Friday, November 19, 2010

2010 Skate America: More or Less Than the Sum of Their Parts

Yes, for the Pairs Free Skate I actually decided to watch all of the competing teams. Here we go.

Stacey Kemp & David King went first with an awkward and almost dangerous program. The best that the commentators could come up with during their short and long programs was that Stacey designs their costumes. That's lovely, but it has nothing to do with their actual skating.

They opened with a split triple twist that ended in a crash and a near-fall from Stacey. David then stepped out of their side-by-side double jumps--seriously, they can't find a way to manage triple toe loops or something? She did manage to land a throw triple toe, but despite some very audible counting by David their side-by-side spins traveled and went a bit off. Their slow music did nothing to help their slow combination spin along, and I believe I heard all of one person clap after they came out of it. Stacey & David's star lift had a nice position but was also slow, and then she followed it up by falling on a throw triple loop and leaving out the second jump of their side-by-side double jump combination. They ended their program with two lifts sandwiching a death spiral, and I guess all I can say is that the last 45 seconds was probably the best of their performance.

I don't really understand how a team unable to do side-by-side triple jumps even decided to compete at the senior level internationally. What is the point? To throw money and time away? Despite having been together for years, their unison is off and there is no chemistry between them. Surely two people in their 20s have better things to do with their lives.

The next team was Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir, who were skating to Avatar and really decided to dress the part. The thing about Simon is that he's tall. Like, really tall--the kind of tall I tend to discriminate against. Anyway, this makes for some amazing pairs skills, and they skated with really impressive speed into a huge split triple twist. They followed this with a nice lasso lift, although they both had problems on their following side-by-side triple toes. This didn't seem to bother them much as they launched into a more or less clean side-by-side double toe + double toe combination. Then came their big attempt: a throw triple Axel. Marissa really stumbled out on the landing (to the point where I thought it would be considered a fall), but it was so close to being landed. You could see her rotating straight in the air, but then it fell apart.

The timing on their side-by-spins was also a little off, and their combination spin positions sometimes looked a little forced despite great flexibility from Marissa because she is so tiny compared to Simon. Then came some odd character acting by Simon.

After a nice lift that really showed off his strength, the pair pulled off a huge throw triple Salchow that covered so much distance and had so much height. And take a look at her position on their rotational lift:

Their speed and energy throughout was really impressive, and on and off the ice they looked like so much fun. No wonder--a personal best score can have that effect!

Third to skate was Felicia Zhang & Taylor Toth, whom I've been really interested in since they won Junior Nationals last year in their first season together. Since then, though, they seem to have hit a number of obstacles--obstacles that can be addressed, but only if they decide they really want to.

Felicia and Taylor were individually meant to be pairs skaters. She is bubbly and personable, tiny and fearless. He is kind and thoughtful, strong and protective. For some reason, though, Felicia seems determined to continue skating singles as well, which--and I love her as a person so I feel bad saying this at all, except everybody knows it--is not going anywhere and never really will. And so it is time for them to buckle down and focus on becoming the top pair in the United States, which given the current field is not actually such a huge task.

But since she is still skating singles and their partnership is still pretty young, they crashed on their split triple twist (must all programs always open with a split triple twist?). Their strength at the moment--their singles elements--also deserted them, as Taylor stumbled on the triple toe of their triple toe + double toe sequence, Felicia fell on the double toe, and their synchronization fell apart sometime in between. Their first lift went well, but their side-by-side spins was when it got really scary. They started their flying camels way too close to each other, and Felicia pulled out of it to avoid becoming the next Elena Berezhnaya.

To their credit, Felicia & Taylor brushed this aside and landed a great throw triple Salchow, though something very odd happened in the exit of their next lift. I'm not sure what exactly happened, but it did not go the way it was planned. Felicia then landed a throw triple loop leaning forward, and the pair followed this with a decent lift and off-timed side-by-side double Axels. There really wasn't much reason for their double Axels to not be synchronized, except for whatever reason Taylor hung around just a bit too long.

I loved Felicia's back position in this spin, though.

I love Felicia & Taylor, I really do. But this was a painful performance to watch on so many levels, and I can only hope that it catalyzes some major changes.

Then it was Ksenia Stoblova & Fedor Klimov, with Ksenia dressed like a French maid who ran out of material. The moment the music came on, it was Daisuke Takahashi 2009-2010 all over again, except more poorly performed. Their opening split double (surprise!) twist was fine, overlooking the fact that it was a double, but she fell on their throw triple flip. A great and original element was their triple toe + double toe + double toe three-jump combination, which was done with good synchronization if not with great flow out.

The music picked up just as they hit a nice lift, then wandered in and out of synchronization on their side-by-side spins. Despite a slightly forward-leaning landing, Ksenia & Fedor's throw triple Salchow was huge, and then following another lift they did mirror-image double Axels, which I thought was kind of cool.

Better State Farm than Alka-Seltzer.

Wenjing Sui & Cong Han came next, looking juvenile as ever. Random anonymous Asians have been getting angry that people are questioning Wenjing's age (and there does seem to be an argument to be made, I feel), saying that it's racist and rude to assume that just because Asians look relatively young they actually are. I digress, but these accusations are stupid. I don't actually care all that much about this issue, but when people blindly play the race card I always feel the need to say something. Yes, Asians look young, but several points need to be made:
  1. Wenjing is not the first Asian the figure skating world has ever seen. The informal suspicions surrounding her age come from years of having developed notions of what of-age Asian females should look like, whether she be Xue Shen or Mao Asada or Michelle Kwan. Wenjing does not look too young because she looks younger than Caydee Denney, she looks too young because she looks younger than Kanako Murakami.
  2. I am destined to be carded for a long time to come. However, no one who actually interacts with me would believe that I am sixteen or eighteen or whatever age I may or may not look. I carry myself differently than I did as a teenager. My emotional responses are more complex, more thoughtful. My facial expressions come from a deeper place, and I understand the significance of things and events more profoundly.
    Are figure skaters shielded and stunted? Of course they are. But Wenjing's attitude on the ice, and her way of expressing herself through her body and facial language, indicate an immaturity that seems to come simply from a lack of time spent so far in this world.
  3. Felicia also does not look seventeen. Yet no one questions her age because the United States does not have a history of fabricating ages.
Anyway... Wenjing & Cong, looking juvenile as ever in ill-advised bumblebee costumes despite skating to Charlie Chaplin. Robin Szolkowy looked positively ancient warming up next to them.

Whatever age this pair might be, there's no arguing that their technical content is all there. Unlike the previous pairs, Wenjing & Cong started with a double Axel + double Axel sequence, then did a (two-footed) throw quad Salchow. Their side-by-side triple toes were a little far apart, but then their side-by-side spins were almost dangerously close. The second throw, a triple flip, was huge, as was their (finally!) split triple twist. The lifts and spins left to the end of their program really benefited from Wenjing's flexibility.

They skated with good speed and energy throughout, and really delivered for being so inexperienced. Good for them.


Caydee Denney & Jeremy Barrett, continuing their more mature look this season, came out next in blue costumes with silver rhinestone trim. I would say they were beautiful, but Caydee's hair and makeup (as well as the feathery fringe on the bottom of her skirt--what?) renders this an impossible task. I also wish they didn't shove Rhapsody in Blue into our faces by dressing in blue, but whatever, I guess.

They started with a decent split triple twist followed by side-by-side triple toes, and then pulled off a strong throw triple Lutz. Caydee & Jeremy had good union on both their single Axel + double Axel sequence and their fast side-by-side combination spins, and kept up this speed into a lift and a throw triple loop that ended in a fall. The thing that stood out for me with this pair was their attention to positions at the end of elements--Caydee in particular made a point to extend all the way out to her fingertips when coming out of lifts and spins.

Because Canada needs someone to be overrated at every competition, Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch, second after the Short Program, skated next. They're just so unremarkable I don't know what to say. They skated to Les Miserables in what I thought was traditional German costume for Kirsten and toy soldier costume for Dylan.

They had a good split triple twist followed immediately by a double toe + double Axel sequence. Kirsten put one hand slightly down on an almost out-of-control throw triple loop. After a decent lift, Kirsten & Dylan both stepped out of their side-by-side triple Salchows in perfect unison. Some forgettable spins and lifts later, they did a very late throw triple Salchow immediately followed by side-by-side combination spins that started out fast and together but soon lost its synchronization. One last lift later, this utterly average program came to an end.

Well, I'll say one thing for them: they've achieved more closeness and chemistry in a year and a half than Stacey & David have in more than seven years. I really need some top teams to slap them back into their places, though.

Skate America saved the tackiest for last in this competition. It's a good thing Aliona Savchenko has an amazing body and even more amazing self-confidence, because otherwise there wouldn't even be half an excuse for a hot pink body suit in emulation of the Pink Panther. Robin Szolkowy, meanwhile, was dressed like an airline pilot with pajama pants.

You know, people think Japan is weird, but Germany puts up a very good fight.

Fortunately for Aliona & Robin, they can get away with outfits like these because their skating speaks for itself. Their first element, a throw triple flip, was absolutely huge and was rewarded by +3 and +2 GOEs across the board. There's always a judge who needs to disagree and hand out the lone -1, but not in this case. Then came a side-by-side triple toe + triple toe sequence, although Robin just barely managed to not step out of the second jump. Their side-by-side combination spins lost unison by the end, but when they were together, they were amazing.

Aliona & Robin's split triple twist came in the middle of their program, after their spiral sequence, and was followed curiously by side-by-side double Salchows. They left their visually impressive lifts to the end, topped off with a last-second throw triple Salchow, but I'm still not sure what their program was actually about. No matter, though, since they blew away the second-place Canadians by more than 20 points.

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