Samantha Cesario: Reflections on a Retirement

A few weeks ago, Samantha Cesario announced her retirement from competitive figure skating at 21. In doing so, she became possibly the first skater to cite the current judging system (IJS) as a factor in her decision. “I’m a skater who has always prided myself on my ability to perform for an audience and bring music to life,” said Cesario. “Unfortunately, at times, the new system [IJS] didn’t lend itself to my strong suits, and that is something that wasn’t always easy to deal with.”

Samantha Cesario at Trophee Eric Bompard 2014 (Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Europe)
Samantha Cesario at Trophee Eric Bompard 2014 (Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Europe)

Many fans were surprised by Samantha’s retirement after just 2 years of senior international competition. However, for others who had been following her career closely, the reaction was one of subdued sadness, not surprise. Samantha had been struggling with her results under IJS for some time. This past season in particular, the judges’ scores for her programs gave her little incentive to continue. Yet, during this same period, Samantha became a favorite of many skating fans around the world. This week, Johnny Weir called her “a shining light in U.S. ladies’ skating.”

For me personally, Samantha was one of the few ladies whom I actually enjoyed watching this past season. I’m going to miss her very much. Her retirement is the saddest news of the offseason for me.

At the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic 2013
At the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic 2013

Since the announcement, I’ve been struggling to wrap my head around the question of why this talented skater was unable to reach the top competitively. How much of Samantha’s decision to retire was due to personal factors? And what, if anything, does the premature end of her career say about the current state of skating and IJS?

Looking back, Samantha Cesario’s career was always a little different. She is close in age to fellow U.S. skaters Ashley Wagner, Mirai Nagasu, Caroline Zhang, and Christina Gao. But unlike them, Samantha never left home to train with a top-tier coach or other top-level competitors. She stayed with Mary Lynn Gelderman as her main coach for 13 years. And although she doubtless shared rink time with many talented skaters, Samantha never trained alongside a Yuna Kim or Evan Lysacek or Adam Rippon. Another difference: The other U.S. ladies I named have all competed at U.S. Nationals for at least the past 8 years straight. But, due in large part to injuries, Samantha competed in only 6 total U.S. Nationals.

So, Samantha perhaps didn’t follow the typical track. However, when she did truly emerge as a senior lady at 2013 U.S. Nationals, she immediately made her presence felt. She landed 6 triples in her Black Swan LP that year and caught everyone’s attention with her elegant, dramatic skating.

A month later at 2013 Junior Worlds, Samantha took first in the SP and looked set to win or medal. However, in a sign of things to come, she was hit with 5 underrotation/edge calls in the LP and dropped off the podium entirely.

Her winning short program at Junior Worlds 2013 (Claudio Villa/Getty Images Europe)
Her winning short program at Junior Worlds 2013 (Claudio Villa/Getty Images Europe)

It’s interesting to listen to Nicky Slater’s British Eurosport commentary about Samantha’s Junior Worlds SP: “I love the little movement of the head, and all the hand movements, all those signatures that add to the overall program. Never any wasted moments,” said Slater. And, about her LP: “Absolutely fabulous, well done. Elegant, mature, strong, great height in the jumps, loads of power. Every moment was defined and definite in terms of the choreography and content.” To Slater, what stood out about Samantha was her ability to interpret music and present a beautiful performance. This is exactly what drew so many fans to Samantha.

However, just 9 months later, Joanne Conway of British Eurosport had the following remarks on Samantha’s SP at 2013 Trophee Eric Bompard: “For me, she’ll suffer a little bit with the skating skills. A little bit weak, a little bit slow. I’d like to see her move across the ice with more edges, more knee bend. Maybe [the spins] could have been worked on a bit more.” These comments reflected a contrasting view of Samantha: That her skating was hampered by a lack of speed in footwork and spins.

These dual views of Samantha’s skating continued to hold over the next 2 years. Among many fans, Samantha was a favorite because of her dynamic, artistically satisfying performances. But among judges, it was another story. As Samantha noted, her strong suits weren’t favored under IJS.

What were Samantha’s strong suits? Artistry and jump consistency.

Samantha’s skating was polished and sophisticated and expressive. She knew how to interpret music and hit the highlights of a program. She paid attention to the details—hand movements, head placement, extensions, straight back—and everything was in place in her skating. If you look at photographs of her, she’s almost always in an attractive, nicely extended position. Her programs were never less than entertaining to watch. And, best of all, she had her own distinctive look: Dramatic, strong, flirtatious, sultry.

Samantha shakes it in
Samantha shakes it in “Fever” (Victor Fraile/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Samantha didn’t do lyrical or princessy. She was all about fiery attitude and flamboyant expression. Often skating to Latin music, she had a clearly defined–and clearly mature—style on the ice. This put her in strong contrast to some of her coltish competitors (especially this past season). Samantha skated to Carmen for 4 years, using the music twice as an SP and twice as an LP. It’s almost unheard-of to use a single piece of music for so long, but Samantha not only kept it interesting but actually made Carmen her signature program. How many other competitive ladies these days have anything close to a signature program that fans actually remember, talk about, and look forward to?

Carmen: Her signature program (Jared Wickherham/Getty Images North America)
Carmen: Her signature program (Jared Wickherham/Getty Images North America)

Yet Samantha received little credit for the quality of her presentation. Reviewing her PCS scores at three international events this season (Skate America, TEB, 4CCs), you can see the international judges placed her in their “second-tier” PCS corridor: 25-28 in SP, 50-57 in LP. Samantha was in this range with skaters such as Rika Hongo, Mirai Nigasu, Haruka Imai, Courtney Hicks, Mae-Berenice Meite, Maria Artemieva, Alaine Chartrand, and Gabrielle Daleman. Her PCS tended to be in the middle to top of the range, but not by a wide margin. For example, in the 2015 4CCs SP, she had less than .40 PCS advantage over Canadian skaters Gabrielle Daleman and Alaine Chartrand (neither yet noted for their polish or artistry). Samantha also received lower PCS there than Rika Hongo, a skater known primarily for her triple/triples and poor posture.

The general opinion was Samantha got relatively low PCS because she lacked speed: This was considered her Achilles’ heel. However, as FSU member @plusdinfo noted on the FSU forum, Samantha was strong in 4 of the 5 categories PCS is supposed to be marked on: Transitions, Performance/Execution, Choreography, and Interpretation. Yet she received little bonus. Through her scores, the judges seemed to indicate that slower relative speed was a bigger problem than bad posture, inability to express the music, uninspired choreography, and/or poor positions/extensions. Is this something the majority of figure skating audiences would agree with? I’m not so sure.

As strong as she was artistically, Samantha was also a very consistent jumper. In her final competitive season this year, she landed an average of 6.8 triples per LP. She did not fall once the whole season, and rarely popped, stumbled, or put a hand down. In contrast, Gracie Gold averaged 5.14 triples landed and .5 falls in her LPs, had numerous minor jump errors, and popped a total of 4 jumps in her 4CCs LP.

But although Samantha was consistent with her jumps, her technique was flawed, resulting in underrotation calls and an edge call on her Lutz. These errors cost her heavily on judges’ score sheets. Even when she landed a jump, she often lost 2 to 3 points in potential base value. For example, in her 4CCs SP this year, she underrotated her triple flip and got only 3.27 points (just 56% of the planned base value 5.83). Are we happy with a scoring system in which a skater loses almost half the value of a jump because it was landed a quarter-turn early (if that)?

Spins were another issue. Samantha always had beautiful spin positions, but since her rotations weren’t the fastest, her spin levels (and scores) fluctuated.

Samantha’s spins were negatively affected by the other big challenge in her career: Health problems. The stars seemed to align against her in this area. In 2010-2011, she suffered a serious back problem; in 2011-2012, she tore a knee ligament. She missed U.S. Nationals for 2 straight years–a major setback for a skater in the U.S., where so much rides on Nationals results. She also dealt with pronation of the knees, an ankle injury, and mononucleosis.

The fact that Samantha was able to forge on despite all these problems says everything about her character. In spite of the injuries, she continued to train and put out her best in every single program. I never saw Samantha give up on a program–ever. Even if it wasn’t going well, she always kept the performance quality up and kept trying on every single jump. I admire that so much about her. She had tremendous will and tenacity. I’ve seen few other skaters put out as many 6- and 7-triple programs as Samantha did in her career to such little reward.

Giving it everything she had (Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Europe)
Giving it everything she had (Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Europe)

But although Samantha kept fighting through all the injuries, no doubt they affected her career and held her back from accomplishing more. At a minimum, she lost significant practice time and competitive experience. There’s no way of knowing how her career might have developed if she hadn’t had so many health problems. Would she have moved to another coach/training center? Would she have been able to skate faster or rotate spins faster if she hadn’t had lingering effects from the injuries? Would she have skated better this season if she hadn’t suffered a two-month bout of mono? There’s no way to tell.

My guess is that Samantha’s retirement is in large part due to her health problems. You can only continue training in pain for so long.

But, as she made clear, the current state of figure skating and its judging system also played a significant role in her decision. Some people’s response to this is that Samantha should have simply fixed her underrotation/speed problems, and then she’d have had nothing to worry about. I guess my thoughts go in another direction. I question if we really want a judging system that has no place and no reward for such a talented, beautiful skater.

Her final bow in Greensboro: Nationals 2015 (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America)
Her final bow in Greensboro: Nationals 2015 (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America)

In the end, I doubt Samantha Cesario has any regrets. Her path in skating wasn’t easy or typical; it was always a little different. But she did it her way, on her terms, as much as her body would allow. And her decision to retire is, again, her own. Many skaters in recent years have found it difficult to take that final step. But Samantha decided the moment had come and made the tough call to walk away from 15 years of skating and start a new life. As usual, I’m left feeling admiration for the courage of this strong-willed, clear-eyed young woman.

I’m going to miss her. A lot.

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Best, Most & Worst of Pairs 2015

Now that the season is over, I decided to put together my own idiosyncratic list of the Best, Most & Worst of Pairs 2015. Fair warning: My choices here are totally unscientific and quite subjective!! So, feel free to disagree! 🙂

PAIR of the YEAR: Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford

It was their year
It was their year

No surprise here: I don’t think anyone could deny that Meagan & Eric completely dominated this season in pairs. Not only did they win Worlds, they also won every other competition they entered (except, unofficially, World Team Trophy). And they frequently won in dominating fashion, by a large margin. No one was able to really challenge them all season. So they are my Pair of the Year.

PAIRS COACH of the YEAR: Hongbo Zhao

Hongbo Zhao
Hongbo Zhao with student Cong Han

What a year it was for Hongbo Zhao, 2010 Olympic pairs champion and leader of the Chinese pairs program. Zhao had 4 pairs compete on the senior Grand Prix, more than any other coach. His pairs won a total of 9 GP medals, 1 Junior World medal, 1 4CC medal, and 1 World medal. And not only did they get results, they were exciting and fun to watch! Under Zhao’s direction, the Chinese pairs are truly moving the sport forward with a combination of innovative, artistically satisfying programs and huge, high-quality pairs elements. The one and only thing missing this year? World gold. You know that will be in the plan for next season.

MOST IMPROVED

GOLD Duhamel/Radford It seems odd to name Meagan/Eric “most improved” when they were already reigning World bronze medalists at the start of the season. But they really did improve so much from last year. Technically, obviously they added the throw quad Salchow. But their SBS 3Lz also got much stronger; the unison on this element has improved tremendously. Their triple twist looked higher. And artistically, this year’s Muse LP fit them so much better than last year’s Alice LP (as they themselves discussed in their TSL interview). Finally, I want to make note of what a great job Meagan/Eric did with their levels. In their short programs this year, they consistently got level 4s on every element except the twist. They did almost as well in their long programs. Occasionally they’d drop to a level 3 or 2 for an isolated element here or there, but for the most part, it was level 4s all the way. This doesn’t sound that exciting, but it’s actually quite hard to do—even the top Russian and Chinese teams often get level 3s on elements. No other pair this season consistently got as many level 4s as D/R did. It makes a big difference in the scores and was probably just as key to their victories as the quad throw.

Sui/Han
Sui/Han break through

SILVER Sui/Han During the GP, I wrote of how impressed I was with the improvement of this pair. In the past I was never a fan of theirs, but this season converted me. They always had the big tricks, but now they’ve added maturity, emotion, and more smoothness to their skating. I really, really respect the work they’ve done. Their classical LP this season, totally outside their usual style, was a big risk but paid off hugely.

BRONZE Fields/Stevens The improvement this junior team made in just a few short months, from U.S. Sectionals to Junior Worlds, was pretty amazing.

BEST SET of PROGRAMS

GOLD Kavaguti/Smirnov Not just one, but both, of Kavaguti/Smirnov’s programs this year were masterpieces. Their Manfred Symphony LP was acclaimed and is certainly one of the best pairs LPs of the past 10 years. And although Meditation from Thais has been done so many times, I found Yuko/Sasha’s SP version enchanting. The delicate beauty of this program perfectly matched Yuko’s ethereal style on the ice. Major kudos to Peter Tchernyshev and Tamara Moskvina for creating these wonderful programs!

Peng/Zhang
Peng/Zhang: Intriguing and innovative programs

SILVER Peng/Zhang I was fascinated by Peng/Zhang’s unusual, intricate programs from the first moment I saw them. I loved the innovative music choices and precise, detailed choreography. I’m going to really miss these programs, especially the ominous Shostakovich LP, which is so different from anything else I’ve seen in recent years.

BRONZE Ilyuschechkina/Moscovitch Luba/Dylan’s programs this season were unusually personal and emotionally revealing for competitive programs. They weren’t portraying characters; they were really sharing a part of themselves and their story. I loved it.

BEST PERFORMANCE in LONG PROGRAM

GOLD Duhamel/Radford at Canadian Nationals D/R had bigger wins at GP Final and Worlds, but I thought their best performance of the Muse LP came at Canadian Nationals. The program was almost entirely clean (the only mistake being a singled 2T), and I felt Meagan/Eric skated with more speed and freedom at Canadians than anywhere else.

Sui/Han: Emotional after their long program at Worlds
Sui/Han: Emotional after their long program at Worlds

SILVER Sui/Han at Worlds This program really had everything–amazing, clean, big elements; really interesting, different transitional moves; and most of all, emotional intensity. I felt like Sui/Han were so emotionally present in this program, just giving it everything they had.

BRONZE Peng/Zhang at Worlds This was the best performance all year of this fascinating LP. Again, it just had everything for me. This is a program I’ll watch many, many times.

FOURTH Kavaguti/Smirnov at Skate America Technically, this was K/S’s best performance of Manfred Symphony and their highest-scoring LP of the season. (Artistically, though, I actually preferred their Europeans LP—they felt more fully at ease with the program by Euros, and their expression was wonderful.)

FIFTH Stolbova/Klimov at Rostelecom Cup Ksenia/Fedor’s LP at Rostelecom was a stunning display of high-speed, technically proficient, extremely accomplished pairs skating. They rocked the house at Rostelecom and got a big ovation from the home crowd. At that early point in the season, Ksenia/Fedor looked so prepared and confident that what happened later on was all the more surprising.

BEST PERFORMANCE in SHORT PROGRAM

GOLD Kavaguti/Smirnov at Worlds This may not have been the highest-scoring SP of the season, but it’s the one I enjoyed the most. Just simply beautiful. Their Euros SP was also magnificent.

Tarasova/Morozov in their Worlds SP
Tarasova/Morozov skate their Worlds SP (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

SILVER Tarasova/Morozov at Worlds For me personally, this was the most exciting SP of the entire season. The speed and power that T/M showed in this program—the attack they had going into every element—amazed me. The sheer virtuosity of their skating is exhilarating.

BRONZE Pang/Tong at Worlds Pang/Tong’s Moonflower SP at Worlds was just lovely. The elements were woven so seamlessly into the choreography, it was like they weren’t even competing at all.

FOURTH Duhamel/Radford at Worlds Just an excellent short program that showed off their skating at its best.

FIFTH Sui/Han at Worlds I loved the way they tapped into the energy of the home crowd and had everyone clapping!

BY the NUMBERS: HIGHEST-SCORING ELEMENTS of the SEASON

Note: These numbers are from Grand Prix and major ISU championships only (no senior Bs/nationals)

QUAD TWIST Peng/Zhang in 4CCs LP: 10.67 points

TRIPLE TWIST Tarasova/Morozov in Rostelecom LP: 8.20 points

QUAD THROW Kavaguti/Smirnov in Europeans LP: 9.00 points

TRIPLE THROW Sui/Han throw triple flip in WTT LP: 7.50 points

LIFT Pang/Tong Group 5 reverse lift in 4CCs LP: 8.70 points

BEST COMEBACK PERFORMANCE

Kavaguti/Smirnov win Europeans
Kavaguti/Smirnov win Europeans

GOLD Kavaguti/Smirnov at Europeans It was great to see Kavaguti/Smirnov rebound to win Europeans after a tough stretch during which they placed 2nd at NHK, 6th/last at GP Final, and only 3rd at Russians.

SILVER James/Cipres at Worlds After a very rocky season, I was happy to see James/Cipres skate well in the long program at Worlds. Their performance came out of nowhere, which made it all the more impressive.

BRONZE Scimeca/Knierim at TEB Alexa/Chris had a tough start to their season, with a lot of falls in their first 3 events. It was so great to see them come back and finally skate an almost-clean LP at TEB! This was the springboard to a much more successful second half of the season for them.

MOST EXCITING FIRST-YEAR SENIOR PAIR

GOLD (tie) Yu/Jin and Tarasova/Morozov I can’t choose between these teams. Both made such a big impression in their first year as seniors. Yu/Jin made the GP Final and won their second junior world title. Tarasova/Morozov had an incredible debut at Worlds, placing 5th in LP/6th overall. I absolutely love both these teams. What’s interesting is how different they are. Yu/Jin float lightly over the ice; Tarasova/Morozov dig in to generate power. Ultimately, Tarasova/Morozov have stronger skating skills, stronger basics, but Yu/Jin are more consistent. And it was Yu/Jin’s programs and their unique, enigmatic chemistry that fascinated me this season.

Yu/Jin:  I can't wait to see more  (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)
Yu/Jin: I can’t wait to see more (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

BRONZE Seguin/Bilodeau Another team with strong skating skills and great results: 8th in their first senior Worlds!

MOST EXCITING NEW SENIOR PAIR

I think everyone has their own personal favorites out of all the new pairs! These are just my picks:

Luba and Dylan at Four Continents (EFE/EPA/Jeon Heon-Kyun)
Luba and Dylan at Four Continents (EFE/EPA/Jeon Heon-Kyun)

GOLD Ilyuschechkina/Moscovitch The chemistry, creativity, and maturity of this team make them the most exciting for me.

SILVER Marchei/Hotarek Valentina’s vitality and charisma is combining in a very interesting way with Ondrej’s technical skill and consistency as a pairs partner.

BRONZE Castelli/Tran It hadn’t fully come together yet by U.S. Nationals, but I still really like the potential of this pair. Their skating skills are at such a high level.

FOURTH Bazarova/Deputat I love their dreamy elegance. Now, if they can just get the technique more solid!

FIFTH Astakhova/Rogonov They are strong, consistent competitors.

MOST EXCITING JUNIOR PAIR

Fields/Stevens I really like this team. I’m so impressed that they can already pull off big, fast, challenging music like Nostradamus and Don Quixote. Most young teams would be overwhelmed, but not these two. They just go for it! I find their level of expression/presentation a lot higher than most young pairs.

BEST MOMENTS for U.S. PAIRS

Scimeca/Knierim land the quad twist at U.S. Nationals (Jay Adeff)
Scimeca/Knierim: The quad twist at U.S. Nationals (Jay Adeff)

GOLD Scimeca/Knierim land quad twist and win Nationals Alexa/Chris announced one week before Nationals that they had the quad twist and would try it in Greensboro. Almost no one knew they were even working on this element, so this was a huge surprise (and a brilliant PR move). They landed it and won Nationals. What’s exciting about S/K adding the quad twist is it signifies the intent, desire, and ability to play with the big boys & girls in pairs skating. So often in the last 10 or 15 years, American pairs have settled for respectable but mediocre results. Scimeca/Knierim want more, and I love it.

SILVER Denney/Frazier win silver at Skate America Haven/Brandon made a big splash when they won silver at Skate America this fall. It was the best Grand Prix finish by a U.S. pair in 6 years. More importantly, they won the medal with two great performances. Their long program was a hit, and they showed a new level of detail and maturity, while skating with a lot of freedom and abandon. Haven/Brandon were not able to maintain that same level for the rest of the season, but Skate America showed what they’re capable of. Let’s hope they can get back to that level after Haven returns from knee surgery. (I’m really sad about her injury.)

BRONZE Kayne/O’Shea return to win bronze at Nationals It was a difficult comeback for Tarah/Danny after Tarah’s hip labrum surgery. However, they skated so well at Nationals, winning the hearts of many with two emotional, triumphant performances and also winning their first medal at Nationals.

PEWTER Castelli/Tran place 3rd in Nationals SP I loved Marissa/Mervin’s sultry Summertime SP at Nationals.

WORST of the SEASON

Stolbova/Klimov:  What went wrong?
Stolbova/Klimov: What went wrong?

The biggest negative news was Stolbova/Klimov dropping out of Worlds. It’s still unclear why this happened, and the decision didn’t come without a price. Skipping Worlds cost Stolbova/Klimov: 1) A guaranteed second GP spot next year, if they had placed top 12 at Worlds; 2) Favorable seeding in the Grand Prix next year, if they had placed well; 3) Between $15,000 and $67,000 in Worlds prize money, if they had placed top 5; and 4) About $40,000 in World Team Trophy prize money, if they were the top-finishing Russian team at Worlds and appointed to WTT. Not only that, Stolbova/Klimov also lost momentum. They started this season as reigning Olympic/World silver medalists and early favorites to win Worlds. Now they will enter next season as just one of 4 top Russian teams (along with V/T, K/S, T/M) vying for dominance. When you look at all this, their decision seems as inexplicable as ever.

My other main gripe about this season: France still has not released Bruno Massot!! Something clearly needs to be done. We need Aliona Savchenko back in competition! 🙂

BEST COSTUMES

This is figure skating, so of course we have to talk about costumes. Everyone has their own taste, but these are my personal picks for best costumes this season:

Pang/Tong: So elegant
Pang/Tong: So elegant

GOLD Pang/Tong’s Moonflower SP These costumes were the best of the season for me, hands down. I loved the beautiful dark blue color and the simplicity. These costumes were elegant, classy, and mature—just like the couple who wore them.

James/Cipres bring the heat
James/Cipres bring the heat

SILVER James/Cipres’s Tango de Roxanne SP Truthfully, this pair looks great in just about anything. But these sexy red-and-black costumes, with matching plunging necklines, made them look even hotter than usual.

Yuko:  Lovely in light blue
Yuko: Lovely in light blue

BRONZE Kavaguti/Smirnov’s Meditation from Thais SP Beautiful costumes for a beautiful program. I especially loved the light blue jewelled dress on Yuko. The long layered skirt was pretty and matched the romantic mood of the music.

A dramatic look for Haven/Brandon  (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)
A dramatic look for Haven/Brandon (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

FOURTH Denney/Frazier Godfather SP These costumes were flattering, matched the music well, and gave Haven/Brandon a sophisticated, grown-up look. The bright red dress was gorgeous on Haven, with her dark hair and eyes.

Denney/Frazier: Best dressed this year? (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)
Denney/Frazier: Best dressed? (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)

FIFTH Denney/Frazier The Lion King LP I liked how these costumes evoked the African theme of the music in a subtle, tasteful way (without going over the top like Florent Amodio’s LP costume). The ivory cream color was different and interesting; the neckline beading was lovely. And the slashes at the bottom of Haven’s skirt and Brandon’s shirt gave the costumes a flowing feel that seemed to enhance their movement on the ice.

WRAP-UP

It was a great season in pairs, with so many wonderful moments! Now, we wait for new program announcements, Grand Prix assignments, and videos from shows/galas. Hopefully the off-season will go by quickly!! 🙂

Some Notes from Colonial FSC’s 2015 Show

On Sunday, I took my 5-year-old, very active twin girls to their first ice show! It was Colonial Figure Skating Club’s 2015 club show: “Ice Crystals: Spiraling Through Time.” I can’t do a real review of the show, because truthfully, I only had one eye on it most of the time. (My other eye was on the twins.) But I’ll just give a few brief notes/impressions from the show.

Colonial FSC is one of the better-known clubs in the Northeast. They will be hosting 2016 New England Regionals at their three-rink facility. This year’s annual Ice Crystals show was directed by 1980 Olympian Sheryl Franks, who coaches at the club.

The show was well produced, running smoothly from one number to the next. One of the highlights was a fun group number to “Grease,” which featured probably 50 club members performing to different cuts of the music. There was also a fun & funky disco group number.

Many club members performed solo programs. The first performer in Sunday’s show was Juvenile lady Sophia Tsintsadze. Sophia is so tiny, but she already has some impressive skills, including a great Russian split jump! Not only that, but she skated fearlessly and really sparkled in her program, not looking nervous at all in front of the crowd. Definitely one to watch. Another standout Juvenile lady was Sydney Cooke. She had nice energy and skating skills in her program.

Iris Zhao in the 2013-14 season
Iris Zhao in the 2013-14 season

Iris Zhao, the 2014 Juvenile ladies U.S. champion, also performed. Iris appears to have had a growth spurt since her 2014 win and is looking quite grown-up. She skated a very nice number to “You Must Love Me” from Evita. I didn’t notice her landing any jumps in the performance, but I was impressed by her graceful flow and her lovely positions in spins/transitions. She has a very nice look on the ice. Her costume was also beautiful—a simple gossamer white dress with long flowing sleeves.

Kassie Carpentier at 2015 U.S. Nationals
Kassie Carpentier at 2015 U.S. Nationals

Next to skate was Kassandra Carpentier, the reigning 2015 Intermediate ladies U.S. champion. Kassie put out a nice performance that included a triple Salchow and double Axel. She will move up to Novice level for this coming season.

Samantha Cesario at Skate America last fall (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)
Samantha Cesario at Skate America last fall (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)

Samantha Cesario was the special guest skater at the show. She did a fun number to Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space.” Samantha skated with good energy, showing her trademark interesting transitional moves and attention to detail. Included was a spread-eagle sequence and a triple flip (two-footed). Often criticized for a lack of speed, I thought Samantha’s speed on the ice looked good in this performance. Although not at the level of Courtney Hicks (whom I saw last week), Samantha certainly didn’t look slow at all and was most enjoyable to watch. My only complaint is I would have liked to see a second number from Samantha.

Overall, Ice Crystals was a fun and well-done club show. (My 5-year-olds enjoyed it, too!)