Twizzle Talk


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Impressions: Skate America 2018

Before Skate Canada kicks off tomorrow, I want to share some wrap up thoughts on Skate America 2018. I already shared my Four Favorites—one element from each discipline—and I’m going to try to keep doing that throughout the season. It’s fun to look beyond the podium and acknowledge great skating! But there was also plenty to talk about among the top challengers at Skate America this weekend:

Coaching Changes
There was high drama with the announcement that Americans Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim split from their coach, Olympic Champion Aljona Savchenko. To me, it was handled really oddly on the NBC Sports Gold broadcast, in a way that stirred the pot. They teased it during the warmup without coming out and saying that they had split, and then confirmed the news mid-program, distracting from the skating. After their performance, Andrea Joyce interviewed the Knierims and asked directly about the split, and Chris handled the answer graciously, crediting all they had learned from Savchenko while acknowledging that they are no longer working together. Lots of theories about the split have been flying around on Twitter, but I think it is important to remember that Savchenko hasn’t even officially announced her retirement, has shows and other performances on her calendar for the year, and has never been an elite-level coach prior to this. The split could be as simple as realizing that coaching them wasn’t possible with her schedule. But either way, I thought the way that NBC chose to reveal the knowledge distracted from the competition.

Rules Changes
There have been a lot of rule changes this season (+5/-5 GOE being the most noticeable), but I thought they were most evident in the ice dance event. I almost felt like I was watching an entirely different discipline, in a good way. The choreographic sliding movement, one foot step sequence, and choreographic step were all great changes in that they have opened the door for more creativity and innovation in these free dances. I loved how the skaters were able to utilize these elements to really emphasize the character of their programs and music.

Momentum Changes
Several of last year’s viral/Olympic favorites had tough outings here: Jimmy Ma (of U.S. Nationals “Turn Down for What” viral YouTube fame), Loena Hendrickx (who’s brother, fellow skater Jorik, got a lot of attention for his nervous viewing of her skating at the Olympics last year, a la gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents), and Alexei Bychenko (who brought the house down in the team event at the Olympics). It just goes to show how difficult it can be to carry momentum into another season. Ma had a rough free skate, while Hendrickx withdrew due to illness. Bychenko looked a little shaky, compared to his assured Olympic performances. I enjoyed watching all of them so much last year, so here’s hoping things look up for them at their next events. Hendrickx and Bychenko are both scheduled for Grand Prix Finland, while Ma does not have a second Grand Prix.

Age Changes
As a newly minted 30-year-old myself, I loved seeing two skaters in their third decade on the podium in the men’s event: Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic (a longtime fave of mine) and Sergei Voronov of Russia. The ladies on my new favorite podcast, Flutzes and Waxels, were calling them “Team Old,” which was cracking me up, but it is great to see skaters have some longevity in this sport. Just as I loved seeing 30-somethings Aljona Savchenko and Meagan Duhamel out there last season, I applaud these two. Respect for Team Old.

It feels like quite the quick turnaround, but is everybody ready for Skate Canada? We’ll see some of the same faces from Skate America this weekend (Hubbell and Donohue, Starr Andrews, to name a few), so I can’t imagine how they must be feeling about this turnaround. Check back here tomorrow for my Skate Canada Flashback Friday post!

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Impressions: 5 Thoughts on Skate Canada 2017

Did anybody stay up to watch the Skate Canada broadcast on NBC Sports from 11:30 pm – 1 am on Sunday night/Monday morning?

No?

Perhaps because it was basically the middle of the night? Sigh.

Here are my five thoughts from Skate Canada 2017, starting with my tv schedule woes:

      1. I know most diehard fans are watching a live stream on IceNetwork, or following along on Twitter with the exceptional live-tweeting of Rocker Skating’s Jackie Wong. But I like catching the NBC broadcast of Grand Prix events on Sunday morning/early afternoon, and most casual skating viewers are going to watch at that time — rather than late at night. It is a bummer that a sport already struggling with the American audience is relegated to such a bad broadcast time. Get it in on Sunday before football starts, and I think you might have more viewers.
      2. Poor Anna Pogorilaya of Russia had another cringe-worthy performance, full of wild, body-crushing falls. It makes me wonder about how solid her technique is, that this keeps happening [it is at least the third time, with the 2017 Worlds long program and the short at 2015 NHK Trophy being two other noteworthy instances]. I’ve taken more than a few horrible, un-graceful falls in my day, but this is too much for someone at her level. The Skating Lesson even suggested that some of it may be dramatics, once she realizes that the program is going downhill. Whatever it is, it is harming her chances of getting one of the three Russian spots for the Olympic team. It’s too bad, because, in the short program at this event, it looked like she came out swinging and ready to make a comeback. She nailed a clean program, and I especially liked the steps into her triple loop:
      3. I am a HUGE fan of Kaitlin Hawayak and Jean-Luc Baker of the U.S. Their “Liebestraum” free dance is stunning, and I was thrilled that they kept the program for this year, after some sub-par outings at the end of last season. I also liked that they chose fun, popular music for the Latin short dance — I haven’t noticed too much current pop music among the top teams this year [except for the French dance team’s FAB short dance, of course]. That said, “Get Busy” by Sean Paul would not have been my choice.

        The lyrics are a little much for a competition program, and then when they slowed down the tempo for the pattern? I liked it even less. Which is hard because I like them so much — how cute was it that she told him “Good job!” so enthusiastically in the kiss and cry? I definitely prefer the free dance with them this year, because it so lyrical and heartfelt. This program, in addition to the iffy song choice, seemed a little bit like a Meryl Davis and Charlie White impression. I suppose if you’re going to imitate anyone, that’s a good choice. But this is what it reminded me of:
      4. Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir grabbed another world record, despite a bobble in the free dance (that a lot of people apparently ignored, according to The Skating Protocol Instagram account). They look happy and relaxed, Tessa especially, when they are performing. They are unmatched in the seamless flow of their elements — there is no telegraphing that an element or pattern is coming up. It is all just pure skating. The short dance is fantastic (though I could do without the mouthing of the lyrics. Ashley Wagner did that in her short as well, and it’s just not my favorite when skaters do that. This isn’t Disney on Ice!). I’m not a huge fan of the free dance, only because Virtue and Moir are known for their originality, and “Moulin Rouge!” feels like it has been done so many times before. There was definite improvement since their first competition at Autumn Classic, so maybe I’ll be singing a different tune by the time the Olympics roll around.
      5. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are my vote for the U.S. national dance title this year. They are skating with incredible control — which is a good thing, after some really poorly timed mistakes kept them from moving up on the U.S. podium last year and making the World podium. The opening of their free dance is mesmerizing. Not only are they on point in their timing with the music, but they also uses the pauses in the music really effectively. It’s rare to have a pause in music in skating at all. I also think this program feels very genuine, especially compared to Virtue and Moir’s free dance. As a viewer, I tend to gravitate towards music I’m already familiar with, as I’m sure many of us do. So it’s interesting to me that even though I know Virtue and Moir’s music, and have never run across Hubbell and Donohue’s, that’s the one I connect with more. It feels less like a put-on performance and more like pure dancing. See for yourself:


Next up: Cup of China!

P.S. Apologies if the numbers are showing as roman numerals…I intended for regular old numbers, but lost a battle with WordPress code.


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Flashback Friday: Shib Sibs Grand Prix Victories

American ice dancers Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani won their first Grand Prix title since 2011 at last weekend’s NHK Trophy. Their other Grand Prix victory was also at an NHK Trophy.

Let’s flash back to their 2011 win:

I love the exuberance and enthusiasm of this program. And don’t they look so young?! The Shib Sibs were clearly great then, and would go on to win bronze at Worlds that year. But bringing it back to the present day, I loved watching that 2011 program in contrast to this year’s free dance. Check it out from their NHK victory:

They’ve increased their speed and connection with each other, and their interpretation really captures the nuances of the music (Coldplay’s “Fix You.”). That twizzle sequence is exquisite—not only in the execution but also in the use of the music. The commentators (love those British Eurosport guys!) say at the end of the performance that they didn’t want it to end, and I’ve got to agree. And isn’t that the mark of a great skating performance? Making it all look smooth and effortless so your audience feels at ease and gets lost in the performance. There is nothing worse than those programs where the skaters are just gritting their teeth and making it through, both for the skaters themselves and the audience.

I feel like this free dance, as well as the 2011 program, is a great vehicle for them in that the brother-sister dynamic isn’t detrimental to the performance, as it can be for the more romantic rhythms, like the tango, for example. Well done, Shib Sibs. Can’t wait to watch them take on everyone at the Grand Prix Final, Nationals, and Worlds with this fantastic piece.


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Impressions: Skate America 2015

I’m about to sit down and watch the Ice Network feeds from Skate Canada, but before I do that, it’s probably time to type out some of my thoughts on last weekend’s Skate America:

  • I was surprised that Gracie lost to Evengia Medvedeva. It’s pretty clear that it came down to the points she lost doubling her flip in the short program and her salchow in the long. Man, is this a numbers game or what? Medvedeva was thinking on her feet and added two combinations during her program, after falling on an earlier intended combination. It’s that kind of quick thinking that makes a difference in this judging system. Once Gracie gets enough confidence in her elements in competition, she is going to have to do that too—especially if she makes a mistake early in a long program.

    Image Source: fs-gossips.com

  • On a more superficial and less mathematical note, I loved Medvedeva’s dress (except the gloves, I am rarely a fan of gloves). The color and the varying sequin design were just gorgeous. Her fellow Russian and training mate, Julia Lipnitskaia, continues to make puzzling fashion choices, like this dress for her Elvis-themed short program:

    Image Source: dailyherald.com

    According to the NBC commentary team, these two ladies don’t speak to each other and won’t skate on the same ice. It makes Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner’s relationship look positively chummy in comparison. I find the respectful rivalry between Gold and Wagner really refreshing and mature, and even moreso in light of this information about these Russian rivals.

  • Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim of the U.S. look FAST and their elements have the “big” quality that so many Russian and Chinese teams have excelled at while Americans did not; I think this could be their year to break through.
  • And on the opposite end of the spectrum from a breakthrough, we have the Russian team of Stolbova and Klimov. They skipped the World Championships last year and ended their season early to begin preparation for this season, and, allegedly, a quad element. I’m not quite sure what they did during their time off, because they seemed to barely have a handle on the elements they used to execute flawlessly. Is something else going on here?
  • The ice dance situation this season seems discombobulated—several teams have already been through multiple short dances, because they can’t seem to get the rhythm requirements right. I can’t believe that Chock and Bates are on their third short dance of the season already, and honestly, it didn’t look like it. They looked very confident, despite only having done a few runthroughs of the entire program, according to NBC commentator Tanith White. All these struggles with program and music choices sort of make me wonder about the quality of the pre-competition evaluations that federations are doing or whether the rules are too specific.
  • One distinctly non-discombobulated portion of the dance event was the overall performance of Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov. They were utterly forgettable last season, so I was really impressed by their improvement and connection here. I will admit that I was more on the side of Katsalapov’s previous partner Elena Illinykh when they rather abruptly and strangely split after their bronze at the Sochi Olympics. She seems so passionate about skating and he seemed a bit apathetic last year. If these performances are any indication, I may be converted and enjoy them both with their new partners.

    Image Source: youtube.com

  • I’m not sure how I feel about Jason Brown’s long program. It’s beautiful, yes, but it is also so quiet. There is no big crescendo of emotion, which he is so good at. I’ll be interested to see this program develop as the season goes on.

And now, on to Canada!


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The Evolution of Max Aaron

The biggest news (or surprise, depending on who you ask) out of Skate America this past weekend was Max Aaron’s gold medal performance in the men’s event. And lots of people are calling it a “reinvention,” talking about how he completely revamped his skating during the off season. But I’m going to go ahead and disagree.  I call it an evolution, not a reinvention, because the improvements he made to his skating aren’t changes that can happen overnight.

The best part about watching Max’s performances at Skate America wasn’t the improved speed, knee bend, and edge quality (though all three of those things were great to see); it was that he looked like a better version of Max. No longer “Max trying to fulfill the abstract skating idea of an ‘artist,'” but Max, the artist. The style was true to his masculine, powerful roots,

Last year, especially in his “Footloose” short program, Max often looked uncomfortable. His artistry and interpretation were not convincing and made skating observers question whether he actually could be an artist, or whether he had peaked.

After a summer spent doing a lot of edge exercises, Max gave the naysayers their answer with this spectacular outing at Skate America. He has better knee bend, smoother skating, and his pushes take him farther across the ice. Max has always been fast, but as a former hockey player, he had that hockey-like quality of multiple quick crossovers to pick up speed. Now, you can tell he is really using his edges and his knees for speed. Not only that, but his spins are also faster, and he is holding each of the positions longer.

In both programs, he is skating to the music and taking musical cues, as opposed to using the music as a backdrop for his elements. His personal-best 81.30 program component score in the Skate America long program reflects that, and is right up there with the likes of renowned skating artists Patrick Chan or Jeremy Abbott.

Max has done all of this while skating to a ballet, “Black Swan,” and yet his skating still has a powerful, masculine quality. He made improvements without trying to mimic the Chans or the Abbotts of the skating world. Pardon the pun here, but he maximized his own potential to be the best Max Aaron. I didn’t watch his program this weekend and think, “I don’t recognize this skater.” Instead I thought, “Here’s a skater who has been working really hard—and man, does it show.” We got a better version of Max Aaron. He’s been trying to develop the performance side of his skating for years, and I look forward to seeing the evolution continue.


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Grand Prix Final Predictions

I’m going to take a crack at some results predictions this week—we’ll see how my powers of intuition pan out once all is said and done at the Grand Prix Final!

Ladies

  1. Elena Radionova
  2. Elizaveta Tuktamisheva
  3. Anna Pogorilaya
  4. Ashley Wagner
  5. Julia Lipnitskaia
  6. Rika Hongo (replaced Gracie Gold, who withdrew due to injury)

 

Radionova broke 200 points at Trophee Eric Bombard and has looked super confident all season; she’ll likely take the title. If Gold were competing, I would have put her in 2nd or 3rd. Lipnitskaia could surprise us all, but if her confidence and consistency issues continue to plague her, I don’t see her on the podium. My sentimental heart wants Wagner to land all her triple-triples and grab a spot on the podium—we’ll see! All these ladies have scored in the 170–190 range at various points in the season, so it will be a battle.

Men

  1. Javier Fernandez
  2. Tatsuki Machida
  3. Maxim Kovtun
  4. Yuzuru Hanyu
  5. Takahito Mura
  6. Sergei Voronov

 

Hanyu is definitely the wild card at this event. He looked shaky coming off the collision injuries, so I have him down in 4th. Scores and consistency were all over the place for the men during the series, so it will come down to who can skate the cleanest performances.

Pairs

  1. Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov
  2. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford
  3. Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov
  4. Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang
  5. Wenjing Sui and Cong Han
  6. Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jing

 

The throw quad could put Duhamel and Radford on the top step of the podium, but they haven’t landed it cleanly on the Grand Prix yet this year, so I went with the Russians in first. These two teams are closely matched, and I really enjoy their skating. It will be a fun competition to watch if they both bring their A-game.

Dance

  1. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje
  2. Madison Chock and Evan Bates
  3. Maia and Alex Shibutani
  4. Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron
  5. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier
  6. Elena Illinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin

 

Weaver/Poje and Chock/Bates have had really similar scores throughout the season, so this is going to be a close one. I prefer Weaver/Poje’s short dance to Chock/Bates’ short dance, but this could definitely go either way. I love the style of Russians Illinykh and Zhiganshin, but I think they are still too new as a team to challenge here. It would certainly make things interesting going in to U.S. Nationals if the Shibutanis are able to beat countrymen Chock/Bates. I think the scores among all six teams will be close.

NBC isn’t showing this event on TV until next weekend, so keep up with all the results and live streaming over on Ice Network!