Wednesday, July 21

Liberty: The Mens Short Program

Here's my thoughts from videos of the senior mens short program at the recent Liberty Open. 

Photo courtesy
Canadian Patrick Chan debuted his new short program to Take Five and landed his first-ever quadruple toe loop with amazing flow into and out of the jump. He went on to fall on the triple Axel at the other side of the rink but it also featured complex transitions directly leading up to the element, which was nice to see. Most of the time we see triple Axels being preceded by a long backwards outside edge around the middle of the rink. He finished off his jump elements with a triple flip/triple toe with an ever-so-slight pause in between the two jumps. As I will discuss with some of the other men, the rule changes for spins this year seem to have many of the competitors going for (not so great) positions that will increase the levels, but at the same time kill the speed of the element. Not the case with Patrick, who showed good positions throughout all three of his required spins, including a deep layover position on the back end of his camel/change/camel. The end of the program features a long straight-line step that is mostly done on one skate throughout the first half. As always for Chan, his edge work looks effortless and his flow is among (if not) the best in the world. The program itself is once again wonderfully choreographed and full of content, but I still don't get much feeling out of Patrick besides me thinking, "wow, your basics are to die for." I still think he can break out of his shell and that the best is yet to come from him. For now, it seems like it's business as usual.

Armin Mahbanoodazeh skated to Mario Takes a Walk, part of Irina Slutskaya's 2006 Olympic season free skate. Armin is so tiny that you think there wouldn't be much power behind his skating, but then he goes and does a triple Axel as his first element that seriously looked like a double (I even had to figure out the slow-motion in my Quicktime player to make sure it was a triple, and that doesn't happen often!). The entrance, by the way, is absolutely ridiculous with an inside bracket right into the jump. He also completed a beautiful triple Lutz/triple toe and triple flip from steps. For his flying spin, Armin decided on a camel and finished off the element with a great donut position. His sit/change/sit also featured some cool variations and they were done well. The serpentine footwork showed some flair but I still get the sense that he, like Chan, is still holding back a bit. The program ended with a combination spin that included a camel spin that had his skating leg and free legs bent while his face and upper body were facing down towards the ice. Not the best description, but the spin was cool and he kept the centering throughout. Overall, I was really impressed with him and he skated great!

Alaska native Keegan Messing skated his short program to music from Robin Hood. Choreography at the beginning where he shoots an arrow-- is that required of this music? Nice triple Axel to start, and off to the other side of the rink for a triple Lutz/triple toe again with a slight pause in the middle of the two jumps. Flying sit spin is fast and low, and features a hop to increase the level in the middle. Spread eagle and steps into a triple flip that might have taken off from a slight outside edge, difficult to tell from the video. Another sit/change/sit and the content didn't matter at all because the new rules state that the flying spin and the change-foot spin must be different (sit or camel)-- Keegan did sit positions for both, making the later element invalid. It's (not so) nice to know that originally the USFS computers/callers/whatever didn't seem to be aware of the rule change and gave him credit for both elements.. it was later changed. Straight-line footwork includes a lot of use of his whole body and is well done. Russian split leading into the final combination spin which is fast and all of the positions aside from the back camel are well done. When I saw Keegan at the Junior World Championships, I couldn't get my thoughts away from how similar he skated to World Champion Elvis Stojko. He seems to have smoothed out a bit since then, but I still think he can go a long way with his basics and posture. I was surprised that even with the invalid element that this scored similar to Mahbanoozadeh. Keegan skates faster, but everything he does seems borderline sloppy to me. I think another year on the Junior Grand Prix is a good call.

Alexander Johnson finished the day in fourth place and skated to Caravan. He also started off with a triple Axel that didn't get much distance but he pulled it off just fine. The triple flip/triple toe loop combination had a deliberate jab of the toe pick into the ice on the flip--- sometimes we see skaters turn on the pick before vaulting into the toe jumps, so this was nice to see. Camel/change/camel spin has really nice positions and he ends in a catch-foot with a change of edge. Not a fast spin, but a nice one. Steps with a slight pause into the triple Lutz and it's okay. Flying sit with a low pancake-type position that slows as it goes. Circular footwork is nicely done but he doesn't really make it stand out like so many of the men have done.. seems a bit out of energy, actually. Combination spin to end and a really surprising Y-spin at the end of it with great stretch. One thing with Alexander is that I really picked up on his long pushes in each of his back crossovers. In a system where transitions and complex choreography are so important to the program, I'm not sure that my noting of all of the crossovers is such a good thing. In any event, the program was nice but he could have sold it much more.

Stephen Carriere was fifth and skated to a medley from Chicago. He started off with a triple Axel that had nice height and distance, but he didn't stop the rotation and had to step out of the landing. Triple Lutz with a bit of a curve on the landing edge and he did a double toe as the second part of the combination. Triple flip (which is at the same part of the rink as most other skaters that did their triple from steps) looked to be on a severe outside edge but again, it was at the other end of where the video was recorded. Music picks up and he does a flying camel with a donut position. It slowed down and the position could have been more stretched but it wasn't bad. The straight line footwork got the audience into the program but there wasn't a whole lot of difficulty. Sit/change/sit with lots of cannonball/pancake variations and again seems just a bit slow to me. Combination spin with an 'Emanuel' spin that kills the speed and some playful choreography right up to where the technical panel was sitting to end. Seems like there was a lot of personality throughout the program, but most of the choreography was upper body movements while he was on two feet or doing simple turns. Unfortunately, even though he's a former World Junior Champion and senior World team member for the US, I think he's going to get lost in the shuffle behind some of the other up-and-comers. He was, however, picked by the USFS to compete at Skate America, so maybe they aren't ready to throw him into that shuffle just yet.

For the Ice Network summary of the mens short program, which includes details of how Chan almost missed his program, read here.

Just a final thought after seeing these programs as well as some of the other lower-ranked performances. The new rules are producing similar patterns already from what I can see. The first being the removal of the second step sequence from the short program for the men. Instead of leaving more time for in-betweens and choreography, it seems like many of the men have opted to do a never-ending pattern on their one step sequence. Also, the spin rule changes have many of the men attempting donut spins now-- something we hardly saw before. This has to do with the fact that in years past, most men attempted both a flying sit spin and a sit/change/sit spin in their short programs.. something that is now illegal.

I looked back at my 2010 Worlds mens short program notes, and I made a comment during Ryan Bradley's program that he was the first skater to do camels in either his flying or change-foot spin. He skated 33rd of 48! Also, Among the final two warm-up groups there (the highest World-ranked skaters), only Adam Rippon featured a flying camel into a donut position. All of the other men did both flying sits and sit/change/sit spins. Welp, you've been warned about the possibility of some really ugly camel spin positions throughout this year!


Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,

Can you tell me where you watched Patrick's Liberty program online? I wasn't able to find it on youtube. Many thanks!


Meri said...

Thanks for the roundup, Tony! I haven't seen any programs from Liberty yet and assume they're available on fsvids?

Since Chan's SP quad was done as the solo jump, it's supposed to be out of footwork. Was it actually out of footwork, or did the judges give some leeway on this? If skaters can get away with a solo quad only sort of out of steps, I wonder if we'll see some people try two in the SP (well, Reynolds at least). As for Chan, is this the jump layout he's planning to use this season? It just seems kind of a strange way to go about it. Or is he not yet confident enough in his 4T to plan another jump on the end?

Personally, I prefer a longer setup for the 3A if that's what it takes to get good height and ice coverage and, you know, to actually land it. The same goes for other jumps, really; how have we gotten to the point where the jump entry is as important as the actual jump, if not more so?

Chan needs to work with choreographers other than Nichol. How can he break out creatively and in terms of interpretation and performance when he's been with the same choreographer since childhood? If he could do something with Shae-Lynn or Kurt, choreographers who are also great performers - that could really benefit his skating.

Anonymous said...

@Meri - Loved your comment!:)

@Tony - "Alaska native Keegan Messing skated his short program to music from Robin Hood. Choreography at the beginning where he shoots an arrow-- is that required of this music?" Of course it is!:)


Tony said...

There actually was decent footwork going into Chan's quad toe. He kept the rhythm right up to the turns into the jump itself, and it was a beauty. The quad used to have to be done as the solo jump about ten years ago rather than the jump in combination, and I remember most of the men attempting it managed decent footwork into it, so it can't be too hard of a task if the skater isn't lazy ;-)

I think that Patrick will eventually want to work on the quad toe/triple toe combination, but he has trouble adding a triple toe on the end of difficult jumps (he just started successfully landing triple Axel/triple toe-- first time in competition was actually the Liberty free skate). He knows the quad obviously isn't completely consistent yet, and with the current system and not rewarding a bonus for combos, he will earn the same amount of points either way.

I think Patrick working with a different choreographer, even if it is just for one program, would also do him well. I like Lori Nichol a lot, but I wish I can be more moved by his performance and not mostly by his skating skills.

Anonymous said...

Yes Tony, can you please direct us to where Patrick's Liberty skates can be viewed? Links from Google updates (tweets) lead to youtube sign in, which has been like a maze or the kind of voice mail you can't get out of!

It's interesting PJ Kwong had very different feelings about this SP from yours. In her blog she says: "In talking to Lori, I said that the feel that Patrick created on the ice was light and romantic and took on an almost giddy quality. Sort of like falling in love with all of its' goofy charm. She chuckled and said that the inspiration for the piece was "Last Call and seeing the girl of his dreams." How cool is that when what I experienced was what she as the choreographer had intended." You definitely belong to the group who just aren't moved by his skate. I so wish to see it for myself. From all accounts, it seems to be a very good performance this time of year and a sign of great skating to come in the regular season.

Meri said...

LRK - thanks!

Tony - I just realized the part about 3As and transitions in my previous comment may have come across as being critical of your post, which was not my intention at all; it was more my frustration with what is currently being emphasized in skating.

It's disappointing that combinations won't get the bonus. I'm not sure it's fair to the skaters who attempt more difficult ones. As for the scoring changes and their effect, I hope top skaters will take advantage of the extra time they now have to do some creative choreography rather than the trend you saw of a realllllly long step sequence. As if step sequences weren't already long enough!

Anonymous - I don't recall Kwong ever writing anything remotely critical re the Chan/Nichol collaboration.

Anonymous said...

Meri, I take it that, to you, Kwong has never been critical re Chan/Nichol collaboration and that discredits her completely, especially since you have a totally different opinion. I don't feel the same way at all. Tony has always been objective about Chan's technical abilities, as he or any critic should be. He has never appreciated Chan's skating on the emotional level, and that is completely fair and his right because such appreciation is subjective. However, others' emotional connection with Chan's skating is equally valid, because, again, it's subjective. Some people "get" Chan's performance. It doesn't make them not credible or unknowledgeable even if you don't feel the same way.

I don't like Lysacek's style but I respect that he won the OGM because he did perform the best that day according to the rules of the competition. And I respect both Tony's and Kwong's opinions on the same program by Chan because they are both fair and knowledgeable even though their subjective feelings are different. OTOH, there are those who dislike Chan intensely and personally because of media's portrayal, or because they are emotionally invested in and appreciative of Chan's competitors with opposite style. They tend to be unfairly and automatically critical and disdainful of every aspect of his skating, including what should be judged objectively. Moreover, many have no idea at all about COP scoring or skating skills. Dislike a skater's style or program all you want, but his skills and techniques should be judged objectively and other people's style preferences should be respected as equally valid.

BTW what do you mean by "creative choreography" without "boring" step sequences? Outside of jumps, which take up mere seconds of the whole program, and mandated number of spins, the rest of the program is about blade on ice skating. I hope hip thrusting with both skates planted in place or blowing kisses while running on toe picks wouldn't take up much of a program time! Handstand is probably illegal. Doing cartwheel? Nah, most of a program is called transitions, composed mostly of step sequences of various lengths, or cross-overs and strokes which aren't less boring.

Meri said...

Anon, this is Tony's blog, not a forum to debate Patrick Chan's personality or skating. I have tried to engage with the substance of Tony's post - including the parts about other skaters - and I'm really not interested in a 2009-style Chan sucks/Joubert sucks smackdown. Hard as it is to believe, I think both skaters have strengths and weaknesses, and to reduce Chan to "boring TR guy who can't jump" or Joubert to "can't skate, does hip thrusts to compensate" is not just wrong; it's also boring.

I think Tony's point is that there is more to choreography, interpretation and performance than packing in difficult transitions. I agree, and believe it's beneficial to a skater's artistic progress to work with different choreographers who offer diverse styles and viewpoints- regardless of who that skater is.

caseyedwards said...

You need to land the jumps. I am glad someone brought up Chan's habit of doing so many transitions into a jump he can't actually land the jump or do it well. Now he does have two world silver medals with this strategy but in order to win he needs to land the jumps and do them well so he needs to cut back on transitions.

Tony said...

Transitions are not necessarily the reason for consistency issues on jumps. Many times, coaches and choreographers will work steps right into the jump so that the skater has less time to hold one long edge and falter with the timing. A quick preparation can actually be a blessing for some.

And as far as the whole Patrick Chan debate-- I actually love these discussions and I am glad that the 'issues' come up. If everyone had the same opinion then there wouldn't be too much for me to talk about :-)

The two World silver medals obviously prove that Patrick is a great skater, but there's still just that something missing for me (much along the lines of Kozuka, and we all know my opinion about him..) Meri was alluding to that. From an IJS standpoint, though, he's basically doing everything right. The anonymous poster has a point though, that the interpretation mark, for example, does end up being so subjective rather than having rules that clearly state which mark a skater should receive. Some people like his reserved and "the skating will tell the story" approach, while others might need a more in-your-face approach to really get the sense that he is really believing in the concepts behind his programs. I'd settle for something in the middle :-)

And to Meri- no hard feelings about the Axel set-up comment. I knew what you meant ;-)

Anonymous said...

Nice review of the skaters. Thanks!

Have to agree with your assessment of Patrick - I have such tremendous respect for his skills as a skater - his straight line step sequence here was jaw dropping - but I don't find him particularly engaging as a skater. It puzzles me as well because theoretically he has all the qualities I admire in a skater. Maybe it's the lack of passion? I'm guessing that may not be in his DNA.

So the rule changes explains all those awful donut spins that were attempted! There were a LOT of painful (to watch at least!) spins at that competition that went on forever...very slowly.... The other thing I noticed is that the skaters would reach down and brush the ice with their hand - does that add choreography points or something? It seemed strange that so many of them did that move.