Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rostelecom Cup 2010: Exciting Pairs?!

Happy December! I will open this month with the second installment of my Grand Prix retrospection: the Rostelecom Cup, or, as it should always be known, Cup of Russia. I'm glad that there are companies out there still stupid or naive or kind enough to sponsor figure skating events, but "Rostelecom Cup" is just such a terrible name. The organizers know it, too, seeing as they still embedded "Cup of Russia" in the middle of the rink.

Partly redeeming this name is, surprisingly, the pairs event. Lately pairs has been my least favorite discipline, but this time it was the one that contained the pleasant surprises. Before I can get there, however, I feel obligated to sit through the shuffling mess that was the ladies.

I've tried to like Miki Ando. I really have. Yet for all my countless hours of watching this sport, I cannot understand why the majority of my country finds her so cute. I don't understand why her jumps are such a big deal when she is in tears trying to come up with excuses half the time, and her lack of artistry is a perpetual annoyance. And I'm just going to pretend I don't know who Nikolai Morozov is, even though that's impossible.

I actually kind of like the music Miki uses in her short program; it has a catchy tempo, beat, and power, and helps mask her lack of lyricality. Her performance was fairly uninspired, though, and that patch on her back was beyond distracting. Even at full speed her triple flip looked underrotated to my very informally trained eye (although there is no reason to give her a -3 GOE, random judge).

It's rare that I can find a figure skating performance aired in a language I understand, haha. I like keeping things in this blog uniform, but not so much so that I'll pass up a Japanese broadcast. Anyway, Miki's patch seemed to have grown overnight, and by Nationals I'm sure it will be large enough to explain any defeat she may suffer. On a positive note, it seems that Miki's fashion sense has exponentially improved this season, though perhaps at Mao's expense.

The music she uses in this program is completely different from her short program's, and it looks like she's really trying to improve her artistry. She doesn't quite succeed--she completely ignores the most dramatic part of the music because she's too busy backloading her program with jumps--but at least she's trying, I guess? And her jumps are nothing to laugh at--the solo triple Lutz was huge.

Ah, Akiko Suzuki. Another skater I have tried and failed to like. What am I supposed to do, now that Yukari Nakano has retired and the real Mao Asada is nowhere to be found? Akiko's one-armed Biellmann was seriously ugly and made me miss Mao even more. Akiko does get credit, though, for pushing through hard times and squeezing the best out of her talent and opportunities.

How refreshing it is to see a coach and his skater keep a healthy distance between them in the Kiss & Cry. I also didn't realize that Hiroshi Nagakubo was so old.

Hrm, so I guess Russian short program video-Japanese free skate video is the theme for this post. The first thing I noticed about Akiko's costume here is that it helps her look more cute than usual, although Fiddler on the Roof is anything but cute and I am not a fan of the single-shoulder look that seems to be going on these days.

This is a great program for her--it accentuates how delicate and quietly expressive Akiko can be. The contrasting energetic highs help bring out her inner energy and smile, and she manages to keep up her speed to match until the end. Her jump positions could be better, but she seems to be constantly improving and watching her sort of makes me warm and happy.

The parade of skaters of whom I am not a fan continues. Ashley Wagner seems to have tried to go the chic and mature route in her short program, although her artistry--or her skating in general--has not evolved to match. Maybe all the too-dark foundation on her face was weighing her down, but her first two jumping passes were not quite perfect and she doesn't seem to have a presence on the ice. Simply put, I enjoyed the music, but not her performance.

Oh dear, what a bad, bad idea. This music immediately conjures images of Sasha Cohen's short program from many seasons ago, and even with Sasha's mistakes it is just not possible for Ashley to measure up. She even seems to steal some of the choreography wholesale, which is an even worse idea. To top it all off, she even includes a fall. Amazing.

Now, I haven't had the chance to like or dislike Agnes Zawadzki yet, but the signs seem to point to dislike. Her jumps are rather nice, but she is a product of the Colorado training center and looks like Amber Corwin. She is far more interesting than her training mate Rachael Flatt, but there was nothing particularly memorable about this program.

Her free skate, though, was why I bothered to watch her at all this competition--who can ignore such a spectacular meltdown? Agnes looked more mature in this program than in her short, but this also had three more falls and various other messes. How she manages to smile at the end is beyond my understanding, but good for her, I suppose.

And now that that's done, I can now move on to the whole point of this post.

No matter how many times I read the name to myself, I can't get used to "Kavaguti." Seriously, woman, have you no standards? I remember several years ago when Terry Gannon mentioned that Yuko Kawaguchi, as she was then thankfully known, did not want to give up her Japanese citizenship just to go to the Olympics representing Russia. Well, it seems like she threw that all out the window and then some. She'd better hope there's a Russian man waiting to marry her, because no Japanese man with an ounce of sense is going to.

I can't make much sense out of Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov's short program music choice. It's what is played at like, opening ceremonies and at particularly dramatic moments in Japanese variety shows. It doesn't make for great figure skating performances. Neither do Alexander's pants, for that matter. Yuko fought for each and every landing, and somehow the pair managed to come out on top. The memory of their coach's death glare is probably still very fresh.

From one overplayed piece to another. Alexander's wedding ring stands out more than any other skater's I've ever seen, except maybe Mark Ladwig's. The unison on their side-by-side spins was basically perfect, and as usual they had impressive pair elements that Yuko fought to control. Of course, my favorite part--just like everybody else--is where Alexander goes in to bite Yuko's neck, and she lies in his ars with a glassy, frozen expression. This is seriously not an attractive pair.

I'd seen Narumi Takahashi & Mervin Tran's names at various junior international competitions over the past few seasons, but this was the first time I ever watched them skate. Okay, so this pair is only half Japanese, so there's still a lot of ground to break when it comes to pairs skating in Japan, but it's a huge step forward.

Did the Russian commentator seriously say "Bublah" for "Bublé"? That would really make my day.

Anyway, Narumi & Mervin's split triple twist was huge, and their side-by-side-spins, though not perfectly in unison, were super fast. They're not quite expressive and still somewhat juniorish, but their elements are solid. Potential! Potential! Unbelievable. Now if only Japanese ice dancers existed...

Narumi better not be the next Keauna McLaughlin. Just saying.

This program didn't do much to grab my attention, either, but again, it's very refreshing and reassuring to see that a Japanese pairs team may one day emerge internationally after all.

God, I love this pair. Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig are actually energetic and mature with each other, and the transformation of their costumes following last season's successes is dramatic. It's obvious that (for the first time ever?) they were custom-made, and it really helps them look like they belong. They even saved the best for last, placing a teaser bit of one of their signature lifts near the end of their program.

Their free skate costumes had a bit of last-season feel to it, but no matter. Amanda & Mark are skating with a new confidence this season, minus Amanda's obligatory fall, and it's wonderful. Nessun Dorma needs to be retired, and Amanda & Mark need to channel their new confidence into finding their own music. They did, however, make a real effort into doing the overplayed piece justice with their spot-on double Axel sequence and huge lifts. Mark's reaction during their bows and in the Kiss & Cry is priceless. It's great that even Jim Peterson can get into the camera mugging. Their hugs at the end are adorable. Love, love. This kind of closeness is okay. Nikolai, take note.

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