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Impressions: Cup of China 2017 and Backloading Programs

I have a lot to say about Alina Zagitiva’s victory in the ladies event at the 2017 Cup of China, and I’ll go from trivial to serious. Firstly, those tights:

Alina Zagitova

Image Source: The Daily Mail

Either go fully over the boot, or just wear regular tights. Please. This in-between look is messy and distracting.

Another distracting thing? How ridiculously backloaded her long program was. I actually got bored watching the first two minutes, waiting for jumps. Then I checked the time in disbelief, because I couldn’t imagine that she did two minutes without jumps. But she did, which made the second half a jumble of skating from jump to jump, without any transitions or interesting movements. I was watching on YouTube without commentary, though I noticed in watching later on NBC that commentator Tara Lipinski pointed it out at the start of the program and said she liked the buildup. I’m on the opposite side of the spectrum.

One of the requirements of the program components mark is proportion in choreography and composition of the program. How does a program like this fit that criteria? With this judging panel, her scores ranged from 8-9.25 in composition. That’s out of 10. And that’s absolutely ridiculous. Beyond that, you need to have the skating skills of someone with the last name Kwan, Cohen, or Kostner to keep my attention for two minutes without jumps.

Proportion requires a balanced program. That means she needs to jump in the first half, no question. I understand putting a majority of jumps in the second half to take advantage of the bonus points, and they are deserved bonus points in most cases. However, the component marks in the composition category should not have been as high as they were. Sure, give her the bonus on the jumps and contribute to her overall TES score of 76.09, but the imbalance needs to be reflected in the components score.

The ISU is considering all sorts of crazy rule changes, and Claire Cloutier of A Divine Sport did an excellent analysis that I highly recommend reading. The changes range from reducing the length of free skates for men and pairs to creating separate artistic and technical programs. They all seem unnecessary and unfounded, and Claire does a great job of explaining why. I’d rather see proposed rule changes that confront issues like this backloading problem, or the fact that people will purposefully rotate and fall on a quad over a clean triple jump, because it gets them more points (More on that from the great Jackie Wong of Rocker Skating). Or maybe the ISU could spend less time on rule changes and more time educating judges and making sure they are handing out marks that reflect the requirements.

The one redeeming quality of Zagitova’s program for me? She included a Charlotte spiral, one of my favorite moves to watch and to do. Here’s the original, performed by Charlotte Oelschlegel, after whom the spiral is named.

charlotte

Image Source: AHistoryBlog.com

Thoughts? Anybody love the backloaded approach and care to share a counterargument?

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Kori Ade Interview for Figure Skaters Online

I have a new article up on Figure Skaters Online this morning!

From Forensic Science to the Olympics: Kori Ade’s Coaching Journey

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Photo Courtesy Kori Ade, via Figure Skaters Online

It was a complete thrill to talk with Kori, best known for coaching the incredible Jason Brown, who is competing at Skate Canada this weekend. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Kori Ade thrives in high-pressure situations.

The Colorado-based coach, who was named the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating/Professional Skaters Association’s Developmental Coach of the Year, doesn’t wallow when faced with a problem or a challenge. In her words, she “just keeps rolling” and works to find a solution.

In 2013, she decided to move to Colorado from Chicago to further her coaching career. The day before her moving truck arrived, the phone rang and she learned that she didn’t get the coaching job she had been counting on at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs. She was also seven months pregnant with her second daughter.

Ade hung up the phone and sprang into action, calling Colorado Springs-area rinks. The man who picked up the phone at Monument Ice Rink in Monument, Colorado, was willing to give her a chance.

“He told me that they basically turned off the lights and locked the door of the rink during the day,” Ade said. “So I said, just leave a couple lights on and I will build you a program. Give me a year.”

So the next day, she packed up the moving truck and headed west.

That was in March 2013. By February 2014, she was by the boards at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, coaching American Jason Brown to a bronze medal in the team event and a 9th place finish in the men’s event.

For more on how Kori built her program, 7K International Skating Academy, her coaching philosophy, and her approach to this year’s Olympic season, read the rest of the article on Figure Skaters Online.


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What I’ve Been Up To

After a quiet summer on Twizzle Talk, I want to share some exciting news: I’m writing for Figure Skaters Online!

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If you don’t know it, FSO is an awesome news site for skating fans. They also provide websites for some of today’s top skaters — including 2015 U.S. Junior Champion Bradie Tennell, whose site was created by yours truly.

I have grand plans to revive this little space as well, but in the meantime, here are links to what I’ve been working on for FSO:

Thanks for reading, and enjoy Rostelecom Cup this weekend!


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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.

Mirai Nagasu

 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?