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Four Favorites: Skate Canada 2018

Skate Canada 2018 was an exciting competition overall, with lots of highs and lows for the athletes and viewer alike. A low was seeing perennial favorites Jason Brown and Evgenia Medvedeva have some rough moments; I think both improvement and growing pains from their new training base are evident. Medvedeva’s triple lutz and double axel technique, in particular, have improved immensely. While the lutz edge is still questionable, it is miles better than it was last season, and fixing a flutz is no easy feat.

For the highs of the event, I’ve got another series of four favorites:

  1. The presentation on display in the ladies event
    Elizaveta Tuktamysheva’s confidence and sass, Mariah Bell’s effervescence and clear love of skating, Medvedeva’s fight and commitment to trying new styles—it was all great to see.
    Tuktamysheva giving major Katarina Witt vibes, plus a magnificent triple axel:

    And just look at how effective a simple stop and arm motion can be, in the footwork near the end of Bell’s short, when performed with commitment and verve:

    This dress is also an early contender for favorite of the season, between the color, the back, the fact that its a subtle two piece. Love it all!
  2. The cleanliness in the pairs event
    I was really impressed by how clean the pairs performances were here, especially in comparison to a messy pairs event at Skate America. It started off in the short and carried through to the electrifying performances by the final flight in the long program. There are so many high stakes elements in pairs (even without the throw quads of last year, which have been downgraded in value so much that they are no longer worth attempting), that it is rare to see perfectly clean performances this early in the season. It made for an exciting event!
  3. The sportsmanship in the men’s event
    In the short program, it was great to see Keegan Messing giving a rousing ovation to countryman Nam Nguyen after Nguyen’s great short program. The cherry on top? Messing went out right after him and had a great skate of his own, winning that portion of the event. Here is the moment on video:
  4. The emotion in the ice dance event
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  5. Image Source: Humboldt Journal
    Maybe this goes without saying in ice dance—where there is usually emotion, drama, and storytelling at play—but between the intensity of the tango rhythm dance portion of the competition and the authenticity in the free dance performances, this was a great event. All the performances in the final flight had a genuine connection to the audience, but my personal favorites were the upbeat Bruno Mars free dance of Marie-Jade Lauriault and Romain Le Gac from France and Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier’s emotional “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night).” This would have been a fun one to be in the arena to see!

Next up: Grand Prix Finland and a Flashback Friday post with a fan-favorite Finnish skater. Check back here tomorrow for more!

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Flashback Friday: Skate Canada 2018 Edition

Week two of the 2018 Grand Prix season brings us to Skate Canada, held this year in Laval, Quebec. Back in 2012, Canadian ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier made their Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada with this delightful “Mary Poppins” short dance:

It is more traditional than these two usually go for, but I really enjoyed it—especially their energy throughout.

Gilles told CTV News that this year’s programs are emotional and vulnerable, especially in light of the death of her mother last May. Their interview with her ahead of the competition is a great read. This weekend, look for their tango rhythm dance to “Angelica’s Tango” by Piernicola Di Muro and free dance to “Vincent (Starry Starry Night)” by Don MacLean and Govardo. We’ll see if they can challenge the momentum that Skate America Champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have going into this event!


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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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Flashback Friday: Skate America 2018 Edition

The 2018 Grand Prix season is upon us! It feels like things are back to normal with Skate America kicking off the Grand Prix series as usual, unlike last year, when it was the final event. During the Grand Prix this year, I’m planning a Flashback Friday series where I will share a memorable performance from years past at each Grand Prix, on the Friday the competition kicks off.

First up: Michelle Kwan at 1999 Skate America. This was Kwan’s first Grand Prix event after starting college full-time at UCLA. And this weekend at Skate America, U.S. and World Champion Nathan Chen will take the ice for his first Grand Prix event since enrolling full-time at Yale University.

This gem of a flashback video not only includes Kwan’s long program, which clinched the gold, but some awesome behind the scenes shots and interview clips about her freshman year. Check it out:

Will Chen fare as well as Kwan did? He had a rough outing at Japan Open a few weeks ago and will be looking for a cleaner skate here. It all kicks off Friday night!


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Vincent Zhou Interview: Figure Skaters Online

It’s almost time…U.S. Nationals starts next week! The competition is earlier than usual this year, since the Olympics kick off on Feb. 8. In the remaining days before the competition begins in San Jose, the stars of U.S. skating sat down for interview calls with the media, and I got to participate in a few of them with Figure Skaters Online.

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Image Source: Figure Skaters Online

Here’s an excerpt from my story on Vincent Zhou, defending silver medalist in the men’s event:

Vincent Zhou was riding high at the end of last season. The 2017 U.S. silver medalist and World Junior Champion, 16-year-old Zhou was turning heads with his arsenal of quad jumps and sparking talk of an Olympic berth.

But that momentum didn’t quite carry over into his first full senior season. His Grand Prix showings were inconsistent, with a fourth place at Cup of China followed by a ninth place finish at Internationaux de France. He was second in the free skate in China, climbing back from eighth place after the short. But overall, it wasn’t the strong, consistent Zhou we saw at the end of last season.

“We didn’t obsess over what went wrong, because that can lead to negativity and lots of stress,” Zhou said in a U.S. Figure Skating media call on Dec. 27. “We just discussed with a clear mind changes to make based on how I was feeling. We realized we were pushing too hard.”

Read the rest of the article on Figure Skaters Online to hear how Zhou has adjusted his training going into Nationals and his goals for the competition:

After an inconsistent Grand Prix campaign, Vincent Zhou retools training for Nationals