Wednesday, November 10

Skate America Preview: The Ladies

This is the first part of my Skate America previews. I decided against a Cup of China recap, and will rather write a best of and worst of the season (so far) following this event. The men, pairs, and dance previews will come tomorrow AM.

The Ladies
The same thing holds true for the competitor list at Skate America as it has in the previous three stops in the series: a bunch of decent names, but many of them can't exactly be described as consistent. The entire podium from NHK (Carolina Kostner, Rachael Flatt, Kanako Murakami) is back to face off once again, as are Skate Canada surprise bronze medalist Amelie Lacoste and a handful of other skaters looking to redeem themselves after disappointing first outings.

Carolina won the NHK Trophy without even attempting a triple flip or triple Lutz in the competition. It isn't that she's lost the jumps, she is just injured and decided against trying them three weeks ago-- it worked well. As far as I know, she will attempt the same watered-down content in Portland and hope to qualify herself a spot into the Grand Prix Final. With 15 points in the series already, a fourth place or better here should pretty much assure her ticket to Beijing. I personally feel that both of Carolina's programs this season are two of her strongest in years, but her consistency has been a big question mark throughout her career. She also had trouble fully rotating some of the triples in her free skate in Japan (even though just one received an under-rotation call), and many of the jumps had no flow coming out of them. One factor working to her advantage is that a decent skate should give her the highest components scores in the field.

Rachael won the free skate over Kostner in Japan and finished with the silver medal overall. However, somewhat consistent skating is unfortunately one of the only stand-out qualities that Rachael has working for her skating. I think her jumps are looking better this season (double Axel/triple toe looked nice), but the Lutz is still all over the place on the entry, and the landing is usually characterized by a wide-swinging free leg. I also think that both of her programs are a little bit too similar in their presentation and I wish that she'd get away from the cutesy-jazzy-type stuff altogether, as it all seems to fall, well... flat. Then again, in a field where seven of the twelve entries return from the mess of a competition that was NHK, Rachael's consistency may be enough to even win her the gold this time.

The real stand-out of the ladies event at NHK had to be the short program of this young lady, which left her in a surprise second place in her first senior international competition. Kanako had serious jump troubles in the free skate (four under-rotated jumps and two triple flip falls), but was still able to hold on to the bronze medal overall. What she has going for her is a freshness and spark to her skating, and she also showed that she can do the triple toe/triple toe, landing it in both programs three weeks ago. She turned 16 earlier this week and is the reigning World Junior Champion, but her weakness comes in her posture and overall finish. The short program was a great fit for Kanako, but she seemed to get lost in the choreography and performance of her Mask of Zorro free skate after the mistakes started creeping in. Like so many of the other ladies, rotating the triples will obviously play a big factor.

I think Amelie was just as surprised as everyone else after she landed on the podium at Skate Canada, but she has a lot working for her. She has programs this season that have been choreographed, in part, by former World Champion Jeff Buttle, and it has given her a much more dynamic quality than in the past. Amelie is also one of the few skaters in history that has received full credit for a triple loop/triple loop combination. While that was back in 2005/2006, she once again attempted the combination in her short program two weeks ago, but she fell out of the second jump and received and under-rotation call. Still, her nemesis for years has been the triple Lutz jump but she landed one in each program. If she can come close to or even nail the difficult triple/triple in the short program, Amelie could definitely find herself in the fight for a spot on the medal stand once again.

Looking to make a comeback

Caroline Zhang showed up to the NHK Trophy with big improvements to her technique, but she also went through a huge growth spurt over the summer that seems to have sacrificed a lot of the highlights of her skating. The jumps weren't there in Japan, and her spins were just average-- she really used to stand out in that department. It seemed to me that Caroline was really understanding of the slow start, and I don't expect to see drastic changes in the performance level just yet. Definitely a work in progress, though.
Alexe Gilles experienced nothing short of a disaster at Skate Canada, finishing in last place. Her personal best score is some 25 points more than what she earned in Kingston, and I'm sure she is looking to rebound in a big way this week. Alexe is another skater who is capable of the triple toe/triple toe, as she has it planned for her short program jump combination.
Elene Gedevanishvili is about as wildly inconsistent as they come (25th at the European Championships yet 10th at the World Championships in the same season!). While her third-place NHK Trophy free skate placing looks great on paper, it was almost by default as everyone else around her fell and popped many of their triples. I'm sure she'd love nothing more than to skate two solid programs here. Is it likely, though? Probably not.

Sisters go head-to-head
Sweden's Viktoria and Joshi Helgesson will both compete at Skate America. The two faced off against each other earlier this season at the Nebelhorn Trophy, with older sister Viktoria winning the silver medal, while Joshi finished just off the podium. Viktoria finished her season last year with a surprise top-ten finish at the World Championships.


Anonymous said...

Tony, just want to note a correction. You wrote:
Rachael has had the best result of all of the American ladies so far on the senior Grand Prix, winning the free skate over Kostner in Japan and finishing with the silver medal overall.

That's wrong since Alissa Czisny won Skate Canada (and also won the free skate, obviously).

Just thought you should know.

Tony said...

Oops. Alissa changed countries and now represents Cyprus or something, apparently. How silly of me.. for real!

Tony said...

It's corrected. :-)