That Ladies competition, the last of day 1 of the NHK Trophy (the Pairs Short taking place on day 2) had a lot to live up to coming on the heels on one hell of a battle at the top in the Men’s Short program (and a world record).
But while the fight didn’t promise to be quite as epic as in the men’s category, the presence of arguably the two best Japanese skaters, Mao Asada and Akiko Suzuki, as well as a Mirai Nagasu seemingly back on course, Chinese wonderbaby Zijun Li, who had a very positive run at the Cup of China, Agnes Zawadzki on the heels of a probing competition at Cup of Russia, and two short program specialits, Ksenia Makarova and Elena Gedevanishvili, meant that we should still be in for a treat. Also, the results in this competition would determine the last of the tickets for the Grand Prix Final and while Mao Asada and Akiko Suzuki seemed pretty sure bets, Mirai Nagasu and Agnes Zawadzki could still hope to play havoc with the prognostics (and with Mishin’s nerves back in Russia
always a bonus)
Sofia Biryukova (18), RUS
Oh, Sofia, Sofia, Sofia…..
To be honest, I went back to read my Cup of China entry to see if I couldn’t just copy-paste what I wrote back then in that she’s a bit the Adam Rippon of this Ladies competition – nice skating, clearly talented – couldn’t do a clean program to save her life
Oh well, at least she isn’t skating to Nessun Dorma and she isn’t wearing a pink/ lilac billowing shirt, so that’s something
That being said, it would have been a bit unfair. After all, her performance here at NHK wasn’t the complete disaster of the Cup of China – it was only three quarters of a disaster. Back in Cup of China, she messed up big time with both the lutz and her triple loop- double toe-loop combination and underrotated everything. This time she botched the reception of her first triple toe-loop, denying her the chance to attempt the triple-triple combination, and had an issue on the reception of her triple loop. BUT she didn’t underrotate anything
See? That’s progress. Of some sort
And her program isn’t bad, although there isn’t a lot going on choreogrphically in there. But she presented it pretty well and despite the mistakes, she continued to excute her movement with a certain assurance that made the whole thing pleasing if a little forgetable. Of course, that wasn’t going to be enough to get her a save by components, but that I was rather surprised that she would get less than 6 in interpretation, the lowest of all the ladies – and even lessx than Caroline Zhang at Cup of Russia, for crying out loud
Her lack of any sort of reaction after such disappointing performances is really starting to get a little scary….
Marks: 25.16 + 24.15 = 49.31
Zijun Li (15), CHN
Also known as Wonderbaby no 3 she got pretty much everyone watching this season’s Cup of China noticing her, which wasn’t a small feat considering she was skating with the Wonder-super-baby Lipnitskaia. The question was whether she could confirm her excellent performance at home
Why did I even doubt her?
Once again, it’s a super clean program all around – triple-triple combination, triple flip (on the right edge) and double axel were all spotless, and she had great dexterity in the spins, even if she can’t quite rival with her Russian counterpart (then again, who can?). The only thing that drags her down somewhat is that her steps sequence was only level 2, but at least it was well skated and in music, so I guess we can forgive her that
But the thing that really stood out is her personality on the ice. Initially I wasn’t too sure about having what looked like a fragile little girl skate to the very fiery Dark Eyes but actually she proved in wasn’t a bad move. Her program may not be completely in spirit with the song (which is a romance after all), and she has to straighten her body lines which leave a bit to be desired in place. b
But she more than makes it up for it with enthusiasm
I mean, look at that smile <3
There’s just a genuine happiness to be on the ice about Zijun Li that she not only feels but manages to share with the public that I found highly refreshing. It’s not just a job for her, it’s something she enjoys every moment of. If she can keep that enthusiasm about the sport, whatever the puberty monster will bring about, it will be battle half won
If Team Japan’s antics weren’t enough to make me barff rainbows, this would <3
Marks: 32.92 + 26.70 = 59.62
Haruka Imai (19), JPN
One of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful costume in this ladies’ field.
And she is a lovely and elegant skater
Well, I really wished I had other positivies to add, but that’s about it really :s
At first I thought it must have been the pressure of skating in her home grand prix but then again it’s the second time in two international outings she messes up pretty badly the short program.
On the sheet, it all looked pretty promising though with a triple toe-loop combination. But then she started skating, opening with the double axel, when this happened,
and she never quite got over that in all the program. Technically she also messed up the reception of her first triple toe-loop, which forced her to go for the combination on her triple loop instead. There is a real quality to her skating and her spins were good but nothing stellar enough to really make up any ground lost on the jumps
That initial fall also seemed to affect her skating and overall presentation, although she wasn’t helped much by the choreography either. It’s ok to keep it minimalistic on a music like that of Charade, but there’s minimalistic and then there’s absent, and we’re that close from the latter although there’s just enough about it to keep us from total boredom – how that program would fare if it lasted four minutes though is another question entirely….
For some reason Jason Dungjen found the whole thing highly funny
or he’s laughing in desesperation because AGAIN?
….while Haruka seems torn between laugher and crying
Well, it was a tough call between her and Sofia Biryukova for biggest failure but the judges decided to go with Haruka Imai in the end
apparently the home advantage only works if you’re called Mao Asada
Marks: 24.86 + 24.24 – 1.00 = 48.10 – currently 3rd
Agnes Zawadzki (18), USA
Another skater who made a big impression in her first GP outing of the season so with any luck, she’d do a Zijun Li and end that group on a happy note
Except she didn’t. Not because she badly messed up technically or because she skated with no energy, but because of a really strange, highly questionable tactical choice that condemned her
Seriously, all it took was a slight hesitation and stepout
at the landing of her triple toe-loop, meaning she couldn’t tag the second triple toe-loop. In that situation, any other skater would tag a double or triple to what would otherwise be the single jump which usually comes pretty close after that….
….except Agnes Zawadzki had already jumped her single jump, a clean triple lutz, which came as first element into her program
Why would any team in their right mind choose to do that, knowing full well it would give no escape route whatsoever in case the first jump of the combo is not done properly? I can understand it in the men’s field because if you’re, oh, Hanyu, a triple lutz- triple toe-loop is not a difficulty anymore, and putting in the quad is kind of a required element when you aim for the win. But in the ladies’s field? And it’s not as if this move was bringing any additional points – it’s just a deliberate risk with no reward at the end of the day
*banging head some more*
The rest of the program was well executed and almost a copy of her performance at Cup of Russia, except you could tell that she was bothered by her mistake and didn’t quite put the same intensity in the rest of her performance, but that was really minor and it was all still very watchable. And on the plus side, all her last three elements (flying camel spin, steps sequences and combination spin) got much higher levels than at Cup of Russia – her last spin going from level one all the way to level four. So it wasn’t all bad, but unfortunately for her, not enough to make up for the major mistake on the combination
Nice to see she can still smile despite what must have been a disappointment for her which could close the door on any hope she had left of qualifying for the Grand Prix Final (although it would have taken some doing anyway)
Marks: 27.73 + 27.29 = 55.02
THIS CONCLUDES THE FIRST GROUP
SECOND GROUP STARTS
Ksenia Makarova (19), RUS
I’ve never made a secret that I don’t think ladies’ skating is nearly as interesting or entertaining as men’s skating is of late, although that’s not to say that the competition is not as interesting or even more so on occasion (Cup of China and Cup of Russia, I am looking at you). What mostly baffles me is the lack of choreographical content and research – it’s like the skating world had decided that ladies’ skating should pursue (a generic notion of) beauty and elegance….and little else beyond
And then of course you have programs that come along and that force you to swallow your words and make you happy you have to do so
In this particular instance, the music – Maria and the Violin’s String – is a wonderful choice but not necessarily the easiest to skate to because it’s all about nuances, the blending of melancholy and hope and just something incredibly fragile about it, like the flame of a candle that you are trying to protect with your hands from being extinguished against a strong wind. This is a melody that cannot tolerate any form of over-dramatization or generic choreography and it would have been so easy to fall into either pitfall
And that’s where the miracle occurs. Everything about Ksenia Makarova’s skating was perfect in all those respects. It doesn’t try to be pretty, it tries to be as true to the music as possible. It’s modern, it’s nuanced and it’s light. Every detail, down to the timing of each of her position and speed changes in the spins fit exactly the music and its mood and what’s even more remarkable is that everything feels organic, as if all her emotions, all her movements were exclusively dictated by the music and were not the result of countless hours of training and there’s just an emotion summoned by her performance that is difficult to put into words and which is all the more beautiful for it
The only drawback in the whole contruction of her program is that long, overdrawn preparation of that triple loop which ended up underrotated anyway – the only mistake which thankfully didn’t detract visually from the harmony of the choreography
But who really cares about technicalities when presented with a performance like that?
It is us who thank you, Ksenia (and team), for offering us a moment of grace on that Friday evening
Marks: 29.85 + 29.08 = 58.93 – currently 2nd
Mirai Nagasu (19), USA
And now for a complete change of style – not that it is a bad thing per se!
Mirai Nagasu had already given us the chance to admire her resurgence at Cup of China and the good news is that she confirmed here at NHK the overall positive impression that short program to Benny Goodman’s Downhill Special had left back then
Sure, she had to fight to keep the landing clean on her second triple toe-loop in combination but that’s the only technical blemish on the program. Sure, she didn’t take major risks with the content, but with the number of girls either failing on the triple-triple combination or simply not having it in their program, it’s enough to put her in a favorable position (read within shot of a medal, or at least a top five) in almost any configuration of competition at the moment
And then there’s the program itself. It’s pleasant and it’s dynamic – and if anything, I thought that she had even more attack, more confidence skating it than she did at Cup of China, which is a good sign for her in view of the upcoming American Nationals. It’s also a well-thought out program where she seems to be really confortable even this early into the season, which should help her keep that confidence that she had seemingly lost of the last couple of seasons
PS: Note for all figure skating commentators out there – if I hear one more thing about Mirai Nagasu being too heavy compared to all the prepuberal 14-15 years old in planet skating, especially followed by the kind of stupid, half-embarassed laugh usually reserved for teenage boys (you know, THAT kind of laugh) and a word about how “maybe they shouldn’t be going on about her weight because that’s not very nice after all and crazy feminist harpies out there won’t be happy” I am going to DO SOMETHING REALLY TERRIBLE >_<
I love drama in the K&C like every figure skating fan, but I enjoy seeing that kind of reaction even more
as long as we still get also drama, tantrums, flamboyant throwing of cuddly toys, etc
Marks: 32.36 + 28.82 = 61.18
Elene Gedevanishvili (22), GEO
The other short specialist with Ksenia Makarova (read: usually great placement after the short, only to chock more or less badly in the free)
I wonder if that means that, since she mucked up in this particular short, it can work in reverse too?
Because unfortunately for Elene, she messed up in the initial triple lutz with a double-footed landing and a hand down, which allowed her to only follow it up with a double toe-loop (btw, wouldn’t it have been more judicious to forgo the combination on the lutz and try it with the salcow?). And in a way it’s a bit of a shame that she was not going to be rewarded for being the only skater in that competition who took the risk to go for the triple lutz- triple toe-loop
It’s all the more of a shame that the rest of her program was well executed, although she did get some negative grades of executions on her spins, one of which ended up only level 2 (she also had a wobble on the exit of her very last spin position in the program). So hardly a complete catastrophy, but the problem in this particular competition is that she was going against several athletes who had clean (or almost) programs and with still the two strongest contenders to come, so she was always going to pay for that mistake pretty badly in terms of ranking
Also, this program on the Schindler’s List OST is nicely composed and I was glad to see that dutifuly reflected in her marks (she however didn’t deserved higher PCs than Makarova, but I think it’s more a reflection on Makarova’s PCs being kept a bit low). She avoided the easy pitfall of going all out for the pathos and instead went for a more subtle mix melancholy and lightness actually well reflected in her costume choice. In particular, I thought the moments of transition between elements were well choreographed overall
Oh Elene, you’re a bit of a headcase sometimes, but there’s no doubt we still love you
Marks: 28.39 + 29.11 = 57.50 – currently 4th
Mao Asada (22), JPN
So that my hopes she would burn that costume gone out in smokes then ;__;
So there we were, with the skaters that all eyes were on really as there are few athletes more loved than Mao Asada in Japan
And to everyone’s relief, she didn’t disappoint
Her program was technically flawlessly. Not only did she hit all her elements, but she also got – well-deserved – high grades of execution across the board (she got a grand total of one negative GOE, for her layback spin – and yes, there was a slight amount of travelling but all other aspects were surely good enough not to warrant a negative GOE….)
There is, however, a question mark about the difficulty of the proposed elements because triple flip – double loop isn’t exactly what you’d expect from a skater who wants to challenge for the Worlds’ gold (btw, that comment applies also to Ashley Wagner). This tactical choice already has some commenting that this is only the beginning of a long slide towards total inability to jump any kind of triple jump
and the world should have ended right before the year 2000, yes, we know. More seriously it could well be a result of the work she’s apparently doing to alter, among other things, the speed going into her jumps. At any rate, there’s hoping that she can reintroduce a triple-triple combination for the Worlds, if only to reaffirm her statue as a great technician on top of that of a very good interpreter in view of her middle-term objective of the Olympic Games, because not doing so could start to erode the goodwill judges clearly have towards her
Not that her marks were undue here. I already discussed the technical aspects, and artistically, well, she has a solid program. In many ways, it is very similar in intent to that of Mirai Nagasu – it’s light, it’s entertaining, it refreshing and you have a good moment watching it while she clearly has a ball performing it. I also really think that this program needs to be seen in light of the events of her last months and her near-retirement from the sport to understand the choreographer’s intent by giving her a program that echoes in some ways (the playfulness, the arm movements, the same
attrocious orange color for her costume) her first SP performing at senior level
So while I think this program should be ranked behind Makarova’s in terms of choreography (and arguably interpretation) – not I am delusional enough to think that it would ever happen – that’s still a good program which moreover feels like the right program for her at this juncture in time
PS: Note for all figure skating commentators out there number 2: please stop referring to her skating as being junior-ish – do us all a favor and go watch some actual junior competitions. Hopefully you’ll start to get the difference between “youthful energy” and “junior-level skating and expression”
That being said, even with the positives, it looks like even she didn’t expect those marks. Well, we’re in Japan, they love her, maybe nobody should be too surprised…..
Akiko Suzuki (27), JPN
Even though Mao Asada continues to have top billing, it’s Akiko Suzuki who comes into this competition as a world medalist.
And she looked like she was quite determined to remind everyone of that little fact from the start as she began apparently full of confidence and hit the triple toe-loop combo with great assurance and since, when she’s on, Akiko Suzuki is a pretty reliable skater, it looked like there would be no stopping her on the night
Which is why the reason for what happened next cannot be reasonably deduced but can only be extrapolated. Did she suddenly have a flash where she saw hereself departing while leaving the door to her hotel room open? Did she realized she forgot to pay her gas bill?
WAS SHE STRUCK BY DIVINE INSPIRATION AND PIERCED THE MYSTERY OF VOLOSOZHAR/ TRANKOV’S MARKS AT CUP OF RUSSIA?????
Surely, only a revelation of such mind-blowing proportions could have caused her to go and….
pop her triple lutz for no apparent good reason
Of course, the rest of the program was great, which was greeted by a flourish of largerly positive grades of execution, and reasonably good PCs. I’ve already had the chance to touch upon the fact that the music cuts in this program are dreadful and absolutely doing my head in, mostly because there’s just way too many of them. That musical issue excepted, it’s one of my favorite programs for her because it has her skate like a woman (and a pretty fiery one at that) which therefore immediately sets her apart from the majority of the field. They probably could have gone one level or two further in the choreographic construction but there’s no denying that she did a great job with what she was given and sells it well
Unfortunately for her, she found herself in a similar situation to that of Elene Gedevanishvili in that against the overall strong performance level on the night, she was going to have to fight it out to even skate in the second group for the free program. And she had only herself to blame for that really
Nagakubo-sensei, doing what we’ve all dreamt to do to many a skater at times <3 <3 <3 <3
(gif by sarunaskyler)
Still, it was great to see her to be able to laughat the whole situation in the K&C- even though she must have known what was coming next….
Marks: 28.26 + 30.34 = 58.60 – taking 5th place
THIS CONCLUDES THE LADIES’ SHORT PROGRAM