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2017 Worlds Predictions: Ice Dance

It’s almost time for the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships, and I’m going to make some guesses on how the standings will shake out.

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Image Source: helsinki2017.com

I’ve been shying away from doing predictions posts this year, because there are plenty of them out there, and because I sometimes find that my personal biases battle against my analytical knowledge. Which actually makes this a great time to bring back a post format I did prior to the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships: sentimental vs. rational results predictions.

I have so much respect for all the skaters, both in terms of their talent and the rigorous training they put in. But that said, I also have my favorites, and these sentimental picks reflect that. Whereas the rational picks, on the other hand, are based more on how this season has gone so far.

Let’s say, sentimental picks by superfan Maura, rational picks by wannabe journalist Maura. I’ll start with the ice dance event:

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Image Source: justjaredjr.com

Sentimental:
Gold – Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani, USA
Silver – Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, Canada
Bronze – Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron, France

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Image Source: lfpress.com

Rational:
Gold – Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, Canada
Silver – Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani, USA
Bronze – Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron, France

Virtue and Moir have been on a roll in their comeback season, not losing a single event. It’s almost been too easy. I think all reason and logic points to them on the top step of the podium, based on the point margins they have been winning with all season (5 points ahead of the Shibutanis at Four Continents, 11 ahead of Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates at the same event, 5 points ahead of the French at the Grand Prix Final).

It has been several months since all of those competitions, offering plenty of time for the other teams to improve, and we all know ice is slippery and anything can happen on a given day. I think a little adversity will make Virtue and Moir hungrier and even more motivated, hence my sentimental pick of the Shib Sibs in first.

I just LOVE their short dance (To me, it is the most cohesive, in terms of theme and hip hop movement, of all the teams). On the rational side, I think that will land them in second overall, because their programs are stronger than the French team’s this season. Papadakis and Cizeron are fighters, who stormed back from third place in the short dance to win Europeans, so I think they will still land on the podium this year.

Bonus non-podium prediction that has both some sentimentality and logic in it: American Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue jump to fourth place. They have made such great strides in the past two years, and their free dance is so beautiful. That moment in the dance spin when the grasp hands? I legitimately said “AWWW” aloud when I saw it live at Skate America this fall.

I’ll be back with ladies, men, and pairs predictions before the competition gets going on Wednesday!


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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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The World is Coming…

…to Boston! The 2016 World Figure Skating Championships are less than two weeks away, and I will be in the building at the TD Garden for the free dance, men’s free skate, and ladies free skate. This is pretty much where I’m at:

My excitement levels are at an all-time high. I have been fortunate enough to attend two U.S. National Championships held in Boston, in 2001 and 2014, but there is something special about the World Championships being on American soil and getting to see it all in person. The last time Worlds was in the United States was 2009, in LA; the last time Worlds was on the East Coast was 2003, in DC. And not only is is a privilege to get to see ANY World Figure Skating Championships at all, but the skating this year has been fantastic. I know lots of people will be making predictions and taking their best guess as to who will stand on the podium. The level of skating is so high this year that I bet there will be many and varied conjectures. But there are a few things I can predict without any doubt. And here they are, in gif form:

I will cry my eyes out at the Shibutanis’ free dance. I cry watching it on TV; getting to see it in person will be another level. I’ll be the lady bawling in my seat…but I bet I won’t be the only one:

I’ll be wondering why most of the top half of Gabriella Papadakis’ dress is sheer (Here it is, for your reference. Rule book experts: no costume deduction for how revealing it is?!), and feeling uncomfortable about it:

When I was at 2014 U.S. Nationals, I was completely blown away by the height and distance of Gracie Gold’s triple lutz. I was the big dork in the stands who said, “Whoa.” out loud during the warm-ups, it was that impressive. I bet it still is, and I can’t wait to see it again:

I will barely be able to handle the cheesy voiceovers in Elena Radionova’s “Titanic” long program:

The men’s event is full of guys who are doing multiple quads in one program. Yuzuru Hanyu is already a legend in the sport, and there’s also Fernandez, Chan, Jin, Aaron and others tossing off the quads like a “simple” triple toe. I’ve seen quads in person before, but not of this quality or quantity. I have no doubt that I will be in awe:

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But for now, I’ll just be blissfully looking forward to what promises to be an unforgettable World Championships:


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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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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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U.S. Nationals Preview: Ice Dance

There will be a new team standing on the top step of the U.S. ice dance podium this year for the first time since 2009. Olympics Champions and six-time U.S. Champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White are taking this year off, and the race to fill their shoes has been on since the start of this skating season. The two teams that joined Davis and White in Sochi at the Olympics, Madison Chock and Evan Bates and the Shibutanis, are each vying to claim the crown. Here’s how I think it will go:

  1. Madison Chock and Evan Bates
  2. Maia and Alex Shibutani
  3. Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue
  4. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker

Chock and Bates have the edge after the Grand Prix season, with two gold medals on the circuit and a silver medal at the Final. The Shibutanis finished second to their teammates at Skate America and 4th at the Grand Prix Final and have looked a little defeated when receiving their scores in the kiss and cry this year. They were able to grab two gold medals–at the Ondrej Nepela Trophy and the Ice Challenge–but Chock and Bates didn’t compete at either of those events. It is safe to say the Shibutanis will give it their all, but it seems like Chock and Bates are the heirs apparent to the title. Even the emails from U.S. Figure Skating and all the advertisements I’ve seen focus on Chock and Bates rather than the Shibutanis. You hate to see an event decided before anyone even takes the ice, so let’s hope for two great performances and a close decision.

I think the margin between the 3rd and 4th place teams will be close. Their scores on the Grand Prix were within two or three points of each other. Hawayek and Baker are riding a wave of momentum—they are last year’s U.S. and World Junior Champions and are coming off a bronze medal performance at the NHK Trophy. Davis has also spoken highly of their potential in an article about this team in one of the issues of Skating Magazine from the summer of 2014.

Hubbell and Donohue had a strong finish to the first part of the season with a win at the Golden Spin competition in December. That said, I’m not entirely sure about their free dance—it looks slow (though that could be because I’m not watching it live, sometimes speed and presentation are really lost over a video feed) and sort of plods along. They are skating to dance-pop songs from the 2013 Great Gatsby movie and I’d love to see them let loose a bit more to give this program some life. I ultimately put them in 3rd place over Hawayek and Baker because they have more experience and I also get the sense that they want to prove themselves after not qualifying for Sochi last year.

Predictions for the men’s event are up next. Much like the pairs, I think that one is going to be anyone’s game. I’ll be back with my best guesses!