Saturday, August 28

JGP Courchevel Day Three, Phaneuf to Compete in Japan Open

The Junior Grand Prix Courchevel concluded today with the mens free skate and free dance competitions. Overnight leader Andrei Rogozine of Canada held on to win the title after a second place free skate, scoring 119.87 in the portion and 184.39 overall. American Jason Brown climbed up from third in the short program to win the silver medal, besting Rogozine in the free skate by almost three points but finishing with 180.57 points. His teammate Max Aaron rounded out the podium, finishing with 178.00 points. Home country skaters Thomas Sosniak and Romain Ponsart finished in fourth and fifth places. Down in 16th place of the 17 competitors was Ryan Zhi Jwen Yee of Malaysia, who has former Swiss skater Jamal Othman as part of his coaching team. Othman retired after the 2010 World Championships, moving to Malaysia to help develop the sport.

In ice dance, Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin held on to their short dance lead and won the title with 117.60 points. Americans Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus had third and fourth placements in the portions of competition but ended up with the silver medal overall, while Evgenia Kosigina and Nikolai Moroshkin fell to fifth in the free dance but were able to hold on to the bronze medal after their second-place short dance finish. The difference between teams two through five in the free dance was less than two points.

The official event results page now has a "Download Event protocol" which includes the exact documents that are distributed at the competition, for those interested.

Yesterday, I wrote about Mirai Nagasu's withdrawal from the Japan Open. Noted by a reader, I did some more investigating on the event page (thanks in part to Google translate), and found the competitor page which shows Cynthia Phaneuf as being her replacement. Phaneuf was 5th at the 2010 World Championships, narrowly missing the bronze medal. Olympic Champions Shen and Zhao of China were originally scheduled to skate in the exhibition after the event (along with Shizuka Arakawa, Takeshi Honda, and Takahashi/Tran), but they have withdrawn and will instead skate in Yu-Na Kim's All That Skate Los Angeles show the same weekend.

I'm hoping for videos from France to pop up sometime this week.. I'm in the mood to critique (and more importantly-- just see!) some competitive skating :-)

Friday, August 27

JGP Courchevel: Day Two and Other Tidbits

Russian Polina Shelepen was able to move up from her second place short program standing to win the gold medal at the first event of the Junior Grand Prix series, in Courchevel, France. The 15-year old earned a personal best 103.31 points in the free skate, and won the competition by over ten points. American Yasmin Siraj also delivered a strong free skate and pulled up from sixth place to win the silver medal, scoring 97.92 points in the portion. Siraj received the highest components scores of the night. Shelepen's teammate Rosa Sheveleva earned the bronze medal, scoring 94.87 points in the free skate. Surprise short program leader Yretha Silete of France celebrated her birthday today but dropped to fourth place overall, while the other American, Nina Jiang, finished fifth. Sheveleva competes at the next circuit stop (Romania), while the other two medalists have not yet been assigned to a second event.

The first ever ice dance short dance competition in an ISU event is now in the books. Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin are the leaders with 47.98 points, while teammates Evgenia Kosigina and Nikolai Moroshkin sit second. Americans Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus are third, and had the luck of being the first ever team to compete in the short dance.

The competition wraps up tomorrow with the free dance and mens free skate. For ladies event protocols as well as more detailed standings for the men and ice dancers, visit the ISU results page.

Mirai Nagasu has been dealing with an ankle injury for the last six weeks and has withdrawn from the Japan Open in early October. The official event website says that "some competitors will change", but does not yet list her replacement. Nagasu was part of Team North America, along with Joannie Rochette, Jeffrey Buttle, and Adam Rippon. Nagasu is still attending the USFS Champs Camp this weekend, but she is not debuting her programs in front of officials. The American skaters with senior Grand Prix assignments are able to show their programs and receive feedback before competing internationally at the camp. Nagasu will resume training on September 1st, and most likely start her season at her first Grand Prix event: Cup of China, which begins November 5th.

The latest in the Brian Orser/Yu-Na Kim never-ending ordeal has Kim's team, including choreographer David Wilson, upset that Orser revealed details about Yu-Na's 2011 free skate, which will be set to music from "Arirang". I've definitely learned over the years that reporting skaters' music selections before they are ready to announce them can cause some major drama... as if this story didn't already have enough.

Thursday, August 26

JGP Courchevel: Day One

The ladies and the mens short programs are complete at the opening ISU event of the season, the Junior Grand Prix of Courchevel.

The surprise of the ladies short program is home-country competitor Yretha Silete, who currently finds herself in first place with 48.67 points. Silete turns 16 tomorrow and has 6th and 10th place finishes from the Junior Grand Prix last season. Narrowly trailing her is Russian Polina Shelepen, with 48.11 points. Shelepen won both of her circuit events last season before earning the silver medal at the Final, and finished her season with a 4th placement at the World Junior Championships. American Nina Jiang is third but less than a point behind the leader, with 48.06 points. Teammate Rosa Sheleva, Anais Ventard of France, and Yasmin Siraj of the United States round out the top six. Turkish skater Sila Saygi, who I noted as one to watch this season, sits in 11th place.

Here's a video of Silete from the 2009 French Masters short program, skating to Pink Floyd. I can live with that. :-)

Canadian Andrei Rogozine won the mens short program with 64.52 points. Rogozine continues his success from last seasons 6th place World Junior Championship finish. Americans Max Aaron and Jason Brown are second and third, and Aaron is off the lead by just 0.21 of a point. Thomas Sosniak of France sits fourth, and Noah Scherer of Switzerland is fifth.

Articles, photos, and videos are yet to surface, but here are the full results lists. The competition continues tomorrow with the first ever ISU short dance and the ladies free skate.

Wednesday, August 25

Orser Responds, And In Other News..

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Brian Orser responds to everything happening on Canada AM (video). I feel for him, but my question remains: if things have been shaky in Toronto since May or June, how was this a shock come August 2nd when he was informed that he had been dropped? My assumption would be that Yu-Na Kim or her entourage gave the impression upon returning to Canada that either she wasn't going to be competing next season or retiring. He says that in the last few weeks he had been helping her with little things, which falls most likely after her mom said he was done. Still plenty to come out, I'm sure, but I do hope the focus has returned to skating by the time Orser has other skaters competing on the Grand Prix. 

Kim shared some more thoughts on her personal page, which Yonhap News has summarized.

Anyways... shockingly enough, there are other things going on in figure skating. The Junior Grand Prix of Courchevel starts off the international season tomorrow. The results page has been activated, and check out the event website (in English). Among the pages includes podium shots of the competitors from the 2008 competition, and you will see a few familiar faces, especially from the mens photo! Here's to hoping there is some video coverage from the event.

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The Nebelhorn Trophy is the first senior international competition in 2010/2011, and it starts September 22nd. Entries have been published and once again, some big names will start their seasons in Oberstdorf. The mens field features Kevin Van der Perren (BEL), Michal Brezina (CZE), surprise 2010 Four Continents Silver Medalist Tatsuki Machida (JPN), and Armin Mahbanoozadeh (USA). Kiira Korpi (FIN), Carolina Kostner (ITA), World Junior Champion Kanako Murakami (JPN), and Ashley Wagner (USA) lead the ladies field. The pairs competition features the new team of Duhamel/Radford (CAN), two Italian teams: Berton/Hotarek and Della Monica/Kocon, and Russians Novik/Kuznetsov. Pechalat/Bourzat (FRA) and Cappelini/LaNotte (ITA) headline ice dance.

Tuesday, August 24

A Look At the Kim Situation from Inside the Rink

While we are probably going to get back-and-forth news articles all day between Brian Orser and Yu-Na Kim's camp, I thought it would be interesting to talk to a few people that have spent some time inside the rink and on the same ice that this drama has unfolded. Beware that it isn't much, and it's certainly not earth-shattering, but it's more than what Kim's agent has offered up.

One source told me "it was obvious [a few months ago] that there were problems. Yu-Na would land a jump, and [Brian] would clap to acknowledge it, and she would just turn away and skate off." The source continues, "there were definitely no lessons taking place. Yu-Na would work with David [Wilson] on choreography a little bit, and sometimes on her own, but there was no communication with Brian. None."

The two did have to be cordial towards one another during a press interview/photo shoot in one of the restaurants at the Cricket Club. Did either go out of their ways to communicate then? "Just the necessity, nothing more. We have to remember that people will act a certain way around others that might not be the most honest, but you can only hide your true feelings to an extent."

Another source tells me that because Yu-Na was not being coached by anyone, "When I arrived, she seemed out of shape. She would attempt triple/triple combinations, but always pop the first jump. She was also struggling, even falling, on a triple Salchow in early run-throughs of her exhibition program. She only started to get into better shape a few days before she left for Korea, luckily."

I asked about whether Min-Jung Kwak, who also left Orser, was still receiving lessons at that point. All of the sources say that he was still spending plenty of time with her, but one adds that "we have to remember she is also managed by Yu-Na Kim's agency, so maybe she didn't have a choice."

Another question being raised is whether rumors of Mao Asada being trained by Orser had anything to do with the beginning of the falling out. I asked all of the sources whether her name was ever circulated around the rink during their stays, and while all of them arrived after the original rumor surfaced, none of them heard a single mentioning of Mao. "I only heard about Brian [Joubert] coming all the time," says one.

Also of interest, and something I had not heard about until speaking with these sources, is the possibility of Yu-Na or her camp writing a letter to Orser in May or early June which stated that she "felt no reason to return to train with [Brian]." When she did return to the Cricket Club, she certainly stood by her words (if this is true) and only worked with David Wilson. Had she contemplated retiring from amateur competition in the early summer months? That would be a logical explanation for not needing to return to a coach, but this is where the big question mark occurs within the whole story.

I don't have allegiances to either side, but I hope the drama is settled sometime soon. And if Yu-Na Kim is truly serious about continuing to compete next season, I hope, for her sake, that she finds a full-time coach soon. She might be the Olympic Champion and she might have a mom who seems to know all, but it doesn't mean she knows what is best for Yu-Na.

Oh, and as I was typing this up, Yu-Na graced her Twitter account with the following message:
Would you please stop to tell a lie, B? I know exactly what's going on now and this is what I've DECIDED.
Seems the real drama has just started. Sigh.

Denney/Barrett Coaching Change

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FigureSkatersOnline has published a release from the USFS announcing that National Champions Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett have left their coaching team of Jim Peterson, Lyndon Johnston, and Alison Smith, and will now work with former US pairs Champion John Zimmerman and his wife, former Italian singles skater Sylvia Fontana.

Among the pairs teams that Zimmerman already works with are the Italians, Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek. If you missed my non-stop gushing about them during the World Championships, check out this post to see their great short program from the event.

I'm definitely excited to see if Zimmerman and Fontana can work with Caydee and Jeremy to relate more to each other rather than two skaters performing all the elements with very little connection to each other. In the short time that they have been back together, they've definitely made tremendous improvements, and I hope for big things from them next season.

The Yu-Na Drama

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A month and a half ago, I reported some details that were passed along from Toronto. Among the news was Yu-Na Kim not yet having new competitive programs and a suggestion that she was focusing her efforts more towards endorsements and her own projects. Very shortly thereafter, Kim notified the press (upon arrival to Korea for her All That Skate show) that she was going to skip the Grand Prix series and focus all of her attention towards the World Championships next March.

Flashback to a month after her Olympic win, during the 2010 World Championships in Torino. Yu-Na made mistakes on three of the eight elements in the short program and found herself sitting in seventh place, outside the final group for the free skate. While no one saw that coming, the gossip around the rink during the week was that Yu-Na was basically forced to skate at Worlds, and some of the other skaters were quite sure that she simply didn't want to be there. It was initially believed that one of the reasons for Kim showing up to compete was because she had elected to skip the Four Continents Championships in her home country (because of the sparse amount of time between that and the Olympics), and in turn was 'required' to show up at Worlds.

Now fast forward to today-- news that Kim has left coach Brian Orser, and there is no reason being given for the move. I knew during my July 8th post that Yu-Na and Brian were not working together, but I thought the reason was that she was either focusing all of her on-the-ice efforts towards being ready for All That Skate, or that she really was planning skipping the season/retirement. So the exhibition came and went, and Yu-Na said that she wasn't retiring.. so what exactly caused the fall-out? Upon hearing the news, I thought that maybe the turmoil started with the whole going to Worlds situation, and maybe Orser was the deciding factor of Kim's participation... however, that's probably not the case. This article mentions that the tension might have started in May, when rumors surfaced about Orser possibly agreeing to coach her main competitor, Mao Asada. Orser refuted the rumors, and I highly doubt that he would take her on without having some kind of discussion with Yu-Na prior to Asada just showing up in Toronto.

So, all we have for now is a bunch speculation. I know that Yu-Na has said she will have two new competitive programs choreographed by David Wilson (who, by the way, she continues to work with), but she has another show coming up in October while most other top skaters will be competing in a pro-am competition in Japan the same weekend. As far as I know, she doesn't have an actual 'coach' yet, and while Asada might be in the same boat with the coaching situation, I'm still questioning whether Kim returns at all.

By the way, Min-Jung Kwak (the other Korean ladies entry at the Olympics and Worlds), has also left Orser. I suppose there is a whole lot more that will come out of this story in the next few days.

Edit: Since writing this post, Randy Starkman of The Star has written an article and Philip Hersh has posted his own blog entry which includes quotes from a teleconference with Orser earlier today.