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The Final word: Miller, Wagner do their own thing

Men's medalists talk about possibility of facing Plushenko down the line

In winning the silver in Sochi, Hannah Miller showed the "little bit of meanness" Daniil Barantsev wanted to bring out of her.
In winning the silver in Sochi, Hannah Miller showed the "little bit of meanness" Daniil Barantsev wanted to bring out of her. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(12/10/2012) - "Fierce," "sassy" and "awesome" are just a few of the adjectives flying around the twitterverse to describe Hannah Miller's performances at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Sochi, Russia, where she won silver in a talented field.

The 16-year-old from Williamston, Mich., not only hit her jumps, including triple loop and Lutz combinations, but she skated with verve and attack in her tango short, and displayed more delicate musicality in her free skate to Havasi Balázs' "The Storm."

"I wanted to skate from my heart," Miller said after the free skate. "I had a lot of emotions today and wanted to express how I felt."

If Miller's skating looks polished and versatile for a junior, it is partly thanks to her work with two ice dancers: 2006 Olympic silver medalist Tanith Belbin and two-time world junior champion Daniil Barantsev.

Miller and her aunt and coach, Kirsten Miller-Zisholz, traveled to Newington, Conn., a few weeks before the Final to polish her programs with Barantsev.

"We wanted to work in person, so I could focus on every little detail with her," Barantsev said. "We put in a lot of thought into trying to bring out her maximum personality, maximum power and maximum effort.

"Hannah may be small (about 5 feet tall), but she has a big presence on the ice."

For the tango, Barantsev said he wanted to tap into "a little bit of meanness. It is a busy, difficult program, not sexy, because she is too young."

He selected the music for Miller's free skate, a modern symphony.

"It is new music. I think it was written this year or last, by a Hungarian composer," he said. "We're going for nice, light skating, not aggressive but flowing, I would say. No one has ever used this music before."

Barantsev thinks her skating skills are what help set Miller apart.

"I skated freestyle when I was younger, so I can certainly appreciate the challenges -- it's not new to me," he said. "With Hannah, she skates very clean, nice edges; she shows a lot of detail work. Some skaters, even senior skaters, don't pay a lot of attention to this. She is also an extremely hard worker, one of the hardest I've ever seen."

Miller, the 2011 U.S. novice champion and reigning U.S. junior bronze medalist, enters senior-level competition in January at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Jan. 20-27 in Omaha, Neb.

Wagner's dress incites yellow fever

Controversy in figure skating usually revolves around judging, or perhaps a technical panel's interpretation of what constitutes an under-rotated jump, or a Level 4 step sequence.

Occasionally, though, it spills over into the realm of costuming, or even a subset of that theatrical art: the color of a dress.

According to costume designer Jan Longmire, that's been the story of the red-beaded, goldenrod costume Ashley Wagner dons while portraying the temptress Delilah in her free skate set to Camille Saint-Saens' Samson and Delilah, the biblical tale of Delilah's betrayal of Samson in return for gold.

"It has been challenged from so many directions, and then it's been applauded from so many," said Longmire, who also designs for 2012 Cup of China champion Tatsuki Machida and many other skaters. "So, it's a controversial dress. Who knew?"

In Longmire's view, many ladies stick with pastel colors, like pink, and if they want to be more hard-edged, black. But it really takes courage to sport yellow on the ice.

"I wanted to make her a dress that the judges would have to notice," she said. "Delilah is a character who messes with Samson's head. She really got him riled up, she worked him into a frenzy, and then she had his [eyes] put out, and you just can't wear pink while you're doing that."

Longmire thinks the diversity of opinions on Internet boards, as well as some constructive criticism closer to home in the skating community, would have scared another lady out of wearing the dress.

Not Wagner.

"She fell in love with the idea, that the character Delilah would be a person to say, 'You don't have to like me. I am here to get my work done,'" the designer said. "There is so much emphasis in the sport on looking acceptable and pretty. This is a costume for Delilah the character, and Ashley recognizes that.

"I have so much respect for Ashley. She has earned her way in the sport through hard work, taking extra jobs to pay for things. She's strong and independent, and I love that."

Plushenko absent but not forgotten

Evgeni Plushenko has not competed this fall. His presence, though, was acknowledged in Sochi, at least by the press corps.

At the men's press conference, all three medalists were asked about the possibility of competing against the 2006 Olympic champion at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

"He is a bit of a dark horse in this big race," gold medalist Daisuke Takahashi said. "It's a bit scary. He's going to be 31, and he's been at the front line for how long? (Plushenko won his first European medal in 1998.) He always overcomes all these barriers. I will be 27 when the Sochi Olympics come around. I'm looking forward to it if he will kindly accept me as a rival."

"I partly started skating because of Plushenko," Yuzuru Hanyu, 18, said. "I would love to skate with him, but at the same time, I don't want to skate with him. I hope that I will be strong enough to compete against him."

"Plushenko is a unique situation," Patrick Chan said. "Plushenko is the odd duck in the group. He always comes prepared. Plushenko is always a challenge."

The question hit a bit closer to home with Javier Fernández, who may square off against Plushenko next month at the 2013 European Figure Skating Championships in Zagreb, Croatia. Although he was considered a medal favorite at Europeans last season, the Spaniard placed sixth, while Plushenko won his seventh crown.

"It is true I'm the only European [men's single] skater at the Grand Prix Final, but it doesn't make me the favorite to win Europeans," he said. "Last season, I was the only European to skate at the Grand Prix Final, and then I couldn't make the podium at the Europeans. If [Plushenko] competes, he will definitely be one of the favorites there, if not the favorite. He is still hard to beat. He is still a star, probably forever."

Final "Final" notes: Wagner took a hard tumble on a double Axel in her free skate, but she toughed out the rest program, coming back to hit a final triple flip and claim the silver medal. She was forced to withdraw from the event's gala due to a sore hip and knee, and tweeted out to fans, "I am okay, it was a very, very bad fall but I'll be fine, just a bad bruise I hope. Leaving a bit bruised and battered but I fought and I'm coming home with my first GPF medal." Hanyu also withdrew from the gala, citing illness. ... At ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta's press conference, reporters focused on two subjects: obstructive metal bars in the Iceberg Skating Palace, which will be the 2014 Olympic figure skating venue, and the status of two-time Japanese world champion Miki Ando. "[The Iceberg] has a very positive image. On the basis of the report of the technical delegate, everything is in good order. I cannot have the responsibility [to correct the bars]; it is up to the organizers. If this causes [sight line] problems [for spectators], this embarrassing situation should be removed." About Ando, who reportedly withdrew from her Grand Prix events due to lack of a coach, Cinquanta said only, "Miki Ando has written a good letter to the ISU, explaining her situation. So, we will leave it to the Japanese federation to decide [on possible sanctions]."