the onslaught of Russian teenagers, but is still committed to competing. She obviously loves the sport and it comes across in her skating. Her Charlie Chaplin short was fun to watch—very authentic Chaplin. She does the triple toe–triple toe combo, which is not as difficult as some of the other top ladies, but what she has going for her is that it is pretty consistent.
The Grand Prix Final is up next and I think I am going to try my hand at some results predictions. Stay tuned!