Skating Highlights of the Week: #CupOfDisaster Helsinki and Nationals Qualifying
Hanyu one of the better parts of an ugly transplanted Grand Prix event; Takahashi skates better at Sectionals than he did at Regionals.
Originally, this was supposed to be the week when the Grand Prix series traveled to China, making North American fans get up in the wee hours of the morning, and everyone typically endure more than their share of bad skating. There’s a reason fans generally refer to Cup of China as the #cupofdisaster. It’s enough to raise serious questions about the quality of Chinese ice, and if it might even turn the 2022 Olympics ugly.
At the moment, however, Chinese skating officials have different concerns. Such as the disciplining of two of their Olympic judges for “preferential marking.” No other judges have been punished for so far, and when there are a few from more powerful countries one could build a case against. But they were in a snit about it before the International Skating Union even had time for more cases, so much so, they refused to host any international events this fall. Their Grand Prix event was eventually relocated to Helsinki. Obviously this is not a good situation for skating to be in, but it did at least carry with it the thought we might avoid another painful Grand Prix event.
We should have known better than that. It may have been held on Finnish ice instead of Chinese, but the Grand Prix of Helsinki was still more a disaster than anything else. It seems there you may be able to take the Grand Prix event out of China, but you can’t take the #cupofdisaster out of the Grand Prix event.
The only other international competition this week didn’t even have any senior skaters. There was, however, some notable skating in Nationals qualification for two different countries.
Grand Prix of Helsinki
Because of all the mistakes being made, the best competition in Helsinki was the ice dance, though even it didn’t escape the effects of the #cupofdisaster completely. As is also typical at these kinds of events, the singles fared a little better than the pairs, with the top skater in each not even skating that badly-but the ladies winner definitely was not up to her usual standard. It’s also pretty usual at trainwreck events for the favorites to win; they usually have enough to weather the storm when other skaters don’t. This was the case for all four competitions in Helsinki.
Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin had already paid their dues on Finnish ice anyway, when they had their short dance disrupted by confetti at the Finlandia Trophy. Here, they were able to everything underhindered, and took advantage.
They escaped the curse in the free dance too, easily rocking and bluesing themselves to their first Grand Prix win.
Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri didn’t escape. First they were hindered by the technical difficulties in the rhythm dance, to which they responded with one of their sharpest and strongest performances ever. They would’ve surprised for the lead had they not been cited for a time violation.
They actually had a fall in the free dance. It wasn’t on an element, though, and they’d already been very good through most of the program. They fell back a little in points, but still won silver, and with two silvers in the series are more likely than not to make the Final.
Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter escaped it in the rhythm dance, delivering smooth performance with a little heat.
And they held it together for a gripping performance of their soft but emotional free dance-except for the two extended lifts. That left them fourth in the segment, but they held on for their first Grand Prix medal.
Sara Hurtado & Kirill Khavalian got to be third in the free dance instead, pouring genuine emotion into what would seem like an odd combination of music.
The ladies competition did have a trio of strong frees to make up for the rest of it. Yet even winner Alina Zagitova struggled with her triple lutz-triple loop combination in both programs; lucky for her she didn’t have to be at her best for this one.
In defiance of recent trends, Stanislava Konstantinova actually pulled her free skate off, and though it was the third place free, it ended up getting her the silver by .15.
As she had in Italy earlier in the season, Kaori Sakamoto suffered a terrible short, and followed it up with a brilliant free. At least this time she made the podium. She now has silver and bronze in the series, and will have to wait to see whether she makes the Final or not.
Yuna Shiraiwa was the only land to properly land her jumps in the short. So despite her less than stable spins, she took advantage to screwball her way second in the segment. Underrotations did her in in the free, however, and she finished fourth.
Emmi Peltonen was the only other lady to avoid major errors in the short, and despite her limited technical content, she really performed well enough to make her country proud. Until the free skate, where she did very badly and dropped from fifth to ninth.
Given the way the men’s competition went, winner Yuzuru Hanyu got off quite lightly. He was even pretty damn close to perfect in the short program.
The free skate was a bit more of a fight. But even there, it was one he mostly won.
Unlike just about everybody else, Michal Brezina was at his best in the short, freed, perhaps from the psychological stresses that hit skaters who aren’t supposed to be retired at this point.
He had a little more trouble in his free, but it was still a good skate overall. Definitely more than good enough to get him his second silver in the series. He who wasn’t expected to even be here at all anymore is now in all likelihood going to be at the Grand Prix Final, seven years after what had been his only appearance there.
Junhwan Cha mainly suffered from underrotations, which at least made him still very pleasing to watch, even when he also had a fall on a quad. And ultimately, he did enough in the free program to take his second bronze in as many weeks.
The pairs competition was painful, without a single clean program skated. Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert blew their solo side by sides in both programs, and won by managing most of the rest of their programs.
Nicole Della Monica & Matteo Guarise skated relatively well in the short, enough so that they even won the segment. Their free skate, however, was a disaster, and they were very lucky to hold on to silver.
There was one pair who managed to actually land all their jumps in the free program, and when they were a difficult set of them too. Daria Pavliuchenko & Denis Khodykin nearly won silver just for pulling that one off, though in the end a botched lift caused them to miss out by a hair. They still made the podium in their debut, but had to settle for bronze.
Three of the gold medalists gave their best performance in the gala. In Hanyu’s case, that was actually saying something too.
Zagitova’s “Survivor” number is quickly becoming a highly anticipated part of her competitions.
There may be too many tango programs this year, but Zabiiako & Enbert’s show number is kind of perfectly tailored to them.
Della Monica & Guarise have the best tongue in cheek comic show number anyone’s done so far this season.
Michal Brezina celebrated his unexpected series success island paradise style.
Junhwan Cha has converted his abandoned short program from last year into a very nice show program.
Of the skaters with lower finishes were invited to perform, Betina Popova & Sergei Mozgov, who finished seventh in the dance, stole the show the most by dressing up as Power Rangers.
View full results here.
Japan held the Eastern half of its Sectional Championships last week. The biggest names belonging to that half of Japan didn’t have to compete there, and the competition didn’t get too much attention. This week, however, was the Western half, which was Daisuke Takahashi’s half. Naturally this got the event notice, as well as TV coverage.
Takahashi won this time, though it wasn’t a complete walk in the park. In the short program he had to perform his way past a combination error and an overactive cameraperson, which he did.
Takahashi’s free skate may have been a disaster at Regionals, but in Nagoya he had a very good skate of it, enough so that his artistry could shine unhindered.
Ladies winner Rika Kihira actually didn’t have to compete here either, but she did so to warm up for the NHK Trophy next week. So she provided a little more enchantment, especially in her short program. Noone seems to have put up video of her free skate, which was slightly rougher, though she landed both her triple axels there. And she wasn’t the only one:
For the first time in the history, during the West Japan Sectional Senior Ladies, SIX 3A have been completed. The first two in the short program, the other four in the free skate (with positive GOE). Thanks to Rika #Kihira (1°) and Ayaka #Osoda (6°) #紀平梨花 #細田采花 pic.twitter.com/m70xESsi5Y
— Massimiliano Ambesi (@max_ambesi) November 4, 2018
Ayaka Hosoda was second in the free skate, but only sixth overall due to a bad short. Luckily for her, the entire top twelve here qualified for Nationals.
On the other side of the world, Canada has begun what it calls Sectional Championships, though unlike Japanese and American Sectionals, it’s the first round of qualifying, rather than the second. Many of these competitions are tiny, especially the ones for the smaller Canadian provinces, but Skate Ontario’s Sectional was a little bigger, and included Stephen Gogolev. He threw down two strong skates to win by a huge margin, although for him too the only video available is his short:
Next week the NHK Trophy in Hiroshima will be this year’s only Asian Grand Prix event. Zabiiako & Enbert will be back at that one, while Shoma Uno, Satoko Miyahara, and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva will also have their second events, and we’ll finally get to see Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron.