Part III: Icenetwork.com picks faves from 2012-13
The editors take their turn running down the things they liked best from this past season
|Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi had the program of the year, according to our Mickey Brown. (Getty Images)|
Mickey Brown, senior producer
Favorite program: This season, to me, was bereft of truly memorable programs, so I'm stepping out of the box with my selection and going with the free dance of Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi, one that led to them being affectionately referred to as "the German zombies." The program was titled "Two from the Grave," and the duo played their parts to the hilt. From the makeup to the facial expressions to the gesticulations, the skaters completely sold the program, even managing to stay in character well after it was over. Skating has rarely been this much fun.
Best performance: Very difficult choice here. Denis Ten's free skate at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships. warrants consideration, as does Patrick Chan's short program at that same competition. Also deserving mention are any number of dances by Meryl Davis and Charlie White (take your pick) and the worlds free skate of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. But when she goes out and lays down a performance like she did in the free skate in London, Ontario, we are all reminded that there has never been a skater quite like Yu-Na Kim.
Best rivalry: This one's obvious: Davis and White versus Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. It's always must-see TV when these two get together. They met three times this season -- at the Grand Prix Final, Four Continents Championships and the world championships - with the Americans getting the better of the reigning Olympic champions on all three occasions. With momentum seemingly having swung in Davis and White's favor, the stage is set for the ultimate showdown: the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Biggest upset: If Ten had pulled off the victory at worlds, he'd be the clear winner here, but his upset bid fell just short, so we have to look elsewhere. The men's field at Four Continents did not include Chan, but it, nonetheless, contained the best Japan, the U.S. (Jeremy Abbott aside) and China had to offer. That made it all the more unlikely when Kevin Reynolds of Canada beat them all with the free skate of his life, one in which he landed three clean quads.
Favorite breakthrough performance: In a few short months, Max Aaron went from relative unknown to budding star. He started building momentum in September, picking up a win at the inaugural U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. His first-place finish at the Midwestern Sectional Championships -- with a free skate that contained a quad and eight triples, no less -- set the stage for what was to come at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. On the strength of his distinctive West Side Story free skate, Aaron overcame an almost five-point deficit after the short to capture the gold in Omaha, Neb., becoming one of the least likely U.S. champions in recent memory.
Best comeback story: Kim. Let's move on.
Favorite under-the-radar story: Mid-season coaching changes do not always lead to immediate results. That was not the case with Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier. After quietly making the move from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Coral Gables, Fla., in early November, the pair showed up at the U.S championships and surprised many with their fifth-place finish. They then ventured off to Milan for the world junior championships, where they moved up from third after the short to grab the gold, becoming just the fifth U.S. pair to win the world junior title. The triumph validated their decision to move cross country, and put John Zimmerman and Sylvia Fontana's pairs program at the Saveology Iceplex on the map.
Best moment: 2012 Skate Canada served as the coming-out party for Kaetlyn Osmond. With the crowd behind her, the Canadian skated to a second-place finish in the short, and then came through with a personal-best free skate that lifted her to the top of the podium. Time will tell if Osmond is, as Canada surely hopes, the heir apparent to Joannie Rochette, but one thing's for sure: The indelible image from the event -- and one of the most unforgettable from this past season -- was that of Osmond's 1,000-watt smile in the kiss and cry and on the medal stand.
Biggest surprise: This one's a no-brainer. No one, and I mean no one, could have ever envisioned Denis Ten getting anywhere near the podium at worlds, much less standing on it, much less coming within a sliver of knocking Chan off the top step ... but that's exactly what happened. After a season consisting of one underwhelming finish after another, Ten showed up in London looking like a totally different skater. The normally reserved skater finished second in the short and won the free, punctuating his performances with bursts of heretofore unseen emotion. Many felt he deserved a gold medal, but he settled for silver. Still, it was a result that almost defied belief.
Biggest disappointment: This is a collective award, and it goes to a trio of men who teased us with comeback attempts, all of which, ultimately, fell flat. Evan Lysacek, Johnny Weir and Evgeni Plushenko -- three of the best male skaters of the "aughts" - said they were making competitive returns in 2012-13. (To be fair to Plushenko, this wasn't a true comeback attempt, as he did compete -- and did so at a high level -- the previous season.) Lysacek never saw the ice, withdrawing from his two Grand Prix assignments and, later, the 2013 U.S. Championships. Weir competed at the Finlandia Trophy and then withdrew from the Rostelecom Cup after a miserable short program. He called it a season shortly thereafter. Plushenko won his 10th Russian title in December, but then pulled himself out of the 2013 European Championships following a dreadful sixth-place showing in the short. He underwent back surgery at the end of January.
Favorite quote: This one may not have resonated with the larger skating community, but I found it endlessly amusing. After winning the silver at the 2013 U.S. Championships, Chris Knierim talked about how he and partner Alexa Scimeca came together so quickly, and contained in his quote was this statement: "I'm a twist man myself." Pure gold.
Favorite outfit: This one took some thinking ... and then a light went off in my head, and I knew I had the winner. It was the leopard-print bodysuits Sarah Feng and Anthony Ponomarenko wore for their Cats free dance. (View them here ... scroll to the eighth photo in the gallery.) The team debuted them at the 2012 U.S Challenge Skate, where they made an immediate impression, and they were a hit as well at the U.S. championships. These two get a +3 grade of execution for "Fierceness."
Adam Spunberg, editorial producer
Favorite program: There were plenty of memorable programs this year, but I most enjoyed Ten's timeless renditions of The Artist, choreographed brilliantly through both the short program and free skate. Much like the composer of the The Artist's score, Ludovic Bource, Ten was relatively unrecognized on the world's biggest stage, but that all changed in a few moments of dazzling artistry and panache. Bource would win the Academy Award, and Ten would vault himself onto the world podium, with many believing he deserved the gold.
Now there's something for the Kazakhstan skater's famous ancestor -- the renowned Korean general -- to be proud of.
Best performance: Davis and White were phenomenal on multiple occasions, and Chan sizzled in his short program at worlds, but the most impressive feat of the season had to be Kim's free skate in London. To string together such a mesmerizing performance after leaving the scene for two years is otherworldly. Gracie Gold was right to be star-struck in Kim's presence.
Best rivalry: In terms of quality on ice, there's no rivalry better than Davis and White versus Virtue and Moir, but I am going to take some liberty with the word "best." The way Josh Farris and Jason Brown have grown up together, continuing to battle ferociously in competitions while cheering each other on, is a rivalry we can all commend. Here's to hoping these two stay close friends for life, no matter what the outcomes in the rink.
Biggest upset: Though perhaps not over the most competitive field, Aaron's hard-charging, quad-spinning triumph at the U.S. championships came out of a mystery corner somewhere in left field. The signs were there, yes, but the inexperienced Aaron blasted his way to the top with technical mastery and a unique personality. With that win, Aaron has catapulted himself beyond the realm of Cinderellas and underdogs, so that the next time he rules the day, nobody will be surprised.
Favorite breakthrough performance: It seems a foregone conclusion these days that Wagner and Gold sit atop the U.S. ladies mountain, but that picture appeared quite different before the ladies free skate in Omaha. Gold was looking up from ninth place after an underwhelming senior debut in the short program, and the weight of lofty expectations bore down on her shoulders. But then came the free, where all that promise resurfaced and she set the record straight, reminding everyone of that blazing potential people talked about.
Thanks to that performance, they are still talking about it.
Best comeback story: Kim was easily the comeback skater of the year, so let's focus on someone else who pieced together an inspiring run, after a grisly injury. Courtney Hicks was on an impressive track after becoming the U.S. junior champion in 2011, only to fracture her tibia at 2011 Juniot Grand Prix Italy. After swallowing that setback and going through months of recovery, Hicks snagged the silver at 2012 JGP Lake Placid and zoomed into fourth place at the U.S. championships, missing the podium by less than two points.
Favorite under-the-radar story: We always hear about the incredible accomplishments of skaters in competitions, but we rarely hear about their behavior when the cameras aren't looking. As Jyrki Pirkkalainen documented at Finlandia Trophy, Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu not only won the competition, but then went straight from the podium to the ice to help the patchers clean up. That kind of humility and courtesy makes Yuzu a special skater worth pulling for.
Best moment: I'll combine this into two moments, since they feature the same person. Rockne Brubaker -- who is, by all accounts, one of the good guys in skating -- will always relish the month of February 2013, after having the great fortune of getting engaged to Italian pairs skater Stefania Berton and then getting hitched professionally with Lindsay Davis for an Olympic run.
Biggest surprise: That irreverent social personality Michael Buckley was able to summon compelling responses from every individual skater and team while conducting "Social Scene" interviews at the U.S. championships. His energy brought out the best and most hilarious in ways that didn't seem possible.
Biggest disappointment: Though not necessarily the biggest disappointment for the skating world at large, the failed Lithuanian citizenship claim of Isabella Tobias was a brutal pill to swallow for Tobias and partner Deividas Stagniunas. Though the decision could be altered, as of now, it dashes the Olympic hopes of a team fervently dedicated to that goal.
Favorite quote: I'll go with two -- one serious, one amusing.
1. Alissa Czisny's beautifully profound statement on what it means to compete as an athlete:
"No matter what we do, what we accomplish, what we fail at, how we act, or even who we are, we will always face criticisms from somewhere, from someone. As athletes, we face an even broader range of criticisms coming our way, because we have the opportunity and responsibility to perform in front of many people.
And it's easy to criticize athletes; after all, we are the ones who put ourselves out in the spotlight, in front of so many people. Yet, what sports fans don't always tangibly understand is the sacrifice and dedication, the hard work and heartbreaks, the long hours and hurting bodies, the courage and fortitude that it takes for athletes to give everything they have for those few minutes of competition."The quote speaks for itself. What an incredibly insightful perspective from an athlete who has given everything to try and come back.
2. What Chan told the Toronto Sun about his difficulties at the Grand Prix Final in Sochi:
"I got sick - I had the runs. I ... went to my long program and had to take Imodium and take Tums. I thought, 'I may not have clean pants by the end of this.'"Favorite outfit: Madison Hubbell's complete presentation of Rose DeWitt Bukater's dress in Titanic, which included the fancy white gloves and a duplicate "Heart of the Ocean" necklace. She and partner Zach Donohue treated us to a real party, and they would have appeared fashionable in both steerage and first class.