Saturday, November 6, 2010

It's Tough Being A Lady



It is tough being a ladies skater.  One must be delicate yet athletic, expressive yet strong, artistic, yet technically proficient.  Flexibility, line, stretch, finesse, etc become the bane of many ladies' existence.  This is exemplified on the Grand Prix in abundance this season.  For better or worse, it currently takes five cleanly executed triples to win a Grand Prix.  Five triples, a little speed and passable spins and footwork will get you a gold medal every time.  There are no debates going on over who was better.  It doesn't matter and it's all too clear.





There are only so many ladies in the world who are ever capable of meeting the necessities of a World medalist.  While there may be a dozen medal who can medal on any given day, just five or six could medal and about two or three could win at an ISU Championship event.



Miki Ando routinely racks up medals on the Grand Prix but has failed to win gold when it counts after the mistake that was her world title.  Her defenders point out that she has speed, jumps and choreography.  In a way, she does.  But there are reasons why all the jumps in the world will not save Miki against the likes of Yu-Na, Mao, Joannie and Mirai in peak form.

A Canadian commentator once declared that speed should never be an objective unto itself.  Speed should be achieved by deep, well-executed edges with beautifully bent knees.  This is one of the differences between figure skating/artistic skating and it's cousin-sport, speed skating.  One of the ways skaters become expressive beings is by defying the athletic position.  The athletic position is characterized by being bent over at the waist, bent knees and having one's arms out.  One can also see this position throughout the programs of Miki Ando and Irina Slutskaya.  It is what people are bitching about when they harp on posture.  Crossovers involve using the athletic position to generate speed.  Many crossovers are visible throughout programs by lesser skaters.

Skaters like Kwan, Kim and Yamaguchi achieve speed by pushing into edges that are parts of choreography.  Their knee bend and blades propel them from choctaw to mohawk and eliminate the necessity for excessive crossovers or the athletic position.  Miki Ando's posture is a major contributing factor to why people feel she is one of the least expressive skaters since Trixie Schuba. Miki skates through life like a Japanese ski jumper. When one is bent over, they are not reaching the audience or television cameras at eye level.  They are cut off from the audience and the expression of music.

Miki Ando's other glaring problem is that she simply lacks an innate sense of musicality.  Nuances make all the difference in the world.  An eyebrow lift, shrug of the shoulders, extension of the arms on a crescendo and hair toss draw in the audience and endear a skater to them.  Miki Ando does have arm movements choreographed into her programs, but she does not perform them on any accents of music.  When watching Miki Ando, one can see the thoughts in her head "crossover, choctaw, extend arms, bracket,."  Her face does not connect with the music.  Every nuance she has is taught, rather than coming from within.

Slavka Kohout enabled Janet Lynn to become an expressive skater by assigning her to pick a piece of music and choreograph a piece to how it made her feel.  While doing so may feel like a waste of time during a competitive season, it is extremely purposive.  By learning how music makes you feel, you are able to connect with your competitive pieces and break out of thinking and enter the world of feeling.




Tara Lipinski is not remembered for being an artistic skater, but she certainly presented ever ounce of her programs.  Her Anastasia footwork sequence was attacked with gusto and exuberance.  Tara extended her body with force as she revved up for her combination spin.  The music excited her.  Miki Ando is desperately in need of spending a fortnight or two or five with the magical Ms. Bezic.



One quality that endears Akiko Suzuki to audiences is her ability to use eye-contact and facial expressions.  Choreographers used to debate choosing classical pieces or pedestrian movie themes where the interpretive work is already done for you.  Under the IJS, this debate no longer matters.  It would behoove Miki Ando to pick a melodic piece with recognizable, dynamic themes.  No one believes that Akiko is rumbling in the bronx or hoping to meet with her beloved Yenta, but it doesn't matter because she enjoys and projects to the audience.  Unfortunately, Akiko's here-today-gone-tomorrow jumps kept her from blowing her countrywoman out of the water.  Given her love of musicals, one should point her toward the Tisch School at NYU.



Mirai Nagasu is magical enough to be declared a heartbreaker.  While some may point to this competition being another example of her collapsing in the long program, it is important to note that she has just started doing full runthroughs.  Mirai is nowhere near where Frank wants her to be.  Mr. Carroll has done wonders with her overall skating polish and her jumps are now higher and rotated (even that triple loop.)  Unfortunately, Mirai needs discipline and time.  It is unlikely that she will improve dramatically by the time she competes in Paris, but she should be in fighting form for late in the season.  This won't give her experience handling being the favorite, because it is evident that Mirai knew she was unprepared when she took the ice for both programs.  Weight she gained while off the ice has yet to evaporate off her bones.  Frank had to remind her to "believe in herself."  Mirai is about where one should expected to be.  I joked to friends that she'd probably pull off a clean short and then the emperor would have no clothes in the free.  It turned out to be prophetic.  Mirai's overall musicality, excitement, speed and quality is so brilliant that the judges will reward her when she manages to arrive prepared, trained and confident.  Hopefully getting her there will not age Frank Carroll a decade in the process.




Note:  Mirai is picking petals in an "he loves me, he loves me not" in the short program.  She does achieve a positively Slutskaya moment when throwing them in frustrating during the "he loves me not" music change.

40 comments:

  1. "Miki Ando does have arm movements choreographed into her programs, which she does not perform them on any accents of music."

    The grammar, of lack thereof, in that sentence makes me cry.

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  2. Mirai Nagasu might be the new Sasha Cohen. Not the perennially finishing second to Kwan part, but the headcase part aka utter inability to skate two clean programs in a single competition. If she doesn't skate well in her next GP people won't be able to make excuses for her anymore

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  3. Except that Mirai is actually an interesting skater with clean technique, unlike Sasha.

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  4. Mirai has already skated to two clean program in a single competition. It was at this event called the Olympics.

    Thank you for this entry, AJ. I'm still trying to rationalize Miki Ando's skating existence in my head.

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  5. "The grammar, of lack thereof, in that sentence makes me cry."

    Uh, speaking of which... "Of lack thereof"?

    Grammar you said? C'mon now, let's not get all weepy over an obvious typo that didn't really disrupt the sentence to the lengths that it would cause tears.

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  6. @Tarasova's Mink. Yes well I meant under pressure. At the Olympics there was no pressure on Mirai to skate well because the focus was on Yuna and Mao. Before that at National's she was downgraded twice in the long program so not exactly clean.

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  7. "Which" has been corrected to "but". You should really man up. I find it more sad that you confused what was obviously a simple typo for a grammatical error.

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  8. Luv ur blog we all make gram mistakes who cares right? It's the concept that matters most anyways.

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  9. Amazing analysis of Miki's skating (But I expected no less). You basically iterated what I've been trying to put into words for years.

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  10. "Yes well I meant under pressure. At the Olympics there was no pressure on Mirai to skate well because the focus was on Yuna and Mao. Before that at National's she was downgraded twice in the long program so not exactly clean."

    Fair enough, although you could argue some of those URs were debatable rather than egregious. Anyway, point being I don't know if she quite qualifies for Cohen-levels of headcase just yet. Possibly, but I think she's still got time.

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  11. but, at the olympics she had nothing to lose.
    she skated last at olympics, when the color of
    medals was already decided.

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  12. I love this post.

    To everyone bitching about Mirai's inability to perform, I remind you that she is still recovering from a stress fracture. No one expects her to be in top form at this point, and I don't think international judges are going to punish her for that. If she shows up at Worlds and skates this way, that's something completely different... but for now, I think she's all right. All things considered, I think she skated well. Her jumps obviously need polishing and she needs more confidence in her FS (which can easily be attained with repetition), but I was still impressed by what I saw.

    Let's wait a little bit before we condemn Mirai, yes?

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  13. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Taiko and Schindler's List?

    Was really hoping that Suzuki would interpret the Chava sequence )=

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  14. Some of you need to break your leg, be in a boot for months, and then try to WALK RIGHT afterward, never mind skate good programs in competition. I'm impressed Mirai did such a good short here. I didn't think she would be ready. In fact, I figured she may withdraw. Champs Camp was end of August and she was STILL in a boot.

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  15. Excellent recap of the ladies, Aunt Joyce! It is hard to expect for Mirai to be rotating all her triples considering she is just recovering from a stress fracture in her foot. Plus, it is obvious her conditioning is a bit behind from all of the lost training time. She should be better by Nationals if she stays healthy.

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  16. Read well, thanks. And I agree with you :-)

    What I was upset about this COC was the judges did not give any 'e' to the wrong "Lutz"(a.k.a "Flutz") of some skaters.
    Considering this jump has a huge score and some skaters try to jump with a right edge, if those cheating skaters who do not even try to jump with a correct edge continue getting high scores, encouraging them to think "it's all right to jump in a way they jump", what's the point to make a jumping system and all those jump categories?

    Sorry for those honest skaters who make efforts to have jumps with correct edges.
    Their efforts seems worthless after watching this season.


    Shame on the judges.
    Even Ando Miki jumped 2 Loop in the combination, not 3 Loop. Watch her 3 Loop starting point and landing point.

    Note: Mirai picking pedals? I thought she was portraying the witch who was playing cards :-)

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  17. Mirai should have edge call with her Flutz.

    And she is still junior-tic to me. I don't think she is flexible. When she uses her arms or upper body, she seems very stiff, especially "shoulder".

    But, I totally agree with your thoughts about Ando. Love the comment, "Speed should never be an objective unto itself."

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  18. Miki Ando's Triple Loop on the Triple Lutz+Triple Lutz combo was downgraded in the short program.

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  19. I do agree that Miki doesn't have the most pleasant position during crossovers, her back tends to be really bent, but I found it is a very nice program this one. She does seem to always be thinking a lot when skating (I wouldn't blame her with that loving japanese press always behind her waiting for the next mstake to make Sashimi out of their athletes)

    And about Mirai, I don't think she's a headcase. She's nursing an injury, and she really didn't think about that secons 2A combo. This shows that the team has to talk about how to properly improvise during a performance if you miss a combination, like knowing were in the program you can turn to a plan B when you miss a combo, and want to replace it with another one. I think she'll be fine in the future.

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  20. After watching three GP series this season, I can't help missing Queen Yuna so much.
    I remember COC when Yuna attended in 2008-- the place was full of audience with lots of enthusiasm. At that time, I just watched and enjoyed the beauty of skaing through Yuna's superb technique and fantastic artistry. This time ...I yawned and sighed.

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  21. I hope Mirai improves, wins TEB, and makes it to the GPF. A GPF podium of Miki, Flatt, and Kostner is just too painful to imagine.

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  22. Aside from the lackluster roster of ladies skaters, Mirai and Alissa and sometimes, Mao, excluded, COP has just about sucked all of the life out of ladies skating. Take a look at Michelle's '98 Rachmaninoff program and try to imagine it without the spiral sequence. (For that matter, look at her Spartacus program in '05 at Nationals and try to imagine the same). Instead of fixing the boring, footgrabbing cookie cutter spiral sequence that COP required in the SP, what do they do? They eliminate it altoghter! It makes no sense. How about requiring at least one arabesque spiral, something that few skaters seem able to do well, unlike the ubiquitous Biellmann position?

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  23. Requiem for the Spiral Sequence. Gone are the days of the gorgeous spirals, those of Cohen, Kwan and those few ladies that could realy do them well. People need to be creative! It was Sasha who started a trend, a style with them that others tried to copy, and when she went back to 2010 nationals she added her split jump entry to the spiral which I thought was genius!

    I hope the spirals come back next season!

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  24. It is funny how people think Mirai is the future of US figure skating but she has NEVER medaled in any senior international competition yet. Something's gotta change with her training or mentorship. Plus, stop making excuses (growh spurts, injury) becaue the real top skaters can medal despite all that.

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  25. Even with all her jump problems, Mirai actually would still have had the bronze if not for the 2toe after the 2axel.

    Argh!

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  26. Should Miki give back the medal?

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  27. "It is funny how people think Mirai is the future of US figure skating but she has NEVER medaled in any senior international competition yet."

    Not to be bitchy, but Mirai would've won the bronze at the Olympics if Joannie hadn't lost her mother.

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  28. the point difference after the short was huge between Mirai and Joannie. mirai needed almost 140 to beat joannie which i don't think should have happened but I still think she should've placed higher than joannie in the free skate. Joannie's short program has this clean = 70+ rule with 3-2, soso spin/spiral + lv 2 layback after the skate canada last year. Skate Canada is like the centre of judging corruption.

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  29. Miki won fare and square by following ISU's new judgements. And you guys who is saying Miki has lack of artistic should watch her EX pros. Anyway it isn't skaters faults. If you want to win under this new judging system, you have to follow the all rules to take high scores. That's is a problem, sigh.

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  30. Oops! Not fare. It is fair. What was I thinking? Sorry guys.

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  31. Other better skaters manage to skate with artistry and emotion. Miki deserves to be deducted heavily for PCS. Her exhibitions aren't much better.

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  32. Watching Mirais meltdown in the free made me realize that all is not hearts and flowers with the training situation. Mirai did not seem sufficently upset after her skate. I'm not asking for sobs and weeping here but that perky smile we all love hardly left her face. More worrisome is this repeated problem of Carolls students getting stress fractures. All those run throughs and jumping passes in practice are showing up in more places than in consistant programs. Tim, Evan and now Mirai have suffered from the same injury as well as some lower level skaters that he coaches. worrisome indeed.

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  33. I know it is a terrible thing to say but Miki is not good looking enough to pull off a exhibition like that... if sasha or yuna did it it probably made a huge difference because of their model good looks and acting abilities.

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  34. I like hot and cold Mirai. It would be boring if she skated clean every time like Rachael Flatt. When Mirai finally gets that first GP medal, it's going to feel extra sweet!

    It was obvious that her stamina wasn't where it needed to be. Who cares? I'm impressed she even competing on such little training time.

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  35. I didn't even expect Mirai to skate because she just started training after her injury. IMO she did well for just coming off an injury. What trend did Sasha start with spirals? I truly want to know I know Michelle started a trend with the inside out spiral.

    I really like Joannie but I have a feeling Mirai and Joannie would have been closer in the short with the scores and Mirai would have won the long program getting the Olympic bronze if the situation was different. Howevever I'm glad Joannie got the bronze.

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  36. Great analysis of Miki's style -I like her, but you are right, if the better skaters are in top form she just can't compare.

    Look on the bright side - At least this season's LP costume does not have too much bling and fucking EYES on it....

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  37. I was disappointed with Mirai's FS but the truth of the matter is she is coming off of an injury, and a serious one at that. It's asking way too much to expect her to be perfect with significantly less training time. I want to see her do well and medal but she needs time to heal. I expect her to be a lot stronger by nationals. Now, if by chance she makes it through this season performing the same way she did at COC, chances are she will fall into the category of US Headcases, which is presided over by the glorious Ms. Cohen, with Alissa Czisny and Bebe Liang as its senior members. But Mirai has it in her to be great...she just needs time.

    The reason Mirai gets the nod as the best hope for the US is because Rachael has gone about as far as she's going to go. The international judges have all but let her know that the only way she's going to win gold is if someone better completely implodes. Not true? Explain how in the hell Kostner won NHK with nothing but loops and toe loops, all of which were landed badly? Same thing with Alissa back at the 2009 nationals...Rachael does what she does well but that's it. There's no star quality about her and in a sport that is constantly looking for the next best thing, Rachael is a place holder.

    I admire her consistency and her work ethic but I don't ever think she's going to make it to the top of the international scene (ie. world title or Olympic podium) unless everyone in front of her has a disastrous skate.

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  38. I will say that I think Lori Nichol should be slapped and hanged for the SHITACULAR choreography she gave Mirai this season. I'm sorry but these are horrible edits of music and both programs seem really scattered compared to what Mirai had last year. I love her dresses this year (especially her FS; it's beautiful!) but that's about all I like about her programs so far.

    The only bright spot is that I know Lori's known for changing around the choreography a bit as the season progresses. I remember I wasn't crazy about Mirai's SP or FS last year until after nationals so hopefully Lori can rework these into something decent. I expected a longer edit from the Witches of Eastwick soundtrack; just tossing it in for the last 45 seconds of the program leaves the whole thing feeling disjointed. The Memoirs of a Geisha soundtrack had some incredible and lovely pieces to choose from...but again, they've pieced it together in a way that has no meaning, no story whatsoever. Mirai deserves more than that and Lori should be ashamed.

    If these programs don't get any better this season, then next season I hope Mirai takes a page out of Caroline Zhang's book and switches over to David Wilson or Tom Dickson. Lori's best work is definitely behind her but I figured she was capable of much better than the complete garbage she produced this year...

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