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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ando and Oda say goodbye

The ultra-competitive Japanese Nationals have ended with a very strong Olympic team in the singles disciplines (Hanyu/Machida/Takahashi and Asada/Suzuki/Murakami), as well as the first of the Olympic season retirements: Miki Ando and Nobunari Oda are hanging up their skates. Or at least, their competitive skates, since both hope to move on to coaching. These are just the first of many retirements that we can expect in the coming months... here's Oda's emotional farewell statement at the post-Nationals exhibition - you don't need to understand Japanese to be moved by his announcement.

Oda kicks off his final season with a win at the Nebelhorn Trophy

Ando en route to her second world title in 2011

Ando and Oda are both parents and they've both had careers that they and their children can be proud of. I'll look forward to seeing them in the Kiss and Cry at some point down the line.

On a somewhat related note, if he can keep this up, Evgeni Plushenko might never retire.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Let's pretend this never happened

Sometimes, even the best skaters let you down - not because they perform poorly - that can happen to anyone - but because they skate to programs that are mediocre, a poor fit for their style, uninspiring, tacky, vulgar (and not in an amusing way) or occasionally, some combination thereof.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Interpretation, then and now

As most skating fans probably know by now, today Patrick Chan continued his record breaking ways by setting a world record LP and total score at the Trophée Eric Bompard, also becoming the first skater to break 100 on the technical score. His PCS was very high as well, with a fair number of perfect 10s sprinkled in. He was very good.

For whatever reason, though, I wasn't blown away, and decided to look for something more enjoyable. Rewind a few years to a great program that I hadn't seen in while: Stéphane Lambiel's Poeta from the 2007 World Championships. Lambiel received over 160 for this skate - a very high score at the time - despite making some minor errors on his jumps. A friend once told me that this program, performed to its full potential, would have ruined the IJS, since nobody could have ever topped it. It really is special, and Saffron was right to list it in her iconic programs post.

When I see skaters getting average PCS in the 9s and perfect 10s thrown in for good measure, I cannot help but think about how one of the greatest artistic performances of our time did not rate a single 9 from any of the twelve judges on the panel, and in fact earned Lambiel five interpretation scores lower than 8 (!!!). I realize that scores have gone up and judges have been trained to be more generous with the marks, but seriously: only 78.16 in PCS?! Look closely and you will find one mark in the sixes. The mind boggles.

One wonders what it would score now.

Friday, November 15, 2013

A+ skating at the Trophée Eric Bompard

After some distinctly meh performances from a number of the men, Patrick Chan showed everyone how it's done. I do think his interpretation scores tend to be a bit much, but I have no problem with him being rewarded for the rest of it: this is a great skater close to his best. Definitely wow, and a world record as well.

With the gauntlet thus thrown, Yuzuru Hanyu skated a superb SP and posted an even better technical score than Chan (though he is rightfully behind overall). Remember, Hanyu is still only 18.

The Olympics will either have guys receiving triple digit scores for their SPs, or everyone getting so spooked that they will be splatting left, right and center. Hopefully, the former :)

Now let's see what the ladies and ice dancers can come up with...

This post was edited to replace the original video links with better quality ones.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ladiezzzz no more

Three and a half events into the Grand Prix season, and I can now say with some confidence that ladies really has become my favorite discipline in skating. Like many fans, I used to refer to ladiezzzz events, make fun of the tinkly piano/screechy violin programs (of which there are still too many), and generally found just about everything else more exciting to watch. But no more!

The current field is exciting and sometime unpredictable, with skaters who bring diverse styles and approaches to the ice, and can be very enjoyable to watch. There were some wonderful performances at the NHK Trophy today, just as there were good ones in the earlier events (Well, maybe not so much at the Cup of China). My dream podium will be quite crowded by the time of the Olympics.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A skating summary, 2010-2014ish

With the Grand Prix season in full swing and the Olympics just months away, I am becoming nostalgic about events and performances in the past few years. Being an organized sort of person, this naturally meant I had to make a list:

Favorite competition: 2011 Europeans. Sarah Meier's farewell win is one reason, but it was fun all around, with a major medal - finally - for Péchalat/Bourzat, a great debut for Florent Amodio, free skate comebacks by Carolina Kostner and especially Brian Joubert, and generally likeable medalists all around, including the Kerrs in their final competitive event. It is a good thing that I did not witness any of this in person, however, because I would likely have frozen to death.
Honorable mention: 2012 World Team Trophy, for the fun factor and the awesomeness of Akiko Suzuki and Daisuke Takahashi.

All the skaters of the world know that Dai is awesome

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

The guilty pleasures of autumn: pumpkins and figure skating.

Welcome, dear Friends, to this blog on this particular day. Whether you are sitting on masses of candy already, or are still putting on your zombie makeup or brushing your fangs, whatever it is, you have come to the right place. Enter at your own risk and to your own delight...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mao Asada, dream podium candidate

I have already expressed my admiration for Mao Asada's countrywoman Akiko Suzuki, but I shouldn't neglect Mao, who is lovely herself. Mao came into the senior ranks with extremely high expectations, and while she hasn't always lived up to them, she's certainly had her share of of impressive accomplishments. And she really has been a delight to watch. I'll admit I actually didn't pay her much notice for the first couple of years in her career. Since then, however...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A final goodbye to the 6.0 era

The Olympic season is now underway. While the results of this year's competitions might not be easy to predict, it is pretty certain that this will be the final season for many skaters, including some who have had exceptionally long careers. This is the end of an era not just because we, as fans, will bid farewell to many talented and entertaining performers, but also because this will essentially be the end of whatever link skating still has with the old 6.0 judging system.

There is a lot of good in the IJS, and some skaters have found ways to score well and skate interesting programs under it. But 6.0 remains, to me, a system that at its best produced skates that were more than the sum of their parts – something that the IJS does not (yet?) truly reward. With this post, I’d like to take a look at the remaining competitive skaters who skated in the days of 6.0.

Like so.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Last call for Sochi

Since it is hardly surprising that Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov got a massive score or that Nobunari Oda did well at the Nebelhorn Trophy, I'd rather move on to the less predictable part of the event: the Olympic qualifying. Pairs, dance teams and singles skaters from quite a few countries got their tickets for the Olympics this weekend (barring injuries, citizenship issues or wacky national criteria).

Obligatory V/T video featuring Trankov's yellow pants

With that fashion crime out of the way, let's take a look at the Olympic qualifiers, with the caveat that the skaters qualified spots for their countries, not directly for themselves. Though in many cases, it's probably one and the same.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The problem with backloaded programs

"Max Aaron isn't the only one in figure skating who knows how to backload a program. Pairs do pretty well with it, too."

This was the first sentence of Ice Network's recap article of the pairs event at the 2013 US International Figure Skating Classic (who came up with that name, anyway?), with a headline to match. My reaction was "and you say that like it's a good thing!" But it certainly appears as though backloading programs is the way to go these days: one week earlier, Nathan Chen won the Junior Grand Prix event in Mexico City with a strange free skate layout that included two (solo) first half double Axels against six jumping passes in the second half. In 2010, Evan Lysacek's jump layout helped him defeat Evgeni Plushenko, whose jump content was harder but not as strategically distributed.

Why, exactly, are these unbalanced programs considered a good thing?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Verner returns home

Actually, it's not quite home, but Tomáš Verner tells PJ Kwong that he is returning to Oberstdorf and coach Michael Huth for his final Olympic season.

Like training mate Carolina Kostner, Verner left Oberstdorf after some disappointing showings - Kostner moved to the USA in 2009, Verner to Canada in 2010 - but eventually elected to return to Huth. While the move to Canada initially paid off for him with some good results in 2010-11, the past two seasons have gone badly for him, culminating in a 21st place finish at 2013 Worlds, well beneath what he is capable of if he were to skate well.

Kostner has not finished off the podium at any competition since returning to Oberstdorf in the summer of 2010, adding two European championships and a world title to her résumé. While a similar level of success seems unlikely for Verner, hopefully this will prove to be the right choice for him. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Club: Little Girls in Pretty Boxes (and related thoughts)

Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters
by Joan Ryan

Description: From starvation diets and debilitating injuries to the brutal tactics of tyrannical gymnastics guru Bela Karolyi, "Little Girls in Pretty Boxes" portrays the horrors endured by girls at the hands of their coaches and sometimes their own families. An acclaimed expose that has already helped reform Olympic sports -- now updated to reflect the latest developments in women's gymnastics and figure skating -- it continues to plead for sanity, safety, and an end to our national obsession: winning at any cost.

My thoughts: I read this book some time ago based on the recommendation of a skating friend with a competitive background (she'd done synchro at a fairly high level for several years). The label "skating books" is a bit misleading, because Little Girls in Pretty Boxes focuses primarily on gymnasts rather than skaters - though author Joan Ryan does try to draw some parallels between the two. This is probably my chief complaint about LGiPB: it tries to cover quite a lot, but the narrative and arguments suffer from trying to write a combined take on two different sports with different problems (personally, I see skating as more similar to rhythmic than artistic gymnastics), and extending conclusions based on things going on in artistic gymnastics to skating seemed a bit forced in places.

Monday, August 5, 2013

That's Entertainment: skate like a pirate

No, it's not the most original music choice. Yes, it's a Nikolai Morozov-choreographed program. And no, it's not exactly highbrow. But Javier Fernandez's Pirates of the Caribbean was great fun when he skated it in the 2009-10 season. Fernandez landed his first quads that year, achieved his first level 4 on steps (at Worlds) and finished in the top 10 at Euros for the first time in his career, along with a 12th place at Worlds that gave him two Grand Prix assignments the next season, also a career-first.

Javi the Pirate, 2010

Pirates of the Caribbean was a great vehicle for Fernandez at the time, allowing him to show greater technical skill along with his charm as an entertainer, both things that he would improve upon in later years. While it would have been better to retire the program after one season, it remains a good choice that likely helped Fernandez in his development as a skater. The later move to Canada and Brian Orser/David Wilson didn't hurt, either - but the potential was always there.

And really, who says everything in skating needs to be highbrow?

Note: I am aware that today is not actually International Talk (or skate) Like a Pirate Day.

The concept for the "that's entertainment" posts was explained in the first entry in the series. If you have ideas and further suggestions, please share! 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A change of direction for Florent Amodio

Florent Amodio has parted ways (French-language article) with Nikolai Morozov and is training temporarily with Katia Krier until he can find a more permanent coaching arrangement (or maybe he can just stay with Krier?). While this sort of upheaval going into an Olympic season is far from ideal, the Amodio-Morozov collaboration had little to recommend it, so this should be considered a positive development. I am hopeful that Amodio will be as successful as he was under Morozov - only with vastly more appealing programs.

Like this:

As per the article, Amodio's new free skate will be to the Louis Armstrong version of La Vie En Rose - presumably without lyrics, though who knows what he might do?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Has the IJS improved ice dance?


That's the short answer to this bit of conventional wisdom. While discussing this with my (currently MIA) SFT co-bloggers, we wondered if it might have become conventional wisdom because the adoption of the IJS has coincided with the rise of North American ice dance, which constitutes proof, for some, that it is a wonderful invention. But is it really? As I see it, ice dance has been hurt the most by the current system - yes, worse than pairs.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Finnstep love

The short dance pattern for the coming season is the Finnstep, which was the last compulsory dance added to the rotation prior to the ISU's switch to the SD/FD format in 2010-11. The Finnstep is based on one of my favorite original dances of all time, Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko's Quickstep to the Borsalino score in the 1994-95 season.

If watching this doesn't make you happier, something must be wrong with you.

Kokko (who went on to work for Google) has described the Finnstep as a dance that should bring to mind "sparkling champagne and crystal clarity", noting that while the steps aren't particularly difficult to perform, their timing is crucial to the success of the dance. While there may indeed be trickier compulsory patterns to skate, the Finnstep certainly doesn't look easy on paper!

Several current ice dancers have trained and performed the Finnstep in one of the two competitions in which it was the CD back in the 2009 season - Europeans and Four Continents. But a short dance does require a different approach in order to hit the required key points, and of course, dancers will have more leeway in terms of music used: the ISU requires that the pattern part of the dance use a Quickstep rhythm, while the rest can also include a Charleston, Foxtrot, or Swing music.

Cappellini and Lanotte's Finnstep, 2009 Euros

Some of the music choices announced (or implied) so far have included 42nd Street (Weaver/Poje), Bob Fosse tribute including Sing Sing Sing (Péchalat/Bourzat), a Michael Bublé medley (the Shibutanis) and The Cotton Club (O'Brien/Merriman). Weaver and Poje's announcement was especially cute - great picture!

I loved the program on which the Finnstep is based, really liked it in its one season as a CD, and am hoping that at least some of the ice dance teams will be able to live up to its sparkling, joyful spirit and provide us with some memorable SDs in the coming season.

And the Finnstep at the Olympics = excellent!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Memory lane: a different top six

A little over five years ago, at the 2008 World Championships, these were the top six men going into the long program:

1. Jeffrey Buttle

2. Johnny Weir

3. Daisuke Takahashi

4. Tomáš Verner

5. Stephane Lambiel

6. Brian Joubert (stupid music deduction ^$%%#$).

Buttle would of course win his only world title later that week, Joubert skated an exciting long program to almost defend his world title, Weir managed to hang on to a podium spot for his lone world medal, Takahashi zayakked himself off the podium, Lambiel was off-form in the free, and Verner produced the first of many spectacular implosions to finish in 15th place (it was sad; sadder yet that he's since done even worse, at times).

What's striking to me is how different these skaters are: their style, their programs*, their approach to skating, and what they offered fans. Just five years later, the technical standard may be higher - certainly a 145.something free skate won't win anyone a small medal, as it did for Kevin van der Perren that year - but the men's programs and styles seem to me increasingly homogenized, and I am increasingly bored. For the most part, the other disciplines aren't much better, either.

Those of you who stop by SFT regularly may have noticed that Saffron is no longer posting and Tulip has cut down on the contributions as well. It's not just that this is the off-season; even during skating's off-season, there are always interesting stories. But it seems as though skating itself is no longer inspiring the same level of enthusiasm among many fans, the three of us included.

Clearly, this is not just a 6.0 vs. IJS thing; there are many fans who came along for the ride when the judging system was changed and who enjoyed at least the first half-decade of skating (or more) under the IJS. Indeed, 2008 Worlds was the fourth Worlds with the IJS in place, yet I have used it before as an example of an enjoyable competition. But as I noted in that post, it also marked a change of direction for skating, as the blueprint for success under the current system became clearer and skaters, coaches and choreographers began to plan and perform accordingly. And while some excel creatively despite the system's constraints, most don't.

In less than a year's time, all my favorite skaters will likely retire. Can any exciting new talents take their place and offer something more than "more of the same", even if that same is performed at the highest level?

* I'm not certain, but I believe the choreographers were David Wilson (Buttle), Faye Kitarieva (Weir), Nikolai Morozov (Takahashi), Lori Nichol (Verner), Salomé Bruner (Lambiel) and Kurt Browning (Joubert).

Thursday, June 27, 2013

That's Entertainment: Jazzy Tomáš

I miss the days when Tomáš Verner would at least skate well occasionally - the example below being one such occasion. After his breakthrough 2006-7 season, Verner went with a fun and jazzy short program, which he would keep for two seasons. Probably his best performance of it was at the 2009 Europeans, which remains his PB for a short program. Sadly, he faltered in the free to finish off the podium.

 Verner in Helsinki, 2009

This SP proves two things: that Lori Nichol is capable of choreographing the occasional entertaining program (at least, I think that was Nichol's work), and that Verner is capable of landing jumps of more than two revolutions. If only he could do so more often... Verner at his best is a wonderful entertainer, and a welcome addition to any gala. At his worst, well, let's not go there.

Starting in the post-Olympic season, competitive skating programs may go the (musical) way of gala numbers, as music with lyrics will be allowed in all disciplines. Here is Verner's take on the use of music with lyrics and how to improve skating without that sort of change:

"The ISU wants to leave more freedom for the skaters, so after the Olympics, they want to allow the use of vocal music. I think it would be crazy. Even now some skaters choose music which are not very suitable for figure skating. I don’t want to decide what is suitable for our sport and what isn’t, but imagine, poor judges will have to survive 24 songs by Britney Spears or some heavy metal… I wonder how they will manage. I would give more freedom to skaters in other aspects: concerning spins, steps, so that the judges could really see who can really skate, not only who have read the rules the most carefully." 

As to the last part, I couldn't have said it better myself.

The concept for the "that's entertainment" posts was explained in the first entry in the series. If you have ideas and further suggestions, please feel free to share them! 

Monday, June 10, 2013

A thought experiment

Some time ago, I discussed my thoughts about the emphasis that many skating commentators and fans place on transitions, and why this is an unfortunate approach, in my opinion. This has gotten to the point where one wonders if some people remember that transitions, by their very nature, should be linking between other (more important) things and serving the program rather than the other way around. After running into yet another discussion of how a certain skater was Lacking In Transitions, always an indication that a skater only Cares About Jumps, I have come up with the following experiment:

Whenever you feel the need to argue that skater X may be unworthy of his marks because his program does not have enough transitions, or that she should finish lower because her transitions aren't difficult enough, or that pair Y is vastly superior because they have more transitions than pair Z, swap the word transitions for one of the following:

1. Spread eagles
2. Spirals
3. Salchows
4. Style and individuality
5. Sequins or sparkles

Does your evaluation of the skaters' merit and the program quality still make sense? No? Well, let that serve as a reminder that you should not judge skaters, or their programs, based on just one component.

Kevin van der Perren never neglected point no. 5

Monday, June 3, 2013

Grand Prix, not final

The Grand Prix assignments have been published, signalling that the 2013-4 season is right around the corner! Okay, so that might be overstating things just a bit, but there's actual skating news to discuss, and we can't be choosy in our time of need the off-season. The usual disclaimers apply: skaters will withdraw by choice or necessity, new assignments will be made, and at least some events will leave us wondering - where have all the skaters gone?

Nonetheless, here are some quick thoughts about the assignments and how the events stack up with the current entries. The full assignments can be viewed here.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

From the Desk of Mr. Y. Speed: TV coverage - A new audio-visual Agenda

Dear Members, Fans, Skaters, and Officials,

a long time ago, I concluded to myself that the key to success is information and in logical conclusion the conveyance of it. I have since tried to excogitate ideas on how this can find application in our broadcasts.

It is with much pleasure that I now announce the termination of this thought process regarding new technology and its benevolent use with concern to the TV coverage of our sports events.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Outside the box

By now, several skaters and coaches have announced music choices for the upcoming season, ranging from the predictable (Chock/Bates, Les Miserables) to the somewhat less so (Scimeca/Knierim, Ever After) to the truly original (Eric Radford composed the music for one of the programs he will skate with Meagan Duhamel!). Of course, there will also be some recycling thrown in for good measure (Patrick Chan will stick with his successful Elegie SP, while Brian Joubert is keeping his Gladiator LP). With the stakes so high, skaters often play it safe with their Olympic season music selections, opting for pieces that both judges and audiences are likely to appreciate. Yet we still see some skaters take a different approach, which is to be applauded. Here are some of the more original and memorable programs from the previous Olympic season:

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

That's entertainment: the Scottish OD

This one is almost too easy; who doesn't love Sinead and John Kerr's original folk dance to Erin Shore and Auld Lang Syne? It received an enthusiastic response from audiences (and commentators) in the 2007-8 season, at 2010 Worlds, and in galas around the world. During the 2007-8 season, the program certainly stood out in a sea of Russian and Eastern European folk dances, and of course, John stood out in his kilt!

There may have been better dances technically, but this is my favorite 2008 OD

Following the 2007-8 season, the Kerrs discussed the program (and the kilt) in this Golden Skate interview: "When the Dance Committee announced the rules, we knew we had to do something to portray our Scottish-ness,” John explained. “It would be hard for us to be Russian gypsies.”

“As soon as it came out that it was ‘OK’ to wear the national dress, John was keen on doing a Scottish folk dance with a kilt,” Sinead said. “Our fans would have been disappointed if we didn’t do a Scottish dance... you don’t have to work so hard on the dances if Scottish is in your heart; the dances aren’t something you go to learn. It’s something that is always done at weddings and school parties. When you’re young, you go to the cèilidh and do the dances. It’s just part of the culture.”  

John apparently was not the only one keen on the idea of wearing a kilt (source): "The first thing we had to check was whether it was within the rules to wear it. It pretty soon came from on high that people would be disappointed if I DIDN'T wear the kilt."

The Scottish OD was just one example of what the Kerrs brought to the ice as skaters and performers. Their ability to create and skate interesting and entertaining programs got them far in the sport despite several limitations - a late start in ice dancing, lack of height difference, being siblings, John's occasional issues with twizzles - and is a testament to what skaters can accomplish when they think outside the box. Their retirement from competitive skating was a huge loss for fans.

I can't believe this is the first time we've needed a tag for the Kerrs!
The concept for the "that's entertainment" posts was explained in the first entry in the series. If you have ideas and further suggestions, please feel free to share them!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Akiko Suzuki is wonderful

I am tempted to let the title of this post speak for itself, but let me expand a bit...

A few days ago, Akiko Suzuki won the ladies' event at the World Team Trophy for the second year running. This is not a major title, but I love seeing her do so well on home ice, especially after a disappointing Worlds and some rather unfair results this season (she should have won both her Grand Prix events). Actually, I just love seeing her do well any time, because she's just that lovely.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The blue pill, if you please!

Last Night, I dreamt of the most wonderful figure skating performance you could imagine! It was quite the program and one of my first thoughts was: What a shame that I can't convey the beauty of it to other people and let them share the experience.

But then it dawned upon me that I was worried quite without reason because, fortunately, in this age we have a means of transcribing a program and, in due course, make it available for others sharing all of the beauty and enjoyment!

Thank you IJS! You and my dream world are a perfect match!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Life, IJS and the protocols: A plea in favour of the beauty of numbers

There is an ongoing debate about the sport of figure skating as we perceive it and the sport of figure skating in perhaps its purest incarnation: Namely, as it is presented to us in the condensed and revisioned form of the protocols.

While some people may think it doesn't make sense to use the protocols to re-evaluate what they have just seen in real life or that it is detrimental and counter intuitive to justify a result they have previously disagreed with, I, for one, am totally at peace with them and it continues to puzzle me that a lot of people just think of the protocols as a bunch of arbitrary and ultimately meaningless numbers.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The best competition of the year

Scott Moir may not be a fan, but it's clear that the World Team Trophy, which begins tomorrow, is the funnest event of the season. The skaters seem to enjoy it, too, with all sorts of creative and entertaining antics in the team Kiss and Cry areas. Please let it be so at the Olympics as well!

A reminder of the greatness of the WTT

The WTT only awards team medals, along with some hefty prize money for all participants and gifts for the top three in each discipline. Last year, the podium consisted of Japan, the USA and Canada (in a tie-breaker over France), Team France won a well-deserved team spirit award, and Daisuke Takahashi had a kickass competition, culminating in a mass celebration of the Japanese, American, French and Italian skaters while he awaited his free skating marks.

This year's qualifiers are Canada, Russia, Japan, USA, France and China. Although most of the top dance teams are sitting this one out, there are still several past and present world medalists on the rosters in the other disciplines, including Volosozhar/Trankov in their WTT debut. Hopefully, Team France will be able to come up with creative ideas on par with last season's Amodio kidnapping, Bullet Time reenactment and Mummy pyramid.

And a reminder of the greatness of Team France 

The World Team Trophy can be watched online via the ISU's skating channel

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Creativity research and the evaluation of skating

Early in my graduate student days, I did research on creativity (always a fun subject!). At the time, I did not give much thought to comparing the procedures for evaluating creative works with how skating is judged. But over time, I began to wonder if the procedures used in academic creativity research might not be useful, to some extent, for the evaluation of program component scores. After all, are skating programs and performances not a creative blend of the athletic and the artistic?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Top 10 Performances of all time

With the only skating event left this season being the World Team Trophy, it's the time again to direct our attentions inwards and/or backwards. So, find here, assembled for you enjoyment, the ten best performances of all time.

New Programs News: Florent Amodio

According to a recent interview, Florent Amodio has already decided on his programs for next season.

While he did not divulge his new SP music yet, he enthusiastically revealed that his new free skate will be an extended version of this year's short program. As he had felt that his SP showed a lot of promise and he hadn't been able to skate it to its full potential, he and his coach decided to do the material justice and use it as a long program in the Olympic year.

Potential long program material.

"Of course, there will be some changes and a lot of additional choreography," elaborated Amodio, "so that it will essentially almost feel like a whole new program!" Being very excited about the upcoming season, he is fully aware of the fierce competition he will face in Sochi and considers himself very fortunate to have a coach who "always has a creative ace up his sleeve!"

Find the full interview here.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Rewarding A, Hoping for B

There is a classic management article called "On the Folly of Rewarding A While Hoping for B". For those who don't feel like looking it up (although you really should!), the argument, in a nutshell, is that reward systems are often geared to provide incentives for behavior that they might actually want to discourage, while not really encouraging the desired behavior. I recently reread this article, and began to wonder if perhaps the IJS and its development over the years reflects a process by which the ISU is rewarding A, and then C, and then D, and later on K, and maybe A again but slightly different, while hoping for some sort of vaguely defined B.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

That's Entertainment: Be Italian

With Worlds over, it's time to go back to some regularly scheduled programming, and since entertainment was woefully lacking in London (the Canadian one) for the most part, let's try to bring it back...

Did you know anything about Sara Hurtado and Adrià Díaz before the 2010-11 season? I didn't, either - but they were hard to miss at the 2011 Europeans. Although they were nowhere near the top ten, let alone the podium, the first ice dancers to represent Spain gave a very entertaining performance in the FD.

Hurtado and Díaz had made the switch to ice dance just three years earlier, and at the time they were still training in Spain (they have since changed coaches and relocated to Montreal). What made their program especially noteworthy was the first lift: they are not the first ice dance team to do a reverse lift, but I can't think of any others who have done it as a scoring lift under the IJS. The judges were suitably impressed, and the duo earned a level 4 and positive GOEs.

I don't know how she was able to breath with that thing around her neck.

In an interview with, Díaz said that their cool lift had been an accidental discovery, or, as Hurtado explained: "We were just playing. Suddenly I grab his legs, he goes, 'Sara, catch me!' I catch him and he goes, 'Wow, we could do that as a lift! What if you let go of your hands and we go in a straight line?' Our coach looked at it and said it would work. It took some time for Adri to get in the right place on my knees. He was scared to let himself go."

While not the best technicians (hardly a surprise, with their limited experience), Hurtado has star quality and Díaz is fun to watch, too. Their progress seems to have stalled the past couple of seasons, but they did manage a personal best at Worlds, so maybe they are getting back on track... I do hope that they can improve their skills and elements, and perhaps some day come close to the achievements of fellow Team Spain member Javier Fernandez.

The concept for the "that's entertainment" posts was explained in the first entry in the series. If you have ideas and further suggestions, please feel free to share them!  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

2013 Worlds and some implications for the Olympic season

Worlds are over except for the gala, and we've had some expected results, some shockers, a few head scratching moments, blatant robbing of skaters, and some bizarre scoring. Or in other words: it's business as usual in figure skating! I will never claim to know all and see all when I look into my crystal ball, but I do make the occasional correct prediction (e.g. that of the comeback skaters, only Shen and Zhao would win OGMs in Vancouver), so I will attempt to divine what the results mean for the coming year and how some skaters and federations might wish to proceed.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Scoring of Tomáš Verner: The Epitome of The Failings of IJS

First, let me clarify something. I love

Worlds 2013: 3rd Day, Men LP

Did I say in a previous post that the SP was an emotional rollercoaster? Well, that was just a figure of speech then, I didn't really think it was, but I really mean it now when I say: That LP was an emotional rollercoaster and tunnel of horror ghost train combined into one nightmarish experience.

It started off pleasantly enough. Over time one has come to accept certain things, most importantly that some skaters can't escape their destiny, or their prospective scoring. There are good days, bad days. Favourites win, favourites lose, favourites get the short end of the stick, programme-choreography and performance don't necessarily matter etc. etc. You probably know what I mean, all those minuscule vanities. There comes a time, when you realise that is simply the circle of skating as an artform doing nothing more than imitating life. So far so good.

Should I bother you with the early groups? Maybe a wee bit:

Justus Strid put really some effort into his performance. The music made me immediately think of P/B's Circus but, to draw upon T.S. Eliot, it's all a great body of skating. There were 4 broken glass sound effects which was a bit too much in that regard but still, despite the falls, enjoyable, good to end on a choreo step. I encourage that. Well done I say, even if he was less than happy after the programme.

Meneer Hendrickx. He has really improved his skills and shows a certain feel for his material. Also landed his stuff throughout, which always helps. Also, well done.

Tomas Verner: I had hoped, and was pretty sure, it could only go upwards for him after his performances at the Europeans. He has the skills and can also still do it in the presentation department as he proves time and again in every Gala he participates. May the bittersweet Saffron comment further on that.

Misha Ge, natural performer, youthful refreshing attitude, blog favourite of ours, and it's always a pleasure to watch a skater put all his personality into his performances. If anything underscored in that department or others overscored?, probably both.

Peter Liebers, straight up landed everything in a very good skate. I suggest a non-brown and more flattering sp-trouser, but he ended up only one place shy of getting two spots, which is very very good considering the dense and very competitive field.

Rapidly are we approaching the top.

Takahito Mura pleasantly surprised me with a technically strong skate that also was very enjoyable in choreography and he performed it well. The music is partly difficult to skate to fittingly, and I appreciate how they put this together. Also, well done.

Fast forward to Brian Joubert. The Maximus of our hearts, the champion of The Quad! statistics. I wasn't expecting much, I was expecting a decent skate. My favourites never seem to win, anyway. Then suddenly, there he was: not having fallen on his ass even once in the whole competition, doing three Quads! over the whole event, and even doing 3 combos in the LP. Unfortunately, the system states that he should have rather fallen on a 4S than doing a clean 3S in the beginning, and, thusly, he invalidated his last combo.

Luckily, he need not feel bad about that little mishap, as the following option would have barely elevated him into 7th, at the most: Falling on a fully rotated 4S and having the Flip(E) count gives him roughly 6.5 points more at the most.

For a moment I thought he had done it. I knew he hadn't though. He doesn't pick up GOE easily normally, like he did here in the SP, much to my surprise, and a great Joubert skate does score around 160 at the maximus [sic!], which would have him in 5th now. Deep down I felt that was more than possible, more than deserved. But alas... the downgrades, the GOEs, the combo-rules... Blessings of the new system, here they shine bright like a diamond.

Ah, lest if forget, the podium skaters:

Did I say in that other post I was fine with overscoring of the clear winner as it happened in 6.0 as well? Luckily, not quite. I said the event was already decided and in 6.0 you could, no matter how much 6.0s not be further ahead than in 1st. after the SP. So, for the future, dear judges: Only overscore during the LP as that is the last segment and you have seen everything of a skater once he has finished, you can still somehow let the SP margins seep into your LP considerations. Who are we kidding. That happens anyway, subconsciously and through skating order.

Instead of commenting on the podium skaters, I'm offering you a poll, in which you can participate to make the vox populi heard. If not for me, do it for Maximus. And feel free to engage via the comment function.

Take your pick:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Worlds 2013: 1st Day

That Mens competition was really an emotional roller coaster. I had put myself into my reclining chair and was in the most chillaxing of moods. I had already followed the Pairs SP and had just returned from an evening session where I indulged into my own humble skating efforts. (To be honest, I was rather great today :D, but that's for a different column.)

Unfortunately, I can't make a case for the programmes of S/S this season, but as much as I don't fancy their stuff, they are not worse than what V/T are putting out there. What we are witnessing is the ever more gradually growing gap between V/T and the rest of the field, most importantly S/S. K/S delivered, and I was pleasantly surprised, I fancied them ever since they toned themselves down a little. Much appreciated K/S, all in all, lots of the lower pairs had better programmes and performances than the upper pairs. B/H and J/C for instance. Anyhow, on to the Men. These days, Canada is on daylight saving time, even before it hits Europe, so watching is rather convenient.

Now, there were a few "huh?"-moments during our watching of the competition. One of the first ones was after the programme of Brian Joubert. We like Brian. He can always count on a soft spot in our hearts, so he did somehow deliver, and with Quad+Double I suspected his scores to be in the high 70s, maybe 80. He got 84! At Euros he got 83 something with a 4+3. That made me say: What's going on here?

My old skating love Tomas Verner messed up all of his jump elements and managed to score 68 something, in the vein of an almost but not quite clean Misha Ge who once again put all his Panache on display. I am above reproach when it comes to bias against Tomas Verner, but I wondered, he had scored worse with better performances in the past.

Denis Ten, a skater with very good skating skills, and a previous record of 78 something in the SP, scored a whopping 91!!! While he really put it down, it made us wonder.

Then it dawned upon us. It was the love of the Canadians for huge scores. And, presumably, the setting up of a clean Chan for a record breaking international score. (Granted, it's Worlds but it's also Canada) Note that I'm not saying a messy Chan would have been propped up. But Skate Canada and the crowd just love huge scores. I remember Debbie Wilkes at Canadian Nationals a year ago or two talking up the nationals records to please the crowd, it's just the longing for new records and higher scores. Nothing wrong with that, if it keeps you interested in the sport.

Chan, thankfully, delivered and was awarded with a whopping 98. He is in 1st place, and deservedly, just for the record. (His programmes this year are better than ever, and I don't question him having a modern dance coach or whatever, it's doing him good as far as I am concerned) Everyone who has the potential to score similarly high PCS faltered today: Takahashi had too many URs, Hanyu messed up his quad and combo, etc. etc. We all know that the PCS factor for the LP is 2, which makes it harder to catch up on the tech side only. The Mens segment is, thusly,  already decided.

I wonder if that is the competition format to further embrace. Even if we set aside the problems of the IJS for a moment, we are still left with a Men's event that's virtually decided after the short programme. Under 6.0 we had the factor of the favoured skater delivering and being given 6.0s, but he could never be further ahead than his 1st place ordinal allowed him to be. Be it as it may. There is still the Ladies event. Traditionally not as over scored as the Men or Dance. As the Pairs are catching up, maybe the Ladies will too at these Worlds.

Tot later, guys :D

Monday, March 11, 2013

Memory lane: Yuzuru Hanyu

In March 2010, Yuzuru Hanyu won the junior World title, at the age of fifteen. I had spotted Hanyu at the same event a year earlier, when he was among the youngest skaters in the field but showed amazing potential, enough that I was hoping to adopt him so that he could represent us instead of Japan :) Although the judges did not show sufficient appreciation for him at the time, I concluded that Hanyu was going to go far - possibly becoming a contender following the Sochi Olympics; I had thought him too young to contend before that. Was I ever wrong!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

From the Desk of Mr. Y. Speed: Shape the future!

Dear Members,

as the season is approaching its climax and at the same time its end, I want to conduct an investigation into your satisfaction with my outstanding work. Although I am quite sure you all have only the most noteworthy praise to convey with regard to my efforts, I still like to have some valiant statistical feedback and impressive numbers to show off to other sports administers or even random people I meet on the street. There is nothing like a good promotion really.

I highly encourage you to vote in all of the following polls (especially he last one) and help shaping the future of the sport and my contributions to it.

Your reading habits of my communications:

My innovations, mark everything you like:

Regarding my future labors as dedicated official:

Friday, March 8, 2013

That's entertainment: Adrian Schultheiss's 2009-10 LP

I'm not feeling the love for most of this seasons' programs, and have been watching older ones on Youtube more than I watch the newer ones. As Saffron noted in her post about Misha Ge, neither a skater nor a program need be perfect in order to be entertaining or memorable. With that in mind, here's one such program (more to follow!): Adrian Schultheiss's wacky LP from the 2009-10 Olympic season, a combination of Massive Attack's Teardrop, Cypress Hill's Insane in the Brain, Prodigy's Smack My Bitch Up, and some Super Mario Brothers thrown in for good measure.

Schultheiss skates to a top-ten finish at 2010 Worlds

Tell us about your program, Adrian: "I wanted to be even more crazy and funny for the public in a hip-hop way... People say to me, ‘This is what figure skating needs, somebody to do something new, to wake up the public a little bit.’ Because if you watch the classical [music], as I have in my short program, people get bored easy. You need variation. That’s what I’m trying to show.” 

According to Schultheiss's website, he will not be able to return to competition this season, but plans to compete next season. Here's to hoping he'll stay healthy, both for his own sake and because of the entertainment value he provides!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

If we ran the ISU

What would you change if you ran the ISU? Here at SFT, we have been pondering this question for some time. How would we improve skating? What can be done to make the sport more enjoyable and appealing - visually, athletically and artistically? The following is a list of ideas we came up with. It is by no means definitive, and we reserve the right to make it even better as time goes on...

Thursday, February 28, 2013

2013 Junior worlds and moving from junior to senior

Junior worlds are currently taking place in Milan; the results page is here. Fans often like to speculate about the future success of junior skaters (or even younger skaters). It's worth keeping in mind, however, that while many skaters have found success at both the junior and senior level...

Monday, February 25, 2013

From the Desk of Mr. Y. Speed: A New Agenda - Learning from other sports

To all members,

as is my duty as dedicated official, my attentions are constantly tangent to all kinds of other sports. Watching them in close proximity, I've since come to resolute that drawing from other successful sports and implementing their innovations into the disciplines we administrate, is the best way to secure the future of the athletic endeavours we govern. 

One of the factors of today's success is providing a spectacle that meets the demands of exiting competitive sport and a televisable format that appeals to sponsors and audience as well. So far, we have been working hard on effecting change in that regard. With the look towards the other sports, we can advance this agenda even more.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Kiira Korpi withdraws from 2013 Worlds

This is not a huge surprise, as Korpi had withdrawn from the European Championships with an Achilles tendon injury. Now comes word from Finland that she will be unable to compete at this season's Worlds (she also missed the event last season).

Korpi had a wonderful start to the 2012-13 season, with her first-ever Grand Prix Final. Hopefully she can build on that as she works toward the Olympics next year. Get well soon, Kiira!

Edited to add: Ice Network now has an English-language story about Korpi's withdrawal.

From the Desk of Mr. Y. Speed: Suggested Reading

Dear members,

as is common knowledge, I devote extended periods of my time to surfing the information super highways. This I do in order to broaden my horizon and find inspiration for my labours in sport administration. I cannot say how delighted I was, when I discovered a certain publication from a governing body that features each issue a great editorial piece by a fellow administrator.

Upon reading, I immediately recognised him to be a kindred spirit. From the way he administers his sport, one can tell he is always working hard to implement progress and develop the future in all disciplines.

You can access current and back issues here:

Be sure to everytime read the enlightening editorial pieces. It will help you comprehend how the minds of people in sports administration work.

I myself already am inspired by several of the ideas that I've read about, and surely with the further percolation of said ideas in my head, it will lead to astonishing new developments in the future.

With the kindest regards

Y. Speed

Friday, February 15, 2013

Skaters, Take Note of Misha Ge!

You know how we keep discussing how restricting and generic IJS is on many elements? I think the level step sequences are especially gruesome to watch. They are mostly generic, monotonous, slow, take forever and usually are in disconnect with the music. In my opinion, the worst part of the level requirements for the steps was the upper body involvement/movement bit. Because, once that was put in, we got the flailing windmills and the "kissing/saluting the ice" ladies, to say the least.

The arms flail so much, you can hardly see them
I guarantee you, there is nothing that interesting on the ice to require such close inspection.
I think it is not impossible to actually tick this box and still do something original and perform to the music, instead of flailing like crazy while some music is playing in the background. Lambiel was always so good at that. His step sequences were so fluid and musical, you barely noticed he was doing them, while also ticking the boxes. Takahashi is also another good example. And you don't even need to be a top class skater like Takahashi or Lambiel to be able to pull it off. You can even beat them at their own game, with not a world class choreographer either but your mum choreographing no less. How, you ask? Behold and pay special attention to the step sequence starting at 2.47:

 Just brilliant!

Now this is what performing flamenco should look like, while still getting a level 3 on steps and great GOE. I loved it!

Another thing Misha is so great at is exhibitions (which is natural given his flair for performance). If you haven't watched his gala from this year, you are really missing out on one of the greatest skating fun moments. 

Is he a natural, or what!

I don't know how many skater and group numbers were done to this number but none came close to this. This is what performing a gala should be about, not skating a copycat and watered down competitive programme to a slow, annoying pop tune or skating around without any feel for the music. His performance is directed to the audience from start to finish and incorporates a fantastic feel of music and great dancing. Absolutely wonderful!

Skaters, please take note! This is what performing really looks like. And if a middle of the pile guy can do it so effortlessly, I'm sure some of you can rock it too, Misha Style.

Hanyu sure has the Misha Style down.

Image by courtesy of Misha's twitter

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Coulda Woulda Shoulda

There is no denying Figure Skating is a challenging sport. More so than some sports because;
a) You actually need to have an interest in figure skating to begin with, which (let's face it) is not very likely in most countries for the young male. Even in young females, the interest can be very little to non-existent if we are talking about a non-skating country (surely I would have had no interest in skating, hadn't it been for my mum and her obssession with Katarina Witt),
b) Even if you have interest, you/your sponsor must be able to finance the training costs, which are quite high, and
c) Even if you have met the above criteria, you might still end up not taking up skating because there are no decent rinks in your city/country (like in my case).
So, I think it is safe to assume that in terms of shining skating talents, we probably have a huge pool of lost opportunities on a global scale. I guess it is no wonder we get wunderkinds like Yuzuru Hanyu or Javier Fernandez once in a blue moon.
So, back in the day when I was following the TV competition Buzda Dans (Dancing on Ice, version Turkey), I have come across Ilhan Mansiz, who, in my opinion, was a shining skating talent gone to waste. He is a retired footballer (early retirement due to knee injury) so clearly he had some advantage, being an athlete, but his progress was still remarkable. To quote Samantha from SATC, he was a perfect case of Coulda Woulda Shoulda.

Monday, February 11, 2013

From rink to rink, blame Canada!

Picture me on my chaiselongue, wearing my favourite dressing gown, notepad in hand, a crème de menthe within reach, scribbling away at his post, and lackadaisically (as is customary these days) glancing over at the skating broadcast now and then. Thus was I happily, if somewhat idly, putting something on paper, when suddenly, in a strange twist of fate or rather an act of utter synchronicity, Kevin Reynolds took the 4CC Championship in quite remarkable fashion. Vouchsafe me a word with you by clicking on "Read more".

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Expect the unexpected - and then some

We all know that ice is slippery, that no result is guaranteed, and that even with PCS and GOEs often used to prop up favorites, there can be some surprising results. But what happened today in Osaka really does take the cake.

This actually happened. 

Congratulations to Kevin Reynolds, your 2013 Four Continents champion - who really did deliver a strong performance today (not as strong as the score suggests, but very good nonetheless). Also to Han Yan, who was able to hold on to a medal in his senior championship debut. I don't think Yuzuru Hanyu will be very pleased with his skating in the LP, but at least he managed a silver - which is considerably more than can be said for Daisuke Takahashi. Will the very unexpected results affect the skaters, and thus the outcome, in London (the Ontario one) next month? How does all this set up the guys for next season? Is global warming the culprit? Will the apocalypse - zombie or otherwise - soon be upon us?

Also, Mao landed her 3A and skated a fabulous SP! This certainly calls for a celebration.

Friday, February 8, 2013

An Open Letter to Jeffrey Buttle from his Fangirl

Dear Mr Buttle,

When I first laid eyes upon you, it was sometime in 2006. I am ashamed to say I didn't even really notice you before that. I was too involved in my love for Plushenko/Lambiel/Joubert. You won the bronze in 2006 games. I said meh.. Then you went on to win the gold at worlds in 2008, over my favourite at the time no less. I said more than meh but I will not utter those words here. Overall, I was pretty much indifferent to you as a skater. Sure, you had lovely skating skills and some interesting stuff but I was not sold at all.

Nice but still meh..

Then you retired after  the 2008 worlds. To be honest, I didn't feel too bad about that. I figured I probably won't come across your work much after that. I was ok with it.

Then you started working on shows. First, I said meh.. Then you kept on working in shows. I tried to say meh but I was getting more and more unconvinced with my indifference. I was becoming a fan.

Meh? Not so much.. In fact, quite yay!!!!
But the breakthrough really came when your choreographic work really started to resurface in the competitive arena.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Random thoughts about the IJS and its future

The IJS is now in its 10th season (9th full); following the Olympic season, it will have been in place for an entire decade. I have written here before about some of the effects I feel it has had on skating, both positive and negative. I view the off-season after the Olympics as a good point in time for the relevant people at the ISU to take a step back and look at what it’s accomplishing and what it isn't, and make a more serious effort to put together a system that can reward great skating without overly constraining it. The current approach of minor off-season tinkering and making changes as new problems arise has resulted in a system that’s too complex, and is reactive rather than proactive when it comes to promoting good skating. In my opinion, the core should be retained – element values, the idea of GOEs and PCS, rewarding rather than punishing – but there’s a lot that can be improved. Below are some of the questions I think should be considered; note that I’m not necessarily advocating any specific solutions.

Preface: I think skating is both a sport and an art, and much of this has to do with how to best combine and balance these two aspects, which can be contradictory at times.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

From the Desk of Mr. Y. Speed: Letter of Circulation

Today, in this breviloquent letter of circulation, I want to tackle some minor issue that was reported to me. Because I stay in close proximity to the sport, I often talk with all kinds of officials. Recently, acquainted judges come and tell me the following: "Y.", they say, "we sometimes have problems with judging certain components. More specifically with the assessment of the Performance and Execution Component. How should we, for instance, determine the physical, emotional and intellectual involvement, good Y.?"

Monday, January 28, 2013

Skater Appreciation: The Champion of my Heart

The famous "Plushenko stare of a champion"
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva is the kind of skater I have been dying to see for a while. Ever since she made a name for herself on the junior circle, I have been a fan. Maybe it has more to do with the current state of skating than Liza herself because when I list the reasons why I love her so, it makes me all the more depressed for how alienating skating has become to the casual viewer.

I love Liza because;

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Skating and me: the ending of a beautiful friendship?

I had followed skating on and off since the early 1990s, but didn't really get into it until the midst of the SLC Olympic cycle. Back then, all I could really watch was Euros and Worlds, sometimes not even that (the 2000-1 season… only to be seen years later, on Youtube), and forum participation was still years away for me. If there were skating blogs, I was unaware of their existence, and Youtube was not yet around to catch up on what I’d missed. So when the usual round of post-Olympic retirements occurred, I had not yet become particularly attached to any specific skaters, and it was fine. There were new skaters to follow, and some of my then-favorites were still around.

But it’s a decade and more later. Only a handful of 6.0 era skaters remain (to the best of my knowledge, Brian Joubert, Evgeni Plushenko, Pang/Tong and Aliona Savchenko are the only active skaters who competed at SLC). Most of my favorites are either retired or cannot compete at the level where I'd like to see them, and after Sochi, none will remain. Unfortunately, I find that I just don't seem to care as much about the next generation of skaters, talented as some of them may be. I barely watched the European Championships, and much as I would like to blame Eurosport for its inexplicable fondness for the African Nations Cup, I did have other viewing options. The only program from Canadian Nationals I watched was Sandhu’s SP, and I doubt I’ll even try looking for anything from US Nationals. The way I’d been drifting away from skating really hit me when I first saw the starting orders/results page for Euros last week. Like many skating fans, seeing this page come up had always made me happy, as it meant an exciting new event was beginning. But this time, I felt nothing. What went wrong? Can I still find enough to care about to watch, let alone blog?