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Impressions: Skate America 2018

Before Skate Canada kicks off tomorrow, I want to share some wrap up thoughts on Skate America 2018. I already shared my Four Favorites—one element from each discipline—and I’m going to try to keep doing that throughout the season. It’s fun to look beyond the podium and acknowledge great skating! But there was also plenty to talk about among the top challengers at Skate America this weekend:

Coaching Changes
There was high drama with the announcement that Americans Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim split from their coach, Olympic Champion Aljona Savchenko. To me, it was handled really oddly on the NBC Sports Gold broadcast, in a way that stirred the pot. They teased it during the warmup without coming out and saying that they had split, and then confirmed the news mid-program, distracting from the skating. After their performance, Andrea Joyce interviewed the Knierims and asked directly about the split, and Chris handled the answer graciously, crediting all they had learned from Savchenko while acknowledging that they are no longer working together. Lots of theories about the split have been flying around on Twitter, but I think it is important to remember that Savchenko hasn’t even officially announced her retirement, has shows and other performances on her calendar for the year, and has never been an elite-level coach prior to this. The split could be as simple as realizing that coaching them wasn’t possible with her schedule. But either way, I thought the way that NBC chose to reveal the knowledge distracted from the competition.

Rules Changes
There have been a lot of rule changes this season (+5/-5 GOE being the most noticeable), but I thought they were most evident in the ice dance event. I almost felt like I was watching an entirely different discipline, in a good way. The choreographic sliding movement, one foot step sequence, and choreographic step were all great changes in that they have opened the door for more creativity and innovation in these free dances. I loved how the skaters were able to utilize these elements to really emphasize the character of their programs and music.

Momentum Changes
Several of last year’s viral/Olympic favorites had tough outings here: Jimmy Ma (of U.S. Nationals “Turn Down for What” viral YouTube fame), Loena Hendrickx (who’s brother, fellow skater Jorik, got a lot of attention for his nervous viewing of her skating at the Olympics last year, a la gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents), and Alexei Bychenko (who brought the house down in the team event at the Olympics). It just goes to show how difficult it can be to carry momentum into another season. Ma had a rough free skate, while Hendrickx withdrew due to illness. Bychenko looked a little shaky, compared to his assured Olympic performances. I enjoyed watching all of them so much last year, so here’s hoping things look up for them at their next events. Hendrickx and Bychenko are both scheduled for Grand Prix Finland, while Ma does not have a second Grand Prix.

Age Changes
As a newly minted 30-year-old myself, I loved seeing two skaters in their third decade on the podium in the men’s event: Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic (a longtime fave of mine) and Sergei Voronov of Russia. The ladies on my new favorite podcast, Flutzes and Waxels, were calling them “Team Old,” which was cracking me up, but it is great to see skaters have some longevity in this sport. Just as I loved seeing 30-somethings Aljona Savchenko and Meagan Duhamel out there last season, I applaud these two. Respect for Team Old.

It feels like quite the quick turnaround, but is everybody ready for Skate Canada? We’ll see some of the same faces from Skate America this weekend (Hubbell and Donohue, Starr Andrews, to name a few), so I can’t imagine how they must be feeling about this turnaround. Check back here tomorrow for my Skate Canada Flashback Friday post!

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Four Favorites: Skate America 2018

Skate America 2018 is over—the medals have been handed out and Grand Prix Final frontrunners have staked their claim. In skating, it is often about the medals and the final placements, which means that beautiful moments within a program can often go unacknowledged. Here are four of my favorite elements from this weekend’s competition, one from each discipline:

  1. The final lift in Karina Manta and Joseph Johnson’s free dance:

    An innovative and impressive position that fit the character of their Eurythmics free dance, plus a gorgeous and difficult spiral entry. This team from the U.S. finished 10th in their Grand Prix debut here at Skate America, but there is plenty worth celebrating outside the placement, including this excellent lift.
  2. Alaine Chartrand of Canada had a tough short program at this event, and rallied in the free skate, fighting for every jump and element. I loved the sideways sit spin position in her final combination spin:

    I’ve honestly never seen it before—anybody else? It managed to be a difficult and different position, without being aesthetically unappealing, which I feel like can sometimes happen in pursuit of a level four spin. This was a cool moment in her program for me.
  3. Pairs 5th place finishers Minerva Fabienne Hase and Nolan Seegert of Germany won me over with their short program, especially this catch-foot spiral entry and exit in their death spiral:

    I liked how she held her foot throughout the death spiral—and made it look so easy! Great flexibility and strength.
  4. Another 5th place finisher, Matteo Rizzo of Italy in the men’s event, grabbed my attention with the edge quality, smoothness, and speed of his step sequence in the short program:

    The tempo of the music completely changed in the middle of the element, and his movement followed suit.

Would love for people to chime in with comments of their own favorite elements from the competition, especially from those skaters outside the podium!


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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.
    giphy7
    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: 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!