As busy as I like to be, always having a few things going on, when its championship skating season my world grinds to a bit of a halt. Especially now with icenetwork, which broadcasts international events live (for an annual fee, of course).
The Grand Prix series was going on before Christmas with events in the States, Canada, France, Japan, Russia and China. These events feature skaters who have qualified to be there based on the previous season’s results with a bonus entry for each host country. They are also a way for skaters to earn money during the season, which is necessary for equipment, ice time, coaching, living expenses and travel fees.
The series culminates in a Final with the top 6 skaters in each event competing for the big bucks. It was wonderful watching how the series unfolded and which skaters most likely will be vying for World titles.
Following the series each country hosts their own national championship. You can imagine how hopped up I was when Canada and the US held theirs on the same weekend! (I’m sure Alistair was just thrilled).
I’m stoked that Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are back and wow, are they looking amazing. They haven’t competed since their silver medal at the Sochi Olympics but they aren’t showing any rust or lack of stamina.
They have changed coaches and are now in Montreal training with the current world champions, Papadakis & Cizeron. While the skating world is cheering Virtue & Moir’s return, Papadakis & Cizeron might not be. They have been beaten by the older Canadians at every outing they’ve been matched against each other this year. The French are saying the right things like, “It makes us train harder” and “they inspire us” but I’m sure they’re pissed.
A fun extension of the domestic championships last weekend was this current weekend’s European championships. Euros has been a very prestigious event for decades, often more important than the World championships many years ago. There is no continental equivalent although there used to be a North American championships long before the Grand Prix series evolved.
I loved watching what I could of Euros this year which were held in the Czech Republic. As keen as I am I wasn’t getting up at 5am to watch the early, less skilled and lesser-known skaters and I missed most of the short programs because of other things going on but I made a point to catch the final groups of the mens and ladies events.
First things first: Caro is back! Italy’s Carolina Kostner, at the age of 29, is back after a ridiculous ban that kept her off competitive ice for 2 years. Basically, she told officials who showed up at her house that her then-boyfriend, an Olympic speed walker who was being tested for drug use, wasn’t home. She didn’t know why he asked her to say that but she did. Love is like that.
Its also fickle because she kicked his ass to the curb when she (and the rest of the world) found out he was using performance-enhancing drugs (for speed walking… who knew?) and that her career was jeopardized because of that one little lie.
The moral here is don’t use drugs and don’t lie. The real story, though, is that most skaters with an incredible career like Kostner’s, including the bronze medal from Sochi, would have laid down and called it good. Toured in the ice shows. Rest on your laurels, that sort of thing.
Not Carolina. She kept herself in shape and she trains with grumpy Alexei Mishin and darn it all if she isn’t kicking some sparkly butt out there!
Carolina is an artist as well as a skater and fans of the sport are so lucky she has the grit, strength and balls to come back. She was beautiful in simple colors and she brought her game to Ostrava and took home the bronze medal.
The gold was won by a skater 12 years younger than her. How do you like that?
The ladies were lovely and Medvedeva seems unbeatable. I don’t necessarily like her program, which tells a story of a woman whose partner leaves for work on Sept.11th and then never comes home. Not really the fluff and stuff of normal skating routines but she commits to it and does a good job. The triple lutzes, triple-triple combos and amazing spins help, too.
Its a new world now since Tessa & Scott won Olympic gold on home turf in Vancouver in 2010. That basically ended the Russian dominance of the ice dance podium. And as much as I joke about the French team, they are absolutely fabulous and they totally deserved another European crown.
As much as I enjoy all events, this year the European men were probably my favorite to watch. Not just because it was really cool to see the 25 year old Spaniard, Javier Fernandez quad his way to his 5th title (its only ever been done at Euro’s once before, by Ondrej Nepala), but because there are some new names coming out of the woodwork who may be forces to reckon with.
For starters, men’s figure skating is an entirely different world from Kurt Browning & his Casablanca routines… pausing in the middle of the ice to fake pulling out a smoke… that sort of thing doesn’t get points in the new judging system nor will it garner any bonus Grades of Execution.
Yet it was what skating had more of in the 80s.. more individuality and more story-telling. I’ve been a bit leery of the potential for cookie cutter routines coming out because of the point system but I think men’s skating has started to combine the uniqueness that was present in the 80s with the jumping requirements of the Now.
I’m excited about new guys like the Latvian, Deniss Vasiljevs. I’ve never heard of him but what a great performance complete with the jumps. His edge control, flair, speed and musicality were magnificent and no shock seeing him with new coach, Stephane Lambiel.
18 year-old Ivan Pavlov from the Ukraine was sharp and has super springy knees. Italy’s Ivan Righini played the Zamboni on his quad and triple axel but nailed everything else with flair during his Elvis-themed routine. (There was that one awkward guitar-strumming moment, though… what is it about some Europeans who just can’t get the moves? Victor Petrenko comes to mind…)
I enjoyed the lanky 24 year-old German, Paul Fentz, who skated to Pink Floyd tunes. Who knew Brick in the Wall would work on the ice? The guy has some mad skills but needs to get some spin lessons under his belt but it was still so enjoyable watching another skater I had never heard of.
Sadly, again, it wasn’t baby-faced Michal Brezina’s event. This kid burst onto the scene (much to the delight of female fans) years ago but has never captured the promise he brought with him. He has 2 quads. He can land them. He’s musical and flexible and he knows how to entertain. Maybe it will come together for him at World’s this spring.
Its exciting to see the quads incorporated into unique, exciting routines. The European men will need them when they face off against the Japanese, Chinese and now American threats. What’s that? A real American threat in men’s figure skating?
Yeah. His name is Nathan Chen and you should remember it. His artistry isn’t where Yuzuru Hanyu’s or Patrick Chan’s are but its getting there. The kid does quads like you wouldn’t believe, 2 in the short and 4 in the long. Insane. Who has that strength and endurance? And he’s working at looking good while doing it.
Next up is Four Continents, in South Korea, Feb.14th-19th. Its a test event for the Olympic games next winter and features athletes from the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania. There are a lot of serious low-level skaters who represent under-represented countries but it is a taste of international exposure for these kids and they get to see the big names, like Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond and the American Shibutanis compete in person. US silver medalist, Ashley Wagner has chosen to skip the event and train for the last big hurrah, World’s, which will be March 29th- April 2nd in Helsinki, Finland.
I can only hope our local NBC affiliate and dish network decide to get along by then because not everything at the big events gets shown on icenetwork. Keep your fingers crossed for that!
I’m thankful to have my safe little addiction in going back to my roots in the ice rinks. I love sharing my love of the sport, too, and sometimes think I’ll coach again someday. Figure skating is a world of sparkly things, spandex and beautiful people wrapped up in music, toe picks, quads and death spirals. Its a lovely distraction from the real world.