Best, Most & Worst of Pairs: 2016-17

Welcome to my third annual round-up of the best, most, and worst in pairs skating!! Included are my picks for the top 10 long programs and top 10 short programs of the season (with videos). As usual, all opinions expressed herein are strictly my own. (And possibly more idiosyncratic than usual.) So feel free to agree—or disagree!  Continue reading “Best, Most & Worst of Pairs: 2016-17”

Advertisements

Walking in the Judges’ Shoes: The Sochi Judging Project

Figure skating fans love to talk about judging–everyone has an opinion on it! But, talking about the judges’ work is quite different from actually getting in there and doing it yourself–as I recently found out.

This spring, the Naked Ice web site launched a judging project (“We’ll Be the Judge of That!”) in which fans would actually judge an entire competition, issuing a full set of TES/PCS marks for each skater, just like real judges. Not only that, Naked Ice upped the stakes by choosing the 2014 Sochi Olympics ladies’ event—one of the most controversial of the IJS era—as the competition to be judged. The results of the project are available tonight on the Naked Ice site: “We’ll Be the Judge of That–2014 Sochi Olympics Results.”

I participated in this project as one of the 7 judges. It was really interesting and a lot of fun! It was also a lot of work; and very educational. To be honest, I think this is one of the most important fan projects I’ve ever seen done in the skating community. Because, as much as we all talk about judging, very few of us have actually done the job and really understand the challenges. This project gave us a window into what judges really experience when they’re using IJS. And I have to say: Judging under this system is not easy. Continue reading “Walking in the Judges’ Shoes: The Sochi Judging Project”

Artistika Interview

This summer, I was honored to have my web site featured in Artistika, an online magazine devoted to the arts and the artistic sports. Artistika republished my interview with Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran, and also included a little interview with me about pairs skating in general. Many readers have probably already seen this interview, but I wanted to post a direct link to it here, in case anyone missed it earlier.

A big thank-you, again, to Artistika for featuring A Divine Sport! If you haven’t seen an issue of Artistika already, I encourage you to check it out! The magazine is gorgeous and includes lots of skating articles, in addition to stories about gymnastics and the arts. It’s great reading! 🙂 The first edition of the magazine had a great story on World champions Papadakis/Cizeron; the second edition includes an interview with British champion Philip Harris, as well as beautiful drawings by figure skating artist Yoshie Shibaike. Enjoy!

5 Reasons to Love Meagan Duhamel

Meagan Duhamel and partner Eric Radford have been World champions for 2 years now and have led the pairs discipline technically since the Sochi Olympics. Yet, despite all their accomplishments, this pair continues to be the target of criticism from skating fans, some of whom do not appreciate D/R’s style or approach to the sport. So much of the criticism of this team is over the top and unbalanced, in my opinion. I therefore feel compelled to offer just a little bit of a counterpoint!

Why should you love Meagan Duhamel?? I’ll give you 5 reasons right now. 🙂  Continue reading “5 Reasons to Love Meagan Duhamel”

Best, Most & Worst of Pairs: 2015-16

Welcome to the second annual edition of my Best, Most, and Worst of Pairs! This is a review of my personal highlights of the year in pairs. I’ve expanded some of last year’s categories and added a few new ones! Included are my picks for the top 10 long programs and short programs of the season (with videos). Enjoy (and feel free to disagree)! Continue reading “Best, Most & Worst of Pairs: 2015-16”

A Perfect Program: Patrick Chan’s Chopin LP

Skating fans are pretty lucky. Every season, there are many good,  and often great, programs to enjoy. Once in while, a perfect program happens. It’s a rare and special thing: When the right piece of music and the right choreography all come together at a particular moment in a skater’s career. When it happens, the program becomes part of the skater’s success, even part of their public identity sometimes. A perfect program may become iconic; a part of skating history. Continue reading “A Perfect Program: Patrick Chan’s Chopin LP”

Trophee Eric Bompard 2015: A Grand Prix Is Canceled

It’s been 2 days, and I still can’t shake the sadness and confusion I’ve felt since Saturday morning, when I learned that 127 (now 132) people were killed in terrorist attacks in Paris and that Trophee Eric Bompard was canceled midway through the competition. Things don’t feel right with the world. Both the larger world, and our own much-loved world of figure skating—which, for many of us, helps makes the larger world a better place.

Of course, my thoughts lie with the victims in France. And with the French skaters and coaches, who were particularly affected by the tragedy, as most of them train in the Paris area.

French-skaters
The French skaters at the cancellation announcement (Getty Images)

In the aftermath, it felt odd to do my usual pairs review of the event. Instead, I’ll just touch on some of my thoughts from this weekend.

1. The ISU needs to implement a crisis management plan.

The ISU was clearly caught unprepared by this crisis. It was the French authorities who determined that TEB must be canceled (not the ISU or the French federation). Questions immediately arose as to how the cancellation would affect qualification for the Grand Prix Final, as well as allocation of TEB prize money. The ISU apparently had no existing rules regarding canceled competitions and the resultant issues. We now wait for the ISU Council’s emergency decisions on these matters, to come on Tuesday.

Some say the ISU could not have anticipated such a tragedy and therefore couldn’t have been expected to plan for it. I cannot agree. The concept and advisability of crisis management planning is well understood in the business world. Developing contingency plans for unlikely, but possible, events is considered good management practice. Crisis planning goes by different names—crisis management, disaster recovery, business continuity, risk management—but whatever the jargon, the concept is easy to grasp. Anyone running a business or organization of appreciable size should think about, and plan for, as many eventualities as possible. No one could have imagined this particular tragedy, but anyone could imagine a competition interrupted by a natural disaster, mass power outage, or political crisis.

The ISU can and must do a better job of crisis planning. There are many tools to help, including dozens of books on crisis management and disaster recovery; consulting firms that specialize in crisis planning; and many organizations, such as the Red Cross, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and FEMA, which provide guidelines and protocols.

2. I wish the ISU would also consider implementing a stronger policy regarding concussions.

The day before the Paris tragedy, we saw a worrisome event at TEB itself. While attempting a throw quad Salchow in practice, Cheng Peng of China fell and hit her head on the ice. This accident was caught on video by The Blade Boys.

It was scary to see Cheng fall and hit her head this way. She appeared to be okay afterward and continued practice, following a very brief break and exam by the Chinese coaches and members of the Russian/French staffs. However, appearances don’t always tell the full story with head injuries; sometimes an athlete can have a concussion, yet not realize it. In the short program the next day, Cheng fell before the program even began and then fell again on the SBS 3T. It’s very possible that Cheng’s problems in the SP were completely unrelated to the practice accident. But I would have felt much better if she had received a thorough medical examination before continuing.

Peng-Zhang
Peng/Zhang in the short program (Francois Mori/AP)

The ISU does not currently seem to have any specific policy on concussions (either at, or outside, competition). Rule 141 of the ISU Constitution and General Regulations 2014 simply states: “It is the responsibility of all Members to ensure that their Competitors can physically and mentally compete safely.” So, the federations are charged with evaluating any head injuries.

In this respect, ISU policy isn’t too different from that of FIFA, NFL, or NHL. All of those governing bodies require examination of head injuries during games by team doctors (as opposed to league/FIFA representatives). However, one difference is that the NFL and NHL require team doctors to use a standard concussion assessment tool to determine a player’s fitness. The ISU could consider implementing a similar requirement. Or it could provide independent medical consultants at events, as the English Premier League does with its “tunnel doctors,” although this would obviously be an additional expense.

I’d like to see the ISU get more involved in this issue because it seems concussions are a growing problem in skating. This season alone, there have been 5 confirmed cases of concussions among elite skaters (Joshua Farris, DeeDee Leng, Caitlin Yankowskas, Ondrej Hotarek, and of course reigning World champion Gabriella Papadakis). There may be more unconfirmed cases. Another worrisome factor: Some studies suggest that female athletes may be more susceptible to, and/or suffer more serious, sports-related concussions than male athletes. Although this is still a theory, it’s something to consider in figure skating, a sport with many female participants.

Bottom line is, I’d like to see the ISU think proactively about this issue and take steps to address it, even if it’s just a matter of further investigation or issuing more detailed guidelines to federations.

3. On a happier note, it was great to see Olympic champions Volosozhar/Trankov back in Grand Prix competition.

This fall, Volosozhar/Trankov became the first reigning Olympic pairs champions to return to competition in 22 years. The last time this happened was back in 1993, when reigning Olympic champions Mishkutionok/Dmitriev returned for the 1993-94 season. I give Volosozhar/Trankov a ton of credit for coming back to competition–especially now, with the technical demands of pairs skating escalating and the discipline in flux. To me, it signals that Tatiana/Max’s competitive spirit has not dimmed and that they still want to make an impact in the sport, even though they’ve already achieved all the highest prizes.

Volosozhar-Trankov
Tatiana/Max skate their Bollywood SP

I enjoyed seeing them in the short program at TEB. Tatiana/Max are not yet back in top competitive shape, but they were much stronger at TEB than at Nebelhorn. I liked their new Bollywood SP and felt it was a cut above the other pairs’ short programs in terms of concept and choreography. I’m glad that the Olympic champions decided to return, and it will be interesting to see what they can bring to the discipline over the next few seasons.

4. I hope that everyone can accept whatever solution the ISU chooses for Grand Prix Final qualification.

The debate on skating forums and Twitter about the TEB cancellation and how it should affect GP Final qualification has been bruising and contentious. It’s pretty clear at this point that no solution can be perfectly fair to all the skaters. Sometimes you just have to take the best of the bad choices, and move on. One thing to bear in mind: It’s just the Grand Prix Final. Yes, it’s an important event, and there’s prize money involved. But it’s not like anyone is missing out on a spot to Worlds or Olympics.

Wrap-up

Will things return to “normal” as Grand Prix competition resumes at Rostelecom Cup next weekend? Probably not, with thoughts of Paris still in everyone’s mind. But perhaps the skating world, at least, can start to get a little closer to normal. I hope.