Twizzle Talk


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On Boots and Blades and Taking Care of Them

I got my skate blades sharpened this afternoon. [Non-skaters who read this blog, we sharpen our skate blades so that the edges can better grip the ice. Each time we skate, the blade gets dulled down by the jumps, spins, and footwork.]

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Image Source: Wikipedia

I last had them sharpened in January, so my blades were getting pretty dull and in need of a sharpening. I usually skate three times a week myself, and have recently taken up teaching learn to skate classes again (one of which is a hockey class, believe it or not. A story for another time.), which has me on the ice four times a week as a teacher. To keep practicing the loops, twizzles, and rockers on my junior moves test to the best of my ability, it was time to get those skates sharpened.

Equipment is a major factor for any figure skater. Basketball players can make it work if their ball is in need of some air, or their sneakers are a little old. It’s not ideal, but it won’t stop them from playing. But dull blades or broken down skates spell doom for skaters. Not only will the usual tricks become impossible, but they can be downright dangerous.

We saw how American phenom and national champion Nathan Chen struggled with boots that weren’t supportive enough at the 2017 World Championships. Check out how he looks down at the boot and adjusts his skate after a fall on his opening quad in the long program:

Skating boots are normally stiff and supportive, almost immobile around the ankles, but Chen’s broken down and soft boots (from his hours of practicing) couldn’t take the force of his landing on a huge, four-revolution jump. Chen’s boots take such a pounding during practice that he gets new skates every month or two, according to USA Today’s Christine Brennan. [For the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I’ll just note that I wore my last pair of skates for more than 7 years. I don’t skate nearly as much as Nathan Chen, ha.]

At the 2017 Four Continents Championships, U.S. champion Karen Chen said that she had “no support at all” from skate boots that had “collapsed at the very sole at the bottom,” according to Bay Area newspaper The Mercury News. She finished in 12th place at that event, and also spent the 2015-2016 season unable to find a pair of boots that fit properly, struggling in competition.

To non-skaters, it almost sounds crazy: How can you not find a skate that fits? How can it be that hard? Don’t you know your own shoe size?

I’m writing this as someone who once bought a pair of boots that was a half-size too big, and also happened to be in a mislabeled box—so the size 5.5 I thought I was wearing was actually a 6, and what I needed was a 5. It took a few weeks, but I started to realize that my heels were lifting out of the boot when I jumped and did spins, and so, back to the skate shop I went for a new size. I’ve got weird bumps on my heels to this day from the boot rubbing against my heel.

Fitting skating boots is not an exact science, because they need to support the incredible force created by jumping and spinning, while still being comfortable enough to wear for hours of practice. They definitely, and unfortunately, don’t equate to your shoe size or wearing a shoe. As someone who has messed up the fit of her boots herself, I have sympathy for both Chens in this scenario.

But part of me wants to say…COME ON, GUYS.

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You are the U.S. Champions. You need to figure out the boot situation before you get to two of the biggest events of the year.

From where I sit, there isn’t really an excuse for that at the elite level. I would hope that they have the resources and support to get the boots they need, when they need them, so it is just a matter of timing and planning.

Knowing what we know about how equipment failure can trump training and preparedness, we’ve got to eliminate “boot problems” as a cause when skaters don’t perform well. Unlike mental toughness and nerves, this is something that is well within the skater’s control, just like the number of hours spent training.

And skate scientists out there, in the meantime, maybe you can work on some sort of magical comfort foam skate interior that works for everybody’s feet? We saw you all in action fixing Mirai Magasu’s ripped boot at U.S. Nationals in 2016.

Us skating fans will be over here crossing fingers that this was a productive learning experience for both Nathan and Karen, and that we won’t be hearing the words “boot issues” in Pyeongchang next year.


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2017 Worlds Predictions: Ladies

Alright, Worlds officially begins tomorrow (yay!) and it’s time to make my last round of predictions: the ladies.

Sentimental:
Gold – Carolina Kostner, Italy
Silver – Ashley Wagner, USA
Bronze – Evgenia Medvedeva, Russia
Bonus: Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond in 4th and American Mariah Bell in the top 8 (to guarantee three Olympic spots for the U.S. women)

My sentimental predictions are really out there, and most likely impossible, I’d say. Carolina is on the comeback trail, and while she has made steady progress, her technical content doesn’t quite measure up to the top ladies yet. But I just love watching her skate, and the fact that she has made a comeback after her controversial ban. I’m all about the skaters here for the love of the game. Like my girl Ashley Wagner, who I would love to repeat as World silver medalist.

I think she has a great shot at the podium (both my sentimental and rational one), because she is such a fierce competitor and wants to prove that last year’s medal wasn’t a fluke. The withdrawal of Satoko Miyahara of Japan also helps, as unfortunate as that may be.

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Image Source: icenetwork.com

Rational:
Gold – Evgenia Medvedeva, Russia
Silver – Anna Pogorilaya, Russia
Bronze – Ashley Wagner, USA

Medvedeva is so ridiculously consistent that I’d be crazy to have her off of either of my podiums. If she doesn’t win this event, it will be because she had to withdraw. She’s only lost once in her senior career, after all, and it wasn’t to anyone in this field (it was to fellow Russian Elena Radionova at the 2015 Rostelecom Cup). Russian teammate Anna Pogorilaya has had such a consistent season that I think she will land on the podium as well.

My bonus sentimental picks for Osmond in 4th and Bell in the top 8 are because those two ladies are some of my personal favorites – I love the spunk and flair in their skating, and will cross fingers that the jumps are reliable in Helsinki. A top 8 finish by Bell and a medal from Wagner would ensure three spots at the Olympics for the American women. Bell and U.S. champion Karen Chen both said in their pre-Worlds teleconferences (you can listen under the Video tab on IceNetwork) that they aren’t thinking about it, and that skating their best should be enough to lock it up for the U.S. I think it’s safe to say that even if those two allegedly aren’t thinking about it, it is at the forefront of every fan and journalist’s mind at this point, on both the ladies’ and men’s side for the U.S. men.

I’ll be crossing my fingers and watching the live streams. Let the fun begin!


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2017 Worlds Predictions: Pairs

Of the four skating disciplines, pairs tends to be the one that I don’t follow as closely. I certainly know less about it – despite my childhood dreams of being a #pairgirl because of how fun the throws looked. Not only was there a shortage of male skaters at my rink, but I was also too tall by the time I was approximately 10. Hat’s off to the brave pair ladies in this discipline.

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Image Source: icenetwork.com

In listening to the awesome episodes of the Ice Talk podcast with Nick McCarvel and Jackie Wong on Ice Network, I’ve not only learned more about pairs this year, but loved hearing firsthand from some of the teams, in particular, France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres and Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. You should check out their episodes if you haven’t already!

I have less of a blind loyalty/emotional attachment to any of the pairs as compared to other disciplines, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t have strong opinions about it. So here goes:

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Image Source: vancouversun.com

Sentimental:
Gold – Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, Canada
Silver – Wenjing Sui/Cong Han, China
Bronze – Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres, France
Bonus: Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau of Canada and Americans Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim in the top 6

Rational:
Gold –Wenjing Sui/Cong Han, China
Silver –Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, Canada
Bronze – Evgenia Tarasova/Valdimir Morozov, Russian

I’ve loved Duhamel and Radford since Sochi – when they skate with true ease and joy, it is completely infectious. It would make my sappy little heart so happy for them to win a third World title after an up-and-down season. Sui and Han were beautiful at Four Continents, especially considering it was their first competition of the year and a comeback after injury for Sui. That performance was so solid that I think they are likely to take the title, and the Russian team is riding a wave of success after victories at the Grand Prix Final and Europeans.

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Image Source: goldenskate.com

My bonus sentimental predictions are for two teams whose style and attitude I love. The Canadians skate with a lightness that is a pleasure to watch, and I’d love to see them succeed. The married Knierims are coming back from a terrible injury to Alexa, and yet still posted the highest scores of a U.S. pair this year in their comeback outing at Four Continents. I think the odds are good that they skate well, and it would be well-deserved after all they have been through.

Last but not least, my ladies predictions are up next!


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Anatomy of a Titanic Program

This post has been in my drafts for a year—yikes! That’s a little embarrassing. But since 2017 is the 20th anniversary of the movie “Titanic,” and this post was initially intended to sing the praises of current U.S. World Team member Mariah Bell, it’s actually still relevant. High-five to past me.

The music from “Titanic” was a popular choice for skating programs when the movie first came out, and it still pops up in rinks from the local level to the World Championships, because it is such a movie favorite.

Last year, Russian Elena Radionova skated to selections from “Titanic” for her long program, and I just couldn’t get on the bandwagon for this program.

 

The voiceovers were a distraction, rather than an enhancement, and the music selection overall was too repetitive, too reliant on the “My Heart Will Go On” portion of the soundtrack, both with vocals and without. We all know it’s a long movie (anybody else remember the two-VHS boxed set?), and there is a wealth of music to choose from. I’m a fan of the Irish music from the steerage party scene, performed by the wonderful band Gaelic Storm. By the time Celine Dion’s voice comes into the program in the final minute or so, we’ve heard this crescendo of the music several times already, which diminishes the emotional impact and power of the moment.

In terms of the choreography, I didn’t love the constant open and uplifting arm movements…lots of people are dying here, including Radionova’s character’s boyfriend. It looked too triumphant. The jump entrances are held too long and are awkward, which is indicative of the trouble she was having with jumps last season, after a growth spurt.

I did enjoy that Radionova’s dress was a nod to the pretty dress that Kate Winslet wore as the ship was sinking:

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Image Source: awesomeinventions.com

Mariah Bell’s 2015 “Titanic” program, on the other hand, was much more my taste:

 

The opening of this program captures the tension of the film, both in terms of music and choreography. From there, it moves into a natural story: the piece with some pop and Mariah’s beautiful split jumps alludes to the triumphant send-off for the ship, there is a sweet portion in the middle for her footwork that fits with the movie love story, and the use of “My Heart Will Go On” is very subtle.

Skating programs usually build to a grand finale of sorts, with the most exciting, uplifting pieces of music at the end. This program ends quietly, and I liked the nod to the more somber end for the Titanic itself and the movie.

Also, her dress is gorgeous and looks like the ocean.

This Nationals, 2015, was when I first noticed the joy and “it factor” in Mariah’s skating. That’s still present today, in 2017, but she has made huge technical strides. There wasn’t a triple-triple in this program (she doubled a planned triple toe-triple toe), and now she routinely hits the triple lutz-triple toe. She said in her recent interview on the “Ice Talk” podcast that she moved to new coach Rafael Arutyunyan for technical help, so it is exciting to think about the strides she can make after a full season with Raf.

Are there any other well-known “Titanic” programs that you loved or hated? Let me know!


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Best Scheherazade Programs

Certain pieces of music pop up a lot in the skating world, for better or worse. I’ve made my feelings known about overuse of “Phantom of the Opera,” lots of people don’t want to hear “Carmen” in an ice rink ever again, and the fantastic Jackie Wong of Rocker Skating has a special hatred for any version of “Feelin’ Good.”

“Scheherazade” is another one that is used a lot, but it hasn’t reached fatiguing levels, at least for me. I love the layers of sound in the music, and the endless choreographic possibilities those layers create.

I heard “Scheherazade” a few times from the stands at Worlds, which got me thinking about my favorite programs set to this music:

Meryl Davis and Charlie White, 2014 Free Dance

Michelle Kwan, 2002 Long Program

While both programs are fabulous in their own right, they’ve got a few things in common that put them over the top and into my “best ever” category:

  • Choreography and arm movements that imply the weaving or spinning of a story (which is what the character of Scheherazade does to avoid a death sentence, so the legend goes)
  • Energy that builds throughout the program to an outstanding finish
  • Attire that fits the music and alludes to the Middle Eastern setting of the story, without being overly corny or kitschy

I could watch these programs over and over, but are there more excellent renditions of Scheherazade that I have to see? Do share!


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Grand Prix Viewing Interior Monologue

A peek inside my head as I watched this season’s Grand Prix events. And to be fair, it’s not always an interior monologue. Sometimes I talk to the TV and my buddies, Tara, Johnny, and Terry. Here’s what I’m saying:

Where happened to the right side of Ksenia Stolbova’s dresses? Did they both rip in the wash?

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2015-16 Short Program, Image Source: isu.org

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2015-16 Short Program, Image Source: isu.org

Are Satoko Miyahara’s skates too big for her feet? Feet too big for her body? Maybe those ugly Edea skates are the problem.

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Image Source: Getty Images

Fedora Frank is the man.

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Image Source: insideskating.net

Ashley, please stop talking to yourself before and after your program at center ice. It looks a little cray cray. Just keep it in your head. Interior monologue. Like this one. 😉

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Is Adam’s hair purple or gray? (Both, apparently, at various points. And teal.)

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Image Source: @adamripponshair

Mao Asada’s short program this year is the cutest.

On the flip side, her “Madame Butterfly” long program…not original. How many Japanese women have we seen skate to this Japanese opera, wearing a dress with a sequined butterfly? She’s more original than that, and this piece is creeping up on “Phantom of the Opera” status…

Rafael Arutunian looks like he could play a hit man in a movie. Especially when he leans over the boards and grips them with both hands, while wearing black leather gloves. (Unfortunately, my extensive Google search did not bring up any photo to do this justice. So here is his intense face sans gloves. But you know what I’m talking about, I know it.)

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Image Source: usfsa.org

Anybody else talk to the TV while watching skating? Tell me it’s not just me.