Ranking the Programs of Russian Nationals, Pt. 1: Pairs Free Skate

Trying something new here, because I’m on break and I have time!

To recap Russian Nationals, I am going to take on the ambitious challenge of watching every  Ice Dance/Ladies/Pairs FS and ranking them (literally in the order of how much I like them, because objectivity is boring). Since the Ladies field is going to take a VERY LONG TIME to watch (even though I saw half of it live), I’m starting with the much smaller pairs event. But, just to make it seem *credible*, here’s what I will be scoring the programs on:

  1. Music choice – letter grade from A-F
  2. Costume – letter grade from A-F
  3. Choreography – letter grade from A-F
  4. Musicality – letter grade from A-F
  5. Originality – letter grade from A-F
  6. Performance/Expression – letter grade from A-F

There were 11 pairs in this event. Each of their free skates will be scored on this scale. The higher the team’s “GPA,” if you will, the higher they are on the list. So…let’s get going!

11. Anastasia Poluianova/Maxim Selkin  

Actual Placement: 1oth

Scorecard:

Music Choice: A (Notre Dame De Paris). One of my favorite musicals for skating. I will never not approve of that choice, even if the skater’s interpretation of such is lacking.

Costume: B. Nothing great, nothing awful.

Choreo: C. Lots of two-foot skating, nothing particularly interesting. (I can’t stand boring choreography, especially if it involves 8,000 crossovers.)

Musicality: C. They were in time with the music at some parts of the program, but they didn’t seem to have any sort of connection to it.

Originality: C. This concept and piece, as much as I like it, has been done before – over and over, to be frank.

Performance/Expression: C. Not much going on in terms of emotion or audience/musical/partner connection. However, they’re (I think?) young and probably inexperienced as seniors, so they have a lot of time to grow in that area.

10. Bogdana Lukashevich/Alexander Stepanov 

Actual Placement: 11th

Scorecard:

Music Choice: B. Don’t know what it is (my Shazam app has ceased to work, and their ISU bios have virtually nothing in them), but it sounds sort of like an old action movie score. It’s not my favorite, but I have to give them points for originality here (I mean, I’ve never heard it before…).

Costume: C. Not crazy about her all-over polka dots (would’ve been better if they were only the skirt, or only on the bodice, instead of the entire dress) or his…open-jacket-over-a-prisoner-shirt…thing.

Choreo: C. Again, lots of two-footed skating, and not much of interest.

Musicality: B+. They did well in keeping time with their music and matching the movements to it, but again, I didn’t see any connection to it.

Originality: B+. I’ve seen a couple of programs that were stylistically similar to this one, but it’s not an overdone style.

Performance/Expression:  C. They were kind of robotic, to be honest.

9. Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov

Actual Placement: 2nd

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: C (Disco-ish medley). Okay, before I even start this, I am aware that it seems odd to put a world-class pair (who medaled) this low in the standings, but Evgenia and Vladimir’s problem has always been packaging, and although they have an excellent SP this year, their free skate is…yikes. It’s more choreographically complex, thus why it’s above some other programs, but I do not like the music/concept/choreography/execution. Their music makes me want to run screaming (if anyone here happens to like this genre of music, please don’t throw tomatoes! It’s just not my thing), thus the low score.

Costumes: C-. Just…WHY. WHYWHYWHYWHYWHYWHY. CANNOT GET OVER THE FACT THAT SOMEONE TOLD THEM TO WEAR SOMETHING THAT LOOKS LIKE SOME SORT OF FRANKENSTEIN-INSPIRED SPACESUIT. LIKE, THEY PAID ACTUAL MONEY FOR THAT. If it weren’t so sad that they actually competed in an elite athletic competition in these, it would be almost amusing.

Choreo: B+. Some interesting bits, and the transitions were good and complex, but mostly blah.

Musicality: B. Sometimes really into it, sometimes totally tuned out.

Originality: A-. Disco programs aren’t exactly a hot trend in pairs (and for that I am eternally grateful), but originality should be encouraged, even if it doesn’t work, so here ya go.

Performance/Expression: B-. They seemed like they were getting into it at times, but it was kind of patchy throughout the program. The slow sections were very blah.

I know I went sorta snarky on them, and I feel bad, because I actually really like this team. It’s just this program.

8. Elizaveta Zhuk/Egor Britkov 

Actual Placement: 9th

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: B+. Not sure what it is, but it’s unconventional and not an earsore.

Costume: B. I don’t really care for the weird tattoo deal on her dress, but it’s all but invisible from far away, and they just look like generic black costumes. Boring, but better than crazy.

Choreo: C. Nothing particularly interesting going on in this program’s choreography. Not too complex.

Musicality: A-. Their movements matched the music really well. I really liked that.

Originality: A. Like I said, unconventional choice.

Performance/Expression: C. Meh…

7. Natalia Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert 

Actual Placement: 3rd

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: B (“Cry Me A River”). A lot of skating fans run screaming at the first sign of any and every Michael Buble song. I am not necessarily one of them. (Okay, so maybe I groan a little when Feeling Good comes on, but generally, I’m pretty tolerant of warhorses – really can’t think of any one I legitimately can’t stand.) However, someone at my rink used this song a few years ago, so I connect this program to that one, which is sort of distracting.

Costume: A. I love her dress, even though I have no idea what it has to do with the program. He looks fine, too. Their ombré game is strong.

Choreo: B. Fine, but nothing that really stuck with me.

Musicality: B+. They were fairly strong in this area, but they did not reach the level of DRAMATIKS™ that this music requires.

Originality: B-. Don’t think this one has been used too much, but it is Michael Buble, so it kinda isn’t very original.

Performance/Expression: C+. Again, needs more DRAMATIKS™.

6. Alexandra Boikova/Dmitrii Kozlovskii 

Actual Placement: 6th

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: B+ (Tristan and Isolde). A warhorse, yes, but I kind of like that particular warhorse.

Costumes: A-. I like them, but they don’t really stand out.

Choreo: B+. It fits the music and is decently complex, but I don’t remember any of it standing out.

Musicality: B. Passable.

Originality: C. Warhorse, but to a lesser extent than some other warhorses.

Performance/Expression: B+. Their emoting was okay, but it went in and out like a spotty wi-fi connection.

5. Anastasia Mishina/Vladislav Mirzoev

Actual Placement: 7th

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: B+ (samba piece/La Vie En Rose). Weird combination of pieces, but I liked both of them. (Maybe not together, though…?)

Costume: B-. Hers is a really strange cut with the stomach cutout and the asymmetrical skirt. I am actually sort of loving Vladislav’s purple shirt, though…

Choreo: A. Complex, interesting, matches the music…finally, a program I can give a high choreo grade to!

Musicality: A. They were with the music and seemed to connect with it.

Originality: A-. While both of the pieces they used are fairly mainstream in skating, they are pretty much never used together…so I gotta give them that.

Performance/Expression: A-. Pretty good! They had really great expression in parts, and although it waned a little bit in others, it wasn’t bad for a junior pair.

4. Kristina Asthakova/Alexei Rogonov

Actual Placement: 4th (hey, it matches!)

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: A (The Storm, Le Bien Qui Feit Mal). I LOVE the first piece (“The Storm” is one of my favorite instrumentals!), and the second piece is okay, too, although it still sort of blows my mind that there is a rock opera about Mozart. People really will watch anything these days…

Costume: D. Uhh…what even are these? I can’t even come up with a humorous analogy for these costumes, except maybe that he looks like a vampire. And I have no words for Kristina’s dress.

Choreo: A-. Kristina and Alexei have a sort of simultaneously quirky/dramatic style, and this choreography fits that image. It’s unique and memorable, which is more than I can say of most of the programs on this list.

Musicality: A. They were totally into this music and their choreography matched it perfectly.

Originality: A. This program is a sequel to their last FS. If that doesn’t get the point across, I don’t know what will.

Performance/Expression: A. They were SO INTO IT. I just love their total commitment to character.

3. Alisa Efimova / Alexander Korovin

Actual Placement: 8th

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: A (Strauss medley). Can’t go wrong with good, solid classical. Not too original, but it’s a standby for a reason.

Costume: A-. Not too crazy about his purple velvet pants, but her dress is nice.

Choreo: A. One of my favorite things about this program. It was just perfect for this music.

Musicality: A. They did a very good job keeping time with the music and matched the moods of it well.

Originality: B. Um, not really…

Performance/Expression: A. I thought their interpretation of the music and projection to the audience were excellent.

2. Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov 

Actual Placement: 5th

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: A (Clair De Lune). I actually used this piece for a program once. Needless to say, I really like it.

Costume: A-. Simple and elegant. Exactly what Clair De Lune costumes should look like.

Choreo: A. Elegant, complex, and beautifully executed, as is their custom.

Musicality: A. As is also their custom, their interpretation was on point. Very nuanced. In that regard, Yuko and Alexander are far above the rest of this field. Nobody else comes close to matching their refinement and maturity, except maybe Stolbova/Klimov (and that’s a serious ‘maybe’).

Originality: B-. I mean, it’s Clair De Lune, which is basically a warhorse.

Performance/Expression: A. See above, because I’m lazy and it’s late.

  1. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov

Actual Placement: 1st

Before continuing, please take a moment to appreciate this majestic screencap.

Now, the Scorecard: 

Music Choice: A-. I don’t know what it is, but I like it fine.

Costumes: B+. I don’t love jumpsuits, but Ksenia looks amazing in everything, so I’ll give it a pass. Fedor looks like modern art, which I don’t think is a compliment, but it’s better than last year’s “Netflix marathon in pajamas” costume.

Choreo: A. Smooth, difficult, interesting, and very complimentary to the music. Plus, their SS is amazing, which makes everything look even better.

Musicality: A. They were very connected to the music, as usual. Their style is what I would describe as “intense”, so this music was a great fit for them.

Originality: A. Definitely a unique program. (I’m running out of words, y’all.)

Performance/Expression: A, because ^^. I cannot think anymore, so I shall leave this post.

Stay tuned for the next installment sometime soonish. Merry Christmas! 🙂

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2016 NHK Trophy Ladies Recap

Well, the Grand Prix is over, and it feels like it went by in about five seconds. (Probably because most of the competitions were either at obscene hours of the morning or while I had something I was supposed to be doing…) And aside from another year of total Evgenia Medvedeva domination, it definitely did not shake out how I expected! (Two American men in the GPF, but no U.S. ladies? Kaetlyn Osmond and Maria Sotskova qualified? Approximately 8,000,000 withdrawals? Lots of surprises there.) But, regardless, it was quite an exciting GP season, and I can’t wait to recap the final ladies event for your reading pleasure…

 

1. Anna Pogorilaya

Just…wow. Anna is in true champion’s form this season. I know I’ve said it a million times  (#AccidentalSongLyricQuotationsFTW), but it keeps on getting reinforced with every competition. Anna has finally found her stride, both technically and artistically: she’s landing her things, which obviously needs to happen, but she’s also improved a lot in her interpretation and performance, due in no small part to her fabulous programs. I’m thrilled that she rebounded so strongly from a disastrous 2016 (except for Russian Nationals and Worlds, she basically fell over and died at every competition…), and I hope to see her on the podium at the GPF. She definitely has it in her, but most of the competitors, save maybe Kaetlyn, are very consistent: Evgenia, Elena, Satoko, and Maria all bank on clean skates and usually deliver them. Anna has an edge with her huge jumps  (underrotations are a problem for quite a few skaters in this group) and polish, but she’s got to be clean. Fingers crossed.

2. Satoko Miyahara

Ironic that just as Satoko is starting to really grow on me, she’s also getting judged more harshly/making more mistakes. (She did not previously get nearly as many UR calls as she has been getting this season, if I remember correctly.) Aside from an unfortunate fall in the SP and a bunch of URs, though, Satoko did an admirable job and, ultimately, what she needed to do to book a ticket to the Final. Her Musetta’s Waltz SP was, well, nice; pretty and palatable, but not particularly exciting. (Noteworthy, however, is that her upper body movement and arm choreography in this program are lovely. I know I probably talk about those things too much, but they look so nice!) I much prefer Satoko’s Star Wars/The Planets FS, which was also a stronger skate technically; it’s a strong and dynamic program and a departure from the light, elegant, “pretty” programs she often has. (Examples: this year’s SP, last year’s Un Sospiro FS, and her 2014-15 Magic Flute SP.) Since Satoko is not really a “big” skater, both in stature and amplitude, having a powerful program helps to establish a strong presence on the ice-which, ultimately, is why I think this program is so effective. I am aware that I’ve gone off on a tangent, but I tend to do that, and I don’t care. But, back to the point: she landed all of her things in the FS, and although they were not all rotated, it was a solid performance. Overall, this was a strong showing, I’m glad she was able to get into the Final.

3. Maria Sotskova

Maria is quickly becoming one of my favorite up-and-coming skaters. She really performs from the heart with an honest, sincere quality that I can’t help but love. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that she is quite consistent. Aside from the UR issues that have randomly materialized this season (did she get UR calls last season? I seem to recall she didn’t), Maria can almost always be counted on to land her jumps. Her weaker areas seemed to have improved here, too. One of her biggest problems has often been lack of speed, which seems to be improving (which is a very good thing, because slow skating has a way of slowly driving me insane…slowly). And I like her programs a lot! The Story of An Unknown Actor is a really great piece and I think Maria carries the driving intensity of the music well. Her FS, to another Schnittke composition, Butterflies Are Free, is not quite as impactful, but a lovely, heartfelt program. Again, very happy to see Maria in the Final. I don’t expect her to medal, but if she puts out two solid performances, there’s always a chance.

4. Wakaba Higuchi

Wakaba is another up-and-coming skater who’s really started to come into her own this year. She’s not quite as consistent as some of her competitors, but her jumps are as huge as ever and her expression and fluidity have gotten a lot better since her junior days. Her La Califfa SP is a great showcase of both of those qualities. Although she made one minor mistake, a small stepout on a 3Lz, it was overall a solid skate, and I was very impressed by the improvements she’s made in interpretation and upper body movement (I know, I know, here we go again!). Her Scheherazade FS is a good vehicle as well. Wakaba is known for her powerful jumps and just general powerfulness (yup, that’s a word now, and yup, I am aware that I am totally overusing parenthesis), so clearly, skating to powerful music is a good idea for her. I also love her FS costume. And…I have nothing else to say, because my brain is totally dead and I literally just tried to type “becaus’e.” Yes, “becaus’e,” with an apostrophe before the E.

I really need to go to sleep.

5. Mirai Nagasu

After Mirai completely bombed Skate Canada despite only falling once (URs are killer), I was happy that she was able to come back with a strong second event. Her SP was impeccable, if you can ignore a UR on the combo, which I did, because I didn’t pick up on it in real-time, and actually, so was her FS, if you ignore the four URs she got for that. I really enjoy both of her programs this year; Mirai’s Chopin SP is very elegant in a cold, formal sort of way that’s actually really convincing, and her The Winner Takes It All FS is emotional and raw and, no doubt, more than a little autobiographical. Not to mention that her dresses for both programs are drop-dead-gorgeous. (Look at the beading on her SP dress in the screencap! NO WORDS. Simply incredible, although I don’t even want to think about how long it must’ve taken whoever made it to hand-glue every last one of those crystals/little sparkly jobs onto the dress. Shudder.)

Well, that’s a wrap, which is good, because I need to go to sleep before I write something weird that I will forever regret. 

Rostelecom Cup Ladies Recap

Because I have failed miserably at reliably getting out top-10 posts, I’m just going to stick with what I know I will actually get done. Thus, a ladies recap…again.

1. Anna Pogorilaya

Clearly, that world medal last year did wonders for Anna’s confidence-she has been skating like a champion ever since. So it wasn’t really a surprise that she blew away the competition at Rostelecom to take her third Grand Prix title. She started off with a foot-perfect performance of her “Por Una Cabeza” short, which I think is hands-down the best program she’s ever had, and followed up with a clean free skate. I’m not much of a fan of the free-it’s a little incoherent-but she definitely got the job done. The short program, on the other hand, is simply fabulous. It’s got the passion and fire she has sometimes lacked in the past and really shows her polish and maturity (the flawless execution of this particular short didn’t exactly hurt, either). At this point, I would say that Anna is the clear world #2. Evgenia’s still got the top spot locked up, but other possible contenders have not been making strong statements, and Anna has-which is exactly what she needs to do to build momentum leading into the Olympic season.

2. Elena Radionova

I feared the worst for Elena when I saw her messy programs at the Russian test skates, but, as she has done time and time again, Elena proved at this event that the reports of her metaphorical death were an exaggeration. She wasn’t perfect-she fell on a 3Lo in the free skate and a lot of her landings were sketchy-but she fought tooth and nail to stay on her feet, and it was enough for a silver medal. Her programs this year are, overall, pretty well-done; Elena’s “Porgy and Bess” SP is wonderfully sassy and spirited, showcasing her newfound maturity, and her “Turandot” FS, while unpolished, is a step up from her previous interpretations of classical music. She doesn’t really have the polish or subtlety for a piece like Turandot, but she does have passion, and no shortage of it. If she would just add some transitions, stand up straight, and tone down the “Oda O” a bit, it could be great.  And she hasn’t lost her jumps, which is both surprising and incredibly impressive. She’s got grit to go around, that’s for sure. Her landings might not be pretty, but they’re landed and rotated, and that’s what really counts. Hopefully she can keep it together for the rest of the season.

3. Courtney Hicks

If there’s anything Courtney is good at, it’s capitalizing on other skaters’ meltdowns. She always seems to do best at Grand Prix events where at least one heavy favorite falters, which was exactly what happened here. She didn’t have a perfect competition, but it was good enough for bronze, and she stayed on her feet. Her “Maleficent” SP was one of the best I’ve seen her do. The FS (to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”-I sense a Disney theme here) wasn’t as clean, as some of the combinations didn’t have the correct number of rotations, but most of her jumps were clean, her spins have improved a lot, and the powerful music brought out her artistry nicely. Both of her programs this year really suit her, actually. Courtney’s huge jumps make it hard to predict how she’ll do at any given competition, but once in a while, they come together-and it’s surprising who she can beat when that happens.

4. Zijun Li

It’s getting to the point where it honestly scares me to watch Zijun skate, which is odd, because I actually love her skating. She just seems so…flimsy. She always looks winded, and I’m afraid her legs will snap every time she goes into a jump, but she has some really wonderful qualities. Although her speed and stamina are just as lacking as they were last season, Zijun managed a clean SP and a near-clean FS, both of which I really enjoyed. Her SP to a tango I forgot the name of featured a great 3T-3T and an enjoyable step sequence, although at some points I felt that the music overpowered her skating. Zijun’s FS, set to what I think I read is a popular Chinese love song, was a bit more her speed. Aside from a 3Lz popped into a double, her jumps were strong, the spins were great, and the program itself is beautiful. She could use a little more expression and passion, but it suits her elegant, delicate style, and I loved the choreography and use of spread eagles and Ina Bauers (which I always enjoy). Zijun has all the goods, but I  have one, and only one, piece of advice for her coaching team: get this girl on a treadmill, stat! Her stamina is so weak that it’s seriously painful to watch her long programs. I don’t really know what the cause of that issue is, but it definitely needs to be addressed.

5. Elizabet Tursynbaeva 

Elizabet suprised me with such a strong finish here: somewhat like Elena, I was really worried about her after a disastrous first competition at the U.S. International Classic, but that proved to be a fluke. I’d venture to say her form is even stronger now than it was last season. She nailed her jumps, and she’s really quite a lovely skater. Elizabet’s “I Got Rhythm” SP is fun and endearing, and her “Princess Mononoke” FS is beautiful, if only because of the gorgeous music. Girl is made for epic step sequences; in that department, she’s like a mini Mao Asada. The difficulty of her transitions and steps is one of my favorite things about her. I can even overlook her awful air position (nobody’s feet should be that crossed!). She’s got so much potential; only time will tell whether she’ll be able to deliver on it. Superficial note: her FS dress is incredible, and I want to wear a street-wearable version (longer skirt, less power mesh) to some kind of ritzy social event.

In Other News: Yulia Lipnitskaya finished last after a disastrous free skate in which an old injury seems to have flared up. She fell, popped two jumps, and didn’t do a choreographic step sequence after injuring her knee midway through the program. In addition to the jump mistakes, she got a 5-point deduction for “Interruption in Excess.” It was really hard to watch-best wishes for a full and complete recovery.

Things I Like: Skate America

This is exactly what it sounds like. 🙂

 

  1. The Rise of Biolguin

I can’t remember the last time someone whom I wanted to win but was sort of an outside shot actually won. Oh, wait…it was last night.

I love Julianne and Charlie to pieces, and have since I saw them live at Skate America last year. Their joy and connection to each other are truly special. As someone on an online forum once said, “anyone who doesn’t like them must also not like puppies and ice cream.” Pretty much sums it up. Both of their programs this year are great fits for them: the SP is jazzy and upbeat and fun, and the FS is more soft and romantic, but not in an angsty way. And they were on. Charlie missed the SBS 3Lo in the short, but they came back with a vengeance in the FS and it was glorious. Every element was pristine. And it doesn’t hurt that they were preciously adorable. (Full disclosure: I 800% ship them after this.) If they’re not in the mix for the podium at worlds this year, I am going to bang my head on a wall in rage.

2. This is How You Capitalize on A Meltdown, Y’all!

I have been incredibly impressed with Denney/Frazier’s comeback from a possibly-career-ending injury, but this was beyond my wildest expectations. They’ve done well in both of their previous competitions, so I thought they could be in the top four, or maybe even get the bronze if someone melted down. But silver? Never would’ve guessed. They had their share of luck (Tarasova/Morozov melted down in the free skate and dropped to 3rd despite leading by seven points after the short), but they certainly did their part: they had a few near-misses on SBS jumps, but no falls in either program. I am not sure how I feel about their SP: it’s nice, I suppose, but the music is not my taste. The free skate is by far my favorite of their programs. I might be somewhat biased because my orchestra is currently playing Somewhere in Time, but it’s a great program in general. It’s gotten mixed reviews-some think it’s generic, and others enjoy the lyrical, dreamy quality it has-but I love it. And it makes me immensely happy to see an American pair ACTUALLY LANDING THINGS. They won the silver medal, and what a statement that was.

3. Another Surprise Silver

I do not want to talk about most of the ladies FS, but what a competition this was for Mariah Bell! To go from 11th in the country to second at a Grand Prix in only a few months is almost unheard-of. Mariah’s recent coaching change has done wonders for her consistency and jump technique, but she’s still getting the best of her former coaching setup: it appears that she’s still working with her choreographer, Rohene Ward, who did both of her programs this season (both of which I love). She won the FS here, smashing her previous PB. I have a feeling Mariah will be on the world team this year.

4. #BollywoodRuslena

Full disclosure: I understand that they missed some levels, but I still thought that Elena and Ruslan’s free dance was totally underscored. It was jam-packed with interesting, innovative choreography and transitions, and it’s a really engaging program. They both got really into it, especially Elena (she’s not the #unofficialqueen for no reason!). That, and the unique choreography and elements, made it a lot of fun to watch! It’s got some of the coolest transitions into and out of elements I’ve ever seen. I highkey want to see this program at worlds.

5. I Can’t Even…And Yet, I Can

I literally could not keep the giant stupid grin off my face while I was watching this. You’ve got to watch it to know what I’m talking about. (Also, I’ve never seen it, but I read somewhere that the voiceover that segues from the blues section to the hip hop section is from Blades of Glory. I don’t know, but that’s kinda hilarious if it is.)

Costumes I enjoyed, described in less than ten words

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Mariah Bell, SP to Chicago (“Roxie” and “All That Jazz”): IT HAS A FRINGE SKIRT, GUYS. Also, sparkles.

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Seguin/Bilodeau, SP to “Skokian”: More fringe skirts! + Is that a lime-green pocket hankie?

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Ashley Wagner, FS to “Exogenesis Symphony”: Ombre and sparkles are always a good combination. Very elegant. (No, equals signs do not count as a word. :p)

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Mao Asada, FS to “Ritual Dance”: I would wear this to a ritzy Hollywood awards ceremony. Gold_FS_htjlpiqr_jodq6uxs.jpg

Gracie Gold, FS to “Daphnis et Chloe”: both the dress and program were stunning…in opposite ways. 😦

Finlandia Trophy Ladies Recap

I have not been good about covering the Challenger Series events. That is going to change! Long intros are overrated, so I’m just going to get right to the point with this. Here goes! 

1. Kaetlyn Osmond 

Kaetlyn Osmond has not had the smoothest comeback, so I was thrilled to see her have such a strong outing. I’ve always liked her skating, but this is the first time I really noticed what a brilliant performer she is. (Landing all of her jumps certainly didn’t hurt her cause. 😉) She performed her near-clean Edith Piaf SP to sassy, spunky perfection; it may have been planned, but if not, her only mistake was doubling the last jump of an intended 3F-3T combination. Kaetlyn seems to be really into this program, and her enthusiasm and energy were infectious. Her free skate to “La Boheme” was a change of pace, but equally clean. It was a little more subdued and slow-paced; I enjoyed it as well, although it didn’t top the SP. Even with a slower program, her performance quality really shone, and all of her elements were excellent (with the possible exception of a 3F-3T with several turns in between the jumps). She’s got two excellent vehicles, and if she can keep skating like this…watch out, world. 

(On a superficial note, I loved both of her dresses.) 

2. Mao Asada 

Mao seems to have scaled back her technical layout a bit, but, seeing as she went clean, it seems to have been a good choice. And it didn’t distract from what makes her special: interpretation and expression. Both of her programs (set to different parts of the same piece of music, “Ritual Dance) are exquisitely choreographed, unique, sophisticated, and nuanced, and she pulls it off convincingly in a way that, out of the current field, only she could. If she ever skates these programs with her usual technical content, they will be nothing short of spectacular. 

3. Anna Pogorilaya 

Anna has really been on an upswing since winning a world bronze medal. Her new programs are both fantastic, her artistic qualities are improving dramatically, and her jumps are a lot more stable than they were last season (a whole competition with no Pogo-Splat!). Anna’s “Por Una Cabeza” SP is wonderfully fiery and really showcases her maturity, and her FS, which I don’t know the music to because I watched it with no sound, looked great, too. It seems like she’s developed a propensity for forward landings and hands down, but anything is better than Pogo-Splat. Since her artistry has always been her weakest area, I’m very happy to see how much she’s improved it. And no falls is just the cherry on top. 

Well done, Anna! 😁

4. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva 

I have never been the biggest fan of Liza (understatement), but she’s starting to win me over. I actually enjoyed both of her programs here-the SP is very sassy (something she does well) and a lot more choreographically complex than anything she’s had before, and the FS, while sort of empty, is a good fit for her. She makes an excellent Cleopatra; all that one needs is more choreography. And her jumps are a  lot more stable than they were last season. Overall, I think this was a good outing for Elizaveta, and I am excited to see these programs again (I love it when skaters I irrationally dislike start growing on me!).

5. Nicole Schott

I have very little to say about Nicole, so…here’s a video?
Random, irrelevant, but noteworthy: Nathan Chen did five quads in his FS. (And a 4F and 4Lz-3T in his SP.) And I’m over here like…*jaw unhinged*

JGP Germany Ladies Recap

It’s been a whirlwind JGP season, and after seven competitions, it’s finally come to an end. With that, the JGP Finalists have been announced. In order:

  1. Anastasia Gubanova, Russia – 30 pts. (1/1)
  2. Polina Tsurskaya, Russia – 30 pts. (1/1)
  3. Rika Kihara, Japan – 28 pts. (2/1)
  4. Kaori Sakamoto, Japan – 28 pts. (2/1)
  5. Alina Zagitova, Russia – 26 pts. (1/3)
  6. Marin Honda, Japan – 26 pts. (2/2)

I’d say that’s a pretty solid line-up. We’re in for a treat. (Grand Duchess of Triple Lutz Polina vs. Mini Miss Triple Axel Rika vs. a bunch of other great skaters? Count me in!)

But I still have to explain what actually happened here. So…here goes.

1. Anastasia Gubanova

Anastasia punched her ticket to the Final in style, with two clean performances and a second gold medal. Not too shabby for a first-year junior! (Fun fact: Anastasia was the only debuting junior to do so, and one of only two skaters who won both of their events-the other being Polina Tsurskaya, as we all expected.) Her jump technique still makes me want to avert my eyes until she’s safely on her feet, but I can overlook that because she has so many wonderful qualities. Her spins, interpretation, lines and extension, and overall polish are astounding for a junior. Even with a UR problem and some seriously sketchy 3-3s, Anastasia is a great addition to the final, and it’s awesome that she was able to qualify in first.

2. Yuna Shiraiwa 

Yuna didn’t have her strongest SP here, but she rebounded with a rock-solid FS to earn the silver medal. Unfortunately, it was just barely too little to make the final (a gold probably would’ve done it), and she wound up third alternate. However, there was lots to like here: her expression seems to be improving, which made her programs much more enjoyable, and she had a fantastic, clean free skate. Yuna’s jumps are solid, but she still lacks the “spice” or special something she needs to distinguish herself from the throngs of decent bronze-medal contenders. A little more consistency would do it-most junior ladies aren’t all that consistent (Polina Tsurskaya is an outlier who I eliminate from all data for being the exception to literally every rule ever), and that would help her a lot. It did just that last season, but unfortunately, she seems to have lost a little bit of that. I think her current programs set her up well to find an artistic je ne sais quoi, but even if they do, she needs to regain her consistency if she wants to keep climbing the ladder.

3. Eunsoo Lim 

Eunsoo is an absolute delight to watch, and her gorgeous SP had people online jumping on the “next Yuna Kim!” bandwagon. I agree that she has loads of potential, but that…is premature. That kind of pressure would likely do her more harm than good, so it’s probably best to lay off the hype until she gets a little more experience. However, she did have a perfect SP and a strong FS, and I really enjoyed both of her programs, so I can see where they’re coming from. She’s also the only non-Russian-or-Japanese skater to medal in ladies on the JGP this season, so props for that. Eunsoo has all the potential in the world, with gorgeous, high jumps and strong technique, good spins, and nice interpretation and presentation; she just needs to a) not jump so close to the boards (her board-hugging 3-3s are terrifying) and b) not let the pressure of people jumping to premature conclusions get to her head.

4. Stanislava Konstantinova 

Stanislava didn’t have her best competition here. She couldn’t capitalize on her silver medal from Saransk to get to the final, but she still managed to snatch an alternate spot (she’s second in line), so that’s a plus. As I said in my JGP Saransk recap, I’m not the biggest fan of Stanislava’s skating, but I do admire that she brings something different. A lot of juniors seem sort of copy-and-paste, but not Stanislava. She has a very unique, quirky style, and while it’s not really my cup of tea, I appreciate that she’s bringing something different to the table.

5. Yuna Aoki 

Lovely skater, horrible competitive nerve: we’ve seen it a million times, and Yuna is no exception. This was one of her better competitions in a while, with only two major mistakes. In her SP, she somewhat inexplicably popped her 3Lz-3T into a 3Lz-1T, and in the FS, aside from a 2A-3T that she didn’t do, her only mistake was a fall on her 3Lz-3Lo (understandable, as far as mistakes go). She’s a really pleasant skater to watch, albeit one with a very distracting leg wrap in her jumps, so it was nice to see her have a fairly strong outing here. But her inconsistency makes me cry. (I legitimately think it’s some of the worst headcasery I’ve ever seen, and this is coming from the world’s most overzealous Gracie Gold uber…)

You Might Also Like…(I Certainly Did!): Holly Harris 

Holly Harris of Australia is a JGP debutante who I knew nothing about prior to this competition, but wow, she is an absolutely gorgeous skater! She placed 11th here. She doesn’t have all of her triples yet, but her polish, artistry and obvious dance training make for a really watchable skater.

I can’t believe the JGP is already over-it flew by! The Senior GP is only a few weeks away, and there are Challenger events, but I’m going to miss it. But, I hope you enjoyed my coverage, as I really tried to get it out as often as I could. (Still kicking myself for not getting JGP Japan…ugh!) 

JGP Tallinn Ladies Recap

Does Tallinn have one “L” or two?

Eh, whatever, I’m going with two. (I am beginning to see a pattern of not being able to spell the names of JGP host cities.) Spelling aside, this was a great event! Here’s what went down in Estonia (that I can spell!) this weekend.

1. Polina Tsurskaya

Lady Polina Tsurskaya, Grand Duchess of Triple Lutz, was nothing short of sublime in Tallinn.

(I looked it up, and “Grand Duchess” was, indeed, a real term for Russian royalty, so I went with that instead of the cooler-sounding “Empress Dowager,” which applies to several Asian countries but would not actually have been used in Russia. Ya learn something new every day!)

Both of her programs were nearly perfect (some missed levels and a small turnout were the closest thing to mistakes in either of her programs), and her vastly-improved artistry was even better than in Saransk. Polina has this regal quality about her this season that’s just incredible to watch: she’s cool, confident, poised, and never looks fazed. Everything from her facial expression and costumes to the way she transitions out of jumps (the high leg position on her landings is EVERYTHING) is just…well, queenly. Okay, so maybe I’m going overboard with the royalty metaphors, but why not? It only takes one viewing to get what I’m going for. This young lady just blows my mind.

2. Elizaveta Nugumanova 

It was probably apparent in my JGP Russia recap that I love me some Liza Nugumanova, so I was thrilled to see her improve on that performance here. Her “Malaguena” SP wasn’t as good as it was a few weeks ago -she underrotated her 3Lz-3T kind of obviously-but it’s an ingeniously-choreographed little gem and I loved her performance of it. The free skate was much stronger than her last one; underrotations were much less of an issue than they were at Saransk, and she landed everything well. With a silver and a bronze, Liza has a chance of getting into the final, but it’s by no means a guarantee. I’ll be crossing my fingers for an Alisa Fedichkina-in-2015 situation (refresher: Alisa made the final with a silver medal and a 4th place last year) to get her in.

3. Mako Yamashita 

I will admit it, Mako Yamashita doesn’t really excite me all that much. Her skating is kind of bland. But she has admirable qualities: her jumps are great-her technique is a lot like that of fellow Japanese juniors Kaori Sakamoto and Rin Nitaya, with tight air position, fast rotation, smooth landings and good height-and so far, she’s been pretty consistent. With two bronzes, she could make the JGP Final, although it’s an outside shot; it would require Gubanova and Konstantinova to bomb drastically at their second event next week. But stranger things have happened…

 

4. Rin Nitaya 

I was really critical of Rin when I recapped JGP France, but I won’t be this time: I don’t know if it was a change in her skating or just a change of opinion, but I really enjoyed her mature presentation. (That’s what happens when you stay down in juniors at 18: your maturity looks 85x more impressive than it would in seniors, simply because you’re competing against 13-year-olds.) Some of the jumps weren’t there in the free skate, and it looked like she was getting tired towards the end, but it was a solid effort and really enjoyable to watch. With a bronze and a 4th place, she’s probably not looking at a chance at a Final spot, but it would be nice if she ended up being an alternate. She brings something different with her maturity and smooth jumps, and I appreciate that.

5. Tessa Hong 

Okay, pause.

I have been waiting five weeks to be able to recap an American skater in one of these. It’s actually kind of sad, but Tessa was a deserving first-American-in-a-recap. She struggles with URs, but everything else about her skating is absolutely exquisite. Her musicality and interpretation are a cut above for a 14-year-old, and she has an elegance to her skating that I love. But, like with many other skaters, her URs were her undoing here. She landed all of her jumps in both programs, but many of them were UR’d obviously enough to see in real time (that’s when you know it’s bad). There were bright spots: both of her programs were beautiful, and she actually landed things, including 3-3s in both programs. But she needs to get a handle on her UR problem or she won’t be able to reach her full potential. Sigh…another beautiful, artistic skater with a UR problem. 😦

And, a 15th-place program you need to watch anyway because it’s awesome 

This program featured nothing harder than a 3Lo and wasn’t the cleanest, but in terms of entertainment, it was one of the best programs of the event (in my opinion). Danielle’s energy and excitement are really infectious, especially in the StSqs (which were both awesome). Just plain fun to watch.

Also, is it just me, or does she look like she could be Gracie Gold’s long-lost sister? I feel like they look very alike.

Highlights/Low Points: US International Figure Skating Classic

Wow, this was some competition! Lots of great performances in all disciplines. I can’t wait to share my favorite and least favorite moments with y’all!

Update: a week later, here’s a very short post, because most of it was already in my drafts and I wanted to at least put up what I had.

1. Highlight: The Name On Everybody’s Lips Is Gonna Be…

…Mariah!

Yes, Mariah’s free skate was cleaner (she fell out of her 3Lz-3T here), but I am in LOVE with this program, so I had to include it. After a wildly inconsistent 2015-16 season, Mariah is on a major upswing so far this season. She won Glacier Falls in style with two clean/near-clean programs, including her first landed 3Lz-3T in competition, and continued that form at the US Classic with two more fantastic performances. And speaking of performance, this program is a masterclass in selling a program. Her delightfully sassy “Chicago” SP is the mostest fun! (I feel like “mostest” is the only adequate word, or rather, non-word, to describe how awesome this program is.) As someone on a skating forum said about a skater (not her) here, she “sells it like the rent is due), and the choreography is first-rate. When she lands her jumps, this program lights up the arena. I can’t wait to see how the crowd would react if she skated this clean at Nationals! Major congratulations on a deserved silver medal here.

2. Low: The Meltdown of the Event 

I do not know what happened here, but it was a heartbreaking disaster. But a video just surfaced of Elizabet landing a quad salchow, so she must not be losing her jumps too badly. Whatever this was, I hope she can get it sorted out soon.

3. High: What Even?

All I can say is wow. 

Madison and Zach’s short dance is half hot mess and half creative genius. The “evolution of dance” (if I remember correctly?) theme takes a blues or hip-hop song from each decade from the 70’s (?) to the 2010’s and attempts to smash them all into a coherent program. And it actually worked! The over-the-top, sometimes-awkward choreography, and their total commitment to selling this mess, made it interesting and fun to watch. It left me laughing hysterically in parts, grinning like an idiot in others, and just generally questioning the meaning of life all the way through. So, a slightly-incoherent mess? Yeah, pretty much. But fun? Oh, heck yes.

5. High: Finally 

It seems like, every season, Karen Chen has one phenomenal performance and basically bombs most of the others. Nationals in 2014-15, Skate America last season…it’s irritating, but I’ll take what I can get. So I was thrilled that what we got here was high-quality. Her SP was disastrous, but she rebounded with a strong FS (although it was not technically up to her usual standards-she did not attempt any 3-3s or even a 2A-3T). I really like her new tango FS-it’s powerful and dynamic, and she has the speed, power, and presence to pull it off. When the jumps are working, she’s a fierce little firecracker. We got mixed messages from Karen’s performances her (one very bad, the other very good), so I don’t really know how that bodes for her season, but hopefully, she can work out whatever was getting to her last season.

This was supposed to have ten items on it, but I didn’t get to see enough of it to find that many. My priority right now is to consistently get out recaps of the JGPs, so this was kind of on the backburner. 

JGP Ljubljana Ladies Recap

First off, I hope I spelled that right. I should probably have just written “JGP Slovakia,” but I didn’t, because I like to live dangerously. :p

This event was really something, so sit back and strap in for a wild ride.

1. Rika Kihara 

I wasn’t a huge fan of Rika’s skating after her first event, but after watching her skate here, how can you not be? Little Miss Triple Axel absolutely stormed the place with two exquisite programs to win the event. She begun her campaign with a very strong performance of her “Tzigane” short program, which, I must say, I liked a lot more here than I had at her last event. I felt like she was more into the performance this time. And I can’t say enough good things about her free skate, but may we briefly pause to recognize:  TRIPLE. FREAKING. AXEL! 

I could stop there, but I won’t. Not only did Rika land a perfect 3A, becoming only the second junior lady (after compatriot Mao Asada in 2004) to do so, but all of her other elements were clean, and when she’s hitting the jumps, her performance quality really shines. Simply put, Rika was on fire this morning. Although the 3A has been hit-or-miss in competition so far, she’s shown that she can land it in competition, which is huge. If she does it again at any of the big competitions, all I can say is good luck. 

2. Marin Honda 

In hindsight, Marin didn’t have a prayer of winning this event, not after what Rika did. But she didn’t go down without a fight. As is becoming her norm, Marin’s short program was not fantastic: her intended 3-3 became a 3-1 and was invalidated. She was in fourth after the short, and if she was to beat Alina Zagitova, who was leading her by over ten points, she had to be perfect in the free skate. She managed to beat Alina, but still had to settle for silver. Solid, yes. But perfect? No. She nearly fell out of her 3F-3T and popped an intended 2A into a single. I love Marin, and her “Romeo and Juliet” FS, as much as anyone, but I felt like she was overscored here. She got about 120 with a near-fall and a pop, and I though she lacked the spark, and the sparkle, that she had at her first event. The placements were fair-Alina made several costly mistakes, and Alisa UR’d herself half to death, so she was definitely deserving-but the scores were ridiculous. I thought Rika’s score was fair, given her insane technical difficulty and cleanliness, but the rest were slightly nuts. But regardless, I’m glad she did well enough to give herself a decent shot at the final. (Two silver medals usually makes it.)

3. Alina Zagitova

I haven’t exactly discussed it with Alina, but I’m 99% sure that her uncharacteristically bad free skate was because she was freaked out that she had to follow Rika Kihara. Poor girl got the Gracie Gold Curse of having to skate after a showstopping performance. But I can’t feel too bad for her, because her SP was perfect, and she lead by a healthy margin with it. She was a favorite to win coming into the competition, and after the SP, but several big mistakes in her FS more than undid her SP lead. A fall and a downgrade on her second 3Lz, a couple of turns between the jumps in her 3Lz-3Lo, which also got downgraded, and URs on all three jumps in her 3F-2T-2Lo combo had her fourth in the FS and a disappointing third overall. The good news? She’ll probably still be able to make the final. Alina has a lot of potential, which we saw at her first event, so I hope she can get back in form and that this really was just a fluke attack of nerves after having to follow Rika.

4. Alisa Lozko

Sigh…Alisa continues to frustrate me. Her spins are magical, her musicality is fantastic, and I like both of her programs, but her jump technique is maddening. This free skate got her four underrotations and a downgrade, and I’m sorry to say I expected it. She needs to do something-maybe a coaching change, maybe a season off to rework her jumps, fill in the blank-about this, or it’s going to hold her back for the rest of her career. It would be a crying shame if that Biellman spin never got its day in the sun…

5. Eunsoo Lim

Eunsoo had a pretty strong JGP debut, finishing 5th in a very deep field: she fell on the 3Lz-3T in both programs, but other than that, was clean. I didn’t actually see her short program, but from the looks of the protocols, it was clean other than the fall on the combination. In the free skate, she started the combination with a gorgeous 3Lz, but she was very close to the boards and slammed into them on the landing of the 3T. It was a pretty dramatic hit: she smacked straight into the boards and plopped down as if she was being thrown into a chair. Needless to say, it was very jarring! She recovered well, though, and the rest of her program was beautiful. Eunsoo has really nice performance quality and airy jumps, and (shallow note) her costume was beautiful. She has lots of potential, and I hope to see her compete again soon!

Closing note: I’m sorry I never put up the U.S. Classic post. It’s in my drafts, but I didn’t get to watch very much of it and the videos I wanted weren’t uploaded yet. I’ll see if I can finish it, but no guarantees. 

 

Summer Competition Feelings: Skate Detroit

This weekend, skating fans got one of their first looks at the new season with Skate Detroit. One of the more prestigious club competitions, this year’s event featured many notable American and Canadian skaters and gave us a sampling of new programs. Naturally, I have feelings about this. They will be a bit random and unorganized, but here are some skaters/programs I thought were notable.

Emy Decelles 

Going into this event, I barely knew who Emy Decelles was and did not expect her to win it at all. But she surprised me: while not at the level of the Canadian Ladies Triumvirate™ of Osmond, Daleman and Chartrand, she was in impressive form here.

Emy’s FS is quite the hodgepodge of music, with about 85 songs from The Great Gatsby, and there was a but too much two-footed skating (essentially, it lacked transitions), but she landed things, and there was some fun 20’s-inspired choreo at the beginning that I liked. Also, her dress is nice. She was mostly notable, though, because she was rock-solid compared to her competition.

Mirai Nagasu 

Mirai’s performances weren’t particularly impressive at this event (totally understandable, seeing as she’s only had her programs for a few weeks), but I loved both of her programs, so she’s going on the list. Her FS was my favorite of the two:

She sure has had a lot of depressing autobiographical programs, but they are, bizarrely, her strength. Take her Demons SP, and now this: she pulls them off with conviction and maturity, and I usually like them. This was no exception. Elegant and mature, with a lot of heart; if the jumps ever get there, it’ll be straight-up breathtaking.

 

Nicolas Nadeau 

Space Elvis.

All has been said.

Emily Chan 

Emily Chan, our my favorite artistic headcase, headcased with her usual flair at Skate Detroit, but she has a remarkable gift for performing a program that’s gone totally haywire and drawing you in anyway. I really admire that about her, and it doesn’t hurt that her programs this year are fantastic. Though her “Je Suis Malade” SP is my favorite, I couldn’t find a video, so here’s her (also awesome) “Bohemian Rhapsody” FS:

Aurora Cotop 

The reigning Canadian novice champion really caught my eye here. Lovely interpretation, fantastic 2A-3T, gorgeous dress, very original but tasteful music choice-there’s a lot to like here. Definitely looking forward to watching her on the JGP.

Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier 

*Sobs uncontrollably*

You guys.

They’re back.

They’re the reason I started watching pairs. (Yeah, I’m a noob…lol.) And they skated clean (the 1A sequence was planned, according to Twitter), to one of my favorite soundtracks, and their artistry has improved SO MUCH, and it’s MAGICAL.

Aaaand the power just went out. Cutting it off here because no wi-fi. Sorry that was so random and short; oh well.