Friday, June 11

Are We All Beside Ourselves in Excitement Over GP Assignments?

Tomorrow begins the 9-day 53rd ISU Ordinary Congress in Barcelona. While the good stuff (rule changes and the like) won't start being decided upon until Monday, tomorrow is also the day that the ISU will release the preliminary Grand Prix assignments for each of the six events. I don't know, I must have always been a really big dork because I always enjoyed analyzing the lists and seeing who was still competing and who wasn't, who got screwed and who got lucky, and all that other fun stuff that ends up pointless in a few months because the rosters have been modified so much. Oh well, I still need to have some kind of off-season fun!

For reference (mostly for my own personal boredom), a few months ago I predicted which skaters would fill the spots. Read my thoughts on the ladies and the men, and keep in mind that news such as the most recent Joannie Rochette article stating she would most likely not compete in the series, and my own guesses such as Kristoffer Berntsson retiring following the 2010 season, obviously proved to be wrong! We shall see about the rest :-)

Rochette "More Than Likely" Skipping Fall Internationals

In an article by Beverly Smith, Joannie Rochette mentions that she "more than likely" will sit out the fall Grand Prix series. She does mention, however, that she will compete at the Japan Open International competition in early October. This was the competition in which Joannie debuted her "Samson and Delilah" free skate last season, easily winning the ladies competition with a score of 126 points. Here's her performance:

While Joannie is still keeping her schedule open for the possibility of competing at the 2011 Canadians, I reported a few months ago that Scott Hamilton is working on re-building the professional circuit, with plans of competitions taking place right around the time of Nationals and throughout next winter. I suspect if this follows through that many skaters on the fence, such as Joannie, might jump on the opportunity. I am sure the cash prizes will be especially lucrative!

Another issue with Joannie continuing to compete is that her long-time coach, Manon Perron, has been working as "Expert Coach" of the Quebec Section in Canada, and part of the requirement of this job was that she could no longer coach any singles skaters. Rochette was the exception for the last few years, but this was only to last throughout the just completed Olympic season. Therefore, if she does continue to compete seriously on the World level, there is the question of finding a new coach and possibly establishing a different routine of training. After the absolute whirlwind of publicity and all of the appearances Joannie has made since the Olympic Games, does she really want to go through all of that?

Belbin/Agosto Retire from Amateur Skating

The five-time US champion and four-time World medalist ice dancers have decided to call it quits after a very successful career, including a silver medal at the 2006 Olympic Games. Read Belbin and Agosto's official announcement. While I didn't care for them as much after their move to Pennsylvania to train with Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponossov, I still strongly feel that the bronze medal at the recent Vancouver Olympics should have gone to this team. They will be missed!

In true fashion of retirement posts, here goes with some of my personal favorite programs from the team (oddly enough, most come in their first years on the senior circuit):

2007 Free Dance - "Amelie"

2002 Original Dance - "The Mask of Zorro"

2002 Free Dance - "Sarajevo" Selections by Goran Bregovic

2001 Original Dance - "More/Girls Girls Girls"

2001 Free Dance - "Alexandros"

Thursday, June 10

any updates on the new pairs teams this year? their progress? what they are doing for the upcoming season?

Nothing yet. It's still early in the summer :-)

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So does that mean you are like me in that, when it comes to downloading FS vids, you usually pick the British Eurosport versions first? ;-)

I definitely like how they commentate. They always throw in some small tidbits about many of the European skaters that we don't often see, so that is always appreciated. :)

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Tony, what are your thoughts on Belbin& Agosto's retirement?

I will miss them. While I definitely wasn't crazy about either of their dances in 2010, I thought they were royally robbed of the bronze medal at the Olympics, and I wish they could have come out with better material to really solidify that they deserved third. Unfortunately it was just one of those unlucky instances, because I think they (she, in particular with her posture and finish) have improved since their silver in 2006.

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Do Japan, Korea pay their skaters to continue training & competing? Could that be why they're successful? What about the U.S.? Lambiel said in interview that Swiss skating fed never gave him monetary support. Maybe that's why their only decent pairs

I don't think that they "pay" them, but I think that much like the USA there is probably some funding for the top athletes. Asada, Kim, Ando, and now even Takahashi probably have so many endorsements that they don't have to worry about money. But unfortunately, it seems like if you aren't in that top tier of skaters, it's a big struggle to make it season to season. Fumie Suguri is a good recent example of that-- she was really desperate for sponsors and was most likely not able to continue if she didn't find anyone.

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Who would be your ideal commentating team? There's gotta be at least one layperson. (I'm guessing you'd go with Terry in that role?)

Definitely Terry Gannon. He has learned so much about the sport and he has this quick, witty humor that makes him really enjoyable. Tracy Wilson usually does ice dance commentary, but she knows her stuff in singles and pairs skating as well. She's informative and explains what she needs to quickly during the performances rather than talking the entire time. And honestly, Sandra Bezic doesn't bother me at all. I think she also has a lot of good points. I don't know why she rubs so many people the wrong way but I guess she can go on talking just a bit too much.

Dick Button is so knowledgeable but he mumbles and stutters over his words way too much now, unfortunately. I like him in the position of reviewing the event or giving his thoughts, as he did at the 2009 Worlds and 2010 Olympics. Scott Hamilton always is far too excited about the little things. I like that he has so much passion, but some of it is just so over the top. It's like, yay, the skater just did a clean triple Salchow and you lost your mind over it, but now they have a triple Axel and quad toe coming up!! How are you going to react now, Scotty? He'll probably pee his pants. Peggy Fleming recycles the same quotes far too often and seems to focus on only a few things. Everyone else.. meh.

Oh, and by the way... This is just for those that have done American broadcasting. I love the British men. They also relate to each other really well and analyze the programs AFTER the skaters are done, only highlighting really necessary stuff during the skate. More people need to learn to do that!

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Just Enjoy the Storytelling

Two posts down, I answered a question about Laetitia Hubert's "Prostitute on Drugs"-themed free skate from the 1999 season. If you haven't seen it, I actually came across the exact clip on YouTube that I had saved on my computer nearly ten years ago. Forget transitions and spin levels, because they didn't exist yet. Like I titled this: just enjoy the storytelling! Oh, and please look past her ability to do a clean double Axel in this particular performance. Well, look past her ability to do any clean jumps, really. This whole event ended up being a train wreck of ladies skating, and Laetitia ended up 5th.

What's your opinion of tights over skates? Tights over the ankle of the boot?

I don't have a strong opinion about this, but tights over the boot always looked ugly to me.

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Where would you rank Laetitia Hubert's "prostitute on drugs" LP in the pantheon of weird programs?

It was amazing! I remember the days of skating videos just starting to get popular online (circa 2001, probably), and I had this black and white version of it on my computer from a Canadian broadcast of the 1998 Trophee Lalique, and I watched it over and over. I also really love the music and can still recall back then reading somewhere that the music may have been from a composer named Thierry Berthomeu, so I spent a long while one night searching the internet for every possible clip I could find by him, only to find out that Maxim Rodriguez composed the music exclusively for Laetitia. OK, enough about my past music-searching adventures. I wish she would have had a better season than three really poor showings during the Grand Prix with the program. Remember, she didn't even go to Worlds in 1999 or 2000, and I just recently saw her 2001 free skate-- a total snooze in my opinion. I really miss Laetitia.. she was always so wildly out of control after doing 10 crossovers around the rink ;-)

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Dorsaz Done at 21

Yup, at the ripe old age of (basically just having turned) 21, Swiss pairs skater Antoine Dorsaz announced that he is retiring from the sport because he is no longer motivated. With partner Anais Morand, the team finished 8th at the 2010 European Championships, and had 15th and 13th place finishes at the Olympic Games and World Championships. Interestingly enough, I was catching up with Dorsaz just a few weeks ago and he seemed quite excited by their new free skate, set to be skated to music from "Austin Powers". Not sure what brought about the sudden change of heart, but this makes another Swiss skater or team retiring, even though next years European Championships will be held in Bern. Stephane Lambiel retired following the Olympics, but his silver medal at the 2010 Europeans earns three other teammates the right to compete at home. Morand and Dorsaz's 8th place finish this year will now give two different teams (if there are any left) entries to the event, as well. As of now, ladies skater and long-time Swiss champion Sarah Meier intends to compete next year, which will most likely be her last.

I would like your opinion: Who do you recommend me as a new coach for Mao Asada? Do you have any good idea?

I don't really know, or I guess I should say that no one is coming to mind immediately. Whoever the coach is, though, needs to be someone that is strict but at the same time makes the skater really believe in him/herself. Asada looked deflated all season and she really made it seem like skating had become a serious job rather than something she was once so passionate about. Granted, I understand it was an Olympic year and she probably had a lot of pressure from so many different places, but she was without Tarasova at Worlds and she seemed 1000 times happier, and so much more relaxed. I hope that personality continues.

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How difficult is it for a pairs skater to change partners? How long does it take? I don't know much about pairs, but Trankov has said in interviews that he hadn't skated with his new partner before they made the announcement, and that seems risky to me.

If they are both elite-level skaters, it doesn't seem to take very long as long as the skaters are compatible in the first place. Petrova/Tikhonov, I believe, were together for not even a year before they ended 4th in their first Worlds (and won the next year!), Duhamel/Buntin were together less than a year and they ended up 6th in their first Worlds, etc. There aren't very many different techniques as far as the lifts and twists and all that go, so it's mainly just figuring out the same timing on the individual elements and trying to develop the same look as far as the basics (crossovers, speed) go-- which I'm sure can be extremely difficult.

I haven't followed all of the Mukhortova/Trankov/Volosozhar stories, but that would surprise me if he did say that without even having skated with her at least a few times. However, I think Tatiana Volosozhar is probably one of the best pairs ladies in the World, and I am sure Trankov was thrilled he is now able to skate with her.

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Will Daisuke be on the Ice Dome camp in Oberstdorf in Switzerland with Lambiel?

I don't know. Sorry!

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do you think mao asada deserved to beat kim yu-na at worlds? and why do you think the scores were inflated as far as worlds and the olympics go?

Yes, there's no question that Asada was better than Kim at Worlds. I'll even go as far as saying that Kim was extremely lucky that so many skaters faltered in the short program, because she could have easily found herself even further down in the standings on almost any other day (I probably would have had her below Phaneuf for 8th place in the short, so I think she was more-or-less judged fair. Also remember that Ando, Suzuki, and Leonova all had their own mini-disasters..)

And as far as the inflated scores.. I think when you start high in the earlier groups, you naturally expect the skaters in the later and final group to be better (well at least the JUDGES seem to, I don't!) so they just keep up-ing the scores based on reputation of sorts, or placement after the short program. If you read my interview with Patrick Ibens from March, I asked him several questions about this very topic. I also think that at the huge events, the judges get a little GOE-happy and hand out +2's and even +3's like candy on Halloween compared to the rest of the season.

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Wednesday, June 9

IS Daisuke still in Detroit?

Nope. He will be in Switzerland next week to start work with Stephane Lambiel on his short program.

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What is the "ideal" free leg position in a layback spin?

If you are talking about the "classic" layback position, or the one almost everyone was going for pre-IJS, you want to extend your free leg back to be almost parallel with the ice (and basically completely stretched), and the same thing with the foot (the boot parallel to the ice). Many of the ladies would just bend their legs and extend from the knee cap down, while their upper legs would be parallel with the skating leg. Many ladies also never worried about keeping their foot parallel (or toes pointed, really), and Dick Button really went on a rampage in the 90's and early 2000's about it.

Pictures would probably be better here. Angela Nikodinov had an amazing "classic" layback.

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One question that's always bugged me during Vancouver was how Voir scored so much higher than Marlie. To the layperson, they looked well matched. Could you elaborate on how both couples were scored?

I think that the difference in both dances between the two teams is that Virtue/Moir looked really sharp and finished everything off, while Davis/White obviously had a much different free dance in particular and they were flying around the ice with so much passion (maybe sloppy looking at times). In the eyes of the judges, I think that it was a big determination of the components marks. While both teams' skills might be just about equal (and in another world compared to the rest of the teams), the cleaner and more polished looking programs won the day. As far as the original dance, I think I liked Davis/White's a little bit more, but I'm convinced that Virtue/Moir had such amazing highlight lifts in both programs that it also stuck with the judges. D/W took a chance with that OD, while V/M had a safe choice (not taking anything away from them, because they made it work).

I still have plenty to learn in ice dancing, but when I scored everything myself, I agreed with V/M beating D/W in both the OD and FD, but I had it really close. I think it honestly came down to personal preference of the programs themselves by the judges, because like I said-- their skills and content are very much alike. But then again, I could be all wrong. Ice dancing was never my favorite ;-)

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Tuesday, June 8

what do you think of brian joubert and jeremy abbott wanting to do flamenco inspired routines for next season?

I think it'll work for Joubert. I'm not so sure about Abbott.. he's a very internal skater and when he is skating to upbeat music, such as the second half of his short program last year, he can look awkward at times. I've said it before, but I wish he'd just "get" that he is such a good skater and let loose rather than having such a serious face and tense body the entire time. Maybe skating to something that forces him to be really expressive will help with that, though.

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What do you think about Alexei Yagudin?

In what aspect? I liked him as an amateur skater and I think he and Nikolai Morozov are to thank for the footwork being performed and scored as it is today, even if what he was doing was actually pretty simple.

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Is 19 too old to start skating? BTW I'm not aiming to be competitive or anything, but just for fun. What's the most difficult thing I could realistically learn to do?

I started skating at age 20! I think that your younger years are especially important to build up your basics. Things like crossovers may appear to be really simple, but you will find very early on that they are actually quite difficult and you won't want to practice them! If you are skating a few times a week and get used to the ice (such as being able to comfortably skate forwards and backwards, stop, perform decent crossovers, and skate on edges), then some elements are definitely not out of the question.

It took me about four months with a coach to go from a Waltz jump and some singles to landing an Axel, double toe, and double Salchow with a large success rate. I still could do so much more work with my own basics, though, but when you start doing the more "risky" stuff, it's easy to slack on the basics.

Everyone is different, though. Some people have no fear and will just learn very easily, while others realize how hard it is going to hurt and take a while to get used to everything. It's a lot of fun at the very least and a good form of exercise :)

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Monday, June 7

The Six Michelle Kwan Performances You Need To See

This is my little tribute to a figure skater named Michelle Kwan. Oh, you say you're familiar with her? I'm shocked! But no, seriously. If you have been a long-time fan of the sport, I don't think any of these performances are going to be exactly brand new to your viewing eyes. I became a fan of the sport just as Michelle was coming up into the senior ranks and starting to make a name for herself, and I can tell you that these six videos could be put on YouTube replay all day long and I would never tire of them. I hope that some of the newer fans that read the blog get to experience and enjoy these programs as much as I have, and maybe some of the long-time fans can re-experience the greatness. So, here we go, in no particular order except for the last two, which tie as my absolute favorites.

1995 Skate America Free Skate - "Salome" - Yes, Michelle won her first World Championship later in the season with this very free skate, and while it was performed extremely well there, I can still remember watching this particular event like it was yesterday (some 15 years ago)! I still distinctly remember Terry Gannon in the opening segment saying something to the nature of, "I had to ask who that skater was," when referring to Michelle-- she had undergone a huge transformation over the summer of 1995. The internet was obviously not nearly as big as it is now, and I had no idea that she had completely changed her packaging and appearance. What a great first outing of Salome, including a triple toe/triple toe.

1996 World Championship Short Program - "Romanza"/"Fiesta Flamenca" - I've always really loved the choreography of this program. So much to enjoy-- the opening steps she does right to the music, starting the program with the spiral sequence, the double Axel and how she held the landing in a spiral-esque position (something we'd see often from other skaters in the future), the dynamic and crisp choreography she does at 2:15 with such an intense look on her face, the way the program builds throughout and how all of the required elements just seemed like they absolutely belonged where they were choreographed.. should I keep going? To top all of that off, the look she gives at 3:11 is just priceless. It's a look that clearly stated that she knew she had reached the top, and it would be a long while before she'd step down.

1998 National Championship Free Skate - "Lyra Angelica" - What else can you say besides: duh?! Interestingly enough, I never really enjoyed the masterpiece that this program is until I started really learning the basics behind figure skating and attempted skating myself. I always thought it was an okay program, but my 11-year-old self was all wrapped up in the spark and energy that Tara Lipinski had during the time, overshadowing my ability to really love it. That didn't remain the case for long. There's not much else to say besides the skating tells the story here. The middle section to Erik Satie's Gymnopedie piece is some of my favorite choreography ever.

2002 Olympic Games Exhibition - "Fields of Gold" - Yeah, some people can go on and on about how it might have been a poor choice for Michelle to pick a song such as Fields of Gold in an Olympic year where the gold medal turned out to be anything but predictable, but there was still a genuine sadness in this performance that could be felt by everyone-- fan or not. There is some great choreography throughout the program, but my favorite part is definitely the back spiral she does at the end, at 4:08 in this video.

And now for my two favorites..

2003 World Championship Free Skate - "Aranjuez" - 2002 was the season when many people feel Michelle's choreography started to dwindle, and I'm definitely not arguing too hard otherwise. However, there is something about her free skate from the the 2003 Worlds that gives me chills EVERY single time I watch it. I remember that my mom actually sat and watched this competition with me as it aired, and I was explaining to her that the second triple Lutz was her last jump element. The way the American crowd explodes in excitement and Dick Button loses his mind after she lands the jump adds to the magic of the moment. You can hardly hear the music throughout the footwork sequence that follows right after the jump, and the crowd is on their feet before the program is even finished. Intricate choreography or not, this program was really something special. It is definitely one of those times where I wish I wouldn't nit-pick all the little parts of the sport, and rather just sit back and enjoy the skating!

1998 World Pro Championship Interpretive Program - "East of Eden" - There is really nothing to say about this aside from BRILLIANT. "East of Eden" is one of my favorite pieces of music ever used in figure skating, and I was so glad she brought back the program for the interpretive pro-am competitions that took over the fall of 1998. Just watch it.. there is no wrong step in this program!

And there you have it. Honorable mention to some of her other performances, including exhibition skates of "Winter", "Dante's Prayer", and the recent "Winter Song" that she skated in her return last year, as well as some competitive programs such as her gold medal-winning free skate from the 2001 World Championship to "Song of the Black Swan". 

What's your take on the recent Russian FS Fed election?

Sounds to me like Sikharulidze withdrew because he knew what was going to end up happening. Gorshkov becomes President in a no contest, but then Piseev is appointed to a brand new positions with (which looks to be) all of the same privileges and duties that he had as former President. I don't really have a strong opinion of Piseev either way nor do I closely follow all of the Russian skating politics, but the whole thing does seem a little strange. Russia better know what they are doing in the next four years if they want to be much more competitive as a whole than they were leading up to and in Vancouver.

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The rest of the question was: On the internet I found people who love JW or Hate him, but no unbiased opinions. The professionals site said that his technical scores were very similiar to EL and UP. What was he scored so low on and why? It appears his cre

Again, you are going over the limit of text so your question was cut off. My opinion for the last few years when it comes to Weir and his programs is that he talks all about how they have all this meaning, but when he skates (especially in his long programs), he is so intense or focused on what he is doing, that all of that talk and character becomes lost and it looks like he is on a practice session, going from element to element. I know that plenty of people disagreed with my opinion originally and I know the same thing is going to happen here. It looked like the choreography of his free skate in Vancouver had been completely wiped out, and he crawled across the ice compared to some of the other men.

I've notice that since Johnny has made such a household name for himself vs. pretty much all of his other competitors, there are so many (especially gay) people I talk to that know who he is and preach about how he is so under-rated. BUT... they know nothing about skating in general and how it is scored, nor do they really know the names of any of the other skaters. I don't know if they've even seen him skate or if they are just jumping on his bandwagon, honestly!

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Another on JW. Do you think the comments about fiqure skating trying to appeal to a more masculine audience has hurt JW in the judging.

I don't understand whoever came up with this logic. Aside from a very few instances, I wouldn't consider most of the top skaters in the world very "masculine". At the same time, most of those skaters also aren't parading around in the outfits that Johnny is when he is off the ice, but still, it really doesn't mean they are any more masculine.

I know when I discuss this, it rubs some people the wrong way, but we have to be real about the whole thing. Skating DOES attract a very large gay audience, while most straight people can find plenty of other things to do with their time. That's just how it goes. It will never be big with the football-loving straight men, so why try to make it something it's really not?

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Sunday, June 6

Thanks Tony for answering my question about JW. I came late to the party (the Olympics 2010). It really appeared to the average viewer that he was robbed and why was pretty upsetting. I have since been all over the internet trying to figure out what reall

If you want to re-submit this question/comment, please do. It got cut off from the text limit.

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Do you think spins should be awarded more in the CoP? It must be hard to do spins since so many top skaters' spins are ugly to average. Joubert & Weir for example have so-so spins at best, when their jumps fail them their programs are awful to watch.

Joubert has actually really improved as far as his spinning goes, but I do agree that many of the men have average spins. Michal Brezina has all of the goods to be a World Champion, except that his spins are actually poor at best. We will probably be seeing a lot of skaters struggling next year, because one of the items on the Congress agenda is to make the men perform flying and change foot spins with different positions in the short program. For example, if a skater is doing a flying camel spin, then they will have to do a sit/change/sit spin. It used to be that they could do all of the spins with the same basic position, and most of the men opted for the sit spins.

I think that the spin element values are pretty fair, though.

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