Tuesday, October 26

NHK Trophy Roundup: the Good, the Bad, and the Terrible, Part 2: Ladies, Pairs, and Men

The other three disciplines from the NHK Trophy condensed into one post. Sorry it took a while for this to come up, but I have finally finished watching the videos from the event.

I said in my previews that this event was wide open with plenty of inconsistent skaters, I just didn't plan for most of them to have completely lifeless and watered down performances. Ugh, ladies, you used to be my favorite discipline..

Carolina Kostner won the event without attempting a triple flip or triple Lutz, due to injury. She debuted her new short program to Galicia Flamenca and I have to say that I really liked the dynamic and sharp choreography throughout, and it fit her well. Her free skate was to Prelude to the Afternoon of the Faun and I more-or-less liked the potential in this program, as well. I have to say that I think Lori Nichol did a good job of finding music that suits Carolina. What disappointed me about her free skate was that even with the easier content, her last two or three jump elements looked to be cheated, although none were penalized. Great step sequences in both programs, though. I wasn't blown away by her (or any other ladies) skating.

Rachael Flatt finished second here. She had cute choreography in both of her programs (as she always does), but I'm still missing the boat big-time with her. The Lutz still has the back and forth swinging edges entry, but her flip seems to be a little more steady this year. The double Axel/triple toe combination in the free skate looked good. While I wasn't really impressed, none of the American ladies are known for their consistency at this point, so I'm sure she's happy with this early-season performance and finishing as the top of the three US ladies in the field.

Kanako Murakami finished a surprise third place. She has a smile to die for, and she showcased it throughout the short program. After a great skate, she went to grab an item that was thrown from the audience and lost her balance, falling to the ice right in front of where she was to exit. She sat there and laughed it off.. how cute! Being a bit nit-picky, her triple toe/triple toe combination in both programs seemed to me as if the first triple may have been a bit short of rotation. Her free skate to Mask of Zorro also had its share of other problems, including two missed triple flips, and lots of other jumps that also looked borderline not completely rotated. Her lack of polish and solid skating skills really showed up in the free skate.

Kiira Korpi finished in fourth overall. I liked her free skate to Evita, and I thought her dress was really nice. That must mean something, as I usually have no opinions about costuming! She continued the trend of not only landing many of the jumps with almost no run-out, but some triples also seemed to be a bit cheated. Unfortunately, she had three major errors in the middle of the free skate which kept her off the podium, but I see the potential in the program if she delivers. The judges have shown they are more than willing to give her the marks.

Ashley Wagner, my pick to win the event, finished down in fifth. She dumped her new short program to Kashimir and instead skated a re-choreographed version of last years Once Upon a Time in America. I was kinda "eh.." about it last year, and it was the same story this year. Her new free skate is to Malaguena and we have seen the concept and choreography 5000 times before. I've always liked the attack she has not only into her jumps but also towards the programs themselves, but I wish we would have seen something a bit more refreshing from her. Her loop didn't work here, and the flip also seemed to have its issues.

You know this is a disastrous event when Elene Gedevanishvili is able to finish third in the free skate (sixth overall) only attempting Lutzes, Salchows, and toe loops. She doubled her first Lutz, and like every single other lady, most of her jumps seemed cheated on the landings and barely squeaked out. I thought the softer-styled program to Phantom of the Opera worked well for her, though.

Caroline Zhang went through an obvious growth spurt over the summer, and while some aspects of her skating have been fixed (no more major kicks into the Lutz or flip), she's also lost some of the qualities that helped keep her competitive even with the technique flaws, such as the flexibility in her spins. While the spins aren't horrible, they don't have the power or overall impression that they used to. One problem I did see with the flip and Lutz technique is that she STILL picking in with her skates lined up, rather than picking in with the free foot behind her and then drawing back to lift herself in the air. Imagine a skater doing a triple loop more off of the toe pick rather than the flat edge--- that's what it looks like with Caroline. This also causes major pre-rotation issues that a picky technical panel would most likely not ignore. As a positive, she seems much more understanding of her issues this year and I'm sure it's been a difficult journey as she's grown.

Way down in eighth was current World Champion Mao Asada-- can we say absolute meltdown? Not only was her triple Axel non-existant, but she didn't land much of anything else, either. It's obviously a re-working year for her, but I wonder if she imagined it would ever turn out this bad. To her credit, she didn't give up on the performance in the free skate throughout the mistakes.

Jenna McCorkell finished ninth overall, and from what I saw in her re-worked Totentanz short program, it seems that her choreographer has learned that transitions are a part of the components scores :-)

Qing Pang / Jian Tong easily won the pairs competition, and I found myself liking their short program to Nocturne much more than their Liebestraum free skate. The short was strong and I loved the choreography, but it was weird that they chose to end with the side-by-side spins. While the element has greatly improved over the years, it still remains a weak area for them, and in this performance it was way off. The free skate also had sweet choreography, but I thought they looked really slow in both programs (they've never been particularly fast) and about half-way through the long, I kind-of zoned out. She singled an Axel and came out early on her triple toe attempt, but the throw jumps were reliable as always. I'm glad they didn't retire, and maybe I'll warm up to the free skate.

Vera Bazarova / Yuri Larionov finished with the silver medal. I haven't seen their short program, but I did watch their Man in the Iron Mask free skate. She's very tiny and has little power on the side-by-side jumps, which causes the timing between the two to always be off. If I were on the technical panel, I'd probably give her 2Axel/2Axel sequence a full downgrade on both jumps, as she has a HUGE skid off the edge and barely gets into the air. Aside from her jump weaknesses, her extension and position throughout the lifts was, as always, a nice highlight. I wasn't blown away by the program, but it was nice.

Narumi Takahashi / Mervin Tran, already having competed twice on the Junior Grand Prix circuit (and qualifying to that Final), were the surprise bronze medalists here-- which I question. She is also very tiny which leads to questions on whether her side-by-side jumps get all the way around, but I was really impressed by their short program. One of my notes says HIGHLIGHTS!, and I think that really helps set them apart.  However, all four jump elements had issues in the free skate. She fell on both the triple Salchow and double Axel in the side-by-side elements, and always had both hands down on her throw triple Salchow and came down on two feet on the throw triple toe. However, the strength of the lifts and the throw twist helped keep them on the podium. I didn't score the programs myself so I can't say they were completely gifted, but I thought their components scores, particularly in the choreography and interpretation, were a bit generous. They don't really relate to each other, yet, and the program still seemed like it belonged at the junior level.

Caitlyn Yankowskas / John Coughlin climbed up to fourth, just narrowly missing being on the podium. Their free skate to Ave Maria is a tribute to John's mother, and they had a decent performance. She put a hand down on the throw triple loop and fell on the side-by-side triple toe loop. I think the program could have had more intricacy, but I still enjoyed it and they related well.

Caydee Denney / Jeremy Barrett and Mylene Brodeur / John Mattatall both skated to Gershwin in their free skates, and I can't say that I loved either one. Denney/Barrett did, however, show a really nice new short program to soft music that I felt made them take their time rather than flail around all over the place and skate like two singles skaters. Unfortunately, I think those issues creeped in again with the free skate, and I always get the impression that she is like a school girl that has a crush on a boy and can't look him in the face. Brodeur/Mattatall also had a nice short program and even though they finished in sixth, they weren't far off from the bronze medal and can be proud of their efforts for literally being invited to this event last minute.

Special mention to seventh place finishers Maylin Hausch / Daniel Wende of Germany. The placement doesn't indicate how well they did, and I really liked some of the moments in their Prince of Persia free skate.

While the ladies were a disaster and the pairs were just okay, the men completely saved this event from being a total snooze. Thank you, boys... seriously.

World Champion Daisuke Takahashi won the event with very good, but not amazing, skating. I think that his short program was (don't shoot me) a bit gimmicky and while it is cool, I don't think it showcases how good of a skater he is, as last years program did. He had a hand down on the triple Axel but otherwise skated a clean program. I wrote in my impressions of the Japan Open that I wasn't really blown away by his free skate, and I feared that it didn't have the tension or music cuts to really build up and become a masterpiece, but I did enjoy it a bit more here. He landed a nice quad toe loop and two triple Axels, only to fall on the latter half of his triple Lutz/double loop near the end of the program. I guess the disappointing thing for me with both programs is that he obviously is SO creative, but there is nothing that really shows that off. The tango free skate is traditional and clean, but at the same time, it isn't exactly innovative. Oh well, I obviously thought a lot about that because I really like him. :-)

Jeremy Abbott finished second overall. I saw him skate his Viejos Aires short program at a show over the summer, and I worried about how it would develop because the choreography looked so awkward on him. Unfortunately, I saw more of the same here. I think the first half of the program has way too much in terms of arm movements and not much going on with the feet, and I think he still doesn't completely believe in it. For how much stress he was putting on his skate problems before the event, you wouldn't have known it here. I did have some issues with the spins, though. The sit/change/sit featured a position on the latter half that I'd consider more of an upright spin than a sit spin, and his flying camel was alright until he changed the edge and then really lost balance. HOWEVER, the complaining stops there. Life is Beautiful, as I have mentioned previously, is one of the programs I was most looking forward to seeing this year, and I most certainly was not disappointed. He skated with a relaxed quality that he's had next to never before, and it did wonders for the overall impression. Aside from a popped triple Axel and a cheated triple loop, this program was skated well and David Wilson has once again delivered a great program.

Florent Amodio climbed from fourth in the short program to second in the free skate, for the bronze medal overall. I was so curious to see what I'd think of his One Republic/Black Eyed Peas/Michael Jackson free skate when skated this well, as I was pretty harsh on it during the French Masters. Well, surprise surprise.. I actually liked it. I realize that there aren't that many transitions or signs of much choreography besides standing in place and dancing at pretty much every music change, but his interpretation of all of the different music was great, and his performance quality was high. Oh, and by the way, all of his jumps were spot-on besides a silly singling of a double Axel towards the end. I thought his components marks were fair, aside from being a bit too high on transitions.

Yuzuru Hanyu finished fourth overall in a very respectable first senior international outing. I want to really like him, but I can't get over how average his basics are in comparison to most of the other men in this field. His body reminds me of a Gumby figure in the sense that it is probably just a little bit too loose, and it causes him to really be all over the place in his stroking and arm movements. His spins also have some weird wound-up movements in the entrances that are somewhat distracting. I wrote in my short program notes that he probably isn't going to be the challenger in Japan yet that I thought he'd be, but then he went out in the free skate and landed an absolutely gorgeous quad toe loop and two triple Axels. Unfortunately, the program itself was a bit boring for me and I think the crowd helped make it seem better than it was. I'm not a complete hater as I think he has loads of potential, but I also think he has plenty of work to do before he really makes it big as a senior. He's probably thrilled with his fourth placement, though!

Shawn Sawyer reprised his Assassin's Tango for the short program, and skated to Alice in Wonderland for the free skate-- another program I was really looking forward to seeing in the pre-season. Both programs featured a very good attempt at the triple Axel- something he has yet to land cleanly in competition. At 25, it makes me wonder what would and could have been if he would have worked with other coaches besides Annie Barabe & Sophie Richaud before this off-season. As far as the free skate, the program was full of choreography and transitions, and he skated well aside from a fall on a triple flip in the beginning. His components scores were only a point and a half ahead of Hanyu, and lower than those of Amodio, which I think was very questionable.

Takahito Mura landed quad toe loops in both programs and I really enjoyed his free skate. His components were second-to-last highest, but I think he still has tremendous potential. He has a very similar skating style to Daisuke Takahashi in my opinion.

Jialiang Wu has some HUGE jumps-- his triple Axel is so loose in the air that it makes you wonder if it was only a double. It's so ridiculously effortless. His ISU notes mention that he's been working on a quad Lutz in practice, and based on the size and amount of time he had to get out of the triple Lutz in the short program, I don't doubt that he is able to land them. His free skate was a bit of a snooze, though.

Kevin Van der Perren made somewhat of a comeback in the free skate after a poor short program. I have criticized him (like his wife) in the past for lack of choreography and transitions, but I saw a bit of an improvement here. He must be scratching his head as to why the components dip down so low when he actually tries on the second mark, but then at last years Worlds he essentially had an empty free skate and scored pretty well. Oh well, that's judging. Just when people seem to write him off and say he should have retired, he did land a quad toe loop and triple flip/triple toe/triple toe combination in the long program here.

Adrian Schultheiss fell flat with his short program for me, but I saw the potential in his more traditional free skate-- something he isn't really used to. The story of his life, though, is how SLOW he still skates around the ice.

Denis Ten had a poor free skate that dropped him to last overall. Now training with Frank Carroll, I saw unfortunate signs of Evan Lysacek in the arm movements and overall presentation of the long program. Bah.


Anonymous said...

Liked reading this analysis. I feel Amodio's dancing was choreo and also transitions.

Anonymous said...

Alas, I have to agree that the men saved the singles from being a complete disaster...
I was just so disappointed with all the uninspiring performances from the ladies that I might just ignore them all until the Worlds, where the ones able to have overcome whatever 'it' is hopefully emerge from the pits.

Anonymous said...

Another great analysis, Tony! A short comment reg Abbott's spin you refer to as 'The sit/change/sit featured a position on the latter half that I'd consider more of an upright spin than a sit spin'. (At least if you mean the same spin I'm watching)

Check this out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sit_spin

(Preaubert's and Othman's examples).

Isn't Abbott's spin similar to those two?

Tony said...

Eh, now that I rewatch it, I think that part of the problem is the costume. It makes him look much bigger than he really is, in my opinion.

As far as the spin, it's like a cross-foot spin that he tries to do in a sit position, but IMO he doesn't get down far enough. You'll see that he does the change foot into a traditional back sit, and then raises up and back down, moving the free leg behind the other. He didn't receive any credit for the spin, so the problem may have started when he went somewhat upright to achieve that final position.

Along the same lines, I'm curious to see is whether Joubert's 'flying upright', that looks to start in a sit position, will receive credit from an international technical panel. It was fine at the French Masters (even received + GOE from some judges even with less than required rotations), but I can totally see it receiving no credit, as well.

Anonymous said...

Well, I too happen to think that the costume isn't working. It makes him look boxy.

I read the reason for not receiving credit for that particular spin, is it being exactly 1 revolution too short (in one of the positions).

Tony said...

Now I see it. On the same change foot that I described above, he did one rotation on the traditional back sit, went up, and then down for that weird position and only really did four rotations-- for five total. You need six. I knew it had something to do with that awkward rise in the middle of the spin. Second, I'm pretty sure that in order for a position to count, you have to do at least two rotations. If that first position didn't count at all, then he really only did FOUR rotations (or just slightly less) in total. The sad thing is that I'm sure he could hold the traditional back sit for days.

Anonymous said...

I agree, he could, bit he's probably trying to be creative, in his spins too. I don't mind seeing that new sit position from him at all, it's something different, I like it (as long as it's CoP-legit).

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you like Mura as well! I found his LP to be zzz, but I love the speed and precision of his edges and of course, his huge jumps.

Anonymous said...

Mura reminds me of Takeshi Honda, because of his body structure and powerful jumps.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about what do you think about Ten's SP choreographed by Stephane Lambiel, his first competitive program

Anonymous said...

I think what Dai wanted to do is to make a program just like Swan Lake that showcased his talent not only as a skater but a danser. In that sense, it seems successful. What other creative program do you imagine would be possible for him
for example?
I now really want to see his program by David Wilson for next season.

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to hear comments on the Swedish girl Viktoria Helgesson as well...if possible.

Natalie said...

I really like Hanyu and hadn't seen him before but did notice that his transitions and footwork could use some oomph. I am wondering if part of that is his obvious love for Johnny Weir. Even before i learned that Weir designed the costumes (duh) or heard the commentators going on about it I saw Weir in his skating. Crossing himself before programs, opening positions, spin positions, and, unfortunately transitions (or lack thereof). I love Johnny but wish Hanyu had taken more of the positive things from his skating to emulate.

Anonymous said...

someone was complaining that Dai is copying Ryan Bradley for his SP and i wonder many Americans feel that way. i hope not. I'm Japanese and don't really remember if i ever watch it or not. it was Shae-lynn's idea anyway and at least he is entertaining as always. like Tony says, both are not so creative for Dai, and music is too popular, but still they're something he has never really done before so i think it's worth it and i'll just wait for the best moments.

Anonymous said...

Anon 713, you mean this fs of Bladley's from 2 season ago?

I don't want to sound negative, because I usually like Ryan's skating (meaning he's never my fridge break), but there isn't many similarities except for the music, imo. OTOH, I'm not American.

TBH, I expected more from Daisuke this season. He's an excellent, excellent skater. And I always have unrealistically high expectations for the skaters I really like.

That is why I have to agree with Tony. (but not with those Americans! ;)

Anonymous said...

anon 758, yeah, that must be it. thanks!

i have to say he is hotter! which i think is very important for this kind of music. Dai's mambo is fun and .... cute ;-(

and yes, i totally understand what you are trying to say. i would be impressed if this was someone else, but i expect so much from Dai, too, you know.

and I said Americans because we don't get to see Ryan around here any more. didn't mean much :-)

Tony said...

Back to a few posts ago, I see someone asked about Helgesson. Short program.. meh. Nothing we haven't seen and I don't particularly like the arrangement of music. However, I love the music in her free skate and I'm also excited to see it later in the season. The middle piece of music (Sad Romance) is especially wonderful! Viktoria did pretty well here. Nice to see she's trying (and landed) the Lutz.