Twizzle Talk

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Four Favorites: NHK Trophy 2019

Well, the 2019 Grand Prix season has flown by and the field is set for the Grand Prix Final. Part of me wishes that there could be a little more time between each event (I bet the skaters who have to compete back-to-back could get behind that as well!), because trying to keep up with all four disciplines at each event this year kind of felt like drinking from a fire hose. Hence, I’m skipping favorites from Cup of China and Rostelecom Cup and jumping right to last weekend’s NHK Trophy for my next post.

This Four Favorites series was initially meant to acknowledge greatness that didn’t always end up on the medal podium, or fantastic moments within a program. So that’s how you’re about to read a post about “favorites” that doesn’t include the brilliance of three of the gold medalists here: Yuzuru Hanyu, Sui/Han, and Papadakis/Cizeron. They were indisputably amazing here (though not perfect and, therefore, a good reminder that they are human) and everyone could see that. So here are my four favorites from each discipline, beyond that trio – who will surely go down as legends of our sport. Alas, no videos via YouTube to share because of copyright, but I’ll do my best to describe each moment/element and hope you’ll go re-watch them on NBC Sports Gold or wherever you get your skating.


Karen Chen’s spiral sequence in her free skate is like a big, relaxing exhale. Her extension is gorgeous, and she holds the movement longer than anyone else on the ladies circuit these days. It is a throwback to the glorious days of her fellow Americans Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen and the required ladies spiral sequence. Spirals are my personal favorite skating move, too, so I’m always ready to applaud an old-school spiral sequence.


A wally was far from my favorite back in the days when I was jumping more, so I really appreciate a well-executed, springy wally. Just like the one Kevin Aymoz of France did in the steps into his triple axel in the short program. We’ve been seeing a lot of the rocker-rocker-power pull entry, which is difficult and looks good, but I appreciated Aymoz’ different approach.


Americans Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea had a rough short program here and an okay long program. Even with the falls and bobbles, the ending of their short program really stood out to me. They did their final lift, which had good speed, ice coverage, and extension, and then transitioned directly into a lower rotational lift, followed by O’Shea flipping Kayne in a cartwheel position into their ending pose. I think it can get even sharper as the season continues, but enjoyed the interesting ending.

Ice Dance

In the rhythm dance, Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin of Russia had a really difficult and innovative exit to their lift. She is straddling his shoulder in the final position of the lift, and he sets her down and then ducks under her back leg to finish the exit. So difficult, but they executed it really smoothly.

Now we have a week off, then it’s time for Torino and the Grand Prix Final!

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Flashback Friday: NHK Trophy 2018 Edition

I’m still catching up on all the coverage of last weekend’s Grand Prix of Helsinki, but the best moment by far had to be Yuzuru Hanyu’s quad toe-triple axel combination.

I watched it over and over again, marveling at the spring and height on the triple axel. It would have been excellent on a solo triple axel—the fact that it was directly off a quadruple toe loop was nearly unbelievable. It is amazing and inspiring to see a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist continue to push his own boundaries and the sport forward.

So in honor of Hanyu’s awesomeness last weekend, this NHK Trophy Flashback Friday goes back to 2015, when he broke the world record with this sterling performance:

I love the ease and confidence throughout the program. This was the first time anyone topped 300 points in the IJS, and he cleared it by 22 points, beating silver medalist Boyang Jin by 55.97 points.

And then, because sometimes the only person Hanyu needs to outdo his himself, he broke this very record just a few weeks later at that year’s Grand Prix Final.

Happy NHK viewing, figure skating fans!

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Flashback Friday: Shib Sibs Grand Prix Victories

American ice dancers Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani won their first Grand Prix title since 2011 at last weekend’s NHK Trophy. Their other Grand Prix victory was also at an NHK Trophy.

Let’s flash back to their 2011 win:

I love the exuberance and enthusiasm of this program. And don’t they look so young?! The Shib Sibs were clearly great then, and would go on to win bronze at Worlds that year. But bringing it back to the present day, I loved watching that 2011 program in contrast to this year’s free dance. Check it out from their NHK victory:

They’ve increased their speed and connection with each other, and their interpretation really captures the nuances of the music (Coldplay’s “Fix You.”). That twizzle sequence is exquisite—not only in the execution but also in the use of the music. The commentators (love those British Eurosport guys!) say at the end of the performance that they didn’t want it to end, and I’ve got to agree. And isn’t that the mark of a great skating performance? Making it all look smooth and effortless so your audience feels at ease and gets lost in the performance. There is nothing worse than those programs where the skaters are just gritting their teeth and making it through, both for the skaters themselves and the audience.

I feel like this free dance, as well as the 2011 program, is a great vehicle for them in that the brother-sister dynamic isn’t detrimental to the performance, as it can be for the more romantic rhythms, like the tango, for example. Well done, Shib Sibs. Can’t wait to watch them take on everyone at the Grand Prix Final, Nationals, and Worlds with this fantastic piece.

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NHK Trophy: The Guys and The Girls

I’m just going to come right out and say it.

All the “Phantom of the Opera” programs.

Why so many? Why?

Yes, it is beautiful, powerful, and emotional music. And it can be done really well (see: Davis and White’s 2010 free dance), but when it is the music of choice for more than half of the skaters on the NBC broadcast…they all started to run together. Terry Gannon had the best line, as the last skater came out with yet another Phantom program: “Have we heard this music before?”

The big story of NHK Trophy (besides all the Phantom programs) was that Frank Carroll coaches both the champions at the event. Gracie Gold powered through both performances for her first Grand Prix victory and Daisuke Murakami was the surprise winner in the men’s event. He came to the competition as a “host entry” and hasn’t skated in any other Grand Prixs this season, but he hit the ice like a seasoned competitor. His jump technique is superb and he has great presentation. He majorly proved himself here.

Gracie, on the other hand, looked a little nervous and it just came out today that she is withdrawing from the Grand Prix Final due to a stress fracture in her left foot. I wonder if the injury was bothering her last weekend? Though she looked nervous and had a few bobbles, the program has come a long way since Skate America. Her performance quality was unmatched in this competition, in my opinion, and hers is my favorite of all the Phantom programs. On a more superficial note, I continue to love the dress and the hairdo for this program.

As for the rest of the men, much of the attention was focused on Yuzuru Hanyu‘s return after his collision at Cup of China, and he still looked a bit out of it. There was a lot of internet chatter that he should still be resting, which is obviously a decision that should be in the hands of his doctors. What was more interesting to me is that, during the broadcast, Tracy Wilson reported an update on his condition without mentioning that she is one of his coaches. Shouldn’t that be acknowledged in some fashion? Not to say that her reporting is biased, but if it comes from a place of seeing him every day in training as opposed to “I just talked with him after the official practice last night,” it is pretty different.

American Jeremy Abbott‘s short program was one of his best, and I was really hoping he’d pull off a great long, but he had some bobbles and ended up 5th. There was no quad in the short, but the program was flawless. He looked so powerful and confident; maybe it is a better option for him to leave out the quad in favor of a clean skate in the short to set himself up for the free skate. His short is set to “Lay Me Down” by Sam Smith and he obviously loves the program and is inspired by the music. I was a huge fan of last year’s “Lillies of the Valley” short and don’t love this one as much; the lyrics seem almost overpowering, shifting the focus more to them than his impeccable skating. Though last year’s is my preference, with Jeremy it is so important for him to be really inspired and carried by the music and that is clearly what this short does for him, so I’m all for it.


I’ve got to mention Jeremy’s U.S. teammate Joshua Farris, who had two really rough skates and was last at this event. I loved him at U.S. Nationals last year. He is reusing his “Schindler’s List” long from last season and it looks even better than last year. His short program to an Ed Sheeran song also looks great, but unfortunately the jumps were not there for him at all in either program (fewer than 5 clean triples between both programs). If he had done those programs with all jumps intact, I think he would have challenged for a medal. But it was fantastic that he stayed committed to his performance even though the jumps were a disaster. It shows a lot of heart to keep fighting through. He was injured and withdrew from his first GP assignment, so I wonder if lack of preparation was a factor?

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Going back to the ladies, the other two American entries, Polina Edmunds and Christina Gao, finished 8th and 9th respectively. Polina made some mistakes in the short, but skated a clean free. She looked a little tentative in the free, which is understandable after a rough short. Her style already looks much more mature than last year and you can tell she has worked on her extensions and presentation. One of the highlights of Polina’s program for me was actually her ending pose. A huge pet peeve of mine is when people don’t hold their ending pose; my coach always mandated that we strongly and confidently hold that final pose and make a moment of it. This is exactly what Polina did and it leaves a great last impression on the judges and looks so much better than when people are wobbly or trip out of their final pose.

Christina Gao looked great in the short program. I loved her purple dress (pictured, from a previous event) and her opening triple–double combo looked like she could make it a triple–triple. She looked like a different skater in the long, though—a little hunched over and tentative. So much so that I wondered if something was wrong, but I haven’t read anything to that effect.

Russian Alena Leonova earned the silver medal with two solid performances. She is 24 years old and didn’t make the Sochi Olympic team with the onslaught of Russian teenagers, but is still committed to competing. She obviously loves the sport and it comes across in her skating. Her Charlie Chaplin short was fun to watch—very authentic Chaplin. She does the triple toe–triple toe combo, which is not as difficult as some of the other top ladies, but what she has going for her is that it is pretty consistent.

The Grand Prix Final is up next and I think I am going to try my hand at some results predictions. Stay tuned!