Skate America 2015: Ladies Review

I don’t usually write reviews about ladies’ events, as The Naked Ice blog already provides thorough coverage of ladies. However, I thought I’d do a ladies review for Skate America just because I saw the event in person, and can perhaps share some perspective from seeing it live.

Here are my observations & analysis of the ladies.

Ladies-Capture

Ladies-podium

Evgenia Medvedeva

This was Evgenia’s senior Grand Prix debut. She certainly made the most of it, taking gold in Milwaukee.

Medvedeva triumphs in her first Grand Prix

Medvedeva triumphs in her first Grand Prix

Medvedeva essentially won the event in the short program, where she posted a 5-point lead over Gracie Gold. Medvedeva’s SP was technically flawless, with a 3F/3T combo, 3Lp, 2A, three level 4 spins, and level 4 step sequence. She got almost all positive GOE (only two 0s on her score sheet) and also earned fourth-best PCS of 31.26.

Going into the LP, Medvedeva had a big advantage but still had to skate well to win. She did just that, landing 3F/3T and 3S/3T/2T combos, plus 3 other triples. She did fall on her first double Axel, but that was the only mistake. Her spins were strong, with good speed and positions. She placed 2nd in the LP/1st overall to claim the title.

Evgenia’s programs this season are to Melodies of the White Night and W.E. Both pieces are rather soft and subdued. I didn’t find either program particularly exciting or interesting. However, they do highlight Evgenia’s gracefulness, which, to me, was her most notable quality live. Her movement is gentle, fluid, and feminine. The choreography is too busy, but still allows this quality of hers to shine through. The judges responded, giving her generous PCS of 67.16 in the LP. With some judges going as high as 9.00 in their component marks, I felt Evgenia’s PCS score here was inflated.

Aside from the graceful quality of her skating, what stands out most about Evgenia is, of course, her present consistency on the jumps. Her season is certainly off to an excellent start, and she is well-placed to hopefully make the GP Final.

Gracie Gold

It was exciting to see Gracie skate so well in the LP in Milwaukee and win silver. It wasn’t a perfect competition for Gracie, but it was a heck of a lot better than her last few events, and I fervently hope that she can build on this success, gain confidence, and continue to improve.

Gracie celebrates in the kiss-and-cry

Gracie celebrates in the kiss-and-cry

Gracie opened her El Choclo SP with an excellent 3Lz/3T combo that earned almost straight +2s. Next came 2 very good spins. But then Gracie popped the 3F into a double—an invalid element in the SP! She received no credit for the jump. But she got back on track with a good 2A. Gracie performed her tango program beautifully and had almost all +2s on her level 4 step sequence. Strong GOE kept her tech score high, and she had first-place PCS of 33.25. She finished the SP in 2nd.

Gracie then took command of the ice for her Firebird LP. Once again she opened with her big 3Lz/3T, which earned 11.70 points (highest-scoring element in the event). She landed 3 more triples, then her 2A/3T/2T combo. Not only did she have all the jumps, the program was so well done and so exciting. The level 4 step sequence right in front of the judges was amazing, with beautiful sharp positions and wonderful pacing. Her step sequence was the only one in the LP to gain level 4, and she had almost straight +2s as well. Unfortunately, she doubled the last 3S. But the scores were still very high and Gracie placed 1st LP/2nd overall. The crowd was on its feet the moment her program ended, giving her a full standing ovation. It was a great moment for Gracie, one I’m sure she’ll remember for a long time.

Watching Gracie at Skate America was so exciting. When you see her on practice, she’s just stunning. It’s not really about the jumps, either. Actually, they are somewhat secondary to her amazing carriage, posture, and presence. Gracie’s movement has such clarity, simplicity, and power compared to everyone else. Video doesn’t do her justice or capture the essence of her regal, breathtaking skating. I’ve seen some comments online that her LP was cautious and conservative, but all I can say is, it didn’t come across that way at all in the arena. It was captivating and went by so quickly.

I’ve seen Gracie skate very well before live, at 2014 Boston Nationals, but she’s now reached a new level in my opinion. I felt more emotional presence and commitment from her, and her programs couldn’t be any better. All is in place for Gracie to truly excel this season. Let’s hope she finds the motivation and confidence to do so.

Satoko Miyahara

Satoko had a solid competition at Skate American and won bronze.

One of many lovely moments from Satoko

One of many lovely moments from Satoko

She opened her SP with a nice 3Z/3T that earned +1s. Next came a gorgeous layback spin that got almost all +2s. Unfortunately the 3F was underrotated, but the rest of her elements were good. Satoko’s Firedance SP is a beautifully choreographed program and a nice showcase for her. She placed 3rd.

Satoko definitely went for it in the LP. She landed a 3Lz/2t/2Lp, two 2A/3T combos, and 3 other triples, only falling on the solo 3Lz. Her spins had good speed and very good positions and scored well, but her step sequence was only level 2. She presented the program nicely, but I found it not as interesting as her SP. The Un Sospiro music feels like standard romantic classical, and the hot pink costume with layers of ruffles on the skirt didn’t really match the mood.

In all honesty, I’ve never been much of a Satoko fan before this. But I did enjoy watching her live in Milwaukee. What stood out most is her attention to detail. Her skating is very refined and polished. Every move is delicate and precise and nicely finished off, even down to her hand positions. It’s quite rare to see such a young skater (just 17) pay such attention to detail; she reminds me of a young Sasha Cohen in this regard. Satoko also has lovely, upright posture. I think it’s probably almost impossible to catch her in an ugly position! So, those are the positives with Satoko. The negative is what everyone already knows, and which seeing her live confirmed: Her skating is a little small compared to the other top girls. The jumps are small, and her footwork/stroking lack great power and speed. She’s not slow on the ice—but she’s not as fast as some of the others. The result: Her PCS is lower, and her GOE is mostly in the 0 to +1 range. In the LP, she gained less than 3 points’ total GOE, whereas Gold got 7 points and Medvedeva 9.

Elizabet Tursynbaeva

Elizabet is so tiny and delicate, but she made a big impression at Skate America, taking 4th.

Tiny but lovely

Tiny but lovely

She had a few technical problems in the SP. Her opening 3Lz was shakily landed and got negative GOE. Her 3F/3T combination lacked speed, and the 3T was underrotated, leading to more negative GOE. Other elements were good, and she finished 7th. I enjoyed her Send in the Clowns SP quite a lot. Elizabet has a natural musicality that is quite impressive in a 15-year-old. She really seems to be listening to the music, and her movement just flows naturally out of her. It feels spontaneous and organic–not studied at all.

Elizabet’s Papa, Can You Hear Me? LP certainly had plenty of firepower. She landed 3Lz/2T/2Lp, 3S/3T, 2A/3T, and 2 other triples, the only mistake being a fall on 3F. With her small size, Elizabet does lack power in her skating. Her jumps have little runout; her spins are just average in speed, and her stroking/footwork is not as fast/powerful as the older girls’. Nonetheless, her jumps could not be denied and she took 4th in the LP/overall. She had the highest base value in the LP (63.07) but gained only 2 points’ GOE.

I’m not usually a fan of tiny junior jumping phenoms, but Elizabet’s musicality and grace make her special. I look forward to seeing how her skating develops.

Karen Chen

This was Karen’s Grand Prix debut. She had some ups and downs in Milwaukee but managed to place 5th.

Karen working a jump

Karen working a jump

Karen opened with a strong SP to “Violin Fantasy” from Turandot. She two-footed and underrotated the 3T in her 3Lz/3T combo but still earned 8.40 points. Her solo triple loop came out of difficult turns and was very good. The highlight was the ending of her program, which featured a very well-placed spiral and 2 extremely good, fast spins. Karen earned +2s/+3s on those spins and was a strong 4th in the SP.

Unfortunately, the LP didn’t go as well, with 2 falls and a spinout on her 3Lz. Karen did land a lovely 2A/1Lp/3S combo with great ice coverage. Her spins again had good speed, as did her footwork. But I think her team needs to take another look at her LP packaging. The Les Miserables program is bland, and her flashy, heavily sequined costume doesn’t reflect the theme. Karen still got 5th-place PCS (58.52), though, to place 6th LP/5th overall.

Last year, I really didn’t get all the excitement around Karen. Seeing her live, I understand a little more. Technically, she is a strong skater with excellent spins, good speed, and jumping ability. I wish that her positions were more elegant and that she had more musicality. But perhaps that will come. Meanwhile, the biggest thing she needs to work on is jump consistency and controlling her nerves.

Julia Lipnitskaya

Watching Julia on practice at Skate America was interesting. It was like there were 2 different Julias out there. Whenever Julia’s music came on and she started her choreo, she looked good–like the skater I’d seen on TV. But the very instant the music/choreo stopped, her shoulders would slump heavily forward, her head would drop forward, and she would stroke around with a preoccupied, intense look. I did not see this dramatic contrast in “performance” vs. practice mode in any of the other ladies.

Julia had a decent start to the competition with her new Elvis SP. She landed a fine 3T/3T, but her 3F was underrotated. I actually enjoy this program for Julia, perhaps simply because it’s different for her. The first section is lyrical and suits her style. The second section is actually kind of fun! Seeing it in person, I could better appreciate how some of the choreo moves are cleverly set to the lyrics. I thought Julia performed the step sequence pretty well, and the crowd seemed to enjoy it. The steps and program still need more speed and energy, though. She had third-best PCS (31.40) and placed 5th.

Julia: At a crossroads

Julia: At a crossroads

Her Leningrad LP did not go quite as well. Julia managed to land a 2A/3T combo and 2 other clean triples. However, she two-footed a 3F, singled the 3Lz, and had a scratchy landing on the second 3F. She earned only 47.48 in TES (10th-place TES) and was 7th LP/6th overall. For a girl who was ruling the world with triple/triples just a year and a half ago, it was a tough outing indeed. Her PCS (60.91) kept her in it, but I felt these marks were inflated; the mistakes definitely marred the impression of the program.

Watching Lipnitskaya live for the first time, here are the things I noticed:

  • She has undeniable charisma.
  • Her flexibility continues to wow audiences.
  • She lacks good “run of the blade,” if you will. Her skating slows when not doing crossovers; she does not maintain speed and flow through difficult footwork like some skaters can.
  • Her posture could be improved through her shoulders. I’d like to see her shoulders a little straighter and a little more back during footwork/transitions. They tend to look sort of hunched. (Not surprising if her posture from the Skate America practices is typical of her day-to-day.)

Julia is obviously struggling mightily with the jumps at this point, with the arrival of puberty. Although I’ve never been a big fan of hers, I hope she can make it through this and come out the other side. She’s going to have to dig deep, forget that she was once skating’s “It” girl, and find a new, mature persona and style on the ice.

Nicole Rajicova

I’ll be honest—I had never even seen Nicole before this competition. But I will remember her now.

What a moment for Rajicova!

What a moment for Rajicova!

Nicole skated her short program to Jennifer Hudson’s bluesy/jazzy rendition of “Feeling Good.” I enjoyed the music, but the program itself was somewhat forgettable, and she placed last.

Then Nicole came out and shocked everyone with a great performance in the LP! She landed 3Lz/2Lp, 3Lp/2T/2Lp, 3Lp/2T, and 3 more triples! Her spins and footwork were average, and the Dr. Zhivago program generic, but it was still a great performance from her and she deservedly placed 5th in the LP/7th overall. I think we’ll see more Grand Prixs in her future.

Mariah Bell

Mariah’s practices at Skate America were really rough, with many falls and tough landings on her jumps. But she was able to pull it together in the competition and put out stronger performances than she did in her two senior B events this fall.

Mariah started her Storm Cry SP with a good 3F/3T that earned +1s. Next came a really lovely Biellmann spin and a good 2A. Unfortunately, she fell on the 3Lz, which sucked some life out of the program. She placed 11th.

Her somber Fourth of July LP began with another fall on the 3F/3T, and I was worried, but then she pulled out a good 2A/1Lp/3S that got positive GOE. From this point, the program was stronger and she landed 4 more triples (1 UR). I really love this program for Mariah; it’s dramatic, and she has such wonderful extension and polish in all her movement. She has decent speed in the footwork and really gorgeous positions in the spins. I’d like to see more power in her skating, but I enjoy watching her a lot. Mariah didn’t get much PCS/GOE love from the judges, but managed to pull up to 8th LP/overall.

So Youn Park

So Youn placed 5th in both her Grand Prix events last year, so her 9th-place finish in Milwaukee was disappointing.

A skater I really like: So Youn Park

A skater I really like: So Youn Park

She opened her SP with a big 3S/2T, but no doubt was hoping for a 3S/3T combo instead. She also had an odd hop going into her second spin, which resulted in -3 GOE. She was only 10th.

So Youn skated her LP to Red Violin. The program started off quite well, with a 2A/2T, 2A/3T/2T, and 4 other triples. But then it all fell apart in the last minute!! First So Youn fell on the 3S, then she had mistakes on BOTH of the final spins! The judges were quite harsh, and she finished 9th LP/overall.

I was really disappointed with So Youn’s finish, because there is a great deal to like in her skating. She has a beautiful 2A and good runout on most of her jumps. Her skating skills are solid; she sustains speed nicely through step sequences and transitions. And she has quite nice posture and line, too.

But after seeing So Youn live in Milwaukee and reviewing the judges’ score sheets, it’s clear something is not working with her overall package. She doesn’t shine the way she should, and she’s not getting the judges’ respect. I think So Youn needs better programs that will bring out her personality more and let skate more freely. The Red Violin music, in particular, is dark and weighs her down. I’d like to see her skate to something upbeat that would show off her skating skills and let her sparkle a bit. (She’s kinda short on sparkle right now.) Another area to work on is spins; she needs better positions and more speed.

Haruka Imai

Haruka turned in two graceful but flawed performances here to place 10th overall. Haruka has a nice, light quality, and she’s a pretty skater to watch. But somehow, her performances just didn’t stand out much for me. She was 10th overall.

Miyu Nakashio

This competition was Miyu’s Grand Prix debut. She landed a big 3T/3T combo in her SP that earned +2s. However, that was pretty much the highlight. She was a surprising 8th in the SP but had a number of problems in her Scheherazade LP and fell to 11th LP/overall. Miyu has nice, high, springy jumps (when she lands them), but otherwise there is not much distinctive about her skating.

Alaine Chartrand

Alaine broke my heart a little in this event. After a strong short program, she had a nightmare performance in the LP and fell all the way to last place. It was really sad to see, because I quite like Alaine’s skating, and you never want to see a skater go through that.

A tough event for Alaine

A tough event for Alaine

For me, Alaine’s Pina SP was really one of the highlights of the entire Skate America event. I think this program is simply brilliant. The music is compelling and the choreography so interesting, with rapid turns, quick changes of direction, and unique movements. Not only that, I was so impressed with how well Alaine performed it. She really owned the choreo, skating it with authority, fluency, and no hesitation. The program went by in a flash, and I loved it. There were a few technical problems—the 3T in the 3Lz/3T combo was downgraded, and the 3Lp was a little tight. But the other elements were strong, and I was glad to see her rewarded with a level 4 StSeq and +1s/+2s. Alaine’s PCS lagged 2 to 3 points behind Medvedeva’s and Lipnitskaya’s in the SP, which I didn’t agree with at all. I would have liked to see her score much higher, and hopefully she will later in the season.

As good and exciting as her SP was, that’s how bad Alaine’s LP was. She suffered a near-complete meltdown, with 3 falls and mistakes on almost every jump. Alaine did actually start the program with a triple Axel attempt, but it didn’t work. I hope Alaine can just look on this performance as an aberration that will in all likelihood never happen again.

Wrap-up

So that’s it for my ladies’ review of Skate America. There was such variety and interest in watching these ladies, as they are all very different, with unique personalities on the ice. I really enjoyed the event and look forward to seeing these ladies again later in the Grand Prix. 🙂

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