So I was expecting this to play out a little differently, but I'm actually quite pleased by the final standings:
Vanessa Lam (USA): 50.35 (SP) + 106.23 (FS) = 156.58 (1st)
Vanessa had some trouble in the SP (an edge call and a UR on her 3f-2lp). I can't say I was thrilled with her SP and it wasn't even because of the mistakes. I think it was because it looked like those improvements I raved about during JGP Brisbane seemed to fly out of the window. Her movements looked a bit rushed and unfinished here, whereas at Brisbane she looked much more relaxed and seemed to be feeling the movements. After her fourth place finish in the SP here, Vanessa knew what she needed to do...and she did it! Her FS was a massive improvement over her SP: lots of expressive movements, more finish to her choreography, and overall solid jumps. Her jumps are still pretty small, but no UR calls here. Vanessa's FS score brought her up from fourth place to edge out Zijun Li by 0.18 points for gold. The win gives her a JGP total of 26 points which, for now, has her in second place in the JGP standings.
Zijun Li (CHN): 55.97 (SP) + 100.81 (FS) = 156.40 (2nd)
Every time I see this girl I find something else to like. I love the feel of her SP; it's almost like Mao Asada's "Masquerade Waltz" only with a lot more choreography and life. Zijun had a strong performance and placed second in the segment. She started off strong in her FS with a 3f-2t and a 2a-3t, but it was a DG and fall on her 3s that cost her gold. Had it not been DG, she would have earned enough base value points to make up the 0.18 difference and capture gold. Luckily, Zijun was able to regroup and finish cleanly which says something for her composure. I loved both of her programs (very lyrical, gorgeous spins, wonderful use of her arms) and I'm hoping to see her in the final again. With her two silver medals, Zijun also has 26 points but loses the tie breaker against Vanessa Lam. Her position in the final will depend largely on what happens this week at JGP Lombardi.
Polina Agafonova (RUS): 55.97 (SP) + 92.68 (FS) = 148.65 (3rd)
Polina A. started off pretty well with her fiery SP placing first, but lost quite a bit of steam in the FS. By comparison, her FS just doesn't live up to what she did in her SP. There's not much going on other than jumps. The lack of choreography and interpretation is reflected in her scores--she got lowest PCS of the top 3, though not by too much. There's also a lack of smoothness to her skating that makes her look very juniorish, especially in her footwork. She's a strong jumper but that's not enough nowadays against this field of junior ladies. Polina A.'s fall on a 3lz, edge call and multiple -GOEs for her jumps equaled to a less than stellar score that took her out of the running for gold and a trip to the final (22 points total, behind Polina Korobeynikova). Good luck to her at the Russian nationals...because with Adelina, Elizaveta, Julia, Polina S., Polina K., Alena and Ksenia there, she's going to need it. Again, it is ridiculous how deep the ladies' field is in Russia!
And speaking of how deep the ladies' field is in Russia, that provides me with a nice segue into...
Japan Open 2011
Japan Open isn't an ISU event but it is a nice warm up for some top name skaters as we head into the season (which begins in a few weeks, yay!). This team competition (two men and two women for each team: Japan, Europe, North America) is a good measuring stick for where skaters are at this point in the season and, if the performances here are any indication, it's going to be a really good year in figure skating.
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: 118.59
Okay, can I just start by saying that score is massive...and that's with mistakes! Elizaveta's debut on the senior scene was just as I expected it to be: a grand entrance along the lines of, "Here I iz biatch!" Not one, but two 3-3s including one in the second half of the program. In terms of who I prefer, I always lean more towards Adelina Sotnikova (I just like her style more) but Elizaveta is something special. There's a flair about her that is entertaining to watch and she really looks like she's having fun out there. She has great spring to her jumps and good air position, not to mention impeccable technique on her jumps. Even with the popped flip, this was a brilliant way to debut a program. I'll put it out there right now: I won't be the least bit surprised to see Elizaveta on the podium at the GPF this season...
Joannie Rochette: 112.74
I have to say I was surprised to see her here. After Vancouver, I expected Joannie to hang up her skates for good but I'm thrilled to see her participating in this competition. She performed her "Firebird" program and though it wasn't a perfect performance, it was just nice to see her out there. She looked beautiful! Joannie has been away from competition for about a year and a half, but her conditioning is surprisingly good. Aside from a few wonky landings, she looked very fit and in competitive form. I don't know what her plans are as far as competing goes (she could easily come back and win the Canadian nationals again) but I'm grateful she came back to represent for team North America.
Akiko Suzuki: 112.46
So I have already professed my love for Akiko and this proves why. I love her music choice this season (Strauss' "Die Fledermaus") and she turned in a kickass performance here. Akiko's jumps looked very strong for so early in the season which is a good sign. With Miki out and Mao as a question mark, Akiko is definitely one of the front-runners for the Japanese ladies this year. My hope is that the judges realize this and start awarding her the scores she is due. As always, Akiko's performance was charming and entertaining with wonderful choreography and presentation. Her only visible mistake was a popped jump towards the end, but it didn't disrupt or slow down the flow of the program at all. Akiko scored 112.46 and ended up third behind Elizaveta and Joannie. I'm really happy to see her do so well and I hope to see her do well in the coming competitions.
Alissa Czisny: 107.64
Note to all US ladies: Alissa Czisny means business. My respect level for Alissa is at an all-time high. A few weeks ago there was a report that she'd be gunning for a 3lz-3t in her programs this season. Like so many others, I had that "I'll believe it when I see it" mentality. Well, I saw it! No, it wasn't ratified (the 3t received a DG) BUT what's important is that she went for it. That's all I ask for from the US ladies: try to match up with the best in the field. Alissa is trying and by the law of averages, she'll end up hitting one eventually. Alissa also went for a salchow, something she hasn't landed in God knows how long. She doubled it but, again, she gets an A for effort in my book. The performance wasn't great (the DG on the combo, a fall and the popped salchow) but the program has potential and it was definitely a performance to build on. I'm very proud of her and I applaud her effort. Hopefully some of Alissa's tenacity will rub off on some of the other US ladies...*cough Mirai, Ashley, Rachael cough*
Miki Ando: 88.11
The look on Miki's face before she took her starting position screamed "I don't effin' wanna be here!" You could tell before she started that it wasn't going to be a good one. Two falls, several popped jumps, several doubled jumps...this kind of performance is what you call a disaster. I don't know if the JSF twisted her arm to get her there or what, but it was obvious from the performance she turned in that she is not in competitive form at all. Physically she looked fine, but so much of skating is mental. That means if you're not in competitive form mentally, you haven't got a shot in hell of turning in a decent performance. I don't think Miki was mentally present at this competition and it showed. In the K&C she says "Gomennasai" which is Japanese for sorry...I felt pretty sorry for her too. I seriously doubt that performance was the kind performance she wanted to go out on.
Alena Leonova had a decent albeit uninspiring performance (108.39) that I don't feel like posting or talking about. I will say her "fire head" hair is gone, so that's a plus. Another HUGE plus is the shift in skating fashion I'm seeing. Did anyone else notice that none of the ladies at this event wore OTB (over-the-boot) tights? Alissa, Miki, Joannie and Alena don't usually wear them, but Akiko and Elizaveta usually do. I was so happy to see everyone sporting white (or tan) boots with no ugly covers! So refreshing to see the classic look! I'm really hoping this trend will catch on and everyone else will follow suit.
Team North America (518.64) edge out Team Europe by less than a point (517.94), with Team Japan coming in third (479.57).
Thanks to Miruna1990 for the videos (you can see them all here and Miki's video here; thanks to tosca4tosca for that one).