One of my favorite skaters turned the big 5-0 last week. The four-time World Champ is known as much for his technical prowess on the ice—he was the first to land a quad in competition, way back in 1988—as his impeccable style. One of the most talented "performers" ever to take the ice. Got to see him live once, that was a thrill.
I was saddened to hear of the untimely, freakish death of this young actor, known for his roles in the rebooted 'Star Trek' franchise, 'Alpha Dog' and 'Charlie Bartlett.'
I'm also sending my deepest condolences across the figure skating world to his parents, who were professional skaters in Russia prior to coming to the States to set up shop as a coach and choreographer.
I'm sorry, but why is this news? Probably because figure skating is suffering from a huge PR problem right now and folks think crafting salacious stories like these will boost ratings.
Forgive me but I'm going to roll my eyes.
The story goes, Yuzuru Hanyu was doing a run-through of his short program on an official practice, and Dennis Ten was doing a spin right where Hanyu's triple axel was planned. He was forced to divert during his program and ended up falling on the jump and pitching a fit. Dennis Ten allegedly just DGAF, and has been accused of ignoring his fellow skaters when they have the right-of-way. The article painted it as this huge battle between the skaters.
Puh-leeeeeeze. Yes, the skater who is doing his/her program has the right-of-way according to ice etiquette. But if that right of way is violated, don't be a prima donna. Seriously, it makes you look like an a--hole. You have a right to assertively say "excuse me," and a right to be internally frustrated, but seriously, get over it. And if you're on the other end of the equation, you don't own the ice. Watch out for other skaters, please, especially during the official practice at Worlds.
Either way, it's not a big deal. It's reality for skaters. It happens every day, on every ice session, in some way or another. I've written about ice etiquette before, and I'm sure I'll write about it again.
I overheard a coach talking to a student on the ice the other day who was frustrated that fellow skaters kept getting in her way during Moves in the Field patterns. The coach advised the student to start acting "politely arrogant," as a means of asserting her right to be on the ice and complete the patterns. I don't like the use of the word arrogant, I think it has too many negative connotations. But the coach's implication was spot-on. You paid your money to be out there on that ice, and you have to assert your right to be there regardless of level or age. That's just the way of things when competitive athletes share a training facility. But at the same time, don't take it as the right to be a dick.
My husband has made no secret of being un-fond of the sport of figure skating. He's of the mind that the judging system is inherently unfair and it screws hardworking skaters. I'm paraphrasing, but he said something like he would throttle any judge who would dare screw me. Needless to say, I'm a little worried about bringing him to competitions...
But he's not entirely wrong (well he's wrong about threatening physical harm of course). The judging system is flawed. And subjective. This year's national results are indicative of that I think, in a number of ways.
It seemed to me that presentation scores and GOEs were manipulated to achieve a certain result in the Men's and Ladies' events, more so in the ladies short and in the men's long. I already expressed my dissatisfaction with the ladies' short results, and I was happy to see the ladies' long program pan out in a more straightforward way. Polina's presentation and GOEs paled in comparison to Gracie's--sorry to those who were rooting for Polina, but it was the right call to put her second.
But the men's long program was frustrating. Nathan Chen's four quads were a spectacle indeed. He got what he deserved in technical marks. And I'll buy that his presentation skills were lackluster in comparison to skaters who placed above him, and I'd have bought a second place finish for him overall. He should have won the long though. The technical merit was too high for him to lose, but his presentation scores were ratcheted down so far that they ensured a third place finish.
Now to Max Aaron. This guy should have been the winner. He did two quads, and his presentation, while not amazing, should have been enough for a second-place finish in the long, and a first-place finish overall. But his GOE's were unfairly middling at best.
Adam Rippon, the ultimate champion, on the other hand, should have been third. He skated well and had great presentation, but he didn't complete a quad. Yet his GOE's and presentation scores in my opinion were higher than they should have been. He scored less than a point higher than Max Aaron on the technical side. Max did TWO solid quads, one of which was a quad-triple combo. I just don't see objectively how that's possible. Meanwhile, he scored almost nine points more than Nathan Chen in the presentation department, and more than five over Aaron.
If score inflation was at work, I simply don't see the aim of launching Rippon to the top. Even with a great performance at Worlds on par with what he delivered at Naitonals, he's going to get BURIED! His quad lutz, for all the talk about it, is under-rotated, and ALWAYS gets a downgrade, whether he stays on his feet or not. Max Aaron and Nathan Chen have more chance of faring better against the Yuzuru Hanyus and Jin Boyangs of the world. Is there a movement to fight back against the quad? To show that a guy without a quad can still win? While that's noble and all, that's not the direction figure skating is going in...
All of that said of course, it is nice to see a guy who has been in the sport, fighting for so long, finally get a national title. And I did like his program, a lot.
This feeling of dissatisfaction with the outcome of this year's Nationals aligns with a recent column by Christine Brennan for USA Today about why figure skating isn't the ratings-getter it once was. She makes a few very fair points here, among them, the intricate scoring system that lets judges jack up GOEs and presentation scores while remaining anonymous.
I was disappointed that the mainstream broadcast of Nationals this year didn't do much on the Gold sisters. It was casually mentioned that Gracie's twin sister was competing a few times, but they were kind of trite throw-aways, ("they're BEST FRIENDS OMG") and they didn't show Carly skate at all. Carly is not even close to the talent of Gracie, and her performance would have been very pale in comparison. But they're twins! And they're both competing! I think that's pretty rad and wanted to know more about the experience other than hearing repeatedly that they're the best of friends.
The Today Show interviewed them though, and it's a cute video:
I've been able to catch some Nationals livestreams on Icenetwork in the last few days, and I have to say I'm largely impressed with the skating at all levels.
A few thoughts on the ladies short program last night:
1. Gracie Gold was way over-scored. The scoring logic says that her grades of execution (GOE) on the technical elements she completed were high enough to justify her second placement, but I think that's a boost she didn't deserve based on her actual performance. She does have great presentation, I will give her that, but she got zero credit for an entire element (the popped lutz), and her combination was only a triple-double, and a shaky one at best. If you look at the detailed scores, Ashley Wagner actually scored higher on both technical and presentation marks, but not by much, and the 1.00 deduction for Ashley's fall on the triple-triple was enough to keep Gracie ahead. Ashley should have been given higher GOEs, and should have been ahead - the way I saw it playing out, Gracie was 4th or 5th in the short, Ashley was 3rd.
2. I still do not like Polina Edmunds' skating. She's still amateurish and gawky on the ice. Her extensions are terrible - please girl, for the love of Mike, STRAIGHTEN YOUR LEG. The judges do reflect that in her presentation scores (she was well below Gracie and Ashley on that) but she did have the technical merit last night so I will give her that. But if Polina is the best the US has to offer in world competition, then we don't stand much chance of holding up against international skaters with far more polish and technical consistency.
3. There was a lot of falling last night. I chalk that up to the system encouraging skaters to try elements that are too difficult for them.
4. I was super impressed with the spin quality. Skaters are paying more attention to spins these days because the system rewards them for it. If you compare spinning now to spinning even 10 years ago, it's remarkable how much the quality and difficulty has improved.
A few thoughts on other events:
1. The quality of skating at the Novice and Junior level was higher than I remember seeing it in prior years. There are some good skaters making their way up the ranks, and I think we have something to look forward to in future years. I was particularly impressed with the winners of the Novice Ladies and the Junior Men.
2. Pairs - Between Tarah Kayne & Danny O'Shea and Knierem and Scimeca, is the US finally gonna have a really competitive pairs team??? I hope so. The last time we had a world champion pairs team, I wasn't even born yet.