It is the time of year when I set the timer to record certain programs and then enjoy them shamelessly with glasses of red wine on the couch beneath my Siamese companion at night often with tears of joy on my cheeks.
And while the Canadian national figure skating championships were not televised in the States I was still able to keep up with the scores from last weekend thanks to the Internet.
Its the heart of figure skating season and I’m all over it!
Two nights ago (with wine, tears, and said cat) I watched American history being made as a diminutive 13-year old phenom triple-axeled her way to the top step of the podium.
Alysa Liu was bursting with joy after she placed 2nd after a strong short program behind last year’s champion, Bradie Tennell. And then Friday night she lit up the arena in Detroit again when she skated her heart out and won the entire event!
Television cameras captured her overwhelming emotions when they showed her crying afterwards. Tears of pure joy and wonderment poured down her face which reminded me of how young she really is. Her bio says she enjoys riding her bike. Pretty sure that’s not on Bradie’s or Amber Glen’s bios.
Alysa is now the youngest women’s champion in American history, a fact not lost on one of the commentators, Tara Lipinski. Tara, however, had to bail out of the sport after her trademark triple-loop-triple-loop combo eventually required her to have hip surgery.
Which is why I have to pause in my excitement about this musical little skater being hailed as the “future of women’s skating in America”- I am worried about her own future.
The media is focusing on how Alysa could have 3 Olympic cycles in her lifetime but is there a coach out there who believes that? I don’t. Her body won’t hold up, just like Lipinski’s didn’t.
We see this every cycle with the Russians, who are hell-bent on pumping out jumping bean after jumping bean. They are generally pre-pubescent, super skinny, and have abundant energy. They win non-stop for a couple of years, including the Olympics, and then when they grow or develop hips the Russian federation tosses them to the side.
Just ask Julia (or, Yulia) Lipnitskaya, the Russian darling who stole everyone’s heart as a teensy dynamo in Sochi in 2014. She could leap, spin, bend and grin with the best of them and one could arguably say she was one of the media faces of those Olympics. Sadly, after all of that attention and pressure and after her body finally started to grow she became anorexic. She faced those demons and publicly admitted it and sought therapy in Europe and retired from skating altogether.
Puberty is not kind in general to skaters and we have to endure it in spandex. The country and the world watch and coaches and parents hold their collective breath while changes happen to these young women.
What we should be doing is supporting them through it and encouraging them to come out of it as true women skaters. I love Kaetlyn Osmond and Carolina Kostner because they are real women who skate and do amazing tricks. I respect them maybe even a bit more because its harder to get longer bodies with longer, heavier limbs up into the air to spin around 2 or 3 times and land on one foot looking fabulous the entire time!
(If you’d like to know the difference even 5lbs makes, next time you are grocery shopping, grab a 5lb bag of potatoes and wing it in the air above your head in a few circles.)
I worry about comments like Terry Gannon’s after Alysa won the title- he said something like “get every TV camera in her face” and I don’t think that’s a very good idea.
She is 13 years old and she just needs to ride her bike. She doesn’t need to be a national TV star who is told she is the future of our sport. Skaters like Gracie Gold and Gabby Daleman have been there and both of those skaters have admitted to struggling with depression and anxiety. Daleman took months off of training to take care of herself and get some therapy. She won the short program at Canadian Nationals recently but then blew the long and landed in 5th place. She said she is worried about where this will put her and confidence. I hope the media gets out of her face so she can disappear and take more time to work on that.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is nothing like a jolt of confidence when you’re an athlete. American ice dancers Hubbell and Donohue have been getting rewarded by the judges the last 2 years and wow, does it look great on them! I enjoy watching this couple (again, it helps that she is a real woman out there) because they are dramatic, sexy and strong and they aren’t apologetic about it.
Same with Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada. While she could use a sandwich they are incredible on the ice and their chemistry knows no bounds. It helps that most of the ice dancers are the Beautiful People as well.
No surprise who stood on top of the European ice dance podium this weekend. They rock their knees, their lyrical body movement, their chemistry, strength, speed and drama and damn, they look good doing it.
Papadakis and Cizeron are the reigning world champions and I would be surprised if they don’t take the title again this year in Japan. They are utterly ethereal when they skate. They don’t look like they are pushing when they glide across the ice and every turn of the head and every bend of the wrist has a purpose. They are continuing to skate to create programs that audiences will never forget. They are true artists as well as amazing athletes.
They train in Montreal with legendary Canadian skaters, Marie France Dubreil and Patrice Lauzon, who were equally ethereal and ground-breaking when they competed. They have quite the training stable out east as all 3 podium finishers in the US train there, too.
I won’t recap the US men’s event because there aren’t any shockers (Nathan Chen won, of course) other than the fact Jason Brown finally got rid of the goofy pony-tail (thank you, Brian Orser!) (Jason was 3rd.)
And I won’t touch the US Pairs because I’m really not sure what is going on with that discipline in this country. American pairs skaters have always been weaker when compared to the rest of the world and I have no explanation why.
The top 2 teams both had lifts that didn’t go up. Seriously. Woman goes towards man with some form of connecting steps and intricate hand holds, man goes towards woman and bends knees, gets beneath her, woman leaps into the air and their bodies just go nowhere other than to sort of collide into one another awkwardly. The Knierems had that happen twice! So Cain & Leduc stood on the top spot of this year’s podium (rightly so) and the US will once again struggle to get a grip on its pairs program.
I am excited about the future of all aspects of skating, including the women’s event and it was pretty fun watching young Liu do her thing even if there are some concerns about how to handle her future. Here’s to Four Continents first and then the world championships next!