Twizzle Talk


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Flashback Friday: Skate America 2016

When I moved to Chicago this summer, one of the things I was most excited about was that it was the host city for the 2016 Skate America. Yes, I just saw unforgettable live skating at the 2016 Worlds in Boston. And yes, I also got to attend the 2014 U.S. Nationals in Boston. And yes, yes, one of my good skating buddies told me it just wasn’t fair that I keep living in cities that host awesome skating competitions.

But in seriousness, I am really grateful for the opportunity to see some of today’s most incredible skaters live and in person. Watching on TV is great (and that’s what I’ll be doing for U.S. Nationals next week, no doubt), but there is something about the emotion and electricity of being in the arena, about being close enough to see the expressions on the skaters’ faces as they control their nerves and deliver flawless performances, selling it to the last row.

So I was pretty excited to show up to the Sears Centre, site of Skate America, with my all-event ticket this past October. On this Flashback Friday, let’s count down the reasons it was awesome:

QUAD

As in…Shoma Uno’s QUAD FLIP. But it wasn’t just any quad flip—it was light and airy, with great height and landed with exquisite knee bend (wow, that last phrase is definitely from the Dick Button canon). He had such command of the jump, and of his whole program:

I really enjoyed Shoma’s performance at Worlds last year, and it’s great to watch him come into his own this season.

TRIPLE

As in three Notre Dame Figure Skating alums reuniting to watch some awesome skating:

tglf6917

DOUBLE

As in the number of times I cried: two. Once when Mariah Bell brought the house down with an incredible long program:

I loved all the spirals in the choreography, plus, she just oozed ease and grace throughout the performance.

And the second time during Jason Brown’s free skate. Not only did he land his first quad in competition, but he skated a moving, understated, and flawless performance. If you don’t watch the whole program, at least skip ahead to 5:46. One of the competition volunteers was epically weeping at the boards after his program, and Jason gave her a huge hug. He’s the sweetest (I can confirm, because we got to meet him after the medal ceremony and he was gracious and generous towards all the fans.).

SINGLE

As in one awesome ponytail pose from Maia Shibutani:

The Shib Sibs’ “That’s Life” short dance was superb: sharp, crisp, hip hop movement, and a creative cut of music, mixing Sinatra’s version of the song with Jay-Z. It’s my favorite of all the hip hop short dances this year, because it’s so clever and well done.

Were any fellow skating fanatics at the Sears Centre, too? What were your favorite moments?


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Flashback Friday: Shib Sibs Grand Prix Victories

American ice dancers Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani won their first Grand Prix title since 2011 at last weekend’s NHK Trophy. Their other Grand Prix victory was also at an NHK Trophy.

Let’s flash back to their 2011 win:

I love the exuberance and enthusiasm of this program. And don’t they look so young?! The Shib Sibs were clearly great then, and would go on to win bronze at Worlds that year. But bringing it back to the present day, I loved watching that 2011 program in contrast to this year’s free dance. Check it out from their NHK victory:

They’ve increased their speed and connection with each other, and their interpretation really captures the nuances of the music (Coldplay’s “Fix You.”). That twizzle sequence is exquisite—not only in the execution but also in the use of the music. The commentators (love those British Eurosport guys!) say at the end of the performance that they didn’t want it to end, and I’ve got to agree. And isn’t that the mark of a great skating performance? Making it all look smooth and effortless so your audience feels at ease and gets lost in the performance. There is nothing worse than those programs where the skaters are just gritting their teeth and making it through, both for the skaters themselves and the audience.

I feel like this free dance, as well as the 2011 program, is a great vehicle for them in that the brother-sister dynamic isn’t detrimental to the performance, as it can be for the more romantic rhythms, like the tango, for example. Well done, Shib Sibs. Can’t wait to watch them take on everyone at the Grand Prix Final, Nationals, and Worlds with this fantastic piece.


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Cup of China 2015: Impressions

When I initially looked at the list of entrants for Cup of China, I wasn’t sure it would be a very exciting event. The winners in each discipline seemed like they would almost be a given, but some unexpected performances made this event fun to watch.

  • How cute was Rika Hongo‘s “Riverdance” long program? She looked like she was having a blast, which made it fun to watch. The upbeat and recognizable music obviously helps grab the audience, but her enthusiasm also went a long way. I also thought her dress was absolutely gorgeous. The green color was a nod to the Irish-themed music, but nothing overly corny or costume-y:
  • Mao Asada won the event, as expected, as her comeback trail continues. Her short was fabulous and the triple axel in her long program was a thing of beauty. But the rest of her long program was shaky—I’m not sure we can say “She’s back!” quite yet. She still needs to shake off some rust.

    Image Source: olympics.nbcsports.com

  • Elena Radionova seems to have regressed since last year. I didn’t love her presentation then, but now she seems to be confusing musical interpretation with overdoing it on the arm and upper body movements. There has been lots of online chatter hating on her long program musical selection of “Titanic,” but the music bothered me far less than the arm flailing did. Though the awkwardness of the “I’ll never let go, Jack” voiceover at the very end of the program cannot be denied.
  • Javier Fernandez was expected to win the men’s event and win he did, with some great quads. I just really love his personality on the ice and the spunk of his “Guys and Dolls” long program works for him. I also love his attitude—he doesn’t rest on his laurels even when he wins and takes every event as a learning experience. Javier told IceNetwork: “I will keep practicing; every day I improve and I will learn from this competition. It was a good day, with mistakes, and hopefully at my next Grand Prix I can perform a clean program.”

    Image Source: cope.es

  • Many previews that I read thought Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates would easily walk away with the gold medal, but Italian 2014 World Champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte seem to be returning to form and stole the top spot. Chock and Bates have beautiful flow and creative lifts. However, the move where he spins her around while she drags her feet (not blades) across the ice is really overused in both of their programs. They started using it last season and now, after seeing it in two more programs (in multiple places in the program), it seems almost lazy to keep reusing it. Especially when they are always so inventive in the lifts. Is anyone else over the foot dragging?
    The Italians really seem to be back in action, despite the fact that people wrote them off last year. I really liked these two in Sochi and when they won their world title that year, but last year was really rough for them. They were 4th at Worlds rather than defending their title. The light and joyful programs that they are using this year suit them so well, much more than their moody “Danse Macabre” free dance from last year. Anna and Luca won by almost four points here, and I felt that their twizzles were better than Chock and Bates’ twizzles. Things definitely just got a little more interesting in ice dance this year.

    Cup of China 2015 Ice Dance Medalists Image Source: theicedancekingdom.tumblr.com

  • At the halfway point of the Grand Prix (already?!), all I can say about the pairs is that it is going to be crowded at the top when the World Championships roll around. The Russian team of Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov took the top spot at Cup of China, ahead of Skate America champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han. And there are THREE other Russian teams in the mix internationally this year, including the 2014 Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. Not to mention the defending world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, and the fact that the American team of Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim are looking really strong this season.

And the Grand Prix rolls on with Trophee Eric Bombard this weekend! I hope we’ll have Johnny and Tara back in the broadcast booth for NBC. Terry Gannon and Tracy Wilson called Cup of China, and I was glad to hear them finally acknowledge that Tracy coaches many of the top men on the circuit (Javier, at this event, but also Yuzuru Hanyu). It killed me when Terry would ask her hypothetical questions about a skater’s approach and training and she would answer without acknowledging that she was part of the coaching team. Anybody else? Am I too much of a stickler? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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Impressions: Skate America 2015

I’m about to sit down and watch the Ice Network feeds from Skate Canada, but before I do that, it’s probably time to type out some of my thoughts on last weekend’s Skate America:

  • I was surprised that Gracie lost to Evengia Medvedeva. It’s pretty clear that it came down to the points she lost doubling her flip in the short program and her salchow in the long. Man, is this a numbers game or what? Medvedeva was thinking on her feet and added two combinations during her program, after falling on an earlier intended combination. It’s that kind of quick thinking that makes a difference in this judging system. Once Gracie gets enough confidence in her elements in competition, she is going to have to do that too—especially if she makes a mistake early in a long program.

    Image Source: fs-gossips.com

  • On a more superficial and less mathematical note, I loved Medvedeva’s dress (except the gloves, I am rarely a fan of gloves). The color and the varying sequin design were just gorgeous. Her fellow Russian and training mate, Julia Lipnitskaia, continues to make puzzling fashion choices, like this dress for her Elvis-themed short program:

    Image Source: dailyherald.com

    According to the NBC commentary team, these two ladies don’t speak to each other and won’t skate on the same ice. It makes Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner’s relationship look positively chummy in comparison. I find the respectful rivalry between Gold and Wagner really refreshing and mature, and even moreso in light of this information about these Russian rivals.

  • Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim of the U.S. look FAST and their elements have the “big” quality that so many Russian and Chinese teams have excelled at while Americans did not; I think this could be their year to break through.
  • And on the opposite end of the spectrum from a breakthrough, we have the Russian team of Stolbova and Klimov. They skipped the World Championships last year and ended their season early to begin preparation for this season, and, allegedly, a quad element. I’m not quite sure what they did during their time off, because they seemed to barely have a handle on the elements they used to execute flawlessly. Is something else going on here?
  • The ice dance situation this season seems discombobulated—several teams have already been through multiple short dances, because they can’t seem to get the rhythm requirements right. I can’t believe that Chock and Bates are on their third short dance of the season already, and honestly, it didn’t look like it. They looked very confident, despite only having done a few runthroughs of the entire program, according to NBC commentator Tanith White. All these struggles with program and music choices sort of make me wonder about the quality of the pre-competition evaluations that federations are doing or whether the rules are too specific.
  • One distinctly non-discombobulated portion of the dance event was the overall performance of Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov. They were utterly forgettable last season, so I was really impressed by their improvement and connection here. I will admit that I was more on the side of Katsalapov’s previous partner Elena Illinykh when they rather abruptly and strangely split after their bronze at the Sochi Olympics. She seems so passionate about skating and he seemed a bit apathetic last year. If these performances are any indication, I may be converted and enjoy them both with their new partners.

    Image Source: youtube.com

  • I’m not sure how I feel about Jason Brown’s long program. It’s beautiful, yes, but it is also so quiet. There is no big crescendo of emotion, which he is so good at. I’ll be interested to see this program develop as the season goes on.

And now, on to Canada!


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Grand Prix Final Wrap Up

So I went 1-for-4 on my gold medal predictions at the 2014 Grand Prix Final, but I’ll take my lack of accuracy to mean it was an event with some surprises and skaters rising to the occasion. Let’s check in to see how I did:

I’ll start with the ice dance, where I got it right. Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje won by 14 points with two fantastic performances. The dance event was so much fun to watch because each of the six teams looked so at ease in their performance. The Shib Sibs fell from 3rd place after the short dance to 6th in the free, which left them 4th overall. They were visibly disappointed in their scores. They’ve looked frustrated in the kiss and cry a lot this season and I’ve read that Marina Zoueva is not satisfied with the scores the Shib Sibs have been receiving this year. Chock and Bates took second as I predicted, but the French team of Papadakis and Cizeron grabbed the bronze instead of my prediction of the Shibs. Other than Papadakis/Cizeron and the Shibutanis swapping spots, I had the right idea with this event.

Though I thought the Russian team of Stilbova and Klimov would win the pairs event, I knew the Canadians and their throw quad salchow had the potential to run away with the title. Which is exactly what Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford did—by more than 7 points. Not only did they nail the quad throw, but they gave a career-best performance. Between the quad and their side-by-side triple lutzes, they are really pushing the envelope with their technical elements. I also love the cartwheel entrance to their throw triple flip. Other than the top two teams here, I didn’t make any other predictions on the mark. I’ve got to watch the pairs events more closely through the rest of the season.

In the men’s event, Yuzuru Hanyu was back in action, without a doubt. He skated lights out, with superb jumps and presentation save for a fall on his triple lutz near the end of the program. He almost laughed and shook his head a little at the fall, and you can’t really blame him. One fall in an otherwise great performance is a minor setback compared to everything else he has dealt with this season. I had hoped Javier Fernandez would triumph in the first major figure skating event in his home country of Spain, but he succumbed to the pressure in a shaky short program. Fernandez came back with a much better, though still imperfect, showing in the long. The noise of the crowd during both of his performances was unreal—you can easily see how it would be a distraction. Great performances by Sergei Voronov also threw a wrench in my predictions. Where he and Hanyu rose to the occasion, the other two Japanese skaters, Machida and Mura, faltered.

Though I had Elizaveta Tuktamisheva and Elena Radionova on top of the podium, they swapped spots in the final result. American Ashley Wagner stopped a Russian sweep of the podium, which satisfied my sentimental podium prediction. Her long program was the performance of the event, in my humble opinion. She finally put all the pieces together—all the jumps were there (two triple-triples!) and her performance quality is unmatched. After I saw this program at Skate Canada, I wrote that I was unsure about this music for her. I take it all back! The program has grown in to the dramatic storytelling vehicle that works so well for Ashley and makes such an impression on the audience. The teenagers competing in this event might have all the jumps, but Ashley’s delivery is the best. And on a day where her technical elements were also up to par, she proved that with both together she can still be right in the medal mix.


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Grand Prix Final Predictions

I’m going to take a crack at some results predictions this week—we’ll see how my powers of intuition pan out once all is said and done at the Grand Prix Final!

Ladies

  1. Elena Radionova
  2. Elizaveta Tuktamisheva
  3. Anna Pogorilaya
  4. Ashley Wagner
  5. Julia Lipnitskaia
  6. Rika Hongo (replaced Gracie Gold, who withdrew due to injury)

 

Radionova broke 200 points at Trophee Eric Bombard and has looked super confident all season; she’ll likely take the title. If Gold were competing, I would have put her in 2nd or 3rd. Lipnitskaia could surprise us all, but if her confidence and consistency issues continue to plague her, I don’t see her on the podium. My sentimental heart wants Wagner to land all her triple-triples and grab a spot on the podium—we’ll see! All these ladies have scored in the 170–190 range at various points in the season, so it will be a battle.

Men

  1. Javier Fernandez
  2. Tatsuki Machida
  3. Maxim Kovtun
  4. Yuzuru Hanyu
  5. Takahito Mura
  6. Sergei Voronov

 

Hanyu is definitely the wild card at this event. He looked shaky coming off the collision injuries, so I have him down in 4th. Scores and consistency were all over the place for the men during the series, so it will come down to who can skate the cleanest performances.

Pairs

  1. Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov
  2. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford
  3. Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov
  4. Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang
  5. Wenjing Sui and Cong Han
  6. Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jing

 

The throw quad could put Duhamel and Radford on the top step of the podium, but they haven’t landed it cleanly on the Grand Prix yet this year, so I went with the Russians in first. These two teams are closely matched, and I really enjoy their skating. It will be a fun competition to watch if they both bring their A-game.

Dance

  1. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje
  2. Madison Chock and Evan Bates
  3. Maia and Alex Shibutani
  4. Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron
  5. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier
  6. Elena Illinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin

 

Weaver/Poje and Chock/Bates have had really similar scores throughout the season, so this is going to be a close one. I prefer Weaver/Poje’s short dance to Chock/Bates’ short dance, but this could definitely go either way. I love the style of Russians Illinykh and Zhiganshin, but I think they are still too new as a team to challenge here. It would certainly make things interesting going in to U.S. Nationals if the Shibutanis are able to beat countrymen Chock/Bates. I think the scores among all six teams will be close.

NBC isn’t showing this event on TV until next weekend, so keep up with all the results and live streaming over on Ice Network!