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!