Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Skate America: The Pairs

I apologize for this delay. The drive back from Skate America wore me out (as did the lack of sleep) but the pairs definitely brought me back. I haven't been a fan of pairs for a few years other than a few select performances. I found that the extension, artistry, passion and intention was missing. It is definitely a discipline that needs to be seen in person to be properly appreciated, but it has lost its way. There were brights spots and there were dirty spots. It also became quite clear why the American skaters simply aren't competitive with the rest of world.

Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski displayed temporary promise when they won the Indy Pairs Challenge over the summer. Unfortunately, this pair just doesn't have 'it.' Their lack of fight is obvious in competition. There is no attack from either of them and if both of them ever landed SBS triple salchows cleanly, it would be nothing short of a miracle. She'd fall in warm up while he'd hit one. Then she would double and he'd fall. Then she'd do a triple and he'd pop. The opening up on their throw triple flip was also telling. It is obvious that they are coming back from injuries and lost time, but their current lack of training is also apparent. To be blunt, they skate at Zhang speed. No, not THE Zhangs (they only wish), I mean Caroline Zhang. While their short program has some fun flirtatious moments that display good chemistry between them, their free skate to Claire de Lune is far too soft and only enhances their lack of attack and fight. Watching them in competition, one wants to stand at the boards in a fur and scream at them like a crazed Russian coach. PUSH. STROKE. MORE! MORE! They give off a quality similar to Angela Nikodinov in 2000---their career is so lost and in desperate need of direction. It is as though there are two Todd Sands skating together when it comes to the jumps and throws. I'm actually feeling sluggish and tired just thinking about them.

Question: Is it positive GOE when both skaters open their triple salchows at two and a half rotations? It should be. They had perfect unison in the short program.

Another Question: Why don't any Americans go for SBS Triple Toes? It is not worth as much, but edge jumps are far more difficult to time together without fucking up the technique. Shen and Zhao aren't even going for SBS Triple Salchows. If Shen and Zhao aren't going for them.... Landing SBS 2 Axels would be an accomplishment for this team at this point. Maybe even double flips.

Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig dress in somewhat off-the-rack costumes and their programs are pretty much the same. They are decent skaters who deliver far more than Castile and Okolski, but their programs and skating appear to have little intention. Their Piano Concerto No. 2 just kinda 'is' and you begin to wish that you were indeed watch Mishutenok and Dmitriev or Sasha Cohen. They are a pleasant pair and definitely pleasant to look at, but they are just not in the same league as pairs who compete at the World Championships.

Speaking of out of their league, it is a crime that Kemp and King are going to the Olympics over the seventh or eigth best Chinese or Russian pair. He's cute, she's um..not and she leg wraps like a mofo. It makes Nakano's wrap look like nothing. I'll never get used to pairs skating to Linkin Park (my how the times have changed) and I can't believe how weak the pairs field has actually become under the international judging system. They're bad in a way that Karen Courtland and Todd Reynolds were bad. Their footwork makes me seriously wonder if they'd be able to pass the gold moves in the field test. I know I should root for them because they train in Poland and all, but I literally see absolutely no hope for this team. One can see why their country hasn't sent a pair to the Olympics in sixteen years.

It is easy to see why Keauna and Rockne are National Champions. The potential to be an Ina and Zimmerman-caliber pair is obvious. Switching to John Nicks was a brilliant move but you really have to wonder what will happen to them after this season. Tai Babilonia, their mentor, convinced Mr. Nicks to take them on and is a strong advocate for sticking with your partner through rough seasons. This pair continues to grow together each season and are finally starting to look like a unit. Mr. Nicks has polished and packaged them brilliantly. "Unchained Melody" and the "Cirque/Slumdog Millionaire" programs feature inventive choreography by Sarah Kawahara. The programs are actual interesting to the viewer, which is unique on the international level and absolutely stands out domestically. Given their relocation to southern California, I'd like to advocate that they spend time with Rafael Arutunian refining their jump technique. Rockne Brubaker is hot as shit---as a person and a skater. Keauna does not have her jumps together and is holding them back. There are plenty of girls who would love to skate with Rockne and one can sense that Keauna is aware of this. The confidence on her jumps just isn't there. After a popped SBS Triple Salchow in the short, their SBS Triple Salchow+Double Toe combo was impressive. They almost had the double axels as well, but she turned out. She also got lost in the air on the throw triple salchow and opened up early in Yu-Na Kim fashion. The throw triple loop was good but two-footed. This team needs to stay the course and continue the effort they have obviously put into their skating since their dismal showing at the World Championships. They have great unison, greats lifts, a great split triple lutz twist, and are now with a true coaching master, which the American pairs desperately need to get to the next level.

The Zhangs are obvious tricksters. Their style leaves much to be desired. Her extension is beyond hideous and is one of the reasons I've hated pairs skating over the last eight years. Their lift positions are shockingly bad. All of the height in the world on the throws and twist cannot make me like this pair. Like Pang and Kavaguchi, she is so thin that it is scary. Funny story: we were talking to a male competitor at a restaurant on Saturday night and he told a story about one of the top Chinese pairs eating in the commissary at a Grand Prix event. When they got up, they left behind a bottle that wound up reading "To lose X kilos, take X number of pills every two hours." It is straight up 1986 in the USSR. Apparently one of the federations took the bottle as evidence.

Duhamel and Buntin: All that stands out to me is that they never should've even gone for the program. She obviously injured herself during warmup and appeared hurt and shaken. Not exactly safe when throws are involved. The fall on the throw was not surprising at all and her head really whacked that ice. She came off the ice saying something was numb. I couldn't believe he was even skating back and forth to the ref because it was obvious to anyone with a degree of sanity that they should not continue the program (the way it is obvious that Kavaguchi is going to be the next Elena Mukhina if she keeps doing the throw quad salchow.)

Volosozhar and Morozov are strong in a Soviet pair kinda way, but she is better than him by a mile. WestPalmBitch is convinced that Aliona Savchenko was cloned and I tend to agree. Elena Tchaikovskaia agrees that she is far better than he is. The revered coach was overhead saying far bitchier things than I was saying and our new skatenastics girls heard her say "He can't even walk. Why do they let him skate?!"

Shen and Zhao- They are simply amazing. There is nothing else to say. Seeing their short program was well worth the ticket I received on the way to Lake Placid. They're amazing and delivered a Yu-Na Kim style performance and are my obvious favorite for gold in Vancouver. Time spent in the professional ranks has given them even more of a performance quality. You can't believe they are the same team who competed in Nagano. I may be alone here, but I am absolutely obsessed with their violin rendition of ''Who Wants To Live Forever." It really fills up an ice arena and is voidy in a Masha skating to Sarah Brightman kinda way. Their two insignificant errors in the long can easily be fixed and should prevent them from peaking too soon. The Germans may have more difficulty, but they are going to win based on GOE and PCS. No one has their level of quality. This comeback is very G+G '94 and I pray that they achieve the same end result.

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