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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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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.

ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships - Gangneung - Day 1

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!