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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!

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Favorite Musical Selections of the 2014-15 Season

The 2015 World Figure Skating Championships are a little over a month away and I’ve seen some fellow skating fans on Twitter bemoaning the long stretch of time until the event. What are we supposed to do without skating to keep us occupied for the next three-ish weeks?

I’ve pondered Jason Brown’s future with the quad and others are sizing up Ashley Wagner’s chances for a medal in Shanghai. But I think this lull is also a nice opportunity to take some time to enjoy the more unique, subtle aspects of skating that sometimes get overlooked in the scramble for points and medals. Let’s take music choice, for example.

Yes, people notice music choice, particularly if it is something outside the box (ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue using hip hop cuts from The Great Gatsby soundtrack in their free dance), or boring background music (commentator Johnny Weir’s analysis of Polina Edmunds’ Peter Pan long program), but they pay more attention to the technical elements. So let’s take a break from the math and focus on the artistic aspect of skating for a bit.

Here are my favorite musical selections from the 2014-15 season (in no particular order):

  • Ricky Dornbush, long program: “Yellow” and “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay

His footwork and connecting moves are all positioned perfectly within the music. I love how the vocals come in subtly at the end, mirroring how the choreography of the program builds to a big finish. Using the words throughout would have made it feel too much like an exhibition program; the familiar melodies are enough to draw the audience in—along with his smooth, edgy skating:

(This video is his long from 2014 Cup of China, where he made a number of small mistakes during the aforementioned “big finish”–it definitely would have been better if he nailed all those triples at the end, but the choreography is still fantastic).

  • Joshua Farris, short program: “Give Me Love” by Ed Sheeran

I know I’ve waxed on about the awesomeness of Farris’s skating here and here, but this is really one of the most spectacular programs of the season. I’ve known this Ed Sheeran song for a few years, and I’d even seen it performed live by Ed himself, and I didn’t fully appreciate all the intricacies of the music until I saw this short program (In defense of Ed, I was in one of the last rows of a giant stadium, in the pouring rain, and he was a relatively unknown opening act with only an acoustic guitar to back him up, so that may be why I didn’t fully appreciate it, ha). The attention to detail in the choreography and Farris’ commitment to delivering the moves are what make this music choice so fantastic. It has the intensity that a short program needs and doesn’t seem like a show program, despite the vocals. The section of the program where he does his footwork seems like it was composed especially for a footwork sequence, it works that well:

  • Elena Illinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin, free dance: “Appassionata” by Secret Garden and “Antony and Cleopatra Theme” by Ferrante and Teicher

Interestingly, my first two favorites took advantage of this year’s new rule allowing vocals in all disciplines, but my third favorite pick is a bit more traditional. I love the power and emotion in this music, and it highlights the passion in this team’s skating. Since this is their first year as a team, I think it was a wise choice to pick music that is strong and captivating, because they are relying on their presentation skills as they continue to develop technically as a pair. The violin in the slow section is my favorite part—the twizzle placement is great:

Who is skating to your favorite music this year?


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U.S. Nationals Preview: Ice Dance

There will be a new team standing on the top step of the U.S. ice dance podium this year for the first time since 2009. Olympics Champions and six-time U.S. Champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White are taking this year off, and the race to fill their shoes has been on since the start of this skating season. The two teams that joined Davis and White in Sochi at the Olympics, Madison Chock and Evan Bates and the Shibutanis, are each vying to claim the crown. Here’s how I think it will go:

  1. Madison Chock and Evan Bates
  2. Maia and Alex Shibutani
  3. Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue
  4. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker

Chock and Bates have the edge after the Grand Prix season, with two gold medals on the circuit and a silver medal at the Final. The Shibutanis finished second to their teammates at Skate America and 4th at the Grand Prix Final and have looked a little defeated when receiving their scores in the kiss and cry this year. They were able to grab two gold medals–at the Ondrej Nepela Trophy and the Ice Challenge–but Chock and Bates didn’t compete at either of those events. It is safe to say the Shibutanis will give it their all, but it seems like Chock and Bates are the heirs apparent to the title. Even the emails from U.S. Figure Skating and all the advertisements I’ve seen focus on Chock and Bates rather than the Shibutanis. You hate to see an event decided before anyone even takes the ice, so let’s hope for two great performances and a close decision.

I think the margin between the 3rd and 4th place teams will be close. Their scores on the Grand Prix were within two or three points of each other. Hawayek and Baker are riding a wave of momentum—they are last year’s U.S. and World Junior Champions and are coming off a bronze medal performance at the NHK Trophy. Davis has also spoken highly of their potential in an article about this team in one of the issues of Skating Magazine from the summer of 2014.

Hubbell and Donohue had a strong finish to the first part of the season with a win at the Golden Spin competition in December. That said, I’m not entirely sure about their free dance—it looks slow (though that could be because I’m not watching it live, sometimes speed and presentation are really lost over a video feed) and sort of plods along. They are skating to dance-pop songs from the 2013 Great Gatsby movie and I’d love to see them let loose a bit more to give this program some life. I ultimately put them in 3rd place over Hawayek and Baker because they have more experience and I also get the sense that they want to prove themselves after not qualifying for Sochi last year.

Predictions for the men’s event are up next. Much like the pairs, I think that one is going to be anyone’s game. I’ll be back with my best guesses!


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Fashion Friday

I’m shaking things up and doing a “Fashion Friday” post instead of Flashback Friday…I know, I probably need to address my overuse of/propensity for alliteration. But we’ll do that another day. Today is for some fashion.

One of my favorite parts of the Grand Prix series was checking out everyone’s costumes. While the skating itself is obviously the most important aspect of a performance, the sparkles and sequins of the costumes are part of what sets our sport apart. You’re not going to find any sparkles on a football field, that’s for sure. Attire is part of the artistry of a skating performance; it can aid in telling the story, or in some cases, distract from the skating entirely.

Here are some of my favorite looks from the season so far, and some that I thought weren’t so great:

The standout of the season for me is Gracie Gold’s purple long program dress. I’ve written it before, but I just think it is fabulous. The color looks great on her and the romantic style fits the pieces of music she is using from Phantom of the Opera. The beautiful design lets her skating do the talking, and I like the little feather she wears in her hair. It is reminiscent of the masks and the “Masquerade” song in the opera.

Image Source: icenetwork.com

The deep “v” in both the front and back of Madison Chock’s short dance dress is really distracting. Thankfully flesh-colored fabric means that we don’t have to worry as much about wardrobe malfunctions, but it would be a beautiful dress with less of a plunging neckline.

Image Source: isu.org

Kaitlyn Weaver’s use of her long red skirt during her short dances with partner Andrew Poje was very true to the Paso Doble form of dance, with the flicking motion reminiscent of a bullfighter. At first I thought the skirt was a little long, but luckily there is enough of a slit that she moves really easily and the skirt itself moves a lot while she skates. I also like how well their costumes complement each other.

Image Source: ocanada.com

Maxim Kovtun’s long program top reminds me a lot of another Russian: Olympic Champion Alexei Yagudin. Notice the similarities between Kovtun’s and Yagudin’s “Winter” short program outfit from 2002? Not many people had good things to say about Yagudin’s look, and I’m not sure about Kovtun’s, either. It reminds me too much of a stained glass window.

Image Source: canada.com & icenetwork.com

Image Source: icenetwork.com and canada.com

I love Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, but I do not love their short program costumes. While it does evoke the music (which is from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), his shirt is almost a bit too gimicky. And the shoulder adornments on her outfit remind me of wings, or even a religious habit. In my opinion it detracts from the performance more than supports it.

Image Source: icenetwork.com

Who wore your favorite costumes so far this season? Am I just not appreciating some of these enough? Tell me what you think!


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Flashback Friday: Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon

I noticed Canadian ice dancing great Marie-France Dubreuil at the boards for a number of the ice dancing teams at Trophee Eric Bombard—including the champs Papadakis and Cizeron—and was inspired to look back at some of her programs with partner and husband Patrice Lauzon. I loved their smooth, graceful style of dance during the peak of their career, around 2006-2007. For this Flashback Friday, check out their beautiful free dance to “Somewhere in Time” from the 2006 Worlds at home in Canada, where they walked away with the silver medal.


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Trophee Eric Bombard: Wrap Up

So far this season I’ve been doing in-depth recaps of individual disciplines, but since I was able to catch all four disciplines at Trophee Eric Bombard I’m going to do a little wrap up on the whole event.

The Ladies

Russia’s Elena Radionova earned her second Grand Prix victory in very similar fashion to her first: with insanely great height and rotation on her jumps and confidence in spades throughout both performances. Radionova’s components scores were the highest in the competition, which I really can’t agree with. I felt like her toe pointing has improved since Skate America, but she is still not as polished as an Ashley Wagner or Carolina Kostner, or even her countrywoman Julia Lipnitskaia. Lipnitskaia improved upon her disastrous showing at Cup of China for the silver medal, but still had some mistakes. Her flip entrance is really wonky, and that is often the spot in the program where she makes a mistake. I think she needs to make an adjustment. Beyond the flip, it also almost seems like she is going through the motions when she competes. Johnny Weir went so far as to call her “cold” in the broadcast, and word on the street is that she is struggling under intense scrutiny from the Russian media and fans. Lipnitskaia reminds me so much of Sasha Cohen, from her beautiful extensions and pointed toes to her use of the same “Romeo and Juliet” piece of music that Sasha used for her 2006 long program, and I hope this season improves for Lipnitskaia. Wagner showed her fighting spirit and hung on for her second bronze of the season here. She missed her triple flip (another entrance that looks really wonky and problematic to me…though she landed it in the short program, so who knows), which would have been the triple-triple. But showing some quick thinking and guts, she threw in a triple lutz-triple toe in the second half of her program. It was slightly underrotated (as Ashley’s triple-triples often can be), but still, what guts! Awesome.

The top four women’s qualifiers for the Grand Prix Final are now Russian ladies; it will be interesting to see who scoops up the final two spots. I feel like Ashley is a long shot with her two bronzes, but would love to see her there. Hopefully Gracie Gold can earn a spot with a good showing at NHK this weekend.

The Men

Underwhelming all around, is all I can say. I continue to love Richard Dornbush’s style, but he was showing the effects of a bad case of food poisoning that he picked up on the plane ride to France. He only managed a 7th place finish. Fellow American Adam Rippon improved dramatically on a bad showing at Skate Canada and finished in fourth. His wally entrance in to the triple axel looks so cool—and is really difficult to execute judging from the fact that he fell on the axel. But he pulled it off in the short, and just looked more confident overall throughout both performances. Gold medalist and Russian Maxim Kovtun joined the ranks of skaters using music by the British band Muse this season. I find it interesting that so many skaters are using Muse songs. The lyrics in Kovtun’s are kind of hard to understand and distracting—I preferred Jeremy Abbott’s instrumental version of this song from his long program last season. Olympic bronze medalist from Kazakhstan Denis Ten has unmatched posture and skating skills—which showed in his 81+ program components score. His technical elements were all a little rough and he only managed 3rd place, though it was his first-ever Grand Prix medal. I haven’t followed Ten’s career too closely, but Tara and Johnny noted that he can be inconsistent—hence how he has an Olympic medal but not Grand Prix medal.

The Pairs

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov of Russia won this event by 9 points and were really without peers in the competition. They are so confident—their attack and precision on each movement is unmatched. They also really make time for choreography and beautiful moments between elements. In terms of technique, their elements are not only solid but also really interesting. The cartwheel entrance into one of their lifts is my favorite! You have to watch their program, if only to see the superb throw triple sal and fantastic passion at the end of the program:

 

Both Chinese teams have incredibly solid pairs skills and also both use unique sit spin variations. There is a ten-year age difference between Wang & Wang, which was blowing my mind a little bit, but they were also fun to watch. Her smile was infectious and they claimed the bronze. Their countrymen Sui and Han set themselves apart for the silver medal with the passion in their program. Americans Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim were only two points from the podium with a nearly-clean showing to “An American in Paris.” Their excitement showed in the kiss and cry when the season’s best scores came up. The balance in their lifts really stood out—they execute two where she is balanced on her back on only one of his hands and the speed that they manage with that difficulty was impressive.

Dance

The French team of Gabriella Papadakis and Gillaume Cizeron scooped up their second gold of this Grand Prix season at home. This is really becoming a breakout year for them, considering they were 13th at Worlds and 15th at Europeans last season, and didn’t skate at the Olympics. They were 5th and 7th on the Grand Prix last year, so they are really bringing it this season. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier were in second and I love the pizzaz in their free dance to the soundtrack of “Gentleman Prefer Blondes.” Americans Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue looked better than at Skate Canada—especially the costumes. The hooded vest was gone in favor of a black sparkly look, which fit the tone of this modern take on Gatsby much better. According to icenetwork, they were disappointed not to meet their goal of making the Grand Prix Final.

It’s all on the line this weekend at NHK Trophy in Japan, with skaters looking to earn the remaining spots in the Grand Prix Final and skaters on the bubble waiting at home to see if they will make it.