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.