Friday, December 30, 2011

U.S. Nationals Nostalgia: Los Angeles 2002

2002 Nationals gave me my first chance to visit California, and I didn't want to leave the sunshine and clear blue skies. Since it was an Olympic year, there was a "do-or-die" feeling to the competition that I hadn't felt in Boston the previous year. I was happy with some of the Olympic team members but heartbroken for some of the athletes who didn't make it. More on that in a bit . . .

My sister and I couldn't go to L.A. without sightseeing, so we took the subway to Hollywood Boulevard to see the Walk of Fame. When we got there, we saw the area around the Kodak Theatre roped off and lots of media setting up. We found out Muhammad Ali was getting his star on the Walk of Fame that morning, so we parked ourselves along the barricade and had a great view of the ceremony. The movie Ali was out at the time, so we were hoping Will Smith would make an appearance, but that didn't happen. After the ceremony, we ate at the Hollywood & Highland mall next door to the theater. I remember sitting outside in the perfect weather and understanding why so many people flock to southern California.

We wanted to see Beverly Hills, too, so one afternoon we were adventurous and took a city bus from downtown to Rodeo Drive. The bus ride took us through some interesting parts of town, and we got to see the two extremes of the city. Rodeo was very pretty, but I enjoyed seeing the Beverly Hills residential neighborhoods more. Everything just looked so perfect.

One of the practice rinks for the event was the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, which required a bit of a long trip on the shuttle bus, so we only went out there once for ladies' practice. I think that rink was even colder than the Skating Club of Boston. We stuck with going to the Staples Center for practices after that. Security was tight at Staples in the wake of September 11, so half of the arena was blocked off to spectators during practices, making autograph-seeking impossible. I did get one of my most treasured autographs that year, though, when Kristi Yamaguchi sat in my section during one of the events.

On the ice, my favorite performances of the week were Matt Savoie's "Passion and Power" short program, Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" free skate, and Michelle Kwan's "Scheherazade" free skate. There wasn't a person who wasn't on their feet after Michelle's skate.

The ladies, pairs, and men's events all had me experiencing some disappointment. I wanted Matt Savoie to grab the third spot on the Olympic team; same with Angela Nikodinov. And in the pairs, I had high hopes for Stephanie Kalesavich and Aaron Parchem. Their "Les Miserables" free skate was one of my favorite programs of the year, and I thought they had such a beautiful look together. But it was not meant to be . . .

Next up is 2003 Nationals in Dallas - touring the site of JFK's assassination, the men's free skate from Hell, and an almost-upset in ice dance.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

U.S. Nationals Nostalgia: Boston 2001

With another U.S. Nationals approaching, I thought I'd look back on the past eleven Nationals that I've attended and reflect on some of the memorable moments. Between now and the start of the 2012 championships, I will be posting an entry for each year. Hope you enjoy this series and let me know some of your favorite memories from these events!

First up in the series is Boston 2001. Since this was my first Nationals, it will always hold a very special place in my heart. I'm hoping Boston will win the bid for the 2014 National Championships because the city was a terrific host in 2001.

My trip to Boston started off a little rocky as my connecting flight out of Atlanta was cancelled, and I had to get on stand-by for a later flight. I asked the man sitting next to me on the plane for the quickest way to get to the Marriott Copley Place from the airport, and he gave me directions for the T, Boston's subway system. Seemed easy enough, but when I exited street-level, I had no idea where I was. Thankfully, I soon spotted the entrance to the Copley Place mall and navigated through the large shopping/hotels complex.

As soon as I checked in at the Marriott in Boston, I had to hurry over to the Sheraton to catch the bus to the Fleet Center for the Pairs Short Program and the Original Dance. The Sheraton was the skaters' hotel, and I remember entering a stairwell, crossing paths with Igor Shpilband and Tim Goebel, and thinking, "OMG!!!!" The experience kept getting cooler as I got on the bus and sat across from Stephanie Kalesavich. There were skaters everywhere. Then the Boston Police motorcycles turned on their sirens and escorted us to the arena. By the time we reached the Fleet Center, I was hopping with excitement.

The next morning, my friend and I went to see our first practice. The pairs were practicing at the Skating Club of Boston (see photo above), so we took the event shuttle bus out to the legendary rink. We froze our butts off watching the practice in the frigid building, but I loved every minute of it. I'd been to Champions On Ice and Stars On Ice, but I'd never sat that close to the ice or saw elite skaters doing their thing that close up. One of the things that struck me was how hard the impact sounded when the skaters jumped and landed on the ice. It made me appreciate how punishing the sport is on the body.

We attended ladies' practice that afternoon at the Fleet Center, and I got my first lesson in obtaining autographs. I laugh now at how clueless I was on securing the right spot next to the Kiss & Cry. But I learned quickly and used that knowledge the next afternoon at Matthews Arena, where the men were practicing. One of the moments I'll always remember is asking Trifun Zivanovic for a picture and having him ask me to retake it because he thought he'd closed his eyes. Back then, I only had a disposable camera, so I couldn't confirm his suspicion, but I was happy to oblige. Another memorable moment was Michael Weiss's wife Lisa handing out pre-autographed photos of Mike. They came prepared!

The ladies' competition was such a highlight that year with the brilliance of Michelle Kwan's "East of Eden" short program and Angela Nikodinov's gorgeous "Sleeping Beauty" free skate. Back when Michelle was competing, there was an incredible buzz in the arena whenever the final flight of ladies took the ice on Saturday night. It was an EVENT. The Fleet Center was packed for the ladies' free skate with 15,000+ in the seats. I miss that build-up of energy and hope the ladies' event can have that special quality again one day.

The event shuttle usually took the same route from the hotel to the Fleet Center, and it brought us past Boston Common and Frog Pond. I wish I'd had more time to venture out and do some sight-seeing. The Frog Pond ice rink looked beautiful through the bus window. I remember a lot of the trees along the route had little twinkling lights in them, and it made the snow-covered city look even more enchanting. That was when I first fell in love with Boston, and I've only loved it more every time I've returned!

Next up in the series will be 2002 Nationals in Los Angeles - Hollywood sight-seeing, a chance encounter with Muhammed Ali, and some ecstatic and heartbreaking moments on the ice.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Grand Prix Final Wrap-Up

I'm over a week late, but I wanted to post some parting thoughts on the Grand Prix Final. I wish North America held this event more often because I think it is the perfect competition to attend. Since each discipline has only six skaters, each event only lasts an hour, saving spectators from the "arena cramped leg syndrome" that occurs during four-hour marathon competitions. Plus, the roster of skaters is comprised of the best in the world, so the quality of skating is guaranteed to be high. A win-win all the way around!

Quebec City was a beautiful host city for the event. It looked like Christmas blew up all over the city. You couldn't walk two feet without seeing Christmas decorations. The official hotel, the Chateau Frontenac, was gorgeous and so charming. It's now second on my list to the Davenport in Spokane, my favorite of all the host hotels at which I've stayed. The only drawback to the hotel was its restaurants were too expensive, but we found some great options nearby.

Next door to the Frontenac was a wonderful restaurant, Le Petit Chateau, where I had a couple of delicious crepes. I highly recommend the chocolate hazelnut crepe for dessert! In Basse-Ville (Lower Town), we ate at Le Cochon Dingue, which had some of the best french fries I've ever tasted. So thin and crispy! The vegetable sandwich there was also yummy.

The arena, the Pavillon de Jeunesse, didn't quite match the beauty of the city. I question why Skate Canada would choose such an old facility with limited amenities to host the GPF. Canadian fans I spoke to also had the same question. The arena has only two restrooms, both on one side of the building, so they set up a portable restroom outside. Running outside in freezing temps and then cramming into an "outhouse" with two stalls wasn't exactly ideal. The arena also had only two concession stands plus one selling just drinks. Lines were VERY long. If Canada hosts the GPF again, I hope they'll select a more comfortable venue.

Thanks to everyone who checked out my blog during the event! I really appreciate your interest and hope you'll continue to read! I'll be reporting from U.S. Nationals next month and Four Continents in February, but before that, I have some contests and giveaways planned in conjunction with the release of my book on January 5. More information coming soon!

I'll leave you with some photos I took around Quebec City:

2011 Grand Prix Final Scenery

Friday, December 16, 2011

LIFE ON THE EDGE Cover Reveal!

The release date for my book LIFE ON THE EDGE is getting closer, and I'm so excited to show you the cover! I just received the galley proof of the book and need to read through it as the final step before publication. I'm so looking forward to sharing this story with everyone and hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

GPF Sunday Events

Sunday began with yet another early morning ice dance practice. Most of the teams didn't expend much energy and some left shortly after their very light run-throughs.

After attending mass at Notre Dame Cathedral and then grabbing a quick lunch, it was back to the arena for the Free Dance. I'd been curious to see Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev skate live because on TV their skating always looked herky-jerky and heavy to me. Seeing them in person didn't really change that. They have good speed, but there's an awkwardness about them that I can't get past. Their lifts often look labored and they don't have the smoothness that the other teams in the event had.

I was happy to see the crowd getting into Maia and Alex Shibutani's swing free dance and clapping along with the music. I think at Nationals it will get the home audience going even more. The Shibutanis are so light are on their feet and make it all look so easy. As my friend said, "Maia was born with grace."

Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje delivered the most emotional performance of the competition. They hit every nuance of the music and told the romantic story with their movement and their facial expressions. I enjoyed Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat's Egyptian free dance at GPF more than I did at previous events, but the theme still isn't one I can totally get into.

I thought Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir skated their free dance better than they have all season, but that's another program I can't get on board with. The posing and the music bug me. If they were going to step out of the box, I'd prefer something like their Pink Floyd program. I think an edgy look would suit them better than the cutesy look.

Meryl Davis/Charlie White ended the event with another stunning performance of their "Die Fledermaus" program. It seemed to have more of a spark at Skate America, but I think that was because the crowd there was into the program from the first beat of the music and their energy built with the performance all the way through.

The Exhibition gave good closure to the event and let us get one more look at the top finishers from the competitions. My favorite performances were given by Meryl Davis/Charlie White, Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy, Yuzuru Hanyu (this kid can move!), and Daisuke Takahashi. I loved watching all the skaters try to do disco moves in the finale!

Here are my photos from all Sunday events and a few videos from the Exhibition:

2011 Grand Prix Final Sunday Events

Monday, December 12, 2011

GPF Saturday Events

I apologize for not blogging on Saturday or Sunday. Breaks between the events were too short to do anything constructive. This post will cover all the Saturday events and I'll follow later with a post on Sunday's happenings.

Saturday started with another dance practice. Each team obviously practiced their free dance since they competed the short dance on Friday. Meryl Davis brought out the light blue dress she'd worn at a Skate America practice, this time with a coordinating mask hair decoration with blue feathers. I can't recall anything else noteworthy from that practice.

After a lunch break, we returned to the arena for the Senior Ladies free skate. Akiko Suzuki was the highlight of the competition for me. She has beautiful flow across the ice with lovely musicality.

The Senior Men final was next, and the guys delivered their best stuff, for the most part. They threw down quads like they were easy triples. Yuzuru Hanyu, Daisuke Takahashi, and Jeremy Abbott gave my favorite performances of the night. I've always hated "Blues For Klook," but Dai could make me love it. He is like liquid moving over the ice. Hanyu is going to be a force to be reckoned with as we head toward Sochi. The kid has it all. Jeremy's free skate included some jump mishaps, but it was still breathtaking. I was so bummed he didn't finish at least fourth because I wanted to see his "Hometown Glory" exhibition.

The Junior Men free skate followed, and the top three were phenomenal. Josh Farris had a few jump issues, but he has incredible power and expression in his skating. His new Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 program highlights all his strengths. Han Yan of China has incredible jumping ability, and he he also has style between the jumps, something the Chinese men have often lacked. The gold medalist, Jason Brown, didn't have as high of a technical base value as Farris and Yan, but he performed every element perfectly and with a wonderful lyrical quality. He always looks so joyous when he skates, and he brings the crowd into his programs. The U.S. has two bright young stars in Jason and Josh!

The Senior Pairs free skate was the final competition of the long day. The quality of the skating was high across the board, but the top two teams took it to another level. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy's free skate continues to amaze me with its intricacy and technical difficulty. They are so seasoned, and they used that experience to defeat Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, who are astounding for a relatively new team. They have great chemistry together. A few shaky moments prevented them from taking gold, and the audience booed the results, but considering Volosozhar/Trankov's mistakes, I thought Savchenko/Szolkowy clearly won. I am in love with both teams!

Here are the photos from all Saturday events:

2011 Grand Prix Final Saturday Events

Friday, December 9, 2011

GPF Senior Pairs SP & Senior Men SP

It's late, so just a few quick thoughts on the Senior Pairs and Senior Men short programs. Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov were awesome! This was my first time seeing them skate live. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy had a small uncharacteristic mistake on the throw flip, so they're slightly behind V/T in the standings. These two teams have quite a lead on the rest of the field.

Aside from the top two performances, I also enjoyed Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran, another team I hadn't seen live before. They have some innovative transitions and choreography.

Senior Men was a little all over the place with some crazy stuff happening. The biggest "OMG did that just happen" moment was when Patrick Chan jumped into the boards doing a triple toe on the back end of his quad toe. BAM! One of the most insane things I've seen at a skating event in eleven years.

Daisuke Takahashi didn't do the second jump in his planned combination, another surprising turn of events. Jeremy Abbott also had combination issues but adjusted his program to take care of the problem. There were no perfectly clean programs in the event.

On to the photos from tonight!

2011 Grand Prix Final Sr Pairs SP & Sr Men SP

GPF Sr Ladies SP & Sr Short Dance

Not too much to say about the ladies' event. A couple of disappointing skates and nothing that really left a lasting impression on me. On to the dance event, which was much more entertaining!

Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje started off the short dance with very loud support from the crowd and they fed off the energy and then some. They put all they had into that program. Next was Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat, who took the energy from their training mates and ran with it, skating their best short dance of the season. Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev followed and skated great, also. So glad Bobrova ditched the Halloween dress.

Maia and Alex Shibutani were first to skate in the second group and they nailed everything. They're getting more and more in tune with the rhythm every time out. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir started off with lots of speed and excitement, but it got interrupted a bit when Scott fell during random choreography. Looked like his blade bumped into Tessa's, causing him to fall on his backside. They recovered quickly and did a good job selling the rest of the program.

Skating last were Meryl Davis/Charlie White, wearing the costumes from Rostelecom Cup. Charlie's goldish shirt looks better in person, but I still prefer the black one from Skate America. They attacked from the first beat of the music and hit every element with precision and flair, earning level fours across the board. The levels helped them earn the best short dance score ever and put them five points ahead of Virtue/Moir.

Here are photos from the two events:

2011 Grand Prix Final Short Dance & Ladies SP

GPF Friday Dance Practice

Got to see everyone getting their shimmy on at early morning dance practice. Saw a few different costume looks from what the skaters have been wearing in competition this season - Tessa Virtue sported a pink dress with fringe. I like this dress much better than the blue one she's worn at the other GP events. Maia Shibutani added some splashes of pink to her black dress, making it pop a lot more. Ekaterina Bobrova wore a black and silver dress as opposed to the black and orange she's worn previously. Not sure if hers or Tessa's dresses were just practice ones.

Funny moment toward the end of practice - Scott Moir tripped and tumbled onto the ice but he got up and took a bow, spurring laughter and applause. Everyone looked solid, and the top two couples looked very relaxed and confident.

Photos from the action on the ice:

2011 Grand Prix Final Friday Dance Practice

Thursday, December 8, 2011

GPF Junior Dance SD & Junior Men SP

Back from the Junior Short Dance and Junior Men Short Program! Joshua Farris and Jason Brown were outstanding in finishing first and second. Other than a doubled back end of a combination, Josh was so solid technically, and his program to "Clair de Lune" is such a beautiful artistic piece. Jason brought the fire and attacked everything in his program. I love the energy with which he skates.

It was a big shock when one of the favorites, Han Yan, singled his planned triple axel. Will be interesting to see if he can fight his way back to the top in the free skate. Should be a great battle for the medals!

The Junior Short Dance was entertaining, although I didn't care for the Cha Cha pattern. The quick steps in part of the pattern make it look messy to me. The Latin music choices were pretty good. Thankfully, no one used "Mas Que Nada" or "Magalenha" - two songs I'd like to see banned from ice dance forever after this season of constant repeats.

The lighting in the arena is terrible for photographs, so when the skaters are moving with any sort of speed, blurriness usually occurs :(  Here's my batch from the events tonight:

2011 Grand Prix Final Junior Dance SD & Junior Men SP

Grand Prix Final Thursday Practice

Stopping in during a quick break between events! Just returned from Senior Dance and Senior Men's practices. Four out of the six dance teams practiced their free dance. Weaver/Poje and Pechalat/Bourzat practiced their short dance. There was a cute moment during Maia and Alex Shibutani's free dance run-through. As they were dancing to the swing music, Meryl Davis/Charlie White and Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir were also doing the dance steps behind them. I'm sure they're all very familiar with each other's programs! The Canton teams also ran through their short dance footwork and rhumba patterns.

Men's practice saw the usual amount of spills and popped jumps. Daisuke Takahashi didn't do any jumps in his run-through since he was up first. Everyone practiced their free skate. Jeremy Abbott had a few jump issues, but I think I saw him land a couple of quads. Patrick Chan really is a master of the blade. Jeremy's free skate is a masterpiece, and I hope he can nail it here.

Have to get ready for dinner and then back to the arena for the Junior Short Dance and Junior Men Short Program. Here are my photos from today's practices:

2011 GPF Thursday Practice

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bonjour from Grand Prix Final!

After two delayed flights and some bumpy weather, I have settled into my cozy hotel room and am ready for some skating action tomorrow!

Saw some familiar faces on my flight from Newark, New Jersey to Quebec City, including Patrick Chan's coach, Christy Krall. I couldn't believe how quiet the Quebec airport was and how quickly we went through customs. After standing in line for thirty minutes in Vancouver and Montreal, waiting less than five minutes here was a treat. And the taxi was the nicest I've ever seen. It was like a town car with leather seats. Saw lots of beautiful Christmas lights and decorations on the ride from the airport to the hotel.

Speaking of the hotel, the Chateau Frontenac is gorgeous, but dining here requires very deep pockets. The breakfast buffet is almost $30! And the dinner menu in the signature restaurant doesn't have any items less than $40. Yikes. The bar menu is more reasonable but still on the pricey side. Will be looking elsewhere for food....

Tomorrow I will be attending the Senior Dance and Senior Men's practices in the afternoon and then a couple of Junior events in the evening. Look for photos to follow!

Monday, November 28, 2011


Just wanted to give a quick update on my book and share another excerpt. LIFE ON THE EDGE is still scheduled to be released in January. I'm hoping to receive the cover art shortly and will post it as soon as it's finalized! In the meantime, here's a little teaser, set during the 2001 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston.

I shivered and stared out the bus window at the brownstones on Beacon Street, trying to channel my thoughts on the clean run-through we'd done at practice that morning. Every time I envisioned myself completing an element, the police sirens would wail and spike my adrenaline further. 

The bus rolled up to the arena, and I shot to my feet before we even parked. 

Trevor laughed. "Ready to go, Em?"

Was I ready? I was physically prepared, for certain. But was I mentally ready to live up to everyone's expectations? To my own?

Those questions plagued me for the next hour. Hovering around Chris and me backstage, Sergei reminded us, "Trust your training. Trust your body." But the nagging thoughts wouldn't leave me alone. Before I put on my skates, I jogged up and down the hallway, clearing my head of the buzz that had followed us all week.

America's next great pair. Best technical skills in the world. A team that can finally challenge the Russians. All statements I'd heard during our interviews and from the fans. If I mucked up the short program, I'd go back to being known as the girl who choked under pressure.

Chris and I took the ice for our introduction, and the massiveness of the arena struck me. We'd practiced there earlier in the week, but full to capacity with screaming spectators, the building suddenly appeared ten times bigger. The Celtics and Bruins banners hanging from the rafters seemed miles away.

I closed my eyes and concentrated on breathing. In. Out. In. Out.

Dear God, please help me through this.

Here's a link to Teaser #1, which I posted last month. Let me know if you have any thoughts on these snippets!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rostelecom Cup Free Dance Review

My eyes were barely open this morning as the first warm-up group took to the ice for the Free Dance at Rostelecom Cup. The shiny red sequins of Isabella Tobias' dress and the equally bright costume of Pernelle Carron helped wake me up, though. Last week saw no changes in the standings from the Short Dance to the Free Dance in Paris, similar to the old 6.0 days. Would we see any placement shuffling this week?

Pernelle Carron/Lloyd Jones - Lloyd has forgone the John Travolta "Saturday Night Fever" look. Now he's in a black jacket with a plaid-trimmed shirt that's half-untucked. Not sure if that's on purpose. Last week, I mentioned my general dislike of jazz, and this "Jazz Night" program isn't changing my feeling toward the genre.

Ekaterina Pushkash/Jonathan Guerreiro - Jonathan's one red glove still kills me. Nice twizzles. Lots of hand-in-hand choreography. What is all this angsty flailing about? Everything, especially the lifts, looks labored to me.

Isabella Tobias/Deividas Stagniunas - Good twizzles spaced close together. Their spin looks a little slower than usual. Nice arched position from Isabella in their straight-line lift. They look like they're having fun. Deividas gets momentarily off balance in the diagonal step sequence. Only a level one earned on those steps.

Ekaterina Riazanova/Ilia Tkachenko - Could drive a Zamboni through their dance holds in the footwork sequences. I like the straight-line lift where Ekaterina's in a reverse planking position. At Skate Canada, they received a music deduction for not having enough rhythm in their piece. I don't hear a difference in the music cuts here but they receive no deduction. Interesting.

Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev - Evil Queen costume! Gets me excited for a new episode of Once Upon a Time tomorrow night. I love this Gounod music from Faust, but I wish a more balletic team was using it. The diagonal step sequence looks sloooowwww. They skate heavy. What's up with the scarf thing around Dmitri's neck? It comes open like a cape near the end of the program. Intentional?

Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje - They seem like feathers floating across the ice after Bobrova/Soloviev. So light and smooth. They really put one hundred percent emotion into this program. The music and drama are starting to grow on me!

Meryl Davis/Charlie White - The circular step sequence is one of my favorite parts of the program. Lovely entrance, and I like the high leg kicks and the little steppy thing Meryl does here. This program puts a big smile on my face. Meryl and Charlie just look so happy and calm during the performance.

So, we are set for the Grand Prix Final! The ice dance field will be: Davis/White, Virtue/Moir, Pechalat/Bourzat, Weaver/Poje, Bobrova/Soloviev, and the Shibutanis. Virtue/Moir have outscored Davis/White in the Short Dance this year, but Davis/White have outdone Virtue/Moir in the Free Dance. Will the pattern continue at the GPF? This rivalry is one for the ages, and Virtue/Moir have made it known they badly want to win the GPF title, the one title they don't have on their resume'. It will be an epic battle in Quebec!

I'll be reporting from the event with lots of photos and tidbits from practices and the competition. Besides ice dance, I'm most looking forward to the Senior Men and Junior Men events. In my Mid-Season Grand Prix Review, I forgot to add a special mention of my favorite program from the Junior Grand Prix circuit this season - Josh Farris' short program to "Clair de Lune."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Rostelecom Cup Short Dance Review

And so we've come to the final stop on the Grand Prix series, the last chance for skaters to punch their ticket to the Grand Prix Final. The top three ice dance teams at Rostelecom Cup in Moscow have been far ahead of the other teams in this field score-wise during the season, so the podium members look pretty set here. The big surprise so far is Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev being in third place, three points behind Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje. The Russians received big scores at Cup of China, but some technical problems here have hurt them. More on that in my review below. . .

Isabella Tobias/Deividas Stagniunas - Their Shakira music is one of the more catchy medleys of the Latin choices this season. The upside-down split rotational lift is a favorite of mine and looks incredibly dangerous. Circular steps looked sharper to me at Skate America, but they earn a Season's Best score here.

Ekaterina Pushkash/Jonathan Guerreiro - He must've trimmed his hair because I find the floppiness less distracting than it was at Skate Canada. If she would cover up the one mesh boob on her bodice, her dress would be fabulous. They look more trained than they did at Skate Canada, but the the dance moves done while posing need a lot more Latin flavor. Move your hips, kids!

Ekaterina Riazanova/Ilia Tkachenko - Love the back of her dress but there's too much skirt. First segment of music is somewhat depressing. Second segment sounds like Latin disco. Ilia has wonderful posture. Program gets a little messy at the end, and I'd like to see them get down into the moves more, too.

Pernelle Carron/Lloyd Jones - Pernelle fake slaps Lloyd as part of the choreography to start. So awesome. Their rhumba patterns should move out faster. Pernelle is really getting into the dance, and I feel more of a Latin spirit than I did with the prior two couples. Circular steps get sloppy and only earn a level one.

Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev -  I like Ekaterina's new sassy ponytail. Now get a sassy costume to go with it! Good power on the first rhumba pattern. Problems on the twizzles from Dmitri. Ekaterina's bent-over-at-the-waist posture continues to be a distraction. Did Dmitri just grab his leg and do an 80's dance move? They look a bit perplexed at their score, but dropped levels on almost all their elements did them in.

Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje - Still hoping Kaitlyn cuts the sleeves off the tiger dress. Also, unlike Riazanova, I think she needs more skirt. Something about the short cut of the skirt with her long legs doesn't look right. Great straight-line lift with no vulgar positions - always a plus! I like the move where Andrew stretches his leg out and holds the position.. They look sharp and doing three GP events will have them very seasoned for the Final.

Meryl Davis/Charlie White - Love the shape of the skirt on Meryl's new dress, but I liked the top and back of her Skate America dress better. Also liked Charlie's black shirt at Skate America more than this metallic one. The black shirt was more fitted and gave him a sleeker look. Not sure about Charlie's partial facial hair. Should go all or nothing with the scruff. Now on to the skating . . . I think I speak for many D/W fans worldwide when I say we had a freakout when Charlie tripped early in the program. We've all been scarred for life after his infamous 2008 Cup of Russia disaster. Thankfully, Charlie moves right past the stumble and recovers in time for the twizzles. They really sell the program, and I think their music is a breath of fresh air after some of the tired and overused pieces we've been hearing in the short dances this season.

The suspense in the Free Dance will be seeing if Weaver/Poje can best Bobrova/Soloviev again and whether Davis/White can match or improve their monster score from Skate America. Will be back with my thoughts on the competition tomorrow!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Calling by Ashley Lynn Willis

One of my writing critique partners, Ashley Lynn Willis, recently published her first novel, a paranormal romance titled The Calling. The book is currently burning up the charts on as many readers are discovering just how talented a writer Ashley is.

I just finished reading The Calling and found it hard to put down. It was one of those books that kept me up late every night because I had to read the next chapter. Here is a synopsis of the story:

Mandy Hardy lost more than a breast to cancer; she lost her fiance' when he dumped her a week before her mastectomy. Her ego bruised and her self-esteem battered, Mandy's sure she'll never fall in love again.

Justin Seward is a headstrong Coast Guard rescue swimmer with a heart of gold and the supernatural ability to command the seas. He had to hide his feelings while Mandy was engaged to his best friend. Now that she's free, he's vowed to make her his.

Together, they may hold the key to each other's salvation. But when Justin's past catches up with him, and Mandy's ex-fiance' wants vengeance, they realize they might not live long enough for happily ever after. 

You can purchase the e-book for the unbeatable price of 99 cents on these sites:


Barnes & Noble


A paperback version is also available on:


I contributed a poem titled "Sea" for the opening of the book and feel very honored to be included in Ashley's debut novel. I know this is only the beginning of a very long and successful career for Ashley Lynn Willis!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Trophee Eric Bompard Free Dance Review

I still want to call this event "Trophee Lalique," however many years after the sponsorship changed. The results of this year's ice dance event at TEB were pretty easy to predict, save for the battle for bronze. Would Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte build on their strong showing at Skate Canada and take third or would Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov work out their technical issues and win their second straight bronze medal?

After last week's tight race between the top three couples at NHK, this competition was a bit of a letdown. It was no surprise that Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir ran away with the victory and Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat faced no threats in finishing second. The only surprise was the big gap between the Italians in third and the Russians in fourth place. On to my thoughts on the free dances:

Sara Hurtado/Adria Diaz - During the warm-up I like to guess the program from the costumes, and I guessed something with a Jewish theme from what looked like a yarmulke on Sara's head. The program turned out to be Tristan and Isolde. Oops. It was a decorative hair piece. Wish they would've used Wagner's opera instead of the Maxime Rodriguez piece. The part of the program I remember most was a straight-line lift that had a bit of a vulgar-looking entry.

Kristina Gorshkova/Vitali Butikov - Oh joy, it's a tango! I guessed "Rhapsody in Blue" from the costumes. They seem to do a large number of crossovers into the twizzles as opposed to the top teams who can twizzle out of nowhere. This program is one big blue blur of bad tango.

Xintong Huang/Xun Zheng - MORE TANGO! Their costumes are shockingly understated. Zheng looks classy! Their combination lift moves across the ice well, but their straight-line lift features yet another position of questionable taste. I admit my attention was not fully on this program as I had one eye on the IceNetwork live sectionals scores.

Madison Chock/Evan Bates - Jazz is one of my least favorite music genres, but I'm digging this jazzy Chopin. There's a playful and convincing connection between Madison and Evan in the program. I think they got the best package of lifts in Canton this year. A fall in the twizzle section momentarily disrupts the program, but I love the lightness and flow exhibited in the performance. This free dance is one of my top three favorites of the season.

Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov - Costumes say Romeo and Juliet rather than "Ave Maria." Their twizzles are spaced quite far apart on the ice. Seems like an easy way to avoid being in sync. Nikita looks like the stronger member of this team. Overall, they need to be more tidy in their technique. The panel must think so, too, as they deliver a very low technical mark.

Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte - Their La Strada program has a cute vibe and good flow. Can't help wondering how much deeper Meryl Davis and Charlie White could've taken this music, though. The Italians bring a whimsical feel to the performance, and I love the ending. Could've done without the crotch-grabbing rotational lift.

Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat - Fabian changed the pants of his costume since Skate America and now they look like blue jeans. Egyptian hand movements always remind me of The Bangles singing "Walk Like an Egyptian." I can't take the program seriously even though I know they're trying to be authentic.

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir - Wish Scott would ditch the tie, and I'd rather see Tessa in a more casual, cute outfit representative of the period of the movie. The facial mugging is very Broadway-ish, but it's a little too much for my taste. They skate with good speed and are clearly the class of the field technique-wise.

One more event, Rostelecom Cup in Moscow next week, and then the best of the best will gather in Quebec City for the Grand Prix Final. I'm excited to make my first visit to the historic city and see it all decorated for Christmas!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Little Ice Music

Even though I've only stepped on the ice once in my life, I love to choreograph skating programs in my head, many times to music that hasn't been used. Since I'm not a skater, I've taken to using some of this music for the fictional skaters in my stories. I would very much like to see programs performed to these songs/classical pieces in reality, though!

Here are some of my wish-list instrumental works for competitive programs: (each piece is linked so you can listen)

"Enjoy the Silence" by Tanghetto - Yes, it's a tango (which I've become very weary of), but it's a different spin on it and a great remake of the Depeche Mode hit.

"Victoria's Secret" from the Due South TV show soundtrack

"Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from Samson and Delilah performed by Stjepan Hauser

Piano Concerto 2nd Movement by Grieg - I've heard other parts of Grieg's Piano Concerto in skating programs but not this movement.

"Overture" from Prince Igor - "Polovtsian Dances" is the popular piece from Prince Igor, but I think this piece could work well for skating, also.

"Morning's Promise" by David Sun

"A Pine Forest in Winter" from The Nutcracker - The Grand Pas de Deux from The Nutcracker is the usual skating music, but I think this piece is more beautiful.

And some of my wish-list songs for exhibition programs:

"Sparks" by Coldplay

"Blue Dress" by Depeche Mode

"Overcome" by Better Than Ezra

"A Bad Dream" by Keane - could Lynn/Logan or Meryl/Charlie please skate to this? :)

"Decode" by Paramore

"Sunshower" by Chris Cornell (also on the Great Expectations soundtrack)

As you can probably tell from my music choices, my favorite exhibitions are moody or romantic. Fun and upbeat ones are great, too, but they don't stick with me like the more emotional programs do.

If you've seen performances to any of the music listed above, please let me know in the comments section below! I've watched a lot of skating over the years, but I'm sure there are some programs out there I've missed.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

NHK Trophy Free Dance & Pairs Free Skate Review

I love when the crazy Asia-North America time difference works out and I can actually watch a few Grand Prix events live without staying up until the wee hours of the morning. The Free Dance was up first on Friday night (Saturday afternoon in Japan), and it started with the news that Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam had withdrawn due to injury. Wishing Alexandra a speedy recovery from the cut she suffered in a collision at practice!

The first group's six-minute warm-up got off to a scary start with another collision, this time between the Reeds and Lynn Kriengkrairut/Logan Giulietti-Schmitt. Cathy Reed's blade barely missed Lynn's head but appeared to nick her arm. Disaster was thankfully averted with some quick reflexes and all parties went on to skate. My thoughts on the free dances as they were performed:

Cathy Reed/Chris Reed - After Meryl Davis and Charlie White's iconic Bollywood original dance in 2009-2010, I'm not sure anyone else should try an Indian-themed dance. The blue screen of death afflicted my sister's laptop during the Reeds' performance, so I missed most of it, but I wasn't excited by the part I saw.

Lynn Kriengkrairut/Logan Giulietti-Schmitt - Lynn's dress is gorgeous. They have great lifts and always make pretty pictures on the ice. Some of my best photos have been of the lovely positions they hit. Loved their first lift especially - Lynn in a split and Logan in a shoot-the-duck. The step sequences looked like they could move out a little faster. Program has a sassy feel to it, and I thought they had good connection with each other and really bought into the music.

Lorenza Alessandrini/Simone Vaturi - Tosca! How is this going to be uplifting? Cool move at the end of their dance spin where Simone picks up Lorenza and continues to whirl her around, but I'm wondering how that's legal. I guess it's not considered part of the spin but there wasn't a clearly defined transition between the two moves. Toward the end of the program, there's a whole sequence of steps that are very empty. The program overall looks messy.

Nelli Zhiganshina/Alexander Gazsi - Romeo and Juliet - another uplifting story ;-) They've changed part of their music since Skate America. Now using "Kissing You" with vocals in the beginning of the program. Perhaps this makes the program seem less angsty?

Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani - Their first lift is my favorite, when Maia pops up into a standing position. Best twizzles of the night. They're putting more oomph into this program every time they skate it. I think one section of the choreography near the end (before the final lift) could use a little something more, but overall the program has good highs and lows. Can see them hitting it out of the park as we get deeper into the season.

Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje - The music isn't my cup of tea, but they performed the heck out of the program. They have some pretty lifts. I like the simplicity of Andrew's costume. The droopy strap on Kaitlyn's dress kinda bugs me.

Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov - This version of Ave Maria is not pleasing to the ears. Their lifts are all from the Morozov bucket o' lifts. Nothing we haven't seen before. Program gets sloppy as it goes along. Judges redeem themselves from last week's questionable scoring and rightfully put this free dance in third place.

On to the Pairs Free Skate!

Natasha Purich/Raymond Schultz - Doesn't start well for the young Canadians as they have to abort the twist. The problems continue as Natasha loses the side-by-spin and stands still while Raymond continues to spin. Natasha looks very young, so I look up their bios and see she's only sixteen. Rough skate but it's only their first senior Grand Prix event.

Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir - Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2! Could listen to this music every day. Their twist looks a little smaller than I'm used to seeing from them in the past. Marissa almost has the landing of the throw triple axel. They show their reliable strength in the lifts and the huge throw triple salchow. Love Marissa's spirals and her elegance.

Lubov Iliuschechkina/Nodari Maisuradze - Lubov is so tiny. She does not look twenty. One of their lifts resembles Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig's signature lift where Mark holds up Amanda on her thigh. Whenever Eastern Europeans skate to show tunes, I think of Oksana Bauil's 1994 Olympic free skate and Vern Lundquist rambling about the irony of it.

Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov - I love me some "Clair de Lune" . . . just not with Tamara Moskvina's crazy contorted lifts and Yuko's bad posture. Yuko's skirts are always so long that they fly up and cover her entire back. I find it distracting. They skate well, but everything they do looks messy to me.

Caydee Denney/John Coughlin - Caydee falls on the throw triple loop - haven't seen that happen very often. Their lifts need some work. The final lift is placed too close to the end of the program and they miss the ending beat of the music. I wasn't sure about the guitar version of "Nessun Dorma" at first, but it's growing on me.

Stefania Berton/Ondrej Hotarek - Impressive three-jump combination to open the program. Ondrej doesn't look much taller than Stefania, but he appears to have good upper body strength. Those of us who were at Skate America 2007 in Reading saw the gun show he put on at practice.

Narumi Takahashi/Mervin Tran - I'm familiar with "Concierto de Aranjuez" but not "Concerto de Quebec." It's rather lovely! They do Meryl and Charlie's lift where Meryl stands on Charlie's leg and looks regal. Beautiful posture from Narumi. Their jumps and throws are messy, though. The score looks a tad high for all the mistakes on key elements.

Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy - The teal green color of their costumes is divine. Unfortunately, the performance is not. Unlike at Skate America, the program is riddled with errors. Doubled jumps, side-by-side singled axels, an aborted lift. Still love the intricate choreography but they didn't put the same amount of pizzazz into this performance as they did at Skate America.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Grand Prix Mid-Season Review

As we prepare for the second half of the Grand Prix season, I thought I'd take a few moments to reflect on what we've seen so far this year. There have been some surprises (Kevin Van der Perren's medal at Skate America, Javier Fernandez nearly taking gold in Canada, Bobrova/Soloviev's scores in China) but also much of the predictable happenings we've come to expect (Chanflation, cries of "wuzrobbed" in ice dance, Brian Joubert missing a GP event with injury).

The level of skating was a bit uneven in the first three events, but Skate America, Skate Canada, and Cup of China did have their moments. We have yet to see some of the big names (Mao Asada, the aforementioned Brian Joubert, Ilinykh/Katsalapov, Tomas Verner, etc), so I expect the competition to heat up in the next three weeks.

I haven't been blown away with many of the program choices this year, but a few have stood out for me. My favorites of the season thus far:

Jeremy Abbott's long program - "Exogenesis Symphony" by Muse

Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy's long program - Pina soundtrack

Meryl Davis/Charlie White's short dance - Samba and Rhumba medley

Daisuke Takahashi's short program - In the Garden of Souls

Madison Chock/Evan Bates's free dance - Prelude in E Minor by Chopin

Amanda Evora/Mark Ladwig's long program - Daphnis & Chloe/Reverie

Which programs have been your favorites this season? Leave your comments below!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cup of China Short Dance: Shanghai Surprise

We're almost to the halfway point of the Grand Prix season (it flies by too fast!), and the Short Dance event gets more and more . . . interesting, I guess is the word . . . every week. This week's Grand Prix stop is Shanghai, China, which means it's time for the annual excitement over what the Chinese ice dancers will wear (more on that later). The dance field in China brings us some intriguing storylines - How will Emily Samuelson and Todd Gilles look in their debut as a team? Will Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev be promoted as Russia #1 after their not-so-great showing at Worlds last season? Can Maia and Alex Shibutani build on their bronze medal at Worlds and show they've continued to mature?

The first couple to take the ice was Samuelson and Gilles, only two months into their partnership. When they skated out, I thought they had accidentally worn their Led Zeppelin free dance costumes. The costumes and music don't have a strong Latin flavor, but with more time to train, they could make it a program that will stand out. Their lack of training time shows with some unison issues, but kudos to them for working hard and being ready to compete so soon after teaming up. They looked like they had a lot of fun returning to competitive ice after such long layoffs.

Xiaoyang Yu/Chen Wang - Holy Lemon-Lime Ruffles! The first Chinese team doesn't disappoint with their costumes. Yu's green and yellowish dress has a trailing ruffled skirt, while Wang's matching shirt has sort of an accordion design with an opening in the center, exposing his chest. They skate to "Mambo Italiano" for the rhumba patterns, but I think the music might be too fast for the steps. They also treat us to our first helping of "Let's Get Loud."

Charlotte Lichtman/Dean Copely - Charlotte looks fab in pink. Their straight-line lift is really cool and one of the highlights of their program. Dean stumbles during the circular footwork but does a great job regaining unison with Charlotte for the remainder of the steps. Thought they put good energy into the program. Their score is very low and I concur with Dean's Kiss & Cry reaction of "Oh my God." Protocols show brutal levels on three of the five elements.

Penny Coomes/Nicholas Buckland - Will always remember this team for their Lion King free dance last year. They have a nice sultry start to their program, setting the mood for the Latin rhythms. And here comes our second helping of "Let's Get Loud." There's some wildness in their skating, but they are a cute couple.

Xintong Huang/Xun Zheng - Holy Yellow Lace! The second Chinese team sees Yu/Wang's costume voids and raises them. Huang's yellow dress has two flowers strategically placed on her chest, while Zheng's lacy yellow shirt has orange shoulder ruffles. Huang is rocking the "O" face during parts of the dance. They have good speed in their first rhumba pattern but as the program nears the end, they are slowing considerably. An aborted lift puts them behind their countrymen in the standings.

Pernelle Carron/Lloyd Jones - I'm so over their music, which has been used in countless Latin programs by singles skaters (Ryan Bradley, Daisuke Takahashi, etc.). I admit I blanked out a little during this performance as I recalled Dai's awesome footwork to this music in his short program last year.

Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev - Ekaterina's orange and black costume would've been more appropriate last weekend at Skate Canada with Halloween on the horizon. I can't stop staring at Dmitri because he reminds me so much of Hoyt on True Blood. The middle of their program transitions to "Eres Todo En Mi," used by Jamie Silverstein and Justin Pekarek in their 1999-2000 Original Dance (moment of silence please for their all-too-brief career). The Russian team's score answers my question of whether their federation will be promoting them. The number looks rather high for what I witnessed on the ice.

Maia and Alex Shibutani - Love Maia's new sparkly black dress. She looks more comfortable with the rhythm than she did at Finlandia last month. Both she and Alex project nicely to the audience and show off their usual crisp style. Score is perplexingly much lower than the Russians. An examination of the protocols reveals lost levels on the lift and circular steps. But the head-scratcher is the difference in Program Component Scores - three points separate the Shibutanis and Bobrova/Soloviev. At the 2011 World Championships, Bobrova/Soloviev bested the Shibutanis by less than a point in PCS in the Short Dance. I don't see a basis for the large growth in that gap.

Bobrova/Soloviev have a very comfortable eight point lead going into the Free Dance. The Shibutanis have been known for scoring high in their free dances, so there's a chance they could challenge the Russians but it's going to be a challenge. The situation is much tighter for the bronze medal with a battle set up between the Brits and the French. Here's hoping everyone skates well and the Chinese teams bring the costume voids yet again!

Monday, October 31, 2011


I'm close to starting the editing process for LIFE ON THE EDGE and am getting excited about the book soon becoming reality! Over the next few months, I'll be posting short excerpts to give you an idea of the story. Here's what will likely be on the back cover of the book:

Nineteen-year-old Emily is new to pairs skating, but she and her partner Chris have a big dream–to be the first American team to win Olympic gold. Their young coach Sergei, who left Russia after a mysterious end to his skating career, believes they can break through and make history.

Emily and Chris are on track to be top contenders at the 2002 Winter Games. But when forbidden feelings spark between Emily and Sergei, broken trust and an unexpected enemy threaten to derail Emily's dreams of gold.

And a little teaser from the book:

The wind picked up, rustling the trees and sending my empty cup skittering over the table. Sergei snatched it and noticed the time on his watch.

“Oh, wow, it’s two thirty. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stay this late.”

“No worries. I can sleep till noon tomorrow.”

He rose from his chair, stretching his arms. “Do you think they all killed each other downstairs?”

“My guess is they played so hard they passed out at some point. That’s been known to happen.”

I got up and smoothed my skirt. I’d kicked off my sandals hours ago, and the weathered wood of the patio was cool under my bare feet.

Sergei took a step toward me. “Thanks again for the great meal. And the even better company.”

“You’re very welcome. I’m really glad you came.”

I stood on tippy-toes to give him a quick hug, but Sergei’s strong arms held me against him, enveloping my small frame. His body exuded warmth. I closed my eyes and breathed in the woody scent of his cologne. We’d shared plenty of hugs at competitions, but this felt so different, like we belonged nowhere else but in this embrace.

Thanks for stopping by and check back for more excerpts!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Skate Canada Ramblings - SD and Men's SP

Since I was able to watch the entire Short Dance and Men's Short Program on IceNetwork, I thought I'd record my thoughts as I watched. It was refreshing to see a large and enthusiastic crowd at the event after the smattering of people in the arena at Skate America.

The Men's Short Program started with Elladj Balde, a Canadian making his Senior Grand Prix debut. This was the first time I've seen him skate, and I thought he had good flair in his footwork. I appreciated that he didn't use the typical music cuts for his Spanish-themed program.

Ross Miner - After the great end to his 2010-11 seasonI was excited to see how he would start this season. Unfortunately, a singled axel and a lessened combination didn't make for a good beginning. His program was the same short he did last year.  I thought he should've gotten a new costume to freshen it up a bit.

Denis Ten - I love the basics of his skating. His music is rather somber and couldn't be used in ice dance, but he makes it work. Stumble on the triple axel, but Frank Carroll seemed happy in the Kiss & Cry.

Andrei Rogozine - Another Canadian I was seeing for the first time. He had very sharp and intense footwork, but I wasn't crazy about his style of movement or his music selection.

Javier Fernandez - It's immediately evident from the classiness of his costume that he's been freed from Morozov. Huge quad! The last section of his music ("I Love Paris") brings back memories of Michelle Kwan and Brian Boitano  skating together on a TV special (the MK ubers will remember). Huge score!

Alexander Majorov - Hadn't seen this Swede before. From his busy shirt, I was expecting some sort of disco  music. Turned out to be Austin Powers. His jump entries looked a little awkward to me. Good personality, but the music made me think yet again how Lichtman/Copely should've been invited to fill the open ice dance spot.

Adam Rippon - I got to see him perform this short program in August at the Evening on Ice show in L.A., where he brought the house down. He did a great job with it tonight, too, with a little hiccup on the triple axel. I was expecting a higher score, and the protocols tell me an under-rotated jump was the issue.

Kevin Van Der Perren - The Feeling Begins . . . again. Still trying to figure out how The Feeling Begins and Cirque du Soleil fit together as a music mix . . .

Patrick Chan - We can always count on Pat to be eco-friendly and recycle programs. I've had an extreme dislike of "Take 5" since the early 2000's when everyone and their brother seemed to skate to it, so I had a hard time getting into this program. He does have some impressive footwork.

Daisuke Takahashi - A sharp contrast after Chan. His music is soulful and allows for much greater depth of feeling than Pat's jazzy tune. As always, Dai shows he can truly dance on ice, moving like liquid around the rink. He looks in fighting shape!

The Short Dance began with the Canadian couple Tarrah Harvey and Keith Gagnon. Unison was lacking in spots and the twizzles looked a little out of sorts. Wasn't digging their music.

Madison Chock/Evan Bates - My first note was for Evan to not slick his hair. Stick with the curls! I like the choreography and love the straight-line lift, but I wish they'd chosen a different piece of music for the middle section. I find the vocals a little screechy. Unexpected falls at the end of the program, luckily not on an element. Love Madi's dress and Evan is looking much more mature on the ice. I think they have a sophisticated look together.

Ekaterina Pushkash/Jonathan Guerreiro - I found some parts sloppy. Something just didn't flow right throughout the program. Had a momentary flashback to 2006 Tanith and Ben because of their rhumba music. Loved the green color of Ekaterina's dress, but I would've preferred a different cut on top.

Ekaterina Riazanova/Ilia Tkachenko - Ekaterina's skirt makes me think they're going to do flamenco rather than mambo and samba. They have better posture and flow than the previous Russian team. Not sure they captured the true flavor of the dances, though.

Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte - Best program of the night so far! Now there's some movement with real feeling and connection to the music. And they know how to bring the pretty.

Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje - I think Kaitlyn's animal print dress would look better without sleeves. It's a little too much tiger right now. Really enjoyed the intricacy of their choreography, especially in the rhumba section. They get stronger every year.

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir - Not quite buying into Tessa's shimmying. She needs to go full-out with it. I find the music transition from "Temptation" to "Mujer Latina" a little jarring. Very cool move at the end where Scott spins Tessa like the Latin ballroom dancers do on the floor.

Looking forward to a tight battle for gold in the Men's Free Skate. The Dance podium looks pretty much set barring disasters, but I'm excited to see everyone's new free dances!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Skate America Reflections

I apologize for the absence of reports after Friday. Once the competition started, the lack of time between events didn't allow me to collect my thoughts. I hope everyone enjoyed the photos I posted, though!

I'll go in chronological order of the events and start with the Men's Short Program. After two days of shaky practices, the men delivered a solid event overall. Doug Razzano doubled one of his jumps but otherwise performed superbly in his Grand Prix debut. He had wonderful connection to his music, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, one of my all-time favorite pieces. Ricky Dornbush had rough practices on Thursday and Friday but came out firing on Friday night. His high-energy Beethoven short program works well with his showmanship.

Takahiko Kozuka struggled with the quad in practice and his struggles continued into the competition. His fall on the quad put him in second place behind Michal Brezina, who I enjoyed seeing in person for the first time. The spring in his jumps are impressive. I'd like to see him show a little more personality in his programs. I remember his charming "Singin' In the Rain" exhibition a years ago and how that made him stand out to me among the junior skaters.

The Short Dance was next, and the number of mishaps brought back memories of the error-laden Latin OD at the 2006 Olympics. Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam experienced a "Charlie White Cup of Russia OD From Hell" program with three deductions. Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello were skating well until Lorello went down in the middle of the twizzles, and Fabian Bourzat tripped out of nowhere.

Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue skated first and came out looking strong but received a much lower score than I was expecting. I couldn't call a Level One from a Level Four pattern of the rhumba if my life depended on it, though, so I can't comment on the accuracy of the technical judging. In addition to the young American team, I also really enjoyed Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas, especially the rhumba section of their program.

The stars of the night were Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and since I'd never seen them do a Latin program, I'd waited anxiously to see if they could pull it off. And they did with flying colors! Meryl brought the sass, down to her spunky ponytail. The music cuts flowed together nicely and I still have the Spanish version of J-Lo's "On the Floor" stuck in my head.

Saturday's events kicked off with the Men's Free Skate, which was a disastrous splat fest. Doug Razzano was the highlight of the competition with a beautifully skated, clean program. I'm not a fan of singles skaters using tango music, but his tango program is one of the best of the bunch. Ricky Dornbush started off his program with a quad and the crowd went wild, but then a series of little mistakes took some of the steam out of the performance. The rest of the event was a blur of doubled jumps, falls, and generally sloppy skating.

After the disappointing Men's competition, I hoped we wouldn't see more disasters in the Free Dance. The dancers answered the call and left behind the trips and slips from the prior night. Hubbell and Donohue again skated with great connection and maturity. I wasn't quite sure what to make of their free dance when I saw it on YouTube last month, but watching it in person, I could feel the emotion in the performance. Madison and Zach have gelled well and don't look like a new team to me.

Paul and Islam have a wonderful elegant quality to their skating and I love their softness, but I couldn't get into their music. It felt a little drab and old for them. I'd like to see a better vehicle for their freshness.

Tobias and Stagniunas got the crowd clapping with their medley of 50's tunes, and their clean and engaging performance earned them the bronze medal. Isabella has a lot of charisma, and Deividas feeds off of it and shows off his partner excellently. "Only You" is one of my favorite golden oldies, so I was excited to see it used in dance!

Davis and White ended the event with a bang, thrilling the audience with a joyful and technically brilliant program to Die Fledermaus. There are many wonderful moments in the program, but my favorite is the rotational lift in which Meryl seems to fly onto Charlie's shoulder and then establishes such a regal position. The lift just comes out of nowhere and happens so fast, and it is beautifully timed with the sweeping waltz.

After the excitement of the free dance, I was ready to see some great skating in the Pairs Short Program, and all three American teams came through with inspired efforts. Caydee Denney and John Coughlin seem like a seasoned pair after only a few months together. Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker look more physically matched this year (Rockne's haircut helps!), and I loved their speed and attack. Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin also look improved and appear to be skating with good confidence.

The favorites Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy couldn't complete the throw triple axel, and they shockingly ended up in fifth place after the short. The second group of pairs was a bit of a disappointment overall after the great skates in the first group.

I skipped the Ladies Short Program, so I'll pick up the action on Sunday with the Pairs Free Skate. Vise and Baldwin had another great skate, probably the best program I've seen them perform, and Denney and Coughlin brought the audience to its feet with their close-to-perfect performance. Savchenko and Szolkowy rebounded from Saturday and gave an inspired performance of what I think will become another signature program for them. They always take chances on new music and choreography, and I appreciate the unique quality of their skating.

I spent most of the Ladies Free Skate reading the skating message boards on my Blackberry, but I did enjoy Alissa Czisny's program. I love "Valse Triste" and Alissa is a skater who can do the music justice. Hopefully, her jumps will get a little stronger as the season goes along and by Nationals the program will be a masterpiece!

The Exhibition is always a nice way to end the event, and this year's provided some memorable moments. My favorite performances of the night were given by Denis Ten, Takahiko Kozuka, Savchenko and Szolkowy, and Davis and White. Denis was flying across the ice and skated so lyrically to the music of Cinema Paradiso. Takahiko could just skate around the rink without jumping and it would be incredible to watch his mastery over the blade. Aliona and Robin have "it" and owned the ice as they performed yet more unique moves to a quiet but powerful piece of music. And Meryl and Charlie closed the show to Adele's "Someone Like You," displaying that simmering-under-the-surface emotion they exhibit so well. Their darker and melancholy programs (e.g. Eleanor Rigby, Billie Jean) are some of my favorites.

The level of the skating in this competition was a little up and down, but the highs made up for the lows! I thought Ontario was an excellent host city even though the attendance was dismal. The weather and the convenience of the hotel, the arena, and the airport made up for the sparse crowd. A couple of notes to the USFSA, though, if I may:

1. I know you want the seats filled on the side of the arena that will be seen on TV, but I would like to be able to sit on the judges' side if I so choose. The ice dancers face most of their lifts and dance moves to the judges' side, so we only got to see the backside of those elements.

2. Please let us sit wherever we'd like for practice sessions. Since I was mandated to sit across from the judges during the event, I wanted to sit on the opposite side of the arena during practice for a different vantage point and to take better photographs. However, we weren't allowed over there. I've only been to one other event that restricted seating at practice and that was Worlds '09 in L.A.

Well, that's a wrap from Skate America! I hope you enjoyed the reports and photos and will continue to follow my blog. I'll be attending my first Grand Prix Final this year and am looking forward to providing thoughts and photos from Quebec City! The next few months should prove to be exciting as I'm also working toward the publication of my first novel, due to be released in early 2012. I think it's a story many skating fans will enjoy, and I'll be posting more details as we get closer to the release date!

I'll leave you with a couple of videos I took at the USFSA's Friends of Figure Skating breakfast. The three American dance teams - Davis/White, Hubbell/Donohue, and Cannuscio/Lorello - and Doug Razzano attended the event and spoke briefly to the FOFS members: