Part III: Icenetwork.com picks faves from 2011-12
The editors take their turn running down what they liked best from this past season
|There isn't much separating Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia (left) and Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. (Getty Images)|
Mickey Brown, senior producer
Best program - No program better defined a skater -- and her ascent to international relevance - than Ashley Wagner's Black Swan. The care that was taken in the choreography by the eminently underrated Phillip Mills is evident throughout, and the theme of the music could not fit Wagner's personality any better. This is the program for which Wagner will always be remembered.
Best single performance - His international struggles are well documented, but when it comes to his country's national championships, Jeremy Abbott almost always comes to skate, and never has he done so better than he did at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Of the 20 elements he performed in San Jose, 19 received positive grades of execution. The way he skated his beautifully constructed programs, though, went far beyond numbers; it gave spectators a glimpse at what makes figure skating work when it's at its best: heart.
Best rivalry: The sport's best rivalry is one that hinges purely on performance: If Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy and Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov each skate their best, who wins? The answer is still unclear. Yes, the Germans beat the Russians both times they went head to head, but the margins were so close (0.18 points at the Grand Prix Final and 0.11 at the world championships) that one cannot definitively say one is better than the other. It will be high theatre watching these two go toe to toe over the next two years.
Biggest upset: He lost his primary coach just days before. He'd won the world championship three weeks prior, leaving him with little else to prove. His main competitor was skating on home ice and brought a devil-may-care attitude into the competition. Given the circumstances, it should not be surprising that Patrick Chan was soundly defeated by Daisuke Takahashi at the World Team Trophy, but any time a skater loses for the first time in 10 competitions, it has to be considered an upset.
Favorite breakthrough performance: He'd shown flashes of his potential throughout the season -- winning the Rostelecom Cup, just missing the podium at the Grand Prix Final -- but it was not until his last skate of the season that Yuzuru Hanyu made skating fans sit up and take notice. Sitting seventh after the short program, the Japanese jumping bean threw down a remarkable free skate, one that was rated second only to Chan's and pulled him up onto the medal stand. With Takahashi's advancing age and the sudden mysterious demise of Takahiko Kozuka, does Hanyu represent Japan's best hope for a men's medal in Sochi?
Best comeback story: Who else but Plushy? The man laughs in Father Time's face. Competing against skaters 10 years his junior (he will turn 30 this November), Plushenko stepped onto the ice at the 2012 European Championships in Sheffield, England, and showed the young whipper snappers who was boss. Makes you think if he should sit out next season to rest his weary bones and then re-emerge in 2013, refreshed and ready to compete at his home Olympics.
Best moment: The best moments are the ones you least expect, the ones that show up out of nowhere and remind you why sports are so great. Coming into the world championships, the expectations for Brian Joubert could not have been any lower, and that includes the ones he had for himself. But the former world No. 1 showed he had a few tricks left up his sleeve, and he broke them all out in front of the adoring French fans. If someone had said prior to the competition, "Brian Joubert will be on all fours kissing the ice after his free skate at worlds," not many would have believed it, but it happened.
Favorite outfit: Subtlety does not impress me, especially when it comes to figure skating attire. I'll take "brash, bold and gaudy" over "quiet, restrained and understated" every time. In that vein, the French "mummy and Pharoah" costumes win the day. With strategically placed strips of linen, Nathalie Péchalat assumed the former role, while Fabian Bourzat threw on a royal apron (also known as a shendyt), a shirt adorned with hieroglyphics and a gold neck collar to play the latter part. These two have never held back when it's come to costuming, and this season was no exception.
Linda Przygodski, managing producer
Best program: Davis and White's "Die Fledermaus" free dance. While it's not my favorite program these two have ever performed (Bollywood anyone?), it certainly racked up points and accolades for the duo from Detroit.
Best single performance: Abbott's "Exogenesis Symphony" by Muse free skate at U.S. nationals. If Abbott could have duplicated this performance at all his events this season, it would have been a very different year for him. His rousing free at nationals was one for the ages ... not to mention, any time a skater goes with music that is unique and not overdone (I'm talking to you, West Side Story), they get props from me. Many points for skating to music that was actually recorded in this decade.
Best rivalry: I tried to come up with something out of the box like Nathan Chen vs. Denis Ten (inside icenetwork.com joke) ... but at the end of the day, Davis and White vs. Virtue and Moir was the marquee match-up of the season. Moir's vocal upset at the Grand Prix Final mixed with Davis' obvious displeasure at a second-place result at worlds are what rivalries are all about. They make each other better by pushing limits and striving to one-up each other.
Biggest upset: Takahashi taking down the seemingly unbeatable Chan at the World Team Trophy. Did Chan peak too soon? Next season should be interesting.
Favorite breakthrough performance: Takahashi and Tran's bronze medal in pairs at worlds, the first ever for Japan.
Best comeback story: Plushenko winning Europeans. The old man's really been around the block, and every time we seem to laugh off yet another comeback, he comes out and wipes the floor with the current crop of skaters. Bad knees, bad ankles, all-banana diets be damned -- Plushy's still got it.
Best moment: Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker winning the pairs short program at nationals. I think everyone wants to see these two do well. Rockne is one of the genuinely nicest guys in the sport, and after the rough few years he's had, it's great to see him start to gel with a new partner.
Honorable Mention: The Haydenettes had fans going gaga after they nailed down their third consecutive national title (and their 20th overall). They routed the field, winning by more than 17 points with their free skate to a medley of songs by Lady Gaga.Favorite outfit: Wagner's Black Swan outfit. The outfit conveyed the spirit of the program without being too flashy or gauche. There were many costumes this season that called for intervention from the fashion police (Carolina, please retire the ombre, bedazzled jumpsuit); AshWag's was elegant and timeless.
Adam Spunberg, editorial producer
Best program: Call me old-fashioned, but there's something gloriously nostalgic about two top-flight skaters dancing to Strauss. Davis and White may not have won every competition, but the unparalleled grace and elegance in their "Die Fledermaus" free dance was something to behold. A program so delicate and sophisticated, it transported the viewer back in time to an era of refinement and manners.
Best single performance: Chan at the Canadian championships. When you throttle the field by more than 60 points and post an earth-shattering score of 302.14, you deserve the highest honors. Sure, the friendly confines of Canada can account for some score inflation, but icenetwork.com's "Skater of the Year" was easily the most dominant competitor in any discipline, and this was his finest performance. It could be many years before the 300-point threshold is topped again. No wonder Chan keeps accumulating awards like kernels in a Cracker Jack box. Well done, Patrick!
Best rivalry: At the risk of sounding redundant, it has to be Davis and White versus Virtue and Moir. These two titan duos are lifts and levels above the rest of the field, and their brilliance is so well matched, deciding between them becomes more a matter of taste than scoring. Add in the fact that they train together, fiercely represent border countries and managed to split international decisions all season (Davis and White won the Grand Prix Final and at the World Team Trophy; Virtue and Moir emerged victorious at worlds and Four Continents), and it becomes evident that this rivalry has no rival.
Biggest upset: Plushenko at the European championships. While it seems almost foolish to call Plushenko an underdog, any skater -- no matter how impressive the résumé -- with as much mileage as Plushenko, after sitting out for as long as he had and with knees as wobbly as his, has to be a huge long shot to win an ISU championship. What he accomplished in Sheffield may be more extraordinary than any of his prior feats, and it blasted huge warnings to younger skaters out there to keep those shovels in the shed; he's not finished.
Favorite breakthrough performance: Without question, Gracie Gold dominating junior ladies at the U.S. championships. America's new sweetheart has the ability, the disposition and the name to help the United States regain its prominence in international ladies skating. Along the way, she'll also endear herself to fans with her refreshing genuineness (and her talent for cup stacking).
Best comeback story: Plushenko, for the reasons explained above. The three-time Olympic medalist had not competed since the 2010 Olympics, and yet he came storming out of retirement to vanquish all challengers.
Best moment: Wagner seizing the U.S. title. Much was made of her comments before the event, where she proclaimed it "my nationals to lose," but in the face of her own lofty expectations and years of disappointments, she put the nation on notice with a pair of splendid performances. She also proved to be quite eloquent in interviews and worthy of becoming the new face of U.S. Figure Skating.
Favorite outfit: Péchalat's mummy getup in her free skate with Bourzat. As much as skating is about jumps and levels, it can also be theatrical, and no costume stated that more beautifully than Péchalat's. Nothing pulls you out of your sarcophagus like an outfit as imaginative and creative as hers.