Sunday, January 31, 2010

2010 Four Continents

This is late, I know, but there was too much stuff to do to keep up with Four Continents as it happened (actually I still have a lot to do, but I don't want to get too far behind), and besides the fields were generally uninteresting. The only exceptions, of course, were Mao Asada, Adam Rippon, Jane Summersett & Todd Gilles, and Keauna McLaughlin & Rockne Brubaker, probably in that order. ♡ I guess I was a little interested in how Ryan Bradley, Brandon Mroz, Akiko Suzuki, and Caroline Zhang would do, and Tatsuki Machida too, but all in all there didn't seem to be much going on.

Actually, before any skating, I just have to say that Mao needing to have bodyguards at this competition was absolutely ridiculous. I am glad that the necessary steps were taken to ensure her safety while at the competition, but the steps shouldn't have been necessary in the first place. Screw PC, Korean fans are crazy. If they believe so much in Yu-Na Kim's talent and potential, then they should let that shine through without trying to muddle the rest of the skaters. Their actions make it seem as if the only way Yu-Na can win is by pulling a Tonya Harding. Mao deserves the right to compete all over the world without worrying about her safety, and in all honesty sometimes I think that Yu-Na needs to be given some sort of warning or something in order to send a message to her rabid fans.

On to skating: Mao nearly killed me after the SP. Since I don't have a TV around (not that figure skating would be televised anyway), I had to wait for someone to upload her performance and looked at the results instead. I calmed down a bit once I saw that the difference between the top 3 was marginal, and that her 1.00 deduction was not because she fell but because she went over time. I'm not sure how that happens this late in the season, but at least it was not on her triple Axel. Unfortunately instead she popped her 3F, but it seemed that she was skating a little faster than she was previously this season and I think that this is a good step for her. I still don't like her dress or her cuts of music, though. I'm not sure this Tarasova thing was such a good idea, although I had such high hopes for it when it was first announced.

Mao did, however, bring it in the FS. She nailed both of her triple Axels, although she somewhat mysteriously received a Level 2 on her step sequence instead of her usual 4. I know that the slightest of body movements can determine what level a move is rated, but given how much she loves footwork I have come to expect a consistent 4. I guess it's just a matter of staying focused at the Olympics and making sure she gets those levels on everything. What I noticed here and in her SP is that she seems to get faster throughout her program, rather than slower like most skaters. Perhaps it is getting the pressure of the triple Axel out of the way? I was really proud of her, though, for holding it together after the SP and blocking out all of the negativity in Korea. I am not a fan of her heavy-looking dress, but there is something about her music that is growing on me. I hope that this starts the momentum she needs for the Olympics. Aaah

I was almost equally heartbroken after Adam started out in 7th after the SP, before noticing that positions 3-7 were virtually tied (with 2nd not far off). He fell out of his triple Axel and put his hand down, but despite that I was still struck, as usual, by his great edges and soft jumping quality. He was understandably a little disappointed in his performance, but there seemed to be a lot to be optimistic about.

And then, just like Mao, he laid it all down in the FS. Unfortunately the idiot of a cameraman who taped for SBS cut out Adam's arms in the shot of his triple Lutz, so I couldn't quite appreciate, you know, the entire point of the jump, but otherwise the quality of his performance managed to shine through the screen. His music is a little flat to me, but on the other hand it doesn't distract from appreciating his actual skating, and that is a very good and rare thing. Too bad his season ends here, but thanks to some magnificent skating and some equally magnificent choking by several others, I think Four Continents sets up for a great 2010-2011. I can't say for sure whether this is just Adam's natural trajectory of progress or if Brian Orser really did something special, but something is working for Adam right now and I love it.

No one has posted Jane & Todd, so I've been reduced to relying on the ISU's score sheets. I was hoping that they would make a real run here, but they were beaten by Madison & Keiffer Hubbell and Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein again, as well as by a Chinese team (wth). No offense to the Chinese team or the teams that placed under them (i.e. 5-12), but it's a pretty bad time when an Asian team beats you in ice dance. I'm sure this team is good and all, but really. But maybe this can begin an interest in ice dancing in Asia...

Keauna & Rockne brought out their game about 10 days too late. I haven't been able to find their SP yet but it doesn't have the all-too-common 1.00 deduction, so already that's progress. Their side-by-side triple Salchows received a negative GOE, though (actually, it ranged from -2 to 0... maybe 3-year-olds could serve as judges and we'd get the same consistency of results), and all of my bets are on Keauna. Don't get me wrong, I love this pair and really want them to do well, but her lack of basic technique makes me so nervous and I feel like they (could) have so much more potential.

In the FS their problems resurfaced almost immediately, with Keauna falling on their first side-by-sides. This was followed by a great triple twist, which leads me to wonder yet again about the dynamics of their partnership. Keauna is small and has great line for pairs, and Rockne really takes advantage by making some huge throws and great lifts. They look great together and obviously have chemistry. At the same time, she is the reason they are not placing higher or more consistently, and I just have to wonder how they assess their situation and their respective contributions to the team. Anyway, the rest of the program went pretty smoothly until Keauna fell on their second throw jump, and although I know that placing elements at the end can be a real point-getter I do question the wisdom of placing such a move at the end when both are tired, especially given her historic difficulties with landings. I was touched by how supportive and comforting Rockne was at the end of their performance, and despite my short and unauthorized analysis above I think they could have what it takes. All in all, even though I have been a little harsh on this pair recently I really do love them and hope they stay together to make a run at 2014.

I was curious to see how Brandon would recover after Nationals, and was a little surprised (not in a bad way) to see him in 3rd after the SP. Sadly he slipped to 4th overall, but it's a good sign he can rebound so quickly, and he'll probably be in great shape (mental and otherwise) going into next season. For the same reason I was interested in Caroline's results, and she miraculously pulled off a 3rd-place finish here. I don't really know where to begin with herm but hopefully this gives her the confidence she needs to sit down and re-assess her skating and coaching situation. Ryan Bradley, meanwhile, seems to be continuing his run of messing up the SP, going for broke in the FS, and ultimately being too far behind to catch up. He will probably retire soon, since I can't see him going for another four years, but I sort of want him to get some sort of medal before he does.

I don't know whether I should be a little embarrassed to say this, but I was interested in Akiko Suzuki's and Tatsuki Machida's results only because they were Japanese. Okay, that's not quite true. To me Akiko has come out of nowhere, and I have been both surprised and impressed that she has been able to keep up her competition results so consistently. I can't get myself to warm to her skating just yet, but she does a good job of doing what she needs to do in the shadows of Miki Ando and Mao. Tatsuki, meanwhile, caught my attention because I had never seen his name before, but was far outperforming Yasuharu Nanri here (and evidently at Nationals, which I hadn't paid attention to past Takahiko Kozuka's name). Tatsuki is pretty young (19), and I hope this starts a off a successful next four years for him.

I think I'm going to be too nervous to actually watch the Olympics.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

2010 Australian Open: Men

On the men's side, the few things that I noticed were that Novak Djokovic lost a 2-sets-to-1 lead (with a physical complaint, as usual--I believe this time it was the stomach), Roger Federer almost lost to Nikolay Davydenko (that would have made things INTERESTING), and Rafael Nadal retired against Andy Murray with a knee injury, down 2 sets. It seems that this happened at the beginning of the third set and that Murray was actually outplaying Nadal for two sets, which makes for pretty interesting tennis. On the other hand it seems that Nadal's physical problems (actual) keep coming, and everyone is wondering how long his body will last. Changing his style of play is pretty much out of the question at this point in his career and training, and one can only hope that the ATP/WTA comes to its senses soon. This latest injury will have him out for 4 weeks, and it's frustrating to watch. I would really love to see Nadal win the U.S. Open sometime, but before that I just want him back to his agressive, healthy self. But all of this just highlights how special Federer is, who is so light on his feet and evidently almost immune to injury (no jinx, please).

Anyway, tonight (or rather tomorrow morning) is the men's final, and I really want Murray to take it. Logically I think that Federer will probably take this in 4 sets, but Murray has beaten Federer several times before and is also better rested coming in... so I'll say Murray in 4. 5, maybe? I don't know... I don't actually see the upset happening, but anything is possible and one can hope. Murray has to have his Grand Slam breakthrough sometime, right? x(._.)x

Also, speaking of men, I followed a little bit of Shingo Kunieda yesterday. Usually there's one hugely dominant player who sweeps all of the Grand Slams, but last night he was at least tested en route to a three-set win. Wheelchair tennis isn't the most exciting, but it's definitely inspirational and intriguing.

EDIT: Not this time, Murray... not even close. But his tears at the end endear him to me a lot.

01.28.2010 ひみつの嵐ちゃん:梨花 & 杏

やっぱり企画やゲームが一番面白いですね!今週の「ひみつの嵐ちゃん」は VIP Room のダブルスペシャルでした。色々ありましたけれども、トークが大方だったのでいつも程楽しめなかったです。まずは梨花さんでした。嵐の五人と付合ったら、、、


梨花さんは最近一般人と結婚されたらしくて、お祝いと興味を合わせて今回のトークは結婚や恋愛系な質問が多かったです。付合って八年になると聞いて関心しました。途中で別れたりしたらしいですが、最終的には一緒にいたいと気付いたとか。何故安心したか良く分からないけれど も、梨花さんが旦那さんの事を飽きることがあると聞いてほっとしました。飽きても安定している生活に安心して、何年も掛けて育ててきた関係を保のが大切み たいですね。私の結婚なんか見えない程の先きですが、、、




次に梨花さん自身の結婚 Before/After のコーナが始まりました。彼女が言った事に結構驚きました。かなり嫉妬するタイプみたいですね。




Before/After に差がないと思うかもしれませんが、実は結婚前は「浮気」を見たら号泣だったらしいです。今のリアクションはどうなっているのでしょうかな、、、



























Friday, January 29, 2010

2010 Australian Open: Women

Being unable to watch any tennis has severely hampered my ability to, well, formulate opinions on any of the matches. Up until now I've consequently followed everything very peripherally, noting only that the Chinese seemed to have a very good time at this tournament. This didn't really do much to heighten my interest, though, because Na Li took out Caroline Wozniacki, who was the only player left I cared about by the time the quarterfinals (or was it even before then?) rolled around. It got slightly interesting when Li really took it to Serena Williams in the semis, but as usual Serena found a way out (actually she almost lost to Victoria Azarenka in the quarters, and probably would have if a) Serena weren't Serena and b) Azarenka didn't have a tendency to headcase out in three-setters, especially with a lead). On the other side Justine Henin marched her way to the finals, completely demolishing Jie Zheng in the semis.

As long as we're talking about Chinese tennis players, can I digress? These two players need to start going by Na Li and Jie Zheng all the time, and not half the time while they try to assert their country's linguistic traditions by going by Li Na and Zheng Jie. Look, it's do as Romans do, and the fact that both of their names sound equally likely as first and last to foreigners without exposure to Chinese only complicates things more. This actually goes for Yu-Na Kim as well. Someone needs to tell international athletes that first names go first and last names go last, because other than creating unncessary confusion it's just a blatant disregard for international conventions and blind stubbornness. Anyway.

It's hard to believe that Serena and Henin have never played each other before in a Grand Slam final. Actually I don't really understand how that works (have they always somehow ended up on the same side of the draw?) but this should make for some interesting tennis. I'm not much of a fan of either of them, but I think all considered I have to throw my support to Henin. Whether she'll win is hard to say... but I think that she has a good chance. She comes in fresher than Serena and is more consistent, with none of the boredom that usually comes with the word. This will be a great match to watch--a lot of athleticism without any of my personal stake--too bad it airs at 3:30 AM EST. Right. Bottom line: Henin in 3?

2010 US Nationals: Free Dance

Well, it's been a while. Between picking classes and family visiting, I haven't had any time to really keep up with the things I usually follow. I have finally decided what I am taking this semester (Independent Research, Evolutionary Biology, Quantitative Methods in Sociology, Experimental Physical Chemistry, and French--yay), though and everything seems to be slowly settling into place. Well, everything except lab. My cells are acting weird and I'm not sure why.

So this happened like a week ago, but at last I've found the Free Dance (for the last five groups) from Nationals. It was a great competition and I was pretty excited about it, although the scoring in the OD (between Meryl Davis & Charlie White and Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto), considering the twizzles, was a little strange.

Tanith & Ben skated first out of the final group, and because I'd somehow made it through the better part of the season without seeing their program, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were skating to Caccini's Ave Maria. Yes, Ave Maria in general is a classical fallback, but it seems that the Ave Maria most people immediately think of is Gounod's, followed by Schubert's, and this will raise the visibility of Caccnini's version. Caccini's version is the most dramatic, though, so it worked well for them. Their black-and-white costumes were appropriately plain (color-wise) and dramatic (glitter- and cut-wise) at the same time, although I'm not sure if I would have designed a similar costume. I was glad to see that Tanith's hair was tied back. Anyway, in terms of their skating, I thought they did really well--their twizzles were fast and together, and their lifts were elegant and smooth. Their trademark move, where Tanith stands on Ben's skate and arches her back, was used really well and emphasized one of the climaxes of the music. They looked very happy at the end of their performance and after they saw their marks, and I think that even though they did not become the first team to win six National titles they have a lot to be proud of.

Next was Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentre. They were also dressed in black and white, though more simply so, and I think I prefer this set of costumes within the black and white scheme. Their program got off to a slightly shake start with the first set of twizzles, when Kim let go over her foot too early, but they recovered well for the second set. Tonia Kwiatkowski mentioned that their FD is supposed to represent their partnership, which seems really sweet (although I'm not sure exactly how the representation works... maybe through the lyrics of the music ("One" by Mary J. Blige)). Their lifts were pretty eye-catching, and the simplicity of their costumes helped accentuate the line of their positions. Kim & Brent looked very emotional at the end, and you could see them mouth "Thank you" to each other. Sentimental favorites indeed. I thought their program component scores could have been a little higher, but good performance all around. Too bad they're not going to the Olympics.

Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein are really the future. You can always tell which juniors will be successful as seniors because they make a dramatic move right away, and this team is no exception (so far). Their costumes were the first that really seemed to be costumes as opposed to crazy outfits, and their music (a "classical waltz") was soft and elegant. Very different feel from the first two teams. Their first set of twizzles seemed just a tad bit messy, but their alternating arm movements in the second set really stood out and was timed perfectly to the music. Kwiatkowski mentioned that they seem to have gained a lot of confidence since winning Junior Worlds last year, and although I didn't really follow them last year she seems to be right--they skated with the power that comes from confidence. They actually beat Navarro & Bommentre in the technical score, but lost out significantly in the program component score, which is sure to go up as they gain more experience.

Then came Meryl & Charlie. They skated to Phantom of the Opera, which is completely overdone, but of course they managed to make it their own anyway. They jumped right into two combination spins, which had great spead, and everything just took off from there. The straight line --> rotational lift had numerous quick position changes, and highlighted the tension of the main theme before the music cut to "Music of the Night." I wasn't such a huge fan of the musical transitions and cuts they decided to use, but they were definitely able to change their style and feel according to that of the music without sacrificing speed. Charlie made me a little nervous on their second straight-line lift, although Meryl's position was really amazing. Their twizzles were fast and controlled (they made sure it was nothing like the OD), and they built up the program's excitement to the end to receive a standing ovation (although I absolutely hated how they suddenly switched the music--the change was way too obvious and abrupt). Their scores were absolutely through the roof (yay Nationals!) despite receiving a deduction (?), and easily beat Tanith & Ben.

Last were Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates, skating to "Canto Della Terra," which initially reminded me of a less breathy Enya in a different language (it's not--it's Italian opera). Evan definitely had a friend in the audience. :) Their twizzles were spot-on and their lifts dramatic in all the right ways. I was really happy to see that none of the top teems seemed to be trying the old ice-dance trick of using crazy costumes to distract from the actual skating (but can someone do something about Emily's hair?). In the end I felt much more emotion from Kim & Brent and I think their performance was stronger, but Emily & Evan are clearly the much better technicians and they deserved to place 3rd.

The other team I hunted down online was Jane Summersett & Todd Gilles, who skated to a "rock & roll medley." They are always so energetic and fun to watch, which worked with the music well, and despite everything I always find myself secretly hoping that they'll place. Unfortunately Jane fell out of her first set of twizzles, and their skating seemed a little slow in comparison to the later group. Their signature curve lift was definitely the highlight of the performance. :) According to Kwiatkowski they changed coaches early in this season, and have improved their edges and closeness. I really hope they keep skating.

Monday, January 25, 2010

01.25.2010 嵐の宿題くん:諸見里しのぶ
















In the Land of PC

As it pours outside and I wait for my cells to transform (which really isn't as cool as it might sound):

This has been bothering me for the past several days, ever since it made the mainstream news. Apparently the Australian Aborigines are offended by Oksana Domnina & Maxim Shabalin's OD, which is based on an aboriginal theme. Of course the news would use the photograph of the moment with the most outrageous expressions from Oksana, meant to elicit politically correct outrage:

Copyright AP, I believe.

However there are several problematic points with the Australian Aborigines' anger, and theirs as well as the general public's reveals their ignorance about ice dancing. Without addressing any specific complaint that the Australian Aborigines', ice dancing and ice skating as a whole is as much theatre as it is sport. And I mean that in the most respectful way possible. Although the ones giving the marks are ultimately the judges, who are sitting immediately rinkside, the audience and its reaction is a huge component of ice dance.

To this end, the makeup and costumes of ice skaters in general is often exaggerated (see: Miki Ando) because it helps drive the theme home while they skate at top speed (well, not all of them), especially to those sitting way at the top of the stands. Ice dancing, while highly technical and athletic, is usually the most theatrical of the diciplines and often borderline ridiculous (if not outright so). This Russian team in particular, compared to teams such as Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir and Meryl Davis & Charlie White, tends towards the more ridiculous on the ice dance spectrum and go for the costumes rather than dresses/shirt & pants. Oksana & Maxim's OD this year treats their theme no differently than they have past themes.
  1. "We see it as stealing Aboriginal culture and it is yet another example of the Aboriginal people of Australia being exploited. It's been absolutely stolen without our permission and without consultation of the relevant dance groups within Aboriginal Australia. ... It's not just intellectual property. It's straight-out cultural theft." -Sol Bellear, New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council

    The moment someone exaggerates to this extent, they immediately start losing credibility.
    • There is no exploitation of Australian Aborigines occurring. There just isn't. Every year the music of various cultures and persons is used, and the process for using the aboriginal music was no different than for others. If anything, the music of a highly successful program can in fact benefit, with fans (re)discovering music or the movies from which they were taken. After Mao Asada's win at the World Championships in 2008, the piece for her long program was one of the most purchased songs in Japan.
    • Choosing a piece of music for a program does not involve consulting the composer; instead, the skaters credit appropriately and indicate whether it is a compilation of two different songs, original cuts, etc.
    • Oksana & Maxim did not steal an aboriginal dance. They used an aboriginal dance as inspiration for their OD, much like Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosoto with their Moldavian dance. As above, they did not claim that this was a dance conceived entirely of their own creativity, and nor did they claim that this dance was taken from a different source than "aborigine."

  2. "Interest must be expressed in a way that is respectful. The ripping off of our art and songs is not, and nor is this depiction of my culture." -Bev Manton

    This, on the other hand, is much more reasonable and thoughtful, and I am sure she has a point. However, I still think that she does not fully understand the style of ice dance, and does not realize that many cultural pieces are "adapted" in exaggerated for the sport. If this is the first time she has fully looked at ice dance, then yes, the OD is probably offensive. The Internet was probably not the best sole source for research on this dance.

  3. There was also a protest on the fact that the costumes involved bodysuits made to make Oksana & Maxim's skin look darker. I have not been able to find this complaint since, so perhaps whoever said it realized that this was a foolish one and withdrew. Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentre also wear dark-colored bodysuits for their Afro-Brazilian dance, and Brent goes as far as to wear a leather headpiece meant to emulate long hair: "As far as the headpiece is concerned, they were trying to find a way for me to have longer hair. I was really hesitant about hair extensions, and I can't grow my hair out fast enough to have dreds." Where's the protest on this one?

  4. In addition, the "body paint" on the costumes has been criticized as looking as if "a 3-year-old child had drawn it on." -Stephen Page

    Perhaps to an Australian Aborigine, this is true. However, look at Maia & Alex Shibutani's OD costumes for this season, set to Japanese drum music:

    Copyright Michelle Harvath

    The Shibutanis are ethnically Japanese, so they would probably know a thing or two (or at least their parents would) about the culture. Yet their tops are stereotypically designed, and not at all like the solid, dark-colored, open front tops that one usually sees on traditional Japanese drummers. Yet in a world where most people have never seen a taiko performance, the point is made: this dance is Asian. Could the Russians have been more tasteful? Probably. But a point of the similar effect is made through their costumes, and that was reasonably their goal when they were designed.

  5. "First of all, in the ISU rule book there is a list of dances which are allowed for use in the Original Dance competition. In black and white it states Aborigines Dances. When creating an 'Aborigines' dance, we were not suggesting a specific geographic region, but rather a tribute to a place and time before the 'modern civilization.' We had no intent to make the dance specifically 'Australian,' because we realize our limitations to fully understand all the intricacies." -Natalia Linichuk

    Well, no one can really know for sure what their intentions were, but she does have a persuasive point. This woman is a force to be reckoned with, evidently.
I also found IceNetwork's coverage of this controversy to be slightly distasteful and lacking in journalistic standards. This article, titled "In ice dance, it's a fine line between tribute an insult" and written by Lynn Rutherford, directly addresses the issue and uses the relevant quotes. It gives a clear context for the quotes from Tanith & Ben and Meryl & Charlie--they were asked "What do you think about the controversy over Oksana Domnina & Maxim Shabalin's Aboriginal dance?"--and both teams answered accordingly.

In particular, Meryl answered, "We can't speak for anyone else, but for us, knowing that we didn't know anything about Indian culture going in, it was very important for us to do the research and do the dance justice. We didn't want to offend anyone or do something that was completely off base." It might not be a journalistic masterpiece, but it's fine. Meryl & Charlie come off very well, good for them.

On the other hand, THIS article (Bollywood scores blockbuster in Spokane), published the same day and also written by Lynn Rutherford, reuses the quotes from the other article and without context. (It also uses a terrible pun, but whatever.)
"[Specialists they consulted] broke it down, we worked off the ice, and they helped us explore all the areas of Indian dance. We really didn't know anything about Indian culture going in. It was very important for us to do research to do the theme justice, and know that we were not going to do anything to offend anyone or do something that was completely off base."
This comes in the middle of a discussion of how the dance was conceived, and given the controversy that everyone knew about, it just sounds like a not-so-subtle swipe at the Russians. Well, turns out, Meryl wasn't directly talking about creating the OD after all. Or... maybe this is the original quote, the other article reused it, and she's a little catty. :) But given the nature of the comment and Meryl & Charlie's sportsmanship in general, the first interpretation makes more sense.

But all in all, whatever. Ice dancing is ridiculous, and everyone (should) know(s) that. By continuing this outrage, the Australian Aborigines are giving the OD the serious consideration they insist it doesn't deserve.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

About to Senior Spring

I'm assuming that starting school before Labor Day and finishing finals before Winter Break was supposed to make Winter Break, well, longer. I'm sure it did, but it doesn't feel that way at all--I still remember my Chemistry 160 final quite vividly, as well as much of break itself. Such is life, I suppose.

Choosing my last set of classes (!) means that I will no longer be able to continue with my newfound and currently short-lived fascination with Cookpad, at least until Spring Break, during which I might be too busy anyway. Since my Bûche de Noël and 海老餃子 attempts:

Apple-Yogurt Cake, which tastes like cheesecake if you do it right, minus the fat. I'm not sure if the flash makes it look better or worse.

Avocado Dip. Almost like guacamole, but not quite (although just as good, if not better). Ridiculously easy to make.

オレンジゼリー, made with Cara Cara oranges from Costco (some of the best oranges I've ever had). Proof that price doesn't always = quality.

生春巻き using regular spring roll skins! Brilliant.

I wish my classes could be written up as neatly as this. But alas, I have no idea what I want or need to take. I thought I did, a few days ago, but now all I have are vague categories: physical chemistry, sociology (pending petition), elective. Thankfully I know that I am definitely (95%) taking Evolutionary Biology and the lab-research class, but the rest is completely up in the air. Ugh... Happy Shopping!