Twizzle Talk


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Favorite Spins of the 2017-18 Season

I shared the lifts I’m loving this season, now it’s time for some spins. I picked one spin that caught my eye in each discipline, heavily influenced by any unique or beautiful entries to the spin.

For the ladies, it’s Bradie Tennell. I love the spiral entrance to her camel spin in the short program:

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A difficult transition to the back spin entry that she completes seamlessly. You can watch the entire spin in her performance at Skate America:

On the men’s side, I like Javier Fernandez’s smooth transition from his footwork sequence into the sit spin combination spin. The twizzle/illusion are timed really nicely with the flourishes in the music, as is the final sit spin position. Here’s the entry:

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And the full spin in the video of his long program from his win at Internationaux de France this fall:

On the ice dance side of things, I think Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje’s spiral entry to their dance spin in the free dance is both beautiful and difficult, especially the way they are able to use their strong outside edges to get momentum going into the spin. Gif breakdown of the entry, then the full program video so you can see the entire spin:

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I had a tough time choosing in pairs, but went with Wenjing Sui and Cong Han’s breathtaking short program spin:

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The strength and flexibility on display are fantastic, and they are able to maintain nice speed throughout the spin. And a slight digression, but her dress is also stunning! Here is the full program video:

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot have such strong side-by-side spins — with actual unison, which is so rare in pairs skating these days! So I almost went with their long program side-by-side spin on that reasoning, but Sui and Han’s move had such wow factor that it won out.

Which spins are you loving this season? I’m off to watch all the YouTube videos from the Grand Prix Final in Nagoya, where I’m sure I’ll find a few more spins, lifts, or choreography to love!

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Favorite Lifts of the 2017-2018 Season

While skating fans await the Grand Prix Final, I’m taking inventory of some of my favorite ice moves of the season so far. I’ve been keeping a list of the elements I love, jotting them down as I’ve watched them either on TV or IceNetwork.

Here are my favorite lifts of the season, skewed a bit towards the ice dance scene with one pair lift. (To be fair, lots of the pairs do similar positions to meet the IJS requirements…or, not entirely aesthetically pleasing positions that meet the IJS requirements).

  1. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje’s final lift in their free dance:
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    Strength, difficulty, a beautiful position, and it is timed perfectly with the emotional final moments of the music.
  2. Another Canadian dance team, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, have a fabulous lift in their short dance:
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    It’s a very acrobatic lift, but they execute it with ease and smoothness, and also hit each position clearly. Sometimes the most intricate dance lifts end up looking like a whirling dervish, and each position isn’t clear as the couple moves so quickly through each variation. This lift is really well done and unique, while still having appealing positions.
  3. Continuing the Canadian theme I’ve got going here, I also love the lift at the end of Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro’s short program:
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    The exit is my favorite part — it’s unique and her position, stretch, and toe point is exquisite. Her position throughout is great, while he could be a little more sure and fluid on his steps. But, I also think the gif version accentuates that a bit more than the video.
  4. Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte have a gorgeous straight-line lift in their free dance, with Anna in a spiral position. I’m always a sucker for a lovely spiral position!
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    The exit on this one isn’t the smoothest and definitely needs to be improved, but the lift itself is gorgeous.
  5. I’m obsessed with all of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s “Moonlight Sonata” free dance, but this lift is a highlight:
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    The camera angle isn’t ideal, but this stunning photo from Gabriella’s Instagram shows a better view of that the last position.
  6. While the lifts I’ve mentioned so far go up, I love this lift from Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue that is a bit closer to the ice:
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    It fits the character of their blues-y free dance really nicely, and the entry and exit are seamless.
  7. /8. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker’s “Liebestraum” free dance is my favorite of the year (and I guess last year, too, since they are repeating the program, but this is a program repeat I can get behind. The performance has definitely grown!). The music, costumes, and choreography are impeccable, and, as such, I couldn’t pick just ONE favorite lift in this program. I love the combination of ease and strength in this leaning lift:
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    I’m clearly drawn to the ones where the girl is standing on the guy’s leg, huh? This next one is a little different, and I love how not only is the lift timed perfectly with the music, but their movement mimics what we are hearing in the music.
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    I wish she would keep her arm out during the entire sweeping motion of the lift — it would be a prettier line and also accentuate the circular movement more.

Did you love these, too? Any fantastic lifts that I missed or need to give a second look?


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Impressions: 5 Thoughts from Skate America 2017

The Grand Prix series wrapped up this weekend with Skate America — which usually kicks off the series. While I thought the timing was weird at first, it was definitely exciting to close out the series with an event broadcast live and in primetime on NBC here in the U.S. I’ve got five thoughts on five Americans at their home-country competition:

  1. Bradie Tennell! I’ve been watching her since this summer, when I worked on her website for Figure Skaters Online, and am such a fan. I remember watching her at previous Nationals and enjoying her skating, but she has kicked it up a notch this year. Her poise and confidence at this event were excellent. I know some are cautioning against anointing her as the next great American hope after one good performance, but it hasn’t been just one. She has been delivering consistently since July, and built on those successes to deliver two clean performances here, under pressure, and grab the bronze medal. If she continues on this trajectory, I predict big things for Nationals. (And just maybe…the Olympics!)

    Skate America Bronze Medalist

    Bradie with her coach, Denise Myers (left), and choreographer, Scott Brown (right). Photo Courtesy Figure Skaters Online

  2. You can always count on Maia and Alex Shibutani to be prepared and deliver clean, consistent programs. But here at Skate America, they looked even stronger and sharper than their last event, Rostelecom Cup. It particularly stood out to me in their short dance, where they brought such energy while still being precise in their movements and nailing the technical content. They are gunning for that third U.S. title — there is no resting on the laurels of success with these two.
  3. Speaking of no rest…who else loved it when Adam Rippon said that his trip to the Grand Prix Final was his reward for his excellent Skate America performance? His work ethic in this Olympic season — while also coming back from his broken foot — is incredibly impressive. If I were picking the U.S. men’s Olympic team, Adam would be on it, no question. He dislocated his shoulder on his opening quad lutz and gave no thought to giving up. He delivered a clean program from there. Johnny Weir and some of the other commentators have mentioned it, but the way that Adam takes his time and breathes through each element is so refreshing and easy to watch. Some of the guys attempting record-breaking quads look like they are gritting their teeth through these programs, but Adam is performing while nailing his jumps.
  4. It was sad, and somewhat shocking, to see Adam’s BFF Ashley Wagner withdraw mid-long program. People from the Twitterverse to commentator Johnny Weir were chattering about the timing of the withdrawal (should she have done it mid-program? toughed it out? withdrew after the warmup?) to the severity of the injury. Whatever you think, it was tough to watch someone who is so synonymous with being a fighter end a competition like that. In the last Olympic cycle, Ashley made her case for the Olympic team with her international successes in the fall, then faltered at Nationals. This time around, she has given herself no choice but to rise to the occasion at Nationals, after low scores at Skate Canada (even though she ended up with the bronze) and withdrawing here, plus some struggles internationally at the end of last season. Before she withdrew from the competition, her focus in comments to the media was on getting enough training time before Nationals, so even if she pulled out a win here and qualified for the Grand Prix Final, it seems unlikely that she would have gone. Hopefully she can buckle down and get the training and preparation in before heading to San Jose for Nationals at the end of December.
  5. The throw jumps by Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim are absolutely breath-taking, in the long program especially. They are timed perfectly with the music, she lands them with such strength and excellent posture, and he throws in a nice little flourish with his arms on the landing as well. Yes, they are still struggling with the side-by-side jumps, but they are maxing out points in their strength areas, like these throws and their huge triple twist.
  6. Ok, I have to do a bonus #6, on a non-American. Can’t help myself. How lovely was Satoko Miyahara? I loved her a few seasons ago and honestly, all her injuries and time away from the ice made her slip from my radar. Her subpar showing at NHK Trophy didn’t help, but, wow, was she great here. She skated with such emotion and heart, and her in-between skating is just stunning. I know her jumps aren’t the highest, but the way she puts together the full package of jumps, spins, and choreography is so appealing. Much like Ashley Wagner, she is a mature skater and genuine performer, which I’ll take over a jumping bean any day.

Between now and the Grand Prix Final (which is Dec. 7-10 in Nagoya, Japan), I’m going to take a look at some of my favorite elements (spins, lifts, etc.) in programs this season!


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Impressions: Cup of China 2017 and Backloading Programs

I have a lot to say about Alina Zagitiva’s victory in the ladies event at the 2017 Cup of China, and I’ll go from trivial to serious. Firstly, those tights:

Alina Zagitova

Image Source: The Daily Mail

Either go fully over the boot, or just wear regular tights. Please. This in-between look is messy and distracting.

Another distracting thing? How ridiculously backloaded her long program was. I actually got bored watching the first two minutes, waiting for jumps. Then I checked the time in disbelief, because I couldn’t imagine that she did two minutes without jumps. But she did, which made the second half a jumble of skating from jump to jump, without any transitions or interesting movements. I was watching on YouTube without commentary, though I noticed in watching later on NBC that commentator Tara Lipinski pointed it out at the start of the program and said she liked the buildup. I’m on the opposite side of the spectrum.

One of the requirements of the program components mark is proportion in choreography and composition of the program. How does a program like this fit that criteria? With this judging panel, her scores ranged from 8-9.25 in composition. That’s out of 10. And that’s absolutely ridiculous. Beyond that, you need to have the skating skills of someone with the last name Kwan, Cohen, or Kostner to keep my attention for two minutes without jumps.

Proportion requires a balanced program. That means she needs to jump in the first half, no question. I understand putting a majority of jumps in the second half to take advantage of the bonus points, and they are deserved bonus points in most cases. However, the component marks in the composition category should not have been as high as they were. Sure, give her the bonus on the jumps and contribute to her overall TES score of 76.09, but the imbalance needs to be reflected in the components score.

The ISU is considering all sorts of crazy rule changes, and Claire Cloutier of A Divine Sport did an excellent analysis that I highly recommend reading. The changes range from reducing the length of free skates for men and pairs to creating separate artistic and technical programs. They all seem unnecessary and unfounded, and Claire does a great job of explaining why. I’d rather see proposed rule changes that confront issues like this backloading problem, or the fact that people will purposefully rotate and fall on a quad over a clean triple jump, because it gets them more points (More on that from the great Jackie Wong of Rocker Skating). Or maybe the ISU could spend less time on rule changes and more time educating judges and making sure they are handing out marks that reflect the requirements.

The one redeeming quality of Zagitova’s program for me? She included a Charlotte spiral, one of my favorite moves to watch and to do. Here’s the original, performed by Charlotte Oelschlegel, after whom the spiral is named.

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Image Source: AHistoryBlog.com

Thoughts? Anybody love the backloaded approach and care to share a counterargument?


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5 Thoughts On Rostelecom Cup 2017

I’ve got five thoughts to share on Rostelecom Cup 2017, and they all have to do with music, or musicality. I realized the common thread as I was jotting down my notes after watching the NBC recap show on Sunday afternoon. Some people’s perfect fall Sunday involves a hike or an apple orchard, but mine includes an afternoon of skating narrated by Terry, Tara, and Johnny. At least I had a nice cup of tea and my pumpkin-scented candle burning, to set the seasonal mood.

    1. I love Mariah Bell of the U.S., but I don’t love her “West Side Story” program. I got my hopes up when she teased “Beauty and the Beast” for this season on Instagram last spring, because I love that music and character — and hello, gorgeous yellow dress potential. I think it would have fit her style so nicely. So when Mariah came out with this “West Side Story” number this year, I was already disappointed, before even seeing the program. After a few outings with it, she’s still not hitting the notes of the music with her movements, whether it’s those famous snaps or even just the right beats during her footwork sequence. Mark Hanretty, one of my favorite commentators, made the same point in the British Eurosport broadcast:

      I’ll just be over here in the corner, hoping she brings back last year’s “East of Eden” long, which brought me to tears when I saw it live at Skate America. And if you think Mark Hanretty is as awesome as I do, check out his guest spot on the Ice Talk podcast last year.
    2. Not to pile on Team Raf (the group that trains with Rafael Arutyunyan in southern California), but U.S. all-star Nathan Chen is also slightly off the music with his movements, especially in the intense middle section of his long program. I really like this section, and the footwork, so I hope he tightens it up. Maybe time for a visit to Marina Zoueva, who he worked with on choreography last season? Or, someone devoted entirely to choreography in the Arutyunyan camp?
    3. Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau of Canada are two of my favorites in the pairs field. They have such a pleasant, joyful energy about their skating, and are working their way back after two injury-ridden seasons. The music change at about the 3-minute mark in their long program is very effective — it happened juuust as the repetitiveness of the song was making me want to zone out. I also kind of loved how the lift coordinated with the words (“she was carried up into the clouds”), but I know not everyone appreciates that level of cute/corny.
    4. Carolina Kostner of Italy is just a delight to watch. I wanted her to get that early triple-triple combo! The dress is a lovely color and a super weird cut, but it is all overshadowed by the pure joy on her face. There has been plenty of criticism/bemoaning of her watered-down technical content, but I’m hoping that she is ramping up and getting her feet back under her with a plan to do more as the season goes on. Honestly, I’d take this kind of performance over one where the skater guts out 7-8 triples without any artistic expression. Which is, of course, why we have the program components mark, and why I think it is a bit of a travesty that she received almost three points less than winner Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia on that front. Evgenia is a beautiful skater and commits to both the artistic and athletic aspects of the performance, but there is a genuineness and honesty missing from her programs that is in Carolina’s.
    5. And a general note on the ice dance field, where music is arguably the most important: I wish NBC would broadcast more of the dance events. I understand for Rostelecom, that there weren’t names that would be as recognizable to the casual skating fan, but later in the season I hope to see more than just the winning free dance. I’m still mulling over the Shibutanis’ new Coldplay free dance, to “Paradise.” I was caught off guard by the interjection of one lyric from “Fix You” in this cut of the free dance — an interesting nod to their past? Trying too hard? I need to mull this over more. I thought “Fix You” was a complete masterpiece, and [nerd confession alert] probably watch it on YouTube every few months and cry every time. Share your thoughts in the comments if you’d like!


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On Boots and Blades and Taking Care of Them

I got my skate blades sharpened this afternoon. [Non-skaters who read this blog, we sharpen our skate blades so that the edges can better grip the ice. Each time we skate, the blade gets dulled down by the jumps, spins, and footwork.]

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Image Source: Wikipedia

I last had them sharpened in January, so my blades were getting pretty dull and in need of a sharpening. I usually skate three times a week myself, and have recently taken up teaching learn to skate classes again (one of which is a hockey class, believe it or not. A story for another time.), which has me on the ice four times a week as a teacher. To keep practicing the loops, twizzles, and rockers on my junior moves test to the best of my ability, it was time to get those skates sharpened.

Equipment is a major factor for any figure skater. Basketball players can make it work if their ball is in need of some air, or their sneakers are a little old. It’s not ideal, but it won’t stop them from playing. But dull blades or broken down skates spell doom for skaters. Not only will the usual tricks become impossible, but they can be downright dangerous.

We saw how American phenom and national champion Nathan Chen struggled with boots that weren’t supportive enough at the 2017 World Championships. Check out how he looks down at the boot and adjusts his skate after a fall on his opening quad in the long program:

Skating boots are normally stiff and supportive, almost immobile around the ankles, but Chen’s broken down and soft boots (from his hours of practicing) couldn’t take the force of his landing on a huge, four-revolution jump. Chen’s boots take such a pounding during practice that he gets new skates every month or two, according to USA Today’s Christine Brennan. [For the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I’ll just note that I wore my last pair of skates for more than 7 years. I don’t skate nearly as much as Nathan Chen, ha.]

At the 2017 Four Continents Championships, U.S. champion Karen Chen said that she had “no support at all” from skate boots that had “collapsed at the very sole at the bottom,” according to Bay Area newspaper The Mercury News. She finished in 12th place at that event, and also spent the 2015-2016 season unable to find a pair of boots that fit properly, struggling in competition.

To non-skaters, it almost sounds crazy: How can you not find a skate that fits? How can it be that hard? Don’t you know your own shoe size?

I’m writing this as someone who once bought a pair of boots that was a half-size too big, and also happened to be in a mislabeled box—so the size 5.5 I thought I was wearing was actually a 6, and what I needed was a 5. It took a few weeks, but I started to realize that my heels were lifting out of the boot when I jumped and did spins, and so, back to the skate shop I went for a new size. I’ve got weird bumps on my heels to this day from the boot rubbing against my heel.

Fitting skating boots is not an exact science, because they need to support the incredible force created by jumping and spinning, while still being comfortable enough to wear for hours of practice. They definitely, and unfortunately, don’t equate to your shoe size or wearing a shoe. As someone who has messed up the fit of her boots herself, I have sympathy for both Chens in this scenario.

But part of me wants to say…COME ON, GUYS.

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You are the U.S. Champions. You need to figure out the boot situation before you get to two of the biggest events of the year.

From where I sit, there isn’t really an excuse for that at the elite level. I would hope that they have the resources and support to get the boots they need, when they need them, so it is just a matter of timing and planning.

Knowing what we know about how equipment failure can trump training and preparedness, we’ve got to eliminate “boot problems” as a cause when skaters don’t perform well. Unlike mental toughness and nerves, this is something that is well within the skater’s control, just like the number of hours spent training.

And skate scientists out there, in the meantime, maybe you can work on some sort of magical comfort foam skate interior that works for everybody’s feet? We saw you all in action fixing Mirai Magasu’s ripped boot at U.S. Nationals in 2016.

Us skating fans will be over here crossing fingers that this was a productive learning experience for both Nathan and Karen, and that we won’t be hearing the words “boot issues” in Pyeongchang next year.