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Stars on Ice Review for Figure Skaters Online

When the 2018 Stars on Ice tour stopped at Chicago’s Allstate Arena, I covered the show for Figure Skaters Online. We arrived nearly three hours before showtime, and got an exciting window into what happens behind the scenes on the tour — preshow rehearsals, autograph sessions, and Q&As.

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2014 Olympic Ice Dance Champion Charlie White led the group through preshow rehearsals, hearkening back to his captain role on the 2014 Olympic team, and emphasized their choreography and timing.

I was also thoroughly impressed by 2018 U.S. Ice Dance Champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue. I already loved their skating, of course, but they have great coaching and mentorship skills, too. They led a group of local skaters in a rehearsal for their number at the start of Act II, then participated in a Q&A with the group, discussing everything from their journeys in skating to the challenge of being a male skater in a female-dominated sport, with thoughtful, genuine answers from both (Hubbell drawing on the experience of her brother and former ice dance partner, Keiffer). I’ve watched videos of their coaching seminars on ICoachSkating.com and enjoyed their coaching style — perhaps someday they’ll be a dynamic coaching duo much like their current coaches, World medalists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.

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I also had the chance to interview Maia and Alex Shibutani and Bradie Tennell — stay tuned for future articles on FSO based on those conversations! It was a treat to meet and speak with them all, and I appreciated them taking time out of their show prep to talk with me.

Check out my thoughts on the show performance in my review for FSO. Overall, I thought the skaters performed with much more freedom and energy than last year’s show, with the pressures of the Olympic season off. Plus, seeing many of their Olympic programs in person was a treat! Read more here:

Review: Stars on Ice Celebrates Olympic Season

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(All photos are my own.)

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Olympic Favorites and Worlds Excitement

Photos and reports from practice ice at the 2018 World Championships in Milan, Italy are already streaming across my Instagram and Twitter feeds, and somehow, I haven’t written about the Olympics on here yet. It was a lot of fun to write for Cosmo leading up to and during the Games, and I also did some live tweeting and reporting for Figure Skaters Online. But now I’m back to this space to share some of my favorite moments from the Olympics, and what I’m most looking forward to at Worlds.

Olympic Favorites

  1. The entire pairs event
    I tend to write least about pairs on here, but it actually turned out to be my favorite event to watch this Olympics. The level of skating was just incredible, and the respect and sportsmanship among the top teams was really special to witness. Watching Meagan Duhamel congratulate Aljona Savchenko in that backstage green room area was a memorable moment from two great champions of the sport. NBC commentator and 2006 Olympic ice dance silver medalist Tanith White captured the moment and shared it on Instagram:

Second favorite moment of the night. #sportsmanship #figureskating @meaganduhamel

A post shared by Tanith White (@tanith_white) on

I think this is probably a favorite of most Olympic viewers, but Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot’s free skate was just glorious. The choreography was so fluid between elements that it was like watching a merging of pairs and ice dance.


Watching Duhamel and partner Eric Radford nail a throw quad salchow and be so satisfied with their performance, even before they ended up on the podium, was also a great moment, after the struggles they had last season and early this season.

The Knierims of Team USA made me cry during the team short program with their beautiful skate to “Come What May” — their side-by-side triples working, plus her exuberant landing on the throw triple flip, were both emotional, triumphant moments.

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“I, Tonya” Movie Review

I finally saw “I, Tonya” last night. The movie — about Tonya Harding, the skater on the other side of Nancy Kerrigan’s infamous knee-wacking in 1994 — is already winning big during awards season and has several Oscar nominations.

I generally struggle with on-screen portrayals of figure skating, because filmmakers so rarely get it right. Anybody else remember the scene in “Ice Princess” where a character drives a zamboni through the woods to smooth the ice surface of a pond? As if the ice could take the weight of a zamboni…if it even still worked after driving through the woods.

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“I, Tonya” got a few skating quirks right. Some humorous, like Harding’s coach donning a fur coat at competitions as a status symbol, which had me cracking up in the theater. My first coach always pulled out her fabulous fur for my competitions, too. Harding’s costume recreations were also impeccable. The skating scenes, while shot at camera angles that made me rather dizzy, were largely accurate in terms of jump set ups and how skating actually looks — there were no gravity-defying “iron lotus” moves like in “Blades of Glory.”

And the actors’ performances were phenomenal. Allison Janney is a force to be reckoned with as Harding’s abusive mother, and Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harding is uncanny. My issues with the movie lie with the screenwriters and filmmakers.

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2018 U.S. Nationals Debrief: The Good & The Bad

The good, the bad, the happy, the sad…that’s me singing some Al Green after a crazy 2018 Nationals. Despite all the drama, I’ll stick with skating forever.

Watching the 2018 U.S. Nationals was more of an emotional viewing experience than I bargained for. I needed some time to digest, hence, why this post is coming almost two weeks after the event. I was so excited for the senior events to get started, and then was emotionally exhausted by the time it all wrapped up on Sunday night. Here’s why:

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My Picks for the U.S. Olympic Team: Pairs & Ice Dance

While there are plenty of variables and speculation in the men’s and ladies’ events at U.S. Nationals, the pairs and ice dance seems to be much more straightforward.

A reminder of the three tiers of selection criteria from U.S. Figure Skating, via Phil Hersh:
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In pairs, Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim have earned the one U.S. spot. After a horrific year of injuries/illness last year (plus a few this year, too, with his knee problems), they are still working their way back to the top form that earned them a spot in the 2015 Grand Prix Final. They showed off a quad twist on Instagram recently and said on Ice Talk that they plan to add it back into the program for Nationals, so they are definitely getting there.

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Image Source: Mercury News

Scimeca Knierim and Knierim have the highest placements and scores of any U.S. pair team in any event of the three tiers, and are still the only U.S. pair to break 200 points internationally. While side-by-side jumps can be a problem, their pair elements are stunning. It won’t be enough for them to figure into the medal conversation, with the international pairs field as stacked as it is, but they could help the U.S. in their quest for a team medal. Hopefully they make it an easy choice and take their U.S. title back at Nationals, because a rough performance there could throw all of the above into question for casual viewers (a la the Wagner-Nagasu controversy of 2014).

In ice dance, Madison Chock/Evan Bates, Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue, and Maia/Alex Shibutani are, without a doubt, the U.S. Olympic team. I listed them in alphabetical order here because I think it is anyone’s game at Nationals. Yes, the Shibutanis had the most successful fall campaign, with two golds on the Grand Prix and a bronze at the final, but they didn’t have to skate against the two Olympic favorites, Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir or France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guilluame Cizeron, on the Grand Prix, like their U.S. counterparts did. And the three teams were separated by less than a point overall at the Grand Prix Final. The Shibs beat Hubbell and Donohue by 0.6, and Hubbell and Donohue were only 0.25 ahead of Chock and Bates.

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The top 3 U.S. ice dance teams pictured at 2017 Nationals, along with pewter medalists Elliana Pogrebinskiy and Alex Benoit (far right). Image Source: IceNetwork

I enjoy all these teams and think it will be an exciting dance event at U.S. Nationals — though I must say I’m pulling for Hubbell and Donohue this year, after their impressive rebound from disappointment at Worlds last year. Their skating is the best it’s ever been and it’s time for them to move up from that bronze medal position. I can’t wait to watch it all unfold in San Jose!


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My Picks for the U.S. Olympic Team: Ladies

I’ve made my picks for the U.S. men’s Olympic figure skating team, and now it’s time for the ladies. Unfortunately, the American ladies were underwhelming on the Grand Prix this year, and didn’t have anyone in the Final, an important tier 1 selection criteria. Nationals is going to carry extra weight for all of them.

A reminder of the three tiers of selection criteria from U.S. Figure Skating, via Phil Hersh:
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  1. Ashley Wagner
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    Image Source: IceNetwork

    While Ashley has had a bit of a bumpy road since the end of the Grand Prix series last year, she is still the leading U.S. lady in my mind. She’ll be putting out a new (old) free skate at Nationals, her original “La La Land” program, choreographed over the summer and then scrapped at Champs Camp. In 2014, she put together a new (old) free skate to “Samson and Delilah” and skated it clean in Sochi, so I have faith that a little extra pressure and excitement will bring out her fight and motivation.This title is hers to lose, and she said as much when she withdrew during the long program at Skate America. She needs it to check a tier 1 box, after missing this year’s Grand Prix Final and the subpar finish at Worlds last year. Plus, she didn’t compete in any events that fit tier 3, and only has her Skate Canada bronze for tier 2 credit. Anything off the podium at Nationals will put her in major jeopardy, but a fourth U.S. title would be an excellent statement to the selection committee. Here’s to the ones who dream, right?

  2. Mirai Nagasu

    Even though Mirai had some iffy results on the Grand Prix, she is looking more fit, strong, and confident this year than she ever has. Earning a 2018 Olympic spot would be sweet redemption for her after missing the 2014 team (which was the right call, and let’s not redo that conversation, guys). Her gumption in trying the triple axel and pushing herself to be a better skater, 10 years after she first won a U.S. Senior National Championship, is impressive and inspiring. Her bronze at last year’s Four Continents Championships checks a tier 2 box, while she earned a silver on the Challenger Series this year for tier 3. Imagine if she won a second U.S. title in 2018, 10 years after her first in 2008? The NBC promos people would be ALL over that, as would the loyal Mirai fans.

    3. Bradie Tennell

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    Image Source: TeamUSA.org

    I’ve been calling this one since November, people. Though Bradie only competed in one Grand Prix event, she grabbed a bronze medal and the highest international score of any of the U.S. ladies this season. She’s been skating consistently and calmly at competitions since the summer and has really solid jumps. Her artistry might not match the likes of Ashley Wagner, but her consistency is unparalleled in the current U.S. field. She needs to have a strong Nationals to cement an Olympic spot, but I think she can do it.

Dark Horse: Karen Chen

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Image Source: East Bay Times

It’s really tough to imagine leaving Karen Chen off the Olympic team, since her 4th place finish at Worlds last year clinched the three spots for the U.S. ladies. But that said, she hasn’t had a strong outing at a major event since Worlds and Nationals last year, and those were her only strong events of that season (granted, it’s pretty ideal to save your best stuff for the biggest events of the year, but still). Switching her free skate four times since the summer certainly hasn’t helped matters, and she has also gone back to last year’s short program. Both were signature pieces for her, and maybe the comfort level with those programs will lead to a strong showing at Nationals. If she defends her title, she should go to Pyeongchang. Anything other than that leaves a question mark in my mind.

Tough Call: Mariah Bell

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Image Source: IceNetwork

I absolutely adore Mariah’s skating, and when her jumps are on, they are excellent. This is not the first time that I’ve typed on this blog that her “East of Eden” free skate made me tear up at 2016 Skate America. She has great personality on the ice. But unfortunately, she hasn’t capitalized on last year’s momentum and had a difficult Grand Prix. Unless she blows everyone away at Nationals, it seems like an uphill battle for her to make the Olympic team. She had a rough outing at 2017 Worlds, which is a tier 1 criteria. She was 6th at Four Continents last year, with a career-best short, so that could gain her some points in the tier 2 category. I’ll be rooting for her to put it all together at Nationals.

Next up: pairs and ice dance!