Sunday, 25 January 2015

The 2015 Canadian & U.S. Championships: The Good, The Bad And The #NoSheBetterDont


This autumn, I spent hours upon hours recapping all six ISU Grand Prix competitions and the Grand Prix Final in detail. Here's the thing. Agonizing over Suzie Salchow's take-off edge on her flip and the level of her spin combination really isn't my bag any more than jamming my hand in a car door is. I wanted to enjoy the competitions for the rest of the season rather than extrapolate the results to death but still wanted to represent all the major competitions with content on the blog as well. After all, whether I'm a big fan of the IJS system or not, there's some spectacular skating going on that I'd be absolutely negligent as a blogger by not talking about... so I decided to come up with a new format for covering events this season. It's The Good, The Bad And The #NoSheBetterDont. Get ready for a Skate Guard not so in depth look at the 2015 Prudential Figure Skating Championships and 2015 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, held respectively in Greensboro, North Carolina and Kingston, Ontario:


DAILYMOTION COVERAGE: As Martha Stewart would say... "it's a GOOD thing". Skate Canada had the right idea by streaming the novice and junior events (and the early flights of seniors) in their entirety free of charge on DailyMotion. The level headed, intelligent commentary and generous coverage on CTV, TSN, RDS and RDS2 of the senior events was as always a treat. Offering freebies to fans is the way to grow skating's audience and I gotta say, Canada's on the right track in this respect.

A RUDY GALINDO MOMENT: Remember Rudy's once in a lifetime winning free skate at the 1996 U.S. Figure Skating Championships? Adam Rippon had that kind of a moment today, winning the free skate and the silver medal in Greensboro with the skate of HIS LIFE! This was the former U.S. Junior Champion's seventh appearance on the senior level at U.S. Nationals and with a clean free skate that not only showcased his elegant artistry but spectacular jumps including a quad lutz (underrotated slightly but landed), two triple axels and a triple/triple combination AND triple/triple sequence (triple flip/half loop/triple salchow) he was simply on fire. Jason Brown might have won the overall title in Greensboro with a spectacular and truly special performance of his own, but unlike Jason's win Adam's result this year wasn't something I would have ever predicted. This medal win was just so deserved for a skater who has struggled to have that breakout moment since winning the Four Continents title in 2010. A standing ovation all the way from Halifax!


YOU'VE BEEN SERVED, ASHLEY WAGNER STYLE: When the going got tough, Ashley got going... and she did it in the most brilliant way at the U.S. Championships. Winning her third national title with a score of 221.02 after finishing off the podium last season, she upped her technical ante by adding two triple lutzes (one in combination with a triple toe) to her free skate repertoire as well as a triple loop/half loop/triple salchow combination. She showed up in North Carolina with two highly stylized, packaged programs that set her well ahead of the pack in terms of artistry and maturity and delivered both with confidence and passion. The competition was fierce and many of her competitors laid down stellar free skates, but she persevered and succeeded in her goals and I couldn't be happier for her. 

 
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LUCKY NUMBER FOUR: In numerology, the number four often refers to strength, stability and discipline and those are certainly qualities that relate to perhaps the most dangerous discipline in skating: pairs. The number four consistently popped up throughout both of the pairs competitions this weekend. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won their fourth Canadian title in epic fashion with a new Canadian record. In doing so, they performed the first four revolution throw EVER at the Canadian Championships: a gorgeous quad salchow. Earlier that day, Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim had won their first U.S. pairs title with - you guessed it - a throw quadruple twist making them the first American team to accomplish that feat! One thing both pairs events had in common were a really impressive, high level of performance among the top tier of teams. 


A VERY SPICY NAMNAMNOODLE: Okay, can I just say something? This guy is amazing! He goes through his free skate without breaking a sweat, not only landing a quad salchow and two triple axels with absolute ease but also giving a very commendable and clever interpretation of the music along the way. Although his Grand Prix season was very successful, I don't think the judges quite grasped the level this kid is skating on. With a pre-novice, novice, junior and now senior Canadian men's title to his credit (making him the second youngest Canadian men's champion in history), the world is Nam Nguyen's oyster and mark my words, this kid will be on the world podium sooner than you think. 


THE THREE J'S: It was wonderful to see Jason Brown, Josh Farris and Jeremy Abbott top the leaderboard in the men's short program at U.S. Nationals. I think it's fair to say that each of them has their own distinct styles but they have all contributed some great art to skating and their performances on Friday were all excellent in their own rights. In the press conference following the short program, Jeremy summed it up best in a wonderful statement about this when he said "I am so happy to be sitting here with these two men. I think we all made a nice, strong statement than skating can be an art as well as a sport... I think attention needs to be paid to detail and I think we are doing that and that's very important... Figure skating is a craft and the craft can sometimes be a little overlooked.... It's important to do the tricks but it's also important to not lose was figure skating was and is and what it could be. I think it's very important to study the history and the craft of figure skating and to not sacrifice yourself or your goals for one element." Jason echoed the importance "never losing the artistry in the sport and to always be musical and to be an overall performer and skater". The depth in U.S. men's skating is crazy but it was wonderful to see them all not only have a great night technically but really make a statement about packaging good choreography with the elements to create actual programs that didn't make you feel like you were checking off boxes.



THE GREAT NORTH AMERICAN PARTNER SWAP: In 1994, reigning U.S. Champions Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval returned to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in the wake of TonyaGate with new partners. It didn't fare so well but it made for great TV, as did the whole Pasha/Sasha/Evgeny/Maya switcharoo at the 1998 World Professional Championships. In an age where skating is highly criticized for lacking in engaging personal stories, at BOTH the Canadian and U.S. Championships we saw former National Champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch arrive with new partners Mervin Tran, Dee Dee Leng, Michael Marinaro and Lubov Iliushechkina. I think it's fair to say that at least three of these teams had underwhelming fall seasons and the results expected from them probably weren't as impressive as the ones they achieved and good on them! Skating's no stranger to good old fashioned high drama and this was the best possible kind. Although both new Canadian teams fared better than their American counterpoints, this is the kind of story that we'll all remember whoever our favourites are.



EIGHTH TIME'S A CHARM: After much waiting and winning a silver or bronze medal in each of their seven previous attempts, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje finally won Canada's national title in Kingston, and they did it with impeccable style. Although Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier certainly skated excellently in both the short and free dances, Weaver and Poje were the class of the field and won the event with a score of 187.88, over ten points ahead of the silver medallists. Their performance of their free dance to Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" by Shae-Lynn Bourne was arguably their best yet and seems a forerunner of great things to come at the 2015 World Championships in Shanghai. Yet another reminder that 'sticktoitiveness' pays off in the long run.


CANADIAN LADIES SKATING BOOM: Although none of these ladies were perfect in the sum of their performances in Kingston, the days of Canadian ladies skaters with their eyes down for the entire program, flutzing and popping jumps are long gone. They actually were a long time ago, but some people just can't to seem to get that through their noggins. The quality of the free skates of Gabby Daleman, Alaine Chartrand and Véronik Mallet was spectacular actually this year and all three of these skaters made some pretty telling statements about what we can come to expect from them at the Four Continents or World Championships. The times, they are a'changin'... 


ELLADJ BALDE UNRAVELS: This poor guy just can't catch a break can he? Injury, success, injury... Issues on both his quad attempt and jump combination in the short program left this gold medal contender all the way down in seventh place heading into the men's free skate at the Canadian Championships, but not so far out of it points wise (about fifteen points) he couldn't have rallied and perhaps medalled if he came out and skated to his potential with a killer free skate. Unfortunately, that didn't happen either and he ended up finishing out the competition in sixth place with a miss on his quad toe and a really hard fall on a triple axel in his free skate. Not the Nationals this talented skater wanted but I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of him.

U.S. ICE DANCE JUDGING: At this point, I'm pretty much convinced that Maia and Alex Shibutani could throw in twenty more sets of clean twizzles and they'd still be in second. I'm not dogging the talent and high performance level of Madison Chock and Evan Bates one bit, but as I've said before, it's contrived and it's not my cup of tea. I'm not all up in arms about the result or anything, but I just find with U.S. ice dance right now I feel like I didn't even need to watch the event whatsoever to tell you how it was going to go... down to the numbers pretty much. It's just getting really predictable and not in a good way.



MIRAI NAGASU AND THE BOARDS: Speaking of people who can't catch a break, the 2008 U.S. Champion who famously was left off the U.S. Olympic team last season after winning the bronze medal at Nationals, started off very strongly in her free skate at the U.S. Nationals with a triple/triple/double and double axel/double toe combination and then proceeded to have a fluke fall when she clipped the boards on a back crossover. Clearly in pain, she mustered the energy to get the job done but things unravelled a bit afterwards, dropping to tenth overall. She came off the ice in pain and got sent right back to center ice to do her bows, which to me was just no. The girl was clearly in pain. You don't do that. The doctor who examined her post skate said that "one month prior to the event, Mirai Nagasu had an MRI on her left knee, which showed a cartilage contusion. Tonight, when she fell, she hyperextended the same knee and bruised the cartilage again. The clinical impression ..., following a bedside examination and ultrasound, is that there was no ligament tear or more serious cartilage damage." I will say this though. A lot of people would have thrown in the towel after last season, but her determination to soldier on and actually really improve speaks volumes about her character. 


KEVIN REYNOLDS WITHDRAWS: With his signature wild and fabulous hair, Kevin Reynolds was on paper the skater to beat in the men's event in Kingston. With Patrick Chan not competing, he was the highest ranked returning men's skater but that said, he was also coming into the event as the hard luck kid who has had more boot problems than some of the drag queens I know who insist they're a size 9. Unfortunately, in his short program, he fell on all three of his jumping passes (two quads and a triple axel) and found himself in twelfth place and distraught by his placement, he withdrew. I'm not one to advocate quitting when the going gets tough, but not being him, we don't know his reasons. I think we're all entitled to walking away when we just can't or taking that mental health day once or twice in our lives and I wish him the best in the future!


NO KAETLYN OSMONDStill recovering from a fractured fibula in her right leg in September that caused her to miss plenty of precious practice time this fall, I think Kaetlyn made the right decision not to participate in Nationals if she wasn't rehabilitated to a level where she was ready to. Her absence was definitely felt though and with the strides that Canada's top ladies made this season I would have loved to have seen a showdown between Kaetlyn, Gabby and Alaine. That'll have to be next year!


ICE DANCE SNUB: In pulling off a surprise fourth place finish at Skate America in the fall, Élisabeth Paradis and François-Xavier Ouellette obviously made a strong impression on the international judges with their gorgeous free dance set to "Un peu plus haut" by Jean-Pierre Ferland. That's why when they performed the same free dance even better in Kingston Saturday night and dropped from fourth to fifth I was like SAY WHAT? Interestingly enough, the team that beat both them and Paul and Islam in the free dance was Nicole Orford and Thomas Williams. They're obviously a very talented team as well, but a noticeable bobble in their footwork and a rather meh interpretation of "Titanic" kind of left me wondering what all that was really about. I may not be an ice dance expert, but I know that if I'm sitting in a room watching skating with two people who NEVER watch the sport and also thought this team kind of got screwed, something doesn't sit right with me. As knowledgeable as Tracy Wilson is and as excited as I get when she's in the commentary booth, her vague explanation of "technical skill" didn't give me any more confidence or further understanding of why the free dance result was what it was. As always, it's buried in the numbers somewhere.


CHASE BELMONTES' PCS DRAMA: You all remember the hilarious interview I did with Chase, right? It was a time! Social media was abuzz when Chase skated his short program in the junior men's event on Wednesday in Greensboro, landed all three of his jumping passes (triple flip/triple toe, triple lutz and double axel) and ended up with a PCS score of 23.89 that coupled with his TES score saw him sitting in tenth place in that part of the competition. The very musical skater's second mark didn't add up with what went down on the ice (especially as compared to at least four of his competitors) and left many calling foul... justifiably so in my opinion. What gives, judges?

JOHNNY AND TARA'S COMMENTARY: I tried. I really did. I've bitten my lip on this topic so hard it's about turn black and blue but Johnny and Tara just don't do it for me whatsoever. Terry Gannon's longevity in the color commentary field and contribution to skating deserves a good old fashioned hats off but I'm more interested in insightful and intelligent commentary than fashion critiques. I get NBC's rationale from a marketing standpoint - I absolutely do - but they're no Peggy and Dick and I say ick. 

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