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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).

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