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Mirai Nagasu Interview for Figure Skaters Online

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Image Source: Getty Images/Deadspin

I caught up with Team USA figure skater Mirai Nagasu on a media call yesterday, before she heads off to her second Olympic Games in PyeongChang.

When she competed at her first Olympics, in Vancouver in 2010, Nagasu said she was “wrapped up in my own little bubble.” But this time, she wants to soak in the entire Olympic experience — including cheering on other athletes at their events.

For more on Nagasu’s fresh approach, read the rest of the article on Figure Skaters Online:

Mirai Nagasu heads to second Olympic Games with different approach

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Nationals Hype and The Next Competition

 

Jackie Wong of Rocker Skating wrote a great post about how Four Continents is used in the selection process for the U.S. World team—and how it’s pretty complicated. Between reading his insightful post, and then watching some performances at Four Continents that paled in comparison to Nationals, I’ve been thinking a lot about “nationals hype.”

Excitement after a great U.S. Championships performance is certainly appropriate and deserved, but sometimes I think we can go overboard, christening a skater as the next big thing before they’ve had a chance to really prove themselves. The competition that follows Nationals should carry more weight for world team selection.

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Vincent Zhou; Image Source: Ice Network

Amidst all the well-deserved excitement over Nathan Chen’s historic five-quad performance, Vincent Zhou also made a splash at U.S. Nationals, with some quads of his own and the silver medal. It  was a bit of a surprise, after a rough Junior Grand Prix series and an injury in the fall.

But he followed it with a win at the 2017 Bavarian Open, and his program included a gorgeous quad lutz. By all appearances, Zhou was able to harness that momentum and use it for his next competition.

Context is important here, of course. He was at a much smaller event (note the empty stands in the video), partially because he still needed to get the minimum technical score to be eligible for senior worlds (he is the first alternate). Next up for Zhou is the World Junior Championships, which is on a much larger stage, so we’ll see how he fares.

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Karen Chen; Image Source: USA Today

On the flip side, we have Karen Chen, who followed up two glorious performances at Nationals with a 12th place showing at Four Continents. She didn’t even get a mention in the Ice Network article about the competition; the U.S. Ladies Champion, completely out of the conversation at her next event.

Now, I understand that everyone has bad days on the ice. Maybe what happened to Chen this week at Four Continents was an anomaly. Maybe she’ll go out at Worlds, blow us all away and help earn three spots for the U.S. ladies at the Olympics. But based on a recent Instagram post, it looks like the injury and boot problems that plagued her throughout 2016 might be back. It sort of begs the question of whether fans, judges, everyone got a little too excited after Chen’s win in Kansas City.

Unlike Zhou, she wasn’t able to translate her Nationals success into an impressive showing on the international stage. Besides her 2017 title and a bronze at the 2015 U.S. Nationals, Chen hasn’t risen to the occasion in international events.

After Nationals, I wrote about how mentally tough I thought the U.S. ladies are, and that I had high hopes for Worlds. After this event, I have to say that I’m a little more nervous than hopeful.

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Mai Mihara; Image Source: NBC Sports

Especially since Mai Mihara grabbed the gold at Four Continents. She looked like a sweet, consistent junior skater when I saw her at Skate America this fall, but this win proves that she is going to be another force to be reckoned with on the world stage.

The inflation of scores at national championship events is oft-discussed and oft-maligned among skating fans, but this goes beyond numbers to me. Chen was heralded as a contender for worlds, based on one event. Zhou, on the other hand, was seen as somebody who had a good day, but needed more room to grow, passed over for the more experienced Jason Brown on the world team. [Note: I think Brown was the right choice for the world team, I’m just pointing out the discrepancy.]

I think we ought to reserve judgment until a Zhou-like outing, where a skater proves that an electric Nationals performance wasn’t a one-time thing. Success at U.S. Nationals, or any country’s national championships for that matter, does not always translate in higher pressure, primetime events.

There’s lots of talk out there on the internet that maybe Karen Chen or Mariah Bell should be removed from the world team, after their subpar Four Continents performances, in comparison to their U.S. teammate Mirai Nagasu’s career-best long program and bronze medal.

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 Mirai Nagasu on the podium at Four Continents;  Image Source: Mercury News

It is certainly a valid discussion as the “body of work” criteria becomes more important and prevalent in the selection process for the world and Olympic teams, as opposed to just placements at Nationals. I’d be in favor of adopting something similar to the Russian system, where skaters have to prove themselves at multiple events to be named to a world or Olympic team—the U.S. is already inching its way in that direction with the new selection criteria.

This way, the U.S. would send skaters who’ve proven themselves over multiple events, in pressured situations, and ideally set themselves up for more success at worlds or the Olympics Games. And the skaters themselves would have multiple opportunities to prove their mettle.

Until then, the U.S. will be sending some “wild card” skaters, with high hopes of earning three Olympics spots, to Helsinki next month.

 

 


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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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Favorite Exhibitions of 2015-16

One of the (many) unique aspects of figure skating is the post-event exhibition. It’s a celebratory show that takes place at the end of a competition, after the medals have been handed out and when the pressure is off. It would be like Cam Newton and Peyton Manning taking the field to toss the football around, the day after the Super Bowl, for a packed stadium. Improbable, and probably unnecessary, in most sports. But not figure skating.

The post-event exhibition reflects the importance of the performance side of skating, and the blending of athletics and art. Skaters always put on a show, but most especially in the exhibition. This is where the funny/creative/weird numbers come out, along with tricks and costumes that are illegal in competition. This season, I’ve got four favorite exhibition programs and three of them just happen to be by U.S. skaters.

Mirai Nagasu — “I Put a Spell On You”

Who is this skater? With such confidence and ease of movement. She looks completely different in this program than when she competes; can we get some of this Mirai in competition? I’m starting a petition now that this becomes her short program for next year! (I’m pretty sure that this year’s “Demons” short program started off as an exhibition piece, and this one has way more life and enthusiasm to it.) This song is one that can be overused in skating, and yet I still really enjoy her take on it.

Team Paradise of Russia — “Meditation of Thais” by Jules Massenet

That first intersection, with the spirals…all I can say is, “WOW.” Except it came out more like “Woooooowwwww” as I was staring at it on my computer screen, sitting at my kitchen table. Such beauty and strength. I couldn’t determine if this is an exhibition program or also their short program. Anybody out there know? I may have given my computer some kind of virus trying to get to what I thought was the team’s website to look for program details, but a ton of Russian pop ups ensued instead. Whoops.

Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim — “Rise Up” by Andra Day

They’ve been using this program all year, but the first time I saw it was in the exhibition at U.S. Nationals. As you can probably gather from the title of the song, this one felt particularly poignant given that the team had just lost their national title. Would I have loved it as much if I that wasn’t when I saw it for the first time? I’m not sure. But this program demonstrates what I love about this team so much, their emotion and fabulous pair elements.

Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter — “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys

The Backstreet Boys are apparently very rigid about copyright infringement, because this is the only video I could find of this program, and the audio is blocked. If you have an IceNetwork subscription, you’ve got to go watch this program, either in the video from the Grand Prix Final exhibition or the U.S. Nationals exhibition. The two-time U.S. Junior Ice Dance Champions exude personality in this light-hearted program about a boy bander and his superfan. Cute without being overly gimmicky, and who doesn’t love a good BSB song?

While these were my favorite exhibition programs, there were definitely a few that made me raise my eyebrows…those, in a future post!


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Tearjerker Moments at the U.S. Championships

The U.S. Championships is always an event with high drama and emotion. A lot is at stake for the skaters—spots on the World Championship team, as well as the possibility of international competition assignments for the following year. Amongst all the excitement, pressure, and those “wow” moments, there were a few tearjerker moments as well.

Figure skating is a sport that provides many moments of pure joy, when everything falls in to place and a skater performs at their best. You see it on the grand stage, on TV at the Olympics, but it also happens in cold rinks around the country—when someone lands an axel for the first time, or skates a clean program at a local competition.

Rippon Nationals 15 Kiss & Cry

Image Source: icenetwork.com

It happened for Adam Rippon in the senior men’s long program, when he skated his best performance ever—including a fantastic, nearly-clean quad lutz. He was overcome with emotion in the kiss and cry (pictured), and I have to say that I was too, while sitting on my couch at home. I shed a few happy tears along with Adam, and I bet many of the other viewers at home and in the arena did, too.

But there are also the moments that can be heartbreaking, when months and years of training come down to the few minutes of a competition program and, for whatever reason, the skater doesn’t perform well. Mirai Nagasu’s untimely crash into the boards on a back crossover during her long program was one of these moments. She started out so strong, with a triple flip-triple toe-double toe and a double axel-triple toe, and most fans wanted to see her skate well after she missed out on the Olympic team last year. But unfortunately, it wasn’t her night. Mirai finished the program as best she could with what was later diagnosed as a hyperextended knee and bruised cartilage. This situation had many skating fans asking why the “skating gods” couldn’t cut Mirai a break, since she has dealt with a lot of disappointment on the ice lately. But the strength and courage she displayed in finishing her performance–despite all those disappointments–are as impressive as a perfect free skate.

There are also moments where you realize that skating is about much more than the score on the jumbotron or who stands on the podium when all is said and done. The ups and downs of a figure skating career not only have the power to bring us joy or teach us to get up and try again when we fall, but to heal in times of struggle. That was pretty plain at the end of Jeremy Abbott’s performance in the short program, when he looked skyward and raised his arm in a moving tribute to his father, who recently passed away from Parkinson’s disease. Putting blade to ice is one of the best remedies for figure skaters, no matter what the trouble might be.

Image Source: zimbio.com

From the happy to the difficult to the poignant, skating never fails to move us. Yes, even sometimes to tears.