Monday, December 10, 2012
Grand Prix Final: Skate With Dusha
This year's Grand Prix Final was a victory for Daisuke Takahashi and all of those who skate with soul. While Patrick Chan told the media (correctly) that no one remembers who wins the Grand Prix Final, it was an important statement for Takahashi, the judges and Chan's current status.
While Takahashi was far from clean, the judges rewarded his superior interpretation of the music. Watching Daisuke skate, his movement comes from within in a way that the movements of his competitors simply do not. He is a skater at the maximum of his ability and his days at the top of the sport may truly be numbered, but it is still a complete joy to watch him perform. It is his very manner of skating that will keep him employed in skating shows long after most of his jumping rivals have rivaled and disappeared, as many of the great technicians often do.
Yuzuru Hanyu is a skater on the verge of being a technician and an artist, but the young teenager is still struggling to put it all together every time he steps out on the ice. From training with Orser, it is clean that Yuzuru trains his programs very often. While he does make mistakes, he is able to pull his focus back together and finish his program. This is something that Yu-Na Kim, who skated her first clean long ever at the Olympic Games, was often able to do throughout her career. Hanyu's ability to execute difficult elements in the second half with quality has to be alarming to his many challengers.
Many were excited to see the Japanese men finish first and second on the podium, but there was a great debate over who deserved the bronze. The pedestrian way of judging skating is to count jumps and declare the victor. With that logic, Javier Fernandez deserved to win the bronze medal on the basis of his three quads. Shockingly, I agree with the judges giving the slight edge in this instance. Fernandez is skating a derivative Charlie Chaplin program that has been done countless times before (and countless times has been done better.) Fernandez has a history of portraying characters on the ice after spending time training under Nikolai Morozov. In many ways, his level of sophistication is a novice man skating among seniors compared to the other men in the Grand Prix Final. The 'Mask of Zorro' and 'Charlie Chaplin' are Bobekian in sophistication compared to the likes of Takahashi, Hanyu and Chan. It is all flash and no substance. Javier, rumored to be a heavy smoker and lazy skater when under Morozov, is clearly working his tail off in Toronto and his added consistency is proof that training alongside Yuzuru Hanyu is making the most out of him as a skater.
As referenced yesterday, Peggy Fleming always says that skating is a revealing sport. We get a glimpse into the soul of the artist. Perhaps we have been looking into Patrick Chan's soul all these years and perhaps it was merely ugly? A few years ago, I took great exception with Patrick being considered a great artist or interpreter of skating by the Canadian skating mafia simply based on his mastery of edges and skating skills. While the boy may skate beautiful figures, I did not see any true interpretation of the music from within. His Phantom of the Opera program left me cold. Last year, Patrick began to show signs of 'feeling the music' when performing to Aranjuez. At times it looked like he was beginning to truly hear music for the first time, yet it was difficult to tell as the large swelling music has a way of carrying skaters to greater levels of presentation than they would achieve with more nuanced, less obvious classical music. This year, he is not stumbling around like a boozehound in his sport and is approaching levels of true artistry. True to his nature, there are times when Patrick approaches attaining artistry like a studied athlete. He has a way of leaning to a outside edge and stretching his head, arms and free leg in the opposite way to the crescendo of music in order to come alive. There are moments in La Boheme when he leans backwards on one skate with the rest of his body outstretched. The way we know it is more studied than genuine is when he clearly misses the moment in the music when it is meant to occur. Overall, one has to appreciate the attention Chan is giving his presentation. In time, he may be worthy of his components scores. Though his jumps are currently not as consistent as last season, they still appear fixable. Though he is down, he may not be out for good. A few losses this season could get him begging Krall to take him back, which would be dangerous for his rivals next season. While the judges are no longer rewarding him with gold medals for sloppy programs, they were right to reward him for being a far superior skater to the entertaining Spaniard.
On the pairs front, Volosozhar and Trankov skated a 'blinder' (British Eurosport phrase of the season) of a short program, yet crumbled in the long. Trankov suffered two alarming falls where his edge simply gave out. Though they have struggled with skating two clean programs this season, there may be actually something wrong with his skate. His outside edge failed him in a way we've never seen before. Though their win is controversial, they did show that they are making progress toward contending for a World Championship.
I adore the beauty of Bazarova and Larionov too much to watch her jumps in slow motion to determine whether or not they were truly robbed of a gold medal.
Absent from the Grand Prix Final, Savchenko and Szolkowy competed in Germany at the NRW Trophy and appeared slower and sloppier than their mistake-ridden Russian rivals. They may be consistent, but it is clear their material this season is sub standard. Their side by side triple salchows are simply not happening. It is time to change strategy and go for solid double axels and positive GOE.
This weekend served as a midpoint of the season, but it is also a changing of the guard in many ways as Sochi approaches. With many veterans struggling to retain their grasp on the sport, the emerging generation is not letting up. The technical standard is being raised to new heights, but the judges have made a point of stating that artistry still matters. The great skate debate lives on.
(Please note that Elvis' Dragon Pants authored the short program review of the men---Aunt Joyce has not switched brains in the interim.)