Friday, October 26

Before Yuzuru Hanyu's World-Record Short..

As we all know, Yuzuru Hanyu was able to post the world-record short program score at Skate America last weekend, earning 95.07 points. He's 17 years old.

The accomplishment got me thinking about the last few seasons and great performances. Even though there were no records broken, I remember watching the 2010/2011 Grand Prix Final and being completely blown away by the following short program, by Hanyu's teammate Nobunari Oda. He has the softest, deepest landings I've ever seen.

Which mens programs, record-breaking at one point or not, do you think were up to the same amazing level of Hanyu's effort?

Thursday, October 25

Love It or Hate it? Skate America Ice Dance

I am digging the Germans' free dance. They are far from the most refined or graceful skaters, but this totally works. I only wish the changes of music wouldn't all have stand-still choreography.

As I noted in my short dance review, this program had all the potential in the world to be absolutely nauseating. I ended up feeling the opposite. Really enjoyable!

I wasn't sure if I just enjoyed the music at first or the program as a whole. Even with the mistakes and the overall lack of polish here, I am a fan of the program and the feeling they create. That balance lift in the middle is really awesome.

Let's be honest. Did anyone really find Bobrova/Soloviev remotely interesting before this season? I know I didn't. They showed up to Skate America as a huge surprise. Tanith Belbin addressed the issue of not understanding including Tosca in this program, but I think the version they chose fits with the theme of an artist going crazy. They're both really improved.

Love it. The last section screams Zoueva with all of the toe-pick choreography, but just look at how effortless everything seems!

Not feeling this. At all. It's kind of like a Ksenia Makarova 2012 season feeling for me. Completely awesome short dance, and then a total snooze of a free dance. I don't ever remember having such strong opposite feelings between short/long programs as I have in the last few seasons.

Sunday, October 21

Skate America Day Three - Ladies

Ladies Free Skate

Rachael Flatt started things off. Firebird retained from last season. Nice triple flip this time around! The obnoxious swinging into it is gone now. She definitely doesn't have the speed she previously had, and she wasn't ever really a fast skater to begin with. Jumps are gone into with hardly any energy, but she's pulling them off. The spins, to me, look like they have REALLY regressed and some of the positions are just 'half' there. Second flip maybe was doubled intentionally, as she repeated the loop and the Salchow later. Points left on the table and only two combinations, but five triples.

Alena Leonova's triples this week don't look to have the spring she's always had. The Lutz and flip almost have a delay to the beginning and I think that might be the problem with those. Her speed also doesn't look to be at the level it usually is. Tonia mentions that she doesn't have connection to the music, and I agree. When things don't go her way, she is totally checked out from the performance, and the PCS should reflect that. She's just been out of it both days.

Sarah Hecken looks really pretty with the simplistic makeup. I think her posture problems are magnified by her arms, that sometimes look like she is balance-checking herself rather than actually having arm movements as choreography. Some standing around too, but she really gets excited when she lands her jumps and I like that she has some emotion towards her skating. Oksana Baiul moment at the end with a 2Axel/2toe right as the music finishes. One fall, but everything else was decent and she's happy.

Haruka Imai has an upbeat classical piece for her free skate, and I like it more for her than the short program. She doesn't have much height on the jumps but she's landing most of them. There was one point in the choreography where I thought she was stopping to look at her laces or boot, but it must have just been the actual choreography. Odd. Good performance, but not blown away, and I think she has the capability of doing that.

Viktoria Helgesson had a false start, I think, and then the music started to play again. Her spins look faster and have better positions than I remember from last season. Aside from the crash on the triple toe and the doubled Salchow, she's landed everything, but it's all been a little shaky. She should get strong PCS, but I'd have it behind Imai.

Skate America Day Two - Ladies

Ladies Short Program

I am not giving up on Rachael Flatt just yet. There are too many people that are quick to give up on American ladies (think Alissa Czisny, Caroline Zhang in the past). The doubled flip looked like more of a toe-picking issue than anything, and the other jumps were fine. The non-jump element levels were all low, which contributed to her low score.

Christina Gao is so impressive. Freshman at Harvard, and then she puts out a skate like this. She has been one of the more consistent American ladies come Nationals time in the last three years and this was a great start. Pulling for her to deliver in the free skate, as well.

Sarah Hecken has such a likable personality, but I feel like most of her programs are bland and that she hasn't really found a style yet. This is cool music, but she doesn't move strong or fast enough to really match it. She looks like Kimmie Meissner from a distance not only in the face but in the way she moves, which remains below average. Remember, she's been just outside the top 10 at Worlds twice now.

Valentina Marchei has been around for a long while, and I wasn't disappointed in where her skating was going last season compared to where she was around 2007. I thought the programs were blah and too gimmicky, almost. However, Esperanza this year is a good fit for her without having to overact. Nice job.

Mae-Bernice Meite is so powerful. She and teammate Yretha Silete have some of the biggest ladies jumps I've ever seen. I think she has a long way to go in her carriage and posture and just her overall refinement, but she skated clean in the short and now she's in the hunt for a medal. Who would have thought?

I liked the beginning of Haruka Imai's program, but then it lost me a bit. She's a nice but not overly expressive skater. I think the music would work better on some of the other skaters in this competition, particularly Viktoria Helgesson. I think I like a more traditional look for Haruka. The double Axel was small and called under-rotated, hence her score.

I am indifferent towards Ashley Wagner's Red Violin after the first viewing. I think she was lucky in the GOE with her loop jump (which obviously had struggles on the landing), and her PCS has really gone up since her showings last season. I think they were a little bit too high for this performance, but nothing severe like with some of the men.

I really liked Adelina Sotnikova, although she singled the flip. She has a sharpness and a tension to the way she moves and it works for the music. She also seems completely comfortable with herself now and she really sold the program, even after the mistake. Other Russian ladies (in this competition...) can learn from her in that aspect.

Viktoria Helgesson is my favorite eligible lady. I think she has a tremendous amount of content in her programs and that her style is versatile enough for almost anything. This program doesn't blow me away like some of the others have, but it's cute. She really could have made a mark with a clean short here, and that is what she needs to finally get the PCS I think she's deserved for the last few years.

Well, Alena Leonova was a mess, plain and simple. For as dramatic in an over-the-top happy way she is, you would think she'd be able to keep it together and really sell a program when things don't go right. It's the opposite. She gives up, and all of the weaknesses in her skating really start to show. I think the program is lacking between the elements, and I'm just not feeling it. She cried plenty after her skate, but she's only 10 points out of the medals. She's not out of it yet, but I think she knows she has to prove herself each and every time with countrywomen becoming age-eligible.

Skate America Day Two - Pairs Final & Ice Dance

Pairs Free Skate

Volosozhar/Trankov had me worried when I saw their free skate earlier this year and was underwhelmed. I liked it much more here! The program doesn't have the build that Black Swan did last year, but the trade-off is that they have more content in between the elements this year. I still expect a little bit more from them considering their abilities, though. Not perfect here, but easily a win and a good start.

Pang/Tong, as much as I like them and their longevity, haven't really made any drastic improvements in their skating in about 10 years, honestly. I saw them live in 2002 and they skated to my favorite program of theirs, Illumination. That said, I do like their new free skate but they came here battling injuries and they weren't in top form. As always, generous with the PCS marks and she could still use a lot more stretch/finish in the lifts. The variation on the death spiral was nice.

Denney/Coughlin had a nice program to Phantom of the Opera, but as I mentioned in the short, there's really nothing that exciting to me about them, and that seems to be the case with most American pairs-- that's why we always see them around the 6-10 range at Worlds. They have an amazing triple twist and great power behind everything, but I actually find some moments in the choreography to be almost overdone. I wish they would also get some variations in the lifts. She seems to have a fair deal of flexibility, but the lifts manage to look awkward. Clean skate, though!

James/Cipres really surprised me. I love the Pearl Harbor soundtrack, and I liked both of their programs this weekend. Last year, I couldn't figure out if a lot of their awkwardness was from a lack of serious training or just from them being a new couple, but they have improved so much. Neither of their postures or overall skating is really that amazing and I think that should have been more reflected in the PCS, but everything was there in both programs. They'll only get better.

Castelli/Shnapir have so much power. I really was hoping for a throw triple Axel attempt, but they settled for a big double. The tango music is alright but I think they would do really well with something modern and avant-garde (like Philip Glass or in the style of Savchenko/Szolkowy last year). Not as effective as the short for me, but I'm still a big fan.

Donlan/Speroff had nice moments in their Sleeping Beauty free skate. Even with errors, I still see a lot of potential in them. They need more power as a whole and she needs more strength in the jumps, but they have really nice, extended lifts, which were the highlights for me.

Montalbano/Krasnopolski were pleasant, and they are progressing nicely. As I mentioned in the short, she needs to find some kind of consistency with her individual jumps, as he seems rock solid with them. Other things like the speed between elements and stamina can still be improved upon. I like them.

Short Dance

Davis/White were impressive for the first competition. I jokingly thought to myself that since this was a Marina Zoueva-choreographed program, there would definitely be toe pick-tapping to the Giselle gallop, and there ended up being plenty of it. I expect a really solid skate of this program in the coming months with all levels reached to score around 75. I know she's in character, but I think her hair looks silly.

Weaver/Poje had a fun short dance. Tanith Belbin commented that she thought there were too many changes of music, but I thought that they fit. I like this team, but I think they should have been third on the day behind...

Bobrova/Soloviev- What a surprise. I have never been a huge fan of the team, and this program really doesn't have a wow factor, but it is nice, clean, traditional skating and they skated it very well. They have made big improvements in their skating.

Special mention to the Italian team, who skated a wonderfully choreographed program to Mary Poppins. Sounds nausea-inducing, doesn't it? I thought so too, but I loved it. They are a young team, but I thought they were undermarked here. They really had the audience going.

Skate America Day Two - Men

Mens Free Skate

The Japanese men obviously brought it! Takahiko Kozuka remains my favorite of the bunch, and he came away with an impressive win here. He seems to have reworked his quad technique so that he can get his free leg out quicker; before, it always tended to get stuck. There is such an understated, amazing quality to his basics, but I mentioned in my short program notes that I wish he'd drop the puffy sleeves and loose pants. It takes away from that quality. Anyways, a solid score and a nice way to start his season after his troubles last year, and his PCS were more in line with where they should always be.

It seems like Yuzuru Hanyu let the pressure really get to him after the world-record short program. Big falls on both the quad toe and quad Sal attempts. He still moves a little too gumby-like for me (basically his upper body seems too loose at times), but I remember being completely underwhelmed with him a few years ago in the short program at Junior Worlds. He's obviously made huge improvements and hopefully he takes this experience and builds from it. One thing I would like to see is less Johnny Weir-style recovery from jumps. He takes too much time to just get back up and keep going, and it's distracting to the program. He almost became totally uninterested after the first few mistakes.

Tatsuki Machida is one of the more expressive Japanese men, and I really enjoyed his interpretation to Firebird. We have seen it plenty of times, but he brought an interesting approach. Everything was there besides the quad and he stumbled out of his second triple Axel, but he was able to place 2nd in the long, and it's great that he has Anthony Liu as a coach, who had quite the quad toe himself. I think his 80+ PCS was a little on the high side, but he definitely deserved to be on the podium.

Konstantin Menshov has some cool Rene Aubry music, that I believe Denkova/Staviyski used once upon a time. He feels confident on those quad toes! I'm happy for him and his placement, but his components were again way too high. The skating in-between his elements looks almost lazy and a if he's in a practice run-through. He should have been behind Mahbanoozadeh on PCS, easily.

Jeremy Abbott's new free skate is alright. I won't like it as the Muse free skate last season, but this is infinitely better than the short programs he tries to do, including this season, where the choreography just never seems to get comfortable. It's risky to put the two triple Axels five seconds apart, as we saw here. He's going to need a strong landing on the first because there's no time to gain back the speed for the second if there are problems. Nicely choreographed, just not overwhelmingly interesting, and the end just trails off. He really needs to really get over the depressed/shocked look.

Michal Brezina kept his Deadmaus and Untouchables program from last year. Did his vest always have writing on it last year, too? I never noticed. Hard fall on first quad Sal, not anywhere near all around. Aside from that and another quad Sal fall, he kept the jumps together. That combination spin he does right before the final footwork always slows way down, and I feel like that ruins the energy of the rest of the program when it should be doing the exact opposite as the music builds. He should put all of his spins in the slower sections!

Armin Mahbanoozadeh had trouble with the quad toe, the second Axel, and a flip in his Doctor Who free skate, which is one of the more interesting and exciting music selections lately. I see a lot of improvement in the quality of his skating, but the judges apparently don't with the components still not reaching 7's. I fear that the only way he is going to have a huge breakthrough at this point is if he has the absolute performances of his life at Nationals and he gives the USFS no doubt that he should be on the World team. That isn't going to be easy.

Tomas Verner kept his free skate from last season, and I think if I was his coach and choreographer, I would create programs for him that have movements directly into all of his jumping passes. Some of the jumps come from stroking from one end of the ice to the other, and it gives him plenty of time to have doubt about them. Using a different approach, maybe he won't have enough time to worry about anything. Anyways, this program, like the short, seems so empty in spots and he doesn't move particularly quick. However, he was able to keep it together for the most part following an early pop.

Douglas Razzano put out a stronger effort than his short program. Plenty of other skaters have chosen to skate to the Queen Symphony, and I can't say that any of them have been remarkable or memorable programs. Although he was rotating between hot and cold on the jumps, he should be proud of having done a quad.

Alexander Majorov intrigued me with his Alexei Yagudin-like costume (with an added hood), but it wore off quickly after the cool opening choreography. For finishing last, this was a decent skate jump-wise. I just got lost in the music about two minutes in.