Twizzle Talk


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Impressions: 5 Thoughts from Skate America 2017

The Grand Prix series wrapped up this weekend with Skate America — which usually kicks off the series. While I thought the timing was weird at first, it was definitely exciting to close out the series with an event broadcast live and in primetime on NBC here in the U.S. I’ve got five thoughts on five Americans at their home-country competition:

  1. Bradie Tennell! I’ve been watching her since this summer, when I worked on her website for Figure Skaters Online, and am such a fan. I remember watching her at previous Nationals and enjoying her skating, but she has kicked it up a notch this year. Her poise and confidence at this event were excellent. I know some are cautioning against anointing her as the next great American hope after one good performance, but it hasn’t been just one. She has been delivering consistently since July, and built on those successes to deliver two clean performances here, under pressure, and grab the bronze medal. If she continues on this trajectory, I predict big things for Nationals. (And just maybe…the Olympics!)

    Skate America Bronze Medalist

    Bradie with her coach, Denise Myers (left), and choreographer, Scott Brown (right). Photo Courtesy Figure Skaters Online

  2. You can always count on Maia and Alex Shibutani to be prepared and deliver clean, consistent programs. But here at Skate America, they looked even stronger and sharper than their last event, Rostelecom Cup. It particularly stood out to me in their short dance, where they brought such energy while still being precise in their movements and nailing the technical content. They are gunning for that third U.S. title — there is no resting on the laurels of success with these two.
  3. Speaking of no rest…who else loved it when Adam Rippon said that his trip to the Grand Prix Final was his reward for his excellent Skate America performance? His work ethic in this Olympic season — while also coming back from his broken foot — is incredibly impressive. If I were picking the U.S. men’s Olympic team, Adam would be on it, no question. He dislocated his shoulder on his opening quad lutz and gave no thought to giving up. He delivered a clean program from there. Johnny Weir and some of the other commentators have mentioned it, but the way that Adam takes his time and breathes through each element is so refreshing and easy to watch. Some of the guys attempting record-breaking quads look like they are gritting their teeth through these programs, but Adam is performing while nailing his jumps.
  4. It was sad, and somewhat shocking, to see Adam’s BFF Ashley Wagner withdraw mid-long program. People from the Twitterverse to commentator Johnny Weir were chattering about the timing of the withdrawal (should she have done it mid-program? toughed it out? withdrew after the warmup?) to the severity of the injury. Whatever you think, it was tough to watch someone who is so synonymous with being a fighter end a competition like that. In the last Olympic cycle, Ashley made her case for the Olympic team with her international successes in the fall, then faltered at Nationals. This time around, she has given herself no choice but to rise to the occasion at Nationals, after low scores at Skate Canada (even though she ended up with the bronze) and withdrawing here, plus some struggles internationally at the end of last season. Before she withdrew from the competition, her focus in comments to the media was on getting enough training time before Nationals, so even if she pulled out a win here and qualified for the Grand Prix Final, it seems unlikely that she would have gone. Hopefully she can buckle down and get the training and preparation in before heading to San Jose for Nationals at the end of December.
  5. The throw jumps by Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim are absolutely breath-taking, in the long program especially. They are timed perfectly with the music, she lands them with such strength and excellent posture, and he throws in a nice little flourish with his arms on the landing as well. Yes, they are still struggling with the side-by-side jumps, but they are maxing out points in their strength areas, like these throws and their huge triple twist.
  6. Ok, I have to do a bonus #6, on a non-American. Can’t help myself. How lovely was Satoko Miyahara? I loved her a few seasons ago and honestly, all her injuries and time away from the ice made her slip from my radar. Her subpar showing at NHK Trophy didn’t help, but, wow, was she great here. She skated with such emotion and heart, and her in-between skating is just stunning. I know her jumps aren’t the highest, but the way she puts together the full package of jumps, spins, and choreography is so appealing. Much like Ashley Wagner, she is a mature skater and genuine performer, which I’ll take over a jumping bean any day.

Between now and the Grand Prix Final (which is Dec. 7-10 in Nagoya, Japan), I’m going to take a look at some of my favorite elements (spins, lifts, etc.) in programs this season!

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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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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.


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Skate Canada Hairstyles

There was some great skating at Skate Canada over the weekend—and some fabulous hair. I tend to notice hairstyles no matter which sport I am watching. I’m not the only one who loved the braids and ponytails that the soccer players rocked at the women’s world cup last summer. And every time I see another football player with flowing locks like this:

Image Source: nflrush.com

I can’t help but think how uncomfortable and sweaty it must be under that helmet. In figure skating, hairstyles are more important than most sports, since it can be part of the “look” of a costume or character. But at the same time, it needs to be practical and keep the hair out of the way during a performance. (Yes, I’m looking at you, female ice dancers who don’t pull your hair back. It’s distracting. And gives fuel to people who think skating is less of a sport.) My hair all-stars of Skate Canada are:

Most Improved: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Russia

Last year, Elizaveta was always sporting a messy ponytail with lots of visible clips. It was a look that was more “Sunday afternoon at the gym” than “World Figure Skating Champion.” This picture doesn’t even really capture how bad it was:

Image Source: olympics.nbcsports.com

This year, she has come out much more polished, with a braided look. Unfortunately, there aren’t many good pictures of it, but you can get the gist here:

Image Source: icenetwork.com

Image Source: icenetwork.com

MVP: Ashley Wagner, USA

Ashley has been a pretty consistent bun-wearer for the past few years, except for the polished ponytail in her Pink Floyd short program. I loved seeing her switch it up here, with the side part and twists into the bun. The red color also suits her much more than the really light blonde she had going on last year, in terms of both appearance and her sassy personality. Here’s a side view of the ‘do:

Image Source: wtop.com

Best Short Hairstyle: Meagan Duhamel, Canada

It is pretty rare to see a female figure skater with short hair. Short hair is difficult to pull back and limits your style options if you are going for a specific character. Canadian pairs skater Meagan Duhamel probably has the most well-known short hair in skating these days, and sometimes even she has bad hair days (like this overly curly situation at the Sochi Olympics). But I loved her look at Skate Canada; enough volume that it didn’t look flat or boring, but not so much that her hair overshadowed the rest of her.

Image Source: icenetwork.com

Image Source: icenetwork.com

Most Eye-Catching: Adam Rippon, USA

I can’t do a post about figure skating hairstyles this season without mentioning Adam Rippon’s gray locks:

Image Source: thefinersports.sportsblog.com

There was lots of chatter over the summer about this look; whether he’d dye it back before the competition season started, and whether it would be off-putting to the (sometimes old-fashioned) judges. While I’m not the biggest fan of the look of the gray, I will give him props for staying true to his own style. I just don’t love hair colors that were clearly created in a bottle and not in nature.

Who sported your favorite looks at Skate Canada? Am I wrong about ladies who leave their hair down? (It would take a lot to convince me of that…) Share your favorites in the comments!


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Top 5 Standing Ovation-Worthy Moments at the U.S. Championships

I’ve typed much of my own analysis and musings of many moments at the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but I think I’ll let these Top 5 Standing Ovation-Worthy Moments speak for themselves. The roar of the crowd at the end of each of these programs tells the story.

1. Ashley Wagner’s stunning and gutsy long program—her best ever:

2. Maia and Alex Shibutani not only got a standing ovation at the end of the free dance, but their mesmerizing twizzle sequence also got lots of applause from the crowd:

3. Jason Brown brought the crowd to its feet in both the short and long programs with his outstanding performance skills:

4. And the same goes for Adam Rippon, who thrilled the crowd in both segments of the men’s competition:

5. Madison Chock and Evan Bates’ gold medal-wining free dance had a powerful, emotional ending:


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Tearjerker Moments at the U.S. Championships

The U.S. Championships is always an event with high drama and emotion. A lot is at stake for the skaters—spots on the World Championship team, as well as the possibility of international competition assignments for the following year. Amongst all the excitement, pressure, and those “wow” moments, there were a few tearjerker moments as well.

Figure skating is a sport that provides many moments of pure joy, when everything falls in to place and a skater performs at their best. You see it on the grand stage, on TV at the Olympics, but it also happens in cold rinks around the country—when someone lands an axel for the first time, or skates a clean program at a local competition.

Rippon Nationals 15 Kiss & Cry

Image Source: icenetwork.com

It happened for Adam Rippon in the senior men’s long program, when he skated his best performance ever—including a fantastic, nearly-clean quad lutz. He was overcome with emotion in the kiss and cry (pictured), and I have to say that I was too, while sitting on my couch at home. I shed a few happy tears along with Adam, and I bet many of the other viewers at home and in the arena did, too.

But there are also the moments that can be heartbreaking, when months and years of training come down to the few minutes of a competition program and, for whatever reason, the skater doesn’t perform well. Mirai Nagasu’s untimely crash into the boards on a back crossover during her long program was one of these moments. She started out so strong, with a triple flip-triple toe-double toe and a double axel-triple toe, and most fans wanted to see her skate well after she missed out on the Olympic team last year. But unfortunately, it wasn’t her night. Mirai finished the program as best she could with what was later diagnosed as a hyperextended knee and bruised cartilage. This situation had many skating fans asking why the “skating gods” couldn’t cut Mirai a break, since she has dealt with a lot of disappointment on the ice lately. But the strength and courage she displayed in finishing her performance–despite all those disappointments–are as impressive as a perfect free skate.

There are also moments where you realize that skating is about much more than the score on the jumbotron or who stands on the podium when all is said and done. The ups and downs of a figure skating career not only have the power to bring us joy or teach us to get up and try again when we fall, but to heal in times of struggle. That was pretty plain at the end of Jeremy Abbott’s performance in the short program, when he looked skyward and raised his arm in a moving tribute to his father, who recently passed away from Parkinson’s disease. Putting blade to ice is one of the best remedies for figure skaters, no matter what the trouble might be.

Image Source: zimbio.com

From the happy to the difficult to the poignant, skating never fails to move us. Yes, even sometimes to tears.