14 Great Ladies’ Performances of the 2016-17 Figure Skating Season

I pretend to be more invested in men and dance than ladies, but tell me I have to narrow things down to ten great performances, and I turn into a gesticulating mass of feelings. I enlisted my friends to help me whittle things down, but they left me to my own devices for too long afterward. The “Wait! What about…?” list grew and grew. I decided to leave them all on the list, because what skating fan doesn’t want to watch 14 stellar ladies’ performances from throughout the season, and then subtweet me about how I am so obviously wrong?

Here they are, more or less alphabetically, with consideration taken for athleticism, artistry, and how much it hurt when I tried to convince myself to take them off the list.

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10 Great Ice Dance Performances of 2016-17

It’s crunch time in my line of work, so these year-end best-of lists are going to roll out slowly. I’m starting with ice dance for a simple reason: it’s the one I’m most terrified to post. Ice dance fans are territorial and passionate, and boy, will they fight with you. Sometimes they’ll fight with you even when they agree with you. And since my aesthetic preferences in ice dance diverge pretty far from the social media party line, I’m bracing myself for a whole lot of disagreement.

I don’t have specific criteria for what makes a performance great. The most important deciding factor is that, at the end of the season, I remembered how awesome it was. (Yes, there will be a list of performances that were memorable for all the wrong reasons – the season’s top 10 disasters are on their way.) High scores and medal wins are a plus, but not required, and some teams with extremely strong competitive records didn’t make my list this year. Teams also earned credit for innovation, commitment to their program themes, and expressing an emotion other than bland, generalized angst.

With no further ado, and in alphabetical order, here are ten ice dance performances that make me wish summer hadn’t come so soon.

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Slightly Unhinged Notes from the World Team Trophy Men’s Short Program

Shoma Uno, and his abs, at the 2017 Worlds gala.

It has been a long couple of weeks, during which I have discovered that I am ostensibly enough of an adult that people want to do things like grant me a home loan and hire me for paid work, despite the fact that my hair is three different colors on my driver’s license, my passport, and my actual head. I am also so tired of everyone’s program music that by the time I got to the men’s short program, I hit the mute button in the IceNetwork window and fired up the YouTube playlist of summer jams that I have been compiling. I watched the men’s short the evening after it occurred, because see above, plus there was a double episode of Survivor on Wednesday night, and I need very badly for Zeke Smith to triumph over transphobia and win a million dollars. So I am rating each program on 1) how well the athlete performed his technical elements, 2) how glad I am that I will never have to see his short program again (dear everybody, the Olympics are coming, please get new choreography), 3) how well his performance lined up with the arbitrary music that came out of my speakers while he skated, and 4) how adorable his teammates were in the kiss and cry afterward.

If you were looking for serious analysis, dude, it’s the freaking World Team Trophy. Team France are dressed as Minions. None of the world medalists in ice dance bothered to show up. The word “Presentation” was misspelled in the score graphic for the entirety of the short program. I am approaching this event with exactly the amount of gravitas that it demands.

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4 Things I Learned from the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships

Now that I’ve had some time to sober up and do all the work I set aside so I could wake up at 2:00 AM and watch people fall on their twizzles, I have some thoughts on Worlds. Too much happened for a play-by-play, and two weeks after the fact, it makes more sense to look at the overall takeaway from the event. It also gives me an excuse to skip some performances that scored well but didn’t grab me, and to focus on a few lower-ranking skates that stood out for reasons other than numbers. As usual, I’ve taken a turn for the long-winded, so I’m splitting this recap into three parts.

1. The magic word was “finally.”

As in, “Look who finally won a gold medal!” Yuzuru Hanyu isn’t new to the top of the podium, and he is the reigning Olympic champion. But two years of sloppy silvers – and an error-heavy season – had made fans start to wonder if he’d begun the long slide into irrelevancy. When he bloopered the jump combination in his short program, stepping out of his quad salchow and invalidating the second jump, it looked like he might miss the podium for the first time since 2013. Hanyu’s free skate, however, was the kind of magic moment that makes a week of early mornings worthwhile. He was flawless from start to finish. His four quadruple jumps weren’t just clean, but exceptional, earning near-perfect grades of execution. His steps and connecting moves were more intricate and certain than most of the ice dancers who would compete later in the evening. By the time he landed his final jump – the triple lutz that he’s referred to as his nemesis, and continues to stick at the end of every free skate like he’s on a quest to defeat it – I was standing on my couch and cheering.

The kiss and cry that followed was one of this year’s iconic off-ice moments. Brian Orser seemed almost as overwhelmed as his student; his first words to Hanyu were, “That was fun to watch.” Meanwhile, Hanyu bravely insisted, “I’m not crying,” as tears ran down his cheeks. Fifth after the short program, Hanyu skated first in the final group, so he got to watch in the green room, with growing giddiness and disbelief, as his opponents fell behind him, one by one. Still stunned in the winner’s interview, he could only think about the error he’d made in the short, repeating that he needed to practice more as the interviewer tried to get him to focus on the world title he’d just won. More than any other men’s skater, Hanyu is eternally unsatisfied, insisting on pushing himself past his own limits. This time, his drive paid off.

It was hard for me to believe that Wenjing Sui and Cong Han had never won Worlds before. Their victory could hardly have come at a better time. Sui is finally healthy after two years of injuries, surgeries, and recoveries, and their instantly iconic free skate tells the story of how the team’s friendship strengthened as Han supported her. If you’re not sniffling at the end of their “Bridge Over Troubled Water” program, you have no feelings. It blows my mind that only one judge gave them a perfect 10 for Performance. They came short of perfection – Sui fell on a triple salchow – but it was easy to forget the error as their momentum built both technically and artistically. It’s hard to imagine a pairs program in which a clean quadruple twist isn’t the hands-down highlight, but their best moves came toward the end: a throw triple flip that sent Sui soaring halfway down the length of the rink, with a feather-soft landing; a final lift whose entrance and exit were as physically difficult as they were emotionally resonant. They earned perfect grades of execution for both elements. And in terms of memorable performances, no other pair came close.

2. Comebacks are a Crapshoot.

With the Olympics on the horizon, lots of familiar faces returned to the ice for this year’s Worlds, with varying levels of success. Few comebacks generated more buzz than Carolina Kostner’s. After two years away – some by choice, some mandated as fallout from a doping scandal – the 30-year-old veteran looked like a World medal contender after a bronze at Euros. Even at her peak, Kostner has never been the most accomplished technician, instead earning high marks for her superhuman speed and pristine execution. Her components scores remained among the highest, especially in her free skate, but her technical content looked downright old-fashioned in comparison with the enormous triple-triple combinations and back-loaded content that defeated her. Her fifth-place free skate earned only the tenth-highest technical score, and her sixth-place overall finish was her worst since 2010. Fun as it is to see her back on the ice, I found myself wishing she’d retired at her peak.

Pairs was lousy with comebacks this year. Aliona Savchenko is on the second year of her return tour, and this time, her interaction with Bruno Massot occasionally resembled chemistry. They’ve chosen high difficulty over polish and finesse, which snagged them a silver medal, although my friends have reassured me that I’m not the only one who can barely remember their performances. Newlyweds Alexa and Chris Knierim were in strong fighting shape after an illness took her off the ice for most of the season, but their 10th-place finish speaks volumes about the lackluster state of American pairs.

The most striking pairs comeback belonged to Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov. Stolbova was injured for most of the season, and their uncertainty showed in a nightmare of a short program that included a freakish fall on their twist. But in the free skate, both were in full-on beast mode. They stumbled out of their triple toe-triple toe-double toe combination, and Stolbova singled the last jump, but it’s astonishing to see a triple-triple in pairs at all. They also performed one of the few non-hideous back outside death spirals of the event, an accomplishment that, like many of their elements, might have earned even higher grades of execution if they hadn’t been stuck in the first warm-up group. But the best part of their performance was their distinctive angry-sexy chemistry. A lesser team might have struggled with their flat, abstract music, but they infused it with intensity and purpose. Stolbova and Klimov rocketed from 13th in the short program to 5th overall, in the most satisfying rebound of this year’s Worlds.

Without a doubt, the highest-profile comeback kids this season were Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Some fans, myself included, murmured with skepticism when they announced their return, but Virtue and Moir took the right approach for an accomplished veteran team. They’ve adapted to ice dance’s current direction, adding strategic upgrades to their steps and twizzles, and putting their own spin on the dramatic lyrical free dance style that dominates these days. They faltered in that free dance, as they have several times this season, but they built an insurmountable lead with their extraordinary short dance. Lots of teams were strong in the short this year, but Virtue and Moir were the only ones who made it look easy. They covered so much ice in their pattern dance that the camera operator had trouble finding them, and they brought the house down with a difficult variation on a signature lift. Prince isn’t remotely hip hop, but who cares? They captured his quirky spirit and proved they’re still capable of surprise, experimentation, and growth.

3. Canada has a deeper bench than we thought.

Virtue and Moir were the biggest Canadian story at this year’s Worlds, but it was a great year for Canada in general. With Virtue and Moir’s return, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were demoted to the second string in ice dance,. The limitations they’ve faced in their scoring followed them here: they consistently lost levels in their step sequences and missed the top tier in their grades of execution. But in a volatile dance event, Weaver and Poje achieved a fourth-place finish by demonstrating consistency and focus while others faltered. Earlier in the season, their Michael Jackson short dance had come off as fun but messy. They were sharper and more confident in Helsinki, and that refinement stood out. Before Worlds, it had been easy to give up on Weaver and Poje, but their performances here were a sign that this has been a transitional year, on the road to a real peak during the Olympic season. They won’t be able to rely on others’ mistakes next time, though.

While Weaver and Poje had to prove their relevance, Canada’s third pairs team arrived with few expectations on their shoulders. Liubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch’s partnership is itself a second chance, after years of more conventional, less successful, and less satisfying arrangements for both. With Ilyushechkina’s citizenship still up in the air, they’re not on a sure path toward the Olympics. That’s too bad, since their sixth-place finish was the highest for a Canadian pair this year, and it ensured that Canada will send three pairs to Pyeongchang in 2018. They were especially strong in the short program, which featured a huge, controlled throw triple lutz and more commitment to the tango than some ice dancers mustered. At first glance, their success seemed to be all Ilyushechkina, with her spunky on-ice presence, but Moscovitch was a rock. Keep an eye on him, and you’ll notice how often his keen sense of timing saved the day.

Kevin Reynolds acquitted himself well in the men’s event but got a bit of a raw deal. Stuck skating sixth out of 36 men in the short program, he was in a class by himself among the early groups. He landed two clean quads, including the most polished quad salchow-triple toe loop of the segment. The judges assessed him conservatively in components because he skated so early, and his front-loaded program, with no second-half bonuses for his jumps, set him back on the technical end. If Reynolds had been able to skate in a later group, he almost definitely would have placed higher than 12th in the short program. He looked less confident in the free skate, saving a number of underrotated landings, but he got some justice on his second mark. Across the board, his components averaged about 0.6 points higher in his free skate than in his short program. That doesn’t sound like a big difference, but it could have been just enough to put him ahead of Mikhail Kolyada overall. If Reynolds had placed 8th instead of 9th, he would have earned Canada an extra guaranteed spot at the Olympics.

But where Canada is concerned, the real story was the ladies. The last Canadian lady to stand on a World podium was Joannie Rochette in 2009, and until now, two have never medaled in the same year. Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabrielle Daleman had both posted strong results earlier in the season: Osmond brought home a pair of Grand Prix silver medals and just missed the podium at the Grand Prix Final; Daleman spoiled for silver at Four Continents. I didn’t see anyone predicting a podium finish for either at Worlds, though, and both are so inconsistent that they would have made my Why I Drink list if I’d had time for a ladies’ field guide. As I watched live, the presumption on Twitter was that they would both bomb their free skates. Maybe one would survive. Instead, Osmond and Daleman soared under pressure while most of their competitors stumbled.

Osmond was great in the free skate, but her shining moment was her short program. I can’t imagine a current skater more suited to an Edith Piaf medley, and the music’s rough-edged bravado lent her confidence. She opened with a textbook triple flip-triple toe loop, but what stood out most were her spins. Long-limbed and muscular, Osmond has to work harder than others to make her flexibility moves look clean and natural, but her extension looks that much more dramatic because she has such control over it. That precision, along with some of the fastest basic skating in the field, earns her the high components scores that some fans are skeptical of. In some respects, she approaches her non-jump elements and connecting moves more like a men’s skater, muscling into them instead of faking a delicacy that isn’t really her style. That places her in contrast with most other top ladies, but the more she owns it, the farther she’s able to take it.

As great as Osmond was, Daleman damn near overshadowed her, especially in the free skate. In fact, I was surprised that Osmond beat her in the free – by less than a point, and entirely on components. Daleman competes with less technical difficulty than most top ladies, but her underlying technique is some of the best. Nobody else jumps higher, and she doesn’t rotate until she’s fully airborne, like she knows she’s going to be up there all day. She also beefs up her grades of execution with dramatic and unusual entrances and exits to her jumps. Her choreography is a giant stamina challenge, with few opportunities to breathe or regroup mentally. Which is fitting, because everyone watching was holding their breath for the entire four minutes of her free skate. Points and placement aside, she was the star of the ladies’ event.

4. Don’t underestimate anybody.

Before an event like Worlds, I’m always attentive to the athletes that people aren’t talking about. Underestimated athletes often do well in big events, because they feel the pressure less than the top contenders. Front runners claimed all the gold medals this year, but several quiet heroes made big statements. I don’t know if we’ll start taking them more seriously as a result, but we should be.

It’s weird that Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov still come off as underdogs in pairs, since they won both Euros and the Grand Prix Final this year. Maybe it’s because all of their big accomplishments come from consistency and steadiness, rather than the dramatic but unreliable moves that attract as much attention from a fall as a landing. Maybe it’s because their chemistry is less volatile and passionate than we expect from pairs, a comfortable and friendly connection that can be appealing but doesn’t have the strongest impact on the ice. Or maybe it’s that they had a little more oomph in their performances earlier in the season. Their short program was as stunningly precise as ever, and they wobbled only slightly in their free skate. It was more than good enough for bronze, and in a world where polish and persistence get due credit, it should also be good enough to cement their status as Russia’s strongest pairs team.

Normally, Boyang Jin isn’t an underdog. He’s one of the quad-jumping overlords of men’s skating, and he came to Worlds as the reigning bronze medalist. But a rough season, and a lack of new technical upgrades, had left him as the quad beast least likely to succeed in Helsinki. While others padded their arsenals with bigger jumps, Jin turned his attention to his components marks, addressing justified criticism that his transitions, skating skills, and musical interpretation lagged far behind his competitors’. His performances at Worlds demonstrated how much he’s developed his fundamentals, but more importantly, how effectively he’s cultivated a signature style. There’s never been a question that Jin is having fun whenever he skates, but for the first time, his choreography builds in opportunities for him to show it. An infectious smile can’t compensate for two-footed skating or jumps that launch perilously close to the boards, but it’s evidence of effort in the right direction. Jin’s quad lutz is impressive on its own, but his charm gives it something extra.

After Mai Mihara won Four Continents, you’d think we’d all be paying attention. Instead, folks continue to confuse her with Satoko Miyahara. Throughout her career, Mihara has been overshadowed by jumping prodigies and preternaturally dramatic divas, lost in Japan’s overcrowded ladies’ field. But her mental steadiness and exceptionally clean jump technique have brought her to the forefront this season. A major lapse in the short program took her out of podium range in Helsinki: she doubled her final jump, a flip, receiving zero credit for the element, and sank down to 15th in the segment. But she was error-free and graceful in her free skate, taking the lead and holding onto it for hours. She ended up with the fourth-place free skate, and she might have gone higher if she’d skated later. Compared with the other top competitors’ jumps, the deep edges of her entrances would have stood out more, as would the momentum she gains as she checks out of her controlled landings. Mihara isn’t the most expressive skater, and the Disney-princess wonder of her more confident Four Continents performance didn’t come through as strongly at Worlds. Few athletes can match her technique, though, and she should be giving stamina lessons to the rest of Team Japan. Her fifth-place finish is enough to establish her as an athlete to watch, but her quiet persistence – the quality that makes her all too easy to overlook – seems to be the secret to her success. She’ll enter 2017-18 as a major contender for one of Japan’s two Olympic slots, and it will get harder for her to keep skating like nobody’s watching.


 

Next on The Finer Sports: Two more posts of Worlds reactions! Then, a series of season-in-review posts, plus whatever I have to say about the World Team Trophy.

2017 World Championships Field Guide: Men Part 3

Welcome to the third and final section of my guide to the men’s event at 2017 Worlds. We’re down to 36 competitors, as Han Yan confirmed on Saturday that a shoulder injury will keep him from participating, and China has not assigned an alternate in his place. (If you’re wondering what he needs his shoulder for, watch how skaters pull their arms in as they launch a jump – without that quick snap, you can’t rotate in the air.) This part of the field guide includes everyone else in the last third of the alphabet. If you haven’t read the previous two sections, check out Part One and Part Two before moving on to this one. Part One gives a more detailed explanation of how these field guides are structured, and how my five-point rating system works.

Since the start of the competition is closing in, I’ll keep the preamble short. On with the skaters!

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2017 World Championships Field Guide: Men Part 2

We’re a week away from Worlds, and skaters are starting to converge on Helsinki. There are 37 of them on the roster for the men’s event, and I’m determined to profile every one before their short program begins on Thursday, March 30. I’m a third of the way there, so if you started with this post, go back and read Part 1 of my Worlds Field Guide to the men’s event. It explains in more detail how I’m formatting these guides, and why it’s actually a compliment when I say an athlete is Why I Drink. It also has Yuzuru Hanyu, Javier Fernandez, and Nathan Chen in it, which might be why you’re here. Unless your goal is to get more information on the less familiar skaters in the field, in which case, you’ve come to the right place. This guide includes skaters 13-24 in alphabetical order, and most are guys you’ve never heard of unless you’re as obsessed as I am.

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Well, There Goes the Old Site

Happy Update 4/8/2017: SportsBlog has restored all the old posts! I’ll gradually be exporting them here, but you can click the link in the sidebar to read on SportsBlog until I do.

I discovered today that SportsBlog has deleted almost all of my posts from the old blog. This happened in the last 48 hours, with no warning. I’m not entirely surprised, considering the way things had been going in the month or two before I moved the site here.

Fortunately, I had many of my posts backed up to my computer, and I retrieved most of the rest through archive.org and Google caching. About 10% of the posts are gone forever, though, mostly from the first few months of the blog.

Everything is in disarray, since the backups didn’t all capture images, embedded videos, etc. I will eventually upload everything here, but it will take quite a bit of time because nothing can be imported directly. It’s going to have to wait until after Worlds. It’ll happen gradually.

It’s possible that everything will magically come back in a few days, since the disappearance seems to be the result of a massive site restructuring on their end. Regardless, I’m not trusting SportsBlog to archive everything until I have time to export, which was the previous plan. I’m upset, obviously, and sorry that you guys can’t go back and read my older work, at least for the next couple of months. But it’s not dead forever, and it will come back.

On the bright side, I’m close to done with the next part of my Worlds field guide, so that will be up tonight!

2017 World Championships Field Guide: Men Part 1

How is it time for Worlds already? It feels like just last week, I was booking a flight for Boston. Now, skaters are on their way to Helsinki to do it all over again. Although I won’t be there to witness the magic in person this year, I’ll still do my best to provide complete coverage of the biggest figure skating event of the season. And that starts with field guides, as many as I can finish before the competition begins.

With 10 days to go, there are 37 men on the roster for the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships, representing a total of 30 countries. As much as I’d love to trim things down the way I did for my World Junior Championships Men’s Field Guide, there’s no way to do it for senior-level Worlds. The minimum technical scores required are so high that any skater who competes at Worlds is capable of phenomenal jumps, and most of the guys on the list are fantastic performers to boot. So I’m splitting this into a series of three posts and covering every athlete in the event.

For the most part, this will look like the field guides I’ve written for U. S. Nationals and Junior Worlds. For each skater, I’ll provide basic background information, YouTube videos of recent performances, and a summary of his season so far. I’ll also analyze each athlete’s chances on a five-point scale. Four of the categories are the same as usual: Front Runners at the top, Dark Horses with an outside chance, Just Happy to Be Here who have already achieved their season goals by qualifying for Worlds, and Why I Drink for the wildcards so wild that I have no idea how they’ll perform. But since an athlete at Worlds is, by definition, at the top of his game, it doesn’t make sense to refer to any of these skaters as “on the rise.” Instead, I’ll rate the mid-range as On the Bubble: striving for more than just an appearance on the ice, but not on par with the top tier. I’m also adding one new section to each skater’s profile. Since quadruple jumps are such a defining aspect of men’s skating these days, I’ll discuss which quads each athlete is likely to attempt, and his chances of rotating and landing them.

This post features the first 12 men’s skaters in alphabetical order, which includes a lot of the heavy hitters. Here we go!

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2017 Junior Worlds Men’s Recap: Pretty Sure I Dreamed This

If anyone was hoping I would live tweet the World Junior Championships men’s event, I’m sorry to have abandoned Twitter. But none of the men’s competition occurred at a reasonable hour, and I was already tired from full days of work before and after. To avoid publicly airing any inappropriate remarks about 16-year-old boys (or just miscalling jumps where folks could see me) I messaged my friends privately.

So I have notes for posterity. And I haven’t stopped laughing at them yet.

This recap is a cleaned up version of those notes, with some commentary added. I’ve redacted most of the swearing, fixed most of the autocorrect bloopers, and toned down the exuberant caps lock. My initial impressions are a more entertaining, and probably more accurate, reflection of what happened than anything I could produce by endlessly rewatching these performances on YouTube, although I’ve given several a second viewing, mostly for my own enjoyment. I’m including time stamps, so you can put my mental decline into context.

I am still not sure any of this happened. The entire event has been eradicated from YouTube on dubious copyright grounds, which strengthens my conviction that I might have dreamed it.

Men’s Short Program

Tuesday, 11:45 PM Central Daylight Time

Not much is happening yet. my feelings right now are 45% hang on tiny Mexican boy, 45% time for Conrad Orzel to prove he should have beaten Gogolev at Nationals, and 10% “Wow, those shrimp I made for dinner turned out really well.” [Friend A, henceforth known as Buffy] told me this is just an exhibition event, though. I’m really glad it’s canceled and the scores don’t count, because imagine how stressed out I’m going to be in an hour.

Artur Panikhin of Kazakhstan is skating to Genesis. It’s a medley with “Fat Bottomed Girls,” and this is why I love this sport. The polite Taiwanese audience is not sure how to respond to a program that ends with devil horns in the air.


2017 Conrad Orzel Junior Worlds SP (720p) by siberia1982

Conrad Orzel lands all his jumps. [Friend B, henceforth Kamala] says she is deeply charmed, which is good because she has been rolling her eyes at me all week as I’ve talked this kid up. I express the hope that he’ll go over 70 points, because his technical scores make that possible. But it’s only 66.21 despite a clean skate, in what will turn out to be a pattern of WJC judges lowballing lesser-known skaters in early groups. His coaches look personally offended by his components marks.

A few mediocre skates, during which I get snacks, followed by an ice resurface. It is now Wednesday, 1:00 AM CDT.

After a year of rolling her eyes at me affectionately when I rambled about Kazuki Tomono, Buffy understands the appeal: “Look at his sparkly costume! And flopsy hair!” I insist he is perfect, and then he falls on his triple Axel. Japan is right now apologizing for pouring their funding and attention into other skaters. High components scores put him ahead of Orzel. Buffy asks if I’m okay. I’m not, and yet feeling fine.

Chat records show an extended detour into discussion of musicals and picking up girls on dating apps, as well as a rehashing of the timeless Mac vs. PC debate, which means my notes are spotty for the rest of the warm-up group. We are excited that Irakli Maysuradze is skating to Javier Fernandez’s music from last year, which makes it all the more tragic when he’s the first skater I’ve cared about who has melted down. I pause to note that Chih-I Tsao and Daniel Albert Naurits, both of whom I’d skipped in my preview because they never skate well, have gone lights out. I am perplexed and proud, scared of where the night will lead.

Wednesday, 1: 45 AM CDT

While we debate whether Sondre Oddvoll Boe’s music is “hobbit music” or a tribute to Joshua Farris, he lands everything and logs yet another clean skate on a night when it seems like everyone has taken an immunity potion and could not screw up if they tried.

All semblance of chill crumbles. Koshiro Shimada skates beautifully, earning one of the night’s highest single-element grades of execution for his triple lutz-triple toe loop. I’m broken. I don’t know how to feel when all of my favorites are killing it. I’m even excited for the Nordic kids who somehow skated clean for the first and last time in their lives. I’m suspicious that the last two groups are all going to implode because this level of achievement cannot hold.


JWC2017 Jun Hwan CHA SP by arealy_ru

Jun Hwan Cha is like Yuzuru Hanyu and Yuna Kim birthed a perfect child. And made him skate to my favorite musical. Everyone else can just go home now, because early as it is, I can’t imagine anyone beating this. His score is well over 80 points, and it’s all grades of execution and components because let’s face it, everyone else is busy being perfect tonight, too.

I try to explain Alexei Krasnozhon to Buffy and describe him as a “hunk of meat” because he is not the most refined. Three minutes later, I am asking, “Since when is Kras elegant? I’m confused.” This is all new and excellent. Because it continues to be that kind of night, Krasnozhon lands everything beautifully. His scores are lower than Cha’s – purely a matter of GOEs and components – but Krasnozhon is ecstatic in the kiss and cry. He always wins the kiss and cry, because he’s precious. I apologize for my earlier meat-related remarks.

This is the first time in history that men’s has not been the disaster event, I remark as Sihyeong Lee turns out yet another clean performance. Kamala is suddenly concerned. “Either the last groups need to implode beautifully to make up for it, or there’s going to be some serious trainwrecking in the other disciplines.” I tell her there are worse things than all of Russia imploding.

Buffy asks me how many more favorites I have. I tell her there are still two more warm-up groups, plus an ice resurface, and urge her to go to bed. I am suffering for my obsessions, but she doesn’t have to.

Wednesday, 2:45 AM CDT

Kamala goes to bed during the Zamboni break, too, but she has asked for my live updates so she can read them in the morning. Nobody should give me permission for that kind of thing. I begin with an attempt at compassion, not mentioning that Yaroslav Paniot had performed the billionth clean short program of the night, the kind of skate that normally would shoot a junior-level athlete into the lead but has left him only third behind Cha and Krasnozhon.


JWC2017 Vincent ZHOU SP by arealy_ru

Vincent! How are they all skating this well? When did he get this pretty? Did all the American boys get emergency lessons in pretty? Going over his scores now, I’m personally insulted by judge #6, who gave Zhou components scores in the 6.0-6.5 range and lowballed him on GOE as well. On the other hand, Zhou earned 12.73 points for his triple lutz-triple toe loop, because seriously, look at it. I do not know how this is not a first-place short program, but this is the world we are living in.

We are also living in the world where Nicolas Nadeau and Roman Sadovsky are both perfect, one right after the other, like an advertisement for the depth of talent in Canadian figure skating. Nadeau slots just behind Zhou, and Sadovsky a couple of tenths of a point behind Krasnozhon, all of them so close together that the judges’ message is basically, “Everyone is fantastic, let them sort it out in the free skate.” I, too, am perplexed and elated. Sadovsky looks up at his scores like he can’t figure out how he scored that high, or how he could be in 5th place with seven skaters still to go.

Graham [Forking] Newberry. Skates perfectly. I’m 90% sure I’m not dreaming this.

At this point, there have been ten consecutive clean short programs, which is the kind of statistical fluke that people in my line of work dismiss as a results-destroying outlier. It is now 3:15 AM CDT, and it has been an hour and a half since someone made a significant jump error. That was Petr Kotlarik, who nonetheless set a career-best score. Nobody has fallen for two hours. It’s like a Dungeons & Dragons game that runs all night because everyone keeps rolling 20’s.

Enter Andrew Torgashev, who pops his Axel, falls on his triple loop, and fails to qualify for the free skate. I want to give him a hug, but I’m also kind of relieved that someone has finally messed up.


JWC2017 Alexander PETROV SP by arealy_ru

I’m running on adrenaline, and so are the skaters in the last group, which includes all three Russians in a row, followed by three of the least technically consistent men in figure skating. The first of the Russians is Alexander Petrov, who has come back down from getting underscored in seniors all season. Three perfect jumping passes, three perfect spins, and we’re back to statistically improbable levels of everyone destroying.


JWC2017 Dmitri ALIEV SP by arealy_ru

Dmitri Aliev does one of the prettiest triple Axels I have seen in my lifetime. His other two jump landings look a little off to me, but the surrounding transitions are so hard that the judges are like, “We’ve been here for six hours, this is awesome, what do you want?” Nothing makes sense anymore, and I’m wondering how I’m still awake. Aliev ends up ahead of Cha, purely on components. I would be shouting at the screen about why that is a fatally wrong decision, but it’s the time of morning when one’s neighbors knock tersely on your door in response to that kind of behavior.


JWC2017 Alexander SAMARIN SP by arealy_ru

Alexander Samarin’s triple Axel is even more stunning than Aliev’s, which is true in general but especially true on a night when I’ve seen at least fifteen excellent triple Axels. He biffs his triple loop just enough to score behind Aliev. But this performance is the artistic achievement of the night, and I am not being ironic. It takes a special skater to make this ridiculous testosterone-fueled chest-bump of a short program into a marvel of balletic body lines and emotional range.

IceNetwork starts to glitch for the first time, which is remarkable considering that this live stream has been running uninterrupted for over six hours. This is probably my computer’s way of telling me to go to bed already. As a result, I see Daniel Samohin fall on his triple lutz and miss his combination, but I’m spared from the horror that is his triple Axel. I assume he’s failed to qualify, but he’s pulled a Jason Brown and scraped together 67 points purely on components and non-jump elements.


JWC2017 Kevin AYMOZ SP by -tomaayuvdzhy

The feed completely dies during Matteo Rizzo’s short program but sputters back to life for Kevin Aymoz, who finally shows what it looks like when he lands all his jumps. It’s a moment to treasure. He’s an exceptionally beautiful performer, even when his music is more suited for a video game trailer than for figure skating. In any case, this doubles as a demonstration of what spins are supposed to look like, and it’s the kind of night/morning/what is time anyway when a skate like Aymoz’s is only good enough for sixth place.

Intermission: Wednesday, 9:44 AM CDT

Kamala: *blinks awake* oh my GOD

Me: Yeah, sorry. Actually I wrote less to you last night than I thought.

Kamala: How was everyone THIS GOOD??

Me: Maybe they weren’t and I was tired. But the scores suggest everyone was that good. The minimum qualifying SP score was lower at Euros.

Kamala: Of course this all sets up for some potentially legendary bombing in the free. They’re probably not going to all roll 20’s twice in a row. Although I would not complain if they did.

Me: I like this sad D&D metaphor and am glad we are running with it.

Men’s Free Skate

Thursday, 5:45 AM CDT


Kazuki TOMONO (JPN) FP ― 2017 WJSC by shintorasports

I’m up, it’s Kazuki Tomono time, send help. Kazuki has some very special landings, but he goes for the quad and rotates his triple Axels, which is more than acceptable. He breaks 200 points, and my heart explodes with glee. He was only 14th in the short program so I’m looking forward to seeing how far he moves up the rankings.

Conrad Orzel pops an Axel early in the program, and I assume it’s all over, since he needs those triple Axels to contend. But just before the program’s halfway point, Orzel invokes the spirit of Shoma Uno and improvises an emergency triple Axel so enormous that he tacks a three-jump combo onto the back end. It’s already shaping up to be the kind of morning when a YOLO Axel can save your life, and it is way too early for me to deal with watching skaters lose their minds correctly.


Daniel SAMOHIN (ISR) FP ― 2017 WJSC by shintorasports

To test my emotional resilience, Daniel Samohin is next, my friends are asleep, and I am no longer a college student whose digestive system can handle a shot of whiskey at 6:00 in the morning. Right off the bat, he lands two quads and a triple Axel. Who is this non-disaster, and why can’t he show up all the time? He does eventually fall on his third quad attempt, and some of his other landings are dramatic saves. He rotates everything, though. Aside from the one jerkface judge who gives him a 5.00 for transitions, the panel is willing to hold him way up on components, too. And here I was, thinking Tomono’s score would hold up for awhile.

I accidentally doze off in the first minute of Daniel Albert Naurits’ program, wake up briefly as Matteo Rizzo is receiving his scores, and power nap through the Zamboni break. The cat, who has apparently learned the vocabulary of skating competition announcements, sticks her nose in my face just as Group 3 is being told they have one minute remaining in their warm-up.

Thursday, 7:00 AM CDT

Koshiro Shimada skates well but doesn’t have the difficulty to keep up with all the quads. May he return next year with a triple Axel and even more charisma. Paniot and Newberry fizzle in the free skate, which is too bad, but not entirely a surprise. Samohin remains in the lead, as he’s been for an hour. I’m having flashbacks to 2016.

I’m extremely excited about Nicolas Nadeau’s Elvis free skate, because it’s bananas. He pops his Axel, and then IceNetwork freezes, unable to cope. He goes on to pop two more jumps and mess up the landings on several of his triples. Nadeau’s free skate score is 30 points lower than what he earned for his silver-medal performance in 2016. I’m so transparently not okay about this, the cat is trying to figure out how she can help.

Canada is not done breaking my heart. Roman Sadovsky falls twice in the first 30 seconds of his free skate, and things do not improve from there. He lands one clean triple jump in the entire program. The skating gods are unhappy with Canada for some reason.


Alexei KRASNOZHON (USA) FP ― 2017 WJSC by shintorasports

In the moment, Alexei Krasnozhon looks terrific. He stands up on his quad loop and hits a couple of gorgeous triple Axels. “Immigrants, they get things done!” I exclaim. But on closer scrutiny, the quad loop is underrotated, and Krasnozhon is short a jump combination. Good for him for getting his spin levels up, and for his full commitment to being an ice cowboy. I’ll miss this program. I wish his scores were higher.

Thursday, 7:30 AM CDT


JWC2017 Vincent ZHOU FS by arealy_ru

Vincent Zhou is first to skate after the ice resurfacing. I explain to my friends, who are still asleep or at least not checking their messages yet, that I’m not okay but appear calm because it’s so early. Looking back on my text logs, I do not appear calm at all; half of my notes are in all caps. My messages to Buffy are as follows:

BOTH QUADS
LANDED
I
Feelings
It’s cute that people thought he couldn’t win

There are actually three quads – one more than I expected – and the first is a quad lutz so pristine that Nathan Chen needs to start looking over his shoulder. Zhou earns positive grades of execution on everything and exceeds 100 points in his technical element score for the first time in Junior Worlds history. He has the perfect Humphrey Bogart eyes for Casablanca. 

After the Kevin Aymoz meltdown that surprises nobody, it’s Russians who are not as amazing as Vincent: a play in three acts. Alexander Petrov skates with his usual understated competence and even lands a half-decent quad toe loop. Under other circumstances, I enjoy his skating, but his performance lacks Zhou’s plucky drama or Samohin’s balls-to-the wall explosiveness.


JWC2017 Alexander SAMARIN FS by arealy_ru

Alexander Samarin, on the other hand, has grown into a huge on-ice personality this year. With one quad less than Zhou, and a bunch of funky wobbles that look like his nerves getting the best of him, Samarin posts a great score but can’t catch up. He seems less tired of his programs than any other skater at the event, like he could do this choreography forever and make a change to the world.


JWC2017 Jun Hwan CHA FS by arealy_ru

I have somehow forgotten that Jun Hwan Cha hasn’t skated yet. Maybe I’m blocking it out for the sake of my own mental health. For the first two minutes, he looks like he has this in the bag, with a terrific quad salchow and graceful, noodly energy. But he can’t hang onto his second quad attempt, and he literally falls right off the podium. After that, he looks like he’s accepted defeat. I am trying to be upset, but I’m still riding the How is Vincent still winning? high.


JWC2017 Dmitri ALIEV FS by arealy_ru

I am certain that Aliev is going to take Vincent’s gold away. The only person more certain than me appears to be Aliev, who assumes his opening pose like the judges wouldn’t dare deny him his rightful World Junior title. But he’s just so-so. He attempts only one quad toe loop, and it’s a janky one. Even his knee slide triple flip looks tentative. The judges do their best to make him feel better with a giant components score, handing him silver ahead of Samarin, who probably deserved it more. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a skater this cranky about second place.

 epilogue

In the post-competition interview and press conference, Zhou is giddy and well-spoken, like the media training has kicked in but not enough to prevent him from being himself. “I can’t be a robot,” he says with a smile when asked about what he wants to work on in the future. The Russians, meanwhile, sound pissed off that this dorky American kid who didn’t even qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final has quad-lutzed off with the title. It’s like the end of The Karate Kid. I can only hope that senior Worlds will be this full of surprises, strong performances, and feel-good sports movie endings.

I feel I should be recapping ice dance as well, but that whole mess can be summarized as disaster, disaster, THE PARSONS FAMILY, disaster, and hey wait, Carreira/Ponomarenko got a medal? American and Russian ice dance will be real interesting next year.


Next on The Finer Sports: As many World Championships field guides as I have time for before the event starts.

 

 

2017 Junior Worlds Cheat Sheet: Ladies

I’ve run out of time to do a full analysis of the ladies like I did of the men’s and ice dance fields, but I have the list of athletes I was going to write about. With 45 entries on the ladies’ roster, I know we could all use a cheat sheet. Since almost half of those skaters won’t make it to the free skate, I’m not covering everyone – just the 20 I think are likely to perform well, or at least be fun to watch.

For each skater, I’ll provide a YouTube video, some basic info, highlights of their season so far, and a placement in one of my four categories. (I refuse to blame fourteen-year-old girls for Why I Drink, so that one’s off the table.) Front Runners are the strongest contenders for a medal, and Dark Horses are the athletes who could shake things up for the favorites. Skaters On the Rise aren’t shooting for the podium yet, but they’re looking to make a name for themselves. I’m leaving most of the Just Happy to Be Here crowd off this list, but I’ve included several who are enjoyable, unique, and memorable.

If you’re interested in the other disciplines (despite the fact that they’re mostly done skating), check out my Ice Dance Field Guide, Men’s Field Guide Part 1, and Men’s Field Guide Part 2.

Continue reading “2017 Junior Worlds Cheat Sheet: Ladies”