Saturday, December 11

Grand Prix Final Pairs/Dance Finals..

Reviews will come later. I need to catch up on sleep before I officially start my day, and hearing the first notes of Bobrova and Soloviev's free dance is going to put me in a depression now when I think of my favorite Maria Butyrskaya's less-than-memorable program to the same music in her final competitive season.

Grand Prix Final - LADIES LP Review

Here we go..

Rachael Flatt starts things off. Double Axel/triple toe that looked clean, but both jumps had such a twist on the take-off. It's always all muscle with her. Triple Lutz that looked like an inside edge take-off and she sat down on it. Camel change camel.. positions eh. The choreography of this program is so similar to the short program, and the music is similar too. Nice triple flip. Flying camel with little fly and then a sit position with an ugly free leg and up into a y-spin. She looks so much slower here than usual-- maybe she's always this slow and I never noticed. Second Lutz doubled, second flip doubled. Where is this coming from? She's usually such the model of consistency. Loop doubled. About six points total for those last three jump elements-- that will kill her score. Footwork is crawling and heavy-looking. Triple Salchow/double toe/double loop. Camel in the opposite direction with a donut position-- that, oddly enough, was one of her better positions in the spins. Somethings up with her-- total lack of energy, no speed at all, and lots of mistakes we usually don't see from her. She has to rely on her consistency to gain energy from the crowd, but when she's off, there's really nothing left. 82.38. Nearly 30 points below her seasons best, and I think that alone tells the story well enough.

Miki Ando skating second after her disappointing short. Triple Lutz/double loop this time. Nice turns into the triple loop and nice flow out. Flying sit with that ugly twisted stretched free leg-- I could do without it. Camel is actually a good position but then a weak sit/y-spin is stretched but slow. It disappoints me in moments like the one in the middle of this program where she's told, 'okay now this is your place to breathe', so she does actually listen to the music. But then as soon as the elements come back it's all business without any attempt to listen. Double Axel/triple toe looked rotated. Nice second triple Lutz, and a triple Salchow. Triple toe at the other end is also good and then a double Axel/double loop/double loop-- typical Morozov to have all of those jumps clumped together with not an ounce of choreography or transitions. Great technical effort and then the footwork is listless and a bit slow. Flying camel with a change edge and illusions that get her traveling/change/ sit again not the best position and a layback catch-foot that is a weak effort. No building of energy in that program. WHY? When you skate well, show it. And then of course when she comes off the ice she is all smiles for coach Morozov. I don't get it. 122.70 is her seasons best for the free skate. 7.25 for choreography and 7.29 for interpretation. Oh I see.

Akiko Suzuki skating to Fiddler on the Roof. Nice triple Lutz. Double Axel/triple toe loop looks good to me. Her jumps this week look bigger to me than they have in the past. Triple loop with the long telegraphed entry but the jump is nice. Flying camel with a weak position into a sit/change layback catch-foot-- nothing was amazing there. Her speed and pacing is already a million times better than Ando, and I just know I'm going to be mad when the components scores don't reflect that. Triple flip/double toe loop. Double flip. Triple loop/double Axel sequence is gorgeous on both jumps. Triple Salchow. Another flying camel with the weak stretch and a bent-leg variation to catch-foot. Now the program picks up and the crowd claps along for the footwork-- the definite highlight of her skating. She's emoting now but I would have liked to see her get into the performance a bit earlier. Final combo spin with a nice y-spin but that camel really needs some work. She gets a partial standing ovation and there are tons of Japanese flags in the audience. I love her skating, and I'll reiterate that she's now 25 and it looks like she's just getting stronger and stronger. Total credit to her. This SHOULD be enough to stay ahead of Ando. 115.46 on the free skate, and she's in first overall but just barely. Same score as Ando for interpretation, and she was lower on the choreography mark. Ha.

Kanako Murakami rounds out the three Japanese ladies in a row. Triple toe/triple toe solid as always. Triple Lutz that takes off on the inside edge. Sit positions are the best we've seen so far, and the speed on her spins is very good. Flip where the toe-pick went in wrong and she singles it. Layback/catch-foot/Biellmann and the final position was nice but it made the spin slow down a great amount. Triple flip/double toe loop. She reminds me of Yoshie Onda on these jump exits where it seems like her arms don't really know what to do so they just flail around a bit. Triple loop is nice. Double Axel. Triple Salchow looked two-footed/double loop/double loop. Combination spin to end is her best and the y-spin has tremendous speed. This program has more spark than prior in the season, but I still don't think it's the right vehicle for her. I felt her components scores were very generous in the short program and I suspect it will be more of the same here. Her overall skating quality isn't bad, but she has to use so much power in between and leading into the jumps, that it gives off a real sloppy and rushed feeling. Still, more going on in her program than Ando had and she at least has flashes of skating to the music. 117.12 for the free skate, first overall by 5 points and she's shocked that she stayed ahead of both of her teammates-- doesn't that mean she might have a ticket to Worlds already? Way too high of a score.

Carolina Kostner of Italy now. Triple toe to start. Double Axel. Surprised she didn't go for a triple/triple again but she only has so much she can do with only attempting three different kinds of triples in the program, I guess. Another double Axel. Remember when she used to fly around the ice? This music doesn't ask for it, but she seems so slow. Triple Salchow. Single loop/double toe loop. Recovers with a triple loop/double toe this time. Nice pacing and choreography with spirals leading right into a nice footwork sequence. Triple Salchow/double toe/double toe muscled out at the end. Flying camel/donut/catch-foot trails off into the ending pose. Eh. The lack of technical content worked earlier this year, but her spins are slow and the most difficult thing she did was a loop/toe combination. The judges loved her from a components aspect in the short and I'm sure they'll love her again, but this really should be behind all three Japanese ladies. Bloody hand-- she must have clipped her blade. 116.47 for THAT? I mean, if she adds two flips and a Lutz back, she's going to score 130+. Well, whatever. Into first. Suzuki has once again been royally screwed in my opinion. By the way, .01 ahead of Murakami overall.

Alissa Czisny closes the show. Triple Lutz/double toe to start. Triple flip/double toe. As always with her, probably going to need to check the jumps in replay to make sure they got all the way around. Triple toe goes up crooked but lands fine. Flying camel in a great position and then a donut spin to catch-foot. Perfect centering, good speed. Not carrying much speed around the ice, though. Triple loop lands with a deep curving edge. I-spiral and then she drops down into a traditional position. Second triple Lutz that she really fights for, again questionable rotation. Double Axel was tiny and she stepped out. Triple toe, all of these later jumps are being really fought for. One-foot combination spin with all excellent positions.  Circular step is nothing special but her ending layback is a million times better than any other spin in this ladies competition. She's happy with that, and if she rotated both Lutzes and the flip, she should EASILY win this competition. 116.99 and she wins overall by two points. Ando wins the free skate, but stays in fifth overall.

When You're Already Marked So High...

Is a 9.00 for interpretation really that needed or deserved? Chan and Takahashi both had 'off' performances in my opinion, and while the latter might have made more severe mistakes, he should have topped the interpretation score easily. What did he earn? 8.25.

I commented on the live review that Chan's interpretation was the weakest component that he has, yet these judges gave him the highest score there.

Grand Prix Final - MENS LP Review

Rolled over and got out of bed just in time. Probably staying up just for the men and ladies.

Florent Amodio of France- triple Axel to start, same perfect deep-knee landing and extension he's had on most jumps all year. Second triple Axel/double toe right away, shaky landing on the first but still done. Rushed the loop and it became a double. Choreography starts for the circular footwork and if you've been living under a rock and haven't seen the program, he definitely gets into it. 18 seconds of standing around and selling some more 'choreography' and then a triple Salchow/triple toe, two triple Lutzes (one in combination with a double toe), a triple flip, and a double Axel all within about 30 seconds with nothing else in between and really nothing but skating from one end to the other. All of the jumps were landed, but none of them had the greatest flow coming out. Choreography picks back up for the straight-line footwork which goes on for a while, and then he ends with spins. I love Florent, I think this program is fun for the audience and casual fans, but I can't get past how much time he stands around and how none of his jumps have anything going on into them. Transitions mark should be extremely low, the set-up of the elements (those five jumps all so quickly together) is bleh and should affect his choreography mark, but his performance mark should be high. He only interprets the music when he's standing around or doing the footwork. Sorry, I'm not a hater. Just keeping it real! 140.26-- not quite a 7 average on the components. Don't get me wrong-- he's extremely exciting. Just this program is everything that the judging system doesn't ask for and it should be scored accordingly. Nice effort with the jumps once again, though.

Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic and we get back-to-back Michael Jackson. Triple toe, easy to start. Triple Axel/double toe and then right into a triple loop. Circular step is nice but moves somewhat slow, and then he does a combination spin on one foot which has nice positions until the final scratch travels. Second triple Axel, triple Lutz, triple Salchow, triple flip, triple Lutz/double toe with a turn-out in between-- all of those jumps were done in about 45 seconds, too, and the only transitions were some three-turns and simple movements into the jumps. I know he and Florent are hardly the only two to have a program set-up like that, but I hate it. Second footwork sequence once again has good content but once again he just doesn't have the power and speed off of his pushes that the next four men will do so effortlessly. Okay, tough for me again here. The concept is once again fun, but there really isn't that much going on in the program. He doesn't stand around, but he also is doing a lot of crossovers to link everything together. However, everything being watered down a bit this year and not attempting the quad has done wonders for his consistency-- I guess that's the trade off. He poses for the crowd in the kiss and cry. 148.27 for the free skate, 73 on components and he's in first place.

Takahiko Kozuka of Japan starts the final four and the likely race for the podium. Quad toe comes to a bit of a halt on the landing but it looked rotated to me and on one foot. Triple Axel with gorgeous flow coming out. Triple Lutz/double toe. Camel with a layover-- that's a decent effort, into a sit with variation and upright-- average speed. Now we see some transitions.. the first of the night honestly. One foot steps for the first part of his circular sequence and you see how easily he gains speed and flows. Triple Axel/double toe-- Axel was pitched forward a bit and the toe loop took a while to get the free leg back. I'm sure he wanted a double loop on the end but couldn't get it off. Triple flip, triple Lutz/triple toe with a wild run-out but it's done, triple loop, triple Salchow-- again all the jumps close together but at least he has some variation to what he's doing leading into the jump rather than stroke, stroke, stroke. Circular footwork sequence.. for skating clean so far he's not really getting into this or showing the excitement that he should have. Combination spin to end and the camel with a change edge could use work on the position but the rest of the positions are nice. Well, once again a clean free skate and he's going to put the pressure on big-time for the other three. Sato looks happy with that effort, smiling and clapping at the boards. I think he can do even more to the transitions and choreography of this program, but the difficulty level is seriously double that of what Amodio and Verner just performed. 159.89 for the free skate, just 77 for the components. Eh. Some of the jump landings weren't the best, but I'd still have him higher on components, especially comparing with the first two.

Daisuke Takahashi follows with Invierno Porteno. Quad flip comes down after 3.5 and on two-feet. Nice triple Axel, though, showing total control on the edge-work coming out. Triple loop lands on the flat but he gets the leg back. Combination spin with the first few positions somewhat thrown away (especially his camel), but the latter upright was nice. Circular footwork doesn't seem to have the speed that it usually does but he's an absolute master at using his full body, and the difficulty-level isn't easy in the slightest. Triple flip/triple toe and he can't hold the second landing after total curving the edge. Second triple Axel and he falls hard on that. Takes a second to get up. Triple Lutz, triple Salchow landing with no run-out, another triple Lutz that he thinks about for a second and then slips off the edge on that one and falls again. So his second Axel and second Lutz will both be called sequences because the first attempts were not done in combination-- lots of points lost right there. The straight-line step at the end doesn't have the normal spark, but the program itself has the best pacing so far and his ability to listen to the music remains among the best. Sorry, though, this was totally flat, especially the second half with the mistakes. 137.20-- they hit him hard but it's fair. He goes into second, but he's last on the free skate. Kozuka will medal.

Patrick Chan of Canada with Phantom of the Opera. Nice quad toe and it looked like he had time on the way down to stop rotating and adjust to the landing-- amazing. Triple Axel/double toe-- not a huge amount of flow between the jumps, but it's fine. Triple Lutz. Edge work on one foot and then his serpentine step-- just absolutely effortless and the speed he gets out of the pushes is ridiculous. Steps into his second triple Axel and he falls out. More steps all the way down the length of the ice and a Triple Lutz with a turn and step/ 1/2 loop/ double Salchow. I don't know if the second part of that will count-- there might have been a step too much. Triple flip/triple toe, triple loop-- none of these later jumps have very much flow and he looks extremely tight. Double Axel. Spins once again are fast and well-centered and all three have strong positions. I totally respect the amount of content in between everything, but like pointed out so many times before-- he skates to the music and does exactly what the system wants, but is there a lot of feeling behind anything he does? Not really. This performance started to fall flat in the second half when the jumps started losing their flow. It should still be enough to lead by quite a few points in the free skate, even with the two mistakes and rough landings. His coach and her preaching in the kiss and cry every single time annoys me. 174.16 and 87 points on the second mark. Haha.. here we go again with haters, I'm sure. He's 22 points ahead of Kozuka. I think this is one point behind the world record, and he's not even clean.

Nobunari Oda of Japan finishes the night. Quad toe and he's down. UGH. Well, at least I got the winner of the event right in my predictions. Triple Axel/triple toe that was cautious going in, perfectly fine landings but not the ease of rotation that is usual with him. Three-turns on one foot leading into a triple flip/triple toe-- again done, but muscled out more than just letting it happen. Footwork is much more of a non-highlight than the last two men. His spins between Skate Canada and now have become much more centered.. they were a mess there. Beautiful triple Lutz with steps leading in. Second triple Axel. Triple loop. Triple Salchow/double toe/double loop. Double Axel that he had and just slipped off the edge after a second. He looks like he's totally disoriented in the steps following, and this performance has had no energy. After having that brilliant short that I think he obviously really likes, this choreography looks really junior at times and he's not into it at all. So disappointing. I'd think he still gets silver after his lead over Kozuka in the short, but if he were to fall to third, I will have predicted the podium exactly right here. 156.22 for the free skate, he's third in the long and second overall. Highest-ranked Japanese man here. I think the components were a bit generous for as flat as he was and the program is. And there goes my dream of predicting the podium right by about five points ;-)

Friday, December 10

Khoklova and Andreev: The Debut

Jana Khoklova and Fedor Andreev made their debut representing Russia at the Golden Spin of Zagreb earlier today. Thoughts?

Grand Prix Final - PAIRS SHORT Review

Sui and Han of China start off the pairs competition to a medley of country songs. They qualified for both the senior and junior Grand Prix Final but elected to skate in the former. Nice side by side double Axels and what I really appreciate about their skating is the amount of content in between and leading right up to the elements. Nice big triple twist, so easily done. Throw triple flip and her skate really had to dig deep to stop her from flying forwards-- so tiny, yet so powerful. Mirror side by side footwork again has difficult content, but it also shows that they still can do plenty as far as their basics go. He was ahead of her on every change in the side by side spins. Lift goes into the full split as he holds her with one hand, and they end with a nice solid death spiral. Off on the spins and through some of the footwork, but still, I could watch this program over and over and not get tired of it. 61.49-- seasons best by two points. I'd say that's on the high side, but we will see how it compares to everyone else.

Iliushechkina and Maisuradze of Russia are next, with a much more traditional program. Side by side triple toes-- hers looked short on rotation and he had a wide swinging free leg on the landing. Throw triple loop lands a bit pitched forward but she keeps the flow. Death spiral and he changes hands-- she's in a nice position. Side by side spins-- nice unison on the first half but off on the change foot. I love them (her in particular) but I do not love this program. The music is big, they don't really skate fast enough to it, and I just don't think it's really their style. Their lift also goes into a really cool position as he holds her back up and she faces the ceiling in an arched position. Compared to the Chinese, hardly an ovation, but there's hardly anyone in the stands. Eh. I wish they had a better program. 60.06.

Moore-Towers and Moscovitch of Canada are skating to Zorba the Greek and it's full energy from the start. The triple twist doesn't get very high, and I wouldn't say the air position is very pretty. Right into side by side triple toes and those are done well. Lift has a bit of trouble at the start as it looks like her hand position was slightly off but once it's up, it's fine. Throw triple loop that has a really solid landing. Death spiral where she faces the ice. Music picking up for the footwork and I think the thing that bothers me about them so far is their lack of finishing off the moves-- for example, the way she leads into the throw jump with the measly back spiral. Everything is rushed in the same way the previous Chinese fly through everything, but it doesn't look particularly good with this team. At the very end, after the footwork, he fell straight forward after tripping on his toe pick and she right away counted off to him to get them back in timing for the end side by side spins-- good for her. 58.73, third for now but not really far off of the other teams.

Bazarova and Larionov of Russia skating to Adagio by Secret Garden. Her side by side triple toe is tiny as always, while his actually has a little bit of a wobble this time around. Beautiful split triple twist. Throw triple flip with an absolutely perfect landing. Death spiral in which she changes hands-- probably could go down just a bit more. Side by side spins are a little far apart but they stay in unison throughout.. she has much more stretch than him. Another cool lift variation. Much like Mukhortova/Trankov skating to Secret Garden last year, I don't think some of this choreography matches the music especially the footwork sequence. But when you skate to slow music and you have to pack plenty of content into the steps, I guess there has to be some kind of contrast. Anyways, nice program. I prefer it to their free skate. 63.86, good enough for first but close enough that it's really anyones game for bronze.

Pang and Tong of China have returned to their short program from last season-- I kinda liked the Nocturne, but I also like this so I don't mind. Side by side triple toes that she's had trouble on earlier in the season, not the case here. Well done. Split triple twist good as always. Nice throw triple loop, and they are looking much faster than usual. Close on the start of the side by side spins and then he wanders off a little. Unison on and off and the final y-position isn't particularly great, but as a whole the spins were good. Overhead lift and her variation is pretty ordinary when you compare it to all of the other teams-- she also doesn't really stretch fully or point her toes. Footwork and death spiral to end. Gentle, yet aggressive when they needed to be. Maybe going back to this program is what they needed, because that was far better than anything else they've done so far this year. 68.63, new seasons best by a point and a half.

Savchenko and Szolkowy of Germany end the day, skating to Korobushko. I never make costume comments, but what is up with hers, seriously? It gives the appearance of seeing her bra and underwear through the costume, but it's really just a darker white at those spots, I think? Maybe it really is her undergarments. Throw triple flip, split twist, and side by side triple toes were all well done. Footwork has some deep edges and difficult content in the steps and the arm holds. Flying side by side spins and you can see her watching him to make sure they stay on unison, which they do. You know, my issue with this program the first time around is that I thought it was incredibly sloppy, but it was their first competition of the season and I figured it would get better. It doesn't look sloppy here, but I'm just not feeling the gimmicky vibe of it. I much prefer Send in the Clowns or even their Jean-Michel Jarre program from several seasons ago. However, I think they were the best today on both the elements and components, even if I prefer Pang and Tongs program. 74.40! Well, I'd say the judges definitely prefer this as well!

Grand Prix Final - LADIES SHORT Review

Keeping it going..

As with all disciplines, the sixth-ranked skater in the standings starts things off. Here, it's American Rachael Flatt. Her music is Summertime and Oh, But on the Third Day. Triple Lutz with the usual swing back and forth into it/double toe-- looked like she thought about a triple. Triple flip comes out forward after 2.5 rotations and will be called a double with -3 GOE. Layback and the program so far seem slower than usual. Change of music into flying camel with a layover and catch-foot. The last position was not great. Double Axel wasn't big but it was fine. Straight-line step and this performance seems much more introverted than usual for Rachael, even if she has the cute choreography in the middle of the element. I don't know what is up but she's still looking slow and labored to me. Combination spin to end with a nice upright y-spin variation that changes edges-- that's not easy to balance. Sigh. No spark here whatsoever, and she's over it. 45.19. Well, this panel certainly isn't playing games today.

Akiko Suzuki of Japan is up next. Jalousie by Jacob Gade. Triple flip/double toe is good.. she sometimes has a toe Axel going on. Triple Lutz isn't directly out of steps but this is one of the bigger ones I've seen her do. Flying camel isn't fully stretched but the positions on the latter half are decent and the spin kept up the speed. Layback is really good until the final Biellmann-type one hand catch-foot that kills the speed. Clean double Axel so good on the jumps. Straight-line step is of course one of the best in the business and it gets the crowd going (by Chinese standards). Nice applause for her. Her posture isn't the greatest, but she's one of the few ladies that still gets into their program and listens to the music rather than focusing on the elements the entire time. Jumps were all rotated. She's 25 and only getting stronger-- good for her. 58.26, seasons best.

Her teammate Kanako Murakami is next. What an impression she's already made this year. Music is Swing Kids and she has the crowd already clapping in the first few seconds. Triple toe/triple toe looks alright, and there was even a delay on the first jump. Triple flip with the slight pause in steps but that is also good. Layback that goes up into a Biellmann at the end and it's rough-- she kind of stumbles out. Double Axel is good this time around. Geez, her smile is just amazing. Flying sit that is right at the wall-- I don't care for choreography like that. Straight-line step keeps up the performance level and she uses her entire body. Final combination spin has strong positions. So, as expected, she's good through the short program. I think everyones' big worry is the free skate, which I don't think suits her skating at all. However, great start here aside from the trouble coming out of the layback. Triple/triple looked good to me in replay. 61.47... hmmm. Her program is really fun but I prefer Suzuki. She really had the crowd going, though.

Carolina Kostner from Italy, skating to Galicia Flamenca. Triple toe/triple toe and I question the rotation on the second jump there-- both jumps went up crooked. Double Axel is nice though. She's really improved that over the years. Flying camel again not particularly strong positions but she stretches higher than most. Triple loop with a lack of direct steps into it but that's always a good jump for her. Layback doesn't have much lay to it and it seems to just get the required revolutions. Circular footwork again her strong element and it's well done, and a combination spin to finish. Again here, the upright position is really just the finishing up of the spin, doing two quick revolutions. I'd rather see something held for a long time, but I suspect she was a bit behind the music. Second triple toe should get the under-rotation call, but not a full downgrade. 62.13. Over it. That's a lucky score.

Alissa Czisny of the USA. Triple Lutz/double toe is good. Triple flip-- looks like the landing edge got a little bit stuck, which makes me think it might have slightly been short. Double Axel, well she got through the jumps here. Flying camel in a beautiful position into a donut and catch-foot-- a million times better than anything else we've seen so far, seriously. Combination spin again brilliant. If some of these other spins are getting +1, then she deserves higher than a +3-- they are that much better. Layback that ends in a Biellmann and she holds it. Okay, I'll stop raving about her spins. That was excellent. Now, just the question of whether the flip was rotated. In replay, it seems about 1/4 short-- the same as Kostner's triple toe just was. If she gets an under-rotation call, I'm going to be furious at the inconsistencies. 63.76. Well, Kostner and Czisny both should have gotten the call but if one wasn't going to get it, then I suppose I'm happy they kept it the same for the next. Suzuki was (still) robbed.

Miki Ando from Japan finishes the ladies event, skating a new short to The Mission. I still love this score and I'm hoping I like this program. Triple Lutz/triple loop-- wild free leg on the landing and I have no idea about the rotation. But if they are going to be lenient with the others, I guess now is as good a time as any to go for it. Triple flip though and it's too delayed at the start and she falls, definitely cheated there. Nice double Axel. Flying sit spin that is ALL off at the beginning and she just has to pray and muscle it to make sure she gets around eight times-- still, it should be negative on the GOE. This is a really nice footwork sequence and it matches the music. Combo spin with a change-edge camel-- the whole spin is nice but a bit slow. Layback to end and none of the positions are great-- the last one was barely held. She's trying to listen to the music, and I think the music itself will help her. Much better than her previous short. 50.45 and she's in fifth.

Czisny - Kostner - Murakami: who would have thought?

Once again, I think Gusmeroli and company were extremely generous on the rotation calls for some of those jumps.

Oh How I Miss You, Vanessa Gusmeroli

Sorry, bad timing on the screen shot.
Nice to see Vanessa Gusmeroli as part of the technical panel here for the senior and junior ladies. If you're newer to skating, she was the 1997 World bronze medalist and finished in the top five at the event two more times (1999, 2000). Among her greatest moments were back-to-back brilliant performances of her Legends of the Fall free skate at Europeans and Worlds (in her home country) in 2000. Her trademark element was always the split onto the ice and pushing herself right back up, as you will see towards the end of these programs.

Grand Prix Final - MENS SHORT Review: Japanese Sweep or Will Chanada Step it Up?

If you're here, say hi!

Florent Amodio of France was the final qualifier to the event, so he skates first. His music is from Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Single Axel, didn't get lift at all. Didn't see that coming-- he's had the jumps so easily this year. Triple Lutz/triple toe with an ever-so-slight pause in between. Triple flip looked to take off from the outside edge and he had to balance his arms just a bit on the landing. Flying camel with a catch-foot variation is rather listless and slows-- even if it matched the pacing of the music well. Circular footwork and an attempt to get into the program now.. moves nicely. Combination spin and his sit/change/sit to end-- the first sit position traveled a bit too much but all of the positions themselves were on the decent side. Well, the mistake on the Axel took all the air out of the program from the start. It really didn't have a wow factor this time around. 61.64-- 14 points below his seasons best.

Nobunari Oda of Japan is up next. He's my dark horse to do big things in this event-- and that better not be a jinx because I want him to get his confidence back and let it show. Music is Storm and this has definitely grown on me since my first viewing at Skate Canada. QUAD TOE/triple toe- absolutely perfect. Good job Nobu! Triple Axel with brackets directly into it-- another gorgeous landing. Wow. He's bringing it now. Flying camel in the typical male manner with ugly bent-leg and catch-foot variations. Triple Lutz didn't get a great amount of height but he flew into it with his footwork and landed it just fine. Straight-line step on one foot for the first 2/3-- he has such great rise and fall to his knees. The sit positions in his combination spin and sit/change/sit look much more well-centered than before. Seriously, excellent job here! He looks relieved and genuinely happy for once. 86.59. That's a HUGE short program score. Everyone else is going to have to bring it big time.

Now transitioning from dramatic to a fun program by Czech skater Tomas Verner, skating to Singin' in the Rain. Triple Lutz/triple toe with both-direction edge work leading into it, nicely done. Single Axel for him as well-- just rushed the take-off. Triple flip out of steps is completed, couldn't tell about the edge but it might have gone to the flat out outside edge as well. Flying camel sticks to the basic position and it is nothing remarkable. Straight-line step moves well but he doesn't have the ease and flow that the Japanese skaters and Chan are able to carry throughout their programs. Camel in the combination spin can be more stretched and the upright requirement is just a simple upright spin that trails off. The three jump elements were all completed right at the beginning and then from that point, the final four elements were done all in a row with no transitional work or skating at all. Where did all the time go?! He asks how he could miss a jump-- he "never do[es] that anymore". Haha. 65.37 and into second.

Patrick Chan of Canada now, Take Five is the music. Quad toe and he wants to reach for the ice, but doesn't. No combination and the steps into it were just turns-- as he planned to do the combination there I'm sure. Should drop the GOE. Triple Axel is low but he lands this one just fine. Combination spin is the best so far-- all strong positions and fast rotations, and he is centered perfectly. Triple flip/triple toe is also well done, and he kept the three-turns into it. Flying sit and camel/change/camel-- he keeps those camel positions basic and it works much better than trying some odd position that he (and all of the other men) can't do. Straight-line footwork to end reiterates how easily he flows and how solid all of his edges are. This should score extremely well, but the lack of steps into the quad should put him right about where Oda is, I'd guess. 85.59. I think that's the right decision. He "wow"s the fact that he is in second, but there's no injustice there. Oda's jumps were better and his skating skills are just as strong as Chan's (even if the judges didn't agree). Chan rightfully caught up in the other components.

Daisuke Takahashi of Japan. Triple flip/triple toe loop. He has the most natural sense of listening to the music. Triple Axel is a beauty-- they ARE really bringing it tonight. Flying layback spin that hits an intermediate position that isn't really upright (a la Joubert), but he centers it well when he actually gets into position. I still say get rid of the option to do a flying upright spin-- I know some skaters can't do camels on both feet but why not learn now? Triple Lutz out of steps that was on the inside edge. Sit/change/sit slows on the variation at the end. Music builds and like I've suspected all year, this really gets the crowd into it. He has a stumble about 1/3 of the way through, though. All of the spins in the program don't really have the speed or stretch that Chan just had, and they seem to be done as an afterthought. He's definitely going to have to catch up in the free skate. 82.57. Now I don't know. Seems a bit high.

Takahiko Kozuka of Japan rounds out the field with his Soul Man medley. Triple Lutz is forward/triple toe that winds up on the landing and it looked like he had trouble getting his free leg out. Triple Axel probably landed on the flat rather than on the outside edge and it doesn't have the best flow out. Triple flip-- all three jumps have looked a bit unsure and tight compared to the usual beautiful flow he has. Camel/change/camel-- he holds it but the positions are ugly and of average speed. Footwork is fun but the fact that he is skating right after Takahashi definitely shows that he doesn't have the command or spark in his skating just yet. At the very end of the sequence, he slams right into the boards and then scratches his head as to say, "HOW did that happen?" This will most certainly be fourth on the day, and probably a few points back from Takahashi. The speed and amazing quality to his skating were still there at least. 77.90 points and I was right. A seasons best for a messy performance, interesting.

Grand Prix Final - SHORT DANCE Review: Teach Me How to Twizzle

Hoffmann and Zavozin of Hungary started things off skating to Sleeping Beauty and The Skaters Waltz. Their mid-line step sequence was performed well besides slight unison issues on the twizzles, and then the actual twizzle sequence itself was extremely sloppy and mirrored- surely this is a weakness for the team and that is an attempt to mask it. The timing seemed slightly off during the compulsory pattern, and his extensions were barely there. Overall, this is one of the better short dance programs in my opinion, but their blades scrape across the ice an awful lot. It seems like I was so much more impressed with him in his US days, anyone else feel the same? 55.98

Weaver and Poje of Canada skated second, using At Last and Cheek to Cheek. Right away you can see that their flow and skating quality is much higher than that of the previous team, and their compulsory pattern was well-done-- the first part of the program is much better than the second in my opinion. All year I have commented that their twizzle sequence seems so simple compared to pretty much every other team, and she had trouble this time around on the first set. 55.51

Bobrova and Soloviev of Russia concluded group one, skating to Tom Jones' Delilah. I like this team, but I  don't like the music and what a mess it all was today. He was a bit back on his blade in the first twizzle sequence and then completely lost his balance on the second and got stuck on the toe pick. They skated right up to the corner of the boards several times and it looked like they really had to check themselves-- not good when they were already stiff and unfinished. At the end, they seemed off-placement on their lift and there was a little struggle to get it up. Just not good today. 54.33 and they are in third.

Crone and Poirier of Canada began group two, skating to the cheesy version of Fallin'. I have to say, it's not as irritating as it was the first and second times around. They are really progressing so quickly and this performance flowed beautifully from start to finish. They also were the first team to really get through the twizzles, making them the very last element of the program and being perfectly on time throughout. 54.82 for that, they obviously did something wrong somewhere.

Pechalat and Bourzat of France chose to begin with their twizzles and they were also in perfect unison. This team has came into the season so prepared and really serious about getting onto the podium. The only slight glitch appeared to be Fabian running into the boards right before the shoot-the-duck portion of their compulsory pattern, but it didn't affect them at all. 65.66 and they shoot into first place. I really like this program and they make the two different parts blend together well.

Davis and White come in as the obvious favorites here, even with their struggles earlier in the Grand Prix. Their first portion to Musetta's Waltz is probably my absolute favorite part of any of the short dances this year. Their second twizzle pattern seemed off balance from both and he really fought to keep it together, but they at least stayed in unison. The mirror footwork at the beginning of the mid-line step is gorgeous and matches the music well. The Golden Waltz flowed and didn't get right up on the boards which was nice, and the program overall was performed extremely well. 68.64 and into first place by just under three points. I don't know that it was that much better than the French.

Hoffmann and Zavozin in third at this point. Who would have guessed? There's 1.65 points between third and sixth right now-- I guess that leaves much more excitement for the free dance than previously anticipated.

Thursday, December 9

Takahashi and Kozuka Collide in Grand Prix Final Practice

We can see in the first clip of the collision that Takahashi has a smile on his face almost immediately after hitting the ice, while poor Kozuka looks terrified and seems to make sure Daisuke is alright. Takahashi's music was playing so he has the right-of-way, but Takahiko obviously didn't do it intentionally. I think he'd wait until AFTER he was done rotating in the air if he was trying to be vicious ;-)

I don't know that I've ever seen a skater rotate RIGHT into someone in a crash. Usually they catch the other person out of the corner of their eye and the result is some wonky fall out to avoid a collision.

Luckily, both skaters are alright and will compete in the short program later tonight. Thanks to Yumiko on Facebook for the link!

Six Skating Bloggers: Grand Prix Final Predictions

Six figure skating bloggers have come together to share their last-minute predictions and general thoughts about the Grand Prix Final, which begins tonight for the senior skaters.

The image is too large to display in the post, so please click on it to view it in a new window.

Tuesday, December 7

Which Program Worked Better? - Part Two

This is part two of a series that focuses on top-level skaters throughout the last few Olympiads who have changed at least one of their competitive programs during the course of a season. If you missed part one, you check it out here

The second part features the following skaters: Stephane Lambiel, the Kerrs, Takeshi Honda, and Surya Bonaly. For each case, I have embedded YouTube videos of both performances, as well as a poll asking which program you personally preferred. Voting ends on December 31st, and each day I will add new programs for you to decide between.

Which Program Worked Better? - Part One

(Apologies to those who might have seen this post TWICE in the last hour and then saw it disappear-- it deleted all of my polls as soon as I published it!)

This is part one of a series that focuses on top-level skaters throughout the last few Olympiads who have changed at least one of their competitive programs during the course of a season. I have about fifty total instances I am going to highlight, and the order in which they are featured is completely random.

The first part features the following skaters: Alexei Yagudin, Michelle Kwan, Shizuka Arakawa, Miki Ando, and Evan Lysacek. For each case, I have embedded YouTube videos of both performances, as well as a poll asking which program you personally preferred. Voting ends on December 31st, and each day I will add new programs for you to decide between.

Have fun, and as always: feel free to discuss!

Monday, December 6

Belgium's Heir Apparent

Jorik Hendrickx. Heard of him? He made the final cut at the European Championships last year and finished 20th overall, but that is as far as his senior international experience goes-- until now.

Besting the likes of Samuel Contesti, Alexander Majorov, Ivan Tretiakov, and Kensuke Nakinawa, Jorik scored 130.52 points in yesterdays NRW Trophy free skate to win the segment, moving him up from 12th to 5th place overall. I noticed the link to his program this morning and on top of the excellent effort with the jumps, look particularly at the circular step sequence in the middle of the program. That edge-work in both directions (especially in his opposite direction) is beyond complex!

The score of 130 is even more impressive when you consider he did not attempt a quadruple jump or triple Axel. I asked Jorik if there was progress on either, and he tells me that the Axel was close in the summer; however, an injury a few months ago has made him focus on delivering consistent programs. I'd say that worked this time!

Belgium has two mens entries to the European and World Championships thanks to Kevin Van der Perren's high placements at the events last season. At just 18, Hendrickx will definitely be someone to watch in the future.

Sunday, December 5

In the Event that I Had a Favorite Skater in the early 90s..

I've mentioned countless times that my fandom in figure skating began as a six-year old one random night when the 1993 World Championships happened to be on television, and I've.. obviously.. been hooked ever since. Through the years of learning more about the technique and edges and thanks to YouTube, I'm quite confident that Yuka Sato would have been my favorite skater back in the day. I do remember her 1994 Worlds win (and it being overshadowed by Surya Bonaly's podium show), and I also remember watching her dominate the pro scene for a few years after (and my mom commenting that "she wins everything"-- ha), but I never realized just how good she was until much, much later.

While on the topic, I was looking for some of my favorite music that I've heard used in skating when I came across a mentioning that Yuka used the soundtrack from Slow Dancing in the Big City early in the 1994 Olympic season, only to dump it and return to her previous free skate for the big events, including her Worlds win.

Thanks to the amazing 3Axel1996, though, her performance from the early-season Piruetten is on YouTube and I have to say that I really love it, especially the middle section to the previously mentioned soundtrack. I wish she would have let this develop throughout the year rather than tossing it so quick!