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Monday, December 31, 2012

From the Desk of Mr. Y. Speed: New Year's Address


Friends, Members, and Zambonimen,

at the termination of the year, in this refulgent winter, it is always a great pleasure to look back on the successful bygone time and to behold the positive effects of our administrative work, which a lot of people knowing very well the sport contributed. However, commencement of the new year is not a moment to rest but to take good resolutions for the advancing twelve months to come.

In my last memo I foreshadowed the deployment of new advancements for the evolution of the sport. Today, I feel very honoured to promulgate the installation of the new discipline to replace Figure Skating and to be called Artistic Speed Skating.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Return of the "Batman"

Yes, Plushenko is back for the gazillionth time. And he wins another Russian Nationals. At the age of 30 no less.
While Plushenko's performances felt more and more deflated since 2006, I thought his LP from the Nats was still a worthy effort.

 Plushenko's LP from Russian Nationals

Yes, it is still a lot of crossovers and two footed skating and he flails his arms like a blind man trapped in a cave full of bats and running for his life but I think I see glimpses of him actually performing again. His arms are less "flaily", spins slightly faster, there are choreographic highlights and attention to music. Compared to his 2010 and especially 2012 performances, I think this is an improvement. I don't know if it will hold up by the time we reach Euro Champs but an improvement nevertheless.

I am happy for him but also anxious. Because in all fairness, he probably has no properly functioning knees by now, nor is his body in any way in top condition. We already know of his health ailments but it is also visible in the performance. How? Because he had to fight for almost all of the landings of the difficult jumps. He doesn't land any difficult jump cleanly. I don't think he ever did since his first comeback. Plushenko always had a tendency to hunch forward when landing but not as pronounced as he does now. The way he lurches forward at every landing makes me question at what condition his knees are in. But he competes and he competes well.

What I find utterly fascinating is not that he can still compete but he can compete with such a consistency that it is mind boggling. I ask you, do you remember at all when the last time Plushenko fell in a major competition? I may be wrong but the last I remember is 2005 Worlds SP. Where he skated with an injury.

He falls? No, never!

He might be deflated in his performances, unclean with jump landings, slow with his spins or flailing his arms like he's chasing off a cave full of bats during step sequences but the incredible consistency and control he shows in every single performance might be just enough to get him on the podium again. And I believe that is no small thing. Especially in skating. I believe Plushenko might be one of a kind.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Here at SFT, we join Nathalie, Fabian, Anjelika and Pasquale in wishing you a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and a joyful time celebrating any other holidays of your choosing!


After the break: some last minute gift ideas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Defining artistry

When people think of Stephane Lambiel, "artistic" is one of the first descriptions that usually comes to mind. Jeremy Abbott, I believe, has said that his goal as a skater is to be both an athlete and an artist. Michelle Kwan was, and still is, lauded for her artistry - which probably compensated for her often having a less complete technical arsenal than some of her contemporaries. Over the course of their careers, we often see skaters try to develop their interpretation and expression and win acclaim for their artistry. But what, exactly, is artistry in skating?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Skaters Night Out: Figure Skaters and Hockey Players

Let me start off this post by saying, I'm on pretty good terms with the hockey guys at our rink. I also haven't even once been ridiculed for having a skate bag with a fluffy plush ball attached to it. Also, if it wasn't for the sport of ice hockey, there would be at lot less rinks in the world to go to. So, contrary to the stereotype, this is not going to be a tale of rink rivalry. Still, it is fun to observe certain differences between hockey people and figure skaters, so let's take a look at a few things:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Iconic Programmes I Wish No Skater Would Touch Again

Well, not shockingly, Brian announced that he will change his LP. While I firmly believe that he should not be playing any COP games at this stage of his career in order to score higher PCS (which won't happen anyway with more complex programmes) and that he should skate with a music he feels comfortable with, I still reckon there are some programmes you shouldn't be associated with in any way. Those are the programmes that stand the Bolero Test and the music is almost always associated with the said skater(s). I don't believe there are any statue of limitation on re-using these programmes and the replicas are almost always doomed to fail. However, as with everything else in life, there are sometimes nice exceptions to the rule.
Although it is impossible to have full consensus on such matters, I believe the following are some of those iconic programmes that should never be attempted by any skaters thereafter.

Yagudin - Winter & Gladiator

 Could it be the best male SP pre-COP?

I find the gala version even more dramatic and captivating

I think no top level skater will ever be foolish to re-use Winter competitively, as it is what made Yagudin the darling of millions but we have seen Gladiator attempted a few times before Brian. Maybe Gladiator is not as iconic as Winter, but whenever I hear the music, the only thing that comes to my mind is Yagudin and his feathers in the gala programme, which was even more captivating than the LP.

Torvill & Dean - Bolero
The best death on ice

Rose said it best in her post. Nothing to add further. I am also very saddened to see two boleros this season alone by the top teams. I don't know where Ingo's head is at but Bolero can never work outside dance. It has a very specific rhythm and the feel that can only be interpreted if you're fully committed to it (as in dance). Yes, I did not think Kostner's attempt is successful either (although only seen it once).

Yuna Kim - Tango de Roxanne

 J'adore!

I think a lot of fans would actually suggest other YNK programmes in this context but for me Roxanne is Yuna, Yuna as Roxanne is at her best artistically. I remember Frederic Dambier used this music before, as did Plushenko but it was nothing compared to YNK. Hands off from Roxanne!

Oksana Baiul - Black Swan

Perfect Costume, Perfect Interpretation

I blame Darren Aronofsky and his beautiful movie for the recent explosion of Swan programmes. We have literally been swamped. Do we really need a new Black Swan, when Baiul reached perfection two decades earlier?

G&G - Moonlight Sonata
Their skating was as haunting as the music

I am not a big Beethoven fan but since I was 5, I am a huge fan of Moonlight Sonata. It is the first classical piece I learned to play on the piano. In fact it is the reason I am learning to play the piano. For this reason alone, I don't want any skater/team to attempt this music because doing justice to it is very very difficult. I can't put it into words how G&G achieved it in their LP but this is exactly how this music should have been handled. It is also an iconic moment, as this was their comeback after a long break and they were as captivating as before, if not more. I still remember Cohen's attempt at the Moonlight in 2010 Nationals. Although I love her, this programme was the undoing of her comeback. Nope, Moonlight Sonata shouldn't be touched again. Yes, even the modern versions as Plushenko tried in his 2005 SP.

Lambiel - Poeta

J'adore and J'adore some more

Poeta is the benchmark for all COP programmes. Poeta didn't really need decades to show it stood the test of time. Poeta is hailed as one of the best LPs in COP era by many fans. Also incidentally, Poeta was the programme that finally did the trick in converting my so far uninterested boyfriend into a skating enthusiast (I caught him watching Poeta on repeat, before he eventually "came out" as skating fan). That's how powerful Poeta is, even to the untrained eye. These reasons alone should be enough discourage skaters from attempting it. 
But Mr Morozov is relentless. He doesn't care much for such sentimentality. At least, he should have cared that Poeta is flamenco and hence very difficult to interpret. I think we have already witnessed the doom of Poeta replicas in this season so far.

A&P - Carmina Burana
Fierce couple, fierce interpretation

Carmina Burana was a great vehicle for A&P in order to finally gain that world title. It was an intense, passionate dance, perfectly highlighting the marvellous music. Incidentally, the choreographers also happened to be Christopher Dean. Oh la la!


However, as I said in the beginning of the post, there are always exceptions to the rule. One perfect examples that comes to mind is Prelude to an Afternoon of a Fawn. After Janet Lynn made it eternal four decades ago, Kostner successfully reinterpreted the music in 2010/2011 season. Enjoy..

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Bolero Test

A skating friend recently suggested to me that memorable programs can be judged against what he termed "The Bolero Test". The test originated in an attempt to understand what made Torvill and Dean's Bolero so memorable, but it can be applied to other performances, too.

Not surprisingly, Bolero passes the test

We considered six criteria, five of which were suggested by my friend:

Busting Skating Myths: 1927 Pairs Worlds

Granted, this is something most people probably don't know about and it has nothing to do with superstition, but, nevertheless, it is a piece of not quite correct information that has taken on a life of its own. Let me explain.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Brian Joubert makes some changes

Today's L'Equipe is reporting that Brian Joubert, unhappy with the PCS he received for his Inception LP, has dumped the program in favor of Gladiator, which until now had been an exhibition for him this season. The choreographer is Laurie May, who has previously worked with Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat. Joubert's coaching situation also appears somewhat unsettled, with Veronique Guyon apparently back in the picture.

Whyyyyyyy, Brian?

I am sad to see Inception go; it was not performed well at either the French Masters or TEB, but seemed promising. And while Gladiator as an exhibition served Joubert well, we all know what the inevitable comparison will be...


This had better be a really good LP.

Hat tip: La Maison de Joubert.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Career trajectory

Newly crowned 2013 French National champion Florent Amodio started out as a super-cute kid:


 Was a very promising junior:


Then, an exciting and original performer in his senior debut:


A European champion one season later:


A Tyger, burning bright (if not particularly well):



And now, an avid environmentalist, recycling last year's long program into a temporary (?) SP:



I believe there have been reports of a planned hip-hop Ave Maria (or was it a hip hop Requiem?); may god help us all if this is true. Can we please turn back the clock, and keep the talented Amodio away from Nikolai Morozov? We all know he is better than this.

Skaters Night Out: We all started out as Minnies!


Welcome fellow skating enthusiasts,

today, I want to talk about the transition from passive to active fandom. Those of us who love skating but have never really skated before probably know what I mean. We may have been avid followers for a long time, but never really had the means, proper conditions or even the awareness to have entered the sport at a younger age, i.e. our childhood or youth. As we are advancing in age, there comes a time when we may want to go beyond mere armchair watching and follow our idols out onto the ice to fulfill our own dreams of skating glory. 


Taking a conscious decision of our own free will, we likely are highly motivated and can also rely on disciplining ourselves instead of being driven by outside forces. We also only ever need one size of skates for the rest of our lives (well, almost). That’s the good news. The bad news is, if you belong to the target audience of this post, you’ll have missed out on 2 decades of training and have a lot of catching up to do. Add to that a reduction in agility and flexibility and, of course, the reduced capabilities to develop motor skills, and you have the perfect example of a late blooming adult skater. Such as I!


 Remember? We all started out as Minnies!

This (hopefully frequently) recurring column will feature stories, insights and ideas that come directly from the glamorous world of adult skating. I can only hope to have gathered your interest for future instalments, and if you want to share your own stories and thoughts, I more than welcome you to comment on this post. It’s always appreciated. See you on the ice...

Friday, December 14, 2012

Book Club: The Second Mark

The Second Mark: Courage, Corruption, and the Battle for Olympic Gold
By Joy Goodwin

(Partial) Book Description:
It was billed as the greatest event in the history of pair skating: three of the best teams of all time battling for Olympic gold on one night in Salt Lake City. Technical ability was approximately equal. It was the artistic merit score that would decide the gold medal -- the second mark.

Representing Canada, China, and Russia, the three pairs illuminated their distinct cultures. On the second mark, whose culture would triumph? Would it be the beauty of the Russians' ballet on ice, the thrill of the Chinese pair's heart-stopping acrobatics, or the Canadians' passionate connection with the audience? In a down-to-the-wire nail-biter, the difference between gold and silver came down to the vote of a single judge. Hours later, a bombshell: the confession of a French judge unleashed a worldwide debate -- and ultimately produced an unprecedented duplicate gold medal.

The Second Mark reveals what an athlete really goes through to become the best in the world, through the riveting stories of unforgettable people.

My thoughts:
First of all, I must object to the characterization of the 2002 Olympic pairs competition as "the greatest event in the history of pairs skating", nor do I recall anyone billing it as such before or since. The greatest pairs competition I can think of took place eight years earlier in Lillehammer, when 1988 Olympic gold medalists Ekaterina Gordeeva/Sergei Grinkov faced off against 1992 Olympic gold medalists Natalia Mishkutenok/Artur Dimitriev (not to mention some other fantastic skaters). Yet once one disregards this dubious claim, The Second Mark is a very interesting and, as far as I can tell, well-researched book about the controversial 2002 competition and the different roads the skaters involved took to get there.

Goodwin is a journalist and her professional background shows. The book is well written and accessible to the casual fan who can at best talk about the questionable morals of "French skating judges". At the same time, there is a wealth of material to keep more dedicated fans interested.

The book includes sections about the early years and career development of five of the six skaters who medalled in Salt Lake City: Elena Berezhnaya, Jamie Sale, David Pelletier, Hongbo Zhao and Xue Shen, with further insight about the development of the Chinese pairs skating program as well as the life and work of Russian coach Tamara Moskvina. Only Anton Sikharulidze is given less space; I'm not certain if this is because he cooperated with the research to a lesser extent or for some other reason.

Of particular interest to me were the sections about the Chinese skaters: Bin Yao when he represented China with little success, and his pupils Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao. While there is a rich skating tradition in both Russia and Canada, Chinese pairs skating had to be built from the ground up, and the sacrifices that were made by the skaters and their families are considerable. It is difficult to think of all that Shen and Zhao had to give up on their way to China's first pairs medal, and one hopes that their subsequent success makes up for it in their eyes.

Shen and Zhao's happy ending, Vancouver 2010

Elena Berezhnaya's story is also compelling, while her experiences with Oleg Shliakhov are disturbing, to say the least. Later on, I was very interested in Moskvina's approach to keeping Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze motivated and interested in their training. Clearly this was not easy, and her decision to give them an artistic challenge with the City Lights program was in hindsight a very good one; a pity that the judges disagreed and did not reward them for this fabulous program at 2001 Worlds. Berezhnaya's comment on the judges' desire for "love carrots" cracked me up; she seems far more interesting and funnier in the book than she did on the ice. Finally, although Sale and Pelletier's story was more conventional, they too had some ups and downs on their way to international success. I was surprised to find Sale more likable in this book than I'd considered her in the past; whether this is reflective of her character, I have no idea, but I did find myself thinking more charitably of her.

 
Perfection

The book includes several pages of photographs (black and white). Once again, it is the Chinese ones that most captured my interest, and I must say that young Hongbo Zhao was extremely cute! There is also an adorable picture of a Elena Berezhnaya as a little girl.

The parts about the controversy and its aftermath were less interesting to me; having followed skating for many years, it's a subject I am well familiar with and not especially interested in rehashing. Those who are less aware of the effects Salt Lake City had in both the short and long term may find these parts of greater interest. Happily, this is not the main focus of The Second Mark.

In all, I very much enjoyed The Second Mark and felt that it did deliver a fresh perspective on the skaters involved in the Salt Lake City pairs event; nonetheless, my impression is not wholly positive. While it is obvious that an enormous amount of work went into this book, perhaps in the rush to publish (while the scandal was still on people's minds?) the fact-checking was not as thorough as it could have been. I found a fair number of mistakes with regard to ages, years and timelines, such as the timing of the Chinese pairs' working with Western choreographers and other errors. More discerning readers may find even more examples. I hope that these mistakes are primarily of a technical nature, and the substance of the book is indeed true to what happened and reflective of the skaters' personalities and experiences.

My hardcover copy of The Second Mark was bought from Better World Books, and is currently touring Europe. Paperback and Kindle editions are available from Amazon.com.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Yuna Kim, Hugh Jackman and Lots of Sentimentality

In these days, we as skating fans live in our little world, with the general population much oblivious to us or the skaters. So, when I see even a glimpse of skating in the popular media outside the scope of Olympics frenzy, I always get goosebumps.

I remember reading about Russell Crowe congratulating Alexei Yagudin for his 2001 performance to Gladiator back in the day when skating was highly popular, and if I am not mistaken, Crowe also sent him a signed photo or some other memorabilia.


 Skating's very best Maximus

Nowadays, skating is much less visible in popular media than in Alexei's days so doesn't that fact alone make this  little gesture all the more worthwhile?


Thank you Mr Jackman and good luck on your Oscar campaign for Les Miserables..

From the Desk of Mr. Y. Speed - Secret Memo

Memo to all Members
- concerning my new secret official directive to be implemented by every member

It is the time of the year to go into contemplating what can be done to further administer the best to our sport. Let me say that I will deliver the most important ideas in my upcoming new year's address. In this memo, however, I will address a minor yet very important point that will influence and benefit the sport on all levels.

Your element is invalid: is it time to rethink the Zayak Rule?

At the Grand Prix Final, Patrick Chan fell on what would have been the quad in his first combination. Unaware that his second 4T had thus become a sequence and counted as a jump combination rather than a solo jump, Chan tried to think on his feet and add another combination somewhere in the long program, and eventually did so by tacking a 2T on the end of his 2A. Julia, how do you feel about this course of action?


Exactly so. Chan had unwittingly performed a 4th combination, making the entire jumping pass invalid. Instead of coming closer to a silver medal, he barely eeked out his bronze.

This post is not an attempt to consider the fairness of the placements at this year's GPF, however, but more about the implications of penalizing invalid elements. I think there are two questions that should be answered: first, should skaters be punished for a mistake generally made in the heat of the moment? And, assuming one believes they should, is the current method of handling such jumping passes fair?

Invalid elements, known informally as Zayak rule violations (so named for 3T queen Elaine Zayak), have cost many a skater placements. Evgeni Plushenko famously suffered one of his two losses in the four seasons leading up to the 2006 Olympics when he did a third combination at the 2003-4 GPF; at the time, two was the maximum allowed. Daisuke Takahashi lost what would have been his second Worlds medal after attempting too many combinations in the LP at 2008 Worlds. Kiira Korpi had a jump invalidated at the 2012 Europeans, though in her case it was due to having too many repeated triples rather than an extra jump combination. Chan's only loss in the 2010-11 season came at the Rostelecom Cup, when multiple falls and an invalid combination dropped him to second, behind Tomas Verner. Most famous for his propensity for excessive combinations is Nobunari Oda; in fact, Chan even quipped that he had "pulled a Nobunari" at the GPF.

That's one combo/sequence too many, Mr. Oda. Again.

Skaters should be expected to know the rules, and indeed most of them manage to survive seasons and careers without any Zayak violations. That said, I feel that invalidating entire combinations when the violation is actually on one jump is excessive. Such errors are often due to a fall or a major mistake on what should have been a combination, leaving skaters scrambling to make up for their error. And just as skaters might forget to add a rotation to a spin, resulting in a dropped level; or to hold a position for the correct period of time in a lift, leading to either a lower level or an extended lift deduction, the error is not meant to break the rules, but a mistake made by skaters who are perhaps distracted for a moment.

So my suggestion is quite simple: if skaters still get partial credit when doing too much or too little on other types of elements, give them partial credit for the extra combination/sequence; namely, give them the points for the part of the combination that is not invalid. Give Chan his 2A and take away the 2T, give Takahashi his 3Lz and take away his 2T, and so on. Reward them for the jump that was not against the rules, and penalize only the part that truly did violate them. I'm even willing to accept something similar to sequence scoring for the valid part. Another possibility would be to give skaters who perform an invalid element a fixed deduction, as ice dancers get for extended lifts.

This should maintain some balance between ensuring that skaters follow the rules while also having  the punishment fit the crime, so to speak, when they don't. And maybe we can finally leave the matter of Nobunari Oda's arithmetic skills behind us.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Party like it's 2009!

In Mao We Trust
After a disappointing ladies' LP in Sochi, Mao Asada delivered a very good performance of her Swan Lake program to win the GPF by nearly 15 points. While this program is not technically as strong as some of her past ones, it is a step in the right direction and will hopefully boost her confidence. It was especially nice to see her skate so well after being forced to withdraw last season, when her mother passed away. Job well done!

 

Returning Triumphant
Just over two hours later in Dortmund, Yuna Kim showed that she is indeed in top form. Kim bucked the trend of doing a 3T-3T combination in the SP, and went with her trademark 3Lz-3T. Combined with a 3F and strong skating all around, she scored 72.27 - not a personal best for her, but a very, very good score by any standard. Hopefully some of the other top ladies will up their game in order to remain competitive.


With some of the other disciplines having become rather too predictable, a bit of excitement in the ladies' event is more than welcome!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book Club: Another Show

Другое Шоу "Another Show"
By Evgeni Plushenko

Description: "Another Show" is the autobiographical account of Plushenko's rise to fame in Russia leading up to his victory in 2006 Olympics. It is a detailed story of Plushenko's early years, coming from an obscure town to the city of St. Petersburg as a young skating prodigy and his adolescence sufferings as a result of insufficient finances and emotional isolation, as well as bullying.

My thoughts: I grew up in the era of the male skating's greatest rivalry (in my opinion) and have such a fondness of Plushenko. I am also known to be very keen on Russian drama and intrigues. So what better recipe for me than Plushenko's personal account of his experiences?

Except, not exactly... I tell you why. It all starts very well. I loved reading about Plushenko's early involvement in skating, his move from Volgograd to St. Petersburg at the age of 11 to train with Mishin and being left on his own devices there for much of his adolescence. Although his financial sufferings in St. Petersburg read like a typical melodrama sometimes, his deadpan account does not suggest that they are exaggerated.

On the other hand, having watched a few Russian "dramacumentaries" previously, I was aware of the suspicious circumstances in Mishin's group with respect to bullying among skaters. We all know by now that Yagudin and Plushenko "kinda hate(d) each other" back in the day and there were many raw emotions not only related to the intense competitiveness of each skater.


"We're not that close. We kind of hate each other."

Reading Plushenko's account, it is still surprising to see how far fetched the alleged bullying was. It is also providing a good basis for the trademark fighting spirit in Plushenko to "beat them all" and be the best. Unfortunately, his comparatively impassive tone during the account of his financial misery is dearly missing in his account of the emotional turmoil that he was going through. Even more unfortunately, this was just a precursor to the overblown accounts of his competition against Yagudin or his personal life.

I find it extremely unnecessary to insinuate that Yagudin went to a sport psychologist to be known for doing some kind of Jedi mind tricks on the competition and that was the reason he fell on his 4T in his 2002 Olympic short programme.
Let me introduce you to Yagudin's sport psychologist.

While I appreciated his candidness in certain gossipy aspects, like his behind the doors struggles with his competition or his love life, I also thought it was very disrespectful to share such intimate details for his explanation as to why his marriage with Maria failed (in short "she was crazy jealous and unreasonable, I was very famous and center of attention"). By this point, the story-telling got so immature and chattering, I found myself mouthing Marshall's Oh Honey's over and over again.


In short, an abundance of material that could have been a great coming-on-top skating story gone overboard due to lack of decent editing and ego checking. Still very entertaining and I still love Plushenko. He didn't have me at hello but he had me at Crazy Bird.

 A skater with Johnny Depp's versatility


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

For gloomy days

Sometimes a skating fan needs a reminder that skating can be good, or fun, or interesting. Maybe you need it as a distraction from a bad day, or after watching a particularly messy GP, or one too many Morozov programs. These are some of the programs and skating clips I watch when I want something happier to focus on:

Lu Chen, The Last Emperor, 1995 Worlds
Oh Lulu, I love you so.

Susanna Rahkamo/Petri Kokko, Quickstep OSP, 1995 Worlds
This is just so joyful and sparkling. 

Stephane Lambiel, Hernando's Hideaway exhibition skate at 1997 Worlds
Dying of cute.

Carolina Kostner, Canon in D at 2007 Worlds 
Most people remember Yu-Na's SP, but for me it was all about Caro. Gorgeous.

Sinead Kerr/John Kerr, Scottish OD at 2008 Worlds
Who doesn't love the Scottish OD?

Nathalie Péchalat/Fabian Bourzat, Circus at 2009 Europeans
 Great fun, and I love Nathalie's reaction at the end

Gala Finale, 2010 Worlds
Basically, this is because of Dai and Mao's entrance and excellent throw.

 Team France K&C antics, 2012 World Team Trophy
Now that's entertainment.

This doesn't mean that these are the best performances ever; that's a subject for a different post (expect Lulu to show up there as well). But sometimes, I'm looking for something fun rather than something difficult or brilliantly executed.

What are some of the skates and skating clips that cheer you up?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Balancing act

Features for step sequence levels, from ISU Communication 1724:

1) Simple variety (Level 2), variety (Level 3), complexity (Level 4) of turns and steps throughout (compulsory)
2) Rotations (turns, steps) in either direction (left and right) with full body rotation covering at least 1/3 of the pattern in total for each rotational direction
3) Use of upper body movements for at least 1/3 of the pattern
4) Two different combinations of 3 difficult turns (rockers, counters, brackets, twizzles, loops) quickly executed within the sequence

Use of upper body movements means the visible use for a combined total of at least 1/3 (instead of 1/2) of the pattern of the step sequence any movements of the arms, head and torso that have an effect on the balance of the main body core.

The IJS has done a lot of good in developing more stringent requirements for step sequences and spins. Where once skaters could get away with treating these elements as an afterthought, now you do so at your own peril; nobody wants to see a column of level 1s and 2s in under their name. As a result, step sequences are now more difficult and more demanding of the skaters. This is good; interesting steps and spins can add a lot to a program. 

Not so good: with upper body movement an important feature of the high-level step sequence, we are now subject to much flailing, leaning, and otherwise overly enthusiastic movements. However, some skaters and choreographers appear to have followed Tim Gunn's approach and have tried to make it work - not only technically, but also as part of the concept of the program. Did they succeed?

2008: A Black Swan


Daisuke Takahashi and Nikolai Morozov brought a hip-hop twist to the familiar Swan Lake, allowing Takahashi to incorporate a variety of steps and body movement into his short program and its step sequences. The result: wild acclaim. My take: I can see that it's difficult, but the steps sequences have always felt disjointed to me. Give me the Bachelorette exhibition over this any day.

2010: I'm like a bird



Evan Lysacek turned to Lori Nichol to choreograph his Olympic season programs, and Firebird was the chosen SP music. Lysacek and Nichol studied birds and tried to mimic their movement in the program. The result: Olympic gold. My take: the inspiration seemed to come from the rulebook more than from the birds.

2010: What shall we do with a drunken pirate?


Nikolai Morozov was the choreographer for Javier Fernandez's Pirates of the Caribbean LP, in which Fernandez portrayed a drunken Jack Sparrow (I assume), giving him license to flail about, off balance and seemingly tipsy, throughout the program. The result: Fernandez received his first level 4 at the 2010 World Championships. My take: it might not be high art, but at least it's a good excuse for all that flailing and staggering about.

Inspired by this effort, I recently discussed with several fellow skating fans what other program concepts might give sufficient artistic license to engage in a lot of upper body movement, in addition to the standard technical license to do so because it's difficult. The following possibilities were suggested: 
  • Don Quixote and the windmills.
  • Fighting with monsters, zombies etc.
  • Battles with flies, mosquitoes, or other airborne insects (like this, except more difficult); just imagine if Lysacek had skated to Hitchcock's The Birds - the possibilities!
  • Portrayal of various hysterical characters.
  • The usual standby: a dramatic sword fight.

Did we miss any other interesting ideas? 

Busting Skating Myths: Slaughter on 10th Avenue

Remember two season's ago when Rachael Flatt chose Slaughter on 10th Avenue for her Long Programme? No? Never mind, just note that the general response was that she would probably hardly win a thing with that music. Why? Well, while not a bad choice in itself, apparently, there was one of those skating curses attached to it because there had never been a skater who won a competition skating to that music. The skating world is full of superstition but, lo and behold, that season Rachael Flatt did, indeed, not win a competiton with that Long Programme, which begs the question: Is there some substance to this curse after all?

The answer is: No! Even more so because the curse didn't even exist in the first place. It didn't?
No siree, and allow me to present irrefutable proof directly from the halcyon figure skating days of more than two decades ago:


Evelyn Großmann at the 1990 European Championships in her gold-winning performance. It doesn't matter that the whole competiton did, to put it mildly, under-perform on that day. The fact stands that skating history saw a skater winning with that very piece of music. Case closed.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

From the Desk of Mr. Y. Speed - Memo Nr. 65248b

Memo Nr. 65248b - Concerning new proposal to further monetary savings and attraction of the sport.

Dear Members,

let me commence this memorandum by first submitting the very good news that our sport is undergoing a phase of boom and raising popularity. However, this excellent development also correlates with the number of active participants in the sport. We are all, of course, aware of the problems intertwined with those raising numbers. Namely the increase of costs in all sectors of our expenses. It is clear that the priority arises for immediate measures to be taken.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Old Man and the Ice: Evgeni Plushenko en route to Sochi



Let me start this post by assuring all of you readers that I chose the title of this post in deep respect and in the knowledge that old in figure skating terms does not say very much about a person's actual age. Just look at the fellow in the picture above and then bridge the gap to one of my earlier posts about the 1998 Olympics. That guy here did compete back then and he faced off and beat, amongst others, Candeloro at 1998 European Championships. Talk about longevity incarnate.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Way to Spin, Ladies & Gentleman


Now that's what I call a great sit spin position, there's no fake sitting here.

Granted, I was never a fan of spinning, in fact I mostly didn't pay much attention to it. Until the man in the picture came along and changed it all for me..

Lambiel 2010 Gala

I dont know why it was Lambiel's spins that made me a "spinaholic" when in fact there were quite a few great spinners before him. Maybe it was the fact that the best spinners were unfortunately not the best jumpers and hence have never risen so high in the ranks. But, ever since I became a spin fan, I never stopped searching the best spins ever.. Here is a list of my favourites, in no specific order:

1) Lambiel 2007 Worlds Final Combo Spin

This spin is probably my favourite spin ever. Maybe it is not the best ever in terms of centering or speed but the timing of the final upright spin with the music crescendo is so incredible, I find myself getting goosebumps every time I watch it.


2) Lipnitskaya 2012 TEB Combo and Layback Spins 

The first time I saw these spins, I fell off my chair. Talk about insane flexibility!  Sasha Cohen called and she wants her signature I-spin back!


3) Czisny 2011 TEB Combo and Layback Spins

Czisny's speed and centering is almost as good every time. I especially love how she never loses speed when she is changing positions (not edges).


4) Krieg 1994 Olympics Combination Spin


Krieg was an amazing spinner, has great centering, wonderful speed and interesting positions throughout. Where was she from again? Oh, of course.. Switzerland.. Where else!


5) Ruh 1999 Worlds


I don't think I can pick a single spin among the five wonderful spins in this programme. For me, what makes her spins so delightful is not the incredible centering or the speed but the variations and wonderful nuances she created in these spins highlighting the music she was skating to. This is what spinning to music looks like.


6) Vorobieva 1998 Worlds Combo Spin

Another great example of a somewhat obscure skater with beatiful spins.


7) Zhang and the Pearl

Last but not least, a tribute to Zhang's beautiful Pearl Spin


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Scoring inflation?

Mao Asada, Yuzuru Hanyu and Vera Bazarova/Yuri Larionov received what some have called generous scores en route to winning their respective disciplines at the NHK Trophy this past weekend. In Asada's case, the descriptions "scandalous", "a total joke" and "a travesty of justice" have also been used, with some fans suggesting that she give her medal to Akiko Suzuki and her winnings to charity. And while the marks received by Meryl Davis/Chalie White haven't been the target of too much ire, they are certainly on the high end as well. Meanwhile, other medalists and lower-placed skaters also did, shall we say, surprisingly well considering the quality of their performances. Is it a home field advantage (for Asada and Hanyu)? Reputation scoring? Skaters and their coaches figuring out how to rack up points, even when the skating is not top notch? Are the judges learning to be more generous with their GOEs and PCS? At this point, I expect the upward trend in scoring to continue as we approach the Olympics, with only Yu-Na Kim's 2010 score unlikely to be surpassed. After Sochi... who knows what the ISU might do?

For comparison's sake, let us now consider similarly scored programs from this season and the past:

Men, 160+ points

2007


 2008

2012

I chose to focus on scores over 160 as the 170+ score is a relatively newer phenomenon. Daisuke Takahashi was the first skater to receive an LP score over 170 at an ISU event, scoring 175.84 at the 2008 Four Continents Championships. This mark stood as a world record for more than three years, but has since been surpassed several times - most recently by Patrick Chan at the 2012 Rostelecom Cup.

Ladies, 115+ points

2008

2012

Pairs, 132 points or so

2007
Shen/Zhao - embedding was disabled for this one, sorry.

2009


2012


Some of these things are most decidedly not like the others. And yes, I'm aware that the IJS is ever changing - but in certain cases the scoring has been so ludicrous, the next phase would be to go to plaid.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

On transitions and complete programs


How often have we seen someone remark that [insert skater(s) name] was overscored on PCS because their program was empty and had no transitions? Some fans have so internalized this notion that they even complain about “empty” exhibition programs! (as Saffron noted, there are bigger problems with many current and recent gala numbers) If I had a dollar for every time I heard complaints about transitions and empty programs, I could consider a life of luxury and skating competition attendance. But are transitions really as important as many now claim they are?

It is often claimed that programs for the 6.0 judging system had little to offer between the elements, with skaters proceeding from jump to half-baked spin to eight-second step sequence. This is, of course, untrue; consider the programs skated by some of Moskvina’s pairs, or the great John Curry, or others who incorporated beautiful moves and steps into their programs. It is true, however, that this was not explicitly rewarded under the 6.0 system, and at times even discounted, as skaters with simpler programs found it easier to skate clean and earn top marks.

 
 Not an empty program

The ISU Judging System (IJS) introduced five components that comprise the PCS score, rather than a single artistic impression mark. A common mistake is to refer to these components as reflecting “artistry”; even Scott Moir, who really should know better, has done so. But two of the components do nothing of the kind, covering instead technical aspects of the skaters’ skill and program content. These are the skating skills component and today’s villain, the transitions component.

Perhaps because it appears relatively easy to judge and quantify while still retaining a shred of resemblance to the measurement of artistic ability, the transitions mark is of particular interest to many. Programs are judged by fans as lacking if they lack sufficient transitions, or simply transitions of that person’s preference. In that case, the skater is summarily declared overscored and the program dismissed as “empty”, lacking in merit, and (horrors) “a 6.0/pre-IJS program”.

I resent this greatly. 
 
 Pre-IJS: I do not think it (always) means what you think it means

Leaving aside the question of whether IJS programs are necessarily superior to 6.0 programs, I do not believe transitions are more important than the other four components. Do you know who else does not believe this? The ISU! Transitions, after all, are not factored more highly than the other components.

When we pay more attention to transitions than to the other components, we are attaching greater importance to them than they deserve. Not because skaters shouldn’t be judged on their ability to incorporate difficult, varied and interesting linking movements – but because they should also be judged on their ability to execute their technical elements, display flow and effortless glide (skating skills), utilize the ice surface and show pattern (choreography), express the music’s style, character and rhythm (interpretation) and project to the audience (performance and execution). I chose just one bullet point for each component, but I encourage readers to review the whole thing, the choreography component in particular. If one looks at all of the components and the bullet points for each, I think that there’s an argument to be made that in some respects, IJS programs may actually be inferior to 6.0 programs.

This focus on transitions can be a disservice to skaters whose strengths might lie elsewhere; a program might be weaker in terms of transitions or when it comes utilizing the ice surface (to borrow from the CH mark), but stronger when it comes to interpretation and performance ability. Conversely, a program can be chock-full of transitions that do little to reflect the music, engage the audience, or look remotely appealing to the untrained (or even well-trained) eye. 

 Expressing the music while (occasionally) dancing in place

By emphasizing transitions, we are also doing a disservice to skating in general, because we are perpetuating the fallacy that a single aspect of skating holds the key to a great performance. Just as it was wrong to focus on jumps in the final years of 6.0, so it is wrong to focus on transitions now (as well as their cousins, creative jump entries). We should expect skaters to be strong, or at least to seek to become better, in all aspects of their skating - not just to try to insert transitions into their programs wherever possible. It is a special program that is truly strong across the board, and it’s only appropriate to recognize the importance of each element and component and its contribution to the whole.
 
While many agree that skating judges should not be afraid of varied component scores that reflect a program’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s no secret that the marks tend to cluster together (more on that in a future post), and that the judges may not be as free to really utilize the full range of the point scale as we would like them to. But as fans, and we have much more freedom. So let's keep in mind that transitions are a part of a great skating performance, and an important one; but they do not necessarily affect other aspects of the program and are not enough, by themselves, to make a program great – or forgettable.