Twizzle Talk


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2017 Worlds Predictions: Ladies

Alright, Worlds officially begins tomorrow (yay!) and it’s time to make my last round of predictions: the ladies.

Sentimental:
Gold – Carolina Kostner, Italy
Silver – Ashley Wagner, USA
Bronze – Evgenia Medvedeva, Russia
Bonus: Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond in 4th and American Mariah Bell in the top 8 (to guarantee three Olympic spots for the U.S. women)

My sentimental predictions are really out there, and most likely impossible, I’d say. Carolina is on the comeback trail, and while she has made steady progress, her technical content doesn’t quite measure up to the top ladies yet. But I just love watching her skate, and the fact that she has made a comeback after her controversial ban. I’m all about the skaters here for the love of the game. Like my girl Ashley Wagner, who I would love to repeat as World silver medalist.

I think she has a great shot at the podium (both my sentimental and rational one), because she is such a fierce competitor and wants to prove that last year’s medal wasn’t a fluke. The withdrawal of Satoko Miyahara of Japan also helps, as unfortunate as that may be.

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Image Source: icenetwork.com

Rational:
Gold – Evgenia Medvedeva, Russia
Silver – Anna Pogorilaya, Russia
Bronze – Ashley Wagner, USA

Medvedeva is so ridiculously consistent that I’d be crazy to have her off of either of my podiums. If she doesn’t win this event, it will be because she had to withdraw. She’s only lost once in her senior career, after all, and it wasn’t to anyone in this field (it was to fellow Russian Elena Radionova at the 2015 Rostelecom Cup). Russian teammate Anna Pogorilaya has had such a consistent season that I think she will land on the podium as well.

My bonus sentimental picks for Osmond in 4th and Bell in the top 8 are because those two ladies are some of my personal favorites – I love the spunk and flair in their skating, and will cross fingers that the jumps are reliable in Helsinki. A top 8 finish by Bell and a medal from Wagner would ensure three spots at the Olympics for the American women. Bell and U.S. champion Karen Chen both said in their pre-Worlds teleconferences (you can listen under the Video tab on IceNetwork) that they aren’t thinking about it, and that skating their best should be enough to lock it up for the U.S. I think it’s safe to say that even if those two allegedly aren’t thinking about it, it is at the forefront of every fan and journalist’s mind at this point, on both the ladies’ and men’s side for the U.S. men.

I’ll be crossing my fingers and watching the live streams. Let the fun begin!


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Anatomy of a Titanic Program

This post has been in my drafts for a year—yikes! That’s a little embarrassing. But since 2017 is the 20th anniversary of the movie “Titanic,” and this post was initially intended to sing the praises of current U.S. World Team member Mariah Bell, it’s actually still relevant. High-five to past me.

The music from “Titanic” was a popular choice for skating programs when the movie first came out, and it still pops up in rinks from the local level to the World Championships, because it is such a movie favorite.

Last year, Russian Elena Radionova skated to selections from “Titanic” for her long program, and I just couldn’t get on the bandwagon for this program.

 

The voiceovers were a distraction, rather than an enhancement, and the music selection overall was too repetitive, too reliant on the “My Heart Will Go On” portion of the soundtrack, both with vocals and without. We all know it’s a long movie (anybody else remember the two-VHS boxed set?), and there is a wealth of music to choose from. I’m a fan of the Irish music from the steerage party scene, performed by the wonderful band Gaelic Storm. By the time Celine Dion’s voice comes into the program in the final minute or so, we’ve heard this crescendo of the music several times already, which diminishes the emotional impact and power of the moment.

In terms of the choreography, I didn’t love the constant open and uplifting arm movements…lots of people are dying here, including Radionova’s character’s boyfriend. It looked too triumphant. The jump entrances are held too long and are awkward, which is indicative of the trouble she was having with jumps last season, after a growth spurt.

I did enjoy that Radionova’s dress was a nod to the pretty dress that Kate Winslet wore as the ship was sinking:

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Image Source: awesomeinventions.com

Mariah Bell’s 2015 “Titanic” program, on the other hand, was much more my taste:

 

The opening of this program captures the tension of the film, both in terms of music and choreography. From there, it moves into a natural story: the piece with some pop and Mariah’s beautiful split jumps alludes to the triumphant send-off for the ship, there is a sweet portion in the middle for her footwork that fits with the movie love story, and the use of “My Heart Will Go On” is very subtle.

Skating programs usually build to a grand finale of sorts, with the most exciting, uplifting pieces of music at the end. This program ends quietly, and I liked the nod to the more somber end for the Titanic itself and the movie.

Also, her dress is gorgeous and looks like the ocean.

This Nationals, 2015, was when I first noticed the joy and “it factor” in Mariah’s skating. That’s still present today, in 2017, but she has made huge technical strides. There wasn’t a triple-triple in this program (she doubled a planned triple toe-triple toe), and now she routinely hits the triple lutz-triple toe. She said in her recent interview on the “Ice Talk” podcast that she moved to new coach Rafael Arutyunyan for technical help, so it is exciting to think about the strides she can make after a full season with Raf.

Are there any other well-known “Titanic” programs that you loved or hated? Let me know!


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The Ladies Rise to the Occasion in Kansas City

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Image Source: icenetwork.com

Last year after U.S. Nationals, I mused about how important mental toughness is in skating, and how well it was displayed across the disciplines. This year, no disrespect to the men, pairs or dance skaters, but the top three finishers in the ladies’ event completely wowed me with their mental strength and will to do their best. And each of them rose to the occasion in a different way:

Gold medalist Karen Chen didn’t succumb to the pressure of leading after her exquisite short program. Plenty of skaters can’t hold on to the momentum of a great short program in the free—we’ve seen it happen to poor Ross Miner two years in row at Nationals, finishing second after a great short only to falter in the free. But that wasn’t the case with Karen:

 

Reigning World Silver Medalist Ashley Wagner had to skate right after hearing Chen’s giant score and the crowd roar in response. But in true and gritty Wagner fashion, she dug deep for another emotional, strong performance that brought the crowd to its feet:

She was rocking a new dress for the long program (I suspected she might be one to do a mid-season switch), and I loved the ombre color and the back strap detail.

Mariah Bell had the most serious errors of the top three, with a hopped landing on her opening triple-triple combo and a fall on her second jump, the triple loop. She could have folded under the pressure or given up in disappointment at that point (as it looked like Gracie Gold and Mirai Nagasu did later in the free skate, after making errors of their own.) But instead, Bell calmed down, righted herself, and skated beautifully the rest of the way:

And man, did it pay off. Because it’s Bell who is the bronze medalist, who punched her ticket to the 2017 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, while Gold and Nagasu were left off the team.

Gold and Nagasu seem to be the cautionary tales, in terms of mental strength. They both have a history of letting a program collapse once one mistake creeps in, rather than forgetting the mistake and moving on to the next element. Obviously that’s easy for me to say from behind my computer screen, but I think it’s something all skaters strive to do, whether they are on the world stage or just an adult skater still plugging away on her junior moves. Previous mistakes can’t impact what happens next.

The way Chen, Wagner, and Bell responded to their unique adversity on Saturday night is an important step in their personal skating journeys, and experience that will serve them well going into a pressure-packed Olympic season.

Chen proved that she could overcome boot problems and injuries to put together two clean programs at a high-stakes event. Hopefully this gives her the boost to perform like she belongs among the best in the world when she competes at international events.

Wagner showed yet again that she can tune out the noise (both literal and figurative) around her and deliver the goods. And she’s going to need that when skating against the ridiculously consistent Russian and Japanese ladies at Worlds and the Olympics.

Bell demonstrated poise, maturity, and commitment when she salvaged the rest of her program after the early mistakes. That ability to reassess and stay calm will be invaluable as she heads to her first World Championships and starts to experience more pressure and expectations after her strong showings this season.

I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty good about this crew heading to Worlds and staking their claim on three spots for the U.S. ladies in the 2018 Olympics.


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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:

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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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A Season of Spirals?

Spirals are my favorite skating move, without a doubt. I had a poster of Michelle Kwan performing her signature change-of-edge spiral on the wall of my childhood bedroom. I learned the move myself and always included it in my own programs.

This love of spirals means I dearly miss the days when the ladies’ event had a required spiral sequence (the early years of the IJS). But these days, a long, beautifully held spiral is a rare sight.  Unfortunately, it just isn’t a big point getter.

I’ve seen a few programs from the early season competitions (thanks to everyone posting video on YouTube!), and my spiral-loving heart is all sorts of hopeful that the move is making a comeback this year. Both Mariah Bell, at the Glacier Falls Summer Classic, and Mirai Nagasu, at Skate Detroit, have them in their long programs.

Mariah uses spiral variations a-plenty, in footwork and jump entries, as well as a perfectly placed forward outside spiral on the crescendo of the music (around the 3:20 mark in the video below). Some music just begs for spirals, and this piece definitely fits the bill. Interestingly, it is the soundtrack from “East of Eden,” a piece in which Michelle Kwan also used a spiral to great emotional effect.

Nagasu utilizes her beautiful spiral similarly in her long program to ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All,” adding a forward outside version after an elegant hop, as the music builds. (at 4:22 in the video).

While neither of these spirals are going to earn as many points as a triple-triple jump combination, they serve an important purpose in the choreography and interpretation, and that second mark is still important. Not to mention, their spirals are beautiful to behold. Both have excellent stretch and extension.

Has any one else spotted spirals in early season events? Is the trend back, or are my hopes in vain?


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Top 5 Surprise Moments from the U.S. Championships

We had the “wow moments” and the tearjerkers at Nationals this year, and I think there were also a few surprises. Check out my top 5:

1. The return of Joshua Farris

I ruled him out based on his recent ankle injury and a rough showing at NHK Trophy, but man, was that a mistake. And I’m glad it was, because he is my favorite of all the men’s skaters on the scene right now. Not only does he have the jumps, but his spins, footwork, and artistry are superb. His jump entrances are also unique (and difficult). Watch his footwork sequence get a huge reaction from the crowd in his Nationals long program (which is rare in a piece as somber and quiet as Farris’ Schindler’s List long program):

The best part about his skating is that he looks so natural on the ice, as if nothing is forced. Johnny Weir pointed out in that video that Farris is a natural artist, and I couldn’t agree more. Hopefully he makes a strong showing at Worlds! I think it is entirely possible, because Farris was one double toe loop away from winning the title at Nationals. He did three double toes in combination, which is against the rules and resulted in him not earning any points for his triple lutz-double toe combination. The 7 or so points that combo would have given him would have been enough for the title. A rough lesson to learn, but one that will not be forgotten any time soon and will serve him well in the future.

2. And as a bonus surprise, Farris is also a fantastic guitar player and singer. Thanks to NBC for revealing this hidden talent:

3. Mariah Bell in 6th place for the ladies was another pleasant surprise.

I loved her when I first saw her perform live in Boston last year and was thrilled to see her put out two solid performances this year. I bet she will grow a lot before next season and hopefully get some Grand Prix assignments. I think she flies a little too far under everyone’s radar–she skates with beautiful ease and pizzazz. Watch her short program performance and just try not to smile (really, you can’t not grin while watching this):

4. Tarah Kayne and Daniel O’Shea’s bronze medal in the pairs event

She had surgery on her right hip in July, and the commentators during the event mentioned that the pair hadn’t resumed full-time training until about a month prior to Nationals. It certainly didn’t show in their long program, and the emotion was palpable as they hit nearly all of their elements:

Quite the impressive showing for last year’s Four Continents silver medalists, and they will head to that event again this year.

5. There was some buzz surrounding 15-year-old Karen Chen (who is from the same town in California as Olympic Champion Kristi Yamaguchi) coming in to Nationals, but she still blew everyone away with a career-best performance that included six triples and earned the bronze medal. Too young to compete at the World Championships, she will go to the Junior World Championships instead. After withdrawing from Nationals last year with a broken ankle, this was a great moment for her: