Thursday, June 13, 2013

Interview with Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim

In the course of one season, Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, who teamed up in April, 2012, have gone from a brand-new team to one of the top U.S. pairs teams. They began their season with a win at their first international competition together, the 2012 Cup of Nice, and then proceeded to win Midwestern Sectionals. Shortly after, thanks to their win at Cup of Nice, after a few withdrawals, they were given a spot at the 2012 NHK Trophy, where they turned a lot of heads, placing 4th. After NHK, they made a rare decision to change their program in the middle of the season, which they debuted at the 2013 Nationals, where they placed 2nd. Despite an injury to Alexa at the 2013 Four Continents Championships, after their training mates Caydee Denney and John Couglin withdrew from the 2013 World Championships due to a previous injury to John that had not healed in time, Alexa and Chris were given the second U.S. pairs spot at Worlds, an opportunity which they fully seized, skating their best ever, and earned personal bests which placed them in the top 10 (they placed 9th) at their first Worlds ever.
Skating fans, journalists, bloggers, etc, have taken note of this new team's talent, potential, and on-ice chemistry (they are also an off-ice couple), as well as their tremendous twist and throws. I, along with many others, am excitedly looking forward to what this fabulous team delivers next season, and to whether they nab one of two spots available for U.S. pairs teams at the Olympics.
I had the opportunity to interview Alexa and Chris, and I spoke to them about this past season, how they felt about all the success they achieved, the upcoming season, as well as a couple fun facts at the end, including the correct pronunciation of both of their last names! Enjoy!


(Note: the purple text in the answers was written by Alexa, and the blue was written by Chris)

Q: Now, you teamed up a little over a year ago – can you talk a little bit about how you found each other, how you decided to try out with each other, how you decided you wanted to pursue the partnership, and how and why you decided to train in Colorado Springs instead of Connecticut?
We found each other through our current coach Dalilah Sappenfield. I decided I wanted to leave Connecticut for personal reasons. When you have a gut feeling it is sometimes hard to ignore. I had a gut instinct that I didn't belong in CT and that there was something greater out there for me. I called Dalilah and planned to move out to CO sometime in April. I had a possible tryout planned with a Polish boy, but that was it. All I knew was that I wanted Dalilah to be my coach.
I was skating with my former partner Andrea with Dalilah and she wanted to move and train in California. I did not want to leave the World Arena and my coaches, my family, school, and my job so I made the choice to stay back. I had already heard Alexa was coming out to Colorado Springs to have some tryouts and skate here with Dalilah. Around the same week that Andrea left me, Dalilah said that Alexa was coming out so I could tryout with her and go from there. Dalilah told me to trust her and that she would not point me in the wrong direction. Alexa came earlier then planned and we scheduled the tryout. We decided to skate together because it felt right. Dalilah pointed out our long lines and I was intrigued with the immediate chemistry.

Q: You were both obviously trained by different coaches when you first began skating, which means you were both taught slightly different techniques and styles – what were some of the challenges in adapting to each other’s techniques, and how long did it take until you felt like you had melded together as a pair, both technique and general skating-wise?
I grew up with a Russian style of teaching during my singles career. When I moved to CT to train with Vadim Naumov, who was also Russian, my technique was VERY different than Dalilah's. The hardest element I had to adjust to was twist. It almost felt like a different element with the changes she made. I think our general skating meshed quickly. I also think that Chris has a always had a solid lifting technique, so it was quite easy for him to adapt to me.
Both of us came from different coaches and there is a difficulty in that with technique. Normally when two skaters each come from different camps you adjust. You kind of take pieces of both and mesh them together and it takes some time. We used more of her throw technique and my lift and twist. Meshing did not take long we had all are elements in a couple months and were off competing.

Q: You had a fabulous debut season as a pair – you won your first international competition together (where you beat the pair who at the time, were the reigning European bronze medalists), placed 4th at your first Grand Prix event, placed 2nd at Nationals (and after a withdrawal by your training mates, you were given the second spot on the World team), and placed 9th at your first World Championships (and the first Worlds for either of you). How would you rate the season? What you had hoped for, more than you expected, far more than you expected, or beyond your wildest dreams?
For us the season was beyond our wildest dreams. You never know how quickly a team will click or how long it could take. We both shared the same goals and dreams so the desire and discipline was present everyday on the ice. We did not think we would be as succsessful as we were in our first season together so we enjoyed to process. After placing second at Nationals we were thrilled to go to Worlds because we earned it.

The season went past anything we could have imagined! Especially being our first season and neither of  us ever having competed in a Grand Prix or Worlds. The season was a blessing and we are both very grateful. We earned our spot at worlds and hope next year we won't have to hear that any team made it because another team withdrew. 

Q: Were you surprised to win the Cup of Nice, or did you go in believing that you had a chance at winning?
I was extremely surpised by the win. I think that's when I opened my eyes to the possibilities. I hadn't won anything since my singles career, so that moment was really uplifitng for myself
We were very pleased to have won. Going into it as our first international competition together, we were hoping to just skate well not knowing how the international scene would take to us.

Q: You were given the NHK Trophy after a couple of withdrawals. Were you shocked to receive a GP assignment in your first season? What were your expectations and goals for NHK?
We were informed that because of our win at Coupe de Nice we were first on the alternate list for the GP series, but we did not think anyone would withdraw from the GP. We were at Midwestern Sectionals when we got the news so we were celebrating before our long program!
We wanted one from the beginning of the season and through withdrawals we got one. So it all worked out and we took the opportunity and ran with it. Our goals were to skate well and represent the USA as best we could.

Q: Between NHK and Nationals, you changed your free skate to Life is Beautiful. What were the factors in deciding to change your free skate – was there something specific you disliked about your Last of the Mohicans free skate, did you decide that the program wasn’t for you, were you looking for something different, or were there other reasons? How did you decide on Life is Beautiful for your new free skate?
We really grew as a team and the Mohicans was something we put together without knowing what suited us best. We felt like we outgrew the program rather fast and no longer enjoyed skating to it. We felt that if we wanted to compete with the higher level teams, we needed to step it up. We chose the music before NHK and were just waiting to get back and start over. 

Q: Were there any challenges in having to choreograph, learn, and get comfortable with a new free skate in such a short amount of time before Nationals, and if so, what were they? How did you overcome those challenges to perform your stellar free skate at Nationals, which earned you the silver medal?
The new program came together quickly and was easier to skate through compared to the Mohicans. We were also very excited about the program and it was very motivating for us. Dalilah coreographed it and she knew what would be most ideal for patterns and entrances. If anything, there was more ease in the Life is Beautiful program.

Q: Before you went to Worlds, you traveled to Japan for the 2013 Four Continents Championships, but ultimately ended up withdrawing before the competition began, due to a foot injury to Alexa. How did you make the decision to withdraw? Alexa, were you unable to skate, and/or were you worried that you would further injure the foot if you skated? Were Worlds also in the back of your mind when you withdrew from 4CC (i.e., did you want to still have a chance to go, if Caydee and John withdrew)?
I decided to withdraw when I couldn't stand on my foot any longer. Jumps and throws were out of the question. The morning I withdrew from the event I wasn't able to spin on my foot without a ton of pain. I thought the lifts would be pain free, but the takeoffs were enough to cause me to cry a bit. I wasn't sure what was happening, but I was nervous that something was seriously wrong. I've always pushed through pain, but I just wasn't strong enough this time. I was sad because I felt like I'd let down Chris, as well as all of the USA. I wasn't thinking about Worlds at that point because I believe in fate and I knew if it was meant to be it would happen.

Q: How long did it take the rehab the foot, how did it affect your training as you went into Worlds, and did you still feel the injury as you competed at Worlds?
Therapy for my foot took a lot of time and patience. I was fortnate to see Melinda Couch in CO before Worlds and have her be the therapist traveling with us. She is the reason I could compete at Worlds and I am forever grateful for that. I still had pain during worlds but it was manageable.

Q: Now at Worlds, you obviously had a tremendous competition, placing in the top 10 at your first Worlds, something not a lot of pairs teams can hold a claim to. What were your goals and expectations for Worlds? Were you aiming at a top 10 finish, and did you believe you had a shot? In terms of scoring, what were your goals? Were you hoping to earn new personal bests, gain certain levels on certain elements, break a certain point level, etc?
We earned our personal best and we were blown away by the scores! We always aim for the best, as most do, but we didn't think we would claim our personal best at worlds. It was a gratifying experience! 
For Worlds we wanted to just go out and skate our programs. We did not put any expectations on having to place in the top 10. The main focus was just to put it all out there and skate our best and we did that so it was a success no matter the placement. After we had finished and got the scores we did I was very happy to be in the top 10. Element-wise we had our set levels on everything and we obviously wanted to get the levels we were going for and we did which was the first time all year that happened.

Q: Now in the video below (your free skate from Worlds, which was fantastic), at 8:06 in the video, as you sit in the kiss and cry, Alexa can be heard saying, “I don’t think we’re going to get there,” which I assume is referring to a score level. After your free skate, what did you think you were going to score? As I mentioned on Twitter earlier, you seemed so genuinely shocked at the scores, and Alexa nearly started crying as it was announced that you were currently in first place (in addition, you again beat the reigning European bronze medalists; at this point, it was Berton and Hot├írek of Italy).
I remember saying that I felt like the program was in slow motion. Every little detail I noticed and I had asked her if it looked like we were in slow motion! Haha!  
It was a big shock getting the score we did, even though we were hoping to get a higher score than NHK (the last time we competed internationally) because we both think this program was a lot better. I mean, we beat who we beat there, titles or whatever they were coming in to Worlds with meant nothing, you know, not everyone is going to skate their best at every competition and that's what makes it a competition. 

Q: What would say was your favorite moment/competition of the season? Given your success, I’m sure there are many, but what was your number one moment/competition?
We have a special place in our hearts for Coupe de Nice because it was our first big moment, but Worlds is definitely our favorite. Worlds is a dream come true and competing there will never get old. 
Worlds was the best moment; I mean finishing your season on that high of a note is amazing. It gives you confidence for the season to come.

Q: Now, looking ahead to next season: given your top 12 finish at Worlds, you’re guaranteed 2 GP events, you have a bye to Nationals next year, and many people believe that the competition for the 2 pairs spots at the Olympics next year is a 3-team race: the two of you, Castelli/Shnapir, and Denney/Coughlin. What are your goals for next season? What do you hope to accomplish, specifically in your GP events and Nationals? More importantly, what do you believe it is going to take for you to make the Olympic team? Considering that you were not only the higher ranked US team at Worlds (you beat Castelli/Shnapir by nearly 10 points) but are also among the top 10 pairs teams in the world, do you realistically see yourself making the Olympic team, and if so, what is your plan for the next season to make that a reality? In your eyes, how do you see yourself stacking up to the other teams around the world?
We think our new programs will sit higher than last year's programs. We want to make the Olympic team and feel that it is tangible. However, a lot of hard work needs to be put into this season and we need to make great strides in our skating to be at the level of our world competitors. We are working on staying in the moment. If we focus on the Olympics in February, we won't make it through the summer. One day at a time is what we are thinking right now. 
I think Nationals is going to be more than a 3 team race, everyone brings their best and no one is guaranteed anything. You can be a two time national champion coming into Nationals and not make it so its anyone's to take. The season is early and we have plenty of work to do to reach our goals. Everyone that qualifies for Nationals in senior wants to make the team and we are no different. At the GP's that we have this season, we want to hit our personal best and skate well. Our focus this year is not elements but our component marks; that was our focus when we were picking music and choreography choices. 

Q: You recently announced your music choices for next season: “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” for you short program, and “Ever After” for your long program. Can you talk a little bit about these programs/pieces? How you came to a decision for these two pieces of music, what the themes will be, how you view them versus this past season’s programs, etc.

We picked these programs to help our skating grow, and they are far and beyond last year's. The programs show off our improvements in expression and body movements. We will be telling a story in each program and competition we do this season.  

Q: Technically, will you be increasing the difficulty of anything (throws and side-by-sides, mainly), and if so, what will you increase? 
We will keep our throws the same, and will be adding sbs triple toes!

Q: What would you both consider to be your strengths and weaknesses and individual skaters, and as a pair?
Our strength is the technical aspect of skating as we showed last season. Both of us are strong skaters and our biggest weakness is the component side of skating which we are nipping in the butt early this season to strengthen it.

Q: Who is your all-time favorite pairs team?
Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Q: What is your favorite aspect about your coach?
She is down to earth and realistic about our goals and motives. She tells us how it is and doesn't sugarcoat things. She is very easy to talk to and we both trust her very much. Her experience and past with other pair teams is proof that she knows what she's doing. We both believe she is the best coach for us. 
She has known me since the beginning of my pairs career and knows how to get me to be the best I can be. 

Q: Now, this question is mainly for you Alexa, but also for you Chris. Alexa, in every competition from this season, from commentators to announcers, I have heard your last name pronounced probably 15 different ways – phonetically, what is the correct pronunciation or your last name? And Chris, for your last name, I’ve heard it pronounced with and without the K – which is the correct way? 
Seh- meh- kah   
With the K!!

Q: Finally, for each of you, what is one thing that fans do not know about you (it can be anything – skating, personality, etc)?
Everyone knows I love cars and fishing but Alexa and I love watching tv shows on netflix. We watch them during our breaks and on a saturday night we love to stay in and watch shows. 

Thank you both so much!

Side Note: I would just like to mention that from my brief, online experience talking to them, Alexa and Chris are clearly two incredibly polite and gracious people. When I wrote to them one night, hoping to interview them, I waited less than 24 hours for a response, which was: We would like to do an interview with you! They were both very sweet and polite when I corresponded with them, and I wish them nothing but the best of luck! I was so excited and honored to be able to do this interview, and I cannot thank them enough!

- IllusionSpin

Friday, May 24, 2013

(Least) Favorite Things Friday

In honor of the fact that it is FOURTY-EIGHT DEGREES FAHRENHEIT in NYC on May 24th, I'm doing a Least Favorite Things Friday, as opposed to the typical Favorite Things Friday.

Here are my least favorite programs from the past season:

5.

While Tom Z has blatantly stated that he doesn't give a flying crap about choreography, this is quite possibly the worst program one of his student's has ever done. His complete lack of anything resembling actual choreography (someone please explain to me how he got a 7.39 for Choreography - I would give it a 3), utter reliance on crossovers, and general hockey player-like/truckdriver skating leave many bewildered as to how exactly he managed to beat the always-stunning Jeremy Abbott at Nationals. Perhaps Max should go back to hockey, which based on is skating, is where he belongs.

4.

Heads up Gracie: in case nobody mentioned it to you, Life is Beautiful is a bittersweet Holocaust movie, not a Disney beauty pageant movie. With that knowledge, please inject that story into your program, and take out the peppy Kimmie Meissner-arm-waving. Another program like this next season will not get you a World or Olympic medal.

3.

I just cannot deal with the arm-waving.

2.

As Phil Hersh said, "they skated to the worst ever cover of Bolero." And as Dave Lease said, "This Bolero performance was the trashiest, tackiest thing I have ever seen."

1.

Oh man (or Molly, as I should probably say). This takes the cake for the absolute worst program for the 2012-2013 season. I just don't even know where to begin. The outfits - please explain how they match the music. And as one poster on GoldenSkate said, what is this team's obsession with getting shot? Nikita shot Elena on their way to a JWC in 2010, and now Nikita gets shot by the music. The dialogue is just bizarre, the choreography is literally them acting out the words. Oh Molly. Elena and Nikita, if you even want to think about the Olympic bronze medal, I have two words for you: LEAVE. MOROZOV. And go back to Zhulin. Remember that Don Quixote he did for you? Someone like that would go over VERY WELL, especially after this notorious mess. As Dave Lease said, the only bright spot is that each performance of this mess is followed by an argument by the British Eurosport commentators, since one of them actually thinks that this is good.

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!

-IllusionSpin

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

U.S. Nationals Recap, Part 4

The final part! While I initially intended to include the 12th place finisher, Ashley Cain, I cannot for the life of me find any videos on Youtube of either of her programs from Nationals, and there's only one from this season on Youtube where she got injured in the middle and had to stop midway through before resuming.

This final part will discuss the 10th and 11th place finishers, Hannah Miller and Caroline Zhang. I'll include a photo of Ashley Cain to make one point about her FS.

10th Place - Hannah Miller


Given the whole Ashley-Gracie fiasco, this was probably one of the most overlooked jokes of a result. Hannah skated two completely clean programs, yet finished behind 9 other people, many of whom had multiple major mistakes in both programs. No, this is not the most mature program of the bunch, but it's very pretty, and the maturity is coming - she's only 16, and was still on the junior circuit this fall! Which brings me to my next point - Hannah had the best international season on the junior circuit of all Americans. After not even being sure if she'd get one JGP assignment, she got two, won silver at both, thereby qualifying to the JGPF where she won another silver. I have absolutely no idea why the judges at Nationals buried her in the standings, when she proved in the fall that she can compete with the top international juniors, and beat many of them - she beat Anna Pogorilaya at the JGPF! She had an excellent shot at a medal at Junior Worlds! Regardless of her joke of a 10th place finish (I would have placed her more around 5th or 6th), she should have still received a spot on the Junior Worlds team. The USFSA claims that these teams are picked on fall results as well as Nationals, but it's clear that they picked the team based on Nationals only, which was ridiculous and WRONG, mainly to Hannah. She proved that she is consistent and can place near the top against top juniors around the world, and therefore should have had a shot at a Junior Worlds medal. Still, Hannah has a VERY bright future ahead of her.

11th - Caroline Zhang



Sorry for the terrible quality - as usual, it's almost impossible to find videos of Nationals on Youtube. Frankly, I think that Caroline is finished. The young phenom had a terrific junior career, but her skating has become a disaster since she hit puberty. Her speed (or lack thereof) is as slow as Rachael Flatt's, and her technique is still a disaster, despite what the commentators try to tell you. She STILL has a leg kick on the flip, her lutz, axel, and loop entrances are still all complete messes, and the majority of her jumps are now underrotated. To top all of that off, she's skating to the most generic piece of music ever used in figure skating - STOP. USING. TURANDOT....NOW!!! The layback is really the only positive that's existed in her skating for the last few years, which is a shame, because back in 2007 and 2008, she appeared to have a very bright future ahead of her.

12th - Ashley Cain

Sorry I couldn't get the photos next to each other - I'm still learning! The photo of her white dress is from the 2012-2013 season. The photo of her blue dress is from the previous season. Anyone with eyes can see that they're almost carbon copies of each other. While both happen to fit their respective programs, it's almost an identical dress - originality? I think not. I'm a bit puzzled as to why Ashley Cain gave up her pairs career with Joshua Reagan. Unless there's a mass retirement in the US after Sochi, her singles career is never going to reach the level that her pairs career could have, and already did. Ashley and Joshua were junior Nationals champions two years ago, and went on to place 4th at Junior Worlds, and received a senior GP assignment the next season at Rostelecom Cup. She's a nice, pretty skater, but unless she amps up the technical content, as I said, her singles career will never hit the heights that her pairs career already did and would have.






That's it for Nationals! I'll start my Worlds recaps soon!

-IllusionSpin

Friday, April 5, 2013

U.S. Nationals Recap, Part 3

I know I know!!! This is so late, but I've been so crazy busy with school stuff, the college process, and SAT work. Still, better late than never, right?

Part 3 will discuss Nagasu, Cesario, and Wang, who placed 7th, 8th, and 9th, respectively.

7th - Mirai Nagasu


Remember just three years ago, that Carmen LP that Nagasu had, and all the spark and speed she used to skate with? I honestly feel that it's all gone now. Yes, I'm aware that she had the flu during this competition, but her speed (or lack thereof) is approaching Zhang levels of slow. She used to have some of the faster spins in the world, but now they're as slow as Flatt's. This pretty, exciting music is playing in this program, and she's barely moving or doing any choreography. This WAS scored accurately. Those jumps are still underrotated, and there's really no excuse for that anymore. Back at the Olympics, Sandra Bezic said that "she will learn those jumps, and accomplish those fully rotated jumps." It's three years later, and the URs have become MORE of a problem, instead of being fixed. Honestly, the USFSA is really sending her a message. Unless some miracle happens in the next year, the Olympics are just not going to happen for her.

8th - Samantha Cesario



Now THIS was underscored. This is one of the best Swan Lake/Black Swan programs I have ever seen, maybe third to Baiul and Cohen. Cesario has LOVELY, elegant style, including fabulous landing edges and positions. The flow out of the opening triple Lutz is beautfiullll. One of the things I love most about this program is how she builds the character through the program, and really tells the story in her skating. I can see what/who she is portraying without being told 50 times in interviews (cough cough Ashley Wagner). While she builds the drama throughout the program, that choreographic sequence towards the end with the gorgeous spread eagles is a fabulous peak to the program, before she goes into the gorgeous double axels and the final spin. It's a real shame that injuries have held this wonderful skater back over the last couple of years, because she could have potentially been at a much higher level now. In terms of her Junior Worlds performance, she rightfully won the SP, and then was COMPLETELY robbed in the LP. I have no idea what the hell was going on, if they wanted a Russian sweep, or if they wanted to ensure that Radionova won, but that scoring was just wrong. Samantha looked upset, disappointed, and pissed off, and she had every right to be. Samantha will be too old for the JGP circuit this coming season, so let's all hope to see her on the GP circuit.

9th - Angela Wang


I couldn't find a video anywhere of her FS from Nationals, so here's her FS from the JGPF.
This is a very pretty program, although I do think she could do a bit more with the choreography. Still, that 3Lz-3T-2T is extremely impressive, even if it is pure code-whoring. While she did beat Hannah Miller for 9th (which was ridiculous), it was only by .08. Some delusional fans seem to think that Wang will make the Olympic team next year - she has a shot at the Jr Worlds team, but that's it.

The final 3 I will talk about (Miller, Zhang, Cain) will come soon! I promise!

Please comment and leave your thoughts!

-IllusionSpin

Saturday, March 2, 2013

U.S. Nationals Recap, Part 2

Part 2 will discuss the 4th, 5th, and 6th place finishers, which were Courtney Hicks, Christina Gao, and Yasmin Siraj.


4th Place:

Courtney was really the surprise 4th place finisher here. After missing the majority of the 2011-2012 season due to injury, and flying a bit under the radar during the JGP season, I didn't really know what to expect, but I think she surprised a lot of people by managing to beat out Christina Gao, Hannah Miller, Mirai Nagasu, and others for the pewter medal. Still, Courtney did a fabulous job here. Similar to Gracie and Agnes, her jumps are totally Herculean. She just launches into the air, covering so much ice while she rotates. Not to mention after a 20-foot pop on her loop, she still was able to finish the sequence with a double axel. Her artistry, posture, and overall look on the ice need some serious attention, but I loveeee that last spin!! The positions in it are very unique, very cool, and require a great deal of flexibility. It's always nice to see something different and unique. Side note: why did the screen say that she was skating to Red Violin? She skates to Concierto de Aranjuez....

5th Place:

That fall on the flying sit spin is a real shame, because this program is so gorgeous. It seems to really suit her personality well, and she does a beautiful job with the music. She's also grown a bit since last season, gaining some weight (for the better), which has gotten rid of her gangly look on the ice, and replaced it with a very clean, elegant look. The dress is also stunning.

Christina was really underscored here, and completely got the short end of the stick. I loveee the new dress she has for this program - it gives a much more elegant and sophisticated look/feel to the program. Speaking of which, this whole program has really grown in terms of artistry, elegance, and sophistication - frankly, this program was much better than Ashley, Agnes, and Courtney's long programs - I don't know why she was so blatantly underscored. She also does some very interesting, different, and unique positions in her spins, which I always appreciate. Let us all pray for Ashley and Gracie to pull a miracle and get 3 spots for next year, and for Christina to nab herself one. It's about time she skated on the World/Olympic stage.

6th Place:

Yasmin making the final group was a bit like Elene Gedevanishvili making the final group in Torino. A surprise, but this one was a pleasant one. She's not an overly special skater, but she's perfectly nice to watch - a bit like an appetizer before Gao, Zawadzki, Wagner, and Nagasu. The dress and the music are very pretty, but she could do a lot more with choreography - there's not much, and the music provides plenty of opportunities for more intricate choreography. Still, she's young (16), and she has time. I do like the combo spin right after the solo triple Lutz - being able to rotate well in both directions requires some serious skill and talent, and to be able to do both directions in one spin is extremely difficult, so hats off to her for doing that - again, very unique and very cool.

7th, 8th, and 9th (Nagasu, Cesario, and Wang) are next! Stay tuned!

-IllusionSpin

Monday, February 18, 2013

U.S. Nationals Recap, Part 1

This is the first part of a 4-part series where I'll look back at the top 12 ladies from U.S. Nationals (I don't really have anything to say about the other 8), 3 at a time. A lot happened, including many controversial scores and placements, so I'm going to voice my personal opinions about everything here, and if you don't agree, that's fine, but let me know your opinions!

GOLD:


Ok. So many thoughts are going through my head about what happened here. Now, I fully expected Ashley to win this, which she did, but I didn't think it was going to happen with two falls and a bunch of tight jumps and spins. When Ashley fell on the Lutz, I had the same reaction as when Mckayla fell on her 2nd vault at the Olympic vault final - I gasped, my hand flew to my mouth, and my brain tried to process what had just happened. I'm not a particularly big fan of Ashley's programs; I think her LP dress is ugly, and I don't really like her choreography. I also don't like how she tells us about her programs, her character in it, and the story in every single interview. Like, if she needs to remind us every time, perhaps she should choose a less vague and abstract theme.
I've also been debating whether Ashley or Gracie actually deserved this title, and I think the answer is no. Yes, Ashley had a great SP and Gracie had a great LP, but both of them had two MAJOR mistakes in one of their programs, and there were several skaters ranked lower who put together two great programs and were marked lower because they didn't have as big of a "name." The USFSA wants their big names skaters to be on the World team, so that their scores get a boost, but there were many people (who I'll talk about later) who frankly, put two much better programs together, and were significantly underscored.

SILVER:

This is just dull. I applaud the effort to improve her performance ability by choosing a tango and doing fun choreography, but she just has this focused expression on her face the whole time instead of playing with facial expressions (like Sasha Cohen did), which takes away all of the fun and doesn't engage the audience. For instance, at around :20, when she glides forward and then kicks her leg up, there's no emotion in it; it just looks like another day at practice, doing another repetition. It's a fun piece of music, and she needs to have fun with it.

I love the music, especially the ending music, I think it's very pretty, but the skating/performance just doesn't match/connect with the music. She has a pretty body line on the ice, but the whole thing is just.....stiff. As the fabulous commentators from EuroSport said, "her arms...never go below the waist. There's never...a low movement...there's this presenting 'up" all the time." Her whole body is just so stiff, her arms are nicely extended, but they stay stiffly extended, and just wave around as her upper body moves. Her transitions are also extremely weak - she doesn't move seamlessly from each element to another. After each jump, there's awkward stroking to get back into the program. The jumps are gorgeous, especially the triple lutz-triple toe, but that's only part of the program. She also needs to work on some of her spin positions. At this level and at her age, there's really no excuse for not doing either a y-spin or an i-spin. Like Sandra Bezic said, all the ingredients are there, but she needs to refine her skating and continue working on her performance skills. Sending her to Marina Zueva was a genius move on her coach's part, and I can see the improvement from the fall to Nationals, but it still seriously needs more work. While she'll never be a Sasha Cohen, there's a decent amount of artistic potential that can easily be developed with the right choreographer.
Finally, I don't know where this label of Gracie being the most consistent American has come from. Out of ALL of her competitions from this season and last season, she has not put two clean programs together in one competition. At JGP Estonia, she singled the loop in her long. At Jr Nationals, she fell on her Axel. At Jr Worlds, she doubled the loop. At the World Team Trophy, it was mistakes galore, including a Waxel. At Skate Canada, it was mistakes galore again in both programs. At Rostelecom Cup, there were several problems in her LP, including an issue on the loop, which is clearly her nemesis jump. At Nationals, she fell on her combo and singled the axel in her SP. At 4CC, there were again multiple issues in both her SP and her LP. As The Skating Lesson pointed out, she's treading dangerously close to the headcase label, and that's a hard label to shake off.
If she falters at Worlds, I would most likely begin to label her as a headcase, because similar to Alissa Czisny, she seems to struggle when expectation and pressure are put on her.

BRONZE:
Agnes has really come a long way in the last year. This re-choreographed Rhapsody in Blue program is a big improvement, and she's really grown in terms of her artistry and maturity. I also love the new dress - the dark, cobalt blue is very pretty. Her jumps, although they have always been fabulous, look even better this season. The triple Lutz and triple toe-triple toe were great, as always, and I think the double flip may have just been a mental slip. The second triple Lutz looked just a bit off in the air, which I think caused the fall. Still, her jumps looked higher, tighter, and cleaner here at Nationals. She did a good job here, and in a night where everyone was also great, she should be very proud of that bronze medal. Seriously, though, that triple Lutz is a thing of beauty - she picks, and then just launches herself into the air. It's tight, clean, and there's never any doubt about whether it's fully rotated. I'm curious to see what she brings in terms of consistency and programs next year, and whether she can nab herself an Olympic berth. She's really improved over the last few seasons, and I'm excited to see her grow and improve more.

4th, 5th, and 6th places (Hicks, Gao, and Siraj) are next! Stay tuned!

-IllusionSpin

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A New Russian Star is Born

During the past 2 1/2 seasons, Russia has clearly been the dominating force in Junior Ladies. They have produced countless talents, including Sotnikova, Tuktamysheva, Agafonova, Lipnitskaya, Radionova, Shelepen, Korobeynikova, Pogorilaya, Sheveleva, Stravitskaia, Biryukova, Ovcharova, etc, that have banded together to dominate the JGP and countless other junior international events. Radionova has, as of so far, had an identical season to last year's season of Lipniskaya, i.e. winning both JGP events + the JGPF, Russian Juniors, and the senior Russian silver medal. If Radionova wins Junior Worlds, which is very likely, she and Lipnitskaya will be two juniors from the same country to have identical dominant seasons back-to-back.

However, at the Russian (Senior) Championships, which took place from December 24th-28th, a new star emerged, taking the Russian skating by storm by finishing 4th (beating out well-established oldies such as Leonova and Makarova). She goes by the name of Serafima Sakhanovich.

At 12 years old, she already has more maturity, elegance, musicality, and artistry than many top senior skaters currently competing, and she's not even eligible for junior events until next season. Unlike skaters such as Lipnitskaya and Radionova, Sakhanovich has already learned to really extend and hold out each of her moves. Obviously, this artistry and musicality is partially natural, and partially her fabulous coaches nurturing and improving it as she moves through the ranks.

I'll break down both of her programs from Russian Nationals to show all of her star qualities.



For those of you wondering, yes this is the same music that Lipinski used in the '97-'98 season. I prefer Serafima's cut of the music - it has more drama, and I personally think it's a prettier cut. She also skates with more maturity at 12, than Lipinski did at 15.

Notice how she sort of falls out of the triple Lutz, which was an intended triple Lutz-triple toe combo, and therefore fails to add on the triple toe afterwords. Now, most skaters, even the current top skaters, would have either panicked, or simply added a double toe to the triple flip. However, because this girl is made of total win, she didn't panic, and not only added the combo to the flip, but added a TRIPLE toe to the flip. That shows just how mentally strong she is - when something goes wrong, especially in the short program where a missed combo is a big mistake, she can keep her head in one place, and still make the improvised combo a triple-triple, so that she doesn't lose too many points.



I love this program so much. The music is similar to her SP, in that it has a whimsical sort of feel, but it's still very pretty, and suits her perfectly. She does such a wonderful job of bringing out all the accents of music with her movements, element placements, and her arms. Unlike all the other Russians, she doesn't have those flailing arms we've become accustomed to from skaters such as Tuktamysheva and Sotnikova - her arms are delicate, pretty, and she really used them in the choreography. Unlike Gracie Gold, Serafima's arms use multiple different levels, and she uses them to emphasize the music, instead of letting them flail about. Her deep edges are also gorgeous, and deserve plenty of recognition.
It's worth noting here that she had the highest TES (68.29) in the LP, but somehow only the 9th highest (52.58) PCS (Sotnikova somehow had the top PCS at 68). That's a SIXTEEN point difference - that's huge. Someone please explain to me how Sotnikova's choreography/composition, interpretation, transitions, and skating skills are better than Serafima's. Sotnikova plods around the ice with flailing arms to Christina Aguilera moaning, yet Sakhanovich's lyrical routine with lightning fast jump rotation, pretty choreography, and fabulous interpretation and musicality somehow gets wayyyy less in PCS. Explain to me how Leonova is more artistic than Sakhanovich (according to the corrupt Russian judges).

Some people on the Golden Skate forum seem to think that her beautiful knee bend when she lands her jumps is bad, but it's actually correct. She's really absorbing the landings on deep edges with that knee bend. That, along with her Tara Lipinski-fast jump rotation, will help her as she hits puberty and slows down a bit. The skating skills are really there to guide her to a fabulous career. Assuming she gets two JGP assignments next year, don't be surprised if she follows in Sotnikova, Lipnitskaya, and Radionova's paths.

While I have just spent the last page gushing about her, she's not completely perfect - there are a few aspects that need work. Her flexibility, for one, really needs work. Look at her spirals and her upright spin at the end - she really needs to buckle down and get to work on her flexibility. Also, her spins - not good. The side position and the haircutter during her layback are fabulous (she spin sooo fast during the haircutter), but then she crawls through the Biellman. She needs to pull her leg up more and arch her back through the Biellman - that will help her spin faster. Her positions in her final combination spin also just have a novice-like feel to them. Spending a few weeks in Detroit with Alissa Czisny certainly wouldn't do any harm.

Still, this girl has a very bright future ahead of her. From my sources, she just turned 13 on February 9th (she was born in 2000), which makes her eligible for next season's (2013-2014) JGP. I, for one, am very excited to see if she dominates next year's junior circuit. She'll be a force to be reckoned with once she's age-eligible.

Suggestions for the future:
Improve her flexibility and her spins
STAY WITH HER CURRENT COACHES - whatever they're doing seems to be working for her, and they seem like loving, protective coaches who genuinely care about her. Their choreography is also doing wonders for her - she doesn't need to go elsewhere.

Please read and comment! I would love to hear all of your opinions!

-IllusionSpin