Summer Skating: Men’s Roundup

Image via Johnny Weir’s Instagram.

The summer skating deluge continues, and like everyone else, I’m not remotely caught up. Canada held a series of summer regional meets, with most of the country’s top athletes showing up at one or more. There was a significant club competition in the United States every weekend from mid-July through mid-August. The season’s first senior B internationals, the Asian Open and Philadelphia Summer International, attracted athletes from a wider range of countries than ever before. South Korea held a qualifying event, showcasing its growing depth of talent and creating a pecking order of top contenders. Russia and China have both held test skates, too, although video wasn’t permitted at those events, perhaps in a quest to save fans’ sanity.

Meanwhile, some of us have jobs and families, not to mention new episodes of Game of Thrones to watch.

Continue reading “Summer Skating: Men’s Roundup”

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 Field Guide: Men Part 1

If you’re not following junior-level figure skating, the World Junior Figure Skating Championships is your excuse to start. For one thing, a lot of the athletes currently competing at the second-highest level will move up just in time to contend for the Olympics, so it’s worth getting to know them now. For another, the level of technical ability among the most accomplished juniors would be impressive in senior-level competition. Plus, it’s still almost a month until Worlds. You could curl up with your favorite skating reruns on YouTube or binge watch NCAA gymnastics –  not that this is how I plan to spend most of March – but it’s so much more fun to get way too emotionally invested in hyper-talented 15-year-olds.

Even most devoted skating fans are less familiar with juniors than seniors, so I’ve received a few specific requests for a field guide. I’m only too happy to oblige. The problem is, there are more than 40 competitors entered in both men’s and ladies’ singles at Junior Worlds, and the majority of them are Just Happy to Be Here. Since only the top 24 qualify to perform a free skate, almost half of the singles competitors will see their Junior Worlds experience end in under three minutes. Even ice dance is crowded, with 31 teams currently listed. For the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’m not covering every skater in the field. That still leaves me with so many men to write about that I’m splitting them into two posts. I’ve chosen them based on the scores they’ve achieved, as well as on the overall impressions they’ve left on me when I’ve watched them earlier in the season. I am almost definitely leaving out someone who will give a breakout performance in Taipei City, and the odds dictate that I’ll feature at least one athlete in each discipline who fails to qualify for the free skate.

I’m structuring these field guides in pretty much the same way as the ones I wrote a couple of months ago for U.S. Nationals. For each athlete, I’ll provide the best recent video I can find, a summary of their season so far, and a brief analysis of how I think they’ll do at Junior Worlds. Instead of making predictions, I’ll rate each athlete on a five-point scale that reflects where I think they stand. The Front Runners are the few skaters with the strongest chance of winning a medal, and the Dark Horses are the ones good enough to pull an upset. Skaters On the Rise are unlikely to threaten the podium but could break into the top 10 and, in some cases, put their countries on the figure skating map. While the most Just Happy to Be Here won’t make the cut for this guide, I’m covering a few skaters who will be memorable even though they won’t place particularly high. Finally, despite my reservations about blaming teenagers for my bad habits, some athletes are so unpredictable that I can only describe them as Why I Drink. Many of the skaters in that last category are among the most talented and entertaining in the field, so it’s not a ranking so much as an acknowledgement that some skaters are impossible to rank.

With no further ado, here are 11 men to watch at this year’s Junior Worlds, in alphabetical order.

Continue reading “2017 Junior Worlds Field Guide: Men Part 1”