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Flashback Friday: Skate America 2018 Edition

The 2018 Grand Prix season is upon us! It feels like things are back to normal with Skate America kicking off the Grand Prix series as usual, unlike last year, when it was the final event. During the Grand Prix this year, I’m planning a Flashback Friday series where I will share a memorable performance from years past at each Grand Prix, on the Friday the competition kicks off.

First up: Michelle Kwan at 1999 Skate America. This was Kwan’s first Grand Prix event after starting college full-time at UCLA. And this weekend at Skate America, U.S. and World Champion Nathan Chen will take the ice for his first Grand Prix event since enrolling full-time at Yale University.

This gem of a flashback video not only includes Kwan’s long program, which clinched the gold, but some awesome behind the scenes shots and interview clips about her freshman year. Check it out:

Will Chen fare as well as Kwan did? He had a rough outing at Japan Open a few weeks ago and will be looking for a cleaner skate here. It all kicks off Friday night!

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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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Best Scheherazade Programs

Certain pieces of music pop up a lot in the skating world, for better or worse. I’ve made my feelings known about overuse of “Phantom of the Opera,” lots of people don’t want to hear “Carmen” in an ice rink ever again, and the fantastic Jackie Wong of Rocker Skating has a special hatred for any version of “Feelin’ Good.”

“Scheherazade” is another one that is used a lot, but it hasn’t reached fatiguing levels, at least for me. I love the layers of sound in the music, and the endless choreographic possibilities those layers create.

I heard “Scheherazade” a few times from the stands at Worlds, which got me thinking about my favorite programs set to this music:

Meryl Davis and Charlie White, 2014 Free Dance

Michelle Kwan, 2002 Long Program

While both programs are fabulous in their own right, they’ve got a few things in common that put them over the top and into my “best ever” category:

  • Choreography and arm movements that imply the weaving or spinning of a story (which is what the character of Scheherazade does to avoid a death sentence, so the legend goes)
  • Energy that builds throughout the program to an outstanding finish
  • Attire that fits the music and alludes to the Middle Eastern setting of the story, without being overly corny or kitschy

I could watch these programs over and over, but are there more excellent renditions of Scheherazade that I have to see? Do share!


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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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Flashback Friday

For the first of my Flashback Friday posts, I’m starting with the queen herself, Michelle Kwan. I grew up idolizing Michelle and her fantastic spirals, as did many a skater growing up in the ’90s and ’00s. A class act on and off the ice, win or lose, she is simply the best. So I’m throwing it back to her first World Championship victory in 1996 in Edmonton, Canada. The transitions in this program are impeccable. Relive the brilliance of Kwan: