Saturday, February 9

Canadian Reynolds Upsets for First Major Title; Asada Shows off Old Friend

Mens Free Skate

I woke up this morning having decided to skip the live broadcast of the mens free skate at the Four Continents Championship late last night on the east coast of the USA.

Boy oh boy. I should have stayed up.

Kevin Reynolds not only bested the current World silver and bronze medalists (on their home turf!), but he did it convincingly in the free skate, moving all the way up from sixth place in the short program. Who would've thought?!

Reynolds landed three quadruple jumps in the free skate-- a quad Salchow and two quad toe loops (one in combination) as well as a triple Axel-triple toe combination and three other triples to score 172.21 points and win the segment by over ten points. His overall event total of 250.55 points was four points better than Yuzuru Hanyu, who was the leader following the short program.

Hanyu doubled a planned quadruple Salchow at the beginning of his program and then singled a triple Lutz at the end. Interestingly, his program components scores only averaged 8.18 in the free skate compared to the 8.00 Reynolds received. In the short program, Hanyu averaged 8.69 while the Canadian averaged 7.61.

Han Yan, 2012 World Junior Champion, was able to win the bronze medal in his first senior international competition. He had a hard fall on a quadruple toe loop attempt at the beginning of his free skate but rallied back to land seven clean triples. Yan bested teammate Nan Song by just under seven points here-- it will be interesting to see if the Chinese Federation gives him the opportunity to compete at Worlds where a tenth place finish or higher would give two men the opportunity to skate in Sochi a year from now.

American champion Max Aaron had a major comeback from 10th place in the short program, finishing second in the free skate and just off the podium overall as the highest-placing American. He landed two more beautiful quadruple Salchows in the free skate as well as two triple Axels. Late in the program, he seemed to run out of energy and his last few jump elements were rough. So far, I've been way off about how the international judges would score him components-wise. I suggested the US Nationals free skate total (which averaged scores of over 8.00) was way too high, but he pulled off a 7.26 average here. That said, I still think there is a good chance of many men in this field having their components scores nose-dive come the World Championships.

Teammate Richard Dornbush also finished just over a point out of the bronze medal, in 5th place overall. He landed a quadruple toe loop to start the program, but fell out of a second one and singled a triple Axel. All-in-all, he has to be happy with his effort this year compared to last season, where he placed just 13th.

2010 World Champion and recent Grand Prix Final gold medalist Daisuke Takahashi completely unraveled in the free skate, finishing 8th in the segment and dropping him from 4th to 7th overall. Both of his quadruple toe loop attempts early in the program were severely two-footed and deemed under-rotated by the technical panel. He also fell on a triple Axel later in the program and had trouble on a triple Lutz. Both of those jump elements were also called under-rotated, losing significant technical points.

Denis Ten, maybe suffering from coach Frank Carroll not making the trip to Japan after his sister passed away just prior to the event, fell all the way from 7th to 12th after a 17th place finish in the free skate. Ten included a brief sweet message to Carroll in the kiss and cry following his short program.


Ladies Short Program

Ten years ago, the Japanese ladies team of Fumie Suguri, Shizuka Arakawa, and Yukari Nakano swept the podium at the Four Continents Championship. It can happen again tonight.

Mao Asada ran away with the first segment, scoring 74.49 points in a program that included a triple Axel-- a jump she had yet to attempt in a very successful season to this point. She also landed a triple flip-double loop combination and triple loop and is in front by 8.84 points.

Akiko Suzuki rebounded from a disappointing Japanese National Championship free skate (where she placed just 4th overall) and an early-2013 national competition to skate clean in the short program, earning 65.65 points. She completed a triple toe-triple toe combination, triple flip, and double Axel. Kanako Murakami also delivered at home and skated to 64.04 points, good enough for 3rd place. She completed the same set of jump elements as Suzuki.

Christina Gao ended as the highest-placed American following the short program, skating clean and earning 62.34 points. Many feel that Gao was held down at the US National Championships last month, where she finished fifth overall for the fourth consecutive season. She, too, completed a successful triple toe-triple toe combination.

Gracie Gold had trouble with her first two jumping elements- she turned out of a triple flip-triple toe combination (done on the outside edge and called appropriately), and then putting her hands down on a triple Lutz. She scored 60.36 points and is in fifth place. Teammate Agnes Zawadzki fell on her double Axel (as she did at US Nationals) and is in seventh.

Kexin Zhang, in her first competition of the season after a top-10 finish at the World Championships last year, finished in 6th in the segment.

Canadian Champion Kaetlyn Osmond made her first error in the short program this season, falling on her triple flip. She is in eighth place while teammate Amelie Lacoste is right behind her, in ninth.

None of the ladies in the top six aside from Gold received negative grades of execution for any of their seven elements.

Friday, February 8

A Good Dose of Reality: Analyzing Recent Articles (Gold & Weir)

You know what really bothers me about 'professional' journalism? The amount of nonsense and boring or expected articles we get day after day. How many times can a figure skater say "Well, I just want to do my best and the result doesn't really matter.." before we all start to go crazy? How many times can 'Phil Hersh & Co., LLC' either completely write a skater off and throw a hissy fit after one performance  all while completely ignoring the faults of other media darlings?

I can't be the only one tired of the apparent standard for writing, can I?

With all of that in mind, I found two recent articles to be absolutely mind-boggling.

First, this Bleacher Report story about how Gracie Gold will be the media darling of the 2014 Olympic Games. As if NBC didn't give us enough of this girl over the course of the National Championships, we now have writers anointing Gold as a sure bet for the Olympics, with quotes such as "although she finished runner-up to Wagner [at US Nationals], it will be Gold getting the last laugh at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi."

Come on. Gracie Gold has some of the most amazing jumps in the world-- there is absolutely no debating that. However, she has yet to prove any kind of track record internationally on the senior level, and still has programs better suited for a junior-level skater. Yes, she had a good (good-- not great) skate at her second Grand Prix event this year, winning the silver medal. But do we remember what happened a few weeks before that at Skate Canada? Oh, that's right. She finished in 7th place. The faults she had in the short program at Nationals are even essentially set aside in this article to just rave about how amazing she is.

One of the best free programs of all-time at Nationals for Gracie? Jumps-wise, maybe it would fit into the top 10. But the program as a whole? If you prefer a skater to be all business for approximately three minutes without any attempt at listening to or skating to the music, sure. But in reality, it was just a showcase of amazing jumps from a skater that has plenty else to work on before she can become the total package.

If this particular writer did any research, they would note that nothing is ever a given in figure skating, and the results of the ladies event at Nationals the last few years is more than an obvious indicator of that.

I like Gracie Gold, but at this point, I wouldn't be completely surprised if she's a non-factor next year because of all of the expectations and anointing that has already happened.


Moving on...

I am now going to refer you to my December 2012 post regarding Johnny Weir and his withdrawal from the US National Championship.

We have Johnny saying, in essence, that he realized his level of skating was nowhere near it needed to be to compete with the current mens field. He decided to skip Nationals in order to apparently work hard enough on all of the things lacking in his skating so that he can show up at the beginning of the 2014 season looking like an Olympic gold medal contender. We shall see about that...

I can go on and on (for about the fifth time) about how Johnny didn't really address a single one of the issues that held him back in 2010 when he showed up to the Rostelecom Cup earlier this year (and finished in last place in the short program before withdrawing), but you're probably tired of that, and that makes me tired, too.

But now, we have this latest article from the USA Today where Johnny gives us a completely different story, including this gem of a snippet:
Weir was impressed with Max Aaron, who won the gold. "But otherwise I was somewhat disappointed," he said. "After Max Aaron's jumping ability, I very easily could have done very well in the competition and that was difficult to sit at home and watch."
Ha. Literally all I can do is laugh. Recall the story just above-- Weir has a last-place short program finish in a Grand Prix event to show for this year so far (as well as a 4th place finish in an earlier international). He THEN decides he isn't up to par with the other skaters and withdraws from Nationals. NOW, he's saying that he could have done 'very well' in the competition. Maybe he could have.

Very easily?

Reality check. I don't even think Johnny would have made the top 6 at US Nationals. I said he'd be fighting for the top ten in the blog post I linked to above, and I still think that was a fair assessment of the quality of the programs he was going to show-- if he actually showed up.

Another quote in this article bothers me:
 "I've always had a loud mouth and for that I've gotten a lot of attention. I did falter in some big competitions in my career, but being counted out and not being seen as a threat is something I'm used to. For me, no matter what TV show I'm on, no matter what red carpet I'm walking down or fashion show I'm sitting front row at, my eyes are always on Sochi."
If he's so A-list and has as many great opportunities as he alludes to in this quote (no matter what TV show, red carpet, fashion show front row... ) and his eyes are 'always on Sochi', why hasn't he put as much effort into the skating as he has trying to stay prominent with all of the other endeavors?


Maybe I am having a moody day. Until next time... :)

Four Continents Day One Round-Up

Men

What a field there is here, even with the absence of World Champion Patrick Chan. And what a set of results after the short program!

Yuzuru Hanyu, who has set two world record scores in the short program this year, leads the way but completed only a single Lutz-triple toe loop combination. Since the rules prescribe that the combination must include, at the very minimum, a triple and double jump, Hanyu received a -3 GOE for the element. I adore the difficult entry into the triple Axel and I also enjoy the program as a whole, but Hanyu looked tight and more nervous than usual here.

Han Yan is a surprising 2nd place after the short program. He had a poor Junior Grand Prix showing earlier this season, not even qualifying for the Final even though he came in as the reigning World Junior Champion. He has gorgeous flow into and out of his jumps, which included a triple Axel, quadruple toe loop, and triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. While his presentation is still reserved, his choreography and overall skating quality is very good. It will be interesting to see what the Chinese Federation does regarding Worlds if Yan remains ahead of teammate Nan Song (currently in 5th place), as they have seemed determined to keep Yan in the junior ranks up to this point.

Richard Dornbush finds himself in a surprising 3rd place, and if he keeps his position as the top American skater here, he might raise yet another question about whether the National Championship should be the sole factor (in most cases) towards naming World Championship teams. While he was just 6th in the United States, he holds a 9-point lead over National silver medalist Ross Miner and is ahead of National Champion Max Aaron by over 10 points. He landed a quadruple toe loop, triple Axel with a hand down, and a triple Lutz-triple toe.

Daisuke Takahashi sits in a disappointing 4th place after the short program, five points behind Hanyu. He is skating a new program here, to Moonlight Sonata. I think it is refreshing to see Takahashi return to a more traditional program, but he had problems with the quad toe loop and then fell on his triple Axel. He didn't look completely comfortable with the choreography just yet, and I feel like his artistic ability extends way past anything Nikolai Morozov could ever give him.

Down the line..

Kevin Reynolds landed both a quadruple toe loop and quadruple Salchow-triple toe in his short program. While they were both deemed under-rotated (between a quarter and half-turn cheat), he earned big points for his effort, and is currently in 6th place.

I don't know what the judges were watching, but one of the highest marks in skating skills on the day should have belonged to Takahito Mura. The judges somehow believed that he was only 7th-best in that department, and that Yan was worthy of a 7.82. I believe this is clearly a case of that component (and the other four) having a direct correlation with the technical level of skating, and it's almost to the point where it's not even worth arguing because the judges aren't going to change any time soon.

Miner sits 9th and Aaron 10th. Ross doubled a quadruple Salchow, absolutely destroying his technical score (he got 0.70 points for the element), and Aaron fell on a triple Axel after slightly running into the boards right before the element. He did, however, pull off a clean quad Salchow-double toe combination. I alluded to the PCS scores being a little strange in the last paragraph, and I still believe that Aaron won't be receiving the almost-7.00 average scores he earned here (and 8.00 average at Nationals) come Worlds. We shall see..

Andrei Rogozine made about as strong a case as possible about being the third Canadian entry to Worlds after beating other contender Elladj Balde by over 18 points in the short program. Rogozine was third at Nationals.

Misha Ge skated to a 12th place finish, but ended up with the third-highest interpretation mark on the day. What? A sign that not all of the components have to directly relate to the technical efforts?!

The free skates are in the middle of the night tonight in the United States. Look for a report tomorrow afternoon :)


Pairs

The Canadian teams of Duhamel/Radford and Moore-Towers/Moscovitch easily lead the way, scoring 70.44 and 66.33 points respectively and comfortably ahead of the rest of the field. Both teams qualified for the Grand Prix Final earlier this season, and with their showings at Canadian Nationals and so far through this competition, I'd say there's a very excellent shot at them earning three spots to the Sochi Olympics at the World Championships next month-- which, by the way, are in Canada.

American Champions Castelli and Shnapir are a distant third, just .08 points ahead of National bronze medalists Zhang and Bartholomay. Less than five points separate third place from seventh (last) place in this field, so the bronze medal battle is still wide open.

US National silver medalists Scimeca and Knierim withdrew prior to the short program due to injury on her part.


Dance

Olympic Champions Virtue/Moir have a 0.44 point lead over Davis/White after the Americans earned a level three on their no-touching step sequence (the level 4 has a 1.50-point higher base value). As with the last three seasons and these two teams, the free dance will surely prove to be a close battle.

Chock/Bates again find themselves ahead of the Shibutanis, as the teams sit in 3rd and 4th place after the short dance.

The pairs free skate and free dance will take place late Saturday night.

Tuesday, February 5

Ranking the Likely Skaters at Worlds (Start Orders)

I am going to keep this post up-to-date heading into Worlds, and I thought it would be a nice resource to list the current qualified skaters and their ISU World Standings. This will be the determination of the latter start groups for each discipline.


Men (35 Maximum Entries as of February 28)
Start Groups: 5-6-6-6-6-6
Top 12-ranked skaters will fill Groups 5 & 6, while skaters ranked 13-18 in the ISU World Standings will skate in Group 4. 

Groups 5 & 6:
1 Patrick Chan
2 Yuzuru Hanyu
3 Daisuke Takahashi
4 Javier Fernandez
5 Michal Brezina
8 Florent Amodio
11 Brian Joubert
12 Takahito Mura
14 Ross Miner
15 Denis Ten
16 Kevin Reynolds
17 Tomas Verner

Group 4:
19 Alexander Majorov (pushed out of final two groups following 4CC)
[20 Han Yan or 25 Nan Song]
27 Max Aaron
28 Maxim Kovtun
29 Peter Liebers
31 Misha Ge

Groups 1, 2, & 3:
32 Andrei Rogozine
34 Jorik Hendrickx
41 Abzal Rakimgaliev
42 Kim Lucine
45 Romain Ponsart The French Federation is not using their third spot
46 Paolo Bacchini
47 Zoltan Kelemen
50 Viktor Pfeifer
52 Justus Strid - Qualified February 23
59 Christopher Caluza
71 Viktor Romanenkov
76 Maciej Cieplucha
81 Alexei Bychenko
84 Pavel Ignatenko
85 Javier Raya The Spanish Federation is not using their second spot
89 Jin-Seo Kim
99 Paul Bonifacio Parkinson - Qualified February 23
100 Yakov Godorozha
101 Ronald Lam

Eliminated from World Championships/No Representative:
Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Finland, Hong Kong, Hungary, Great Britain, Lithuania, Slovakia, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, Turkey


Ladies (35 Maximum Entries as of February 27)
Start Groups: 5-6-6-6-6-6
The final two groups will feature the top 12-ranked ladies, while skaters in Group 4 will feature the ladies ranked 13-18th-highest in the ISU World Standings. All others fill out Groups 1, 2, & 3.

Groups 5 & 6:
1 Carolina Kostner
2 Akiko Suzuki
3 Mao Asada
4 Alena Leonova
6 Viktoria Helgesson
7 Adelina Sotnikova
8 Elizaveta Tuktamysheva
9 Kanako Murakami
11 Ashley Wagner
12 Valentina Marchei
14 Zijun Li
15 Mae Berenice Meite

Group 4:
17 Elene Gedevanishvili
22 Gracie Gold
25 Sonia Lafuente
28 Elena Glebova
31 Jenna McCorkell
33 Natalia Popova

Groups 1, 2, & 3:
34 Monika Simancikova
35 Kaetlyn Osmond
37 Kexin Zhang
42 Kerstin Frank
45 Nathalie Wienzierl
54 Yuna Kim
55 Patricia Glescic
65 Brooklee Han
66 Julia Turkkila
69 Anita Madsen
74 Anne Line Gjersem - Qualified February 22
88 Carol Bressanutti
89 Kaat Van Daele - Qualified February 22
92 Tina Stuerzinger - Qualified February 9
98 Isadora Williams
131 Alina Fjodorova
163 Inga Januleviciute

Eliminated from World Championship/No Representative:
Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Romania, Serbia, South Africa, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, Turkey


Pairs (18 Maximum Entries as of February 27)
Start Groups: 3-3-4-4-4
The final two groups will feature the top eight-ranked pairs teams, while the final pair in Group 3 will be the 9th-highest ranked team in the ISU World Standings.

Groups 4 & 5:
1 Volosozhar/Trankov
2 Savchenko/Szolkowy
3 Duhamel/Radford
4 Bazarova/Larionov
5 Berton/Hotarek
6 Pang/Tong
7 Kavaguti/Smirnov
8 Moore-Towers/Moscovitch

Group 3, last to skate:
11 James/Cipres

Groups 1, 2, & first three pairs of group 3:
12 Sui/Han
15 Castelli/Shnapir
18 Vartmann/Van Cleave
22 Della-Monica/Guarise
29 Peng/Zhang
30 Kemp/King
48 Klatka/Chruscinski
50 Scimeca/Knierim
55 Makarova/Kenchadze