As we approach the announcement of the 2106-17 Grand Prix announcements, I’ll make a few comments about the year in mens, pairs and dance to review and set us up for next season.
Steady Javi Wins the Race (Again): When all was said and done in Boston, Javier Fernandez claimed his second World title after two consistent skates that overtook his training partner and World #1, Yuzuru Hanyu. Javier may not have the edge over Hanyu when Hanyu is skating at is best (or would he?), but he can get the job done when it counts the most. Javier made technical upgrades as the season progressed and I expect him to include those next year. His short program was so well received that he is keeping it a second year, giving him a comfortable start to 2016-17, with one program well rehearsed. Can he make it three in a row?
Yuzuru’s Records: In what may be the greatest display of world-class men’s skating, Yuzuru Hanyu threw down four consecutive programs that shattered the record books at the 2015 NHK Trophy and Grand Prix Final. Armed with what I thought were two of the strongest programs in the entire men’s field this year, Yuzu showed why he is the complete package and the best of both worlds. Knowing that he is capable of this kind of brilliance, it was hard to watch him struggle at Worlds for the second year in a row. He has all the tools (and all the records) to get himself a World title before PyeongChang and that would be the best way to set himself up to defend his Olympic title.
Uno Turns Disappointment to Progress: With solid finishes during his first year on the Grand Prix circuit, Shoma Uno was disappointed with his performance at Worlds. To his credit, he turned that quickly into headlines when he landed his quad flip at the Team Challenge Cup and made the international men’s competition all the more interesting. This kid is dynamic and fun to watch, and obviously has the technical goods to boot. He can really be in the mix again next year.
Comeback Chan: Patrick's return season was a bumpy one. Amidst the struggles, though, were bright spots- he still has the skating skills and quality lines that made him so successful in the past. He announced he's making a move to a different training facility with the same coach, so perhaps a change of scenery will bring the progress he needs. The road to an Olympic comeback is a long one, and though it may not have gone the way he hoped, it's the path he's gotta go on.
Russia Looks to Youth: With most of their seasoned competitors struggling big time this year, two young Russians stole the spotlight internationally. Adian Pitkeev had great moments in the Grand Prix and Mikhail Kolyada had a great fourth place finish at Worlds. It may be time for a “changing of the guard” for the Russian men as the future looks brightest for their younger generation.
Quads vs Quality Debate Rages in the U.S. : A reflection of the bigger issues facing figure skating as a whole, the men’s event at the U.S. Nationals caused controversy as the federation tries to create a legacy of skaters with both performance quality and the quads necessary to compete on the World’s stage. While we have great jumpers and great artists, the U.S. doesn’t have someone who can compete with the likes of Hanyu and Fernandez. With Jason Brown back in the mix next year after an injury, reigning National Champ Adam Rippon will need another consistent season to stay on top of the men’s field, while jumper Max Aaron needs to continue to push his artistic quality to be in contention for that U.S. title. Nathan Chen is recovering from an injury and we will have to wait and see what shape he will be in in the coming months.
I will be back after the announcement of the Grand Prix assignments to take a look at how the men will stack up next fall!
As we approach the announcement of the 2106-17 Grand Prix assignments, I’ll make a few comments about the year in mens, pairs and dance to review and set us up for next season.
Upping the Game: More than in any other discipline, the pairs field pushed technical boundaries this season. A greater number of teams were trying quad throws/twists and we’ve seen teams like Duhamel/Radford and Stolbova/Klimov upping the ante on the side-by-side jumps as well. Pairs, in general, is exciting to watch because of their high flying elements, but with the addition of quads, it becomes even more entertaining. The question for many teams will soon become- “Can we be competitive without a quad?”
Russia Falters at Worlds: Always a fixture in the pairs, the Russian pairs left Boston medal-less. Though Stolbova/Klimov and Volosozhar/Trankov both won events throughout the season, they struggled at Worlds. Neither of these teams have expressed plans to add a quad, so consistency and performance quality are key for them. Volosozhar/Trankov have already announced that they plan to skip the GP series this coming fall, so I’m wondering if not competing will improve that consistency or hinder it. Not to be forgotten, there *is* a Russian team with quads, Kavaguti/Smirnov, who will be hoping to come back strong from an injury and perhaps could capitalize on the absence of their teammates in the Grand Prix.
Uncertainty for Chinese Pairs: Another dynasty in pairs faces huge question marks as next season approaches. China’s number one team of Sui/Han will likely miss the Grand Prix as Sui recovers from a serious foot surgery. This team made huge strides artistically and technically this season, and you hate to see their momentum slowed. I am hoping a completely healthy Sui can help this team continue its progress, but it would be more realistic to assume that next season *won’t* be the year they return to top condition. Perhaps using the season to completely heal and slowly build up to the Olympic year would be more fortuitous.
Without their top team, China has two completely new pairs next on its roster, pairs who recently flip-flopped partners (Peng/Zheng and Yu/Jin will now be Peng/Jin and Yu/Zheng). While they are all great athletes, it takes time to grow a partnership to World-class levels of performance. With one year left before the Olympics, we may see some “growing pains” from these teams as they begin their new partnerships.
American Pairs: While American pair Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim making it to the Grand Prix Final was a huge accomplishment for US pairs skating, they haven’t yet figured out the consistency they need to be real World contenders. Their teammates and National Champions Tarah Kayne/Daniel O’Shea *do* have consistency, they lack the finesse and technical prowess that they need to threaten for an international podium. The battle between these two pairs got heated this year, as Scimeca/Knierim were surprisingly dethroned at Nationals by Kayne/O’Shea’s consistency. Heading towards the Olympics, both of these teams will be looking to establish themselves as the top US pair next season.
Other notes: I loved Canadian pair Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau this season, and they made a strong statement in finishing fourth at the Grand Prix Final. Though they had to withdraw from Worlds with an injury, I can’t wait to see what next year holds for them. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot made an impressive debut at Worlds, earning a bronze medal, and wowing audiences with their huge technical elements. This team has *a ton* of potential, and they will compete a full year next year. Watch out!
I will be back with more pairs discussion after the initial Grand Prix assignments are posted next week. I'll do a round of analysis of the fields and make some fun, yet entirely pointless, early predictions : )
As the 2015-16 season has officially ended, let’s take a look at the world’s top ladies and where they stand after this year- let’s continue with part 3- Japan. Read Part One Read Part Two
Satoko Miyahara- After winning a World medal in 2015, Satoko kept her momentum going with an incredibly consistent year, winning a medal at every event she entered. However, strong performances from usually inconsistent competitors left her in fifth at Worlds. (Though many-myself included-think she should have been at least fourth.) Her incredible consistency makes her a medal threat, but the judges tend to be harsh when her rivals skate well and I’m not sure what Satoko’s team can do about that tbh. I do think she has an polished sense of artistry and I loved both of her programs this year; her short brought out her fun side and her free skate fit her style like a glove. I can’t wait to see what she does next year.
Mao Asada- The skating world rejoiced when Mao returned to competition - she is such a beautiful skater to watch and truly the class of the field. After a strong beginning of the season, her jumps seemed to fail her as the year went on. I think both of her program choices were good ones, especially that pretty free skate, and overall, I trust her and her team to come up with more great content for next season. Though the year may not have gone the way she wanted, if Mao really wants to make an Olympic run, she needed to come back and start laying the groundwork this season. Her triple axel and artistry certainly keep her competitive in any field but next year will be important for her to gain momentum before 2018.
Rika Hongo- Rika started her year off strongly with a medal at Cup of China, but struggled with her consistency the rest of the year. Her team did a great job with her program choices this season, choosing audience-friendly music that was upbeat and masked her weaknesses. She’s already announced she’ll be skating to Carmina Burana and Lawrence of Arabia next year and I’m interested to see what she can do with that. There is a ton of formidable talent in the Japanese junior ladies pool, and Rika is going to have to reign in those jumps to hold her World team spot.
Outside of those three, Yuka Nagai was able to win a bronze medal at Skate Canada and one of my favorites Kanako Murakami finished fourth at both of her Grand Prix events, before placing 6th (Murakami) and 7th (Nagai) at Japanese nationals. Already this year, the field in Japan was packed and it’s only going to get tougher as we head to 2018- with juniors such as Wakaba Higuchi, Marin Honda, and Yuna Shiraiwa making waves on the juniors circuit. Again, I am not sure which junior ladies intend to move up to senior this year, but you can bet that they will challenge for some hardware if they do.
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Reviews, predictions and opinions in the magical, sparkly and dramatic field of figure skating.