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 Hotárek 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:


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.


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.


I just cannot deal with the arm-waving.


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."


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!


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!


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!


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!


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!


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.


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.

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!


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!


Friday, January 18, 2013

European Championships Preview - Men's, Pairs, and Dance

Since I don't follow Men's, Pairs, or Dance that much (I probably follow Dance the most), I'm doing a quick preview of all three disciplines.
For Men's especially, I don't really know the skaters very well, i.e. their consistency, mental game, etc.

Anyways, here we go:


The top players here are most likely going to be the same from last years Euros. The dominating forces in Men's are Russia, France, and the Czech Republic. Spain also has Javier Fernandez, who caused a major upset at Skate Canada this season by rightfully defeating Patrick Chan. Fernandez was the only European skater at the GPF, placing 4th, although winning the FS. He has an excellent chance of nabbing bronze, but he'll need to be completely clean.

Michal Brezina and Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic were 4th and 5th, respectively, last year at Euros, and should do about the same.

Florent Amodio and Brian Joubert of France were 3rd and 8th, respectively, last season. Both are always a force, and can be relied on for a top 10 finish. If Florent Amodio is low after the short program, don't assume he's finished. Amodio was 7th after the SP and Trophee Eric Bompard this season, and came roaring back to win the FS and the bronze medal.

All three Russians, Evgeni Plushenko, Sergei Voronov, and Maxim Kovtun, all have excellent shots at medals. Don't be surprised if Plushenko and his flailing arms while skating to the next jump win over skaters who understand the concept of artistry. Maxim Kovtun is the reigning JGPF champion, and was somewhat controversially picked over Konstantin Menshov, with Morozov dramatically claiming that Menshov's life has been ruined. Kovtun will be at his first senior ISU Championship, and needs to not let the pressure get to him.


It appears that only 15 pairs will be competing here, which makes things a bit interesting.

The main players for medals here are going to be Savchenko/Szolkowy of Germany, Bazarova/Larionov, Kavaguti/Smirnov, and Volosozhar/Trankov of Russia. All three Russian teams were at the GPF, with V/T winning, and B/L placing 2nd. Now, 3 of the 6 teams who qualified were not European (Pang/Tong, Duhamel/Radford, and Moore-Towers/Moscovitch). S/S withdrew from their 2nd GP event, which meant that they could not qualify. Stefania Berton/Ondrej Hotarek of Italy were 2nd alternates to the GPF, and were 4th at last years Euros (S/S were also out due to injury). They have an excellent chance at the top 5, and maybe even the bronze if one of the Russian teams has some problems.

Other teams like Popova/Massot and James/Cipres, both of France, should easily be in the top 10, give this absurdly weak field.


This was supposed to be an easy win for Péchalat/Bourzat, the 2-time reigning European Champions and reigning World/GPF bronze medalists. They are easily the best team in Europe, but had to withdraw due to a groin injury to Bourzat.
That means that like the Ladies' competition, this will also be an Italy/Russia competition.
I'd say that the favorites are Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte of Italy. They were 2nd at both of their GP competitions, and placed 4th at the GPF, behind the absolute 3 best teams in the world. They'll be chased by all three Russian teams, Bobrova/Soloviev, Ilinykh/Katsalapov, and Riazanova/Tkachenko. The first two Russian teams were both at the GPF, and placed 5th and 6th, respectively. Riazanova/Tkachenko were the 2nd alternates to the GPF, but the 1st alternates were not European. They can get on the podium if one of the other three teams makes a mistake, but will most likely place 4th.
Other teams to look for in the top 10 are Tobias/Stagniunas of Lithuania and Zhiganshina/Gazsi of Germany. I know nothing about all the other random teams competing here.

The 2013 European Figure Skating Championships being Monday, January 21st, and go until Sunday, January 27th.

Yes, it is the same week as the US Championships, so it should be a fun week of skating. I'm psyched.

- IllusionSpin

Thursday, January 17, 2013

European Championships Preview - Ladies

In anticipation of the upcoming European Figure Skating Championships, which will begin on Monday, January 21st, I'm doing a quick preview. This post will just be Ladies, but I will briefly preview the other 3 disciplines in another post.

It's really a testament the strength of the North American/Asian skaters that there are 3, maybe 4 medal challengers here for the podium. 5 of the top 10 finishers from last years Euros (Korpi, Korobeynikova, Makarova, Leonova, and Silété) won't be at this years Euros. Korpi has an Achilles injury, Silété is injured, and none of the 3 Russians made the team.

Last year's winner, Carolina Kostner of Italy, has competed in two competitions this seasons: the Golden Spin of Zagreb, which she easily won with legit scores (not the overly inflated scores she received last season), and the Italian Championships, which she won with the world's most ridiculous FS score ever: 143.56. Domestic scoring in all countries is usually inflated, but this passes the border of ridiculous. Kostner skates with the technical level of a Junior skater, not a senior skater who has been in the senior ranks for 10 years, has 4 World medals, 4 European titles, and 2 Olympic appearances. Kostner has an excellent chance of defending her title, but not if the Russians have anything to say about it.

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia, who has finally reached age eligibility for senior ISU Championship events after spending what seems like forever in the junior ranks. Don't take this to mean that I've been waiting and waiting for her to turn senior. Something needs to happen to her flailing arms and Leonova-esque choreography before she shows up at Worlds and expects to win a medal. Elizaveta has had solid showings this year, with a silver at Trophee Eric Bompard and the second-best FS at the GPF during that splatfest. However, in this insanely weak field, Tuktamysheva should have no problem medaling here at her first European Championships, as long as she lands her triples, which usually don't give her a problem.

Adelina Sotnikova of Russia is also age-eligible for ISU Championships this year. Remember that she was born a few hours in July 1st, which made her ineligible for last year's Euros and Worlds by a matter of hours. I can't imagine how pissed off that has always made her. Anyways, despite her absurdly tacky Christina Aguilera/blues/jazz FS, her jumps combined with the weak field should most likely get her a medal. If she goes splat on a jump or two, which she seems to have taken a liking to, she'll still most likely finish in the top 5.

Nikol Gosviyani, also of Russia, is the surprise 3rd member on the team, after being the 3rd highest senior lady at Russian Nationals. Nikol is completely untested internationally (except for 3 minor competitions several years ago), let alone on big stages like the European Championships. She did excellently during Nationals, but there's no telling how she'll do under the pressure of Euros. She could either do well and place in the top 6, or completely implode under pressure and be buried in the standings. I honestly have no idea what to expect.

Elene Gedevanishvili of Georgia, has become increasingly tackier as the seasons go on, but still should depress us all by placing in the top 10 by shaking her DDs around and landing a bunch of sloppy triples, doubles, and popped jumps. She has almost no chance of defending her bronze medal from last year, but she will still most likely place in the top 10. Will she ever go away?

Given her success so far with two straight international wins, albeit it at minor events, Jenna McCorkell of Great Britain will also very likely place in the top 10, as long as she keeps her thoughts focused on the ice and not on her husband at home.

Maé Bérénice Méité of France, seems to have taken the idea of "skate like your idols" to a whole new level. Her programs are so reminiscent of the horrors that her idol, Surya Bonaly, used to scar our eyes with, along with horrendously ugly costumes that have no relation to the music at all, it looks like it's Surya back out there at first glance. Given her absurdly high scores so far this season, she will most likely place in the top 10 as well.

Others to watch:
Valentina Marchei of Italy, 8th at Euros and Worlds last year, should most likely be in the top 10.
The Helgesson sisters of Sweden, could place anywhere from 7th to 24th. Look out.
Excuse my Austrian side for a moment here. Kerstin Frank, 30th at Euros and 21st Worlds last season, should place somewhere around there. Look for a completely uninspired performance, complete with jumps with zero flow out of them, and sloppy as hell spins. I had to mention her, given that I'm half-Austrian, whether I think she's a good skater or not.

Look for a podium that will most likely consist of Kostner, Tuktamysheva, and Sotnikova, in any order. Kostner will most likely get a reigning Euro and World champion bonus, whether she actually deserves it or not.

I'll do a quick preview of Men's, Pairs, and Dance soon (basically who will most likely be on the podium).

- IllusionSpin

Monday, January 14, 2013

Some Sad News

Some sad news has emerged from USFigureSkating. Unfortunately, Alissa Czisny, the stunningly graceful and artistic 2009/2011 US National Champion, has had to withdraw from the upcoming US Figure Skating Championships, due to a dislocated left hip. (full article)

Alissa, who is also the 2010 GPF Champion, is a universally loved skater. She is world renowned for her spins, which are considered to be the fastest and among the most beautiful in the world. Her spins travel faster than lightning, and each one hits multiple gorgeous and difficult positions. Her other famous trait is her artistry, which only rivals Sasha Cohen for the best in the world, as well as her clean, deep, and pure edges as she skates.

Alissa started off last season strong with a win over Kostner at Skate America, but then slowly, the season began to fall apart. Her season ended with her infamous meltdown at Worlds, where she fell twice in the SP (along with a large stumble on her Axel) and 5 times in the LP. However, Alissa was unknowingly skating with a torn labrum in her hip, which caused her to struggle to land her jumps, not just at Worlds but at the Challenge Cup a few weeks prior as well.

After Alissa and her coaches discovered the injury in May, she underwent surgery in June, and subsequently spent the majority of the summer off the ice while she recovered. Alissa was assigned to the NHK trophy, the last GP event in the hopes that she would be ready in time, but she was forced to withdraw a week prior, stating a lack of sufficient recovery and training time.

A couple weeks ago, IceNetwork ran an excellent article/interview with Alissa, where she stated she was fully recovered and ready to compete again at Nationals for the first time since Worlds.

This weekend, Alissa appeared in a small competition in Wisconsin called the Fox Cities Invitational. This decision to compete less than two weeks before the US Championships was considered odd and alarming to many. Then, this weekend, this tweet was released by the USFSA, which shocked and alarmed many:

The skating world eventually became aware of what seems to be the story of what exactly happened: Czisny fell on a triple flip a couple of minutes into her LP, and was unable to leave the ice without assistance. Finally, after two days of frantic hoping and speculation, the USFSA sadly revealed that Czisny would unfortunately have to withdraw from the US Championships, due to a dislocated hip that will require surgery to fix.

Many people are now questioning whether we will ever see the lovely Alissa Czisny compete again, or if her meltdown at Worlds last year is the last we ever see of a competitive Czisny. This season has felt empty without Czisny, who is unarguably one of the big stars of current day competitive skating. Let us all hope that Alissa recovers well and comes back to compete at her 2010-2011-self, even if it is one final competition, where she skates lights out and leaves us with lasting, good memories of this exceptionally talented, graceful, and beautiful skater.

While we wait for more news from the Czisny camp, let us enjoy these two performances of her masterpiece "Winter into Spring" program, that won her the GPF and the US Nationals in one season.

Get well soon Alissa - we miss you!

IceNetwork recently posted this full article on Alissa and her injury, including several quotes from her coach, Jason Dungjen.

- IllusionSpin

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Nikol Gosviyani Obtains Minimum TES for Euros

Nikol Gosviyani, the 3rd member of the 2013 Russian European team, hit the required minimum TES at a tiny meet in Poland this week, and is presumably cleared to compete. Nikol, who hadn't competed internationally in over two years before this weekend, had no TES minimum from this season or last season. She therefore had to compete at a tiny competition to obtain the TES minimum, which she has, in order to compete at the upcoming European Championships, which will take place from January 21st - January 27th.

The required TES for the SP was 20, which Nikol comfortably cleared with a 29.50. The required TES for Worlds in the SP is 28, so she's also fine for that. She somehow received a 1.00 time deduction (for going overtime), which I cannot see in the video. Let me know if you see the time deduction here:

The required TES for the LP was 36, which Nikol also easily cleared, with a 45.62. However, the required TES for the LP at worlds is 48. Nikol will try to hit 48 at Euros, but if she cannot, she will not be able to go to Worlds. I hope for her sake that she hits 48 and can have the opportunity to compete at Worlds, but also for our sake, so that we're all spared the sight of Leonova competing at ANOTHER Worlds. Here's her LP:

- IllusionSpin

Friday, January 11, 2013

2013 American Cup Lineups (Partially) Released

For those of you who may not have seen the announcement by USA Gymnastics today, the partial lineups for the 2013 American Cup were released. This year's American Cup will be in Worchester, MA, and will feature multiple big names.

6 of the 8 women who will compete were announced, with the announcement that the final 2 will be decided later. Those 6 are:

Kyla Ross (USA) - the only member of the "Fierce Five" to continue fully training, will finally get her chance to shine after being a team player in London. Kyla turned in solid performances all around in London, with key hit sets on bars and beam in the team final. Her more famous teammates usually outshone her, both results and personality-wise, but with Jordyn, Gabby, and Aly doing the Teen Choice Tour, and Mckayla not fully training/pursuing acting opportunities, Kyla will get a golden chance to step out from living in the shadows of her teammates, and shine internationally while competing individually.

Elizabeth Price (USA) - one of the rising Americans who rivals Raisman for the award of fugliest American gymnast, won two World Cup titles at the end of 2012 in the absence of any legit competition, while relying on gigantic start values, horrible form, and jaw-droppingly terrible artistry, not to mention sufficiently shitting on the wonderful memory of Afanasyeva's crowning moment at Worlds in 2011. Price took Afanasyeva's music, and used her dance ability that is on par with Raisman's to make the entire international gymnastics community take note of her complete lack of ability to do something that resembles dance. I hope for the sake of our sport, that pretty and boring Kyla Ross manages to beat Price, even if it's not for first - if Price wins multiple big competitions this year, it will be a huge injustice to what was once dominated by beautiful gymnasts.

Larisa Iordache (ROU) - one of the main international stars in the first half of 2012, she was expected to shine at the Olympics. Unfortunately, Larisa was injured with plantar fasciitis during training in London, and after being a favorite for all-around, beam and floor medals, she placed 9th in the all-around and 6th on beam, only walking away with a team bronze. Hopefully Larisa has properly healed, and can dominate this year. It would be magical if she could snatch this American Cup from both of these Americans, and continue to dominate, hopefully battling someone like Komova later for the World AA title. If anyone can win this title apart from the Americans, it's Larisa.

Vanessa Ferrari (ITA) - the 22-year-old gymnast who continues to whine about (fairly) losing the Olympic floor bronze to Mustafina in the tie-break, has finally decided to attend this year, after having qualified but not attended for the last who-knows-how-many-years. Ferrari, who is locked in a never-ending battle with Catalina Ponor for the award of worlds sluttiest gymnast, will most likely show up in some sort of eye-sore leotard, show off her horrible forward giants on bars, fall on beam, crank out an awful DTY on vault, and place no higher than 6th.

Elisabeth Seitz (GER) - the non-adult German star, who has somehow mistaken uneven bars for men's high bar, performs bars with the excitement of Epke Zonderland and the form on all events of Zou Kai. Seitz has the distinction of being one of the only gymnasts able to do the Def while having a leg separation wider than the width of the vault table. The German, who somehow home-countried her way to the 2011 European silver, shouldn't expect a placement anywhere near that, not in America.

Asuka Teramoto (JPN) - tiny Japanese gymnast who's 16, 4ft 6in, and 66 pounds, swings bars approximately the swing of He Kexin and the form of Koko Tsurumi. She also performs floor with the same amount of choreography as Koko. The ever-upbeat Blythe Lawrence of Examiner proclaims her as one of the up-coming stars of this quad, but she has about as much pizazz as Kyla Ross, i.e. NONE. She has clean, consistent, and boring gymnastics...yawn.

According to The Couch Gymnast, Canada accepted a spot, but they haven't decided who will go. Given that a chunk of their top elites are now in colleges in the US (Lee, Vaculik, Rogers, Savona), don't be at all surprised if Victoria Moors goes for the second year in a row. Maybe her floor will actually be televised this time, as she took the time to whine about last year.

USA Gymnastics has not yet announced which country will take the last spot, but given the bizarre World Cup rules, I haven't the slightest idea who will show up, and what country they'll be from.

On the men's side, the lineup for 7 out of the 8 men who will eventually compete has been announced as thus:

Danell Leyva, USA
Jake Dalton, USA
Marcel Nguyen, GER
Jorge Hugo Giraldo Lopez (who?), COL
Sergio Sasaki, BRA
Kristian Thomas, GBR
Oleg Verniaiev, UKR

The final man is reported to be announced shortly. I'll update this as I receive info on the final 3 competitors.

- IllusionSpin

A Few Thoughts on Russian Nationals

The Russian Figure Skating Championships for Seniors were held about 2 weeks ago in Sochi, and the Ladies competition provided some interesting results.

Side Note: In Russia, the Senior Nationals and the Junior Nationals are held separately, but Juniors (i.e. anyone not old enough for senior competition, since there are some who compete at senior nationals who aren't even old enough for junior international competition) are allowed to compete in both. The Junior championships will be held between January 31st and February 3rd in Saransk. Look for a Lipnitskaya/Radionova showdown.

Anyways, the Seniors ladies had several nobody's at the top, and several veterans buried in the standings.

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva somewhat unexpectedly won her first national title, after winning the SP and LP with absurdly high PCS. Heads up Liza-camp: you're not going to get in the 30s for the SP and the high 60s for the LP for PCS at Euros and Worlds. Her flailing arms are reminiscent of Slutskaya and Plushenko, and something that won't get fixed in order for her to win the Olympic gold if she continues with Mishin after this season. Half of her Dark Eyes music is what Nastia used in her 2006-2008 routine, a routine that also brings back memories of flailing arms, and just lots of bad memories. Her attempts to be dramatic just completely fail, and she can't bring out the drama and nuances in the music. If you can't do Dark Eyes like Sasha Cohen, don't do it at all.
 Kudos to her, though, for skating through what was reported to be a pretty bad cold, and managing to win the competition on top of that. Her triple lutzes were gorgeous as always, but a popped triple flip and a sloppy landing on a triple Salchow only gave her the 5 highest TES of the night. Here's her LP:

Elena Radionova pulled up to 2nd after sitting in 3rd after the short program with a gorgeous dress and a PCS score that was inexplicably 5 points below Leonova. I don't think Radionova is as artistic as everyone says, but Leonova is much worse.
Speaking of Radionova's artistry. Many people are acting like she's the next Sasha Cohen, but I just don't see it. Her LP consists of her frantically flying over the ice while waving her arms around, but still holding out a few nice positions. I see potential, but like Lipnitskaya, she needs to work on holding out her movements. For example, at the end of her program on literally the last note, her arms hit about 50 different positions before the end. She needs to just go into one position, and go into it while taking her time to extend. Another example: at 2:03 in the video, the music slows down, and transfers into fewer notes that are held out for longer. She holds out one movement on the first movement, but then she goes into the next jump. She needs to take that time to maybe to a spiral, or choreo that can be really expressive. However, one thing I do see is a 13 year old (who turned 14 today!) who clearly loves what she does and genuinely seems to love skating, and lets it show. Her long legs also give her a lovely layback, particularly her Biellman. Here's her LP:

Adelina Sotnikova, the 3-time Russian champion and two-time defending champion was 2nd after the short program, but stumbled to 3rd after a sloppy LP. That Christina Aguilera/jazz program is one of the worst programs of the season; I'd be shocked if it goes over well at Euros and Worlds. There's nothing wrong with a jazz program, but mixing in Christina Aguilera's moaning just makes it awful. As I said before, when the music started at SA, my initial reaction was, "what IS this crap?" For the 2011 World Junior Champion who even did Liebestraum last season, there's really no excuse for this ridiculously tacky program that's expected to challenge for a World medal come March. Something tells me she had a hand in picking the music, since you can see her enjoying herself during the awful step sequence. I get that you're 16 Adelina, and you want to be a teenager, but save the teenage stuff on ice for exhibitions, not for long programs. Still, she'll probably medal at Euros, and will easily challenge for a World medal now that she's finally old enough. Here's her LP:

Serafima Sakhanovich, the latest up-and-coming star of the Russians, pulled up from 9th to 4th with a beautiful and near-perfect LP, along with the highest TES of the night. I won't say much about her here, because I'm going to do a whole post on her soon, but this kid has the potential to become biggest Russian star ever. She has fabulous skating skills, a landing knee-bend to die for, and a beautiful lyrical quality to her skating. From my sources, she is 12, and therefore ineligible for Junior Worlds this year, but I believe she will be old enough for the JGP circuit next season (this fall), which I fully expect her to dominate. A full post will come on her soon, but here's her LP:

Anna Pogorilaya, the JGPF bronze medalist, placed 5th after a solid all-around skate, but that was somewhat unremarkable. Anna has many of the ingredients to make her into a force to be reckoned with, but her choreography leaves something to be desired. A LP like this is what's typically viewed as boring: when the music has a lot of detail and many notes, but the skater isn't doing much choreographically, which makes it look like the fast music is playing and the skater is just sort of doing a bit of choreography, but not much. With more attention to detail and work on her jump technique (her jumps have about as much flow out of them as Asada's triple axel does), she can easily medal at Junior Worlds.
Side Note: the Junior World team is expected to be Lipnitskaya, Radionova, and Pogorilaya. I believe it will be determined after the Russian Junior Championships.
Here's Anna's LP:

Nikol Gosviyani, the 3rd ALTERNATE to the Nationals, had the two skates of her life and placed 6th. This has earned her a spot on the European team. However, since it's been over 2 years since she competed internationally, she has to go to a small competition in Poland this weekend to try to earn the minimum required scores for the Europeans. Nikol has competed internationally 3 times in her entire career. The Coupe de Nice in 2007 (as a novice) and 2010 (as a junior), and one JGP in 2010. Like I said, she was the 3rd alternate to the Russian Nationals, and had Lipnitskaya not gotten a concussion, she wouldn't have even competed. She's a pretty skater, but like Pogorilaya, really needs to work on bringing out all the accents of the music. Her jump technique is a little funky, and could use some work. I'll link her SP as well, which I like better. She decided to copy the reigning World Champion by wearing a bedazzles body suit. Heads up Nikol: Just because Kostner decides to wear the worst costume ever to win Worlds, does not mean that you should follow suit. Given that Nikol's has not competed internationally in over 2 years, I honestly have no idea what to expect from her. She's a complete unknown to the skating world. Should she not get the minimum TES scores, Leonova will most likely go to Euros instead. Please do well Nikol, so that we can all be rid of Leonova. Nikol is 16, and is actually coached by Alexei Urmanov, the 1994 Olympic Champion.

The Others:
Oldies Leonova and Makarova placed 7th and 8th respectively, but since Tuktamysheva and Sotnikova are finally old enough for Worlds, they have almost no shot at the Worlds team. Korobeynikova, who was 4th after the SP, slipped to 10th after an subpar free skate that only earned 102.19. Important to note, 8th, 9th, and 10th were all within 0.79 of each other, and everyone from 11th and up scored over 160 for their total score.

The full results can be found here:

As soon as I find out if Gosviyani hit the minimal TES score for Euros, and if someone has to take her place if she doesn't, I'll post it.

- IllusionSpin

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Photo/Video of the Day

The Shibutani siblings recently posted a video set to "Good Time," featuring rehearsal/fun behind-the-scenes clips from the Skating and Gymnastics Spectacular, which will air on NBC on January 20th.

To acknowledge how these two sports coming together is sometimes great but also quite funny, here's a photo for your entertainment:

Just enjoy this for a second: Gabby Douglas, Maia Shibutani, Meryl Davis, Nastia Liukin, Alissa Czisny, Jordyn Wieber, Gracie Gold, and Aly Raisman all chilling/dancing on a beam. Ashley Wagner is at this too, but somehow barely appears in the video. I also live for Nastia and Maia acting like BFFs. I doubt Nastia has even hear of Maia or Gracie.

Enjoy the whole video of skaters and gymnasts who have never met, not to mention many of them have probably never heard of many of the other, acting like BFFs.

- IllusionSpin

Friday, January 4, 2013

Top Ten: Floor

All right, here we go. Last event.

This actually will be a Love Russia-fest. However, that has to do with the fact that the Russians have been training ballet as long as they have been doing gymnastics, and with the addition of the wonderful Russian choreographers, it produces beautiful floor routines with difficult and gorgeous choreography.
When it comes to floor, the Russians (and those from ex-Soviet countries) tend to be the class of the field. They are admired worldwide for their floors, and have publicly bashed the United States for their awful floor routines.

Top 10:

1. Ksenia Afanasyeva, 2011 Worlds EF/2012 Olympic QF

Quite possibly one of the greatest moments in gymnastics since the breakup of the Soviet Union. STUNNNINNNGGGG. The choreography is so detailed, I can't even tell you how hard it is. Thank God the judges finally got it right and crowned the lovely Afan World Floor Champion. I am glad that she managed to defeat Clubfoot the Raisman on floor at least once in her career.

I couldn't pick between her 2011 and her 2012 routine, so I just went with both of them. One thing I love about Ksenia is that unlike the lovely Grishina, her routines aren't purely ballet. The choreographers have taken her ballet training, and developed a unique style for her that utilizes ballet, but is so gorgeous and completely different from everybody else.

2. Anastasia Grishina, 2012 Jesolo/2012 European TF

I put two different versions here, mainly to show how she actually finishes the routine. The Jesolo routine was hit better and had more gorgeous choreography, but the music finished before she did. I put the European routine in just to show how she finishes the routine when she's on time with the music.
Anyways, this is SO gorgeous, and one of the best routines of the quad, if not in a long time. Her ballet training is so evident here, and she's so dainty and light on her feet. She really just needs to clean up that Y-spin, and maybe up her difficulty a bit, but the talent and beauty is all there. I really hope she continues, even after the London disaster, because with her talent and grace, and proper coaching, she could win the 2013 European AND World AA titles. Based on the current mess at Round Lake and her inconsistency, it most likely won't happen, but if only this beauty won major titles.

3. Yulia Belokobylskaya, 2011 Worlds TF

One of the prettiest dancers on the Russian team, which is saying something when your teammates include Afanasyeva, Grishina, Mustafina, Komova, Kharenkova, and about 50 others. I love everything about this routine. The way she dances into her opening pose, the way she dances to coverup a step on the second pass, and of course the gorgeoussss choreography after the 3rd pass. She had no chance of being useful to the Olympic team, but she got her moment to shine at the 2011 Worlds. If only EF spots were given out based on the whole package, not on start values.

4. Ana Porgras, 2010 Worlds TF/2011 Worlds AA

(Both of these were so gorgeous that I couldn't decide on one to put it, so I put both of them.)
Why, Ana, why? Why did you and your beauty have to retire 8 months before the Olympics? Everyone wanted to see you there, and to see you win the Olympic beam title. The Olympics were not the same without you. Ana is so stunningly beautiful, and I don't think she even has as much ballet training as the Russians. Her grace and artistry seem to be purely natural, and her beam and floor are so pretty to watch. She is truly missed.

5. Mariya Livchikova, 2011 Ghent World Cup QF/2011 Euros QF

My actual favorite version of the routine is here:
Unfortunately, embedding was disabled on the video.
I loveeee Mariya. If the CoP was wrote correctly, people like Mariya would be in major floor finals, not people like Clubfoot. Her music is so gorgeous (Leeloo's Tune), and the choreography fits it perfectly. Mariya, however, is not much of a tumbler, and in today's CoP, dancers are nowhere to be found in the rankings, which is sadly the current sad state of the sport.

6. Maria Kharenkova, 2012 European EF

It took me quite awhile to figure out this very cool and unique music was - I saw people suggesting French, Arabic, and Cirque - it turns out that this is a piece from Cirque du Soleil. Similar to Afanasyeva, the choreographers take her ballet training, and create something unique and very cool with it. I really love this music, the choreography, and the whole routine. The fact that she won despite a step out of bounds shows that just mayyyybeee this sport is heading in the right direction. The judges recognized her beauty and finesse and rewarded that, while recognizing that the step out of bounds is really just a small error.

7. Ekaterina Baturina, 2012 European QF/2012 Pacific Rim Championships EF

(Two slightly different versions of the same routine.)
While she's not one of the two Russian junior stars (Kharenkova and Shelgunova), this beauty is on the way up. One thing I notice with this routine is that the skills seem quite easy for her (it's a fairly easy skill set), which tells me that the Russian coaches are most likely pacing her, instead of forcing top difficulty on her before she even turns senior (Valeri Liukin, maybe you should take some notes). I feel like that strategy is going to help in the long run.
Anyways, this floor routine is another Russian masterpiece, and I fully expect this girl to be in the mix during the next quad. That ending pose is just gorgeous.
Side note: in the Euros video, notice the Russian seniors in the stands, walking her through the whole routine. And when I say walking through, I mean yelling DAVAI DAVAI DAVAI.....STOI! as many times as is humanly possible.

8. Aliya Mustafina, 2010 Worlds QF/2012 Olympic EF

Sheer brilliance out there. Each landing was near perfectly controlled, and the triple turn is a work of art. Most people finish that turn by stepping forward as they finish spinning, but she shows that she has perfect control by finishing the spin, but remaining on her toe to show control before she continues. That is how a triple turn is SUPPOSED TO BE DONE.

Fabulous. Some people don't like this routine, but I love the dramatics and choreography. It's also evident just how hard she worked to get the majority of her skills back after that near-career ending injury. The joy on her face at seeing her score, and then realizing that she had won the bronze medal was wonderful to see.

9. Anna Dementyeva, 2010 Worlds TF

She's such a little cutie :) This routine is cute, artistic, pretty, and just perfect for little Demy. I still can't wrap my head around the fact that little Demy is an adult now. Feels like yesterday that she was 15, and the youngest gymnast, at the 2010 worlds, and now she's 18(!). I feel like many people remember Demy at the 2010 worlds for helping headcase bars along with cohort Nabieva, but she turned in two wonderful routines on beam and floor. She's won a few very minor competitions this fall, so I sincerely hope that we continue to see more of this little delight.

10. Daria Elizarova, 2011 Worlds QF

You know it's a sad day when a gymnast of this talent has to go compete for another country just to get competitive opportunities. It also tells you about the depth of talent in Russia. For those of you who don't know, Daria was originally on the 2008 Russian Olympic team, and then Ludmilla Ezhova-Grebenkova was subbed in, as they wanted her experience more. At some point in 2010, Elizarova went to compete for Uzbekistan, where she obviously immediately became the top gymnast there. Why they sent Galiulina to the Olympics this year over Elizarova, when Galiulina was caught for doping and didn't even compete, still baffles me. Anyways, I still love this routine - the choreography shows her Russian training with plenty of intricate moves. I love how she sort of tricks you into thinking that it's time for another tumbling pass, but then does more dance instead. I hope she continues on.

Low 10:

1. Alexandra Raisman, 2012 Olympic Trials Day 1

This routine disgusts me each and every time she does it, and the fact that she is Olympic floor champion over Afanasyeva, Mustafina, Komova, Grishina, Ponor, Izbasa, etc, is just horrifying for the sport. If compulsories existed, Aly Raisman would have never even been an elite, as she'd be slaughtered in compulsories. I wasn't even a big fan of Ponor's routine, but Ponor should have won over Raisman, and most fans who appreciate gymnastics and its history agree. Not to mention the fact that judges never seem to apply their own rules - Aly should be getting massive artistry deductions each and every time she competes this. I mean, she can't even do a roundoff without bent knees and flexed feet.
However, the thing that disgusted me most about this routine was actually something outside of Aly's control. She very clearly LANDS that first pass out of bounds, yet only .1 was taken off. That's just wrong.

I want those judges sitting RIGHT THERE to look at this, and then attempt to tell me that she only stepped out with one foot. That is a screenshot as Aly lands. BOTH FEET ARE OUT. Obviously all the judging at Trials was a complete joke, but this is just ridiculous. Anyways, moving on.

2. Gabby Douglas, 2012 Olympic AA

Another US routine that just disgusts me. "Memories" and "We No Speak Americano" are club music. I've danced my ass off to them in clubs. That means that they are not suitable for ARTISTIC gymnastics. I don't care if you're not a natural dancer. Jordyn isn't. That doesn't mean that she uses laughable club music, she plays to her strengths. Like I said before, Alexandrov has publicly made fun of the Americans for their floor routines (and rightfully so), and this piece of shit doesn't help. What is she doing after the 2nd pass???? Gabby, WHAT IS THIS????? No. Just no.

3. Rebecca Bross, 2010 Nationals Day 2

Each American routine just gets worse. Considering that she comes from the same gym as people like Hollie Vise AND she has a Russian coach, this is just ridiculous. I actually sort of liked her 2009 routine - Natural Treasure is kind of cool music. Again, I see that she is not a natural dancer, but from what I know, WOGA does ballet training as part of their training. Not to mention, if you are not a dancer, do 4 less intricate tumbling passes, instead of 3, and torturing us with your awful "dance." Of course, nothing will ever be as bad as that thing that Carly Patterson called a floor routine. Why does she take a lunch break after the second pass and just stand there? And WHY does she hold that split on the floor for like, a year? Also, I'm all for being focused and determined (I think that's a good thing), but smile or at least have more than one facial expression during choreography! Like Maroney says, floor is a chance to perform and show your personality, so don't walk around the mat like it's a chore. Enjoy floor routines and choreography, even if you're not Mostepanova.

4. Elizabeth Price, 2012 Nationals Day 1

Wow. Way to shit on the memory of Afanasyeva's World title winning floor. Yes, this is a slightly different cut than the one that Afanasyeva used. Question #1: what is she doing after the second pass? Questions #2: why does she like, stop and stare at the judges for a year after the 3rd pass? Just so you know Elizabeth, there's a reason Tumbling is it's own sport. It's so that we don't have to see shit like the stuff you call a floor routine. I'm not going to deny her acrobatic talents. That's why she should seriously consider Tumbling. Unless you can dance better than the reigning World floor champion, DO NOT use her music, and then say "OMG, I love my choreography!" Just no. I sincerely hope Afanasyeva has never seen this. And finally, STOP WEARING PINK!!!!!!!

5. Daiane Dos Santos, Unknown 2011 Competition

It's been nearly 10 years since that undeserved World title, and things don't seem to change do they? She still tumbles ridiculously uncontrolled passes (you'd think by now she'd have properly learned them), and the hideous "choreography." I.e., she looks like an animal on speed. Funny how she was suspended at some point this quad for doping? After all these years, she can't even point her toes on those awful tumbling passes. Daiane, significant accomplishments are about a decade in the past. I think it's time to retire.....

6. Elizabeth Tweddle, 2011 Worlds TF

Again, if you are not a dancer, do FOUR tumbling passes! And what is that weird arm stuff she does right before each tumbling pass? Ughhhh. I cannot believe she won the 2009 World title. It's just an injustice to the sport. Then again, Raisman won the Olympic title, so apparently, apart from the 2011 World title and 2012 European title, floor golds are now given out to the shittiest dancers. The former Soviets must be crying over the way this sport has gone.

7. Vanessa Ferrari, 2012 Olympic EF

I can't believe she actually thinks she deserved the bronze over Mustafina. Ummm, yeah NO. For those of you who didn't realize, this is a different cut of Anastasia Sidorova's music (it's called Angel and Devil). Mustafina can actually dance, and finallyyyy the judges recognized that and gave her the bronze over Ferrari's higher start value. BTW Vanessa, there are deductions in the CoP for music. When you have 5 music cuts between two tumbling passes (2nd and 3rd), there are deductions for that. When she lands the 3rd pass, there's about a 2 second cut that sounds like Hijo de la Luna (Mustafina's 2010 music). The music is all over the place, the choreography is awful, and the leo is fugly as fuck. Mustafina won that bronze fair and square. This is just awful.

8. Kyla Ross, 2012 Visa Championships Day 1

For someone with such pretty lines and such a balletic look, this routine is a real letdown. She has so much talent and potential to do something far more intricate and pretty. DO NOT use Phantom of the Opera unless you can fully bring out the drama in it. Her choreography is her either bending her arms and looking to the side, or weird stuff on the floor. The vocals in the middle are not good. And what is that weird jump after the 3rd pass? I really hope she gets something new and much better for this year.

9. Huang Qiushuang, 2010 Worlds QF

Everyone calls her lovely, but I don't see what all the fuss is about. Her choreography is either her standing with bent knees while waving her arms around, or constant hip circling/thrusting. I can see the talent and potential to be pretty on floor. It's all there, she just needs to stop waving her arms like Bross and stop thrusting her hips out like a stripper. If she took this music and had it choreographed by the Russian choreographers, it would actually be nice.

10. Lauren Mitchell, 2010 Worlds EF

Someone please explain to me why this won the 2010 World title. Moreover, why did this win over a slightly imperfect Mustafina? Like her beam routine, it's so....awkward. It doesn't flow, every arm movement seems disconnected from the next one. The music is also so generic. The fact that there was only one nice major (World/Olympic) floor champion this quad is just plain sad. Mustafina was a little sluggish in this final, it being her 16 competitive routine of the championships, but she still deserved to win this. I don't understand how, as Aunt Joyce puts it, "Awkward Aussie" won.

All right that's it for top 10 of the quad!

Look out for some opinion pieces on skating/gymnastics to come soon. Hope everyone's enjoying 2013 so far!

- IllusionSpin