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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.

Pairs:
* Stacy Kemp/David King of Great Britain had two very good skates (by their standards) to finish atop the standings of the Sochi aspirants; the pair will be skating in their second Olympics. She still can't jump, but they looked better than last year.
* Ukrainians Elizaveta Usmantseva/Roman Talan finished five points behind Kemp and King as the second qualifying pair. Their program was dull and the costumes unfortunate, but they did what they needed to do. This is a fairly new pair, though Talan has competed at the Olympics before.
* Natalja Zabijako/Alexander Zaboev qualified a spot for Estonia. I understand that citizenship issues (his) may prevent them from taking advantage?
* Israelis Andrea Davidovich and Evgeni Krasnaploski skated a fairly strong LP to make up for their SP errors and grab the final Olympic spot - the first Israeli pair to do so, I think. This is a very new pair and Davidovich is making the switch from singles, so well done to them.
* On the bubble are Japan's Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara, who should get in if anyone above them encounters problems and will skate in the team event regardless. Takahashi had a tough LP, with two falls and another jump mistake. Hopefully we'll see her in better form later this season.

Ladies
First, Miki Ando's ability to skate as well as she did so soon after having a baby is quite impressive. Not a great score, but a respectable showing nonetheless. Whatever she's trying to accomplish, I wish her all the best.

Way to go, Miki!

* Brooklee Han of Australia is the first qualifier for the Olympics. In the previous Olympics, Australian Cheltzie Lee was a pleasant surprise; we'll see if Han can turn in an equally strong performance.
* Elene Gedevanishvili is headed to her third Olympics despite making several mistakes in her LP, including the choice of a tent-like dress (perhaps one of Ando's maternity outfits?). Could a fourth trip be in the cards for Gedevanishvili in 2018? She is still only 23.
* Anne Line Gjersem became the first Norwegian lady to qualify in, well, a while (more specifically, since 1964). Maybe she'll inspire some Norwegian girls to pick up the sport.
* Kerstin Frank, Austria - I like Frank, who skates with grace and joy and shows that skating is not just for ballerina types. I was very happy that she made it and from her reaction to her score, she clearly knew she was in. Good luck to her! 
* Czech skater Elizaveta Ukolova had a pretty LP dress that had very little to do with her program music. But other ladies should take note, because she looked very nice indeed.
* Isadora Williams, who is from the US but represents Brazil, is the final qualifier after a good SP and a not-so-good LP. Williams is the first Brazilian skater to make it to the Olympics.
* On the bubble: Inga Januleviciute from Lithuania came closest, followed by Finland's Juulia Turkkila, pressed into the qualifying competition due to Kiira Korpi's injury. If Korpi is healthy enough to compete at the Olympics, she'll have to rely on other countries foregoing their spots. It worked out for Cheltzie Lee in 2010, maybe Kiira will have similar luck.

Men
* Representing Israel, Alexei Bychenko skated as well as I've seen him to finish as the top qualifier - he was third in the LP and fifth overall, an impressive showing for sure. Whoever suggested a Flamenco LP might have been thinking of a more expressive skater, but Bychenko certainly got the job done.
* Romania's Zoltan Kelemen is the second qualifier and headed to his second Olympics. He's been around for a while and I've actually seen him skate live in the past. I can't say I remember anything about it, but he was very good this time.
* Michael Christian Martinez, whose program I sadly missed, moved up in the LP to qualify the first ever Olympic spot for the Philippines. He actually is from the Philippines and only trains part time in the US, so this is another great achievement for the 16-year old. There are two men from the Philippines who could potentially be sent to Sochi (Christopher Caluza is the other) I am not sure what their criteria will be for picking one.
* Brendan Kerry ensured another Olympic entry for Australia on the strength of his SP and the first half of his LP. Will this be Australia's biggest Olympic figure skating contingent ever?
* Ukraine's Yakov Godorozha is Sochi-bound as well. All I remember is West Side Story and him wearing a very orange shirt.
* Italy gets the last spot, based on Paul Bonifacio Parkinson's performance. His choreographer is listed as Jeffrey Buttle, and you can see that to some extent, but he had a rough second half in the LP. Italy's spot could end up going to Paolo Bacchini, whose track record is stronger than Parkinson's.
* On the bubble: Maciej Cieplucha from Poland, who was five points away from qualifying, will have to wait and hope. Second alternate Luiz Manella of Brazil was 24th in the SP and 4th in the LP.

Ice Dance
I missed most of this part of the competition, but caught a few of teams in the final two groups.
* Not surprisingly, China's Xintong Huang/Xun Zheng will be making their second Olympic appearance. Hopefully with better costumes than they had in Vancouver.
* Alisa Agafonova/Alper Ucar will be the first Olympic ice dancers from Turkey after performing well in both segments of the competition (though their FD is not my cup of tea). Ucar was once a very mediocre singles skater and made the switch to ice dance only four years ago. I remember seeing him with his previous partner in his first season doing ice dance; it was... not good. He's improved so much and it was nice to see how thrilled they were with their result.
* Danielle O'Brien and Gregory Merriman's clown-themed free dance got them an Olympic ticket. I wasn't a huge fan of it, but they have been together forever and it's nice that they'll finally get to skate at the Olympic level. Massimo Scali had better be in the Kiss and Cry with them for the rest of the season.
* Japan's Chris and Cathy Reed are on track for their second Olympics. They did quite well in the free dance, though Chris looked completely beat at the end.
* My lower-ranked favorites Sara Hurtado/Adrian Diaz just made it to qualify as the first Olympic ice dancers from Spain. Good PCS, but they got a bunch of deductions. I loved their free dance. I love them. The judges need to love them more so that they can at least be my mid-ranked favorites. But for now: yay!!!

This has a lot of potential

* On the bubble: Federica Testa/Lukas Csolley of Slovakia missed out by less than a point.

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