Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Vancouver 2010: Men's SP

Thanks to my homework, I missed Evgeny Plushenko's performance. Thanks to people who prioritized LOST, I missed the first 2.5 minutes of Daisuke Takahashi's performance. It was probably all for the better, though, because Plushenko is too mechanical for me to care about, and Daisuke would have added to the heart damage I'm pretty sure I've suffered over the past several days. So anyway, I caught the end of Takahashi's SP and he seemed very pleased, and the commentators also had all positive things to say. His score was huge (90.25?), easily beating his personal best, and showing that in fact a quad is not necessary in this new judging world.

Stephane Lambiel skated two spots after him, and the first thing that surprised me was that he didn't even try the triple Axel. Actually, no, because the first thing was the apparent heaviness of his costume. Must have had it designed by the same person who does (used to do?) Miki Ando's. Anyway, I know the triple Axel has given him problems over his career, but at least he used to try it--now he goes for a double Axel with a +GOE. Smart, I suppose, but there's something that just isn't right about a top-tier men's competitor--a two-time World Champion, no less--who can't do a triple Axel. He then stumbled out of his quad toe (I wonder if even the double Axel is too much of a challenge for him that the quad has to be second?) and managed to put only a double toe in combination instead of the planned triple. But his spins and footwork were amazing, of course, and this combined with his reputation gave him enough PCS to safely put him in fifth overall. I really feel that he was overmarked, but it is what it is.

Next was Nobunari Oda. Do I like his skating? Do I not? I can't actually decide. Tonight, though, his jumping was on--the exits were so smooth, and on such deep edges, and his height and air position were near-perfect. The judges really didn't appreciate his PCS, however--does it have anything to do with glitter and slicked-back hair?--and was placed 6 points out of the top 3, and just over Lambiel. I think that's my real issue: while Stephane's artistry is arguably the best in the world, it really just is not excusable to not jump, and the difference between their scores masked that completely. Sandra Bezic also remarked that Nobunari has to develop his stretch, but that he's "only 22" and that this will "come with time"... "only 22"? In figure skating? I know men peak later than women, but still... The highlight, of course, was seeing Nikolai Morozov in the Kiss & Cry.

Could I relax? No, because following him was Brian Joubert. And he was my first heartbreak of the night. He is so talented and so strong, even if he does lack classic artistry, but it seems that he may have psyched himself out a bit too much tonight. Plus he's coming back from that terrible foot injury. He botched the landing of his quad toe--what Scott Hamilton called his "trademark" moments before--pulled off a triple Axel, but completely failed to do a triple Lutz, meaning that in total he essentially left out his combination jump. At the end he looked so sad it made me feel strangely and acutely helpless. He has a history of headcasing at the Olympics, but maybe he can pull himself together for the FS, then go to Worlds and redeem himself.

Continuing my nervousness was my personal, endearing favorite, Takahiko Kozuka. The first thing that really strikes me about him is not actually him, but rather his coach, Nobuo Sato. In my years of following figure skating I have never seen him show any emotion other than a slight benevolence around the eyes, barely masking a will of steel. This is not to say that he is emotionless--rather, he has great control over his emotions in public and remains a solid pillar to which his students can look during stressful situations, and probably unleashes his intensity in practice. Just watching him makes me calm, and it's always so touching to see how much belief he has in Takahiko (as well as Yukari Nakano, also known as the saddest girl in the world). The second thing was Takahiko's wild red shirt. Just as I was scrambling to find a way to justify it, Scott Hamilton mentions that it's "great." Of course. As to Takahiko's skating itself, I thought he pulled everything together remarkably, except the two-footed triple Axel. The judges REALLY didn't like that and hammered him in the GOE, mysteriously took off points on his triple flip, and also did not particularly appreciate him in the PCS. I thought he could have placed higher than or closer to Stephane, but all in all it was a solid SP.

Patrick Chan has been so hyped over the past several years that I forget he is only 19. There is a self-assurance about him that could be taken as arrogance, and while I admit that he is very talented there also seems to be a part of him that is simply good at tricking the judges. Given his nationality I hoped no trickery would happen today, and I think in the end it was kept to an arguable minimum. His triple Axel wasn't quite clean, which the judges noticed, but he also stumbled in the middle of his footwork, which apparently the judges didn't notice. At the end he received a time violation, which would actually have moved him up one place overall had he not gone over. Considering hometown pressure, though, I think he held things together very well.

The JCR started miraculously filling up immediately before Johnny Weir's skate. I am sorry, but I just cannot accept his mesh, pink, rhinestones, and tassel, and I found myself vaguely disappointed when he kept his program together. There was nothing technically flashy but it was all solidly there, and in the interest of fairness I am still a little confused as to how he received a -2.00 GOE on his triple flip. The best part of his performance was this quote from Scott Hamilton: "Johnny Weir is the envy of every man in America because he's rooming with Tanith Belbin." Johnny Weir is also the only man in American who cannot appreciate his rooming situation.

Kevin van der Perren apparently thought it was October, because he came out in a skeleton costume that prompted a most uncharacteristic remark:
me: ...van der Perren is dressed in a skeleton costume
Huy: he needs to kill himself
He still has that odd habit of spotting his jumps, and the commentators made sure to take every opportunity to point out that he's simply not in the "same league" as the top competitors, but he skated cleanly and he seemed very happy with his performance. In the end that is all you can ask for and it is refreshing and heartwarming to see people create good memories.

Thomas Verner, the on-again off-again skater, was completely off tonight and went the same way as Brian. Then came Evan Lysacek, in all of his long-limbed glory with the ill-advised slicked-back hair. There is just something so flailingly distracting about his arms and legs that prevents me from appreciating the quality of his skating, but it was evident from the comments that NBC has decided to put all of their figure skating eggs in this basket. The Shawn White of figure skating, perhaps, though probably not to the same extent. Anyway, his jumps were spot-on, but his spins had some problems--the second one he pulled through somehow, but the last one traveled all of the place. Thankfully for him the judges didn't really do much about it (I guess the traveling could have been balanced out by his good positions?), and he slipped in right between Evgeny and Daisuke. Craziness. He also cried on the ice after his performance, which seems a tad overdramatic to me after a SP, even if it is the Olympics and he does have some demons to dispel.

My second heartbreak of the night came in the form of Jeremy Abbott. He seemed a little tight going in, and ended up singing his Axel and doubling his Lutz. The whole program came a little undone after that and although his PCS held up well, he was obviously devastated. Scott Hamilton then remarked that he'd been one of the ones who'd looked into the future and worried about Jeremy having peaked too early at Nationals. Poor guy. It was painful to watch.

The last skater of the night was Michael Brezina, who has been occasionally hyped as a skater to watch. The hypers are right--all of his skills are there--even though he needs to develop his artistry and his reputation. I was temporarily under the impression that he had beaten Takahiko and Patrick, but in the end he placed just under them, which makes more sense to me now.

So with the exception of Brian and Jeremy, and Stephane's inflated scores, tonight was a great competition. I am so glad that the FS isn't until Thursday so I can actually do work and not be nervous for a night, but at the same time I am so excited!

Also: there were surprisingly few downgrades today. I am sure that is in part due to the sheer power of the men, but I also wonder if this set of judges is more lenient than some others? That would be refreshing... On the other hand all of this score manipulation based on reputation is really concerning me.

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