The 2014 ISU Grand Prix Final


I want to start this recap of the 2014 ISU Grand Prix Final by commenting on the amazing job that Spain did on hosting their first major international figure skating competition. The opening ceremonies were interesting, the event looked organized and the seats were packed with the most lively mix of figure skating fans that we have seen yet this season. Please keep in mind too that I'm recovering from a pretty rough dental surgery (double extraction of two molars after fourteen days of antibiotics) and as much as I enjoyed getting to rest in bed today and watching all of the skating interrupted from start to finish for the first time in forever on my laptop, I may be a bit of a cranky bear so forgive my bluntness at times. That said, the caliber of the event was so high that it was hard to find faults that weren't petty with many of the performances. This wasn't Susie Stepout and Tommy Twofoot... it was the creme de la creme and these skaters largely all skated to a high standard.

Before I talk skating, I want to again give 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...


I'm not going to really talk about the junior events but I will say that the skating was spectacular. Canada's Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau won the gold medal in the pairs competition with an impressive score of 175.57 with a ten point lead on their closest rivals. Shoma Uno of Japan won the men's event, Anna Yanovskaya and Sergey Mozgov the ice dance title and Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia the ladies crown. If this is the "future" of figure skating, it looks promising.


The men's competition was full of surprises. After four less than stellar performances on the Grand Prix series, many including myself thought Olympic Gold Medallist Yuzuru Hanyu's qualification for this event had more to do with reputation than results. In the short program, Hanyu looked on the road to redemption, landing a beautiful quad toe-loop and triple axel but then proceeding to fall on the back end of his triple lutz/triple toe. All I could think of was Dick Button's infamous "and then a fall on the end of it, which was absolutely unnecessary and uncalled for" quote. You know, not a single one of the men in the short program delivered a clean performance, so I really don't think it's fair to beat a dead horse and go on and on about it but one comparison that I've heard tossed around more and more lately about Hanyu's scoring comes back to the same kind of scoring we've seen more than once dished out to Patrick Chan when he's faltered as well. A six point TES lead on Machida when they both landed the exact three same jumps? I don't know. Hanyu's very good but so are a lot of the men competing right now and I think in general you're starting to see a certain overwhelming level of generosity from the judges with him that's becoming alarming. All of that said, he went out in the free skate and showed us all what he's made of, looking in fabulous form with a quad toe, quad salchow and a whopping eight triple jumps including two beautiful triple axels. His only error an unfortunate fall on his final jump attempt, the triple lutz, ensured his commanding win here with a huge score of 288.16. To paraphrase Mark Twain's famous quote, it appears the rumors of Yuzuru Hanyu's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Good for him!


The pressure on Javier Fernandez at the first big ISU eligible figure skating competition in his home country (I say ISU eligible because the the World Professional Championships were indeed a big deal) had to have just been tremendous. When tickets are being sold based on your qualification before you've even qualified, you know the "hometown crowd" were certainly expecting something special. Like all of the men, Fernandez didn't have a great short program. In fact, it was pretty rough indeed. He fell on his quad salchow attempt, botched his combination and just managed to squeak out his triple axel to finish fifth out of six men in that part of the competition. He turned a challenge into an opportunity in his operatic free skate though, coming out very strong if not a little cautious at times but landing a great quad toe-loop to catapult himself up in the standings from fifth to second with a score of 253.90 and his cool confidence in doing so was just something to behold.


The bronze medal in the men's event went to Russia's Sergei Voronov. A two footed landing on his quad attempt in the short program left him in the fourth but a very strong free skate earned him a total event score of 244.53, just enough to move up onto the podium. As much of a grab bag of bad music edits as that free skate is, what I like about Voronov is that he's clearly having fun out there, selling what he is doing with a certain charismatic charm and that in terms of jumping, despite that step out on the opening quad, he's really quite fantastic. I think it's pretty to forget that Voronov's really been in the game since 2006 and has improved tremendously since then  in terms of the second mark, so good on him.


Rounding out the men's event were Voronov's teammate Maxim Kovtun, who was really rather unspectacular here in finishing fourth in my mind. He had some great moments technically in his free skate - and some not so good ones - but I find the bottom line with his skating unfortunately is just that the skating itself just has no pizazz or personality. I just feel like whether they've been doing singles, doubles, triples or quads, skating has seen so many men like Kovtun in its history and unfortunately, whether they've won medals or not they haven't ultimately been remembered. I hope he can turn that car around. Japan's Takahito Muta moved up from sixth to fifth with a score of 235.37 overall and unfortunately Tatsuki Machida kind of imploded in the free skate, dropping all of the way down from second to last place among the men overall with an overall score of 216.13. Ouch.


The ladies event seemed a wonderful preview for the Russian Nationals with four of the six ladies competing hailing from "Mother Russia" (I totally said that in a Boris and Natasha voice in my head) and unsurprisingly, the odds played out in one of those four ladies favour. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who has really been unstoppable this season, won her SIXTH international competition this season with a score of 203.58. In her free skate, she couldn't seem to put a foot wrong, landing seven triples including two triple lutzes and a triple toe/triple toe, even if the program itself was a bit "middle Eastern medley lite". She is a no frills kind of skater but the jumps are huge and the confidence with which she carries off her skating so convincing that you cannot help but say to yourself like a good nineties talk show gay "you go girl!"


The silver medal went to Russia's Elena Radionova. I'm sorry, but the short program was in my eyes a bit of a hot mess and my reaction to her PCS score of 31.26 in that portion of the competition as compared to Ashley Wagner's 30.40 was "that's rich!" The program itself was like watching a pre-juvenile skater go Barbie shopping at Giant Tiger - simply put, low end shit. My program with Radionova's skating is that she almost seems to FLAUNT her absolute disregard for musical interpretation and owness for that falls on both her as a young skater but on the coaches and choreographers that are putting her out there with material she just doesn't have the chops to pull off at this point in her skating career. Then you have the jumps. In the free skate, she whirled off a triple lutz/triple toe, triple lutz, triple loop/half loop/triple salchow and two other triples and makes you go, well... she DID land the jumps. I just find Radionova to be a poster child for the direction ladies skating is going and that scares the bejesus out of me. Her silver medal winning score was 198.74.


Ashley Wagner! Her outing in Barcelona was everything that makes for great television. In the short program, she faltered and found herself in last place with a score of 60.24 and all but written off in the eyes of many skating "fans". You know the Twitter drill... unfortunately we've all seen that foolishness. In the free skate, she rebounded with one of the FINEST performances I think we've ever seen from her. A clean one foot landing on the triple flip/triple toe and four other clean triples including her final jump, a triple lutz late in the program off a clean outside edge... what more can you ask for? I just can't revel enough in the crow Ashley delivered for supper here. The programs themselves are really developing more and more as well with every outing and her final score of 189.50 was enough to move her up from sixth to third place overall. Not bad "for a U.S. lady", now is it?


Russia's Anna Pogorilaya looked very stiff and flat in both programs here, I found and finished fourth overall with two hot and cold performances and a score of 180.29. Juxtaposed, I thought Julia Lipnitskaia was fabulous in the short program for a change. The spark and cool confidence belying her years seemed to be back and as usual, those Lucinda Ruh like spins were definitely an "OOO! AAA!" kind of moment. In the free skate, unfortunately, although she started very strongly with a triple lutz/triple toe she had a bit of a meltdown after that and dropped all the way from second to fifth with a score of 177.79. Growing pains... Rika Hongo of Japan rounded out the event in last with a score of 176.13. To me, Hongo has the body line of Zvetelina Abrasheva. If she didn't have the jumps, this wouldn't fly. I think she'd benefit greatly from working with someone like Carol Heiss Jenkins. She just needs to unhunch the shoulders, straighten her back and know what to do with her arms... and those are really the only differences between her and someone like Mao Asada.


If you're not a fan of Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, turn back now before it's too late... because holy shit, that was amazing! In the short program, they were flawless as anything, of course landing both the throw triple lutz and side by side triple lutzes with absolute ease... so much so, it's easy to really not think about the level of difficulty in their programs, not even just on the elements attempted but in the transitions and lifts. The free skate? Out of this world. Their only mistake a step out from Meagan on the side by side triple lutzes, they were in a completely different league than the rest of the competition, landing a gorgeous throw triple lutz, side by side triple toes in combination and of course, the biggest throw quad salchow in the business. Their score of 220.72 was not only enough for gold, but it outdistanced the reigning Olympic and World Silver Medallists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov by seven points. I'm just over the moon happy for these two. They keep pushing themselves harder and harder and the fact that you constantly see little improvements in their skating shows they aren't just resting on the difficulty of their content but are focused on always bettering themselves.


Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are really the latest in a line of mechanical Russian pairs with fabulous speed and attack that have fared well in the last decade. They're no Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov or Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov - that's for sure - but you have to admire their commanding presence and really strong technique. "Danse Mon Esmeralda" always gets me (I don't know why, it does) but if it wasn't for that gorgeous throw triple loop at the end of the program on the crescendo of the music, it wouldn't have had the same impact overall. As it was, this was just too meat and potatoes to even be beating Duhamel and Radford in the PCS department, which it did. I totally get Meagan and Eric are known for being strong skaters technically, but I think that even that small affordance being made in the results when really looking at the presentation of both programs was a little generous, although hardly highway robbery. Their silver medal winning score was 213.72.


Wenjing Sui and Cong Han were beautifully and maturely presented in their free skate but I think in terms of the technical content, the judges did get it right when they placed them fifth, even if it was enough for the bronze medal overall. The "Stray Cat Strut" short program came off as a little juniorish to me but I think it's just the music choice which I have this really big aversion to after seeing so many flimsy looking programs set to it. Of the three Chinese pairs, my favourite was probably Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin, who finished fifth just behind Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang. I have to say that both of their programs are really growing on me with each outing. Great musical choices both and that makes a big difference. A disaster of a short program left Russia's Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov simply too far behind the rest of the pack for anything less than a show stopping effort to move them up to the podium, and their free skate left them in sixth place overall with a score of 184.54. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger, they'll be back. I have no doubt in my mind.


Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje skated their paso doble like that bull owned them money and with a score of 71.34 had a healthy enough lead on the rest of the back heading into the free dance. There free dance was in a completely different league than all five of the other teams, a study in musical interpretation, carriage and impeccable timing. Nothing was contrived or phoned in, just beautiful, sincere skating. No disrespect meant, but I don't think trying to really invent a rivalry between them and Chock and Bates similar to that between Davis and White and Virtue and Moir is in any way really representative of the comparison of the two team's performance levels. Weaver and Poje's winning score in Barcelona was 181.14.


Finishing second with a score of 167.09 were Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates. Again, I have to be duly complimentary about this team's excellent speed and attack in their programs but unfortunately rather than these programs growing on me the more times I see them, they're starting to really grate on me. Just not my cup of tea, I'll leave it at that.


A lot of people, including an impassioned booing audience, didn't seem too thrilled with the French team of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron's rise from fifth place to claim bronze. Sure, their rise in the standings this year has been meteoric but it's not like it's suspiciously meteoric at all. Their edge work, intricacy and just the class they're bringing to the table in that free dance absolutely does it for me. Their bronze medal winning score was 162.39... and you better check my temperature. I'm agreeing with a result from an ice dance panel with Alla Shekhovtseva as the Technical Controller. Perhaps I need a hug, but instead of from Alla, I'll take my hug from Cizeron. If he wants to make babies, that's okay too.


Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani were again lowballed on their TES score in the short dance and again delivered two beautifully scripted free dances, just missing the podium with a score of 158.94 after the judges really gave it to them in the free dance, placing them sixth in that segment of the event without any obvious deductions. I rewatched their free dance looking for anything that really stuck out in my mind but aside from some two foot skating from Alex, I didn't see anything to really justify such a drop in the standings. Maybe Adelina's not returning Alla's calls and she's just having a bad day... who knows?


Rounding out the ice dance event were Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier and Russians Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin. I think I would have had them ahead of the Shibutani's in the free dance maybe? but not the French team. The free dance is starting to grow on me, which is a good sign! I think Ilinykh and Zhiganshin presented a pretty atypical mid range Russian drama, vodka and lipstick free dance. They continue to improve as a team and although this free dance lacks originality. there is definitely a connection between them. A fourth place in the free dance connection? Oh sweetie no...

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