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Kori Ade Interview for Figure Skaters Online

I have a new article up on Figure Skaters Online this morning!

From Forensic Science to the Olympics: Kori Ade’s Coaching Journey

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Photo Courtesy Kori Ade, via Figure Skaters Online

It was a complete thrill to talk with Kori, best known for coaching the incredible Jason Brown, who is competing at Skate Canada this weekend. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Kori Ade thrives in high-pressure situations.

The Colorado-based coach, who was named the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating/Professional Skaters Association’s Developmental Coach of the Year, doesn’t wallow when faced with a problem or a challenge. In her words, she “just keeps rolling” and works to find a solution.

In 2013, she decided to move to Colorado from Chicago to further her coaching career. The day before her moving truck arrived, the phone rang and she learned that she didn’t get the coaching job she had been counting on at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs. She was also seven months pregnant with her second daughter.

Ade hung up the phone and sprang into action, calling Colorado Springs-area rinks. The man who picked up the phone at Monument Ice Rink in Monument, Colorado, was willing to give her a chance.

“He told me that they basically turned off the lights and locked the door of the rink during the day,” Ade said. “So I said, just leave a couple lights on and I will build you a program. Give me a year.”

So the next day, she packed up the moving truck and headed west.

That was in March 2013. By February 2014, she was by the boards at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, coaching American Jason Brown to a bronze medal in the team event and a 9th place finish in the men’s event.

For more on how Kori built her program, 7K International Skating Academy, her coaching philosophy, and her approach to this year’s Olympic season, read the rest of the article on Figure Skaters Online.

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Flashback Friday: Skate America 2016

When I moved to Chicago this summer, one of the things I was most excited about was that it was the host city for the 2016 Skate America. Yes, I just saw unforgettable live skating at the 2016 Worlds in Boston. And yes, I also got to attend the 2014 U.S. Nationals in Boston. And yes, yes, one of my good skating buddies told me it just wasn’t fair that I keep living in cities that host awesome skating competitions.

But in seriousness, I am really grateful for the opportunity to see some of today’s most incredible skaters live and in person. Watching on TV is great (and that’s what I’ll be doing for U.S. Nationals next week, no doubt), but there is something about the emotion and electricity of being in the arena, about being close enough to see the expressions on the skaters’ faces as they control their nerves and deliver flawless performances, selling it to the last row.

So I was pretty excited to show up to the Sears Centre, site of Skate America, with my all-event ticket this past October. On this Flashback Friday, let’s count down the reasons it was awesome:

QUAD

As in…Shoma Uno’s QUAD FLIP. But it wasn’t just any quad flip—it was light and airy, with great height and landed with exquisite knee bend (wow, that last phrase is definitely from the Dick Button canon). He had such command of the jump, and of his whole program:

I really enjoyed Shoma’s performance at Worlds last year, and it’s great to watch him come into his own this season.

TRIPLE

As in three Notre Dame Figure Skating alums reuniting to watch some awesome skating:

tglf6917

DOUBLE

As in the number of times I cried: two. Once when Mariah Bell brought the house down with an incredible long program:

I loved all the spirals in the choreography, plus, she just oozed ease and grace throughout the performance.

And the second time during Jason Brown’s free skate. Not only did he land his first quad in competition, but he skated a moving, understated, and flawless performance. If you don’t watch the whole program, at least skip ahead to 5:46. One of the competition volunteers was epically weeping at the boards after his program, and Jason gave her a huge hug. He’s the sweetest (I can confirm, because we got to meet him after the medal ceremony and he was gracious and generous towards all the fans.).

SINGLE

As in one awesome ponytail pose from Maia Shibutani:

The Shib Sibs’ “That’s Life” short dance was superb: sharp, crisp, hip hop movement, and a creative cut of music, mixing Sinatra’s version of the song with Jay-Z. It’s my favorite of all the hip hop short dances this year, because it’s so clever and well done.

Were any fellow skating fanatics at the Sears Centre, too? What were your favorite moments?


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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 Quad Game, Take 2

After the U.S. Championships and heading into Worlds this year, all the talk was about U.S. skater Jason Brown’s lack of a quad. Chicago Tribune columnist Phillip Hersh was skeptical that Brown could take on the top guys in the world without it. USA Today columnist Christine Brennan thought the US judges were inflating their scores too much and setting their skaters up for failure on the world stage. I threw my two cents in and agreed with Brennan, saying it seemed like Brown was over-rewarded at Nationals.

I think it’s safe to say that all three of us were wrong.

Brown took 4th place at Worlds and then set a record at the World Team Trophy, earning the highest-ever international score by a U.S. man. All without that oft-talked about quad. How does he do it? Attention to detail.

He racks up the points in the International Judging System (IJS) with intricate transitions and jump entrances, as well as difficult spin positions that he is able to perform at incredible speeds. And the jumps he does do are usually clean; no under rotations or scratchy landings, which usually earns him positive grades of execution on plenty of elements. All those points add up, sometimes more so than one 13-point quad will. Especially against guys who get rattled after missing a quad and skate poorly through the rest of the program. Brown’s adeptness at collecting points reminds me of his fellow Chicagoan, Evan Lysacek. Lysacek was able to work the point system so well that he leapt from 10th after the short to 4th overall at the 2006 Olympics and won the gold medal at the 2010 Games ahead of Evegni Plushenko’s quads.

Figure skater Jason Brown performs at the 2015 World Team Trophy

Brown performs his long program at the 2015 World Team Trophy. Image Source: zimbio.com

Brennan’s argument that Brown’s Nationals scores were inflated is not entirely without merit. The 30-point difference is significant, but all U.S. Nationals scores are inflated compared to international scores. In international competition, seven judges’ marks count towards the score; nine judges are used at U.S. events. Combine that with a bit of the inflation Brennan was talking about, and I think it’s easy to account for those 30 points.

The IJS definitely has its quirks and weaknesses (I have enough thoughts on this for a whole other post), but those who study it and work it like Brown does are the ones that will have the most success. And despite the shortcomings of the IJS, it is great how the system encourages skaters to use unique entrances and transitions throughout their programs. Yuzuru Hanyu’s triple axel entrance from his short program at the 2014 Olympics and Evan Lysacek’s 2006 Olympic long program are two of my favorite examples of these types of innovative transitions.

This isn’t to say that Brown won’t need the quad eventually. His best-ever score by a U.S. man ranks 31st all-time in the IJS, behind the likes of quad kings Javier Fernandez of Spain, Patrick Chan of Canada, and Japanese Olympic Champion Yuzuru Hanyu. But if Brown can do all this without the quad, imagine the numbers once he has it in his arsenal.

The quad game is definitely ongoing, and we might have spoken a bit too soon in writing off Brown’s international chances. Here’s hoping he masters the quad over the summer, but even if he doesn’t, I think we’ve learned it’s not wise to count Brown out.


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Fashion Friday: Mid-Season Costume Changes

The World Team Trophy wrapped up the 2014-15 season last weekend, so now I’m taking a look back at some of the fashion decisions of the year. A number of skaters made costume changes mid-season and I’m weighing in on whether it was the right decision.

Costume changes can occur for a variety of reasons. Maybe the first one didn’t go over well with the fans or the judges. Some skaters get rid of costumes they wore during a terrible performance, trying to shed the bad memories and maybe even the bad luck. This season, we had mostly Americans switching up their looks:

Gracie Gold – Third Time’s The Charm?

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Image Source: UniversalSports.com

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Image Source: teamgraciegold.tumblr.com

Image Source: nickverrreos.blogspot.com

3. When I blogged about my favorite costumes earlier in the skating season, Gracie Gold’s purple free skate dress was at the top of the list. It reminds me of the dress that her BFF Taylor Swift wore when she performed at a fundraiser with Prince William at Kensington Place in London. Perhaps there was a little bestie fashion inspiration there? Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough for Gold to keep the dress. She showed up at Four Continents with a slightly altered version—a higher neckline and a flower embellishment on the front. I wasn’t a big fan of this version. Actually, I was pretty shocked and dismayed to see it. It made the dress look too youthful and added unnecessary bulk to the airy lace. When Gold took the ice at Worlds, she showed off a different look entirely. Very glamorous, very sophisticated. The high-fashion look suited her well, but my one complaint was that the dress didn’t look very well-made. The shoulder clasps were too clunky and needed to be more seamless. There were only a few weeks between Four Continents and Worlds, so maybe there was a rush to get it finished.

Maia Shibutani – Dark Blue vs. Light Blue

Image Source: zimbio.com

Image Source: zimbio.com

Fellow American Maia Shibutani debuted a new light blue free dance dress at U.S. Nationals that she wore for the remainder of the season. If I hadn’t seen her first dress, I think I would have liked this one. The dark blue dress Maia wore for the beginning of the season was perfection—it completely fit the character of their waltz music, looked great on her, and the color popped on the ice. While the light blue is a pretty color, the sheer panels on the bodice didn’t seem to go with the heavy, full skirt. I think the original dress was the better choice.

Madison Chock & Evan Bates – Back in Black

Image Source: teamusa.org

Ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates took a modern approach to the costumes for their An American in Paris free dance. They told teamusa.com that they wanted to tell the story as if it took place in 2014, and the asymmetrical touches on their costumes definitely conveyed that. I thought it was an interesting approach and had a pretty neutral attitude towards it until their costume change at Four Continents:

Image Source: avaxnews.net

These costumes look like practice outfits that someone threw sequins on with a bedazzler. The original ones were much more sleek, and I was glad to see them return to that look at Worlds.

Jason Brown – First is the Worst, Second is the Best

Image Source: teamusa.org

Image Source: usatoday.com

I kid, I kid. Brown’s first costume of the season was not the worst thing we’ve seen out on the ice. The faux leather boots were definitely quite theatrical and not my personal cup of tea, but they fit Brown’s personality and the character he was playing in the program (Tristan, the warrior from the opera Tristan and Isolde). He changed things up after the U.S. Nationals, going with a more subtle navy blue/black color scheme with the same style and I think it was a great decision. It looked much more polished and mature. His interpretation of the music is so intense that he doesn’t need anything overtly theatrical to help tell the story; he does it with his movements.

It seems like most of the international skaters stuck with the same costumes throughout the season. Canadian ice dancer Kaitlyn Weaver used different versions of the same dress concept for her Four Seasons free dance with Andrew Poje, so I’m not sure that counts as an entire costume change. I don’t think the American team as a whole is more prone to costume changes, because we’ve seen plenty from international skaters as well over the years. Japanese champion Mao Asada often switched up her dresses and Canadian ice dance Olympic Champion Tessa Virtue seemed to show up with a different free dance dress to every competition last year.

I think it just depends on the athlete, and their program that year. For me, all I can think of when I see all these costume changes throughout a season is how much each of these outfits must cost! I used to spend a couple hundred on my dresses back in my more recreational skating days, and this article says that the elite skaters can spend up to $5,000 per costume. The lengths we go to for fashion!


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The Quad Game

There has been a lot of talk lately about the U.S. men and their quad game (or lack thereof, in some cases).

The Chicago Tribune‘s Philip Hersh expressed concern about Jason Brown’s quadless victory at Nationals. Hersh doesn’t think Brown can be a contender without a quad and was proven right this weekend when Brown only finished in 6th place at Four Continents. All five men ahead of him at least attempted quads, though not all were landed cleanly.

It should be noted that Brown did attempt a quad for the first time in competition in the short program at Four Continents, which was a huge milestone for him. He has been skating internationally as a senior since the fall of 2013 and has yet to even attempt one, so to get the first attempt out there and over with is a hurdle in itself. That being said, it was not the greatest attempt: he came down on two feet and well short of rotation, which makes me wonder how ready he is to include the jump at Worlds.

I read Hersh’s article after Nationals and had similar thoughts of my own, as much as I love Jason Brown’s positive attitude and skating style. Figure skating columnist extraordinaire Christine Brennan summed it up pretty well:

“…when the judges reward a quad-less program with a whopping 93.36 points, as they did Friday night for Brown, they aren’t sending the best message.” —Columnist Christine Brennan in USA Today on 1/24/15

What actually stood out to me the most was the huge difference in scores between Brown’s personal best of 93.36 and ladies champion Ashley Wagner’s personal best of 72.04, despite rather similar elements. I’m about to go down a math rabbit hole, so bear with me.

I understand that the men traditionally have higher scores than the women, what with triple axels, quads, and more triple-triple combinations, and I obviously don’t want to take anything away from either of these superb, personal best performances. But being said, the twenty point difference struck me as a huge discrepancy, especially since Brown’s program didn’t include a quad.

Brown earned his 93.36 with a triple axel, triple flip-triple toe, and a triple lutz, with 44.46 of those points for program components. In comparison, Wagner only had 33.71 for program components. Her elements were a triple lutz-triple toe (a more difficult combination, despite the -1 she got for GOE), double axel, and triple flip. The glaring difference here is clearly the double axel that earned Wagner 4.49 points, while Brown’s triple axel was worth 10.07. But that looks more like 6 points to me, not 20. From where I sit, it seems like Brennan has a point about over-rewarding in the scores. Any other wannabe-mathematicians out there have their own theory?

Brown may be the U.S. national champion, but it was bronze medalist Joshua Farris who made the podium at Four Continents, with a quad in his arsenal. I think he will be the one to watch going in to Worlds. With the likes of Denis Ten, Javier Fernandez, and Yuzuru Hanyu routinely hitting quads, those four revolutions have become the name of the game in the men’s event.