Twizzle Talk


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Four Favorites: Skate America 2018

Skate America 2018 is over—the medals have been handed out and Grand Prix Final frontrunners have staked their claim. In skating, it is often about the medals and the final placements, which means that beautiful moments within a program can often go unacknowledged. Here are four of my favorite elements from this weekend’s competition, one from each discipline:

  1. The final lift in Karina Manta and Joseph Johnson’s free dance:

    An innovative and impressive position that fit the character of their Eurythmics free dance, plus a gorgeous and difficult spiral entry. This team from the U.S. finished 10th in their Grand Prix debut here at Skate America, but there is plenty worth celebrating outside the placement, including this excellent lift.
  2. Alaine Chartrand of Canada had a tough short program at this event, and rallied in the free skate, fighting for every jump and element. I loved the sideways sit spin position in her final combination spin:

    I’ve honestly never seen it before—anybody else? It managed to be a difficult and different position, without being aesthetically unappealing, which I feel like can sometimes happen in pursuit of a level four spin. This was a cool moment in her program for me.
  3. Pairs 5th place finishers Minerva Fabienne Hase and Nolan Seegert of Germany won me over with their short program, especially this catch-foot spiral entry and exit in their death spiral:

    I liked how she held her foot throughout the death spiral—and made it look so easy! Great flexibility and strength.
  4. Another 5th place finisher, Matteo Rizzo of Italy in the men’s event, grabbed my attention with the edge quality, smoothness, and speed of his step sequence in the short program:

    The tempo of the music completely changed in the middle of the element, and his movement followed suit.

Would love for people to chime in with comments of their own favorite elements from the competition, especially from those skaters outside the podium!

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Favorite Lifts of the 2017-2018 Season

While skating fans await the Grand Prix Final, I’m taking inventory of some of my favorite ice moves of the season so far. I’ve been keeping a list of the elements I love, jotting them down as I’ve watched them either on TV or IceNetwork.

Here are my favorite lifts of the season, skewed a bit towards the ice dance scene with one pair lift. (To be fair, lots of the pairs do similar positions to meet the IJS requirements…or, not entirely aesthetically pleasing positions that meet the IJS requirements).

  1. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje’s final lift in their free dance:
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    Strength, difficulty, a beautiful position, and it is timed perfectly with the emotional final moments of the music.
  2. Another Canadian dance team, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, have a fabulous lift in their short dance:
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    It’s a very acrobatic lift, but they execute it with ease and smoothness, and also hit each position clearly. Sometimes the most intricate dance lifts end up looking like a whirling dervish, and each position isn’t clear as the couple moves so quickly through each variation. This lift is really well done and unique, while still having appealing positions.
  3. Continuing the Canadian theme I’ve got going here, I also love the lift at the end of Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro’s short program:
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    The exit is my favorite part — it’s unique and her position, stretch, and toe point is exquisite. Her position throughout is great, while he could be a little more sure and fluid on his steps. But, I also think the gif version accentuates that a bit more than the video.
  4. Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte have a gorgeous straight-line lift in their free dance, with Anna in a spiral position. I’m always a sucker for a lovely spiral position!
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    The exit on this one isn’t the smoothest and definitely needs to be improved, but the lift itself is gorgeous.
  5. I’m obsessed with all of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s “Moonlight Sonata” free dance, but this lift is a highlight:
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    The camera angle isn’t ideal, but this stunning photo from Gabriella’s Instagram shows a better view of that the last position.
  6. While the lifts I’ve mentioned so far go up, I love this lift from Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue that is a bit closer to the ice:
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    It fits the character of their blues-y free dance really nicely, and the entry and exit are seamless.
  7. /8. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker’s “Liebestraum” free dance is my favorite of the year (and I guess last year, too, since they are repeating the program, but this is a program repeat I can get behind. The performance has definitely grown!). The music, costumes, and choreography are impeccable, and, as such, I couldn’t pick just ONE favorite lift in this program. I love the combination of ease and strength in this leaning lift:
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    I’m clearly drawn to the ones where the girl is standing on the guy’s leg, huh? This next one is a little different, and I love how not only is the lift timed perfectly with the music, but their movement mimics what we are hearing in the music.
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    I wish she would keep her arm out during the entire sweeping motion of the lift — it would be a prettier line and also accentuate the circular movement more.

Did you love these, too? Any fantastic lifts that I missed or need to give a second look?


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Bradie Tennell Interview: Figure Skaters Online

My latest piece is up on Figure Skaters Online: an interview with Bradie Tennell, 2015 U.S. Junior Champion and my pick for a dark horse spot on the U.S. Nationals podium this year (maybe even the Olympic team…?). Her consistency so far this season is the best of all the American ladies. Hear more from Bradie about her goals and approach in:

Bradie Tennell looks ahead to Grand Prix debut at Skate America

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Photo Courtesy Robin Ritoss, via Figure Skaters Online

 


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On Boots and Blades and Taking Care of Them

I got my skate blades sharpened this afternoon. [Non-skaters who read this blog, we sharpen our skate blades so that the edges can better grip the ice. Each time we skate, the blade gets dulled down by the jumps, spins, and footwork.]

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Image Source: Wikipedia

I last had them sharpened in January, so my blades were getting pretty dull and in need of a sharpening. I usually skate three times a week myself, and have recently taken up teaching learn to skate classes again (one of which is a hockey class, believe it or not. A story for another time.), which has me on the ice four times a week as a teacher. To keep practicing the loops, twizzles, and rockers on my junior moves test to the best of my ability, it was time to get those skates sharpened.

Equipment is a major factor for any figure skater. Basketball players can make it work if their ball is in need of some air, or their sneakers are a little old. It’s not ideal, but it won’t stop them from playing. But dull blades or broken down skates spell doom for skaters. Not only will the usual tricks become impossible, but they can be downright dangerous.

We saw how American phenom and national champion Nathan Chen struggled with boots that weren’t supportive enough at the 2017 World Championships. Check out how he looks down at the boot and adjusts his skate after a fall on his opening quad in the long program:

Skating boots are normally stiff and supportive, almost immobile around the ankles, but Chen’s broken down and soft boots (from his hours of practicing) couldn’t take the force of his landing on a huge, four-revolution jump. Chen’s boots take such a pounding during practice that he gets new skates every month or two, according to USA Today’s Christine Brennan. [For the complete opposite end of the spectrum, I’ll just note that I wore my last pair of skates for more than 7 years. I don’t skate nearly as much as Nathan Chen, ha.]

At the 2017 Four Continents Championships, U.S. champion Karen Chen said that she had “no support at all” from skate boots that had “collapsed at the very sole at the bottom,” according to Bay Area newspaper The Mercury News. She finished in 12th place at that event, and also spent the 2015-2016 season unable to find a pair of boots that fit properly, struggling in competition.

To non-skaters, it almost sounds crazy: How can you not find a skate that fits? How can it be that hard? Don’t you know your own shoe size?

I’m writing this as someone who once bought a pair of boots that was a half-size too big, and also happened to be in a mislabeled box—so the size 5.5 I thought I was wearing was actually a 6, and what I needed was a 5. It took a few weeks, but I started to realize that my heels were lifting out of the boot when I jumped and did spins, and so, back to the skate shop I went for a new size. I’ve got weird bumps on my heels to this day from the boot rubbing against my heel.

Fitting skating boots is not an exact science, because they need to support the incredible force created by jumping and spinning, while still being comfortable enough to wear for hours of practice. They definitely, and unfortunately, don’t equate to your shoe size or wearing a shoe. As someone who has messed up the fit of her boots herself, I have sympathy for both Chens in this scenario.

But part of me wants to say…COME ON, GUYS.

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You are the U.S. Champions. You need to figure out the boot situation before you get to two of the biggest events of the year.

From where I sit, there isn’t really an excuse for that at the elite level. I would hope that they have the resources and support to get the boots they need, when they need them, so it is just a matter of timing and planning.

Knowing what we know about how equipment failure can trump training and preparedness, we’ve got to eliminate “boot problems” as a cause when skaters don’t perform well. Unlike mental toughness and nerves, this is something that is well within the skater’s control, just like the number of hours spent training.

And skate scientists out there, in the meantime, maybe you can work on some sort of magical comfort foam skate interior that works for everybody’s feet? We saw you all in action fixing Mirai Magasu’s ripped boot at U.S. Nationals in 2016.

Us skating fans will be over here crossing fingers that this was a productive learning experience for both Nathan and Karen, and that we won’t be hearing the words “boot issues” in Pyeongchang next year.


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2017 Worlds Predictions: Men

Sometimes I let my personal favorites get in the way of all logic and reason when it comes to figure skating. So I’m predicting the 2017 Worlds results in two sets: sentimental vs. rational. See the full explanation in my initial post with ice dance predictions.

The men’s event is full of skaters tossing off quads left and right. It’s going to be awesome. I’ll never forget watching the final warmup group, live at Worlds in Boston last year, and being completely blown away by quad after quad, and the incredible quality of the jumps. If you’re going to be in Helsinki this year, I’m both super jealous and thrilled for you. Here are my thoughts on this quad festival:

ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2016 - Day 5

Image Source: justjaredjr.com

Sentimental:
Gold – Javier Fernandez, Spain
Silver – Nathan Chen, USA
Bronze – Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan

Last year at Worlds, Javier Fernandez held the audience in the palm of his hand during the long program. Stellar jumps, all delivered with this pizzaz and ease that made it seem like he was doing an exhibition program. I loved it, I love him, and I want him to get his third World title this week. I also have so much admiration for Nathan Chen’s poise under pressure and commitment to pushing himself. I’ve got him in second in my sentimental picks because of my love for Javi, but let’s be honest…I bet he will run away with this title. He’s been riding some excellent momentum since the Grand Prix Final and just seems to do better with each outing. And as Phil Hersh pointed out in his IceNetwork preview, Fernandez’ quad content doesn’t quite measure up to some of the other top guys. So my rational podium has two Japanese men, Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno. And not just because of their stellar quads; these guys have the whole package.

Rational:
Gold – Nathan Chen, USA
Silver – Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan
Bronze – Shoma Uno, Japan

P.S. It is also Nathan’s first World Championships. When was the last time anyone won in their first try? Let alone the last U.S. man to do that? Google sleuthing didn’t help me out on this one, so if anyone knows, leave it in the comments! We can just call it pulling a Medvedeva in the meantime, since she won 2016 Worlds in her first year at the senior level.


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2017 Worlds Predictions: Ice Dance

It’s almost time for the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships, and I’m going to make some guesses on how the standings will shake out.

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Image Source: helsinki2017.com

I’ve been shying away from doing predictions posts this year, because there are plenty of them out there, and because I sometimes find that my personal biases battle against my analytical knowledge. Which actually makes this a great time to bring back a post format I did prior to the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships: sentimental vs. rational results predictions.

I have so much respect for all the skaters, both in terms of their talent and the rigorous training they put in. But that said, I also have my favorites, and these sentimental picks reflect that. Whereas the rational picks, on the other hand, are based more on how this season has gone so far.

Let’s say, sentimental picks by superfan Maura, rational picks by wannabe journalist Maura. I’ll start with the ice dance event:

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Image Source: justjaredjr.com

Sentimental:
Gold – Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani, USA
Silver – Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, Canada
Bronze – Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron, France

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Image Source: lfpress.com

Rational:
Gold – Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, Canada
Silver – Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani, USA
Bronze – Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron, France

Virtue and Moir have been on a roll in their comeback season, not losing a single event. It’s almost been too easy. I think all reason and logic points to them on the top step of the podium, based on the point margins they have been winning with all season (5 points ahead of the Shibutanis at Four Continents, 11 ahead of Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates at the same event, 5 points ahead of the French at the Grand Prix Final).

It has been several months since all of those competitions, offering plenty of time for the other teams to improve, and we all know ice is slippery and anything can happen on a given day. I think a little adversity will make Virtue and Moir hungrier and even more motivated, hence my sentimental pick of the Shib Sibs in first.

I just LOVE their short dance (To me, it is the most cohesive, in terms of theme and hip hop movement, of all the teams). On the rational side, I think that will land them in second overall, because their programs are stronger than the French team’s this season. Papadakis and Cizeron are fighters, who stormed back from third place in the short dance to win Europeans, so I think they will still land on the podium this year.

Bonus non-podium prediction that has both some sentimentality and logic in it: American Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue jump to fourth place. They have made such great strides in the past two years, and their free dance is so beautiful. That moment in the dance spin when the grasp hands? I legitimately said “AWWW” aloud when I saw it live at Skate America this fall.

I’ll be back with ladies, men, and pairs predictions before the competition gets going on Wednesday!