Twizzle Talk

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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!


2017 Worlds Predictions: Men

Sometimes I let my personal favorites get in the way of all logic and reason when it comes to figure skating. So I’m predicting the 2017 Worlds results in two sets: sentimental vs. rational. See the full explanation in my initial post with ice dance predictions.

The men’s event is full of skaters tossing off quads left and right. It’s going to be awesome. I’ll never forget watching the final warmup group, live at Worlds in Boston last year, and being completely blown away by quad after quad, and the incredible quality of the jumps. If you’re going to be in Helsinki this year, I’m both super jealous and thrilled for you. Here are my thoughts on this quad festival:

ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2016 - Day 5

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Gold – Javier Fernandez, Spain
Silver – Nathan Chen, USA
Bronze – Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan

Last year at Worlds, Javier Fernandez held the audience in the palm of his hand during the long program. Stellar jumps, all delivered with this pizzaz and ease that made it seem like he was doing an exhibition program. I loved it, I love him, and I want him to get his third World title this week. I also have so much admiration for Nathan Chen’s poise under pressure and commitment to pushing himself. I’ve got him in second in my sentimental picks because of my love for Javi, but let’s be honest…I bet he will run away with this title. He’s been riding some excellent momentum since the Grand Prix Final and just seems to do better with each outing. And as Phil Hersh pointed out in his IceNetwork preview, Fernandez’ quad content doesn’t quite measure up to some of the other top guys. So my rational podium has two Japanese men, Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno. And not just because of their stellar quads; these guys have the whole package.

Gold – Nathan Chen, USA
Silver – Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan
Bronze – Shoma Uno, Japan

P.S. It is also Nathan’s first World Championships. When was the last time anyone won in their first try? Let alone the last U.S. man to do that? Google sleuthing didn’t help me out on this one, so if anyone knows, leave it in the comments! We can just call it pulling a Medvedeva in the meantime, since she won 2016 Worlds in her first year at the senior level.

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The Quad Game, Take 2

After the U.S. Championships and heading into Worlds this year, all the talk was about U.S. skater Jason Brown’s lack of a quad. Chicago Tribune columnist Phillip Hersh was skeptical that Brown could take on the top guys in the world without it. USA Today columnist Christine Brennan thought the US judges were inflating their scores too much and setting their skaters up for failure on the world stage. I threw my two cents in and agreed with Brennan, saying it seemed like Brown was over-rewarded at Nationals.

I think it’s safe to say that all three of us were wrong.

Brown took 4th place at Worlds and then set a record at the World Team Trophy, earning the highest-ever international score by a U.S. man. All without that oft-talked about quad. How does he do it? Attention to detail.

He racks up the points in the International Judging System (IJS) with intricate transitions and jump entrances, as well as difficult spin positions that he is able to perform at incredible speeds. And the jumps he does do are usually clean; no under rotations or scratchy landings, which usually earns him positive grades of execution on plenty of elements. All those points add up, sometimes more so than one 13-point quad will. Especially against guys who get rattled after missing a quad and skate poorly through the rest of the program. Brown’s adeptness at collecting points reminds me of his fellow Chicagoan, Evan Lysacek. Lysacek was able to work the point system so well that he leapt from 10th after the short to 4th overall at the 2006 Olympics and won the gold medal at the 2010 Games ahead of Evegni Plushenko’s quads.

Figure skater Jason Brown performs at the 2015 World Team Trophy

Brown performs his long program at the 2015 World Team Trophy. Image Source:

Brennan’s argument that Brown’s Nationals scores were inflated is not entirely without merit. The 30-point difference is significant, but all U.S. Nationals scores are inflated compared to international scores. In international competition, seven judges’ marks count towards the score; nine judges are used at U.S. events. Combine that with a bit of the inflation Brennan was talking about, and I think it’s easy to account for those 30 points.

The IJS definitely has its quirks and weaknesses (I have enough thoughts on this for a whole other post), but those who study it and work it like Brown does are the ones that will have the most success. And despite the shortcomings of the IJS, it is great how the system encourages skaters to use unique entrances and transitions throughout their programs. Yuzuru Hanyu’s triple axel entrance from his short program at the 2014 Olympics and Evan Lysacek’s 2006 Olympic long program are two of my favorite examples of these types of innovative transitions.

This isn’t to say that Brown won’t need the quad eventually. His best-ever score by a U.S. man ranks 31st all-time in the IJS, behind the likes of quad kings Javier Fernandez of Spain, Patrick Chan of Canada, and Japanese Olympic Champion Yuzuru Hanyu. But if Brown can do all this without the quad, imagine the numbers once he has it in his arsenal.

The quad game is definitely ongoing, and we might have spoken a bit too soon in writing off Brown’s international chances. Here’s hoping he masters the quad over the summer, but even if he doesn’t, I think we’ve learned it’s not wise to count Brown out.

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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!


Impressions: Cup of China

A few closing thoughts from Cup of China before we move on to Rostelecom Cup this weekend:

  • What is the deal with the flesh-colored gloves for the ladies? They look so strange. I totally understand that most skaters are used to wearing gloves in training, so it can feel odd to compete without them. I would always try to practice without gloves for a few days before my competitions to get acclimated, so I know the feeling. I’m just not sure I like this look—but is an aesthetic reason a good enough reason to dislike it?

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Here’s Julia Lipnitskaia wearing the gloves during her Cup of China short program—almost unnoticeable unless you look closely, but not everyone has them in a shade so close to their skin tone.

  • Speaking of Lipnitskaia, word on the street is that she skipped the medal ceremony after a rough free skate and was fined by the ISU. She apologized and said it was a misunderstanding about the time of the ceremony—it will be interesting to see if that was just an honest mistake or a sign of a sportsmanship issue. Time will tell.
  • Everyone was talking about the collision between Olympic champ Yuzuru Hanyu and Han Yan (watch the video at your own risk—it is quite the hit and blood is involved): whether they should have competed or withdrawn, how Hanyu got so many points despite five falls, and so on. I like this take on the situation from the State of the Skate blog, especially number 5. I was astounded when I saw over 70 points pop up for Hanyu’s technical score, despite the five falls and blogger Kelli Lawrence makes some great points about the issues with the IJS rewarding falls on quads over clean triples.
  • American Richard Dornbush skated lights out for the first half of his long program but ran in to some trouble at the end. I was so bummed he couldn’t hang on, but loved the overall choreography of his Coldplay program. His style reminds me a bit of Evan Lysacek—it has the musicality factor but is also very strong. Check it out: