Twizzle Talk


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Flashback Friday: Sasha 10 Years After Torino

Even though I keep putting 2015 on all my to-do lists and journal entries, it’s time for me to accept that it is 2016. Which also happens to be 10 years since the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy. What?!

It doesn’t feel like 10 years since I sat in my parents’ family room, inches from the TV, cheering on Sasha Cohen in her epic “Dark Eyes” gypsy short program and her (though imperfect) triumph of mental toughness to “Romeo and Juliet” in the free skate. But time has passed and a lot has changed for Cohen, the Olympic Silver Medalist in 2006 and a 2016 inductee into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

Forbes caught up with Cohen, for some reflecting on her skating career and the 10 years since Torino. My favorite excerpts from the four-part piece:

On being proud of her silver medal: “I had tears, but they were mixed. I had some tears of disappointment earlier [at not winning gold], but at the same time I was really proud. I think that was a pivotal day for me to be able to keep believing, to pick myself up when I didn’t know whether anything was still possible. It was very rewarding.”

On going back to school: “I’m going to school on my terms now, because I want to. I had a limited education. All my energy was diverted to sport. The people that shaped the world had just passed me by. That made me sad. I decided to not tour as much and make time to be a student full-time.”

You can read the entire thing, with links to all four parts, here, for this week’s Flashback Friday. Next week, our flashbacks with the U.S. Hall of Fame inductees continue: Belbin & Agosto are on deck.

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Links I’m Loving Lately

The blog has been a little quiet for the past few weeks, but I’m still keeping up with all the latest and greatest skating news. Here are some links I’ve been loving lately:

Grace Gold’s short program from Trophee Eric Bombard. She OWNED this. She finally skated with confidence in the jumps and some serious pizzazz on the presentation side. I want to see this Gracie every time. You can’t take your eyes off her during the opening moments of the program, because she is using the music so effectively.

The IceNetwork article about Ashley Wagner and her boyfriend, speed skater and baseball player Eddy Alvarez. It’s always fun to get a glimpse into the off-ice lives of skaters, and this is a sweet Olympic love story. They met in Sochi at the Olympic Village and are now making it work despite long distance and their crazy schedules, with Ashley competing on the Grand Prix and Eddy playing minor league baseball. Talk about skills—I can’t believe Eddy was an Olympian in one sport and might play professionally in another!

The Skating Lesson’s video on Gracie’s twin sister Carly Gold was fabulous. Though she hasn’t had the national and international success of her sister, she keeps skating because of her pure love for the sport. Not only do I really respect that, but I can relate to it, too, as an adult skater who is still at it and working on moves in the field tests.

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And the great news is that she qualified for Nationals with her victory at the Pacific Coast Sectionals! I bet NBC is already prepping a behind the scenes piece on the Gold twins. How cute is this Instagram of her and her coach Frank Carroll in the kiss and cry?

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Image Source: @carlycgold on Instagram

What other fun skating links from around the interwebz should I check out in the lull before the Grand Prix Final? Share in the comments!


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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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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.


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Kiss and Cry and Analyze

The Kiss and Cry is an aspect of figure skating that most non-fans just don’t understand:

What’s with the fluffy name? That’s where they get their scores? Why does that bench look so weird?

Weird or not, it is tradition for skaters to receive their scores in the Kiss and Cry. Which makes this unique area the site of both the most jubilant celebrations and the worst disappointments, a spot where emotions are often running high in a pressure-packed event.

So naturally, spectators and diehard fans analyze Kiss and Cry moments. I loved watching Michelle Kwan do the same hand signal in the Kiss and Cry for her entire career, personally acknowledging somebody important in her life. Some people love watching the drama and the tears that often unfold in the Kiss and Cry. Others read into hugs and hand holding by pairs and dance teams as they wait for their scores, trying to decipher if they are romantically linked off the ice.

Lately, some people out there on the internet have been dissecting Gracie Gold’s Kiss and Cry reactions this year, which has been a bit of an up-and-down season for her. Some commenters think that she is too flippant and relaxed after poor skates, while others find it refreshing that she remains composed even when things don’t go her way. Whichever side you fall on, I say it is PR genius.

Check her out at U.S. Nationals:

Doesn’t look like the face of a skater who had just faltered and failed to defend her title.

And post-Four Continents free skate, which was what the commenters in the link above were discussing:

Doesn’t look like someone who was expected to win and then finished off the podium.

This playfulness in the Kiss and Cry makes the audience forget the bobbles and mistakes in her program (at least for a little while). Her young fans are more likely to remember that she loves Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups just like they do, rather than the popped double toe loops in that performance.

By showing her personality in the Kiss and Cry, Gracie is reminding the audience that she is not some sort of figure skating robot. There is a real person behind the hair and the makeup and the sequins, which I think can sometimes be forgotten or overlooked, like these athletes are some kind of skater Barbie dolls.

Whether this is an intentional strategy or not, and whatever emotions Gracie is actually feeling in the Kiss and Cry, I think her approach works. Better to be known as the goofy Kiss and Cry skater than someone who pouts or throws fits.

All that said, I have to say that my favorite Gracie Gold Kiss and Cry moment of the year was less about her than about her coach Frank Carroll. Check out this gem from after the short program at 2014 Skate America:

Gotta love when Frank Carroll breaks his serious face in the Kiss and Cry. So rare, and so fantastic.


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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?