Sunday, October 26, 2014

The best of Skate America 2014

Madison Chock and Evan Bates

Skate America opened up the 2014/2015 grand prix series. Here is a list of the most noticeable facts of the competition.

DANCE EVENT
*Chock/Bates won their first grand prix event of their career beating the Shibutanis
*USA conquered for the first time in a grand prix dance event the gold and silver medal
*The young Russian couple Stepanova/Bukin got their first senior bronze medal despite a serious accident occured in practice
*Canadian couple Paradis/Ouelette placed in 4th overall after being 8th in the short program with a very interesting free skate

MEN'S EVENT
*Tatsuki Machida won the competition with over 35 points of lead on the second placed with two impressive programs
*Jason Brown conquered his second grand prix medal finishing in second place
*Nam Nguyen won a unexpected bronze medal coming from the 7th place of the short program. He nailed a quad salchow, a couple of good triple axels and was spot on on every other element of his free program
*Jeremy Abbott, in second place after the short program, struggled on many jumps and got a fifth place overall
*Denis Ten struggled here and there and placed fourth

PAIRS EVENT
*Kavaguti/Smirnov, who were solidly in first place after the short, has a spectacoular free skate nailing all of their elements, including a triple toe-triple toe sequence and a throw quad salchow. They won with 209.16
*Denney/Frezier, newly coached by Ingo Steuer who trains them alongside with their previeous coaches Fontana and Zimmerman, showed off a massive improvement from past season and performed a very clean free skate. They owned their first grand prix medal with 183.84 points.
*Peng/Zhang have improved choreography and transition wise, but struggled with side by side jumps. In spite of a gorgeous quad twist and two very solid throws, they lost the second place.

LADIES EVENT
*Elena Radionova won Skate America after being second in the short program. She nailed seven triples including a triple lutz-triple toe and a triple loop-single loop-triple salchow.
*Elizaveta Tuktamisheva got the silver medal with an overall clean yet conservative free skate counting 5 triples.
*Gracie Gold manteined her third place from the short program scoring the highest components of the night (63.22). Her jumps were tight and temptative. She wasn't given credit for a double salchow-double toe-double toe because she had already done a double toe which cannot be repeated for more than two times (new technical rule).

Friday, February 21, 2014

Why Yuna Kim should have won the Sochi Olympics



In my ladies preview a couple of days ago I wrote that I expected the Russian ladies to be overscored in this event, as it had been a trend of these Olympics. I had also written that as much as Sotnikova or Lipnitskaya could skate well, if Yuna Kim brought her A game, no one would have been able to beat her. Well, judges never cease to amaze me. Yuna skated two perfect programs, with just a little, very little, bubble on a triple lutz, yet she was put in second place. Kim's silver medal has been considered a scandal by many people, including athletes, former athletes, coaches, fans, broadcasters from every country (except Russia). When I personally saw her scores coming out, I started yelling at the television as many of you. But then I cooled down and took a look at the protocols with a much more composed attitude. I haven't changed my opinion: Yuna deserved the gold.

WHERE THE 6 POINTS DIFFERENCE LIES
When the speaker announced Adelina's score I thought: "They scored her high enough to challenge Kim". And I was right. 149 is the best score of this quadriennal and Yuna had to do anything perfectly to replicate that and take the gold. That was absolutely in her possibilities, if she did something similar to her free skate performance at Worlds last year. As I said hundreds of times now, she was perfect, yet she received 4 points less than last year even if she skated an almost identical program. How this could be possible? How come in a system where scores inflate every year she could earn six points less than Sotnikova? The answer is very simple and very evident for everyone: GOEs and components.

THE COMPONENTS HISTERIA
There are so many things I could say about how hilariously components were given: Sotnikova tied with Kim and above Kostner, a clean Asada surpassed by a struggling Lipnitskaya is something beyond my worst nightmares. A lot of people have been said that, at the end of the day, the components scores are determined by the subjective opinion of the judges. There might be something true in that, but let's not forgive that the ISU gives a detailed explanation about what skaters are required to do to achieve that "artistic perfection".
Yuna and Carolina (and Mao for sure, but I guess that skating in the second group did affect her marks) should get higher components than Adelina not because of their reputation but because their choreography and interpretation has nothing to do with Sotnikova's. Adelina has great skating skills and maybe more transitions than the others (even though they are not original nor very high quality moves compared to Kim's), but in the voices Performance, Choreography and Interpretation her scores are just unjustifiable. If you watch these three programs back to back you will definetely see that especially Kim's free, but also Kostner's, has a more sophisticated concept, is better portrayed on the ice, phrases the music perfectly.
Yuna's Adios Nonino is an incredibly complex program that gives you femininity, sensuality, fierce, melancholy, sadness and lightness in four minutes. A landslide from Sotnikova.

BLOW ON GOE
Furthermore, Adelina has earned an enormous technical score. That has to be said that she skated incredibly well and that was not easy for her, considering the pressure she was facing. However, she received more than deserved compared to others. The GOE on any of her elements were super high as never before. Is not that her elements were not worthy of those points, but it is difficult to understand why Yuna consistently received lower GOEs for perfectly executed jumps and spins. As I wrote before, Yuna practically skated a replica of last year's free skate at worlds technique wise, but lost over four points in the GOEs of the elements with no reason at all.

Obviously, this result damages the image of the sport especially because the controversy happened during the Olympics. Honestly, I have no idea about what will happen in the future to the athletes. For sure Adelina won't ever be invited to a Korean show and The 2018 Olympics might be difficult for her. The competition and how it was judge will damage Adelina as well in the long term: on one side the shadows and the doubts about these Olympics will always be around her, and on the other side she won't probably get this kind of result in the future and her improvement on the quality of her skating and on her artistry, just because you can't get more than 10 in the pcs.

I want to conclude that I really admire Adelina Sotnikova because she skated with an incredible competitive strenght, believing in her skating and confident as a veteran. She is a pure talent, a complete skater who will become one of the best ever once she will get maturity. A lot of things have been said about her and I honestly despise everyone who has had an offensive attitude towards her. After all it has been an amazing competition with several great skates and this is how I will remember these Olympic games. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Olympic preview: Ladies (and thoughts on ongoing components scores...)


In the ladies event in Sochi, the competition will be incredibly unpredictable.
Three former world champions will fight for a medal: Yuna Kim, Mao Asada and Carolina Kostner.
Before going into details about each of these skaters, I would like to spend some words on the Russian skaters and how the “home advantage” is working for them. There have been a lot of criticism about the scores given to the Russians which seem to have been “raising to the occasion” to assure as many medals as possible to the host country. I have to say that I have never been keen on thinking that figure skating was all about politics and corruption and I am sure that this is not what is happening in Sochi right now, but some of the scores given in this week show at least a tendency to be quite generous towards those Russian athletes who might approach to the podium. That is what happened to Stolbova/Klimov, who got a components score of 71 against a 62 given just a year ago to the same program, or to Ilinykh/Katsalapov who bettered their free dance score of over 7 points in a week, a unprecedented improvement in ice dance. That has to be said that both these teams probably skated the programs of their lives and haven’t earned a medal undeservingly, yet their scores were so high that it would have been impossible for anyone else to challenge them.
Considering all these aspects, it would be foolish not to expect the young Russian girls to receive incredible scores. Both Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova have great results in their records and both of them might represent a gold medal threat. The two are very different one from the other: Lipnitskaya is less experienced and mature, yet very consistent on any technical element, Sotnikova has a more refined skating, brilliant transitions and skating skills, but she is more emotional and less solid on jumps. In my opinion, which is not guided by personal taste but by what ISU has always researched and declared to want from a skater, these two skaters’ components shouldn’t be ANY close to Kim’s or Asada’s. As much as the Russians have improved during this year, there shouldn’t be any doubt that both Kim and Asada are incomparable in terms of skating skills, interpretation, phrasing of the music, projection of the program and complexity of the choreography.
However, Lipnitskaya, who usually has a lower pcs than Sotnikova, received in the team event a pcs very similar to Asada’s in the short (Asada fell in that program, though) and was scored a 69 in that department in the free skate, just a couple of points less than the Worlds 2013 free skate performance by Yuna Kim.
To sum up, considering that Lipnitskaya, Sotnikova, Kim and Asada have more or less the same potential on the technical score, medals will come down to who performs the best, regardless of the artistry of the skater. If they all perform at their best, which might be difficult for Asada due to her extremely risky technical content, Kim and Asada should be in the top two. It has been reported that Mao is consistently landing her triple axel in practice, but any little mistake will be very costly and therefore out of the four named before, she is the most likely to finish off the podium. The same could be said by Sotnikova, who is not known for being incredibly consistent. She has an enormous potential though, and if she nails the short program she will receive way more than 70 points.
There are so many others who could fight for a medal, but none of them is as competitive as these four. Carolina Kostner equals or tops the others for maturity and artistry, but she doesn’t have all the technical difficulties; others like Gracie Gold, Kanako Murakami, Akiko Suzuki miss something to be on the podium as well.

PODIUM PICKS
Gold: Yuna Kim
Silver: Julia Lipnitskaya
Bronze: Adelina Sotnikova


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Olympic preview: Men



Schedule
Short program: 13th February h 19.00
Free skate: 14th February h 19.00

In the Men event the medal contention is extremely open and a there is a wide bunch of competitors who could fight for the gold medal.
Patrick Chan is surely one of the favourites for the Olympic title. The three times world champion has had a very consistent season showing incredibly strong performances as he did at the Trophee Eris Bompard. He is an incredibly complete athlete with a supreme skating quality. If he skates at his best, no one would be al├Čble to take his gold medal away. However this season's experience has proved that he doesn't have much room for mistakes as in the past, but any insecurity could be a dangerous advantage to others.
The Canadian champion has indeed a strong competition ahead: Yuzuru Hanyu on top is a gold medal thread. Yuzuru Hanyu is the male skater who has improved the most in the last couple of years: after winning the bronze medal at the 2012 World Championships, he started to collect success after success. He has an incredible capability of getting a lot of points with jumps. He is the only one who has equalled and bettered Chan's scores. He has a very strong short program and a challenging free skate with two quads and two triple axels in the second half of the program. He has never been able to nail his quad salchow in this season, but his technical scores have always been very high for a solid quad toe and the two amazing triple axels. If he gets the salchow done, he won't have competition on the technical mark.

Japan has a medal shot from its other two skaters Tatsuki Machida and Daisuke Takahashi. Tatsuki Machida has been the surprise of the Japanese team of the season. Although he had showed his talent even before, Machida had an incredible improvement this year climbing the national ranking up to becoming the Japanese silver medalist behind Hanyu. He has both a pretty good solidity on jumps and other technical elements  and a good quality of skating (provided by the typical Japanese knee bend), often under rated. Considering the strong field, Tatsuki doesn't have an easy way to the podium, but if anyone collapses, he may very well sneak in.
Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, has had a tough fall season that culminated with the fourth place at Nationals. He has struggled with his jumps all season long and in this sense the Morozov coaching hasn't helped him at all. But whenever he nails them, he becomes one of the most competitive skater in the world. As it has been reported, Daisuke has been struggling in his recent practices in Sochi, so that it is difficult to consider him a medal thread, even though he has the potential to battle for the gold.

Javier Fernandez of Spain has been struggling in his grand prix series as well, but a brilliant outcome at European Nationals did put him back in the list of strong competitors going for an Olympic medal. He wasn't perfect in Budapest, anyway he proved to be solid on his most valuable jumps and if he fixes his pointed jumps, in which he usually struggles the most, his skating should be worth a top three finish.

Something needs to be said about Eugeni Plushenko. After all he has been through, just few imagined he could have been a top contender in Sochi. However, he proved in the team event to be physically and emotionally ready to challenge in his last Olympics. Despite the several surgeries and injuries of the last couple of years, he managed a super clean short program and a good free skate, where he wasn't perfect, especially in the second half, but nailed a quad and a couple of stunning triple axels in a somehow conservative program. He will need to give everything he has in the individual event if he wants to medal in such a tough competition. Probably, even considering that he shouldn't get the same components score as some others mostly due to a lack of transitions, he won't be able to get the gold here. Yet, his incredible experience might take him ahead of younger competitors.

PODIUM PICKS
Gold: Patrick Chan
Silver: Eugeni Plushenko
Bronze: Yuzuru Hanyu

Friday, February 7, 2014

Olympic preview: Pairs



Pairs short program: 11th Febraury, h 19.00 (GMT +4)
Pairs free skate: 12th Febraury, h 19.45

The Pairs' event will open the figure skating individual competition next Tuesday. The gold contetion will be between the world champions Volosozhar/Trankov and Savchenko/Szolkowy.
Both of the teams are looking forward to nothing less than a gold medal. On paper, Volosozhar/Trankov should win the competition. The home Olympic title seemed a lock for the Russian team until December, when they started to show some sign of weakness. They have reached incredibly high scores during the fall season (they own all the records) that made them look unbeatlable by anyone else in the circuit. However, they showed to feel the competition pressure when they skated just after Savchenko/Szolkowy in the Grand Prix final, where, taken by the nerves, they finished behind their German competitors, and during the European Championships free skate where they managed to get the gold (even because Savchenko/Szokowy had withrawn) but collected mistake after mistake.
As for Savchenko/Szolkowy, they will have their last chance to get that only medal that has eluded them. Compared to the Russian team, they can count on slightly lower GOEs and components, so that if both couples skate up to their best, Volosozhar/Trankov have an egde on them. The Germans have therefore tried to insert more difficult elements (the thorw triple axel on top of those) in their programs to close the gap with the Russians. The question is weather they will be able to nail a clean performance as well. At Grand Prix final they won with a relatively conservative program, but I am not sure that would be enough for the gold here.
To sum up, Russians and Germans have both a significant chance to be crowned Olympic champions and won't be room for mistakes for anyone. Savchenko/Szolkowy need to try all of their tricks, putting them in an enormous risk considering that they have never landed a clean throw triple axel, whereas Volosozhar/Trankov have already showed that they can nail an "Olympic gold medal perfomance", but they will face the incredible pressure of being the team specifically created for Olympic gold.

As far as the bronze medal is concerned, the couples fighting for it are: Pang/Tong and Duhamel/Radford. Pang/Tong of China, the 2010 Olympic silver medalists are undeniably the favourites for a medal. They might not be the strongest technique wise, but if they nail what they plan to do, their exquisite artistry and amazing throws and twist should put them in a good position for a medal contention.
Duhamel/Radford haven't had the most spectacular season of their life after they won the bronze at Worlds last year, but if they skate as cleanly as they did at the team event's short program, their dary technical content could be a threat for others.

PODIUM PICKS
Gold: Volosozhar/Trankov
Silver: Savchenko/Szolkowy
Bronze: Pang/Tong

Sunday, January 12, 2014

European Championships 2014: schedule and preview

SCHEDULE

Wednesday 15th:
10.30 Ladies short
17.30 Short Dance

Thursday 16th:
11.45 Men short
18.25 Free Dance

Friday 17th:
13.30 Pairs short                  
17.50 Ladies free skate

Saturday 18th:
12.05 Men free skate

Sunday 19th:
11.00 Pairs free skate                                           

The 2014 European Championships will take place this week (13-19 January) in Budapest (GMT +1).
It will be the last chance to test programs and technical status before the Olympics in Febraury for many skaters.

The probably strongest field will be the ladies', whose short will open the week of competition. As last year, it is expected to be a Kostner against the Russian girls fight. For Leonova, Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova Europeans won't be just a test before the home Olympics, but also a qualifying competition, since Russia earned two spots for Sochi. Considering the latest outcomes, Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova are very likely to qualify and make the podium. For Lipnitskaya it is going to be her debut at senior European Championships. Althought she is a very strong competitor, she doesn't quite have the experience or maturity of Sotnikova (who is more a rollercoaster instead) and if her compatriot pulls it off as she has done a couple of times this season, she probably wouldn't be able to beat her.
As far as Carolina Kostner is concerned, there is no doubt that she is the most mature artistic and sophisticated skater of the bunch, but her jumps haven't been her best lately and she is coming from a back injury, that caused her to withdraw from Universiade and Nationals, so that is possible that she won't compete at her best in Budapest. She has changed both of her programs which didn't impress as others and she will debut a new short pogram on Ave Maria; as for the free skate, she came back to the Bolero program of last year.


In the men competition, Javier Fernandez will try to defend his title after a disappointing fall season. The Spanish champion hasn't been impressive with his grand prix outings as he missed the podium twice and therefore didn't qualify for the final. His performances in Budapest will make his state of preparation clearer.
Maxim Kovtun is a serious medal contender since he is showing constant improvements; his quads are getting more consistent and he has had a good season, which might help him closing the "components" gap with Fernandez.
For the rest of the field the competition is as open as never before: Michal Brezina will try to defend his bronze medal, but his compatriot Tomas Verner, after few very negative seasons, looks incredibly strong (he hasn't competed in any A competition, though). Florent Amodio is in the mix too, even if his latest competitions haven't been brilliant, especially the Bompard Trophy, where he hardly landed any jumps at all.


The dance event is going to be the most peculiar of all as none of the present skaters have ever won the title before. Infact, both Bobrova/Soloviev and Pechalat/Bourzat decided to not compete in this pre-olympic appointment leaving the podium door wide open.
Ilinykh/Katsalapov and Cappellini/Lanotte are for sure the front-runners of the competition. Cappellini/Lanotte have had a consistent season so far, and if the previous results should be an indication of how Europeans will be, they should be going for gold. The Italian team has already competed against the Russians and beated them at the NHK Trophy and qualified for the grand prix final whereas Ilinykh/Katsalapov didn't. The couple trained by Morozov has alternated ups and downs during the fall season so that it is difficult to foresee what is going to happen, but if they skate somehow clean their higher components will bring them ahead of the Italians.
As for the bronze medal, Riazanova/Tkachenko will likely earn it.

Savchenko/Szolkowy and Volosozhar/Trankov will compete face to face another time before the Olympics. The European gold and silver will surely be theirs, but there is no certainty about who is going to be crown the champions. Volosozhar/Trankov looked unbeatable all season long untill the Grand Prix final where the German team overskated them for the first time since Worlds 2012. In many's opinion, Savchenko/Szolkowy finally won that competition because they decided to leave out the throw triple axel, a very worthy, yet extremely risky element that didn't seem to work so well in competition. Going clean is often a strategy that pays back, however the Fukuoka victory wasn't earned just by avoiding a difficult jump, but also because Volosozhar/Trankov made some mistakes there. The world champions proved that they are human, but that even with a struggling skate they can earn a pretty decent score. Considering that Volosozhar/Trankov would be at their best for when it counts, Savchenko/Szolkowy may very well need that triple axel.
The bronze medal chances are open to Stolbova/Klimov, Bazarova/Larionov and Berton/Hotarek, the defending champions, who have been the most consistent of the bunch, but are slightly inferior to their Russian competitors in terms of quality of some elements (the triple twist for one) and components. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Post Grand Prix toughts: Ice Dance

THE BATTLE OF THE TITANS


The Grand Prix Final has clearly showed how much both teams want to be the leaders of the sport and how hard they will work towards the Olympic gold in Sochi.
Virtue/Moir, who had never beaten Davis/White in the last four competition (WTT 2012, GPF 2012, 4CC 2013 and Worlds 2013), probably had their best two programs in this quadriennal in the Final in Fukuoka, scoring two personal bests and getting a level four on 13 elements out of 14, as well as stellar GOEs and components. Their result was quite a surprise, especially in the free dance in which they have been struggling throughtout the fall season, as they were absolutely flawless and technically impecable.
Yet, a total score of 190 (more than 30 points above the bronze medalists) wasn't enough to get that one gold that is still missing.
Davis/White proved to be not only as strong as their Canadian team-mates, but also to be two incredibly strong competitors, who didn't seem to feel any pressure from two world records scored just before they were about to skate. As far as levels are concerned, they equaled Virtue/Moir but they had an edge on GOEs and components.
With Virtue/Moir closing the gap with Davis/White, the fight for olympic gold seems as open as ever and the slightest mistake could be significant. So anything can really happen and what is sure is that Sochi's gold and silver are locked between these two teams.

THE BRONZE MEDAL ROULETTE

Ekaterina Bobrova - ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final 2013/2014 - Day Three

As for now, there are at least four teams who cuold fine themselves on the Olympic podium in February. The Grand Prix final crowned Pechalat/Bourzat bronze medalists but in fact that says nothing about how the season will unfold, but makes predictions more and more confused.
Bobrova/Soloviev, who were third after the short dance, failed again with their free skate whose transitions caused them a fall for the second time in a row. Weaver/Poje looked very strong at Skate Canada but struggled in Fukuoka getting in fifth place. On the other side, Pechalat/Bourzat had an amazing free skate, but they haven't been consistent in the season so far.
Besides, Ilinykh/Katsalapov had a very unlucky grand prix assignment and as they ranked fourth at NHK Trophy they couldn't qualify for the final, but they redeemed themselves after one week winning the silver medal at TEB in Paris beating Pechalat/Bourzat on the home ice.