Skate Canada 2018: Odds & Ends

Last weekend, I went to Skate Canada in Laval, QC, to cover dance and pairs for Two for the Ice. Fortunately, I also got to see some of the ladies and men. I thought I’d share some random impressions from the competition … and some thoughts on the singles disciplines. 

Random things I’ll remember from Laval

Evgenia Medvedeva on practice ice, looking so much more striking than the skater I remember seeing live during the 2015-16 season ….

James/Cipres watching the men’s short program in the stands and cheering on all the guys ….

Shoma Uno’s epic fall into the boards during the SP and how it almost seemed like an appropriate part of the program, matching as it did with a huge ominous chord in his music ….

Two Russian ice dance coaching teams–Zhulin and Kustarova–sitting a few feet away from each other at practice & not speaking once ….

Ice dancers grabbing free sandwiches in the press area before press conferences (“We saw you!” teased Anne Calder of ….

Alexandra Boikova watching the pairs LP scores very intently in the mixed zone, then turning quickly away in disappointment as Moore-Towers/Marinaro moved ahead of Boikova/Kozlovskii ….

Vanessa James always bright, vivacious, and effusive when talking to the press, with partner Morgan Cipres much more serious …

Meeting an ISU judge for the first time (reform-minded Jeroen Prins of the Netherlands) ….

Medvedeva eating an apple and talking to Brian Orser between practice and the ladies’ short program ….

Kirsten Moore-Towers’s fabulously bejeweled water bottle at the SP press conference. She always sparkles ….

Young Canadian ice dancers Haley Sales &  Nik Wamsteeker with big happy smiles every time I saw/spoke to them, obviously thrilled to be skating at their first senior Grand Prix event ….

Well-known skating reporters Tatjana Flade and Klaus Reinhold-Kany watching and discussing all the events together from the press section ….

Canadians Alicia Pineault and Alaine Chartrand warming up next to each other downstairs ….

All the Japanese flags for Uno, Higuchi, and the other Japanese skaters, a moving sight to see. Lots of Russian flags on hand, too, and of course the Maple Leaf ….

The huge crowd support for Medvedeva at the start of the LP (I think she is already an honorary Canadian) ….

Starr Andrews always on point with her fashion, both in practice and in competition, and sporting a big fluffy ponytail during practice …

Somewhat more serious observations

I watched the event mostly from the press section, which was about 20 rows up from rinkside. From such a distance, you can’t really see facial expressions or the finer details of the skaters’ movement. What you get is an overall impression of the performance, plus a good sense of speed and ice coverage.

It was my first time seeing Elizaveta Tuktamysheva live. I enjoyed her programs. Of course, it was exciting to see her triple Axel in the SP. I will say that Tuktamysheva’s jumps look very natural. She flows easily in and out of them. Nothing looks difficult (even the triple Axel). Although Tuktamysheva is criticized for lack of transitions, I actually found her programs among the more watchable in the ladies’ event; and it is precisely because there were pauses, and calmer (some would argue emptier) parts in the program. There is a sense of bigger and smaller moments within the music, which I found lacking in some of the other skaters’ programs.

Watching, for example, Elizabet Tursynbaeva, my eyes started to grow weary. There was one movement after another in her programs, and none of the movements lasted more than a second or two, and to be honest, none of them seemed to mean anything. (This being my usual complaint about ladies’ skating in the IJS era.)

I was so interested to see Evgenia Medvedeva again, following her move to Orser. The last time I saw Medvedeva live was in her first senior season. She seems to me rather a different skater now. She looks taller, much more imposing and charismatic. In her practice groups, my eye was drawn to her. I enjoyed her programs in the competition. Loved the music choices, and I thought she did well with them artistically. I look forward to seeing even more interpretation from her in the future. For all that Medvedeva has been considered a strong artistic skater, I actually feel this side of her skating can, potentially, grow a great deal under Orser.

So it was interesting to watch her. But … I must say that, unlike Tuktamysheva, Medvedeva’s jumps do not look easy. You can see her setting them up carefully, particularly her triple flip/triple toe combo. There is the sense that she must pay close attention, or things could go awry. The landings look a little eked-out and lack the flow and ease of a Tuktamysheva or Osmond landing. Also, Medvedeva’s skating skills are fine, but could improve. Although she works hard at her step sequences, they lose a bit of speed and flow.

In contrast, Wakaba Higuchi’s skating skills were every bit as good as I had anticipated from seeing her on video. She simply had the easiest and fastest and most natural-feeling movement around the rink of any skater in the field. And I love her triple Lutz entrance. It’s so quick, but that strong lean and beautiful edge going into it look masterful. Too bad her jumps were a little hit-and-miss in this competition. Alas, Higuchi’s programs this year just don’t feel as well-developed and suitable for her as last year’s programs.

Mako Yamashita was quite lovely and pleasing to watch. I really like her skating. Like Higuchi, she has great skating skills, covering the ice with little apparent effort. Her programs suffer a bit from the same problem as Tursynbaeva’s–almost too much movement–but she is graceful. As a longtime Mao fan, I continue to be surprised at how many Japanese ladies have chosen to use Madame Butterfly in recent years, so soon after Mao’s epic Madame Butterfly. Of course, Mako’s version does not measure up to Mao’s; but it’s a pleasant program.

Mariah Bell’s programs were among the most interesting and well-choreographed in the competition. Also, her spins were possibly the best, with really great, polished positions and nice speed. As has always been the case, I wish that Mariah could add more power and stronger edges to her skating. But certainly, she is looking much better than last season. Too bad she couldn’t quite sneak onto the podium here, but she got close!

I enjoyed both of Starr Andrews’s programs. “Summertime” is such difficult music to skate to—it’s subtle, and often used–but I quite like Starr’s interpretation. Her jungle music-themed LP is also really interesting, although technically not at its best here. I like the concept, and that she’s going for something different. Ladies’ skating these days so often has a cookie-cutter look. There’s something unique about Starr; she holds my interest. Starr also looked great at this event! Her Lisa McKinnon costumes are luxuriously detailed and tremendously flattering to her, in my opinion. And I don’t know if Starr has had a growth spurt, but somehow, she just looked taller and more mature than at U.S. Nationals last winter.

On to the men. Keegan Messing … What fun to see him at this competition! Watching from above, where I sat, any deficiencies in line, stretch, extension, were not so evident. What was noticeable was good skating skills, flow, energy, feeling for the music, and most of all, entertainment value. He was just fun to watch!

As an American, I must say it’s mixed emotions for me, watching Keegan. A part of me can’t help but think it’s not too long ago that I remember watching Keegan at U.S. Nationals. And I can’t help but wish that he could have skated in just this way for the U.S.! I guess there’s a little feeling of what-could-have-been. But, it’s a wonderful thing to see how much Canadian audiences have embraced Keegan, and how well he is doing now. So I am happy for him. I have to also say that his jumps look stronger than ever!

Shoma Uno was of course also fascinating to watch in competition. His short program, which I love, felt like a journey that gave us some of the biggest highs and lows of the whole competition. I’m not sure his long program is as satisfying artistically. Moonlight Sonata is a tough sell for me, because Gordeeva/Grinkov’s Olympic free skate to it is one of my very favorite programs of all time; other versions always pale in comparison for me. Every figure skating fan has their own warhorse that they’d like to see a moratorium on–Moonlight Sonata is possibly it for me. Still, Shoma does it well (as he does everything). And his quads were magnificent!

Cheesy or not, Jun-Hwan Cha’s Romeo & Juliet was probably my favorite program in the men’s event. I really, really like Jun-Hwan’s skating. He is an exciting talent. The potential in his skating really reminds me of the young Yuzuru Hanyu, back in 2012 or so. Both his speed and his sense of abandon remind me of Yuzuru.

Impressions from the trip

Um, it’s cold up in Canada! 🙂 It snowed briefly on my last day in Laval.

There’s some great candy in Quebec. I discovered prosecco gummi bears and champagne jelly beans at the delightful Chocosina shop in Montreal. And a gourmet variety of dark chocolate espresso Kit Kats in Laval. Who knew??

As expected, the audience at Skate Canada was wonderful; very engaged and involved. This was my first skating event in Canada, and the crowd lived up to my expectations!

Laval, right next door to Montreal, is quite a big, urban, and diverse city. (For some unknown reason, I was expecting more of a leafy suburb.)  It’s also a very French city. Everyone I met there spoke French as their first language. And everyone I met knew some English, but not necessarily a lot.

As a descendant of early settlers of Quebec City, it’s always a strange experience for me to visit Quebec. Mainly because my French is–sadly–not very good. Exchanges like this always occur: “I was confused! You have a French name, but you speak English ….”

Next time, I guess I’ll have to get out my French dictionary/books a little earlier before the event and study up! 🙂

A few pictures

A couple of snaps from Montreal.

Madison Hubbell in the press conference room
Ice dance medalists fooling around after the free dance
Snowflakes falling in Laval
Me in the press area

2 thoughts on “Skate Canada 2018: Odds & Ends

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