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Gilles & Poirier Ice-Dance.com Interview: 2020 Canadians

The 2020 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships kick off next week, and I got to sit in on the pre-competition media call with ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirer – the favorites to take this year’s Canadian title. Check out my article for Ice-Dance.com to hear how they’re using a 5th-place finish in the Grand Prix Final as both motivation and confidence booster, and the changes they’ve made to their programs for the second half of the season.

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Photo by Robin Ritoss, Courtesy of Ice-Dance.com

Gilles & Poirier Use Grand Prix Final as Motivation for Second Half of Season

Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier returned to the Grand Prix Final this year for the first time since the 2014-15 season, propelled by their most successful Grand Prix campaign to date: a first-time Grand Prix victory at Skate Canada and a silver at Rostelecom Cup.

While the duo saw it as a milestone, they ultimately weren’t happy with their fifth place finish in the six-team field.

“We were really pleased to be back at the Final. It’s something that has eluded us for several years and we’ve been very close many times, so it was really nice to be back there and really feel a part of the top echelon in the world,” Poirier said on a Skate Canada media call ahead of the 2020 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Mississauga, Ontario. “As much as we didn’t quite get the result that we wanted there, we really feel like we were in the mix, especially with coming fourth in the free dance. I think that did build our confidence. We really feel that we are in the mix, that we’re competitive, that we can really challenge for the podium at the World Championships.”

Read the rest of the article on Ice-Dance.com, where we’ll be following all the action from the 2020 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships!


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The 2019-20 Season: What We’ve Learned So Far

Whew, somehow it is 2020 and National Championships season in the world of figure skating. Japan and Russia kicked it off at the end of December, and Canada and the U.S. are up next, in terms of the major players. As we look at the season so far, I’ve got some observations about the current skating landscape, and some suggestions, because I can’t help myself. Here’s what we’ve learned so far this season:

Fire Power in the Short is Tough to Beat

A clean triple axel in the short program can overpower a multi-quad long program. Alena Kostornia’s superb triple axels are putting her so far ahead in short programs that she isn’t at a huge disadvantage without a quad in the free skate. It’s how she won the Grand Prix Final, and her two Grand Prix events this season. She was second to Anna Shcherbakova at Russian Nationals this year, so it isn’t an infallible strategy, but with three triple axels and her superior skating skills, it is possible to top the quad jumpers among her fellow Russians. Now, this advantage will disappear quickly if the ISU votes to allow quadruple jumps in the women’s short program, which I believe will be up for vote at the 2020 ISU Congress.

Balanced Skating is Still Rewarded (But Not Enough)

I’m going to turn to the Russian ladies again in this example. Kostornia gets in the high 8s and low 9s for her program component scores, while Alexandra Trusova is averaging in the low 8s. Kostornia’s higher marks are completely deserved – she has better flow across the ice, and more extension and toe point in her strokes and pushes, whereas at times it seems like Trusova does a series of pumps to get speed and then launches into her jumps.

But almost across the board in singles, I keep noticing major gaps between the technical element score and the PCS score. A skater like Trusova, who relies on her jump content, can have a 20-30 point difference in the TES vs. PCS, with the TES much higher because of how the scoring system factors each segment into the total score. But even Nathan Chen, who has been lauded for his artistic strides in recent years, had a huge difference in his TES and PCS scores in his Grand Prix Final victory. Because of his incredible quad content (five at that event), his TES was 33.36 points higher than his PCS, which were all high 9s (out of a possible 10). There needs to be a change in the way that PCS are weighted in the final score, because the current setup does not give equal weight to technical and artistic feats. And since this is figure skating and not jump skating, both need to be given equal importance. Notice that I am not saying to de-value quadruple jumps (which are incredibly difficult and should be rewarded as such). I just think we need to balance out the scales a bit here by increasing the value of high PCS scores in the overall total.

I also think this would be more effective than an age limit in terms of the current controversy over young skaters doing multiple quads and how that may or may not affect their future health. There definitely needs to be more study on that point, because we really only know things anecdotally now. Until that can be done and an age limit proven as a way to support the future health of skaters, I think fixing the IJS (again) could help. Plus, it avoids a scenario where people can complain that a skater was held back by an age limit during his or her prime. This type of change would give them incentive to work on having a complete package over jumps alone, which could also help with the toll that quad jumps take on the body by limiting repetition a bit.

10s Should Be Rare (And They’re Not)

In citing all those PCS marks above, and just looking at judges’ scores throughout the season, what kept jumping out at me was how willingly and frequently judges are handing out high 9s and 10s in the PCS. To me, those types of marks should be rare and well-deserved, for the likes of a Kwan or a Gordeeva/Grinkov, a bit like the old 6.0 perfect mark. Not handed out because a skater landed multiple quads, or is competing in his or her home country. Clean quadruple jumps also shouldn’t automatically lead to a 9.75 in skating skills. Sure, they can go towards the performance segment of the PCS mark, because a clean skate certainly elevates the performance quality, or composition, because a program that is well-crafted but includes multiple falls should be docked a bit, just as a clean program gives a more well-composed overall picture. But, judges, let’s save the 10s for historic moments, like Virtue/Moir at the Olympics, or true excellence, like Hanyu’s transitions.

Now it’s time to get down off my soapbox and go watch episode four of Netflix’s figure skating series, Spinning Out. I’ve got some thoughts on the show coming for a later post…stay tuned!

All score research compiled via SkatingScores.com, an excellent resource for skating fans and followers who want to get into the details of the scoring system and event scores.

Correction: An earlier version of this post erroneously reported that Kostornia was 3rd at Russian Nationals in 2020 and the post has since been updated to reflect her 2nd place finish.


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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:

Continue reading


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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!