Monday Memory: Castelli and Shnapir

At the beginning of each competitive season, there is always a buzz as figure skaters unveil their music choices and new programs. As the years go by, many forget a skater or team’s short program and can only remember a free skate or two that resulted in a new medal or title. Marisa Castelli and Simon Shnapir’s 2010-2011 short program to music from Pink Floyd, however, is a unique, and memorable program. Seeing it live at the 2010 Skate America Grand Prix event, I was immediately intrigued by their choreography and use of rock music. One of the most innovative and athletic teams in the U.S. right now, they frequently showcase huge throws and audacious lifts. Attired in simple, classy, black costumes, their choice of music and striking choreography allowed them to create a noteworthy, engaging short program. We are excited to see their new programs for the 2013-2014 season.

Monday Memory: Exogenesis Symphony

While figure skating requires both athleticism and artistry, it is difficult to strike a perfect balance between these two components. A skater is expected to be both a technician, effortlessly executing multi-revolution jumps, and an artist, infusing his or her own emotion into a performance for the world to see. One skater who has consistently achieved this balance of technical skill tempered with artistic ability is Jeremy Abbott. Although barely two seasons old, one of his most impactful performances was his long program to “Exogenesis Symphony” by Muse at the 2012 US National Championships. Opening with a fluid quad toe, Abbott proved his command of the ice from the beginning of the program. He continued to set himself apart from his competitors with two steps sequences filled with novel variations of turns and other footwork elements. Perhaps the best way to describe Abbott’s skating is that he doesn’t skate by a formula. His transitions and footwork do not reflect mathematical equations to accrue the most points. Instead, they are a display of one artist’s genuine inspiration resulting in a very real, very personal performance. Without a doubt, the highlight of the program is when Abbott stops in the center of the ice during his second step sequence; the first time I saw that moment it gave me chills. In an unusual move, Abbott has stated that he will re-use the music “Exogenesis Symphony” for the upcoming Olympic season. We wish him luck on his road to Sochi.

Monday Memory: Lucinda Ruh

Many people in the skating world recognize the name Lucinda Ruh, but few have actually seen her skate. Also known as the “Queen of Spin,” Ruh made her mark on the skating world through her magnificent spinning ability, frequently showcasing spin positions that she had created. In her autobiography, “Frozen Teardrop”, Ruh cites her father as one of her inspirations for becoming such an incredible spinner. His advice to her was to find something that she could be the best at and, for Ruh, that skill was spinning in figure skates.

Ruh skated in her last World Championships in 1999, where she placed a career best 13th. Although her free skate there was marred by a few jumping errors, one barely notices them in recordings, as her artistry and spins are what stand out from the performance. The International Judging System (IJS) was not introduced until 2004, making her program scored under the 6.0 system. The low technical marks she received for her free program at the 1999 Worlds make one wonder whether she would have fared better under the IJS. Her scores clearly showed that her spins were underappreciated, while under the IJS they would likely receive more credit for their features, innovative positions, and near perfect quality.

However, Ruh states in “Frozen Teardrop” that she didn’t spin to win titles: she spun to escape from the pressures of the skating world. The spins that she loved so much eventually forced her to leave the sport due to their incredible velocity causing a series of concussions, which led to myriad health problems. Her legacy in the skating world continues to this day as many of the spin positions she created are still performed by today’s top skaters.

Omaha 2013: Dark Horses

Sports pundits in all disciplines love a good poll. Who wouldn’t want to vouch for their team or athlete’s success? It’s apparent from Icenetwork’s various polls that figure skating enthusiasts have been looking forward to Omaha 2013 for quite a while, and that most fans have a relatively clear idea of who will walk away with a gold–or at least silver–medal. Thanks to feature articles, the senior frontrunners now only have to start checking elements off the list, because the public is already convinced that they can, and will, bear the crown of U.S. National Champion.

Each of the four disciplines in Omaha will be infused with a special level of excitement when these high-profile skaters take the ice. It’s Nationals, after all. However, it’s almost more intriguing to watch the battle for bronze play out. Whose score will hold up for ten skaters? Who will have the skate of his life? Who will jump from prodigy junior medalist to stunning senior medalist? And who will make a costly error that negates any short program lead? The third- and fourth-place finishers have the opportunity to leap to glory at a moment’s notice if they get chosen for Worlds, yet the press often neglects them in the clamor surrounding the title holders.

The path to victory is never straightforward, and the dark horse competitors just might surprise us all.

Senior Ladies

The Hopefuls: Vanessa Lam, Caroline Zhang, Gracie Gold, Christina Gao

We Predict: Christina Gao. Although Zhang has previously medaled at the U.S. Championships and Gold has maturity beyond her years, Gao has a quiet consistency that could rocket her to the podium.

But You Never Know: Mirai Nagasu’s fluctuating international season means that no spot is guaranteed in the ladies’ event.

Updated placements: Gracie Gold (2nd), Christina Gao (5th), Mirai Nagasu (7th), Caroline Zhang (11th), Vanessa Lam (WD)

Senior Men

The Hopefuls: Max Aaron, Keegan Messing, Joshua Farris, Douglas Razzano

We Predict: Max Aaron. The quality of U.S. men’s figure skating is about to peak right before Sochi, as talented younger skaters get their feet under them, and Aaron is the epitome of this new generation. He’s fast, he has good flow on the ice, and he has the eponymous quadruple jumps.

But You Never Know: Jason Brown is always enjoyable to watch, and if his program is smartly constructed, he could post some serious numbers.

Updated placements: Max Aaron (1st), Joshua Farris (4th), Jason Brown (8th), Douglas Razzano (12th), Keegan Messing (16th)

Senior Pairs

The Hopefuls: Felicia Zhang/Nathan Bartholomay, Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim, Tiffany Vise/Don Baldwin

We Predict: Tiffany Vise/Don Baldwin. The low number of pairs entered in the event this year puts everyone on a more level field, but Vise/Baldwin have enough competitive experience to give them an advantage over newer teams who are still getting a feel for chemistry and coordination.

But You Never Know: Gretchen Donlan/Andrew Speroff have come a long way in the last three years, with improved strength and respectable results at other competitions.

Updated placements: Scimeca/Knierim (2nd), Zhang/Bartholomay (3rd), Donlan/Speroff (6th), Vise/Baldwin (10th)

Senior Dance

The Hopefuls: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue, Madison Chock/Evan Bates, Lynn Kriengkrairut/Logan Giulietti-Schmitt

We Predict: Lynn Kriengkrairut/Logan Giuletti-Schmitt. Both Chock and Bates have achieved success with previous partners, but Lynn and Logan’s perseverance over the years is a strong indicator that they are ready to tackle the podium run together.

But You Never Know: Anastasia Cannuscio/Colin McManus. They are a team on the rise and, if they stay together in the coming years, could create some good results.

Updated placements: Chock/Bates (2nd), Hubbell/Donohue (4th), Kriengkrairut/Giulietti-Schmitt (5th), Cannuscio/McManus (6th)

Happy 2013 Nationals Viewing! You tell us: Who are your favorite “dark horses”? Whose skating impressed you the most?

Everyone Loves Figure Skating

Everyone loves figure skating, right? In honor of National Skating Month, we have a video illustrating just that. Our cat, Tangelo, is a figure skating fan and was fascinated by Shen and Zhao’s performance at the 2000 World Figure Skating Championships. Take a look, and it’s sure to brighten your day.

Pandora Love on Ice 2013

In addition to hosting Skate America 2012, the ShoWare Center in Kent, WA was also the site of the 2013 “Pandora Love on Ice” show. While unable to attend this year, a figure skating friend of ours shared some pictures from the event.

Beyond the Boards at the New Year’s Cup: Maya Mouallem

Maya Mouallem, a Senior level competitor representing Israel, relays her experience from her first Senior level competition at the New Year’s Cup in Bratislava, Slovakia.

“Last week I went to my very first international figure skating competition, the 2013 New Year’s Cup in Bratislava, Slovakia, representing Israel in the Senior Ladies category.

It was an amazing experience and a pretty unusual one too. It is not very common to attend a senior level competition as your first big event- most skaters compete at the lower levels first as they advance in their skating careers. In Israel, most winter sports are undeveloped and even unheard of. The number of ice rinks and coaches is so limited that there are very few athletes trying to compete at international levels. Most of the training is on crowded public sessions, and the ice is often extremely bumpy and full of cracks. There are very few internal competitions held, and there have been no Israeli National Championships since 2008!

In addition to the hardships of skating in a hot climate with such poor training conditions, I also started skating at the relatively late age of 16. In the four years that I’ve been skating, my goal has been to perfect my skating skills–including jumps, spins, footwork and choreography–and do it quickly, so I could truly compete at the senior level.

At this first international event in my skating career, I was not expecting to be able to compare myself to the other skaters there. These were all seasoned competitors, trying to qualify for the European Championships or other major events. My goal was to test the waters, to see how I would hold up under the pressure of representing my country out of the 32(!) other participating countries.

It was so thrilling to be able to practice with and watch women performing triple jumps and high-level spins. Since I am currently the most advanced skater training within Israel, I don’t get the chance to learn from watching better skaters in person. The feeling of skating on smooth, empty ice is something I don’t get to experience very often either.

I also learned a lot about the cutthroat competitive aspect of the sport: the complicated judging system, the difficulty of earning points for elements in a program, and the never-ending battle to earn a spot at Europeans, Worlds, and ultimately the Olympics.

Anyone who loves figure skating knows that it’s an addiction. Skaters and their families dedicate their lives to the sport, and it’s rarely enough. I can only hope that I am able to reach my competitive goals and perhaps make an impact on the skating world in Israel.”

To learn more about Maya and her skating, visit her website: http://www.MayaSkating.com

“Do You See the People Skate?”

Whether by timely coincidence or strategic planning to coincide with the release of the new film version, the skating world has recently seen a resurgence in the use of the Les Miserables score. Les Miserables has been used by each discipline over the past three seasons.

Representing the ladies, Yu Na Kim recently presented a flawless execution of her Les Mis free program at the Korean Figure Skating Championships, proving her technical prowess by opening with a soaring triple lutz-triple toe combination. What really stood out, though, was Kim’s interpretation of the music. Skating in only her second competition of the season, her music was a medley of many of Les Miz’s most familiar themes such as “One Day More” and “On My Own”. The music on its own is evocative of resolution and power, as well as tenderness, all of which the 2010 Olympic champion ably portrayed through her skating, which gave the melodies additional nuance.

Jeremy Abbott also chose to use music from Les Miz for his free program this season. Instead of skating to a bland compilation of themes, he uses a sweeping custom arrangement of  the single song “Bring Him Home.” Although it is not a power ballad compared to the rest of the score, it is no less moving and emotional. Abbott’s interpretation appears very contemplative and introspective. Like the rest of his skating, each time he performs this program it seems as though he genuinely feels the emotion of the music and creates a significant moment on the ice, transient though it may be. Perhaps the best way to describe this program is haunting in its understated reverence.

Another man choosing to skate to “Bring Him Home” this season is Jonathan Cassar. While other current skaters have used Les Miz for their free programs, possibly owing to the scope of the score, Cassar opted to skate a briefer rendition for his short program. His version has a lighter, more unbounded feeling than the rest. Despite the time constraints, it beautifully showcases his signature spread eagles, and makes the viewer wish that he or she too could glide with the same limitless feeling.

Even before the 2012-2013 season, the pairs team of Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch (and former dance team of Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello) used Les Miserables arrangements recently. Moore-Towers and Moscovitch bring an explosive style to their version of Les Miz. Opening with a strong triple twist followed by powerful side-by-side jumps, they use the intensity of the music to carry them through a technically demanding program. The dynamic nature of the music also provides the perfect backdrop for their extraordinary lifts. Cannuscio and Lorello’s program is also interesting, as it is the only one that can contain the original lyrics of the music, thanks to ice dance’s lack of sanctions on vocals. Similar to Moore-Towers and Moscovitch they match the energy of the music with their speed, tenacious lifts, and passionate performance.

One line from the stirring ballad “Do You Hear the People Sing?” is “Will you give all you can give?” As the 2012-2013 season moves toward some of the largest competitions of the season with Sochi 2014 ultimately in view, we look forward to seeing the skaters give all they can give, and seeing their hard work pay off.

Monday Memory: Alissa Czisny

Ethereal movements, flawless spins, and the ability to draw in the audience are all desirable qualities for a ladies national champion in the figure skating world. Alissa Czisny’s long program to the Dr. Zhivago soundtrack possessed all these attributes and propelled her to her first national title at the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Skating with elegance and gentleness, Czisny is clearly engaged in the performance from the opening toll of the bell. Her utilization of delicate connecting steps and flowing edges creates an air of magical enchantment as the program unfolds. The program is choreographed to highlight her flexibility, as seen by her beautiful charlotte spiral, and to capitalize on her unparalleled spins.     Although the performance was marred by a fall on a triple lutz, she displayed tenacity by coming back to land her closing double axel. In the wake of her championship, it is clear that Czisny’s elegant skating is matched by an equally gracious personality off the ice.

Having undergone surgery in the spring to repair a torn labrum in her hip, Czisny has been forced to sit out the 2012 Grand Prix season. However, we are hopeful that she will return to the competitive ranks and once again grace the ice.

Monday Memory: Abbott’s Day in the Life

When most skaters step on the ice, one senses that they have a job to do. They’re about to defend a title, make a statement, or land a quad, with the immensity of that impending task streaming across their face until about three-quarters of the way into the program, when their eyes brighten for some finessed footwork. Jeremy Abbott’s 2010 short program, though, had none of this self-conscious styling. From the minute his loose, breezy rock-and-roll melody began, there was a palpable feeling that his job was over, that the ice was his home. He seemed to shrug off a coat like he’d just returned from the office, and used the laxity of the music to underscore the brilliant elasticity of his jumps and swirling containment of his spins. His triple axel didn’t announce itself as a medium for points, but rather became a physical, visual embodiment of abstract chords.

Abbott’s skating has always been a mesmerizing mix of both eagerness and elegance. This program, in particular, differentiated his style from the strategically-crafted, overtly theatrical skates that abounded that Olympic season. Its use of spiraling torso movements, snappy footwork, and clean, deep edges demonstrated that Jeremy Abbott was there for more than a medal. He skated because it came from his heart, engaging in a dance with the ice that stopped short of becoming dance on ice, and was justly rewarded with a standing ovation at the U.S. Nationals. All of his programs in years since have had the same sincerity, classicism, and command, but this one marked a new high point in men’s figure skating.

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