Twizzle Talk


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Coach Michelle Hong’s social media channels support skaters during the coronavirus pandemic

Coach Michelle Hong

Coach Michelle Hong; Photo by Lisa Kimura

Hey skaters and skating fans – I know I’m not alone in missing the ice these days (though it’s a small sacrifice to stay home so we can keep people safe and support essential workers). In looking for ways to stay in shape off the ice and add some variety to my workout routine, I found the fantastic Instagram account of Coach Michelle Hong (pictured), who you may know already from her videos with on-ice tips and off-ice workouts and stretching. Her video on stretches for spirals has become a favorite for me.

With so many people at home and off the ice, I asked her if she’d do an interview with me for Figure Skaters Online and we sat down to chat over Zoom. Here’s the story:

Coach Michelle Hong’s social media channels support skaters during the coronavirus pandemic

The rinks started closing in March, mandated by statewide shelter in place orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic. With spring competitions and ice shows cancelled or postponed indefinitely, coaches and skaters alike searched for ways to stay in shape off the ice.

Some were scrambling—creating new off-ice programming and offering lessons or workouts on Zoom—but not Michelle Hong, a coach based at the Oakland Ice Center in Oakland, CA. Hong has been sharing skating-specific tips, exercises, and workouts online for four years, since 2016. She has a website, YouTube channel, and Instagram account called Coach Michelle Hong, where she shares free skating content for all ages and ability levels.

“Figure skating is notorious for being one of the most expensive sports, which excludes a lot of people who genuinely love skating and want to compete,” Hong told Figure Skaters Online in a Zoom interview. “Reflecting on how much harder and smarter I had to train just to remain a contender amongst my peers who had daily lessons and more training resources overall, [that] lit the fire behind my idea to be the first person to ever create a free online platform dedicated to empowering all generations of figure skaters and athletes through full tutorials and tips.”

Read the full story at Figure Skaters Online for more from Michelle about how skaters are reacting to her videos and what she’s doing to make skating more accessible for everyone. Thanks to Michelle for taking the time to chat with me!


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Bradie Tennell Interview: She’s “living day to day” amid coronavirus pandemic

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Photo by Robin Ritoss, Courtesy Figure Skaters Online

Last week, I talked with 2018 U.S. Champion and Olympic Team Bronze Medalist Bradie Tennell for Figure Skaters Online. The story is part of an ongoing series catching up with skaters as they, like the rest of the world, adapt to the current circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic.

Bradie Tennell’s suitcase was up in her room, half-packed for the 2020 World Championships in Montreal, when she heard the news that the event was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was literally like somebody kicked me in the gut. I was shocked. We found out four days before we were supposed to leave,” she said. “Obviously, it was the right decision, but it was very hard for me.”

It was an anticlimactic end to Tennell’s season, which had included a silver medal at Skate America, an appearance at the Grand Prix Final, and a bronze medal at the 2020 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. Now, at home in suburban Chicago while Illinois is under stay-at-home orders, Tennell says she is “living day to day.”

Read the full story at Figure Skaters Online for more from Bradie, including how she’s keeping busy at home these days and why she supported the recent Blades for the Brave fundraiser for health workers like her mom, who is a nurse.


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Tim Dolensky Q&A

I helped the team at Figure Skaters Online with this Q&A with U.S. national competitor Tim Dolensky, who spent part of this year performing on cruise ships. Hear all about the life of a skating performer on board a Royal Caribbean cruise, from what it’s like skating on a smaller ice surface (at sea, no less!) to what the performers get to do on their days off.

Read the full article at Figure Skaters Online:

 


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Top 5 “WOW” Moments at the 2020 U.S. Championships

After looking back at my Top 5 Standing Ovation-Worthy Moments at the 2020 U.S. Championships, now I’m sharing my Top 5 “WOW” moments. There was plenty of great skating at this event in all four disciplines, but these five moments each earned a “wow,” from me, though not all in the same way. Some were in awe, some in surprise.

1. Nathan Chen’s performances in light of limited training during recovery from the flu
Since we’re talking about Nathan Chen, I’m going to use the word “only” in front of the phrase “four quads.” Yes, Chen only did four quads in his free skate here, and we know he is capable of six. But he honestly didn’t even have to do that many to guarantee a win here — he is that far ahead of the pack. We might not have been able to say that if Vincent Zhou was at the same form that won him a World bronze medal last season, but he took the fall off while attending Brown University and sorting out his training schedule, which meant he only had one quad here. Chen pushed himself even when the title was all but guaranteed, and even though he was recovering from a nasty bout with the flu, as we learned in this NBC Olympics article by Phil Hersh. Impressive.

2. Gracie Gold’s triple lutz-triple toe combo in practice
Gracie Gold’s performances in the competition were emotional moments for her and fans alike. But it was a moment in practice that wowed me: her triple lutz-triple toe loop combination of old is back. It may not be ready for the pressure situation of a competition yet, but to see her do it while watching the practice feeds on NBC Sports Gold was really cool. Good for her.

3. K. Chen and Zhou stay in contention — and in school (for now)
I was impressed by both Karen Chen and Vincent Zhou staying in contention here, even as they figure out how to balance Ivy League college schedules with training. To be fair, Zhou has already announced a break from Brown University, and Chen is apparently entertaining the idea of a break from Cornell after her strong showing here. Neither were at their peak, of course, but they did enough to earn assignments for the second half of the season and set themselves up well for fall assignments, too. It sounds like school might have to go on the back burner if they want to reach their previous heights, but we can’t all be Nathan Chen, right? Regardless, their showing here made a statement.

4. Hubbell and Donohue skate in the wrong direction
In the press conference after the free dance, Hubbell and Donohue said they got turned around in their spin and skated the rest of their program facing the wrong way. To non-skaters, this might sound weird/unlikely/unimportant, but as the excellent podcasters of Flutzes and Waxels explained in their 2020 U.S. Nationals Ice Dance recap, all the elements should be oriented towards the judges’ side of the arena, and in this case, you could see that Hubbell and Donohue’s were not. Maybe not impactful for a casual observer, but it isn’t ideal for the judges and can be disorienting for a skater. I think most of us skaters could say we’ve experienced something similar while skating in an unfamiliar rink or arena. Once, in an intercollegiate competition at the University of Michigan, I did my whole program with the elements facing the “wrong” way and didn’t even realize it until I hit my ending pose and it clicked that I wasn’t facing the judges. Something about Yost Arena was just disorienting to me, and I hadn’t had the opportunity for pre-competition practice ice. In this case, it is a pretty unusual occurrence, because Hubbell and Donohue had been practicing in the arena all week. So this one gets a “wow” for rarity.

5. The Knierims’ throw triple loop


This video is on the NBC Sports official channel, so fingers crossed it does not somehow get removed, because everyone should marvel at their throw triple loop here in the free skate. They have been posting this element looking good on Instagram, so my expectations were high for it in competition. The quality is just superb. It reminds me of Shen and Zhou’s incredible throws back in the early 2000s — so high and such a confident landing. Definitely a “wow moment” in their program.

So here’s my top 5 — which moments at Nationals impressed you or surprised you or led to an audible “Wow!”? Comment and share!


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Top 5 Standing Ovation-Worthy Moments at 2020 U.S. Nationals

Back in 2015 on this old blog, I ranked top five moments at U.S. Nationals in a variety of categories: tearjerkers, wow moments, standing ovation-worthy, etc., etc. I thought I’d revisit that format five years later, while simultaneously wondering how five years have passed so quickly. But with 2020 Nationals already in the rearview mirror and Four Continents upon us, it’s time for me to stop wondering and get posting. Here are my Top 5 Standing Ovation-Worthy Moments from 2020 U.S. Nationals in Greensboro, NC:

  1. Mariah Bell’s long program
    Of course, this one got a literal standing ovation from the crowd, as well as tears and a standing ovation from me in my living room. If Dick Button were still commentating for NBC, he would have been shouting “look at her heart on her sleeve!” into his headset, because the emotion was flowing in the choreo sequence at the end of that program. It was really special to see her nail her final triple lutz here, after a costly miss on the triple lutz in her long at Nationals last year.
  2. Alysa Liu keeping her cool
    Mariah’s performance blew the roof off the building, and defending champion Alysa Liu had to skate right after her, last in the final flight. Not an easy situation, but Liu proved her mental toughness by delivering one of her best performances, including two triple axels (I can’t count that quad lutz…it was too underrotated) and two triple-triples in the second half of the program. In situations like this, skaters can either get intimidated, or harness the positive energy in the building for their own skate, and Liu did the latter. Pretty rare for someone so young, and valuable experience that she’ll take with her as her career continues.
  3. Madison Chock and Evan Bates getting the job done
    Chock and Bates have been building momentum since they won the crowd (in my opinion) at last year’s U.S. Nationals. Their free dance has been a hit with fans and judges all season, and the speculation was that they would take the title here, in the same building where they won their first in 2015. They could have let pressure or expectations get the best of them, especially after a little slip in their Finnstep pattern in the rhythm dance here. But they didn’t, and earned the title and my literal and figurative standing ovation.
  4. The Knierims in the short program
    This pair rebounded from a tough performance at Nationals last year to reclaim their title, also in the same building where they won their first, much like Chock and Bates. Seeing them nail their side-by-side triples here (especially after what looked like some rough practices) was really exciting — much like her reaction at the end of the program.
  5. The entire final flight of the men’s long program
    As I was watching the final six men in this competition, I was just wowed by the quality of skating — the great jumps we were seeing, the artistry, the different styles. Not everyone was perfect, but they all really rose to the occasion and made it a compelling final group. They earned my at-home standing ovation.

You’ll notice I didn’t link videos with my list. In going back to my 2015 posts, I saw that nearly all the videos had been removed from YouTube for copyright, which is a bummer for fans who want to relive these great performances. (Though possibly good for my productivity…I have been known to disappear into a vacuum of watching old skating videos on YouTube). Most of these programs either didn’t make it to YouTube or were taken down. So words only it is! Next up: my Top 5 Wow/Surprise Moments.


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Spinning Out Review

If you are a figure skating fan and were on Twitter at all during the first week of January, you must have seen all the feelings and opinions on Spinning Out. I took my time watching the 10-episode series, but now I’m ready to weigh in.

I kept my blog notebook beside me while watching the show, and managed to fill four pages, front and back, with my observations. I’m going to stick to assessing the skating, not the plot, which was straight out of a 2000s CW teen drama. I write this as a diehard One Tree Hill fan, so I enjoy my fair share of CW drama, but it’s not for everyone. If this show didn’t have the skating element, I’m not sure I would have made it past the first few episodes.

As far as skating TV shows and movies go, my bar is pretty low. Isn’t yours, too? Ever since the Disney movie Ice Princess told us all that skating was just physics…

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…I’ve had low expectations for how my beloved sport is portrayed on screen. Blades of Glory may have been comedy gold, but I sat in the movie theater getting all offended by the stereotypes and annoyed that the “iron lotus” wouldn’t be possible because of GRAVITY. I’ve since evolved to have more of a sense of humor about these portrayals, which might be part of why I thought that, overall, Spinning Out had pretty good skating scenes.

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