Saturday, April 7, 2012
The 2012 World Figure Skating Championships Recap
The 2012 World Championships in Nice were a moderately successful event. It is baffling that an arena on the gorgeous French Riviera is so lacking in bathrooms for crowds and uncomfortably warm for the skaters. Things haven't changed much with the arena since the Worlds were last bestowed upon the flamboyant French people, but the sport has certainly taken a nose dive in popularity and prize money. Seeing so many empty seats in the arena during the short programs was another indication that despite the push for a 'more objective' judging system by obsessive compulsive purveyors of the sport, audiences are increasingly bored and alienated. In order to create interest in a sport, there needs to be media interest. Skating used to be a wonderful sport to write about because it was easy. Athletes landed jumps, got marks from judges from countries and were given ordinals. "It rained 6.0s" was something easy for sports editors to employ and attention-grabbing for readers. No one can keep track of what a 200 or 210 means in the sport anymore, especially when the scores have no correlation from year to year. Yu-Na Kim's scores in Vancouver are utterly meaningless, as elements come and go, jump values change and the sport remains a tragic joke.
While they are going on, the World Championships have a way of being dramatic and seeming vitally important. Looking back, there are some things to take away from the event.
1. The Germans won a fourth world title with one of the most interesting free skates. Savchenko and Szolkowy began the season with a program that half-worked, but it grew over the course of the year. Unfortunately, their victory was marred by sloppy mistakes. Training the throw triple axel caused Aliona to suffer a groin injury. Their spins (both pair and side-by-side) were visibly hampered and that throw triple axel was never as good as intended. Being a ferocious, scary competitor, Aliona landed her jumps, but Robin could not. We can always blame his gorgeous large rump for his mistakes. Lord knows Aliona will be blaming him for almost costing them the event.
2. Volosozhar and Trankov do not have the chemistry or choreography of the Germans, but they do have impeccable lines, wonderful unison and an ability to lay down clean long programs at the end of the season. If not for a fluke mistake on a death spiral, the Russians would be the victors. It may be a blessing in disguise, as last year they came on strong, this year they provided the scare as chief challengers and next year they are certainly set up to win. This pairs rivalry is one to pay attention to. We need to dig up more about the Ukrainian twins who have shared partners and coaches along the way.
3. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir reclaimed their position as the best ice dancers in the world. Purists adore this team, while others push for Marlie's more innovative programs. Whichever way you fall on the spectrum, it is clear that Team Canton made itself a giant target by experiencing too much success last season. The European coaches, commentators and judges made it a mission to cut down the Shibutanis whenever possible after their bronze-medal-by-mistake at last year's World Championships. They were the easiest team to drop and the judges seemingly had a field day with Alex's twizzle errors in both programs. While much of the rhetoric was from coaches/commentators like Sasha Zhulin saying he understood why the top teams were ahead, the Shibs were juniorish. Things changed at Worlds when Marlie's lead over the rest of the field was cut down to size. This is notable, as there is a big push for Ilynikh and Katsalapov going on. They may have the lines and beauty of Usova and Zhulin, but they have yet to master the skating skills. If there is a team that was ever in need of two brilliant programs to keep ahead in the ice dance world, it's Meryl Davis and Charlie White, as they are the next team to be attacked before Sochi. Marina Zueva and Igor Shpilband need another Bollywood-type moment to reignite the buzz for this team. The traditional romantic route isn't going to even pan out to Tessa and Scott levels.
4. Mao Asada needs a change. It has been years since we've seen a happy Mao, but it is hard to see her struggle with confidence and consistency. Changing her jumping technique only changed her level of belief in herself, as her ability to rotate or do a true lutz has not improved in the past two seasons. While the Satos are venerable coaches, they don't exactly have a track record of coaching World Champions. Yuka went to Canada to train when she ascended to the top of the sport. It is imperative that Mao, who was recently left off the team for the World Team Trophy, find her fire and confidence before she falls to Fumie-Suguri-levels of obscurity.
5. Carolina Kostner finally pulled off a victory at Worlds with the season of her life. Whether or not she will continue next season is anyone's guess. Like Jeff Buttle, I don't exactly see her situation repeating itself. Ottavio must be breathing a sigh of relief that all of his politicking has finally worked. He has spent eleven years trying to maneuver another gold for Italy and the stars finally aligned. Now would be a perfect time for him to retire...
Kostner's programs remain the best work Lori Nichol has done in over a decade. Positively brilliant.
6. Patrick Chan's boo-infested victory has been a long time coming. Patrick seemingly peaked at Canadian Nationals and was back to his sloppy, unfocused ways in Nice. By being overscored in both programs, his victory is easier to defend for Canadian commentators and supporters. Should the situation repeat itself in Sochi, Skate Canada will be on the other side of a political firestorm. It is amazing that the scoring systems may change, but shoddy politics are forever. Skate Canada, the official ass-kisser of the ISU, has their entire skating establishment on board supporting this victory. Back in the days of Plushenko and Yagudin, a champion couldn't land two quads and then proceed to defecate on the ice for the rest of their performance. A waxel would be deadly. Daisuke Takahashi can find solace that being the people's champion is oft better than being the one with the medal. Just ask Janet Lynn and Trixi Schuba.
7. It is clear that the American men present in Nice are incapable of ever competing on this level. It is a shame that two of the sport's greatest artists are irrelevant, but it is true, Watching the final flight, it was obvious that the judges just want semi-masculine men to skate with power and speed and land big jumps. They don't care about innovative choreography, wonderful line, Rippon-lutzes or gorgeous extension. Performing a program for the third time at a World Championships didn't hinder Brian Joubert's results. Neither did a lack of components or skating skills. The judges don't care, especially if you're European. If judges believe that you will be consistent, there is somewhat of a boost that will eventually find its way into your scores. Adam and Jeremy lack consistency, especially with the big jumps. Jeremy's biggest issue is his 'deer-in-the-headlights' stare at the beginning of his programs. It is a sorry situation. Jeremy often gives sound bytes about wanting to claim his rightful position in the sport, but then he makes the outdated decision to leave out the quad in the short program. If Jeremy Abbott ever wants to compete, he needs to make the quad just another element in both programs and do it all season. He needs a Quad Toe+Triple Toe in the short and two quads in the long if he has any prayer of contending with the likes of Chan, Takahashi or Hanyu. Hitting at least one quad could help with whatever mistakes he makes later on in the program and provide a buffer that he's currently missing. It has been two years since Vancouver, yet it doesn't appear that Abbott has made much progress with his technical content or mental game.
Adam Rippon may just be the most wonderful stylist since John Curry, yet his skating lacks the power and masculinity seen of the top competitors. The lack of power makes his Triple Axels a bit unimpressive, even when landed, as we've seen more impressive jumping passes from Tonya Harding and Midori Ito. It is a shame that Adam is buried in the penultimate group, yet it is a fact that is unlikely to change between now and Sochi. That said, it remains criminal that his Rippon Lutz is not listed as a separate jump in terms of base value.
8. Alissa Czisny's woes are difficult to watch. The skater mentioned coming back next season, yet one needs to wonder when her parents will say 'enough is enough.' A history of second place finishes has been known to torment competitors later in life. One needs to wonder the effects (and the true causes) of Alissa's downward spiral this year. Ever since she held onto a tentative victory at Skate America, Alissa's confidence, consistency and soul have evaporated on the ice. It is interesting to see the 'blame the coaches' mentality on twitter, when they were just praising the coaches two months back for a strong showing at the U.S. National Championships. If Alissa was too injured to compete at the Grand Prix Final, having her go out and bomb was a questionable decision for a girl easily-shaken by the pressure of remaining on top of the skating world. It is beyond heartbreaking that such a beautiful, talented and graceful young woman is continually burnt by the heat of the competitive skating world.
9. Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernandez have bright futures. If anyone is going to challenge Chan artistically and technically, it looks to be these two. Both are capable of powerful quads and beautiful artistry. Competitive consistency is the only hurdle left to overcome between now and the Olympics.
10. Weaver and Poje's free dance remains the most wonderful program of the season. Krylova and I cry every time we view such majestic skating.