Monday, November 11, 2013

2013 NHK Trophy: Ladies Review

And just like that we're already in the second half of the Grand Prix season.  NHK Trophy is always a big deal because Japan is where figure skating is the most popular.  It's the most exciting place to skate and, thankfully, NHK didn't disappoint this least not too much.

Mao and Elena are on a roll! 

 The final results:
Mao Asada (JPN): 71.26 (SP) + 136.33 (FS) =  207.59 (1st)
I am so impressed with Mao this season!  She delivered yet again with two very strong programs that were deserving of the win.  I feel like she's trending upward at a steady pace and, at this rate, she'll be ready to peak just in time for Sochi.

Mao's SP wasn't as great as it was at Skate America but it was still pretty good.  She went for the 3A, over-rotated and spun out of it, but got the rotation which means she retained all of the base value (8.50 points).  Of course she lost points from -GOE but in the end she still earned 6.64 points; the highest anyone got for a 2A was 4.27 points (Akiko and Gracie).  It's a smart strategy.  As long as she gets the rotation and stands up on it, it pays off.  The rest of the program was fine except an < on the 2L in her combination.  Everything else was level 4 and gorgeous...I really love this program.  Mao floated elegantly into the FS with a 5.23 point lead.

Gorgeous lines...simply gorgeous.

Unlike last year (where I thought Akiko was totally robbed of gold) Mao won this one fair and square.  She opened with the 3A and stood up on it though it was slightly two-footed.  In real time it looked like she got the rotation to me, but it was called < so she lost some points.  But she still earned 4.57 points so it was worth the risk. Mao followed that up with 5 triple jumps, including a 2A-3T and 3F-2L-2L, and, again, no < on any other triples.  Her mistakes were small (e on the lutz as usual, a doubled salchow and one level 3 spin) but overall this performance was a resounding success.  Mao earned a new season's best total, her fourth NHK title, and a spot in the Grand Prix Final.

Mao is rolling this season.  I feel like she's revving up and getting ready to push the pedal to the floor after nationals.  As well as she's scoring with these programs, her scoring potential is even higher.  I like that she's taking her time and working her way up to including everything.  Who knows?  Maybe that impossible perfect program could happen...

Elena Radionova (RUS): 62.83 (SP) + 128.98 (FS) = 191.81 (2nd)
So, it's official: Elena Radionova is my favorite Russian lady.  I've known it for a while but I've been holding out hope that some people (*cough* Adelina *cough*) would finally get themselves together but I can hold out no longer.  Elena is here, she's skating her little pa-tootie off, and I think she's wonderful.

Elena proved that she's a fighter and that even though she's competing against some of the top names in the sport, she is not one to be intimidated.  She opened her SP with what was supposed to be a 3Lz-3T but landed too far forward, had to put her hand down and did not add a second jump.  Elena lacks the maturity and presence of the older girls which means she knows she has to rely on her TES to boost her in the standings.  So Elena--little gutsy competitor she is--threw a curve ball and surprised everyone by turning her solo 3L into a 3L-3T!  I did not see that one coming.  Most people will add a 2T to the solo jump if they miss the combo; not everyone has the focus/ability to adjust mid-program and turn a solo jump into a 3-3.  It was a bold and brilliant move that saved her score and placed her 3rd heading into the FS.

My favorite Russian diva!

Elena is a skater who has that rare combination of talent, ability, focus and "it" factor, and she put all of that on display in her perfect FS.  Elena delivered 7 triple jumps including two 3-3s (3Lz-3T and 3L-1L-3S) as well as all level 4 elements.  Her only error was an e on her 3F, but I don't even think we can call that a mistake.  I'm not a fan of this program but when she performs it the way she did here, it's impossible for me to not enjoy what she's doing.  There's this energy and sparkle that radiates from this girl when she skates; it's clear as day that she loves what she's doing and that really comes across every time she takes the ice.  Elena shimmied her way to the highest TES and third highest PCS of the night which gave her a huge 128+ score. She placed second overall, took home her first silver medal on the GP, and may have earned herself a spot in the Final in her first year as a senior.

Elena is a special skater.  She has it all: jumps, difficulty, spins, skills, personality and performance, plus mental toughness and focus to boot. All of that could change in the next few years but for now, without a doubt, she's my favorite Russian lady.

Akiko Suzuki (JPN): 66.03 (SP) + 113.29 (FS) = 179.32 (3rd)
This wasn't the best competition for Akiko.  She ran into trouble in both programs but, luckily, she was able to keep her GP podium streak alive by hanging on for a medal here.

Akiko's SP had issues.  Her intended 3T-3T ended up being a 3T-2T and her 3F wasn't great either.  Luckily the rest of the elements in the program were excellent, including a beautiful 2A timed perfectly with the music and all level 4 spins and footwork.  The program has such a larger than life feel and is so beautiful that by the time it was over, I'd completely forgotten about her jump issues.  She sold the program very well despite the early mistakes which earned her a solid score (including 33+ in PCS!) and landed her in 2nd place going into the FS.

That SP is just glorious!
Akiko couldn't seem to get her feet under her in this performance.  Perhaps it was the knowledge that she'd need a very good skate to get ahead of Elena or maybe she was just a little under the weather.  Whatever it was, this wasn't her best effort.  She opened well with a 3F-2T-1L though that singled loop was supposed to be a double.  Akiko followed that up with a very nice 2A-3T...then everything started going downhill.  She popped her lutz, landed her 3F at a near stand-still, fell on her second lutz attempt and doubled her 3L.  Akiko managed to hit her final 3S but the damage had already been done.  She finished fourth in the FS but thanks to her good SP she was able to edge out Gracie Gold for the bronze medal.

It seems like Akiko is taking a while to get going here but hopefully she'll be able to hit her stride in these next few weeks leading up to Japanese nationals.  We'll have to wait to see if she makes the Final but as of now, she's tied with Elena Radionova for GP points (24) but Elena holds the scoring tiebreaker.  Akiko may miss the Final for the first time in five years which means she'll have to go balls-to-the-wall at nationals.

As for the rest....

Get to work, Gracie!

Gracie Gold (USA; 177.81, 4th) still isn't wowing anyone.  She wasn't terrible here but she wasn't great either.  She had to bail out of her 3Lz-3T in the SP and had a wonky landing on her 3L as well (totally looked < to me but no call).  Gracie tied with Elena in the SP but ended up 4th because of her lower TES.  She had a real shot at silver or bronze with a solid FS but couldn't manage. Gracie fell on her opening 3Lz (no 3-3 combo) and opted out of her 2A-3T.  She completed only 3 clean triples in a lackluster performance that somehow still scored 60 in PCS.  Gracie's calling card is supposed to be her big difficult jumps but without the difficulty, she basically turns into Kiira Korpi: a pretty blond with nice spins and skating skills, but not enough else to beat the best. With no Grand Prix Final to prepare for Gracie has the next two months to focus on nationals.  She still has a lot of work to do... 

Welcome to the senior ranks, newbie!

Satoko Miyahara (JPN; 170.21, 5th) had a nice senior debut. I think both of her programs are lovely and even though she's so tiny, she does a really nice job presenting them.  The jumps were a slight issue for her though.  Satoko has a pre-rotation problem on her jumps.  With the slo-mo replay you can see her toe pick spins nearly 360 degrees before it leaves the ice.  Her 3Lz-3T got hit with < as well as three triples in her FS.  Satoko really needs to correct this problem ASAP if she wants to make it on the senior level.  Once you get the reputation as an under-rotator/pre-rotator, it's very difficult to get rid of it.

Transfer that magic to the FS...
Valentina Marchei (ITA; 168.95, 6th) delivered one of the best SPs of the entire competition.  She was amazing.  Her program is so beautiful!  That was the best she has ever skated.  Her excitement at the end was wonderful.  You could tell how thrilled she was and the judges loved her.  She scored a new personal best: 61.90.  Unfortunately she wasn't able to replicate that magic in the FS.  Valentina finished 6th in the FS and 6th overall. 

I have no nice ones anyway.
Alena Leonova (RUS; 161.94, 7th) is still trying to get her mojo back.  She figured returning to the program that won her the SP at Worlds in 2012 (a dark day indeed) was one way to do it.  I'm sorry, but I absolutely hate this program. All of the jumps are crammed in the first minute and the rest of the program is nothing but hip shaking, winking, pointing, and ridiculously exaggerated facial's not skating.  I appreciate the energy she brings to it but that's just not my cup of tea.  The program wasn't good and her FS, while a much better effort than we've seen recently, wasn't enough. I'm still thinking her odds at making it to Sochi are very long...

Go back to the other dress! This one looks like Ashley's!
Mirai Nagasu (USA; 141.71, 8th) isn't looking so good.  She's having trouble with her 3F; she missed all three attempts in this competition, coming apart in the air on two and falling on the third. In addition to that her 3L, one of her money jumps, is receiving < consistently.  Thanks to some technical difficulties, Mirai had to wait nearly 20 minutes before she could begin her FS, during which she warmed up a number of good jumps and even danced to some music she provided. About 15 minutes into the wait, the announcer extended an invitation to Mirai to skate in the exhibition show which was met with a thunderous applause.  The Japanese audience really loves her and I'd hoped that the lighter, looser atmosphere may have relaxed Mirai and taken some of the pressure off.  Unfortunately, she had a very rough skate but still received a loud standing ovation from the crowd.
I don't know what's going to happen from here.  Mirai's overall score was very low (even lower than Agnes' score from COC) and her jump issues in addition to her rotation issues are troubling.  She has a chance to turn it around at Cup of Russia but...I just don't know.   I don't know what's going to happen to her.

Lose the ugly gloves
 Elene Gedevanishvili (GEO; 129.24, 9th) is still struggling.  She's placed 9th in consecutive events (here and SA) and she doesn't appear to be getting any better.  Her one consolation prize is that she's definitely going to Sochi but I'm sure she'd like to turn in two respectable skates there.  Elene has a lot of work to do between now and the Olympic Games.

By the way, I'm totally digging the on-screen TES comparison.  I think it's a good way to help the audience understand what's going on.  What I think would be great is if they break it down even further by displaying the GOE scores as well.  Maybe a one-line scroll at the very bottom of the screen that shows the element and displays the GOE score for each judge as they're entered as well as the GOE total.  It'd be a very helpful way to break down the scoring element by element.

I'm glad the ISU is trying...finally. The TES comparison is a great starting place.  Hopefully they will expand on it in these next few competitions.

Only two events left!  This week is Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris and we'll get to see Ashley Wagner, Christina Gao and Samantha Cesario of the USA; Adelina Sotnikova and Anna Pogorilaya of Russia; as well as Mae Berenice Meite of France, Viktoria Helgesson of Sweden, Amelie Lacoste of Canada and Natalia Popova of Ukraine


  1. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who has fallen for Elena. She's such a little firecracker. Hope she weathers her growth spurts well.

  2. It s very nice and informative blog about Russian Ladies. Thanks for sharing this blog.