Twizzle Talk


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2018 U.S. Nationals Debrief: The Good & The Bad

The good, the bad, the happy, the sad…that’s me singing some Al Green after a crazy 2018 Nationals. Despite all the drama, I’ll stick with skating forever.

Watching the 2018 U.S. Nationals was more of an emotional viewing experience than I bargained for. I needed some time to digest, hence, why this post is coming almost two weeks after the event. I was so excited for the senior events to get started, and then was emotionally exhausted by the time it all wrapped up on Sunday night. Here’s why:

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Hubbell/Donohue Interview: Figure Skaters Online

Before the senior events at U.S. Nationals get going in San Jose tomorrow, one more preview article from Figure Skaters Online, with ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue:

For the past three years, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have been the bronze medalists in the ice dance event at the U.S. Championships.

They finished third in the short dance at Worlds in 2017 before a disastrous fall on a twizzle in the free dance took them out of the medals.

They have qualified for the Grand Prix Final three years in a row, but missed the podium by less than a point in December.

This year, Hubbell and Donohue have had it with “almost.”

“I’m not here to get third place for the fifth time at Nationals, that’s not an option,” Donohue told reporters in a U.S. Figure Skating media call on Dec. 28.

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Image Source: Figure Skaters Online

Read the rest of the article on Figure Skaters Online for how Hubbell and Donohue plan to reach their goals at Nationals, and how they’ve changed their programs since the Grand Prix Final:

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue Set Sights on First U.S. Title


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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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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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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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The Quad Game

There has been a lot of talk lately about the U.S. men and their quad game (or lack thereof, in some cases).

The Chicago Tribune‘s Philip Hersh expressed concern about Jason Brown’s quadless victory at Nationals. Hersh doesn’t think Brown can be a contender without a quad and was proven right this weekend when Brown only finished in 6th place at Four Continents. All five men ahead of him at least attempted quads, though not all were landed cleanly.

It should be noted that Brown did attempt a quad for the first time in competition in the short program at Four Continents, which was a huge milestone for him. He has been skating internationally as a senior since the fall of 2013 and has yet to even attempt one, so to get the first attempt out there and over with is a hurdle in itself. That being said, it was not the greatest attempt: he came down on two feet and well short of rotation, which makes me wonder how ready he is to include the jump at Worlds.

I read Hersh’s article after Nationals and had similar thoughts of my own, as much as I love Jason Brown’s positive attitude and skating style. Figure skating columnist extraordinaire Christine Brennan summed it up pretty well:

“…when the judges reward a quad-less program with a whopping 93.36 points, as they did Friday night for Brown, they aren’t sending the best message.” —Columnist Christine Brennan in USA Today on 1/24/15

What actually stood out to me the most was the huge difference in scores between Brown’s personal best of 93.36 and ladies champion Ashley Wagner’s personal best of 72.04, despite rather similar elements. I’m about to go down a math rabbit hole, so bear with me.

I understand that the men traditionally have higher scores than the women, what with triple axels, quads, and more triple-triple combinations, and I obviously don’t want to take anything away from either of these superb, personal best performances. But being said, the twenty point difference struck me as a huge discrepancy, especially since Brown’s program didn’t include a quad.

Brown earned his 93.36 with a triple axel, triple flip-triple toe, and a triple lutz, with 44.46 of those points for program components. In comparison, Wagner only had 33.71 for program components. Her elements were a triple lutz-triple toe (a more difficult combination, despite the -1 she got for GOE), double axel, and triple flip. The glaring difference here is clearly the double axel that earned Wagner 4.49 points, while Brown’s triple axel was worth 10.07. But that looks more like 6 points to me, not 20. From where I sit, it seems like Brennan has a point about over-rewarding in the scores. Any other wannabe-mathematicians out there have their own theory?

Brown may be the U.S. national champion, but it was bronze medalist Joshua Farris who made the podium at Four Continents, with a quad in his arsenal. I think he will be the one to watch going in to Worlds. With the likes of Denis Ten, Javier Fernandez, and Yuzuru Hanyu routinely hitting quads, those four revolutions have become the name of the game in the men’s event.