Friday, November 30, 2012

Grand Prix Reflections - The Ladies

Okay I'm back! I know I've been a terrible blogger, but junior year of high school at private school is no easy thing, let me tell you.

Anyways, the Grand Prix Series wrapped up this past weekend, with the Grand Prix Final scheduled to begin Thursday next week. Let's take a look back at some of the highlights and lowlights of the Ladies (these are in no particular order):

1. Ashley Wagner
When did we ever think the day would come that Ashley Wagner would win nearly every competition she entered in one calendar year? Including Nationals and 4CC last season, she's now also won the Ladies portion of the Japan Open, as well as Skate America and Trophee Eric Bompard, and is now tied as the top qualifier to the GPF with Mao Asada (more on that later). I'm not a crazy fan of either of her programs, especially her long program. Samson and Delilah for the ladies is very closely associated with Joannie Rochette's emotional and inspiring performance in Vancouver, along with intricate choreography. The piece just doesn't work as well for Ashley - the music offers places for tons of choreography, but she doesn't take advantage of that. I also can't stand the hideous yellow/orange dress. I think Black Swan was brilliant, and while it was definitely a good choice to move on from that, she should have used something else.
Still, her consistency is now also astounding. A clean program from Ashley used to be fluke - now it's something we've become accustomed to, and what's now expected of her.

2. Julia Lipnitskaya's SP: Very cool music, highly unusual yet unique costume, and unlike the majority of Russians these days, she's elegant with interesting choreography, but not trashy (Tuk and Sotnikova can jump, but their music is not good - more on them later). Some people complain about her multiple showings of her flexibility, but I like it. It's something that makes her stand out from the rest of the field, and it's beautiful and highly impressive - crowds always go nuts for her splits. She just needs to hold some of her movements a bit longer. I think she's doing the right amount of splits - leg lift before the axel, I spin, full-split Biellman, and her brief spiral.

3. Mao Asada
I certainly did not expect her to win both of her Grand Prix events, especially facing off against Lipnitskaya at Cup of China. She of course qualified to the Final last year, but had to pull out because of the illness and tragic death of her mother before she could get home. Hopefully she can skate as well as she ever can, perhaps in the memory of her mother. I'm not so crazy about her Swan Lake (another one???), but maybe she's on the way up after two straight 6th place finishes at worlds.

4. Agnes Zawadzki
Despite the fact that this is her 3rd senior season, she seems to be figuring it all out, with a bronze at Rostelecom. There were a couple blips in that program, but she was finally able to hold it together after a good short and win a medal after the long. She should challenge for a spot on the World Team this year.

5. Kiira Korpi
I haven't had a chance to watch her programs yet this season, but I've heard they're wonderful. And she's in the Final! Definitely did not expect that. She had to pull out of worlds last season due to injury, but I think she should challenge for maybe the bronze at the final, and she is definitely a contender for the European title with no Kostner (yes I have heard of the Russians).

6. Christina Gao
I've never really paid much attention to her, and up until this season, she's been very inconsistent. Her performance at Skate America was one to remember, and I love her new SP, which is gorgeous. UPDATE: Lipnitskaya is out of the GPF due to injury, confirmed to be a concussion, which means that Gao will be at the final. She should also challenge for bronze.

1. Gracie Gold
Perhaps the pressure has a been a bit much for her so far. She's one of the most highly touted US Juniors I've seen in a while, but after a super-consistent season last season, she's crumbled a bit this season. Many expected her to qualify to the GPF, but after two very shaky performances, she's not even an alternate. Hopefully she can realize her potential and challenge for a spot on the World Team. Still, she NEEDS to work on her artistry. It's gotten much better since last season, but it still needs a lot of improvement if she wants to contend with the top ladies in the world. The PCS are just not high enough yet. I would say there's time, but she's already 17. I'm aware that people like Sasha Cohen and Alissa Czisny are very artistically gifted, but Gracie does need to make major improvements. Again, this year is a big improvement from last year.

2. Julia Lipnitskaya's FP (and GPF withdrawal)
Julia is a beautiful skater, but she's taking on mature pieces wayyyy too early in her career. From Romeo and Juliet last year to Pas de Deux from the Nutcracker, she's too young to do these pieces. Sasha Cohen did those two pieces at around age 20, when she was a far more mature skater capable of really interpreting the music. I'm not saying Julia isn't artistic, don't get me wrong, but 14 is wayyy too young to do Pas de Deux and really interpret it correctly. She has a long career ahead of her (hopefully), no need to rush it.
UPDATE: Concerning her withdrawal from the GPF - it was confirmed by Ice Network that she sustained a concussion today in practice, and withdrew from the final. A real shame, because the final was setting up to be a great Lipnitskaya-Asada-Wagner showdown for the gold. Again, she has many more years to come, and many more GPFs to qualify to and compete at. Good that Gao can compete, but we'll miss her next weekend.

3. Alissa Czisny
Oh Alissa. What do we do with you? A complete meltdown at worlds, not competing at the WTT, injuring her hip, not training all summer, and culminating in a withdrawal from her only GP event, the NHK trophy. This means that at the earliest, we will see Alissa at nationals at the end of January. Alissa is one of my two favorite skaters. She is a stunningly artistic and beautiful skater, and extraordinarily talented, but is the pure definition of a headcase - ex. Worlds this year. I sincerely hope she continues until she fully lives up to her enormous potential. I also hope that her worlds meltdown isn't the last time we ever see her. I have a hunch she'll show up to Nationals, especially given the fact that she doesn't have to qualify, thanks to her bye from her 2nd place finish at Nationals last year.

4. Adelina Sotnikova
Along with Tuktamyesheva and Lipnitskaya, she is one of three heavily touted Russian juniors. But ever since her senior GP debut last year, she's had major trouble putting it together, including failing to defend her World Junior title earlier this year. I'm sorry, but her new LP, as AuntJoyce puts it, "wins the Mishin House of Trash award." When the music started at SA, my initial reaction was "what IS this crap?" For someone so talented, she should have better music than some sort of Christina Aguilera mashup. And at 16, along with her extensive competitive experience, she should be aware of how many combos she's done in a program, so that she doesn't invalidate a combo (ex. SA). This now marks two years in a row that she was expected to make the GPF and failed to do so.

5. Caroline Zhang
Oh Caroline. She really seemed to be getting it together by the end of last season, with a 4th place finish at nationals and a bronze at 4CC. However, her most recent results make me think that she's going back to her old habits, and I worry this time that she's not going to climb back out. She is semi-artistic, but a tad bit overrated if you ask me. Her technique is AWFUL, the high kick is still there on the lutz, the loop and axel technique are slow and bad, and her only good, high-quality skill is her layback. A 9th and a 10th place finish on the GP circuit do not bode well for her.

GPF Predictions to come soon!

- IllusionSpin