Twizzle Talk


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Time to Grow

Sometimes I judge programs too harshly upon first viewing. I remember watching Ashley Wagner’s “Moulin Rouge” long program early in the 2014-2015 season and thinking it was kind of terrible. I thought the lyrics were overkill, used in too many of the cuts throughout the program. Fast forward to her stellar performance at 2015 U.S. Nationals, and she made me love it. I was thrilled she kept it around for another season, and was on my feet, screaming and cheering at 2016 Worlds in Boston when she brought the house down with an even better, more technically difficult and emotionally poignant rendition of this program.

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Image Source: USA Today

Today, I’d say that this program would be a great blueprint for how to use lyrics well in a skating program—Wagner and her choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne chose songs from the movie that captured the essence of that story, as well as the story of resilience that they wanted to portray.

This season, there have been a few programs that I didn’t enjoy upon first viewing, but have really grown on me as the skaters settled in to them, and made improvements as the season has progressed.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates (USA), free dance “Under Pressure”

This song choice seemed more like noise than music to me, at first. They created quite a buzz by beating Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in the free dance at Skate Canada with this program, but I still wasn’t convinced. But after seeing two excellent outings of this program, at 2016 U.S. Nationals and Four Continents this week, I’m enjoying it much more. I love how the arm movements and lifts subtly reference the lyrics without being too cheesy or showy. The sharpness of their movements and commitment to the choreography are also fantastic. The entries and exits to all of their lifts are so difficult, yet they pull them off without any disruption to their speed or smoothness.

 

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres (France), free skate “Sound of Silence”

I saw this program live at Skate America this fall and was underwhelmed. Partially because I associate this song with Nyle DiMarco’s performance on “Dancing with the Stars” and how incredible and impressive it was to watch someone who is deaf perform a fantastic routine to this song, and partially because James and Cipres had a rough skate that day and seemed visibly annoyed with each other. When they were on the “Ice Talk” podcast, they talked with Jackie Wong about putting this program together, and the intentional way that it starts slow and soft and builds throughout. Between learning that, and then seeing them perform with so much heart and confidence at Europeans, I’ve totally come around to this program. If you don’t watch the whole thing, you’ve at least got to check out the incredible, difficult death spiral entrance at about the 4:01 minute mark in the video:

 

Maybe I wrote off these two programs too early in the season (I’m pretty sure it was October, after all). I’m excited to see how much farther they’ll go in the month or so that both of these teams have before the World Championships in Helsinki.

Which programs have grown on you this season?

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Nationals Predictions: Sentimental vs. Rational

The best week of the year is here! The U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Lots of people are making predictions and rooting for their favorites. Those two options don’t always line up: sometimes the sentimental favorite is actually a long shot for the title, or the skater who is best on paper doesn’t connect with fans or the audience. For this year’s U.S. Nationals, I’ve got my sentimental favorites and those who I think are the more rational pick for the title. Check them out:

Men

Sentimental Favorite: Adam Rippon

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Image Source: examiner.com

He had such a moment at Nationals last year, with a long program performance that was championship-worthy. I want him to be able to stand on the top step of the podium. If his jumps are on, he is the class of the men’s field, with beautiful spins and transitions. Adam is also still skating for the pure love of the sport (listen to more about that in his appearance on the Open Kwong Dore podcast), and that relaxed attitude often leads to his best performances.

Rational Favorite: Max Aaron

Max has the most consistent quads of all the U.S. men, and has also made incredible strides in his components this season. Combine by that with a Skate America victory and success at senior B events, he is riding a wave of momentum that, if logic holds, should take the title.

Ice Dance

Sentimental Favorite: Maia and Alex Shibutani

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Image Source: rinksidecafe.wordpress.com

The Shib Sibs free dance this year is a work of art, and has been incredibly moving each time they’ve performed it. Not only that, but they’ve visibly improved their lines and speed since last year. I just really want this to be the year that they take the title. They’ve been toiling in the shadows for too long. And an in-country rivalry with Chock and Bates a la the rivalry between Davis/White and Virtue/Moir could only do great things for ice dancing in the U.S.

Rational Favorite: Madison Chock and Evan Bates

The judges at the Grand Prix Final preferred Chock and Bates to the Shibutanis, despite similar results on the circuit and solid performances by both teams. Most signs point to the pecking order remaining the same this year. Chock and Bates have been solid in all their competitions this season, despite the fact that they have had to make some big changes to both programs (including a new short dance early in the season). This consistency is on their side.

Pairs

Sentimental Favorite: Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim

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Image Source: goldenskate.com

These two are the best pair team that the U.S. has had in a long time, and its exciting to watch them. They also have oodles of personality and sass. I’d love to see them defend their title and keep the momentum going into the 2018 Olympics.

Rational Favorite: Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim

This is the one event where my sentimental and rational favorites line up. This team had a superb fall and should have a big confidence boost from qualifying for the Grand Prix Final (the first U.S. pair to qualify since 2007), even though they had a rough outing at the event. They are the most experienced in the lineup and will use that to their advantage.

Ladies

Sentimental Favorite: Ashley Wagner

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Image Source: skatecanada.ca

Ashley’s my girl and I want to see her take a fourth title. It would be such an accomplishment and testament to her drive to continually improve. I also think it would be great for American ladies skating to have some consistency at the top.

Rational Favorite: Whoever’s Brain Doesn’t Get In the Way

It’s either Gold or Wagner’s game and honestly, I can’t choose here. It will be whoever is able to turn their brain off and just skate. In an ideal world, they’d both skate great, the chips would fall where they may, and they’d both go off to Worlds poised for a good showing. That’s what U.S. ladies skating needs, and man, I hope we get it.

Less than 24 hours until senior short programs kick off. Happy viewing, everybody!


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Cup of China 2015: Impressions

When I initially looked at the list of entrants for Cup of China, I wasn’t sure it would be a very exciting event. The winners in each discipline seemed like they would almost be a given, but some unexpected performances made this event fun to watch.

  • How cute was Rika Hongo‘s “Riverdance” long program? She looked like she was having a blast, which made it fun to watch. The upbeat and recognizable music obviously helps grab the audience, but her enthusiasm also went a long way. I also thought her dress was absolutely gorgeous. The green color was a nod to the Irish-themed music, but nothing overly corny or costume-y:
  • Mao Asada won the event, as expected, as her comeback trail continues. Her short was fabulous and the triple axel in her long program was a thing of beauty. But the rest of her long program was shaky—I’m not sure we can say “She’s back!” quite yet. She still needs to shake off some rust.

    Image Source: olympics.nbcsports.com

  • Elena Radionova seems to have regressed since last year. I didn’t love her presentation then, but now she seems to be confusing musical interpretation with overdoing it on the arm and upper body movements. There has been lots of online chatter hating on her long program musical selection of “Titanic,” but the music bothered me far less than the arm flailing did. Though the awkwardness of the “I’ll never let go, Jack” voiceover at the very end of the program cannot be denied.
  • Javier Fernandez was expected to win the men’s event and win he did, with some great quads. I just really love his personality on the ice and the spunk of his “Guys and Dolls” long program works for him. I also love his attitude—he doesn’t rest on his laurels even when he wins and takes every event as a learning experience. Javier told IceNetwork: “I will keep practicing; every day I improve and I will learn from this competition. It was a good day, with mistakes, and hopefully at my next Grand Prix I can perform a clean program.”

    Image Source: cope.es

  • Many previews that I read thought Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates would easily walk away with the gold medal, but Italian 2014 World Champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte seem to be returning to form and stole the top spot. Chock and Bates have beautiful flow and creative lifts. However, the move where he spins her around while she drags her feet (not blades) across the ice is really overused in both of their programs. They started using it last season and now, after seeing it in two more programs (in multiple places in the program), it seems almost lazy to keep reusing it. Especially when they are always so inventive in the lifts. Is anyone else over the foot dragging?
    The Italians really seem to be back in action, despite the fact that people wrote them off last year. I really liked these two in Sochi and when they won their world title that year, but last year was really rough for them. They were 4th at Worlds rather than defending their title. The light and joyful programs that they are using this year suit them so well, much more than their moody “Danse Macabre” free dance from last year. Anna and Luca won by almost four points here, and I felt that their twizzles were better than Chock and Bates’ twizzles. Things definitely just got a little more interesting in ice dance this year.

    Cup of China 2015 Ice Dance Medalists Image Source: theicedancekingdom.tumblr.com

  • At the halfway point of the Grand Prix (already?!), all I can say about the pairs is that it is going to be crowded at the top when the World Championships roll around. The Russian team of Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov took the top spot at Cup of China, ahead of Skate America champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han. And there are THREE other Russian teams in the mix internationally this year, including the 2014 Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. Not to mention the defending world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, and the fact that the American team of Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim are looking really strong this season.

And the Grand Prix rolls on with Trophee Eric Bombard this weekend! I hope we’ll have Johnny and Tara back in the broadcast booth for NBC. Terry Gannon and Tracy Wilson called Cup of China, and I was glad to hear them finally acknowledge that Tracy coaches many of the top men on the circuit (Javier, at this event, but also Yuzuru Hanyu). It killed me when Terry would ask her hypothetical questions about a skater’s approach and training and she would answer without acknowledging that she was part of the coaching team. Anybody else? Am I too much of a stickler? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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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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Top 5 Standing Ovation-Worthy Moments at the U.S. Championships

I’ve typed much of my own analysis and musings of many moments at the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but I think I’ll let these Top 5 Standing Ovation-Worthy Moments speak for themselves. The roar of the crowd at the end of each of these programs tells the story.

1. Ashley Wagner’s stunning and gutsy long program—her best ever:

2. Maia and Alex Shibutani not only got a standing ovation at the end of the free dance, but their mesmerizing twizzle sequence also got lots of applause from the crowd:

3. Jason Brown brought the crowd to its feet in both the short and long programs with his outstanding performance skills:

4. And the same goes for Adam Rippon, who thrilled the crowd in both segments of the men’s competition:

5. Madison Chock and Evan Bates’ gold medal-wining free dance had a powerful, emotional ending:


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Top 5 “Wow” Moments at the U.S. Championships

What a week of fantastic skating at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Since I’m pretty sure everybody knows the results by now, I’m going to do some posts on my top moments from the competition. Let’s start with the Top 5 “Wow” Moments—those performances or elements that were, quite literally, jaw-dropping.

1. Adam Rippon’s quad lutz in the long program

It’s the first element of his program in the video below and it absolutely soars:

For a skater that often struggled with consistency and living up to his potential, the rest of his program also qualifies as a wow moment. He blew everyone away with superb technical skills, beautiful spins, and fantastic skating skills en route to the silver medal.

2. Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim’s quad twist in their long program

This year’s newly crowned champions opened with a stunning quad twist. The height and technique are fantastic:

3. Madison Chock and Evan Bates’ opening lift in their free dance

They make it look so easy, but the strength and balance required from both of them in this lift is insane. NBC commentator Tara Lipinski said it took Chock and Bates weeks of practice on the floor before they even dared to try this on the ice. The work paid off as they earned their first U.S. title.

Image Source: Madison Chock, Instagram (@chockolate02)

Image Source: Madison Chock, Instagram (@chockolate02)

4. Max Aaron’s quad salchow-triple toe in his Gladiator free skate

Aaron, the eventual 4th place finisher, has the best quads in the U.S., without question. This explosive combination is reminiscent of the Yagudin-Plushenko-Goebel years, where the men were tossing off these quad-triple combos with ease:

5. Joshua Farris’ opening triple axel in his short program

Not only is this axel huge and done with great technique, but he looks so calm and relaxed going in to it, it might as well be a waltz jump. It’s also worth noting that the entry out of footwork and a one-foot change of edge ups the level of difficulty, yet he still pulls it off masterfully:

He added two more of these excellent axels in a long program that earned him the bronze medal.

As I was writing this post, I realized that all these wow moments also happened to be the opening elements in their respective programs. Looks like these skaters and their choreographers really know how to start a program out strong.

What were your favorite wow moments from Nationals?