This review comes from video clips I found linked on the internet (via FSUniverse message board). I have not seen the performances of Cynthia Phaneuf or Sarah Meier.
Julia Sebestyen of Hungary started off the ladies competition, replacing the injured Laura Lepisto. Sebestyen retired from competitive skating after the 2010 World Championships, and reprised her 2003-turned-2010 free skate here, to a medley by Raul di Blasio. She started off with a nice double Axel and a triple Lutz, but then had trouble on the second Lutz, falling out. The rest of the jump elements (aside from a nice double Axel) were all doubled. In the last minute of the program, Julia not only had trouble with the end of her donut spin, but also lost her balance at the very beginning of an attempted spiral, and her ending combination spin looked simplified and labored compared to what she showed in prior competition. Julia was a late replacement here, and I'm sure that she (deservedly) has watered down her skills following her retirement. She was competing in the European Championships as early as 1995! It was nice to see her again, but this performance obviously was nothing special. Julia scored 81.48 overall, and finished sixth among the six ladies.
Miki Ando of Japan was next, debuting her new competitive free skate to Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A-Minor. She started off strong with a nice triple Lutz/double loop combination, a triple loop out of three-turns, and a strong double Axel/triple toe loop combination. However, she fell on a cheated second triple Lutz, but recovered seconds later with a triple Salchow and then a triple toe loop. The fourth (and final) jump element in a span of about thirty seconds time was a double Axel/double loop/single loop. The second jump was severely cheated, hence the only managing a single on the latter. Miki's first spins looked faster and stronger, but was all over the place on a flying camel near the end of the program, and the footwork sequence looked sloppy and a little off throughout. She had a nice section in the middle where she showed attempts of really listening to the music, even if much of it was done little to no skating happening. Without that particular section, I'm afraid that I would have had the feeling that I have on most of her prior programs-- nothing too special. She finished second in the ladies competition, with 115.02 points.
Mao Asada, also of Japan, skated fifth. She also debuted her new free skate, to Liszt's Liebestraum-- a program that I definitely have been looking forward to seeing. Double Axel/triple toe combination to start, and the toe loop appeared to have a severe cheat on the exit. She was only called for an under-rotation rather than a full downgrade on the element. Then things started to go downhill. She popped a triple flip into a single, fell on a triple Lutz that leaned as soon as it got into the air, popped a triple(?) Axel into a big single that came down on two feet, fell again on a triple flip, and then redeemed herself somewhat with a nice spiral into a triple Salchow and a triple loop. Both jumps landed on very insecure edges, and the Salchow was also deemed under-rotated. She's doing a gorgeous split-position at the end of her combination spin in both programs which I absolutely love, but she did have trouble on her final flying sit/catch-foot, which she was barely able to hold.
On the positive side, Mao skated much smoother in this program than the clunky, up-and-down pushing feeling that I got from her last year, and her basics are gorgeous as always. There are transitions spread throughout the program this year (compared to absolutely nothing but jump preparations in the first half last year), but she still seems to be skating on the slow side as a whole. I'm not sure if the goal is to re-work her skating, hoping to peak in Sochi, or if she just had a really off-performance here. The focus is definitely much less on the triple Axel, and I wouldn't be surprised if she's sacrificing top results this year just to get the rest of her arsenal of jumps consistent once again. The program itself is definitely a step in the right direction towards me loving the soft, lyrical Mao I loved so much a few years ago. She finished fifth with a disappointing 92.44 points, and her components scores were only fourth-best in the field.
Joannie Rochette of Canada closed the show, reprising her Samson and Delilah free skate from last season. Rochette has obviously been on a whirlwind journey of exhibition skating and off-ice appearances all summer, so I was really curious to see what type of shape she was in at this competition. After a doubled Lutz to start the program, she most certainly answered that question, landing the rest of her jumps cleanly: six triples overall, including a gorgeous triple toe loop/half loop/triple Salchow. Her spins looked faster than ever before, and she skated with a looseness and freedom that we don't often see from her in competition. The program didn't have the spark that it had when she debuted it at this same competition a year ago, but she won the ladies portion of the event with 122.71 points. Rochette has not yet announced whether she will compete during the 2011 season, but she showed here that she still is in top shape.
My brief thoughts on the mens competition will come tomorrow. Can't overdo the writing too quickly after my extended break from the blog :-)