Twizzle Talk


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Anatomy of a Titanic Program

This post has been in my drafts for a year—yikes! That’s a little embarrassing. But since 2017 is the 20th anniversary of the movie “Titanic,” and this post was initially intended to sing the praises of current U.S. World Team member Mariah Bell, it’s actually still relevant. High-five to past me.

The music from “Titanic” was a popular choice for skating programs when the movie first came out, and it still pops up in rinks from the local level to the World Championships, because it is such a movie favorite.

Last year, Russian Elena Radionova skated to selections from “Titanic” for her long program, and I just couldn’t get on the bandwagon for this program.

 

The voiceovers were a distraction, rather than an enhancement, and the music selection overall was too repetitive, too reliant on the “My Heart Will Go On” portion of the soundtrack, both with vocals and without. We all know it’s a long movie (anybody else remember the two-VHS boxed set?), and there is a wealth of music to choose from. I’m a fan of the Irish music from the steerage party scene, performed by the wonderful band Gaelic Storm. By the time Celine Dion’s voice comes into the program in the final minute or so, we’ve heard this crescendo of the music several times already, which diminishes the emotional impact and power of the moment.

In terms of the choreography, I didn’t love the constant open and uplifting arm movements…lots of people are dying here, including Radionova’s character’s boyfriend. It looked too triumphant. The jump entrances are held too long and are awkward, which is indicative of the trouble she was having with jumps last season, after a growth spurt.

I did enjoy that Radionova’s dress was a nod to the pretty dress that Kate Winslet wore as the ship was sinking:

kate-winslet-dress

Image Source: awesomeinventions.com

Mariah Bell’s 2015 “Titanic” program, on the other hand, was much more my taste:

 

The opening of this program captures the tension of the film, both in terms of music and choreography. From there, it moves into a natural story: the piece with some pop and Mariah’s beautiful split jumps alludes to the triumphant send-off for the ship, there is a sweet portion in the middle for her footwork that fits with the movie love story, and the use of “My Heart Will Go On” is very subtle.

Skating programs usually build to a grand finale of sorts, with the most exciting, uplifting pieces of music at the end. This program ends quietly, and I liked the nod to the more somber end for the Titanic itself and the movie.

Also, her dress is gorgeous and looks like the ocean.

This Nationals, 2015, was when I first noticed the joy and “it factor” in Mariah’s skating. That’s still present today, in 2017, but she has made huge technical strides. There wasn’t a triple-triple in this program (she doubled a planned triple toe-triple toe), and now she routinely hits the triple lutz-triple toe. She said in her recent interview on the “Ice Talk” podcast that she moved to new coach Rafael Arutyunyan for technical help, so it is exciting to think about the strides she can make after a full season with Raf.

Are there any other well-known “Titanic” programs that you loved or hated? Let me know!


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The Return of Joshua Farris

Today is a great day. One of my absolute favorite U.S. men’s figure skaters has announced his return to competition.

Joshua Farris is back!

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Image Source: ifigureskating.com

My immense appreciation for his skating talents has been well-documented on this little blog, so it is probably a big understatement to say that I am thrilled.

He initially retired over the summer, after a string of concussions made it unsafe for him to continue training. But, according to Ice Network, he has been cleared by his doctors and is back on the ice, ready to finish his career on his own terms.

Let’s revisit his short program from 2015 U.S. Nationals, where he was the bronze medalist. Watch this beauty of a performance and tell me you aren’t excited to see him back in action:

I know Nathan Chen is the quad king for the U.S. right now, but Josh’s return adds an interesting new dimension to the U.S. men’s field. He told Ice Network very confidently that he will come back with a quad or two in his arsenal. If he returns to his prior form, as far as the spins, footwork, and artistry are concerned, and then adds some quads—it could be a real fight between him and his fellow artists, Adam Rippon and Jason Brown, for the remaining spots on the Olympic team (barring an injury or some sort of bizarre disaster that would keep Chen from PyeongChang).

It is, of course, one thing to tell a reporter you’re going to nail quads, and then to actually do it in competition, but I’ve got high hopes here! Now, to start a petition for this “Give Me Love” short program to also make a comeback…


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The Quad Game, Take 2

After the U.S. Championships and heading into Worlds this year, all the talk was about U.S. skater Jason Brown’s lack of a quad. Chicago Tribune columnist Phillip Hersh was skeptical that Brown could take on the top guys in the world without it. USA Today columnist Christine Brennan thought the US judges were inflating their scores too much and setting their skaters up for failure on the world stage. I threw my two cents in and agreed with Brennan, saying it seemed like Brown was over-rewarded at Nationals.

I think it’s safe to say that all three of us were wrong.

Brown took 4th place at Worlds and then set a record at the World Team Trophy, earning the highest-ever international score by a U.S. man. All without that oft-talked about quad. How does he do it? Attention to detail.

He racks up the points in the International Judging System (IJS) with intricate transitions and jump entrances, as well as difficult spin positions that he is able to perform at incredible speeds. And the jumps he does do are usually clean; no under rotations or scratchy landings, which usually earns him positive grades of execution on plenty of elements. All those points add up, sometimes more so than one 13-point quad will. Especially against guys who get rattled after missing a quad and skate poorly through the rest of the program. Brown’s adeptness at collecting points reminds me of his fellow Chicagoan, Evan Lysacek. Lysacek was able to work the point system so well that he leapt from 10th after the short to 4th overall at the 2006 Olympics and won the gold medal at the 2010 Games ahead of Evegni Plushenko’s quads.

Figure skater Jason Brown performs at the 2015 World Team Trophy

Brown performs his long program at the 2015 World Team Trophy. Image Source: zimbio.com

Brennan’s argument that Brown’s Nationals scores were inflated is not entirely without merit. The 30-point difference is significant, but all U.S. Nationals scores are inflated compared to international scores. In international competition, seven judges’ marks count towards the score; nine judges are used at U.S. events. Combine that with a bit of the inflation Brennan was talking about, and I think it’s easy to account for those 30 points.

The IJS definitely has its quirks and weaknesses (I have enough thoughts on this for a whole other post), but those who study it and work it like Brown does are the ones that will have the most success. And despite the shortcomings of the IJS, it is great how the system encourages skaters to use unique entrances and transitions throughout their programs. Yuzuru Hanyu’s triple axel entrance from his short program at the 2014 Olympics and Evan Lysacek’s 2006 Olympic long program are two of my favorite examples of these types of innovative transitions.

This isn’t to say that Brown won’t need the quad eventually. His best-ever score by a U.S. man ranks 31st all-time in the IJS, behind the likes of quad kings Javier Fernandez of Spain, Patrick Chan of Canada, and Japanese Olympic Champion Yuzuru Hanyu. But if Brown can do all this without the quad, imagine the numbers once he has it in his arsenal.

The quad game is definitely ongoing, and we might have spoken a bit too soon in writing off Brown’s international chances. Here’s hoping he masters the quad over the summer, but even if he doesn’t, I think we’ve learned it’s not wise to count Brown out.


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The American Underdog

The American ladies finished off the podium again at the 2015 World Championships, keeping alive a streak that I’m sure U.S. Figure Skating would much rather see end. The last American woman to finish on the podium was Kimmie Meissner, who won gold in 2006.

Both Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner staged herculean comebacks in the long program, finishing second and third, respectively in that segment of the competition. They were fourth and fifth place overall, quite the jump from 8th and 11th after the short. When you think about how different the results might have been if both girls had skated clean (or even with just fewer mistakes) in the short program, it’s a hard one to take. Obviously even more so for the skaters’ themselves. The fabulous potential is there, but it seems like they crumble under expectations.

Not only did both athletes skate impressively in the long, but they gave performances that required great mental toughness—something both skaters have demonstrated throughout this season. Gold skated a nearly clean program at U.S. Nationals right after the crowd blew the roof off for Wagner’s record score. Wagner was in last place after the short program at the Grand Prix Final and pulled herself up to win the bronze medal. When people write them off, the American ladies come out fighting to prove them wrong. Both skaters thrive in the underdog position, rising to the occasion when they have to chase the leader.

Gracie Gold (left) and Ashley Wagner Image Source: abcnews.go.com

But it is another story when they are expected to place well or win the competition. Gold was supposed to walk away with the Four Continents title in February and ended up fourth. Wagner was predicted to breeze her way onto the Olympic team in 2014, then finished fourth and had to be named to the team by U.S. Figure Skating.

It is extraordinarily difficult to live up to the pressure of expectations and Gold and Wagner are by no means lost causes. But how hard is it to change the mentality and thrive as the favorite?

It’s something Michelle Kwan learned throughout her career. After faltering in her first national title defense in 1997, she changed her mental approach and was able to own the U.S. ladies’ title from 1998-2005. Plenty of former champions serve as mentors to current competitors through U.S. Figure Skating—maybe they can add Kwan to the list to help elevate these ladies to the next level.


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The Quad Game

There has been a lot of talk lately about the U.S. men and their quad game (or lack thereof, in some cases).

The Chicago Tribune‘s Philip Hersh expressed concern about Jason Brown’s quadless victory at Nationals. Hersh doesn’t think Brown can be a contender without a quad and was proven right this weekend when Brown only finished in 6th place at Four Continents. All five men ahead of him at least attempted quads, though not all were landed cleanly.

It should be noted that Brown did attempt a quad for the first time in competition in the short program at Four Continents, which was a huge milestone for him. He has been skating internationally as a senior since the fall of 2013 and has yet to even attempt one, so to get the first attempt out there and over with is a hurdle in itself. That being said, it was not the greatest attempt: he came down on two feet and well short of rotation, which makes me wonder how ready he is to include the jump at Worlds.

I read Hersh’s article after Nationals and had similar thoughts of my own, as much as I love Jason Brown’s positive attitude and skating style. Figure skating columnist extraordinaire Christine Brennan summed it up pretty well:

“…when the judges reward a quad-less program with a whopping 93.36 points, as they did Friday night for Brown, they aren’t sending the best message.” —Columnist Christine Brennan in USA Today on 1/24/15

What actually stood out to me the most was the huge difference in scores between Brown’s personal best of 93.36 and ladies champion Ashley Wagner’s personal best of 72.04, despite rather similar elements. I’m about to go down a math rabbit hole, so bear with me.

I understand that the men traditionally have higher scores than the women, what with triple axels, quads, and more triple-triple combinations, and I obviously don’t want to take anything away from either of these superb, personal best performances. But being said, the twenty point difference struck me as a huge discrepancy, especially since Brown’s program didn’t include a quad.

Brown earned his 93.36 with a triple axel, triple flip-triple toe, and a triple lutz, with 44.46 of those points for program components. In comparison, Wagner only had 33.71 for program components. Her elements were a triple lutz-triple toe (a more difficult combination, despite the -1 she got for GOE), double axel, and triple flip. The glaring difference here is clearly the double axel that earned Wagner 4.49 points, while Brown’s triple axel was worth 10.07. But that looks more like 6 points to me, not 20. From where I sit, it seems like Brennan has a point about over-rewarding in the scores. Any other wannabe-mathematicians out there have their own theory?

Brown may be the U.S. national champion, but it was bronze medalist Joshua Farris who made the podium at Four Continents, with a quad in his arsenal. I think he will be the one to watch going in to Worlds. With the likes of Denis Ten, Javier Fernandez, and Yuzuru Hanyu routinely hitting quads, those four revolutions have become the name of the game in the men’s event.


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Top 5 Standing Ovation-Worthy Moments at the U.S. Championships

I’ve typed much of my own analysis and musings of many moments at the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but I think I’ll let these Top 5 Standing Ovation-Worthy Moments speak for themselves. The roar of the crowd at the end of each of these programs tells the story.

1. Ashley Wagner’s stunning and gutsy long program—her best ever:

2. Maia and Alex Shibutani not only got a standing ovation at the end of the free dance, but their mesmerizing twizzle sequence also got lots of applause from the crowd:

3. Jason Brown brought the crowd to its feet in both the short and long programs with his outstanding performance skills:

4. And the same goes for Adam Rippon, who thrilled the crowd in both segments of the men’s competition:

5. Madison Chock and Evan Bates’ gold medal-wining free dance had a powerful, emotional ending: