Sunday, 2 November 2014

2014 Skate Canada International


The second stop on the yellow brick road to the ISU Grand Prix Final in Barcelona was Skate Canada International, right here in Canada, where we don't say "eh" half as much as people think we do (or in my case, at all), most us have never seen an igloo let alone lived in one and figure skating has remained immensely popular for well over a century. I'll start things off with a little disclaimer. Please keep in mind with all the "coverage" of any competition on Skate Guard as always I'll post videos of some of the most standout performances. Many of them might be geoblocked in your country, and for that I apologize. Around the time of major competitions, videos go up every minute and come down and get geoblocked just as fast. If you're unable to watch videos in your country, I've got some great advice for you. Go to YouTube, and under your search settings you can select 'Upload Date'. If you type in keywords for the competition or skater you want to see, you can narrow it down to 'Today' or 'This Week' and usually find just what you're looking for in minutes! And now, on to the event at hand...

The skating in Kelowna was for the most part absolutely EXCEPTIONAL. After the odd 'senior B' international competition, this was the first big outing in front of a sizable audience for the majority of these skaters and they certainly did not disappoint. Before I get to my own thoughts I want to share some of Danielle Earl's. Danielle is a wonderful skating photographer and fan who was in BC for the event. On day one, Danielle commented that she "loved Veronik and Julianne and loved Maddie and Max, Meg and Eric and was impressed with the debut of Kirsten & Mike." She also loved Stephen Carriere and Adam Rippon's performances despite Adam's rough skate in the short program. She also commented on how much she enjoyed the short dances of Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gaszi "because it was a super outside of the box paso".


With the ultimate double whammy of overused skating music choices of "Carmen" and "Phantom Of The Opera", Japan's Takahito Mura had me upset before I even watched him skate. There's a lot to like about his skating... good jump technique, power and speed, but the reigning Four Continents Champion just lost me with these program choices and sleepy choreography. Although his jumps were anything but average, I just felt like boxes were being checked when I watched both of these programs... which is a real shame considering he really is a very fine skater... his clean free skate featured two quads, two triple axels and five other triples. Like it or lump it, Mura's win and score of 255.81 well rewarded his technical excellence.


Let's talk about Javier Fernandez. His short program to "Black Betty" was entertainment and athleticism perfectly coupled. With a music choice like that and a couple of stopping and posing sections, it would be very easy for skating purists to dismiss a program like this easily... BUT when you land the quad, triple/triple and triple axel and top it off with showmanship and footwork that is nuanced and well edged enough that the IJS structure of it is forgivable and even musically plausible, you win me over, that's for sure. A score of 86.36 set him up well for the free skate but after missing all three quad attempts in his free skate, he unravelled a bit and conceded the title. Fernandez settled for silver and a score of 244.87, ten points back of Mura.


Max Aaron... had some great moments technically but I gotta be honest... "Footloose" doesn't work for me at all. Max has long been criticized for the presentation side of things and I'm pleased to say he really made me eat a little bit of crow when he stepped things up a notch last year. This year, the free skate choreography is suited to his skating style (and two triple axels and a quad are nothing to scoff at) but the short program just doesn't seem to pull him out of his shell enough for a steppy piece of music like that. If you're going to take music like that, you've got to be able to work it out like someone would if they were skating to... I don't know... "Proud Mary". That said, I get that it's not easy doing three triples and a quad in as few minutes, but with such depth in the men's field as there is right now, this short program is going to need some serious attention paid to projecting to the audience and selling the choreography if it's going to be kept. All of this said, a bronze medal and score of 231.77 was a strong result for Aaron.


I was REALLY happy to see Stephen Carriere pull off such a strong result at this event. I'm a big fan of his skating and although he wasn't perfect in this event, he was showing a nice clean quad in his free skate and a quiet confidence that we didn't see from him last season. Carriere finished fourth in both segments of the event and fourth overall with a score of 231.67.


I have a lot of respect for Konstantin Menshov. A "late bloomer" by skating standards, Menshov has soldiered on and stuck with skating despite a deep field of Russian men and never looked long in the tooth for a minute. He reminds me a TAD of Alexei Yagudin, his spins are well centered, his short program music is fantastic and when he does land a quad, you're like "giiiiirl... that was a GOOD one!" The only thing about Menshov is that he also kind of reminds me of Laetitia Hubert, who I just loved but yelled at the television set over more than once. There's a very hit and miss thing going on when it comes to the jumps and I would really just love to see him continue to find success this season. As compared to the rest of the crop of Russian men, he's certainly the most inspired. Menshov finished fifth with a score of 225.03.


With Elladj Balde suffering a concussion and being forced to withdraw last minute, Canada's hopes in the men's event rested on Andrei Rogozine and Liam Firus, both fine skaters but also both placed in a VERY deep field. Liam landed six triples and Andrei landed five in the free skate so despite their bottom rung results, neither skater can walk away from this competition thinking they didn't put in a strong and admirable effort.


Anna Pogorilaya is a very dangerous name if you're a Russian young lady hoping to make this season your breakout one. She might not have the flashy star power of some of her rivals but she's got a seemingly effortless triple lutz/triple toe, nice quality to her spins and a certain understated elegance that defies her sixteen years. I see a little of Maria Butyrskaya in her as well. With lots of positives and very few negatives, I don't want to say "her future is bright" because like Nam Nguyen in the men's event at Skate America, I think her time is now. With a flawless short program and a free skate that featured seven triples (two of them lutzes), she cleaned up at this event and won with a convincing score of 191.81.


Ashley Wagner... how I LOVED it that she went out and skated so brilliantly in this competition. Her skating is adult, mature, sophisticated, fresh and exciting. I saw her skate in Stars On Ice two years ago. Our seats were in the front row right on the ice and what impressed me even more than the gorgeous triple loop she landed literally right in front of me was the twinkle in her eye. There's something so human and so exciting about the way Ashley skates that makes you take notice. This was my first time seeing her "Spartacus" short program and with a nice triple flip/triple toe, triple loop and double axel there was as much to love technically as there was stylistically. Her free skate might not have been perfect but it was pretty damn close and she didn't let up on those jumps one bit. Her total competition score of 186.00 was well ahead of the scores of any of the U.S. ladies competing at Skate America and if Ashley keeps skating like this, she's going to be tough to beat.


In the absence of skaters like Mao Asada, Akiko Suzuki and Miki Ando, one could easily think that the cup of Japanese ladies skating was no longer runneth over. Not so. Satoko Miyahara has stepped in to fill that void and done so marvelously. I'm one of these people who can spot a junior in a senior event a mile away and unlike many of those skaters who really struggle in making the transition from the junior to the senior ranks convincingly, this absolutely isn't the case with Miyahara. For a teenager, she's got this very Michelle Kwan-esque quiet command of the ice and for the most part, she's getting all of the way around on the triples. Her bronze medal at this event with a score of 181.75 tells me that her name is one we are going to be hearing a lot of this season. No doubt!


I make no secret of my admiration of Alena Leonova. Despite missing a trip to the Sochi Olympics last season, her performances last season were anything but poor and this season, she's got that delightful "Chaplin" short program and a nicely contrasting tango free skate to "Asi se baila el Tango" and "Otono Porteno". Alena has always been kind of typecast as a short program skater and again, here she performed very well in the short although she got dinged on spins. After going for the triple flip/triple toe at the beginning of her free skate, things unfortunately unravelled for her bigtime in the free skate, where she only managed one clean triple. I don't think it's back to the drawing board at all though... I think this was a bad skate and the motivation she may need to push even harder to contend with the deep field of Russian dynamos. Her score of 164.15 dropped her from third after the short program down to sixth.


With Kaetlyn Osmond rebounding from a serious injury (to say the least), Canada's hopes in this event rested on Alaine Chartrand, Julianne Seguin and Veronik Mallet. While Seguin didn't fare as well as Chartrand and Mallet, the Canadian ladies made their cases as to why they may each be medal contenders at the Canadian Nationals... and I for one am actually really quite excited about the ladies event in Kingston this year. We're starting to get some very real depth in our ladies field and that's no joke. This is not 1995 anymore... times have changed. Chartrand finished seventh, Mallet tenth and Seguin in twelfth.


I don't have a lot to say about the pairs event other than gushing about Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. Before this event even started, they already had some strong performances under their belt in early season competitions such as the Skate Canada Autumn Classic and their introduction of the throw quad salchow to their already insane technical repertoire has been serving notice to their competitors that they are going to be a very tough team to beat this season. After a clean short program to "Un peu plus haut" by Ginette Reno, the duo who train in Quebec with Julie Marcotte showed great fight in their free skate, going after and stepping out of the throw quad salchow and landing side by side triple lutzes though making a couple little bobbles. That said, it was a GREAT free skate and a great start to the Grand Prix for this team. Their score of 210.74 kept them way ahead of silver medallists Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China and bronze medallists Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia.


This was my first time watching the new partnership of Kristen Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro and I was quite pleasantly surprised as to how well they work together. The triple twist looked good and I think some of the little things I noticed like the death spiral for instance are going to come together quickly for them. For their first competition together, this was a lot better than most and I think their program choices should serve them well. I'm excited to see how their their skating progresses looking forward to Nationals in Kingston.


I thought Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje looked very on point in this event. In winning the short dance with a score of 68.61 (almost ten points higher than their closest rivals), they took a traditional approach to the paso doble - right down to the costumes - and interpreted the music beautifully with excellent unison, clean edges and above all, confidence. In a well done paso, the man should have a back so straight that Dick Button could iron a shirt on it while the lady should exhibit more curve in her posture to show contrast. The paso isn't so much about the hips as it really is about the back and I think this team nailed that. Their free dance to Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" was artful and flowed beautifully from one movement to the next with clean edges and good speed. I think this program has enormous potential and their win at this event with a score of 171.10 was absolutely deserved.


Speaking of pecking order, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier made a huge leap from eighteenth in the world to eighth last year (holy ten places, Batman!) but I think a lot of that owed to the fact that their "Hitchcock" free dance last year was just so compelling that it was hard not to give them the marks they deserve. While I'm not entirely sold on their more traditional free dance this year, the little things in this team's skating count for a lot - good edges and carriage and smooth transitions from one thing to the next. Their performance in the free dance was very well received by the judges and a score of 152.60 moved them up from fourth place after the short dance to give them the silver medal.



Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue were, as always, excellent despite a little problem at the end of their free dance. Their score of 148.23 was well back of Chock and Bates' 171.03 and the Shibutani's 160.33 at Skate America, but the skating to me was a lot more relatable. I think their "The Great Gatsby" free dance is the best free dance they've put out there as a team and the music choices used to illustrate the story of the dance are modern, unorthodox and refreshing. The presentation and package of this team is great and I think with just a little more attack and speed they could really force the judges to reconsider the U.S. ice dance pecking order. As for the Helen Lovejoy "Won't someone PLEASE think of the children?" cries over Zach's hoodie vest, it's a modern program. It works for me.


2011 World Junior Champions Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin (to me) didn't show the same polish as Weaver and Poje even if they did have some great elements like intersecting twizzles and close footwork with good unison throughout. I thought their paso doble was a little sloppy at times, with rounded shoulders from Monko but the lifts these team does are really quite good. I find with these two that the focus always seems to be on Kirill instead of Ksenia and after a fifth place finish at Russian Nationals last year, I really didn't see anything that extraordinary in either their paso or "Sarabande" free dance to necessarily place them on the same playing field as teams like Gilles and Poirier and Hubbell and Donohue. Their sixth place free dance dropped them out of medal contention and left them in fourth place with a score of 143.48.


We remember the German ice dance team as those fun loving zombies who stole our hearts and BRAINS a couple of seasons a couple of seasons back? Last year, their programs were kind of lost on me and just didn't have the same spark as we'd seen when they were coming to get us, Barbara. Always unconventional and kind of reminding me a bit of Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko, they showed up with more of a street (but certainly not pedestrian) short dance set to "La Maza" and "Ameksa" which was reminiscent of the "Caval Pata" street tango Lia Trovati and Russ Witherby skated one year at the Legends Competition. The judges didn't receive it well though and a score of 55.35 in the short dance made making up the ground they needed to medal a difficult task. Their "Swan Lake Reloaded" free dance had this cool little trip hop vibe going on and some neat lifts and although a delightful step back into the void, I think this team would find so much more success in professional competitions if there were more of those around today. I just can't see Yuri Balkov digging the trip hop, but then again... you never know what he taps his toes too. They finished the competition in fifth with a score of 140.95.

The next stop on the ISU Grand Prix Of Figure Skating is the LEXUS Cup Of China next weekend in Shanghai and I'm excited to be blogging about that event as well! There are lots of great skaters competing including Yuzuru Hanyu, Richard Dornbush, Misha Ge, Julia Lipnitskaia, Christina Gao, Gabby Daleman, Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang, Anna Capellini and Luca Lanotte, The Shibutani's and Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam. Be sure to stay tuned to Skate Guard this week for my interview with two time U.S. Champion Ashley Wagner! You are NOT going to want to miss it.

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