Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Four Continents: A Reflection

The Four Continents Championships have come and gone.  It is amazing that there was almost no television coverage of the event to be found.  Back in the day, we couldn't get Susie Wynne and Peter Carruthers off of ESPN if we begged.  We used to see Yoshie Onda and Naomi Lang compete year after year and ask ourselves why on Earth we were watching the event.  I believe those craptacular years are the reason we cannot even get Icenetwork to show the event.  The USFSA must care very little about the event, since they hold Nationals right before and sent a hung-over bunch who are still feeling the after-effects of the competitors' banquet.

"Both Ando and Asada skated impressively and deserved the top two places, although Ando's utter emotionlessness in the free skate was in jarring discord with the romanticism, intensity and passion of her music, Grieg's A Minor Piano Concerto."- Phil Hersh

Miki Ando 'won' the ladies event with the best performances of her career.  That does not mean that they were emotive, enjoyable or engaging by any means.  Miki plopped down her jumps.  There weren't any Triple-Triple combinations, no Triple Flips or even anything memorable.  Morozov must be having affairs with some international judges, as Mao only outscored her on interpretation by 0.04.  This may be a firm example of everything that is wrong with the sport.  The fact the Miki may be Yu-Na's only potential rival for the World Title is disheartening to say the least.  Miki is one of the few skaters who makes me yearn for the reign of Slutskaya.

It seems that Mao Asada has been working her non-existant ass off to prepare for the World Championships.  There was actual choreography in her long program.  Her short program remains an utter mess, as her success relies on her actually rotating jumps.  It appears that spending time on her jump technique is only making them worse.  It causes the viewer to pay even closer attention.  In addition to being inconsistent with regards to rotating the Triple Axel, her Triple Flips, Tripe Toes and Double Loops on the back-end of combos are all chancy.  In the long run, this season will likely help her.  It remains difficult to watch her question each and every jump.  Her Triple Lutz remains a total Triple Bobek.  It is never going to be on the outside edge.  Tarasova likely made the right move by having her focus on that jumps she actually could do.

Mao attempts a Double Axel+Triple Toe in the long and it is just one of those combos where you expect for her feet to get tangled up, her rotation to be slow and her landings to be two-footed and/or slightly under-rotated.  To Mao's credit, her Triple Axel in the long was one of the cleanest and best she's ever done.  It was perfection.  It baffles me that she doesn't attempt a second Triple Loop (in combo), as it is one of her best jumps and could earn her more points.  It is beyond wrong that Mao only receives 0.04 higher for Interpretation than Miki, even if she does rotate between 2-3 facial expressions.  At least she has facial expressions; Miki has yet to master even one.  There are lovely moments in Mao's 'Dreams of Love.'  There is one section where she cuts short a long flowing section at center ice prior to her Double Axel+Triple Toe.  With a little re-choreogreaphing, she could have 5 to 7 seconds more of a real 'moment' and capture the music.  It would keep the program from being generic lyrical Mao.  It is a shame that some of the movements are recycled, as she really interprets the music well and appears to feel it.

Mirai Nagasu had a rough short program with regards to rotating her jumps, but she came back in the long.  It appears that coming from behind works for her.  It enables her to become a fighter, as opposed to a deer caught in the headlights.  Frank's frustration looks like it caused Mirai to practice a few run-throughs and perhaps a few double run-throughs.  There was much greater confidence throughout the entire program.  Mirai looked like she actually remembered the entire program and was even able to sell it.  As a program, it is somewhat unconvincing due to a questionable music edit.  Mirai definitely suffers from similar jump issues as Mao.  They both have long flexible legs and struggle with picking and rotating quickly.  If Mirai can be physically prepared next season, she may have the ability to really work on her technique and the fine-tuning of her programs.  It will take a consistent level of discipline.

Rachael Flatt continued her gold medal-less season at Four Continents.  It appears that Tom Z and Rachael lack a great deal of self-awareness.  In addition to them churning stomachs with her attempted Betty Boop persona, Rachael now attempts a Double Axel+Triple Loop combination.  Let's discuss this.  Rachael has difficulty getting credit for rotating her jumps in general.  Few if any skaters perform Triple Loops on the back-end of combos because they simply aren't credited.  Why would Tom and Rachael ever think this would be a smart move to earn her points?  It is baffling.

Alissa Czisny struggled at Four Continents.  She said that she didn't have enough time to prepare, yet Mirai and Rachael did have the same amount of time.  Hopefully, it is true.  The win at Nationals was very emotional for Alissa and there can be a physical and emotional let down following the competition. She is not a teenager anymore and it may be difficult to pick herself back up.  I always question if the new Alissa is here to stay, but I did see fight on some of her jumps.  Moving forward, I worry that she may have lost confidence at Four Continents.  We can only pray that she believes her own reason for failure, puts it behind her and prepares with assuredness.  If exhaustion was an issue after a busy fall season, it may have been wise to sit out Four Continents.  With Alissa, one never knows what is going to rattle her.

The Ice Dance event remains endlessly curious.  Voir's withdrawal midway through their program was disappointing, but understandable.  My PT friend emphasizes how the favoring one part of your legs may strain another muscle.  It is odd that they were so confident about her quad not being an issue for their appearance at Worlds immediately following their performance.  If it was enough of a concern to pull out, one must wonder which part of the story is bullshit.  Marina, Igor and Scott were all staring at Tessa's shin when they were at the boards.  All athletes downplay (and lie about) injuries, but now that Voir have admitted to doing so---it only makes every further claim dubious.  Many feel they would've kept going had they not botched the early element.  Even if her quad is strained, they likely would've had more energy to push through had they not botched the twizzles badly and put the gold medal out of reach and their reputation in jeopardy.  Ice Dance is all about perception.  Their win in the short dance was a major boost, but narrow and short-lived.  Scott's hot-headed nature was on display as he pushed off of the boards.  They may need more couples counseling after this.

Marlie's win at Four Continents was a no-brainer given the events that transpired, but one can really notice a difference in the expression of their tango.  It is not going to go down as one of their best programs, but it likely will improve their connection and chemistry in future character-driven programs.  It is probably for the best that they had slight mistakes that cost them a few Level 4s, as they will have something to work toward for the World Championships and keeps them on their toes.  It is not going to be easy for an American dance team to win gold at Worlds, but it looks possible.  Their work all season should result in them pulling off a victory.  Voir just haven't had the training time or competition seasoning to perfect and guarantee that all of their levels are in place.  I anticipate their performance to be somewhat similar to their effort at the 2009 World Championships.

The Shibutanis continue to ascend the international ranks of ice dance.  Their free dance is responsible for their climb.  Going forward, they will need more difficult transitions.  As Tracy Wilson pointed out, the elements are strong but the overall program could be more challenging.

Daisuke Takahashi's short program was an utter treat.  Hopefully the entire competition at Worlds will be up to that level, because the men did not bring their A-Games to Four Continents.  Kozuka lacked the consistency he had earlier this season, but did improve his standing in the long.  Hanyu put together a solid effort and proved he is one to be reckoned with in the future.

Jeremy Abbott's bronze medal was an accomplishment, but is mostly disappointing.  When Abbott is at his best, he typically achieves great results.  We must admire that he went for the quad, but the confidence just wasn't there.  He will definitely need to master the prove in order to be a dominant force internationally.  Due to attempting the quad, Jeremy's jump layout was different and he wound up not completing that many clean triple jumps.  His lutz looks inconsistent, as it has given him trouble in each of his last four competitive programs.  I'd still send him to Worlds, but he didn't make an undeniable argument.  Hopefully he'll get his shot to create a real moment at the World Team Trophy.

Adam Rippon did not make a compelling case for deserving a sport on the World Team with his performance.  His Triple Axel was nowhere to be found.  The problem on the jump looks to be mostly mental.  When Adam approaches the jump, he becomes visibly tentative and looks like he waits during his approach.  He often fails to go after a proper lean in the air, is straight up and down for most of the jump and then predictably falls backwards...turning out of or falling on the jump.  He should be capable of fixing it and becoming consistent, but he will certainly need to get over the mental hurdle.  His Triple Flip+Triple Toe has been rife with under-rotation calls at times and it certainly was an issue this past weekend.   Adam looked to have made strides this season until Four Continents.  It just makes one wonder if he peaked far too early by over-training this summer.  He began the season with such confidence and consistency.  It is important that he puts out a strong effort at the World Team Trophy if called upon to compete.  His career is at a cross roads.

As for pairs...Mark Ladwig's boot drama was the only real surprise.  The Americans failed to medal, which is far from surprising.  Pang and Tong are primed for a good finish at Worlds, but it will be a real battle between Pang and Tong, Kavaguti and Smirnov and Volosozhar and Trankov for the silver and bronze medals.  The gold is Savchenko and Szolkowy's to win or lose.

Bring on Tokyo!


  1. "We used to see Yoshie Onda and Naomi Lang compete year after year and ask ourselves why on Earth we were watching the event."

    Indeed, and this was the same international event in which Amber Corwin was a medal contender. (And did.)

  2. "Let's discuss this. Rachael has difficulty getting credit for rotating her jumps in general."

    Seriously, the moment I read she'd planned that combination, I laughed out loud. She doesn't always get credit for a 2A-3T, why make the combination MORE difficult?? Rachael's edge jumps aren't her strongest, either, so it makes even LESS sense to change the combination. I thinks he did a decent job of reeling in her SP footwork sequence, but I still loathe both of her programs.

    Also, can we discuss Miki Ando's grade of execution marks? I mean, a clean performance is nice, but let's not get carried away. Goodness, if Ando wins Worlds this year, I give up on life.

    Also, this might be unpopular, but I just don't see Voir going to Worlds. They claimed that the only reason they didn't compete at Nationals was because their programs weren't perfect, but I don't buy that. Especially based on what we saw at 4CC. If they couldn't show up at Nationals and collect their title, if they couldn't fight through a program... Tessa's injury is likely much worse than they're letting on.

    I hope I'm wrong, though. I'd really love to see them compete at Worlds -- their free dance looks like it'll be awesome. But, I just don't see it happening.

    Final thought: it blows my mind that Phil Hersh gets paid to write about figure skating.

  3. I'm wondering how the current US world mens team would have fared in Taipei. It's probably for the better they were not sent. Let's stay delusional reg their chances a bit longer.

  4. No I don't get why Ando's pcs scores are similar to Mao, Mirai or Alissa. I think Mao performed her jumps well enough imo to beat Miki's long program. I do still like Miki for reasons that have nothing to do with her skating so I do root for her to do well. However I rather watch Miki over Irina any day. I could never get passed Irina's speeding skating and legs. One of the reason that I can't really be an Agnes fan.

  5. Love that spiral at the end of Mao's program. She comes close to Alissa in the elegance department.

  6. Perhaps Mirai was helped by the fact that Frank Caroll wasn't there to add the unnecessary pressure.
    As for Miki, I'm not a fan of her skating either, (a matter of preference, really), but don't see any reason to cut her down like some of you do. Much easier to enjoy the sport knowing and accepting that all sorts of 'skating styles' exist, (regardless of whether you like them or not) than going GAH-GAH everytime someone not your favorite medals.
    As for Alissa, at least she didn't break down COMPLETELY after her 1st failed jump in the long. Remember how THAT would've made her an utter failure before? IMO, that shows she's finally getting there mentally.

  7. I noticed before they begin skating (at :10) Tessa kicks her left leg a few times as if trying to work out a cramp.

  8. The reception of Shibutanis' "Smile" program reminds me of Torvill & Dean's "Let's Face The Music and Dance" c. 1994: effortless, underappreciated nuance.

  9. I appreciate your insights and agree about what you said about Flatt. I just don't get her and Tom's reasoning. We all knew the lutz-loop combo wasn't going to happen, why will the axel-loop? The axel is probably her smallest jump. I also agree with your PCS comments between Miki and Mao - Miki's expression didn't change once throughout the program, and she didn't even smile after she skated a clean program? It will be interesting to see if she will be scored like that at worlds with Yuna back and Mao back to peak form.

  10. Looking ahead Aunt Joyce, who do you think is going to attempt a Black Swan/White Swan Soundtrack interpretation next season? I'm hoping Alissa Czisny does, she'd make a compelling bulimic megalomaniac on the ice. She also has the best taste in costumes, since Michelle Kwan.

  11. I don't think Alissa has it in her to portray a black swan.

  12. Alissa would have the same problem as Natalie Portman...she could only portray the white swan. I'm not sure that I could handle Alissa killing anyone.

  13. Does the USFSA even care about Worlds? We'll need a small miracle to get Miner in the top 10.

  14. The USFSA would hold Nationals earlier if NBC football coverage didn't dictate when Nationals had to be. They definitely seem to care about 4CC, and the lack of US TV coverage remains puzzling. Luckily, foreign TV coverage was absolutely excellent (if you have a PC). I watched just about the entire competition.

  15. I agree with @3:35 about liking Miki for reasons unrelated to her skating. I am always so torn. On the one hand, I really cannot stand her skating. And on the other hand, she's such a kind person and I really do want the good for her.

    Ultimately, the former wins out. I hope Yuna owns Worlds.

  16. I don't MIND Ando's skating so much as I am baffled as to how high her GOE were. She isn't skating all that differently this year yet her marks are all higher than last year. Last year at the Olympics and Worlds where she had a clean LP her GOE was about 5 to 8 in total. Suddenly at 4CCs here she gets 14?!

    And she has always been overscored on PCS. Sure she skates solidly, but there is never any complexity to her patterns or change in directions to warrant SS score above 7. And let's not begin on TR, CH and IN. The only component I can give her above 7 is PE but still not that high. In general she does not deserve PCS over 56 in a long. She certainly deserved to be beaten by Asada AND Nagasu in the long if not overall as well.

    If only they made 4CCs a decider between Flatt and Nagasu for that second spot. I knew Nagasu would nail it and Flatt would continue to uninspire.

    Bummed that Suzuki jsut fell off the map like that.

  17. I don't understand why Voir didn't take more time off in general. Like the season. Don't push it. Heal. Unless that shin is eternally messed and this is as good as it gets? In which case, they should be glad they had last season. Eeep. And I'm officially tired of Scott's personality.

    Daisuke has sexual heat *in* his performances, which is something PChiddy will never have...and for which I am grateful.

    Ando appears to skate with the expression of "My dog just died", not exactly expressionless...

  18. Even if Voir were healthy, you can really see how the gap is closing ever so much between them and Marlie. They only won the SD because Meryl botched her twizzles, and their samba, while it looks entertaining, doesn't feel entirely natural for them the way the tango didn't feel natural for Marlie. Plus, Marlie has more genuine expression.

  19. The sport is clearly taking a nice downward spiral, increasingly becoming a cheesefest beauty contest run and sponsored by Japanese corporations that dominate the boards surrounding the rinks and the broadcasting rooms. This 4CC, especially the ladies scoring, was a vivid proof of that.

    ISU ice skating division, which boasts 100 years of history and many cherishable memories, just became JSF's dear bitch, period.

  20. Well, what are they gonna do. They need the money to run, right? sigh.

  21. I know they tinkered with scoring system so maybe that might account for higher scores for Ando. Maybe they shouldn't be as high but some things count for more and she puts mostly all her jumps in the 2nd half. Just guessing.

  22. I totally agree with Feb 23 @10:10. Daisuke Takahashi absolutely owns the performance and interpretation parts of PCS (imo he doesn't get the scores he deserves in those sections). The tension, sensuality, and expression in his body movements are second to none. He listens to the music. PChan just skates through it on a pretty edge.

  23. I don't think Miki's interpretation is much worse than Mao's to be honest. Both are rather reserved.