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Four Favorites: Internationaux de France 2018

Well, somehow the 2018 Grand Prix Series has concluded. Anybody else feel like the Olympics were about two minutes ago? I fell off of posting a bit last week due to the holiday, but did have plenty of time to soak up the Internationaux de France and determine my four favorites from the event:

        1. In the ladies event, I liked Alexia Paganini’s rocker-rocker entrance into the triple lutz-triple toe combination in the short program. It not only added difficulty, but also highlighted the strong outside edge on the takeoff, which not everyone in this field has mastered. It was the opening element of the Swiss skater’s program:

          Honorable mention goes to the closing moments of Rika Kihira’s long program, with it’s beautifully paced choreography. I’m trying to stick with only four favorites, for alliteration and organization, but sometimes I can’t help myself.
        2. In the ice dance event, I loved how Team USA’s Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker enter their stationary lift directly out of the curve lift in the free dance. A difficult setup that shows strength and control, and helps blend the elements seamlessly into the program, rather than telegraphing them.
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        3. On the pairs side, champions Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres stood out in more ways than one, but I particularly liked their unique entry into the side-by-side salchows:
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          Setting aside that she doubled the jump here, I love this entry, choreographed by Olympic Ice Dance Champion Charlie White. They are doing different movements leading into the jump, but still have perfectly synchronized timing. Plus, this is more visually interesting than simply entering the jump by skating next to each other, as many pairs do.
        4. My favorite part of the men’s event was seeing the International Judging System as its best self. The ISU implemented a lot of changes since last season, including some that controversially devalued quads, especially quads that are underrotated or where the skater falls. I had hoped it would be a positive change, without entirely discouraging skaters from still pushing the sport forward with quad jumps. As I watched Jason Brown’s short program last Friday, I was loving it as usual, and then noticed how high the score was ticking up in the box in the top left corner of my screen. “Is it possible…is he about to win this short program?” I asked myself (aloud, as I often do when watching skating, even alone). Given that he wasn’t trying a quad, I assumed he would end up behind programs with quad attempts, even with a clean program. Not in this newest iteration of the IJS! It was great to see. And in the end, Nathan Chen, the Quad King, won the event, showing that clean quad jumps will still rule the day. But it was so heartening to see a complete program—clean skate, presentation, spins, everything Jason Brown does so beautifully—properly rewarded. Here it is:

 

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Four Favorites: NHK Trophy 2018

I’m watching the short programs at Rostelecom Cup while I type out this post, as I’m sure many of you skating fans are as well. In the time between the shorts and tomorrow’s long programs, let’s take a brief look back at NHK Trophy last week, for my four favorite costume looks.

Admittedly, this is a very U.S.-centric post, but I have to say that the American skaters brought their fashion game to this event!

  1. Kaitlin Hawayek’s dresses in both the rhythm dance and the free dance were gorgeous. I especially loved the open back on the red rhythm dance dress (but sadly couldn’t find a good photo of it!), and the sheer sleeves on the free dance dress.
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    Rhythm dance dress; Image via TSN

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    Free dance dress; Image via AFP on enca.com

  2. Alexa Scimeca Knierim’s long program dress is stunning, and pulls off the piecey skirt look without it seeming like the dress went through a paper shredder. Tough to find a good full-length image of this one, too, but the skirt and pretty, paint-like details are visible here:

  3. On the men’s side, Alexander Johnson was the clear fashion standout of the group. I loved the color of his short program outfit, and the architecture of the long program top was unique and minimalist.
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    Same short program costume, different event; Image via Johnson’s Twitter page

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    Long program; Image via YouTube

    This was his first Grand Prix event, and he prepared for competition this summer while balancing an investment banking internship—major kudos there.

  4. I’ve already mentioned my love for Mariah Bell’s short program dress this year, and the long program dress is also lovely. It reminds me a bit of Ashley Wagner’s first dress for her Muse long program. I like the addition of the rope-like detailing on Mariah’s version. For some reason, the only images I could find of her dresses at this event are blurry YouTube screenshots, but Mariah posted great shots of each dress from Skate Canada on her Instagram:

    View this post on Instagram

    Skate Canada 2018💜

    A post shared by Mariah 🔔 (@mariahsk8rbell) on

Did anyone else have any fashion faves from this event or the rest of the season so far?


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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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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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