Twizzle Talk


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Nationals Hype and The Next Competition

 

Jackie Wong of Rocker Skating wrote a great post about how Four Continents is used in the selection process for the U.S. World team—and how it’s pretty complicated. Between reading his insightful post, and then watching some performances at Four Continents that paled in comparison to Nationals, I’ve been thinking a lot about “nationals hype.”

Excitement after a great U.S. Championships performance is certainly appropriate and deserved, but sometimes I think we can go overboard, christening a skater as the next big thing before they’ve had a chance to really prove themselves. The competition that follows Nationals should carry more weight for world team selection.

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Vincent Zhou; Image Source: Ice Network

Amidst all the well-deserved excitement over Nathan Chen’s historic five-quad performance, Vincent Zhou also made a splash at U.S. Nationals, with some quads of his own and the silver medal. It  was a bit of a surprise, after a rough Junior Grand Prix series and an injury in the fall.

But he followed it with a win at the 2017 Bavarian Open, and his program included a gorgeous quad lutz. By all appearances, Zhou was able to harness that momentum and use it for his next competition.

Context is important here, of course. He was at a much smaller event (note the empty stands in the video), partially because he still needed to get the minimum technical score to be eligible for senior worlds (he is the first alternate). Next up for Zhou is the World Junior Championships, which is on a much larger stage, so we’ll see how he fares.

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Karen Chen; Image Source: USA Today

On the flip side, we have Karen Chen, who followed up two glorious performances at Nationals with a 12th place showing at Four Continents. She didn’t even get a mention in the Ice Network article about the competition; the U.S. Ladies Champion, completely out of the conversation at her next event.

Now, I understand that everyone has bad days on the ice. Maybe what happened to Chen this week at Four Continents was an anomaly. Maybe she’ll go out at Worlds, blow us all away and help earn three spots for the U.S. ladies at the Olympics. But based on a recent Instagram post, it looks like the injury and boot problems that plagued her throughout 2016 might be back. It sort of begs the question of whether fans, judges, everyone got a little too excited after Chen’s win in Kansas City.

Unlike Zhou, she wasn’t able to translate her Nationals success into an impressive showing on the international stage. Besides her 2017 title and a bronze at the 2015 U.S. Nationals, Chen hasn’t risen to the occasion in international events.

After Nationals, I wrote about how mentally tough I thought the U.S. ladies are, and that I had high hopes for Worlds. After this event, I have to say that I’m a little more nervous than hopeful.

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Mai Mihara; Image Source: NBC Sports

Especially since Mai Mihara grabbed the gold at Four Continents. She looked like a sweet, consistent junior skater when I saw her at Skate America this fall, but this win proves that she is going to be another force to be reckoned with on the world stage.

The inflation of scores at national championship events is oft-discussed and oft-maligned among skating fans, but this goes beyond numbers to me. Chen was heralded as a contender for worlds, based on one event. Zhou, on the other hand, was seen as somebody who had a good day, but needed more room to grow, passed over for the more experienced Jason Brown on the world team. [Note: I think Brown was the right choice for the world team, I’m just pointing out the discrepancy.]

I think we ought to reserve judgment until a Zhou-like outing, where a skater proves that an electric Nationals performance wasn’t a one-time thing. Success at U.S. Nationals, or any country’s national championships for that matter, does not always translate in higher pressure, primetime events.

There’s lots of talk out there on the internet that maybe Karen Chen or Mariah Bell should be removed from the world team, after their subpar Four Continents performances, in comparison to their U.S. teammate Mirai Nagasu’s career-best long program and bronze medal.

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 Mirai Nagasu on the podium at Four Continents;  Image Source: Mercury News

It is certainly a valid discussion as the “body of work” criteria becomes more important and prevalent in the selection process for the world and Olympic teams, as opposed to just placements at Nationals. I’d be in favor of adopting something similar to the Russian system, where skaters have to prove themselves at multiple events to be named to a world or Olympic team—the U.S. is already inching its way in that direction with the new selection criteria.

This way, the U.S. would send skaters who’ve proven themselves over multiple events, in pressured situations, and ideally set themselves up for more success at worlds or the Olympics Games. And the skaters themselves would have multiple opportunities to prove their mettle.

Until then, the U.S. will be sending some “wild card” skaters, with high hopes of earning three Olympics spots, to Helsinki next month.

 

 


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Links I’m Loving Lately

The blog has been a little quiet for the past few weeks, but I’m still keeping up with all the latest and greatest skating news. Here are some links I’ve been loving lately:

Grace Gold’s short program from Trophee Eric Bombard. She OWNED this. She finally skated with confidence in the jumps and some serious pizzazz on the presentation side. I want to see this Gracie every time. You can’t take your eyes off her during the opening moments of the program, because she is using the music so effectively.

The IceNetwork article about Ashley Wagner and her boyfriend, speed skater and baseball player Eddy Alvarez. It’s always fun to get a glimpse into the off-ice lives of skaters, and this is a sweet Olympic love story. They met in Sochi at the Olympic Village and are now making it work despite long distance and their crazy schedules, with Ashley competing on the Grand Prix and Eddy playing minor league baseball. Talk about skills—I can’t believe Eddy was an Olympian in one sport and might play professionally in another!

The Skating Lesson’s video on Gracie’s twin sister Carly Gold was fabulous. Though she hasn’t had the national and international success of her sister, she keeps skating because of her pure love for the sport. Not only do I really respect that, but I can relate to it, too, as an adult skater who is still at it and working on moves in the field tests.

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And the great news is that she qualified for Nationals with her victory at the Pacific Coast Sectionals! I bet NBC is already prepping a behind the scenes piece on the Gold twins. How cute is this Instagram of her and her coach Frank Carroll in the kiss and cry?

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Image Source: @carlycgold on Instagram

What other fun skating links from around the interwebz should I check out in the lull before the Grand Prix Final? Share in the comments!


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Favorite Pre-Season Coverage

I have been loving all the pre-season and early competition season coverage over the past few months–from Ice Network’s Glacier Falls video coverage to The Skating Lesson‘s “TSL on the Road” video series to Jackie Wong’s Japan Open play-by-play on his skating website, Rocker.

Among all the great coverage, two pieces in particular stood out to me:

  1. The Open Kwong Dore podcast interview with Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje
    I have a long-ish commute to work, so I google-searched “figure skating podcasts” in an effort to help pass the time. I was thrilled to happen upon this one, narrated by Canadian coach and commentator PJ Kwong. Have a listen to hear Kaitlyn and Andrew talk about how their programs for the season came together–including the intense storyline behind their “addiction” themed free dance. I particularly enjoyed hearing about their approach to the season, especially after they did not win the world title last year. They sound refreshed, enthusiastic, and determined. Their focus on reaching their full potential and contributing to the sport over specific results reminded me of interviews with Olympic Champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
  2. The Skating Lesson’s video feature on World Pair Champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford

    Jenny and Dave of TSL describe this as “a journey from disappointment to domination.” The World Champs talk about overhauling their approach to competition after “wanting it too much” ultimately kept them from achieving an individual Olympic medal in 2014. Watch to learn more about the strategy that led to their undefeated season last year, as well as their thoughts on the return of Russian Olympic Champions Volosozhar and Trankov. The only thing missing was more coverage of Meagan’s summer wedding to the pair’s coach, Bruno Marcotte!

What other pre-season coverage do I need to check out before the Grand Prix gets in full swing?


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Number Crunchers, Rejoice

In my daily perusal of IceNetwork.com this morning, I found some truly fantastic news for us skating number crunchers:

statsonice.comStats on Ice is a recently launched online database of figure skating scores and statistics. This magical website was created by Curran Oi, former U.S. men’s competitor and a current biochemistry/biophysics PhD student at Yale. The site catalogs scores all the way back to 2004, with plans for expansion, and Oi told IceNetwork that he sees it as half archive, half analytical tool for skaters who are currently competing.

From the IceNetwork article: “Fans can search more than 27,000 skaters and just about every competition from the past 10 years. Paid subscribers have access to intriguing features like a protocol analyzer, filterable top score lists, comparable individual element scores, head-to-head comparisons and lots more.”

I often include score comparisons in my competition predictions and spent several hours googling scores to write this post about ice dancing. So suffice to say that statsonice.com is about to become my new favorite place on the internet. And I bet other skating fans who love to analyze the numbers in the IJS will agree. Curran, your website is fantastic!


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Impressions: Cup of China

A few closing thoughts from Cup of China before we move on to Rostelecom Cup this weekend:

  • What is the deal with the flesh-colored gloves for the ladies? They look so strange. I totally understand that most skaters are used to wearing gloves in training, so it can feel odd to compete without them. I would always try to practice without gloves for a few days before my competitions to get acclimated, so I know the feeling. I’m just not sure I like this look—but is an aesthetic reason a good enough reason to dislike it?

Image Source: news.yahoo.com

Here’s Julia Lipnitskaia wearing the gloves during her Cup of China short program—almost unnoticeable unless you look closely, but not everyone has them in a shade so close to their skin tone.

  • Speaking of Lipnitskaia, word on the street is that she skipped the medal ceremony after a rough free skate and was fined by the ISU. She apologized and said it was a misunderstanding about the time of the ceremony—it will be interesting to see if that was just an honest mistake or a sign of a sportsmanship issue. Time will tell.
  • Everyone was talking about the collision between Olympic champ Yuzuru Hanyu and Han Yan (watch the video at your own risk—it is quite the hit and blood is involved): whether they should have competed or withdrawn, how Hanyu got so many points despite five falls, and so on. I like this take on the situation from the State of the Skate blog, especially number 5. I was astounded when I saw over 70 points pop up for Hanyu’s technical score, despite the five falls and blogger Kelli Lawrence makes some great points about the issues with the IJS rewarding falls on quads over clean triples.
  • American Richard Dornbush skated lights out for the first half of his long program but ran in to some trouble at the end. I was so bummed he couldn’t hang on, but loved the overall choreography of his Coldplay program. His style reminds me a bit of Evan Lysacek—it has the musicality factor but is also very strong. Check it out:

 


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Skating & Mental Toughness

An old skating acquaintance of mine posted this article on Facebook a few weeks ago and it really resonated with me. Written by former national and international competitor Katrina Hacker, the article talks about six things she has taken from her skating career and applied in the “real world.” She wrote:

“While I’m not convinced that sports are a perfect metaphor for real life, I do know that the simple mental techniques my sports psychologist taught me made me a stronger competitor, and that anyone can apply these techniques to realize better outcomes in school, work, relationships, and daily life.”

My favorite of the six was her advice to “only worry about the things you can control.” I tend to lean towards the control freak side of the spectrum, so this isn’t always easy for me. But it is definitely more possible because of the years I have spent on the ice. You can control how much you prepare, how much effort you put in, and so on, both on the ice and off. Some of the best advice I’ve received—and in turn advice that I tend to give—is to try your best, knowing that it is all anyone can ask of you.  I heard that at the boards before competitions and from my parents in pre-competition pep talks enough that I was able to internalize it, and now it is pretty much my go-to mantra. Whether it is a big project at work, working on my junior moves test, or pitching a freelance article, I keep this in mind to keep the fears of failing at bay.

Do you agree with any of Katrina’s six tips?