Friday, November 9

Johnny Weir's Return: My Verdict

Johnny Weir returned to competition after three years, skating at the Finlandia Trophy earlier this season. Rostelecom Cup is his second event, and he finds himself in tenth place of ten skaters after the short program.

When I blogged during and after the 2010 Olympics, I took a lot of heat for my consistent opinion that he was being marked very fairly, if not a bit on the generous side as far as the components marks went.

So, has anything changed in his time off? The short answer, for now, is no.

Things he can do:

- If he plans to keep the quad as his individual jump (rather than the combo), he needs to make sure there are some steps (preferably something intricate) leading into it, or the GOE isn't going to be great no matter what the result. He has a simple change of edge and back as of now.

-Watch from 1:50 to 2:06, which leads into his triple Axel. Maybe a simple turn here or there, but really no transitions and the Axel still remains a bit telegraphed. I'd like to see him do a spread eagle or some kind of movement, even if it isn't right into the jump.

- The music change at 2:50 is fun and gets the crowd going, but he's standing still. That's not going to help his transitions mark.

- His overall speed can still be improved. Sometimes skaters may slow down because of the content they have going on between the elements, but since he doesn't have much going on, there's no reason he can't pick up the speed a bit.

- His step sequence has some stop-and-go body movement/'choreography' moments, but the sequence as a whole looks really tight to me. He only received level 2 here. I wish there was some work on his basics and his overall ease across the ice, because it would show in things such as the steps.

- The spins. He got two level 2 spins and one level 3. He can gain back points by staying up to date with the changes in the IJS since 2010 and modifying the spins to fulfill the requirements. That part shouldn't be too difficult.

- Transitions. They still are seriously lacking. Upper body movements while gliding around on two feet aren't what the judges are looking for, and he should know this from 2010.

Here's my bottom line with Johnny. I was excited by the idea of a skater taking some time off, really working on the things that held them down previously, and coming back and blowing everyone away. As of now, unfortunately, it's like he's starting right back up where he left off in 2010. Good for him for trying the quad, yes, but he's losing points in other areas such as the spins.

I Judge It: Rostelecom Cup Mens Short Program Components

Scary thought if I was a judge on the panel here, because I completely disagree with the components scores that were handed out during the mens short program at Rostelecom Cup today.

The first chart is the actual scores given by the judges. The second are my scores. I didn't change any of the technical scores; I only focused on the five components scores. Thoughts? How would you have had it?

Actual Scores
1Patrick CHANCAN85.4441.6243.828.938.648.648.688.930.00#10
2Konstantin MENSHOVRUS76.7342.5134.227.046.437.116.896.750.00#4
3Takahiko KOZUKAJPN76.3437.9938.358.007.467.467.757.680.00#8
4Zhan BUSHRUS74.5041.2433.266.796.396.866.686.540.00#2
5Artur GACHINSKIRUS74.0738.2136.867.686.757.437.397.611.00#7
6Michal BREZINACZE73.8335.6938.147.757.147.757.687.820.00#9
7Richard DORNBUSHUSA67.4433.1134.336.866.866.796.966.860.00#3
8Nobunari ODAJPN63.1827.2435.947.547.

My Scores
1Patrick CHANCAN86.1241.6244.509.258.758.759.008.750.00
2Takahiko KOZUKAJPN78.7437.9940.758.757.757.758.508.000.00
3Konstantin MENSHOVRUS74.5142.5132.006.255.507.
4Zhan BUSHRUS71.9941.2430.756.505.506.756.255.750.00
5Artur GACHINSKIRUS70.2138.2133.
6Richard DORNBUSHUSA68.3633.1135.257.256.757.
7Michal BREZINACZE67.1935.69
8Nobunari ODAJPN66.2427.2439.
10Johnny WEIR          USA55.2923.7931.507.254.006.506.007.250.00

Side note.. Michal Brezina has to have the most disappointing program this year with whatever that short program is supposed to be. It's so basic and I don't feel much connection to the music. It's almost shocking how poor I find it to be!

Rostelecom Cup Day One - Pairs Short Program

Pairs Short Program

Volosozhar/Trankov delivered an excellent, clean technical performance. I felt like everything had a bit more 'oomph' than usual-- the jumps had more height and power, the twist was huge, the lift moved quick and was solid, etc. Side by side spins got a little bit off, but that was the only fault (+3's? I don't think so..) Again, the critical side of me comes out. I believe this team is dating now, but I don't get much feeling out of them as a pair with this music. Individually they both emote to the crowd and they do have some nice choreographic moments that relate to each other, but I just don't feel like it's very believable for some reason. For the second year, I prefer their free skate.

Bazarova/Larionov seem to have everything that a traditional pair team would want. However, they don't really connect to each other at all and her individual jumping ability remains very weak. +2's from some judges for the throw jump that leaned forward? Generous. It frustrates me having watched them all of these years, because I never get ANY feeling out of them and end up always bored. Their interpretation mark would be much lower than the choreography on my scorecard.

I don't have anything to add about Denney/Coughlin that I didn't already say at Skate America. While I have seemed negative about all of the pairs here, they are just missing that extra something special for me. This team does the elements, but they have the typical American pair curse where there's just nothing to set them apart (Castelli/Shnapir being an exception for me). Ugliest lifts in the entire Grand Prix series, probably. Stretch!

I'm a huge fan of Lawrence/Swiegers, particularly Paige and her fearless attitude. However, the jumps have to be there, and the twist was a mess. I find myself always intrigued by their choreography and presence.

Rostelecom Cup Day One - Ladies Short Program

Ladies Short Program

Gracie Gold rebounded from Skate Canada with a clean short, including a triple flip(outside edge)/triple toe. The Lutz was the highlight for me-- so much power and coming straight out of an Ina Bauer. That's a +2 or +3 element, easily. However, here's the critical side of me. She's strictly a senior skater now and already anointed by many to be the next big thing out of the USA. Her program looks very junior and 'cutesy', and her basic skating level is not up to the level of her individual elements. With that said, I would have her components a bit lower. I'm really hoping her overall ability catches up to the jumps and spins.

The only thing I ever seem to say about Kiira Korpi is that it seems obvious that the judges are willing to push her all the way to the top-- if she ever delivers. That essentially means that I feel they are pretty generous with her. Perfect example, the triple loop here. It was a good jump, it had turns directly into it, all of that. But many judges felt it was a +2 element. Compare that with Gold's amazing 3Lutz jump out of steps-- which received 0's and +1's as the majority. Components were deservedly higher, although I wish she'd skate with more speed (regardless of music choice).

Agnes Zawadzki is much like Gracie Gold to me. In her situation, I think it can be simply summed up by saying that her coach was Tom Zakrajsek: solid technical ability, and lower than average skating skills/speed. She's definitely improved, and the skate today, in my opinion, should have been marked as first place. It's close enough between the top three that it's alright, but she should have definitely been ahead of Gold in components. The program, at least for me, was much more put together. I really don't understand it being behind Korpi (even if her combo spin was only level one).

I prefer Alena Leonova's short program dress from Skate America (on the right above). Seems like the judges were ready to give her first place here without the fault on the Axel. The program has Morozov written all over it though. Standing around in the music change, and not much going on until the flamboyant footwork. I don't think it's a bad program, I just liked last years effort better and this one kinda sends Alena right back to her over-the-top theatrics. Transitions mark was way too high. One judge gave it 5.25.

The flip continues to give Adelina Sotnikova troubles (she went one for three at Skate America). However, I personally believe that she is the one to watch out of the handful of Russian skaters vying for Worlds this year. She's progressing into seniors nicely. I don't love her free skate, but the short program shows the improvements she's made in a short time. I really enjoy watching her now. There should have been a bigger cushion on components between Adelina and both Americans ahead of her, in my opinion.

Kanako Murakami had underrotation issues on the end of her triple toe/triple toe combo and on the triple flip she fell on. The program still isn't doing as much for me as she's capable of, as nice as it is. The way she bends her whole upper body forward while stroking around doesn't work well with soft music. Her road to the Grand Prix Final will be difficult.

Thursday, November 8

The Japanese Men: The Quest for Five in the Grand Prix Final

Here we are half-way through the Grand Prix series, and five different Japanese men have been on the podium through three events. Let's look at the road to the Final for each of them.

Tatsuki Machida

With a third place at Skate America and a surprising win over teammate Daisuke Takahashi at Cup of China, Machida is the first man to qualify for the six-skater Grand Prix Final.

Let's look at the other four men who have a shot at joining him in Sochi...

Takahiko Kozuka

Kozuka came out with two strong programs to start the season at Skate America. With his gold medal there, a fourth-place or higher result at this weekends' Rostelecom Cup should guarantee him a spot in the Final, as well. Other threats for the title are Canadian World Champion Patrick Chan and teammate Nobunari Oda.

Yuzuru Hanyu

Hanyu set the World Record short program score at Skate America, only to come apart a bit in the free skate and end up with the silver medal overall. He next skates at the final Grand Prix stop, NHK Trophy in his home country. Former World Champion and teammate Daisuke Takahashi, as well as Skate Canada winner Javier Fernandez of Spain will also compete. Hanyu most likely needs a top two finish to assure himself a spot in the Final.

Daisuke Takakashi

The former World Champion had a disappointing showing at the Cup of China, but was still able to earn the silver medal. He is in the same position as Hanyu. A silver medal or higher at NHK Trophy should be enough to qualify him to the Final. He also has the lowest event overall score of the five Japanese men, so he will definitely be looking to redeem himself at home.

Nobunari Oda

Oda has the most difficult path to the Final of the five men. He started his Grand Prix season with a bronze medal finish behind Fernandez and Chan at Skate Canada. He competes again this weekend at Rostelecom Cup and most likely needs a gold medal to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. A silver medal, as long as Patrick Chan does not win, could also give him a slim shot at qualifying.

Trophee Bompard Situation

The wildcard through all of this is the Trophee Bompard competition. Many of the skaters (Joubert, Song, Hendrickx, Besseghier) either withdrew from their first competition or only have one competition and therefore cannot make the Final. Florent Amodio, who has a fourth-place finish already in the series, could potentially just make the Final with a gold medal at home. Jeremy Abbott was fifth in Skate America and a gold here would still make him unlikely to qualify. So, if Amodio wins, things could get interesting. If anyone else wins, it will likely have no effect on the final six.

Rostelecom Cup Situations

If Oda wins in Russia, he should be in.

If Oda wins silver in Russia and Patrick Chan wins, he has a slim chance of qualifying to the Final depending on what Hanyu and Takahashi do at NHK. If either of them finishes third place, they would go into a tie-breaker on overall scores with Oda from both competitions. Oda is 5.40 points behind Hanyu and has a 6.59-point lead over Takahashi right now.

If Oda wins silver in Russia and Patrick Chan finishes third, then Chan is put in the same position as Oda is in the previous situation. Chan has a 5.09-point lead overall versus Oda right now, and with this result, Oda would have to overcome those points to pass Chan in the standings.

If Oda wins bronze in Russia, he is most likely out of the running for the Final.

As I mentioned above, Kozuka likely just needs a fourth place or higher in Russia.

NHK Trophy Situations

If Takahashi/Hanyu go one-two in either order, both will qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

If either of Hanyu or Takahashi finishes third, they would be put in the Oda situation above.

If Fernandez finishes in the top four, he should also qualify.

For What it is Worth...

As of now, here are the overall first competition scores for the six likely men fighting for five Grand Prix Final spots:

Fernandez (15 points) 253.94 points
Kozuka (15 points) 251.44 points
Hanyu (13 points) 243.74 points
Chan (13 points) 243.43 points
Takahashi (13 points) 231.75 points
Oda (11 points) 238.34 points

The only other contender is Florent Amodio, who needs to win the gold medal at Trophee Bompard next week.

Edited to Add: American skaters Johnny Weir (Russia, France) and Richard Dornbush (Russia, Japan) both have yet to compete in the series. I would say Weir is extremely unlikely to have an impact on the top results, while Dornbush has a slightly better chance.

Blast from the Past: Stephanie Zhang Returns to Competition

Stephanie Zhang. That's a name you probably haven't heard in nearly 10 years, as she hasn't competed since the 2003 season! However, much to my surprise, she is listed on the roster for the 2013 Australian Championships which take place in early December. She is now 27 years old.

I had the chance to talk briefly to Stephanie about the comeback, and she said she only started skating seriously again about three months ago, but has already gotten most of her triples back into her arsenal.

If you're an American skating fan, you will remember Stephanie from the 2001 Goodwill Games, where she was able to compete in front of her home country and put down two solid performances and finish 8th place overall (you can see her free skate in the video below). She was also the Australian representative to the 2002 Olympic Games, where she finished 25th.

Good luck to Stephanie on her comeback!