Part II: Icenetwork.com picks faves from 2011-12
More of our correspondents share the things they liked most about this past season
|Gracie Gold was a popular pick in the category of "favorite breakthrough performance." (Jay Adeff)|
Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins
Best program: Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje's free dance. There were several superb programs this past season, but this free dance was the only one that moved us both deeply, even to the point of tears.
Best single performance: Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov's free skate at the world championships. One of the best pairs performances ever and a stunning comeback after a disappointing short program.
Best rivalry: Without a doubt, Meryl Davis and Charlie White versus Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. The rivalry between these training partners has blossomed into one for the ages, with each team pushing the other to new heights, and trading places at the top.
Biggest upset: There weren't a lot of bona fide upsets this past season, because there weren't very many decided front-runners in most competitions, apart from Patrick Chan. Even though it happened at a team event, this has got to go to Daisuke Takahashi finally beating Chan at the World Team Trophy, after nipping at his heels all season.
Best moment: Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran winning the bronze medal and first world pairs medal for Japan at the world championships, with Takahashi nearly climbing out of the kiss and cry in her ecstatic joy.
(And can we add one more category?)
Best program: Jeremy Abbott's swinging short to the big band anthem "Sing, Sing, Sing," choreographed with veteran West Coast swing dancer and teacher Buddy Schwimmer and his son, Benji Schwimmer. It was fast, fun and electric --- everything a short program should be.
Honorable mention: Alena Leonova's Pirates of the Caribbean short. A controversial pick, I know, but the raven-haired Russian is anything but your standard "pretty princess." Nikoli Morozov played on her strengths: power, speed and fearless cheek. The iconoclastic program got her a world medal.Best single performance: Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy's masterful outing to the supremely challenging Pina at the Grand Prix Final. The Germans achieved near perfection with the most intricate (and interesting) free skate ever created for a pair.
Honorable mention: Any time Davis and White took the ice for "Die Fledermaus," although I would say their fleeting delivery of the sparkling free dance at the Grand Prix Final was the U.S. champions' best.Best rivalry: Hands down, Virtue and Moir versus Davis and White. The 2011-12 season will likely be remembered as the season tempers frayed -- who can forget Moir's "it's a [...]-off" comment upon losing the free dance at the Grand Prix Final -- and the judges see-sawed back and forth between the ever-changing, but supremely entertaining Funny Face, and the sublime "Die Fledermaus."
Honorable mention: Chan vs. Takahashi. The Japanese champion never got discouraged, and he never gave up. Knowing he needed to master a quad to have any chance of defeating Chan, he did so, finally defeating the Canadian on his home turf at the World Team Trophy.Biggest upset: In terms of the big titles, this wasn't a season of surprises. I am going to go with Evgeni Plushenko's seventh European title, simply because the 29-year-old skater managed yet another comeback, executing two quads and multiple triple Axels on a knee that supposedly was barely strong enough to support his weight.
Honorable mention: Takahashi and Tran winning Japan's first-ever world pairs medal, a bronze in Nice. For sure, this was due partly to other team's mistakes, but an historic moment nevertheless.Favorite breakthrough performance: He faded in the stretch at Europeans and worlds, but Spain's Javier Fernandez served notice at 2011 Skate Canada that with two different quads -- and charisma to spare -- he was a player. Now he needs to work on his stamina.
Honorable mention: Gold more than holding her own with three of the Russian wunderkinds at the world junior championships.Best comeback story: See "Plushenko, Evgeni" above.
Best moment: Carolina Kostner finally mounting the top of the podium at worlds in her 10th try and after three world medals. What the graceful Italian didn't have -- a triple Lutz -- was more than counterbalanced by maturity, style, speed and choreography.
Honorable mention: John Nicks raising Ashley Wagner's arm in triumph after the free skate at the 2012 U.S. Championships. She talked the talk -- saying it was "her nationals to lose" -- and she walked the walk.Favorite outfit: Jan Longmire's inspired creation for Wagner's Black Swan. Elegant yet sinister -- complete with "molting" scalloped feathers -- it was a tutu for the ages.
Best program: This one is difficult to nail down! There is Abbott's self-choreographed free skate that, while we never saw it completely clean, whisks you away on a deeply emotional journey. Then there's Takahashi's programs that leave you speechless with their intricacies. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford's free skate, too, is unique in music choice and allows them to look their very best. But, for me, the program of the year has to be Davis and White's free dance. It accentuates their highest qualities and never fails to get an audience on its feet. It's pure magic on ice!
Best single performance: World championship performances are often considered the best. But for me, it was Weaver and Poje, who had a "skate of their life" moment this year in Nice. No other skater or team has been as committed to the storytelling as these two were in their free dance, and at worlds, they left it all on the ice. Medal or no medal, they had the kind of skate you dream about. When coaches and fans alike are teary-eyed at the end, you know you've done well.
Best rivalry: Davis and White vs. Virtue and Moir. The closeness of their skill levels is like no other. It's unreal how similar they are in content and how much controversy their results tend to cause. It's a rivalry that has elevated the sport -- and that is the very best kind to have.
Biggest upset: This has to be Fernandez at Skate Canada. To come out of nowhere to take the lead over world champion Chan in the short program ... incredible! He painted himself as a contender with his performance at that event.
Favorite breakthrough performance: There were so many this year, it seems, but the one that sticks out most in my mind belongs to Wagner. Between nationals and Four Continents, the world wondered if she could repeat her stellar performance from San Jose and establish herself as a medal threat at worlds. To do that, she had to get past Mao Asada. Boy, was she up to the task! Her free skate in Colorado Springs remains one of my favorite skates of the year.
Best comeback story: On a grander scale, this award belongs to Kostner. To come back from a couple disappointing seasons and an inability to match up technically with the rest of the world and be so dominant all season is remarkable. Closer to home, I have to give this title to Zhang. No, she didn't win a world title, but she shocked us all by skating stronger than ever and joining Wagner on the Four Continents podium.
Best moment: Easy: Takahashi and Tran in the kiss and Cry when they realized they'd won a world medal. There's nothing like watching that kind of pure joy.
Favorite outfit: Another tough choice to narrow down, but at the end of the day, I have to say Akiko Suzuki's free skate dress. She always looks superb, and this choice was flawless.
Best program: At risk of being cliché, I really like Chan's free skate. There are so many nuances to this routine that I admire. Usually I am prone to like the athletic routines more than artistic ones, but he was able to do both. He had interesting jump combinations (triple lutz-loop-triple salchow, for instance), and he didn't cram in ugly spin positions for points. Every movement had meaning.
Best single performances: (tie) Davis and White's free dance at nationals (perfect music choice, costumes, etc.) and Savchneko and Szolkowy's free skate at worlds. In typical Ingo Steuer fashion, they skated to fun music and incorporated clever choreography. It was fun to watch this duo.
Best rivalry: Davis and White versus Virtue and Moir, because it is a genuine rivalry in ice dance. Who knew that could happen? The judges made things interesting this season, but I love the fact that they all train together and they all appear to get along.
Biggest upset: Wagner over Alissa Czisny at nationals. OK, so Czisny was injured, but Wagner backed up her strong talk that she was going to win the national title after never having done so in her career. It might not have been an upset in Ashley's mind, but it was to the public.
Favorite breakthrough performance: Gold at the U.S. Championships. I hope people do not put too much pressure on her too soon, but it is inevitable since the United States has not done well internationally in ladies skating lately.
Best comeback story: I have a few (cheating here)...
Wagner - You've got to love her being able to rise to the top after so many near-misses, especally after missing the U.S. Olympic Team in 2010. Not only did she win nationals, but she followed up with a win at Four Continents.
Kostner - Lots of coaching changes, came back to former coach in Italy, finished 16th at the Olympics in 2010, and although she had potential (and lots of speed), she was pretty much written off as a contender for the future. Then this year, she performed beautifully to win the first world title of her career.
Best moment: Abbott winning nationals. I could include him in the "comeback" category after placing fourth and missing the world team last year but decided to put his victory here instead.