Tuesday, December 18

Takahashi and Tran Split: My Take

Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran have officially split up. They were the first pairs team from Japan to win a World Championship medal, having done so at the 2012 event.

The team suffered a set-back at the very end of last season when Takahashi dislocated her shoulder in practice. After it kept recurring, they decided to withdraw from their Grand Prix events earlier this year and Narumi had surgery which would likely keep her out the rest of the 2013 season.

While the only reasonings for the split I have seen so far include Narumi saying, "We've been having different thoughts towards the sport recently," and the Japanese Federation saying that there is more to it than just competing in Sochi, I have to think that is the center of the problem. Here's why:

The team competition is officially part of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. In order for a country to be able to qualify, there needs to be at least one skater or team in each discipline. Japan is bound to finish near the top in the singles competitions, and they have a dance team in Cathy and Chris Reed. Tran, from the beginning of the partnership, has been questionable on whether he would even get citizenship to Japan in the first place (as he was born in Canada). If he did, there was then a question if he would be able to receive it in time for the Olympics.

So you have a situation where a country is looking at a team medal-- perhaps even gold. But without a pair, they cannot even enter the competition. There is no other Japanese pair team that has competed internationally in a long while. I am thinking this partnership may have ended so that Takahashi, as soon as she recovers, can find a new partner (if there is not one already) and then work towards the Olympics. They would have to qualify for the individual event at an early-season competition next fall, which gives four additional pairs the right to compete in Sochi.

Saturday, December 8

GPFinal: Fernandez Lands Three Quads, Still Doesn't Medal-- Competition was That Good

Much like the junior ladies earlier in the day, the senior men came out full-force tonight. The most exciting thing about seeing all of these top men deliver? Look at the final point totals. Worlds could be a really exciting, unpredictable battle between a handful of guys, not just the top two!

Daisuke Takahashi led after the short program but fell on an opening quadruple toe loop, turned out of his first triple Axel, and put his hand down on a second triple Axel in a rough start to the program. He still managed a quadruple toe-triple toe and four other clean triples in the latter half and scored 90.22 points in components, giving him 177.11 points in the segment and the title by over five points.



Yuzuru Hanyu doubled a planned quadruple Salchow but was otherwise clean in his Notre Dame de Paris free skate, which included a quadruple toe loop, two triple Axels, and two triple Lutzes. While this program has yet to really blow me away, he scored 177.12 in the segment. I am still not understanding how the judges consistently mark Hanyu ahead of teammate Kozuka on skating skills, and I felt that his interpretation mark was a bit high for his somewhat reserved and flat performance today.



World Champion Patrick Chan found himself in second after the short program. He had a disappointing free skate, falling on a quadruple toe, stepping out of a triple Axel, and then completing a fourth combination or sequence at the end of the program, a double Axel-double toe loop, which voided the combination. He had forgotten that since neither of his quadruple toe loop attempts were in combination, he used up a block on one of them (a la Nobunari Oda at pretty much every event of his life). While his components reflected that he is the best in the world, I thought the 8.96 for performance and execution was high and that his short program was more deserving of the 9's in choreography and interpretation. I'd have them just below. He scored 169.39 in the free skate and just barely held on to a podium position overall, finishing .04 ahead of Javier Fernandez.



Javier Fernandez of Spain sat in fifth place following the short program. Skating to a Chaplin-theme today, he showed that he is a serious force to be reckoned with a the top of the podium by landing three quadruple jumps-- two Salchows (one in combination with a triple toe) and a toe loop. He also had a triple Axel and triple flip-triple Salchow sequence later in the program. His only slight mistakes were a turn-out on a double toe at the end of another combination and a doubled loop. Fernandez was able to score 178.43 in the free skate, and just imagine if he adds a second triple Axel to all of that other content! He won the segment, by the way.



Takahiko Kozuka produced a seasons-best score with his Rondo Capriccioso free skate, but he fell on an under-rotated quadruple toe attempt early in the program and also had trouble on his first triple Axel. He was still able to manage a clean quadruple toe, a triple Axel three-jump combination, and five other triples to score 166.88. His components score of 82.30 is much more on the level that it should always be, although judges tend to mark him way down for some absurd reason.

Tatsuki Machida had a poor showing at his first Grand Prix Final after a great regular season. He failed to reach 200 points total, but should still be in the hunt for one of the three World Championship spots at the ever-competitive Japanese Nationals later this month.



Final Standings

Takahaski 269.40
Hanyu 264.29
Chan 258.66
Fernandez 258.62
Kozuka 253.27
Machida 198.63

Junior Grand Prix Final - Russian Dominance, but Who Stole the Show for Me?

Russian skaters completely dominated the Junior Grand Prix Final this weekend, winning gold medals in all four events and winning seven of twelve medals overall (including a sweep of the pairs competition).

The junior ladies free skate was something else-- to say the least. The top five ladies all had seven-triple programs, and only four jumps total were deemed to be under-rotated between them. Elena Radionova easily won the title, but I still feel that her components scores are too generous given the level of her skating. Her technique looks a bit rough and she doesn't have the posture or carriage worthy of a near-7 skating skills mark asks. Still, she has a triple Lutz-triple toe and triple flip-triple Salchow sequence in her free skate. Some of the other Russian ladies have to be relieved that she is not eligible for Sochi 2014.

Hannah Miller was my surprise of the event. This girl is amazing! She packs her programs full of so much content that at times, it looks like she is being frantic but it's really just the transitions and choreography. I loved her short program yesterday and today she showed a completely different side. No triple-triples, but she was so solid in this competition and ended up with the silver medal. I can see her really high up in the standings at US Nationals.

Here's her free skate:



Anna Pogorilaya finished in the bronze medal position, while Angela Wang and Satoko Miyahara finished fourth and fifth. Like I mentioned before, all of these ladies managed seven triples!


In the pairs competition, Fedorova & Miroshkin led a Russian party, winning both portions of the event. Davankova & Deputat and Vigalova & Zakroev each moved up one spot from their short program placements to round out the podium.

Yu-Na Kim Returns in Grand Fashion



72+ points. She doesn't seem to have lost a step since the 2011 World Championships. This is the highest short program score by any lady this season.

Friday, December 7

Russian Federation Showing (Complete Lack of) Confidence in Men

I briefly posted about this situation on my Twitter account last night, but I think the ridiculousness of it all and the message it is sending is worthy of a post.

This article, which mainly is geared towards getting Patrick Chan's opinion on how much of a threat he thinks Evgeny Plushenko will be in Sochi 2014, has an interesting tidbit towards the bottom:
Under International Skating Union rules, Russia will be allowed one men's singles skater at Sochi 2014, but the country's skating federation has asked to be granted a second spot as the host nation, for which there is no precedent.
First of all, the first part of this sentence is not true at this point. The one representative from Russia who attends the 2013 World Championships would have to finish in the top ten in the event for the country to earn two spots to the Olympics. The 2013 World Championships haven't happened yet.

Second-- I distinctly remember there being a bunch of chatter leading up to the 2005 World Championships (in Moscow) which suggested that the Russian Federation had found a loop-hole in the way the rules were written that would allow a third ladies skater (specifically Viktoria Volchkova) to compete in the event even though only two spots had been earned (and gone to Irina Slutskaya and Elena Sokolova). I went through all of the published ISU technical communications and documents back then trying to figure out where in the world Russia would have ever gotten that idea, and only found very precise rules towards how additional spots are earned. Giving a host country an additional spot just for the sake of it wasn't one of those rules, and still isn't.

I figure that the reason the Russian Federation is so concerned with an additional spot at this point is because while Sergei Voronov and Konstantin Menshov have had decent seasons thus far, they are far from sure bets to finish in the top ten at the World Championships. Former World bronze medalist Artur Gachinski has yet to deliver this season and has to always be considered a wildcard after finishing with the silver medal at Europeans last year and then finishing outside the top 15 at Worlds.

Because of this situation, the Russian Federation is probably starting to worry that if there is indeed only one spot, it will go to Plushenko and shut the other men out of having the chance to compete. With Maksim Kovtun and a handful of other junior-level skaters progressing their way up the ranks, this may be the last (or only) opportunity for some of the men to ever get to the Olympics, while it would be Plushenko's fourth trip.

If I was Voronov, Menshov, or Gachinski and saw the linked article, I don't know that I'd have the best confidence going into any of the remaining competitions this season seeing how Russia is already asking for a second spot.

Weir Won't Be at Nationals.. Now Let's Be Real

Johnny Weir has withdrawn from the 2013 US National Championships, ending his comeback for this season. Absolutely shocking news! Just kidding.

However, I am slightly surprised in what he has to say in this IceNetwork article:
After seeing the level of my competitors and how much stronger I needed to be to be competitive, my original plan of competing just for my fans and myself changed. The level of competition has increased dramatically since I left the sport in 2010, and although I was prepared to the best of my abilities, competing relit the fire in me, not only to compete and perform but also to win. Winning takes greatness, and I hope with the time I'm allowing myself to improve my skills, I will return next fall with a clear shot at competing in the next Olympic Games as a favorite.

Now I don't really 'get' that. He had to have an idea that skaters like Chan and the Japanese have continued to push both technically and in the components. He finished 6th in the 2010 Olympics and he chose to come back earlier this year with absolutely no visible improvements to his skating. What did he expect?

I know he alludes to the idea that he was really just coming back for himself and seeing everyone else made him get back in the competitive mode, but I would be willing to bet he didn't expect to find that so many other skaters have either gotten to his own level or far surpassed it. I think it was obvious heading into the Rostelecom Cup that he was looking at a second-to-last or last-place finish whether he was injured or not.

For what it's worth, read my blog post from November 9th to see the suggestions I would have given him based on his programs and overall level at that point.

On the other hand, I am glad Weir realizes that had he competed at US Nationals, he was probably looking at a challenge to even get into the top 10. Yes, really. Tenth. That wouldn't bode well for the overall picture and trying to re-establish himself as a threat over the course of a few events in the fall.

I am all for skaters coming back completely new and improved, and if he can really do it this time and show up ready to fight in the fall of 2013, good for him. I can't fault him for trying.

Non-Grand Prix Events This Weekend: NRW, Australian Nationals

There are several other competitions taking place this weekend while some of the worlds best juniors and seniors are in Sochi for the Grand Prix Final.

NRW Trophy
The pairs short program just wrapped up, and World Champions Savchenko & Szolkowy of Germany have a big lead, scoring 73.55 points. They decided to skate in this competition as a preparation for Europeans after Savchenko's illness prevented them from competing in a second regular-season Grand Prix event (and cost them a trip to Sochi). James & Cipres (FRA) are in second with 60.49 points. They are improving rapidly in only their second year as a team. Italians Berton & Hotarek sit third with 58.85 points.



Savchenko & Szolkowy's short program. They have apparently ditched the rainbow-brite swirl costumes we saw at Skate Canada.


Australian National Championships
Chantelle Kerry won the senior ladies title today, followed by Brooklee Han and 2002 Olympic Games competitor Stephanie Zhang, who has come back after ten seasons of retirement. It doesn't sound like a great day for any of the ladies, seeing how Han managed to stay in second after a five-fall free skate. Kerry and Han are the only ladies eligible for Four Continents, while none of them are eligible for Worlds at this time.

David Kranjec pulled up to convincingly win the senior mens title ahead of Brendan Kerry and Jordan Dodds. Kerry, like his female silver-medal counterpart, fell to fifth in the free skate but remained second based on a strong short program in which he got positive grades of execution for a quad toe loop. Kranjec and Kerry are eligible for Four Continents.

O'Brien & Merriman won the senior dance title easily, and they round out the group of five that we will likely see at the Four Continents Championships.


The rest of my Grand Prix thoughts will come throughout the day.

Grand Prix Final - Ladies Short Program

First substitute (replacing the injured Julia Lipnitskaia) Christina Gao of the United States started off the competition. She fell out of her triple toe loop and subsequently did not complete the combination, losing many points. The triple loop later in the program looked tight and two-footed, and was called under-rotated. I felt like she was a little shaky through the entire skate, and she finds herself in sixth place.

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva started with a triple toe-double toe in the curve pattern that skaters like Alena Leonova have opted for. She also landed a nice triple loop but there were minimal steps entering the jump. I don't love the tango-themed program with pants, and as with Gao, I didn't really feel a spark with her today. I think I much prefer her free skate, but the half-cantilever move preceding the double Axel was a nice highlight.

Akiko Suzuki of Japan has lost out on two gold medals in the Grand Prix series this year because of poor short programs, but it was not the case here. She started off with a triple toe-triple toe and solid triple flip, and really got into the program from the beginning. However, she did have trouble on the latter part of her flying camel spin when she got off balance and was barely able to hold her half-Biellmann position. The huge difference between the first two skaters and Akiko was that she actually looked like she was ready to fight for the title here, while the first two were just skating like there was no importance in the event. I love the choreography in her Kill Bill program!

Kiira Korpi has been fighting the flu and back pains in the weeks prior to the event, but she was going to fight through it all to compete in her first Final. She was clean on the jumps, completing a tight triple toe-triple toe (first jump under-rotated), triple loop, and nice double Axel. Her Debussy short program has a nice feeling to it and she has some gorgeous basics, but sometimes I wish she would skate with more excitement regardless of the music. Anyways, she has to be very pleased with her segment score of 63.42 points.

Mao Asada of Japan has a different approach so far this year-- no more focus on the triple Axel. She landed a huge double Axel, triple flip-double loop, and triple loop. While the program gives me junior-level 'cutesy' vibes, she seems extremely comfortable with it. It also has content evenly spread throughout, as to where I think her free skate is really empty until after the half-way point. This was a nice skate, and she's in the lead with 66.96 points.

Ashley Wagner of the United States has been the top skater in the Grand Prix series so far this year, and she didn't let down with her Red Violin short program. I like the choreography and especially the layout of elements in the program, but I still think there is room to improve in terms of getting more transitions between the elements. She landed a triple flip-double toe and both the double Axel and triple loop later in the program. She's in second place with 66.44 points and continues to stake a claim as being a favorite at Worlds in a few months.

There are just over three points between first and fourth place going into the free skate. Here's to hoping for an exciting and close battle tomorrow!

Junior Grand Prix Final - Mens Free Skate

Mens Free Skate

Boyang Jin of China started off his Chaplin-themed free skate with a quadruple toe-triple toe combination, but then fell on a second attempt. He managed two triple Axels (one with a step-out and the other in combination) and four other triples. I was really impressed with his technical level for being 15 years old, and he ended up with the second highest total element score today. While his basic skating level still suffers in comparison to the other five men in this field, he has nice pacing and I think his presentation will grow nicely in the coming years.

Keiji Tanaka of Japan can be added to the list of Japanese skaters with solid, gorgeous basics. Unfortunately today he suffered the Nobunari Oda syndrome and attempted too many jump combinations, completely voiding his final triple toe-double toe. Troubles with some other jumps caused him to fall to sixth place.

Teammate Ryuju Hino, in my opinion, pales in comparison to Tanaka in terms of skating quality; however, the judges didn't agree. He was able to land two triple Axels (including one late in the program) and five other triples, pulling up to the bronze medal position. His costume and music gave me flashes of Kevin Van der Perren's program from the 2004 season.

American Jason Brown had an off-day today. He was the champion of this event last year, but slipped off the edge of a triple Axel attempt early in the program and didn't ever seem to recover. He fell out of a triple Lutz attempt later in the program and lost more points and a possible combination/sequence because he had already done a Lutz not in combo prior. With the sloppy skate, he fell to fourth place.

Maksim Kovtun of Russia came out firing and much like in the short program, it was all business here. He landed all of his jumps, including beautiful quadruple toe-triple toe and triple Axel-triple toe combinations to start the program. Even with the great skate, I still feel a total lack of connection to the music and he seems to be lost in thought throughout the performance. I also would rank his skating skills most certainly behind those of Farris, Brown, and Tanaka, but the judges thought the opposite today and gave him the highest mark. I also thought his transitions, choreography, and interpretation marks were quite generous even with his solid skate.

Joshua Farris of the United States also had a mini meltdown. He started his program with a gorgeous triple Axel-triple toe, but then fell hard on a quadruple toe attempt and had troubles with the next jump, a triple Lutz. Later in the program, he fell again on a triple flip and all of the jumps following the quad seemed to be just barely squeaked out. While I don't think his interpretation level is anywhere near his choreography or skating skills, it really seemed to suffer today following the mistakes. He still managed second place in the free skate and finished with the silver medal.

Thursday, December 6

Junior Grand Prix Final - Ladies Short Program

Leah Keiser of the United States started off the day, skating to Rondo Capriccioso. She fell on her opening triple Lutz, but came back with a triple flip and double Axel. She has cautious, average-level skating at this point, and she needs to work on her basic camel position. I didn't feel like she was very into the program after the mistake.

I knew I was going to like Hannah Miller the second she gave a little eyebrow lift right before her music started. She skated to Tanguera and was powerful and exciting from the very beginning! All of her jump elements (double Axel, triple flip, and triple loop/double loop late in the program) were clean and everything else was also very solid. She's under two points of of first place, and she definitely was the performance of the day for me.

Satoko Miyahara of Japan amazes me because she manages to gain speed out of nowhere and skates with power. Looking at her, you think she'd crawl across the ice! She had a severely leaning triple Lutz and she fell out of it, but came back with a triple flip and double Axel. I think she might struggle with the jumps a bit when she grows, but I am really impressed with her level of basic skating.

Anna Pogorilaya of Russia skated to Songs from the Victorious City and landed all of her jump elements: a triple Lutz-triple toe, triple flip, and double Axel, but she has a looseness about her revolutions that is a little distracting. Her footwork got way off balance towards the end and she really had to fight to not fall, and everything else was just alright for me. I thought she was actually scored very high, even with the triple-triple.

Angela Wang had a nicely choreographed program, but started off with a triple Lutz-single toe after she landed the first jump far back on her blade. She came back with a triple flip and double Axel. I thought she lacked a little spark, but she looked really mature in her movements and quality compared to some of the other girls here.

Elena Radionova had an energetic and almost frantic program to The Fifth Element. She landed a triple Lutz-triple toe, triple flip, and had to step out of a double Axel. Great stretch through her spins (a la Lipnitskaia), and she carries a lot of speed across the ice. Her posture and overall skating quality still has a long, long way to go, but then again she's only 13. I like the amount of energy she put into her performance-- she really gets into it and has fun!

Standings after the short program:

1. Radionova 60.90
2. Miller 59.18
3. Pogorilaya 57.94
4. Wang 51.16
5. Miyahara 49.60
6. Keiser 47.23

Junior Grand Prix Final - Short Dance

Stepanova/Bukin ran away with this portion of the event, scoring nearly seven points ahead of the next team. They had an excellent program, but her posture can be distracting at times. That's really the only critique I have of them, and it seems like they were the only team to hit all of their levels.

Papadakis/Cizeron of France skated a solid first half to the blues, but I found the second half to Dirty Boogie a little too frantic and sloppy. He is the stronger of the two by far, and I wish she found something different to do to her hair. By the way, their twizzle section was absolutely gorgeous and precise-- worthy of +3's. Still about five points below their seasons best. After seeing the protocols, they got extremely low scores on their blues pattern, missing all key points on the first and two of the three on the second. Twizzles only got +2's and one +3. Still think they were +3-worthy.

Russians Yanovskaya/Mozgov are in a surprising third. I thought they had a solid pattern dance in terms of precision, but it looked a little too deliberate and cautious rather than being confident in it. They really fought through the twizzles.

Aldridge/Eaton of the United States are fourth after a somewhat sloppy and rushed performance. She had a little trouble on the exit of the final twizzle, and they got a bit close to the boards throughout the blues. This team also had trouble with their key points, losing out of several points on their first pattern.

Kosigina/Moroshkin sit in fifth but get special mention of channeling Anissina/Peizerat from the mid-90's in terms of hairstyle. Yes, her's is every bit as bright as Marina's.

Junior Grand Prix Final - Mens Short Program

Keiji Tanaka of Japan started off the competition, skating to Afro Freak. He had a clean skate, landing a triple Flutz/triple toe, and triple flip, but only completed a double Axel. Keiji has great camel position and all of his spins have nice centering. His choreography is strong, but I don't feel like his interpretation is up to par. All-in-all, though, I enjoyed him.

His teammate Ryuju Hino skated next, to Tataku by Kodo. All of his jumps had a fight to them, but he managed a triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe combination, and triple flip that might have taken off on the outside edge. There was something about his basics that made it appear to me like he was checking his balance often through the program, and he spent much of the time looking down at the ice. I would have had Tanaka a bit ahead on the components score, but Hino had the triple Axel.

Boyang Jin skated to the ever-catchy Chambermaid Swing and I am amazed at his jumping power with how tiny he appears. He landed a triple Axel and triple flip, but only managed a triple Lutz-single toe for the combination and that warrants a -3 GOE for having less than required revolutions. He had great positions and speed through his spins until he attempted the camels, which were clearly weaker than the other positions. He has decent presentation for having recently turned 15, but his basics lacked in comparison with all of the other skaters in this field.

My big problem all year with Jason Brown's program is that I don't understand his loose-fitting costume and frills. It distracts from his great lines in my opinion. Anyways, he landed the triple Axel but he had to put his free-foot down right away. It's a start. He also managed a triple (f?)Lutz-triple toe but only did a double flip out of footwork with a step-out. His spins were great and he had nice transitions into them, but some of the rotations just barely got around to be able to count. I know he got into trouble with that in his first Junior Grand Prix, so I'm surprised he doesn't hold them longer.

Maksim Kovtun skated to Lawrence of Arabia and I didn't feel much interpretation throughout the program. He was able to land a triple Lutz-triple toe, triple Axel out of a very short entry, and a triple flip with a turn-out. I don't know why I have the same feeling about most of the Russian men, but to me it seems like they go out there with too much of an 'all-business' attitude rather than really settling into the program and selling it.

Josh Farris stepped out of his opening triple Axel but came back with a triple Lutz-triple toe and triple flip out of a nice set of footwork. He has nice carriage and line and his spins were strong. Definitely the class of the field here, even with the step-out. He has a two point lead over Kovtun but I would have had a little more of a separation.

After the short program:

1 Farris 74.53
2 Kovtun 72.53
3 Brown 69.43
4 Hino 67.55
5 Tanaka 61.74
6 Jin 60.73

Wednesday, December 5

Denney/Coughlin Injury and the Situation for US Pairs

Caydee Denney and John Coughlin are out of the 2013 US National Championships and they seem to be focused on having a completely healthy 2014 Olympic season, which means that they are everything but officially withdrawn from the World Championships in March. The team finished 8th at their first Worlds together last season.

If Denney and Coughlin do withdraw from the World Championships, the USA is in a bit of a situation thanks to the new ISU technical minimum scores that need to be achieved by skaters in order to become eligible for the Championship events.

As it stands right now, only two teams: Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir and Alexa Scimeca & Chris Knierim have reached the minimum points required for the World Championships. Castelli and Shnapir are a veteran team, having started skating together in 2006; however, they have never competed at the Four Continents or World Championships. Scimeca and Knierim, on the other hand, are a new team that has only competed internationally together twice, including a recent 4th place finish right behind Castelli and Shnapir at the NHK Trophy.

There are many teams in the USA that have the minimum scores needed to compete at the Four Continents Championship in February, which would give all of them a shot at reaching the World Championship minimum score (in the event that the aforementioned pairs do not finish in the top two at US Nationals). Here is a list of those teams:
  • Aaron/Settlage (competing as juniors)
  • Calalang/Sidhu (competing as juniors)
  • Davis/Ladwig
  • Denney/Frazier
  • Donlan/Speroff
  • Oltmanns/Santillan (competing as juniors)
  • Simpson/Blackmer (competing as juniors)
  • Vise/Baldwin
  • Zhang/Bartholomay

Looking at the ISU Event roster for the rest of the season, we know from the official entry lists of two upcoming events (the NRW Trophy and the Golden Spin of Zagreb) that no US pairs are entered. This leaves the following competitions as opportunity for the above pairs (as well as the injured Yankowskas/Reagan) to earn the minimum scores needed for Worlds:
  • Denkova/Staviski Cup, Sofia BUL, December 13-16 (I am not even sure if this event is taking place)
  • 1st New Year Cup 2013, Bratislava SVK, January 3-6
  • Mentor Nestle Nesquick Cup, Torun POL, January 10-12 (unlikely due to being held a week before Nationals)
  • (Four Continents Championship, Osaka JPN, February 6-11)
  • Bavarian Open, Oberstdorf GER, February 7-10
  • Challenge Cup 2013, The Hague NED, February 21-24
And that's it. 

The ISU has been saying all along that they reserve the right to change the technical minimum scores at any time, but let's just go with the idea that they will stay where they are at.

What could realistically happen at this point is either of the two qualified teams could completely bomb Nationals and finish 6th or something, but along the way none of the other teams manage a qualified score. That 6th-place team still is likely to go to the World Championships. I alluded to this in one of my earlier rants about this ISU system, but really-- what is the point of the National Championships in situations that are possible like this?

By the way- the two teams that do in fact go to the World Championships are looking for a combined placement of no more than 28 points two retain two spots for the Sochi Olympics. As it stands now, the maximum number of entries allowed to compete (based on those technical scores) is 15.

Denney/Coughlin Questionable for US Nationals?



This USFSA press release makes me doubt reigning US National Pair Champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin will be able to defend their title next month in Omaha. Coughlin just underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip.

Doing a quick Google search on the injury/recovery, it sounds like most doctors suggest at least a three month recovery period (sometimes longer) when it comes to strenuous activity. This might even cut it close to being able to compete at Worlds if it holds true in Coughlin's situation.

Updated 5:50PM: This article has quotes from Coughlin and includes confirmation that he and Denney are out of US Nationals. John says that he's going to 'address [the injury] now so [he] can recover and have a full training season for the Olympics," which I would interpret as meaning the team plans on sitting the rest of this season out.

ISU Development Trophy -- Focus on the Non-Powerhouses

The ISU issued a press release today explaining very briefly the details of a set of competitions called the ISU Development Trophy. The release is so short that I can't figure out whether it is a 'B-International' of sorts (such as the Nebelhorn Trophy or Finlandia Trophy) or if this is going to be incorporated into a team competition somehow (as there is mention of the popularity of the World Team Trophy), but the purpose, as told, is to 'provide incentive to ISU Members currently being inactive or having only a limited level of activity in one or several ISU sport disciplines.'

To me, this sounds like a mini-Championships for countries that don't have skaters who have reached the new technical minimums for Worlds, Four Continents, and Europeans.

There are two figure skating events scheduled: one with European-country focus and the other featuring four Four Continents-eligible countries.

The first, a singles-skating competition only, will take place March 26-30 in Cieszyn, Poland. Included countries are the following:
1. Andorra
2. Armenia
3. Azerbaijan
4. Bosnia and Herzegovina
5. Cyprus
6. Greece
7. Ireland
8. Iceland
9. Latvia
10. Luxembourg
11. Montenegro
12. Morocco
13. Monaco
14. Norway
15. Serbia
16. Slovenia

The second again features singles skaters and also includes ice dancers. it takes place April 16-20 in Manila, Philippines.
1. Argentina
2. Brazil
3. Chinese Taipei (ice dance only)
4. North Korea
5. Hong Kong (ice dance only)
6. Grenada
7. India
8. Malaysia
9. Mexico (singles only)
10. Mongolia
11. New Zealand (singles only)
12. South Korea (ice dance only)
13. Philippines
14. Puerto Rico
15. Singapore
16. South Africa
17. Thailand
18. Uzbekistan

Monday, December 3

Memory Lane: 2003 European Championships Ladies

Remember that one time when the best European ladies decided to get their acts together and deliver a brilliant set of free skates? The event wasn't always as depressing as it seems to be lately! As we are coming up on ten years since the 2003 Europeans in Malmo, here are a look at the top six long programs:



Irina Slutskaya, Gold Medal
Slutskaya would miss the 2003 Worlds due to her mother having health complications, but she won her  fifth European title here with a solid performance. I wasn't crazy about La Traviata and I felt like she wasn't really pushing herself earlier in the season, but she definitely got a push here from her teammate.




Elena Sokolova, Silver Medal
What a complete 180 this girl decided to do right in the middle of the season. She had skated so poorly in 2002 and early 2003, but ended up beating reigning World Champion Slutskaya at Russian Nationals a few weeks prior and won both the qualifying round and short program here. Europeans and Worlds that year were far-and-away her best performances ever. By the way, she missed all of the major Championships for four straight seasons, constantly finishing behind the Slutskaya - Butyrskaya - Volchkova trio at Russian Nationals.




Julia Sebestyen, Bronze Medal
Finally. That's what most of us were thinking when she ended up on the podium here. Julia was always the star of one portion of the competition. She had been 2nd and 3rd in previous European Championship free skates, but she held it together here throughout the entire competition to win her first medal. She, of course, went on to win the title in her home country a year later, but this is my favorite Sebestyen program. She also decided to bring it back for her final season of competition.




Carolina Kostner, 4th Place
Well this was sure a coming out party for then 15-year old Kostner. She had success early in the season at both the junior and senior levels, but this event is where she really started to get noticed. Check out the technical content of the free skate! And yes, she did have a Lutz back then. She would go on to finish 4th in the short program at her first World Championship two months later.




Alisa Drei, 7th Place (5th in the Free Skate)
A poor short program left Drei out of the final group of skaters, but she was having the best season of her career to that point at age 24. Seven triples including a triple toe-triple toe and double Axel-triple Salchow sequence. To think that most other years around that time, she might have been pulling podium-worthy scores with this skate..




Elena Liashenko, 5th Place (6th in the Free Skate)
Liashenko started to shift the momentum her way for the next season with this event. She landed four triples in the free skate, and a fifth with a hand down; the second triple Lutz came late in the program! She managed to skate the exact same layout of elements year after year (or pretty close to it), but we all loved Elena and her tenacity to stick with it for so long. She was 26 here.

Saturday, December 1

Grand Prix Final History: 'Super Finals' Mess; Greatest Mens Performances Ever

On my soon-to-be thought out list of stupidest things the ISU has ever done, the format used at the Grand Prix Final competitions from 2000 to 2003 would rank quite high. For those of you newer to the sport or maybe just in need of a quick refresher, I'll give a brief explanation.

The competition had three segments to it: a short program/original dance (which is now the short dance), and then two free skates/free dances. In the 2000 and 2001 Finals, the total factored placements after the first two segments of the competition determined head-to-head match-ups for the 'Super Final' rounds.

In 2000, these Super Finals pitted first vs. second place after the first two rounds for the gold medal and then third vs. fourth place for the bronze medal. The rest of the skaters were out of the competition. In 2001, the pairs and dance disciplines added a sixth entry to qualify to the Final (it was previously five), and with that came a Super Final fifth vs. sixth place competition in addition to the first/second and third/fourth that had been used the prior season. The formula is very reminiscent of a situation Kristi Yamaguchi found herself in during a pro-am competition in the mid-90's, where she competed against herself for third place after a withdrawal and had the best artistic program by far. A normal 6.0 factored placement format would have given her the title in the competition.

In 2002 and 2003, the three-round format remained, but there were no head-to-head battles in the final round. Ottavio Cinquanta (yes, he was still in power back then) thought the idea of a second free skate/dance for these four years would encourage more viewership because skaters could potentially come up with brand new programs to debut at this competition. That didn't really happen for the most part. We saw previous free skates used over and over (I think Maria Butyrskaya used Otonal for four years and also Petrova/Tikhonov used The Four Seasons for four years, if I remember correctly).

The problem with the three rounds of competition was that in many instances, skaters or teams were having to perform two programs in one day-- one in the morning and then one later that night. No other competition (aside from the qualifying round at the World/European Championships) asked for two free skates. I don't think the skaters or their bodies liked the idea too much, and it was done away with starting with the 2003/2004 Grand Prix Final. This was also the first Final to use the IJS scoring method.

Now that my gripe is out of the way, I have to say that I am absolutely amazed at the amount of superior performances we saw from the men in the 6.0 days of the Grand Prix Final (particularly Yagudin and Plushenko). Here are some of the most memorable skates:


Elvis Stojko - 1997 Champions Series Final Free Skate
This includes the first ever quadruple-triple combination done in competition, and he did in front of a home-country audience.




Evgeny Plushenko, 2000 Grand Prix Final Super Final Free Skate
Blew this competition out of the water and looked to be a heavy favorite for the World Championship title before the meltdown in Nice. Four 6.0's and one judge even gave 6.0/6.0.




Evgeny Plushenko vs. Alexei Yagudin, 2001 Grand Prix Final Super Final Free Skate
Two quad toe-triple toe combinations from Plushenko, one with a double loop on the end for good measure. Look what Yagudin followed that up with. We were so spoiled with these two.






Alexei Yagudin vs. Evgeny Plushenko, 2002 Grand Prix Final Second Free Skates
This entire competition was so close between the two leading into the Salt Lake City Olympics. So much excitement and intensity! This is the only time Plushenko skated this particular program, by the way.






Evgeny Plushenko, 2003 Grand Prix Final Second Free Skate
Just when you thought you'd seen enough-- this may be Plushenko's greatest performance of all time.




Which was your favorite?

Friday, November 30

Injured Lipnitskaia Out of Grand Prix Final


Russian World Junior Champion Julia Lipnitskaia has withdrawn from the Grand Prix Final after suffering a concussion from a fall in practice. First substitute Christina Gao of the United States has replaced Lipnitskaia. Gao finished in second place at Skate America earlier this season.

Thursday, November 29

Current ISU Technical Minimum - Skater Qualification Additions

Here are the skaters that have reached the minimum technical scores for the World Championships and/or the Four Continents/European Championships in the last two weekends of competition. These additions will also be reflected on each individual discipline page, which is linked at the top of the blog.

Skate Celje
No Qualifiers

Warsaw Cup
Ladies
Svetlana Issakova (EST) reached the 4CC/E LP min (36.47) and is now eligible for Europeans
Annabelle Prolss (GER) reached the 4CC/E LP min (38.11) but is not old enough to compete
Men
*Maciej Cieplucha (POL) reached the WC SP min (35.27) and is now eligible for Worlds
Kamil Bialis (POL) reached the 4CC/E LP min (48.73) but still does not have the SP min
Panagiotis Polizoakis (GER) reached the 4CC/E LP min (51.03) but still does not have the SP min
Pairs
*Tarasova/Morozov (RUS) reached the WC LP min (56.44) and are now eligible for Worlds
Prolss/Blommaert (GER) reached the WC LP min (45.24) but still do not have the SP min. They are not old enough to compete
Cherniavskaya/Laudelino (RUS) reached the 4CC/E SP (21.60) and LP (41.64) min and are now eligible for Europeans
Lech/Tyc (POL) reached the 4CC/E SP (21.50) and LP (38.51) min and are now eligible for Europeans
Manacorda/Macii (ITA) reached the 4CC/E LP min (36.84) but are not old enough to compete

Trophee Eric Bompard
No Qualifiers. The only skater in the competition without the World Championship minimums was Jinlin Guan (CHN), who still needs the LP score. He missed by 3.86 points here, and is currently only eligible for Four Continents

Merano Cup
Ladies
Sarah Hecken (GER) reached the WC SP min (30.02) but still does not have the LP min. She remains eligible for Europeans
Sara Casella (ITA) reached the 4CC/E SP (25.06) and LP (39.02) min but is not old enough to compete
Jennifer Schmidt (GER) reached the 4CC/E SP min (23.20) but still does not have the LP min
Alessia Benetti (ITA) reached the 4CC/E SP min (20.13) but still does not have the LP min
Men
Nicolas Dubois (SUI) reached the 4CC/E SP (25.86) and LP (47.19) min and is now eligible for Europeans
Manol Atanassov (BUL) reached the 4CC/E SP min (25.37) and is now eligible for Europeans
*Paolo Bacchini (ITA) reached the WC LP min (71.63) and is now eligible for Worlds

Pavel Roman Memorial
Dance
Testa/Csolley (SVK) reached the WC FD min (42.10) but still do not have the SD min. They remain eligible for Europeans
Dolgikh/Prachanov (RUS) reached the WC SD min (32.70) but still do not have the FD min. They are eligible for Europeans
Shpiliavaya/Smirnov (RUS) reached the WC SD min (30.30) but still do not have the FD min. They are eligible for Europeans
Cejkova/Sinicyn (CZE) reached the WC SD min (29.20) but still do not have the FD min. They are eligible for Europeans
Harold/Lamasse (FRA) reached the 4CC/E SD min (19.40) but still do not have the FD min
Loze/Antunes (FRA) reached the 4CC/E SD min (18.60) but still do not have the FD min
Zakhlyupna/Flemin (FRA) reached the 4CC/E FD min (34.38) and are now eligible for Europeans
Zajac/Zawadzki (POL) reached the 4CC/E FD min (28.60) and are now eligible for Europeans

Grand Prix Slovakia SNP
Dance
Voronkova/Trushkov (RUS) reached the WC SD min (30.38) but still do not have the FD min. They remain eligible for Europeans
Verezemskaya/Vederov (RUS) reached the 4CC/E SD (24.50) and FD (29.55) min and are now eligible for Europeans

NHK Trophy
Pairs
Davis/Ladwig (USA) reached the WC LP min (50.62) but still do not have the SP min. They are eligible for Four Continents

Golden Bear
Ladies
Ivett Toth (HUN) reached the WC SP min (28.11) but is not old enough to compete
Tatiana Shilina (RUS) reached the 4CC/E SP min (22.35) but does not have the LP min
Daniela Stoeva (BUL) reached the 4CC/E SP min (21.59) but does not have the LP min
Amina Gohm (AUT) reached the 4CC/E SP min (20.10) but does not have the LP min

NRW Trophy
Men
Vladislav Smirnov (RUS) reached the WC SP min (37.25) / no LP
Moris Kvitelashvili (RUS) reached the WC SP min (35.87) / no LP
Alexander Bjelde (GER) reached the 4CC/E SP min (26.34) / no LP
Carlo Vittorio Palermo (ITA) reached the 4CC/E SP min (26.95) / no LP
Anton Kempf (GER) reached the 4CC/E SP min (25.36) / no LP
Ladies
Pairs

Guess Who's Back.. Maybe? Emanuel Sandhu


There's a face you haven't seen in six seasons! Canada's Emanuel Sandhu is on the start list for the 2012/2013 Skate Canada Challenge, the qualifying event to the 2013 National Championship. Now at 32, Sandhu last competed at the 2007 World Championships and was known throughout his career as having moments of brilliance, but rarely being able to keep it together through all portions of a competition.

Sandhu was also listed for the Skate Canada Challenge last season, but withdrew prior to the event. I don't remember there being a press release stating he would actually skate, so this year looks more promising.

His biggest achievement was winning the 2003/2004 Grand Prix Final (the first using the IJS scoring system) over then-World Champion Evgeny Plushenko. Sandhu was only the second alternate to the event, but withdrawals by two other competitors allowed him to compete.

Emanuel also has been as high as fifth at the World Championships; he did so in 2006 after finishing in second place following the short program. At the 2005 Worlds, he finished third in the free skate but poor qualifying round and short program skates only allowed him to finish seventh overall. In 2004, he won the World Championship qualifying round (the final 6.0 Worlds), but skated to 13th place in the short program.

Here is his winning free skate from the 2003/2004 Grand Prix Final.




Wednesday, November 28

Just a Reminder of Who is In Charge..



..in case you somehow forgot.

Here's the famous Ottavio Cinquanta mockery incident from the 2011 World Championships.

The Junior Grand Prix Final: Who You Should Be Watching

Since the 2008/2009 season, the Junior Grand Prix Final has run concurrently with the senior Final, hosting the top six junior-level skaters/teams in each discipline from the regular-season events. This season, the Junior Grand Prix Final will be held in Sochi, Russia, December 6-9.

Here is a look at some of the top competitors that have qualified to the Final.


MEN



Joshua Farris, United States
2012 World Junior Silver Medalist
2011/2012 Junior Grand Prix Final Bronze Medalist

Farris comes in as the favorite in the mens competition. Check out his performance above from the JGP Lake Placid, where he landed a beautiful quad toe and triple Axel-triple toe combination.




Maxim Kovtun, Russia
4th - 2011/2012 Junior Grand Prix Final

Kovtun lacks the polish and quality to his basic skating compared to Farris, but actually posted a higher event overall score (219.19) at the JGP Croatia this fall. His free skate performance is above, and includes a quad toe-double toe, triple Axel-triple toe, and a second triple Axel.




Jason Brown, United States
2012 World Junior Bronze Medalist
2011/2012 Junior Grand Prix Final Champion

Brown is the most refined and artistic skater of the group, but he has yet to land a clean triple Axel in competition and does not attempt a quad. He will most likely need to rely on mistakes from others, but as shown in this competition last year, a win is not impossible.

Also joining them are Boyang Jin (CHN) who beat Brown at the JGP Courchevel, and Japanese skaters Ryuju Hino and Keiji Tanaka.

Han Yan of China, 2012 World Junior Champion, is the second substitute to the Final.



LADIES (or.. LADY)



Elena Radionova, Russia
2012 JGP Courchevel Champion
2012 JGP Austria Champion

At all of her 13 years, Radionova posted the best two-competition total score of any junior lady by over 45 points. She is young and her overall quality can build tremendously, but this is her title to lose.

A trio of Americans, Angela Wang, Hannah Miller, and Leah Keiser will be in a tight podium battle with Japan's Satoko Miyahara and Russian Anna Pogorilaya.


PAIRS

The pairs should be an exciting battle, much like in the senior Grand Prix Final. Of the six qualifying teams, less than 16 points separates the highest and lowest two-event total scores.

The qualifiers are Canadians Purdy/Marinaro and Jones/Beharry, Russians Fedorova/Miroshkin, Vigalova/Zakroev, and Davankova/Deputat, and China's Yu/Jin.






Purdy/Marinaro were the only team to win both of their events, and above is their free skate from the JGP Croatia, where they moved up from 4th to win the gold medal. Right behind them were the Chinese team of Yu/Jin, whose free skate is also shown above.


DANCE

It's a Russian-dominated field with Stepanova/Bukin, Zenkova/Sinitsin, Kosigina/Moroshkin, and Yanovskaya/Mogzov all earning the right to compete on home ice. Joining them are two-time series winners Aldridge/Eaton of the USA and Papadakis/Cizeron of France.

Four of the six couples placed in second through fifth places at the 2012 World Junior Championships, with Stepanova/Bukin being the highest finishers with their silver medals. They are the favorites in Sochi, while World junior bronze medalists Aldridge/Eaton and fourth-place finishers Papadakis/Cizeron will likely battle for second place.




Here is the free dance of Stepanova/Bukin en route to their win at JGP Istanbul.

Even Following Plushenko Withdrawal, No Shortage of Talent at NRW Trophy



Who would've thought that the 'Senior B' competition NRW Trophy would end up attracting so many big names of skating? It takes place December 5th-9th, the same weekend as the 2012/2013 Grand Prix Final. Tickets were sold out within 6.5 hours of going on sale!

The event started receiving great attention when Evgeny Plushenko, Yu-Na Kim, and Savchenko/Szolkowy were all registered to compete. In 2012/2013, Plushenko has only competed in the Japan Open, a team competition early in the season, while Kim hasn't competed since the 2011 World Championships. Plushenko recently withdrew stating that Russian Nationals and the European Championships will be his only competitions this year, but there remains tremendous depth in each of the disciplines.

Men
Front-runners for the title include Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic, and Russians Artur Gachinski and Konstantin Menshov. Also in the fight for medals are France's Chafik Besseghier, Alexander Majorov of Sweden, and Peter Liebers of Germany.

Ladies
The gold medal favorite, even with a two-season absence, has to be Korean Yu-Na Kim, the reigning Olympic champion. It will be interesting to see how her scores stack up against the six ladies who qualified for the Grand Prix Final. Other medal favorites are Swedish sisters Viktoria and Joshi Helgesson, Spain's Sonia Lafuente, Italy's Valentina Marchei, and Mae-Berenice Meite of France.

Pairs
World Champions Savchenko/Szolkowy look to compete here after illness took her out of the Trophee Eric Bompard, subsequently making the team miss the Grand Prix Final on Olympic ice. Berton/Hotarek of Italy and the France's James/Cipres also compete here; both teams had solid showings on the Grand Prix.

The dance portion of the event was already completed November 2-4. You can find full results here.

So what do you expect from Yu-Na in this first competition back? Will her scores compete with or even best the scores of the six ladies in the Grand Prix Final?

Tuesday, November 27

2012/2013 Grand Prix Final Preview and Predictions

The 2012/2013 Grand Prix Final takes place December 6-9 in Sochi, Russia. This is the first time the Iceberg Skating Palace will be used, as it will be a test event for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The top six men, ladies, pairs, and dancers from the regular Grand Prix season will be competing in the prestigious event.


Men
Impressively, four Japanese men have qualified: current World bronze medalist Yuzuru Hanyu, former World silver medalist Takahiko Kozuka, Tatsuki Machida, and former World Champion Daisuke Takahashi. Joining them are top regular-season top qualifier and two-time reigning World Champion Patrick Chan of Canada and Spain's Javier Fernandez, who won bronze in this event a year ago.

Hanyu has run away with the short program this season, setting a new world record at both of his events. Patrick Chan has yet to deliver a perfect performance, but he came close at Rostelecom Cup and earned the highest free skate point total of any of the men here. I believe the gold medal will come down to these two men. Chan will have to deliver in the short program if Hanyu is on again, or he may find himself in a sizable deficit going into the free skate. Kozuka, Takahashi, and Fernandez look to be in a three-way battle for the bronze, or higher, if the two leaders make mistakes.

My Prediction
1. Patrick Chan
2. Yuzuru Hanyu
3. Takahiko Kozuka
4. Daisuke Takahashi
5. Javier Fernandez
6. Tatsuki Machida

I think Chan has been building with each competition and will pull off the win, with Hanyu not far behind. I don't love Yuzuru's free skate and really wish he had a program as high-quality as his short. Takahashi doesn't look as into his programs this season as he was for the last several years, and I feel that his quadruple attempts seem to always short enough to warrant under-rotation calls, which may be enough to hold him off the podium here. Fernandez is a total wildcard. He had a moment of brilliance at Skate Canada but then really let the pressure get to him at NHK Trophy.


Ladies
American Ashley Wagner and Japan's Mao Asada both won two events in the series and lead the way, while Kiira Korpi of Finland, at age 24, makes her first appearance at the Final. Akiko Suzuki of Japan and two Russian ladies, World Junior Champion Julia Lipnitskaia and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, round out the field.

Wagner has looked the strongest of all the ladies this season, delivering two great free skates en route to her wins. Asada had a controversial win at NHK Trophy, but the judges seem to really be enjoying her new, non-risky technical approach to the programs and have rewarded her with the highest components of any lady thus forth. Suzuki had the skate of her life at NHK and looks to still be improving at age 27.

My Prediction
1. Ashley Wagner
2. Akiko Suzuki
3. Mao Asada
4. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva
5. Christina Gao
6. Kiira Korpi

This one is actually tough, as I believe it could be really close after the short program if all of the ladies deliver. Wagner has looked so solid that I believe she will continue the trend and win here, while second through fourth was somewhat of a toss-up. Lipnitskaia has the technical tricks (especially the spins), but I think she's really been overscored on the second marks this season, and I'll be interested to see if they remain as high in a field with five other well-rounded skaters. Lipnitskaia has withdrawn due to injury as of 11/30 and has been replaced by American Christina Gao.


Pairs
Three Russian pairs, World silver medalists Volosozhar/Trankov, Bazarova/Larionov, and Kavaguti/Smirnov qualified in the top four spots. Former World Champions Pang/Tong of China, and two Canadian teams, Duhamel/Radford and Moore-Towers/Moscovitch, have also qualified. World Champions Savchenko/Szolkowy of Germany had to withdraw from their second event after she came down with an illness at her first event and subsequently did not qualify.

Based on how everyone has skated so far this year, this also could end up completely unpredictable. Volosozhar/Trankov had a disastrous free skate (by their standards) at Rostelecom Cup, and none of the six teams have really had moments of brilliance in the regular-season.

My Prediction
1. Volosozhar/Trankov
2. Duhamel/Radford
3. Bazarova/Larionov
4. Pang/Tong
5. Kavaguti/Smirnov
6. Moore-Towers/Moscovitch

I think Volosozhar/Trankov will get it together at home and earn the title, but then second through fifth  is the biggest question mark of the entire event, in my opinion. All of the teams scored relatively close to each other in the regular season. Duhamel/Radford have made great improvements as a pair and have set the technical bar exceptionally high. They come in as the third-highest scoring team in this field, behind the aforementioned and Bazarova/Larionov, who have shown good results but troubles technically throughout their events. They were able to win NHK in a much-watered down field. Pang/Tong looked more solid in their second event of the season, but I am not convinced that they are in top form yet to be on the podium here. Kavaguti/Smirnov have had troubled with their individual jump elements in the free skates so far this season, but they still have an opportunity to set themselves up for the podium with a strong short program. It should be an exciting event.


Dance
Americans Davis/White and Canadians Virtue/Moir, who were silver and gold medalists at the 2010 Olympics, easily won both of their events leading to the final. World bronze medalists Pechalat/Bourzat also won both of their events, while Russians Bobrova/Soloviev and Ilynikh/Katsalapov, and Italians Cappellini/LaNotte all won silver twice in their regular-season events.

My Prediction
1. Davis/White
2. Virtue/Moir
3. Pechalat/Bourzat
4. Bobrova/Soloviev
5. Cappellini/LaNotte
6. Ilynikh/Katsalapov

I believe that Davis/White have the strongest programs this season, particularly their short dance to Giselle, and will be able to win the title here. I respect Virtue/Moir's take on Carmen, but I feel that the choreography is a little too off-kilter and abstract to really garner top scores. Pechalat/Bourzat look good for bronze, while I think Bobrova/Soloviev will be the best of the next group after making tremendous improvements in the off-season.


What do you think? Share your opinions and predictions in the comments section! I am guessing there will be many differing opinions (particularly in mens and pairs), so let me hear them :)

Monday, November 26

Ranking the US Men by Highest Competition Scores this Season



This was a discussion that I got into on Twitter, and out of curiosity I started looking up and comparing the top scores of the US men internationally so far this year.

Taking each skater's best performance from this season, this is how they stand:

1 Richard Dornbush, 239.99 Finlandia Trophy
2 Ross Miner, 235.37 NHK Trophy
3 Max Aaron, 231.27 US Figure Skating Classic
4 Jeremy Abbott, 227.63 Trophee Eric Bompard
5 Keegan Messing, 224.44 Coupe de Nice
6 Joshua Farris, 218.69 JGP USA*
7 Armin Mahbanoozadeh, 218.06 US Figure Skating Classic
8 Adam Rippon, 210.47 NHK Trophy
9 Stephen Carriere, 209.11 Nebelhorn Trophy
10 Douglas Razzano, 204.62 Ice Challenge
11 Johnny Weir, 201.42 Finlandia Trophy
12 Jason Brown, 198.16 JGP Turkey*
13 Harrison Choate, 185.39 JGP Croatia*

*- Score achieved in a junior event. Farris and Brown compete again prior to Nationals at the Junior Grand Prix Final.

William Brewster- No Score (171.13 Sectionals)
Wesley Campbell- No Score (189.68 Sectionals)
Jonathan Cassar- No Score (183.00 Sectionals)
Grant Hochstein- No Score (186.48 Sectionals)
Alexander Johnson- No Score (223.18 Sectionals)
Evan Lysacek- No Score (has not competed)
Brandon Mroz- No Score (200.32 Sectionals)
Sean Rabbitt- No Score (170.59 Sectionals)
Philip Warren- No Score (180.31 Sectionals)

Looking at these scores, any early predictions for Nationals? The USA has two spots to Worlds this year, and those two skaters need to finish with combined placements of no higher than 13 in order to earn three berths to the 2014 Olympics.

New Proposed GOE System - Jumps

After the Florent Amodio post, I got to messing with numbers and figuring out a new GOE system that would seem to correctly reflect the performances that we see, mainly with the scoring of unsuccessful quadruple jumps and other falls in the program.


The basic premise is this:

Gone would be the option of (+3 to -3). I think that's too many options. I'd reduce it to (+2 to -2), which gives a judge 5 different options for an element.

In the United States, think of it like a school grading system:
+2 (A) would be excellent.
+1 (B) would be good.
0 (C) would be the base value, or average.
-1 (D) would be poor.
-2 (F) would be very poor.

Falls are no longer given a reduced GOE from what the element would originally receive. What I mean by that is a skater with a complex entrance into a jump might get a -2 or even -1 as the GOE even with a fall. No more. A fall is a fall, and receives the score in the right-hand column of my chart. There would be no more additional 1.00 deductions for falls on top of that, at least for the jumps.

The chart follows a simple pattern:

The 0 column uses the current ISU-established base values for jumps.

The +1 column increases the base score by 15%.

The +2 column increases the base score by 30%.

The -1 column decreases the base score by 15%.

The -2 column decreases the base score by 30%, and would also be the automatic result of a jump/jump combination in the short program with less than required revolutions.

The FALL column gives 1/3 credit to the base value of the attempted jump (which is more generous than my quick plan in the Amodio article, for what it's worth!)

I would still have to figure in the under-rotation and downgrade calls.

As you see, a total failure (fall) on a quad jump results in less points than any base-value triple jump, but more points than a base-value double Axel. I could live with that.

Plushenko Plans Only Russian Nationals, Europeans

According to an interview with R-Sport, coach Alexei Mishin says Evgeny Plushenko plans to take the same route this season as he did last year, competing at Russian Nationals and the European Championships (if he qualifies), and then sitting out the World Championships. He had originally planned to compete at the NRW Trophy in a few weeks, but has decided against it.

The Russians earned three spots to Europeans after Plushenko and Artur Gachinski went 1-2 last season. However, there is only one spot for Worlds after Gachinski and Sergei Voronov both had poor showings at the 2012 championship.

Now, I realize a few things. I know Plushenko is trying to save his body as much as he can before the Olympics, where he will be 31 years old. At the same time, he needs to compete internationally sometime this year in order to have ranking points for the Olympic season to potentially get Grand Prix assignments (as well as reaching the technical minimums early, if they hold the same next year). I think it's a big question-mark as to whether any other Russian men can finish in the top 10 at the 2013 World Championships. If they don't, only one Russian man will compete in the Olympics in their home country.

In a separate interview, coach Mishin gives an interesting quote regarding the scoring of Mao Asada at the NHK Trophy:
“The score for components often doesn’t reflect the true skill, but the time the athlete has spent in the figure skating world.”
Very interesting, all things in the past considered :)

The Big Technical Problem with IJS, as Demonstrated by Amodio's TEB Short Program



This short program by Florent Amodio at Trophee Eric Bompard was able to earn him 25.87 points technically.

That score was reached with the following:
- A fall on a quadruple Salchow
- A fall on a triple Axel
- A doubled triple Lutz and subsequently no second jump for a combination
- A sit spin that did not get down low enough so the entire sit/change/sit combination received 0 points

What does that mean? More than half of his elements (four of seven) in the short program were essentially complete failures.

I don't have a problem with the way the judges scored the elements based on what the rules state. In my own scoring, I had him at 25.16, so less than a point difference.


My problem comes with the actual rules themselves. Let's take, for example, a popular program choice for men that don't do quadruple jumps: a triple Lutz-triple toe combination, and a triple flip.

3Lz+3T = 10.10 base points
3F = 5.30 base points
---
Total for two elements at base value = 15.40 points


Now take Amodio's wipe-outs on both the quadruple Salchow and triple Axel

4S = 7.50 points earned
3A = 6.35 points earned (with x1.1 bonus for being in second half of program)
---
Total for two elements = 13.85 points


I know there are going to be some people that argue the reason that we see scores so similar for these elements is to encourage quadruple jumps and still reward skaters that are able to rotate them, regardless of outcome (2010 Olympics, anyone?). I don't really agree with that, though.

In diving, for example, if a diver is very poor with their attempt, he still holds a high degree of difficulty but receives scores maybe in the 2's or 3's. So if a dive had a 3.0 degree of difficulty and the diver received final scores of 2.5, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 3.0 (after throwing out highest and lowest scores in a seven-judge panel), the diver would earn 23.40 points for the dive (the total sum of scores times the degree of difficulty is then multiplied by 0.6).

Now, take that same 3.0 degree of difficulty dive and say that the diver did very well with it, earning scores of 9.0, 8.5, 8.5, 8.0, 9.0. The diver has now earned 77.40 points for the successful dive. See the difference? Divers have opportunities in later rounds to build back points. Skaters have opportunities in later elements plus program components to earn points. Other sports are also much more severe with failed attempts at elements.

I've always been in strong favor of really penalizing unsuccessful elements in skating. It makes no sense to me that Amodio loses ALL of his points on a sit spin combination because his butt needed to be a few inches lower, but still earns 71% of the points on his failed quad Salchow.

Along those lines, it doesn't make sense to me that someone who triples a planned quad attempt (which is within the rules) still earns quite a substantial amount of less points than a completely failed quad. The triple Salchow is worth 4.20 points. Again, completely failed quad Salchow is 7.50 points.

What this tells me is that skaters who are nowhere close on landing certain jumps cleanly but know they can throw their bodies in the air for 3.5 or 4 revolutions should just do so, because they can still earn big points (obviously Florent Amodio is capable of the quad Salchow and triple Axel, as he did both in the free skate).

MY PROPOSAL

I would remove the automatic one-point deduction for falls on elements. Falls on basic skating or in-betweens can keep that deduction. But I would make it so that all falls receive the exact same amount of total points per the element attempted, at least with triples and quadruples.

Take the quad Salchow. If it is fully-rotated with a fall I would give the same value of an under-rotated (<) jump of the same kind, but at the next level down (here, a triple Salchow). This means a quad Salchow with a fall would now be worth 2.9 points, which is about 28% of the base value.

Re-scoring Amodio's technical elements with that kind of system in play, and you get the following:

4S (fall) = 2.9
FCSp3 = 3.44
StSq2 = 3.53
2Lz+COMBO = 1.41
3A (fall) = 2.3
CSSp = 0.0
CCoSp3 = 3.64
---
Total Element Score = 17.22

He doesn't lose the additional two points on his overall score from the falls on the jumps, so his total segment score would now be 53.48 (compared to the 60.13 he actually scored). I think that sounds much more reasonable considering the performance that was put out.

Going for the big jumps should definitely have rewards, but only when they are done successfully! Take the risk and succeed, it will pay off.

Saturday, November 24

Asada vs Suzuki NHK Trophy Free Skates: My Verdict






Who wins this battle? The actual judges scores were 126.62 points for Suzuki, and 117.32 points for Asada. This, combined with the short program scores, gave Asada the win by 0.05 points.

If you listen to the British Eurosport commentators at the end of Asada's video, they are very confused as to how Mao held on for the gold medal.

What were my results?
























As you can see, I had Suzuki easily winning the free skate-- by 16.77 points (compared to the 9.30 points she actually won it by).

A few things-- I think both skaters were overscored in certain areas-- specifically some of the spins. The judges seemed to be +2 and +3 happy today, but I think most of their spins were 'good' at best. Suzuki's FCSp4 really should have had negative GOE, for example, but was still able to pull some +1. Don't think so.

With that in mind, I had Suzuki 1.89 points lower technically, while I had Asada 3.33 points lower.

Program components, to me, were where the total joke happened. Asada's program, for the first three or so minutes, has no life at all and she really could be skating to any music. Much like the jumps in this performance, it's just so on-and-off until the footwork starts to gain energy. Also, her fifth jump element comes two seconds before the half-way point. That's poor program planning in my opinion. She has nice basics and beautiful edges, but she really crawls through everything and doesn't do too much in terms of transitions. I've always felt that way about her, honestly.

Suzuki has a nice program and was much more engaged. She has some nice transitional highlights and a great tension and build with the music. I do think she's not as strong as Asada skating skill-wise, but everything else should have been higher in my opinion. Asada pulled off scores mostly in the 8's for performance/execution (huh?), choreography, and interpretation. I just don't feel like she was into this program at all.

For what it's worth, Asada lost 14.85 points off her base mark just from the three jumps she doubled and one she singled in this program. 117 with three triples.

Suzuki easily wins this battle in my opinion.

Grand Prix Series Facts & Trivia - Men

The top six overall-scoring men (event total scores) were the six men that made the Final. This is often not the case. Patrick Chan was the overall top scorer with 505.78 points, just over a point ahead of Yuzuru Hanyu.

No man was able to win both of his events, which means that there were six different gold medalists. Five of them are in the Final; Takahito Mura (winner of Trophee Eric Bompard) is not. The only man in the Final to not win either event? Daisuke Takahashi.

Tatsuki Machida is the only qualifier who hasn't participated previously in a Grand Prix Final.

The only other time that there has not been a repeat gold medalist in the mens Grand Prix series was the first season of the event: 1995/1996 (in which Eldredge, Urmanov, Kulik, Zagorodniuk, and Stojko each won once. The Cup of Russia was not part of the series until the next season).

If event total scores were the basis for Japanese Nationals, this would be the final standings at the event:
1. Yuzuru Hanyu
2. Daisuke Takahashi
3. Takahiko Kozuka
4. Tatsuki Machida
5. Nobunari Oda
6. Takahito Mura

All six were in the top ten final standings for the series.

The highest-scoring American man was Ross Miner. In second place was Jeremy Abbott, whose best long program highest score was some 17 points below the score of Miner at NHK.

Konstantin Menshov was the top Russian total event scorer, with Sergei Voronov four points behind. Remember, Russia only has one mens spot to Worlds this season.

Four qualifiers (Chan, Takahashi, Fernandez, and Hanyu) qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season, as well.

Sergei Voronov's overall event score at Cup of China was just around four points more than his event score at NHK Trophy. The difference? He finished with the bronze in China and 21 points off the podium in Japan.

The highest event score needed to reach the podium was Nobunari Oda's 238.34, at Skate Canada. The lowest score for a bronze was Florent Amodio's 214.25 at Trophee Eric Bompard. Oda would have won both the Cup of China and Trophee Eric Bompard with his score from Skate Canada.

Happy Holidays; Grand Prix Final Participants

Hi everyone, I was off enjoying Thanksgiving with family the last few days but I will get around to my NHK Trophy thoughts later today.

So far, three of the four disciplines have finished their events and with that are the qualifiers to the Grand Prix Final next month. Everything has gone as predicted so far!

Men
Patrick Chan (CAN)
Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
Takahiko Kozuka (JPN)
Tatsuki Machida (JPN)
Daisuke Takahashi (JPN)
Javier Fernandez (ESP)

As I thought was possible, Japan has six men in the top ten overall standings, with Takahito Mura finishing in 9th place and Nobunari Oda in 10th. Jeremy Abbott (USA) is the first substitute.

Ladies
Ashley Wagner (USA)
Mao Asada (JPN)
Kiira Korpi (FIN)
Akiko Suzuki (JPN)
Julia Lipnitskaia (RUS)
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS)

Tuktamysheva beats out first alternate Christina Gao (USA) on overall competition scores tie-breaker, in which she won by almost 9 points. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) would have only needed a fifth place finish in a second competition to qualify for the Final.

Dance
Davis/White (USA)
Virtue/Moir (CAN)
Pechalat/Bourzat (FRA)
Bobrova/Soloviev (RUS)
Ilinykh/Katsalapov (RUS)
Cappellini/LaNotte (ITA)

Weaver/Poje (CAN) are first alternates.

Pairs
Finish up at NHK Trophy tonight, but if the standings hold, the top two teams will qualify to the Grand Prix Final.

Tuesday, November 20

I Judge It: Kaetlyn Osmond Skate Canada SP

I received a few comments from interested readers asking how I would score Kaetlyn Osmond at Skate Canada. A few posts down, you will see how much I rave about the performance in the short program.

Here is my result:


Compare it to the ISU protocol:

Click the image to view it more clearly.



As you can see, I went 3.07 points even higher than the judges, and here's how I got those extra points:

The 3T+3T got all +1 and +2 from the judges. I honestly don't think I've seen a better triple-triple combination. Gracie Gold is very similar in her power with combinations, but just look at the footwork both leading directly into the jump and the control she has on the landing. It's absolutely a +3 element for me. The +1's? Nonsense. We see certain other skaters having absolutely no flow out of either jumps in combinations basically crawling into them getting +1. There's a 1.10 point difference just in this element for me.

The layback spin achieved a mix of +1 and +2. I would give it a +2 based on the difficult entry and her ability to immediately center the spin. She also doesn't lose any speed in the latter positions. +2 for me, and that's an additional 0.36 from what the judges scored.

The double Axel had a difficult entry, coming right out of a spread eagle. It had height, and it had a strong landing edge. Again, a +2 from me while the judges gave a majority +1 (although two did give her the +2). She gets 0.43 points more from me.

She loses 0.07 in the combination spin from me as I gave it a +1, while two judges scored it a +2.

Overall, I had her 1.82 points higher on the total elements score.

Program components were a different story. I had her lower than the average for skating skills (6.68), and I think that is by far the component she needs to work on the most. Only two judges went higher for her transitions mark than her skating skills mark, and that I do not understand. This program is loaded with transitions. I had her almost a full point higher than what the judges scored it (6.61). The performance and execution mark, in my opinion, was also about a half-point too low (6.96), although five of the nine judges did score her at 7.25 or higher there. Choreography and interpretation were both under a quarter-point of what I scored the program.

I had her 1.25 points higher in program components, with a majority of the points being gained on the transitions mark.

Disagree? Share your opinions. I love discussing my scores ;-)

In Memoriam: Sergei Grinkov

Sergei Grinkov, two-time Olympic pairs champion (with wife Ekaterina Gordeeva) tragically died of a heart attack 17 years ago today, and I still remember hearing the news as a fourth grader like it was yesterday. He was just 28 years old.

Here is their final performance, just ten days before he passed away.

Love It or Hate It? Kaetlyn Osmond

At the beginning of this season, Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada was virtually unknown outside of her country. To that point, she was best-known for winning the short program at the 2012 National Championship and finishing with a bronze medal overall in her first attempt at the senior level.

Not only did she win the Nebelhorn Trophy to start the 2012/2013 season (her first senior international), she also bested world bronze medalist Akiko Suzuki and previous World Junior medalists Kakano Murakami, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, and Gracie Gold at Skate Canada to win the title.

Osmond, who was originally a host pick to the Grand Prix event in her home country, did not get assigned a second assignment on the series and is stuck at 15 points overall. It is likely that a fourth place finish or higher in a second event would have given her a ticket to the Grand Prix Final in Sochi.

Here is Kaetlyn's short program from Skate Canada




Where do I begin? I am so impressed with her and I love this program. Watch the steps into the triple toe-triple toe combination and the movements right out of the jump from 0:18-0:26. The jumps had great height and distance, and she kept up the speed into them. Those steps aren't even necessary! Then watch, starting at 0:42 how the linking steps go right into her individual jump, the triple flip. Steps are required here, but we rarely see skaters have them go directly into a jump. She has a unique illusion right into a well centered layback, and her Biellmann position does not lose any speed. Again, we don't see that often. There are more moves in the field into a spread eagle leading to her double Axel. I could keep going, but this program is seriously one of the strongest I have seen this year.

She has the power, the speed, and the excitement level that has, in my opinion, been missing from ladies skating for a few years now. All of her movements are secure and refined. Her spins have great center and positions. She can still work on her polish and carriage as well as some of the run-outs in her jumps (the free skate showed her issues, but she was fine in this particular short), but she is well on her way.

Watch the replay at 3:46 of her triple toe-triple toe. EFFORTLESS. Combined with the steps she had right into it, I don't see why it's not a +3 element.

Monday, November 19

Love It or Hate It? Brian Joubert



Here is Brian Joubert's international debut of his new free skate, with music from Inception.

Back in 2010, I summarized my feelings on Brian; I still feel the exact same way. There's something about his skating that really gets me involved and I root for him to do well every time, and I like this music. However, I know he is still competing because he is a driven competitor and wants to get back into the medals and hopefully end up on the podium in Sochi.

Having said that, I don't quite understand the direction his skating has went since he tried something drastically different in the 2011 season (remember the Beethoven free skate?) The music didn't fit his style, but he was really pushing himself to skate a complete, IJS-satisfactory program. He had his lowest Worlds result since 2002 that season, and then returned to The Matrix last year for a third time-- skating it almost exactly as he did in the pre-IJS days.

I feel like this year is just another extension of that, and it's really disappointing. He's shown that he IS capable of adding more complex movements and choreography to his programs. Just because Beethoven didn't fit him doesn't mean that he couldn't have kept up with the choreography in a program which better suited him.

I said the following on Twitter during Trophee Eric Bompard:
There's something so hilariously pre-everything that IJS asks for about Joubert's LP that makes me kinda like it/miss the old days. Sue me.
I don't know how else to describe or feel about it! What do you think?