Twizzle Talk


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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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The Return of Joshua Farris

Today is a great day. One of my absolute favorite U.S. men’s figure skaters has announced his return to competition.

Joshua Farris is back!

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Image Source: ifigureskating.com

My immense appreciation for his skating talents has been well-documented on this little blog, so it is probably a big understatement to say that I am thrilled.

He initially retired over the summer, after a string of concussions made it unsafe for him to continue training. But, according to Ice Network, he has been cleared by his doctors and is back on the ice, ready to finish his career on his own terms.

Let’s revisit his short program from 2015 U.S. Nationals, where he was the bronze medalist. Watch this beauty of a performance and tell me you aren’t excited to see him back in action:

I know Nathan Chen is the quad king for the U.S. right now, but Josh’s return adds an interesting new dimension to the U.S. men’s field. He told Ice Network very confidently that he will come back with a quad or two in his arsenal. If he returns to his prior form, as far as the spins, footwork, and artistry are concerned, and then adds some quads—it could be a real fight between him and his fellow artists, Adam Rippon and Jason Brown, for the remaining spots on the Olympic team (barring an injury or some sort of bizarre disaster that would keep Chen from PyeongChang).

It is, of course, one thing to tell a reporter you’re going to nail quads, and then to actually do it in competition, but I’ve got high hopes here! Now, to start a petition for this “Give Me Love” short program to also make a comeback…


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The Ladies Rise to the Occasion in Kansas City

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Image Source: icenetwork.com

Last year after U.S. Nationals, I mused about how important mental toughness is in skating, and how well it was displayed across the disciplines. This year, no disrespect to the men, pairs or dance skaters, but the top three finishers in the ladies’ event completely wowed me with their mental strength and will to do their best. And each of them rose to the occasion in a different way:

Gold medalist Karen Chen didn’t succumb to the pressure of leading after her exquisite short program. Plenty of skaters can’t hold on to the momentum of a great short program in the free—we’ve seen it happen to poor Ross Miner two years in row at Nationals, finishing second after a great short only to falter in the free. But that wasn’t the case with Karen:

 

Reigning World Silver Medalist Ashley Wagner had to skate right after hearing Chen’s giant score and the crowd roar in response. But in true and gritty Wagner fashion, she dug deep for another emotional, strong performance that brought the crowd to its feet:

She was rocking a new dress for the long program (I suspected she might be one to do a mid-season switch), and I loved the ombre color and the back strap detail.

Mariah Bell had the most serious errors of the top three, with a hopped landing on her opening triple-triple combo and a fall on her second jump, the triple loop. She could have folded under the pressure or given up in disappointment at that point (as it looked like Gracie Gold and Mirai Nagasu did later in the free skate, after making errors of their own.) But instead, Bell calmed down, righted herself, and skated beautifully the rest of the way:

And man, did it pay off. Because it’s Bell who is the bronze medalist, who punched her ticket to the 2017 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, while Gold and Nagasu were left off the team.

Gold and Nagasu seem to be the cautionary tales, in terms of mental strength. They both have a history of letting a program collapse once one mistake creeps in, rather than forgetting the mistake and moving on to the next element. Obviously that’s easy for me to say from behind my computer screen, but I think it’s something all skaters strive to do, whether they are on the world stage or just an adult skater still plugging away on her junior moves. Previous mistakes can’t impact what happens next.

The way Chen, Wagner, and Bell responded to their unique adversity on Saturday night is an important step in their personal skating journeys, and experience that will serve them well going into a pressure-packed Olympic season.

Chen proved that she could overcome boot problems and injuries to put together two clean programs at a high-stakes event. Hopefully this gives her the boost to perform like she belongs among the best in the world when she competes at international events.

Wagner showed yet again that she can tune out the noise (both literal and figurative) around her and deliver the goods. And she’s going to need that when skating against the ridiculously consistent Russian and Japanese ladies at Worlds and the Olympics.

Bell demonstrated poise, maturity, and commitment when she salvaged the rest of her program after the early mistakes. That ability to reassess and stay calm will be invaluable as she heads to her first World Championships and starts to experience more pressure and expectations after her strong showings this season.

I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty good about this crew heading to Worlds and staking their claim on three spots for the U.S. ladies in the 2018 Olympics.


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Favorite Exhibitions of 2015-16

One of the (many) unique aspects of figure skating is the post-event exhibition. It’s a celebratory show that takes place at the end of a competition, after the medals have been handed out and when the pressure is off. It would be like Cam Newton and Peyton Manning taking the field to toss the football around, the day after the Super Bowl, for a packed stadium. Improbable, and probably unnecessary, in most sports. But not figure skating.

The post-event exhibition reflects the importance of the performance side of skating, and the blending of athletics and art. Skaters always put on a show, but most especially in the exhibition. This is where the funny/creative/weird numbers come out, along with tricks and costumes that are illegal in competition. This season, I’ve got four favorite exhibition programs and three of them just happen to be by U.S. skaters.

Mirai Nagasu — “I Put a Spell On You”

Who is this skater? With such confidence and ease of movement. She looks completely different in this program than when she competes; can we get some of this Mirai in competition? I’m starting a petition now that this becomes her short program for next year! (I’m pretty sure that this year’s “Demons” short program started off as an exhibition piece, and this one has way more life and enthusiasm to it.) This song is one that can be overused in skating, and yet I still really enjoy her take on it.

Team Paradise of Russia — “Meditation of Thais” by Jules Massenet

That first intersection, with the spirals…all I can say is, “WOW.” Except it came out more like “Woooooowwwww” as I was staring at it on my computer screen, sitting at my kitchen table. Such beauty and strength. I couldn’t determine if this is an exhibition program or also their short program. Anybody out there know? I may have given my computer some kind of virus trying to get to what I thought was the team’s website to look for program details, but a ton of Russian pop ups ensued instead. Whoops.

Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim — “Rise Up” by Andra Day

They’ve been using this program all year, but the first time I saw it was in the exhibition at U.S. Nationals. As you can probably gather from the title of the song, this one felt particularly poignant given that the team had just lost their national title. Would I have loved it as much if I that wasn’t when I saw it for the first time? I’m not sure. But this program demonstrates what I love about this team so much, their emotion and fabulous pair elements.

Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter — “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys

The Backstreet Boys are apparently very rigid about copyright infringement, because this is the only video I could find of this program, and the audio is blocked. If you have an IceNetwork subscription, you’ve got to go watch this program, either in the video from the Grand Prix Final exhibition or the U.S. Nationals exhibition. The two-time U.S. Junior Ice Dance Champions exude personality in this light-hearted program about a boy bander and his superfan. Cute without being overly gimmicky, and who doesn’t love a good BSB song?

While these were my favorite exhibition programs, there were definitely a few that made me raise my eyebrows…those, in a future post!


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Nationals Predictions: Sentimental vs. Rational

The best week of the year is here! The U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Lots of people are making predictions and rooting for their favorites. Those two options don’t always line up: sometimes the sentimental favorite is actually a long shot for the title, or the skater who is best on paper doesn’t connect with fans or the audience. For this year’s U.S. Nationals, I’ve got my sentimental favorites and those who I think are the more rational pick for the title. Check them out:

Men

Sentimental Favorite: Adam Rippon

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Image Source: examiner.com

He had such a moment at Nationals last year, with a long program performance that was championship-worthy. I want him to be able to stand on the top step of the podium. If his jumps are on, he is the class of the men’s field, with beautiful spins and transitions. Adam is also still skating for the pure love of the sport (listen to more about that in his appearance on the Open Kwong Dore podcast), and that relaxed attitude often leads to his best performances.

Rational Favorite: Max Aaron

Max has the most consistent quads of all the U.S. men, and has also made incredible strides in his components this season. Combine by that with a Skate America victory and success at senior B events, he is riding a wave of momentum that, if logic holds, should take the title.

Ice Dance

Sentimental Favorite: Maia and Alex Shibutani

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Image Source: rinksidecafe.wordpress.com

The Shib Sibs free dance this year is a work of art, and has been incredibly moving each time they’ve performed it. Not only that, but they’ve visibly improved their lines and speed since last year. I just really want this to be the year that they take the title. They’ve been toiling in the shadows for too long. And an in-country rivalry with Chock and Bates a la the rivalry between Davis/White and Virtue/Moir could only do great things for ice dancing in the U.S.

Rational Favorite: Madison Chock and Evan Bates

The judges at the Grand Prix Final preferred Chock and Bates to the Shibutanis, despite similar results on the circuit and solid performances by both teams. Most signs point to the pecking order remaining the same this year. Chock and Bates have been solid in all their competitions this season, despite the fact that they have had to make some big changes to both programs (including a new short dance early in the season). This consistency is on their side.

Pairs

Sentimental Favorite: Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim

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Image Source: goldenskate.com

These two are the best pair team that the U.S. has had in a long time, and its exciting to watch them. They also have oodles of personality and sass. I’d love to see them defend their title and keep the momentum going into the 2018 Olympics.

Rational Favorite: Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim

This is the one event where my sentimental and rational favorites line up. This team had a superb fall and should have a big confidence boost from qualifying for the Grand Prix Final (the first U.S. pair to qualify since 2007), even though they had a rough outing at the event. They are the most experienced in the lineup and will use that to their advantage.

Ladies

Sentimental Favorite: Ashley Wagner

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Image Source: skatecanada.ca

Ashley’s my girl and I want to see her take a fourth title. It would be such an accomplishment and testament to her drive to continually improve. I also think it would be great for American ladies skating to have some consistency at the top.

Rational Favorite: Whoever’s Brain Doesn’t Get In the Way

It’s either Gold or Wagner’s game and honestly, I can’t choose here. It will be whoever is able to turn their brain off and just skate. In an ideal world, they’d both skate great, the chips would fall where they may, and they’d both go off to Worlds poised for a good showing. That’s what U.S. ladies skating needs, and man, I hope we get it.

Less than 24 hours until senior short programs kick off. Happy viewing, everybody!


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The American Underdog

The American ladies finished off the podium again at the 2015 World Championships, keeping alive a streak that I’m sure U.S. Figure Skating would much rather see end. The last American woman to finish on the podium was Kimmie Meissner, who won gold in 2006.

Both Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner staged herculean comebacks in the long program, finishing second and third, respectively in that segment of the competition. They were fourth and fifth place overall, quite the jump from 8th and 11th after the short. When you think about how different the results might have been if both girls had skated clean (or even with just fewer mistakes) in the short program, it’s a hard one to take. Obviously even more so for the skaters’ themselves. The fabulous potential is there, but it seems like they crumble under expectations.

Not only did both athletes skate impressively in the long, but they gave performances that required great mental toughness—something both skaters have demonstrated throughout this season. Gold skated a nearly clean program at U.S. Nationals right after the crowd blew the roof off for Wagner’s record score. Wagner was in last place after the short program at the Grand Prix Final and pulled herself up to win the bronze medal. When people write them off, the American ladies come out fighting to prove them wrong. Both skaters thrive in the underdog position, rising to the occasion when they have to chase the leader.

Gracie Gold (left) and Ashley Wagner Image Source: abcnews.go.com

But it is another story when they are expected to place well or win the competition. Gold was supposed to walk away with the Four Continents title in February and ended up fourth. Wagner was predicted to breeze her way onto the Olympic team in 2014, then finished fourth and had to be named to the team by U.S. Figure Skating.

It is extraordinarily difficult to live up to the pressure of expectations and Gold and Wagner are by no means lost causes. But how hard is it to change the mentality and thrive as the favorite?

It’s something Michelle Kwan learned throughout her career. After faltering in her first national title defense in 1997, she changed her mental approach and was able to own the U.S. ladies’ title from 1998-2005. Plenty of former champions serve as mentors to current competitors through U.S. Figure Skating—maybe they can add Kwan to the list to help elevate these ladies to the next level.