Twizzle Talk

Leave a comment

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:

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.

Leave a comment

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:

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.

Leave a comment

Worlds 2015: Short Program Impressions

The long-awaited 2015 World Championships are not only underway, but whizzing by. I don’t know if the 12-hour time difference from Shanghai has me feeling a step behind or what, but suffice to say the event is going by far too quickly. So I thought I’d jot down some quick impressions from the ladies’ short program and the short dance before the final events get in to gear:

  • Elizaveta Tuktamysheva’s trip axel in the short program was superb. Better than some that we’ll see in the men’s event, even. But that said, there was just something off about the performance. Jeffrey Buttle–the 2008 World Champion, 2006 Olympic Bronze Medalist, renowned artistic skater, and now respected choreographer–managed to verbalize what I couldn’t put my finger on:

  • Gracie Gold is having a rough year, no question. Her jumps seem to abandon her when she takes competition ice, or the nerves take over, or something. But the great strides that she has made in her expression and skating skills can’t be overlooked. She has improved so much in those areas, really getting down on her knees and using her edges more than she did just a few years ago. And she is really feeling each note of her music, as opposed to just skating with it in the background.
  • I really think the Shibutanis have the best twizzles in the ice dance field. They are just mesmerizing to watch. Its been a bit of a hard year for them, and its making me sad to see them continually disappointed or putting on brave smiles in the Kiss and Cry. Here’s hoping they bring it in the free dance and get some good scores!
  • Last year’s dance champs Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte are in third place after the short dance as they aim to defend their title. I loved watching them at the Olympics last year, but think that Anna’s posture needs some improvement. She skates a bit rounded in the shoulders, which was especially apparent when they skated after Americans Chock and Bates, who both have impeccable posture (and skated their way to first place).

As I wrap up this post, it looks like the free dance results are coming in. I’m going to go to bed in an attempt to avoid spoilers until I can watch my TiVo’d recording of the Universal Sports broadcast. Happy watching!