Part II: Icenetwork.com picks faves from 2012-13
Our North American contributors take their turn expressing their views
|Sarah Brannen and Drew Meekins were impressed with how Emanuel Sandhu went about his business during his comeback attempt. (Skate Canada/Stephan Potopnyk)|
Best performance: Meryl Davis and Charlie White's Giselle short dance at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships seamlessly wove required elements into pastoral choreography and put the team's precision, speed and technical daring on full display. Judges rewarded the five-time U.S. champions with a world-record 77.12 points. "It was one of those dream skates," White said.
Runner-up: Patrick Chan's stirring Rachmaninoff short program at the 2013 World Championships.Favorite program: Too often, the sport's ladies take a back seat to the other disciplines when it comes to originality and expression. Carolina Kostner's intricate free skate to "Bolero," created with longtime choreographer Lori Nichol, was second to none.
Best rivalry: I'm going to forgo the more obvious choices here and say Chan vs. the field. The Canadian still wins, but he doesn't dominate. In 2011, he won his first world title by a whopping 22 points. The following year, his margin was six points. This season, for the first time in three seasons, he lost Skate Canada (to Javier Fernández) and the Grand Prix Final (to Daisuke Takahashi and Yuzuru Hanyu) before eking out a hotly debated 1.3-point victory over Denis Ten at worlds. At 22, he should be at the height of his powers and a near lock for gold at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Instead, his peerless skating skills and solid quads will no longer make up for multiple slips and trips. He looks vulnerable.
Biggest upset: Canada's Kevin Reynolds tapped new depths of musical nuance and landed three quads in a stellar free skate to win the 2013 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships over a murderer's row of Japanese skaters, including Takahashi, Hanyu and Takahiko Mura.
Close second: Few bet on Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier to defeat the Russian pair juggernaut at the 2013 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, but the ambitious duo brought gold home to Florida.
Favorite breakthrough performance: Disappointed with his eighth-place finish at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and tired of criticisms of his hard-charging style, Max Aaron considered retiring. Instead, he roared back at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City last September, hitting a quad Salchow and two triple Axels, with a fistful of triples in the second half of the program. It served notice: The U.S. had a gutsy new leading man who could jump.
Close second: Gracie Gold's free skate at the 2013 U.S. Championships propelled her from ninth after the short to the silver medal and launched her worlds debut.
Best comeback story: Again avoiding the obvious, my nod goes to Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch. After placing fourth at the 2012 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, they returned with sophisticated programs and an aggressive attitude that lifted them to fourth in the world.
Runner-up: Short program and triple Axel troubles limited Alexander Johnson at past U.S. championships, but a brilliant free skate put him seventh this season. He followed up with a silver medal at the 2013 Challenge Cup, defeating Brian Joubert in the free skate.Favorite under-the-radar story: The growth of U.S. pairs. Despite (in my eyes, at least) some low-ball judging, Caydee Denney and John Coughlin won two bronze medals on the Grand Prix circuit and nearly qualified for the Grand Prix Final. When Coughlin was felled by hip surgery, training partners Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim filled the void, made an impressive worlds debut and, with U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, retained two U.S. world and Olympic pairs spots. New -- and relatively new -- pairings, including Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay; Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea; DeeDee Leng and Timothy LeDuc; and Kiri Baga and Taylor Toth, show promise.
Best moment: Ashley Wagner's triumph at 2012 Skate America solidified her standing as America's top lady and stamped her a legitimate world and Olympic medal threat. Her clean, richly detailed free skate to Samson and Delilah marked the highlight of her collaboration with former choreographer Phillip Mills, and a jumping interval of triple flip, followed by triple loop and double Axel, was brilliantly done.
Runner-up: Fernández rode his quads and charming Chaplin free skate to the European title, the first ever for Spain.Biggest surprise: The first time I witnessed Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's Carmen free dance, at a practice at 2012 Skate Canada, its audacity and raw emotion hit me like a punch to the gut. Canada's Olympic champions refused to reprise the familiar, putting their bodies and reputation on the line with new elements and a fresh style that brandished rare erotic power. Bravo.
Biggest disappointment: The new business model of NBC's Universal Sports meant the station was dropped by most cable providers. A related decision not to offer separate purchase of events online sent U.S. fans scrambling for obscure, sometimes choppy Internet feeds. Some gave up trying. Fortunately, icenetwork.com acquired ISU rights through 2018, and U.S. Figure Skating its extended NBC television rights, so viewing should be easier in the seasons to come.
Yu-Na Kim told reporters at worlds, "I can deliver perfection again." If anyone had any doubts, surely they were swept aside by the Korean Olympic champion's remarkable programs in London, Ontario.
Favorite outfit: Wagner leads the pack for the second year in a row, again with help from her go-to designer, Jan Longmire. Her bead-encrusted yellow dress for Samson and Delilah was a gamble but, as Longmire said, "Delilah is a character who messes with Samson's head. 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."
Sarah Brannen and Drew Meekins
Favorite program: We loved Kostner's "Bolero" free skate; it was possibly our favorite from her long career. Johnson's "Eleanor Rigby" free skate was mesmerizing, like a piece of contemporary dance. Our favorites of all were Chan's "Elegie" short program -- pure, passionate and perfect -- and Davis and White's magnificent free dance, which we both saw live at the U.S. championships, and both thought was possibly the best dance performance we had ever seen. Impossible to choose.
Favorite performance: Again, it seems impossible to pick just one. We immediately thought of Kim's and Ten's free skates at the world championships. Both were superb programs superbly performed, one by an Olympic champion making a comeback, the other by a young rising star finally delivering on his early promise. Add to that Aaron's electrifying free skate at the U.S. championships and Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov's incredible free skate at worlds, surely one of the greatest pairs free skates of all time.
Best rivalry: Although the fierce rivalry between Davis and White and Virtue and Moir rages on, Davis and White's dominance in their undefeated season made this slightly less of a battle. For us, the best rivalry of the season was between U.S. gold and silver medalists Wagner and Gold. Just in time for the Olympic season, the U.S. has, once again, two beautiful and talented ladies vying for the top spot.
Biggest upset: All the big upsets seemed to happen in men's events this season. Ten's silver at worlds and Aaron's gold at the U.S. championships were amazing. Even more surprising was Reynolds' gold at Four Continents, so we'll give him the "biggest upset" nod.
Favorite breakthrough performance: Aaron at the U.S. championships, going from eighth in 2012 to first in 2013.
Favorite comeback: Kim is obviously the most amazing comeback of the year, returning to -- and winning -- the world championships and looking every inch as good as she did when she won the Olympic gold medal. But our favorite comeback was that of 32-year-old Emanuel Sandhu, who came back to the Canadian championships without press conferences or drama. He just showed up and skated, for the love of the sport.
Favorite under-the-radar story: Ten. Did anyone predict that he would be second in the short and win the free skate at worlds?
Best moment: Hanyu's record-setting short program at Skate America. The record would be topped twice more in the season, once by Hanyu himself, but the moment when the score went up in Kent, Wash., was jaw-dropping.
Biggest surprise: On the down side, Gold ending up in ninth place after the short program at the U.S. championships was a pretty big surprise. On the plus side, Reynolds winning Four Continents.
Biggest disappointment: Alissa Czisny's valiant attempt to return to competition after hip surgery, derailed in a horrifying way when she dislocated the same hip at a pre-U.S. championships club competition.
Favorite quotes: Wagner on why she hasn't changed her Twitter handle from AshWagner2010 to AshWagner2014: "I'd have to change [the password], and I have the memory of a goldfish."
Maia Shibutani in a pre-U.S. championships press conference: "Alex has been having some trouble with his landings, but I think if I throw him high enough, we should be able to do it."
Aaron on the quad: "Anyone who tries it is a warrior."
Favorite costume: We've already talked about a lot of our favorite costumes in "The Inside Edge." Let us add Volosozhar and Trankov's lovely free skate costumes.
Favorite program: Christina Gao's "Close Without Touching" short program (and "Libertango" free skate, for that matter). I was in love from the first practice at Skate America and was just as thrilled to see it every time after that.
Best performance: There were many great skates this season. Hanyu's short program skate at Skate America was phenomenal. Gold's free skate at the U.S. championships was a statement performance. But, for me, Davis and White's free dance at the U.S. championships will forever stick in my mind as one of those few moments that nearly makes time stop. It was, simply put, brilliant.
Best rivalry: Despite the fact that Davis and White came out on top in the rivalry all year, the competition between them and Virtue and Moir remains the most competitive and compelling in skating right now. The way they push each other to new heights each year never ceases to amaze me.
Biggest upset: Aaron becoming national champion. From wondering where he fit into the U.S. men's scene to the top of the podium? While some may have expected a good U.S. championships performance from him, not many anticipated he'd walk away with the title.
Favorite breakthrough performance: Without a doubt, the biggest "coming-of-age" moment belongs to Kaetlyn Osmond in her Skate Canada win. I also have to mention Zijun Li's magical free skate at worlds.
Best comeback story: It only took one major event for Kim to prove that, not only is she back, but she's still the one to beat ... by a significant and impressive margin.
Favorite under-the-radar story: She didn't necessarily rack up titles, but Kanako Murakami had her own "coming-of-age" season. She showed off maturity and sophistication, as well as improved technical consistency. She's going to be one to watch in the Olympic season.
Best moment: Great moments are more often than not accompanied by great reactions. And none stands out more than Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford's reactions to their stellar short program in front of a home crowd at worlds. They nailed it, and they knew it. Both the performance and the reaction were highlights in my book.
Biggest surprise: I have to bend the rules and pick two here. The men's event is always a bit unpredictable, but Reynolds' win at Four Continents and Ten's near-win at worlds take the cake in the "Wait, what?" category for me. Both guys have had oodles of talent for years but lacked the "Aha!" moment they needed to snag a title or medal of great significance. This time, they stole the show.
Biggest disappointment: The biggest disappointment, for me, was in Denney and Coughlin's season being cut short. They were on the rise before Coughlin's injury, so we never really got to see how they'd stack up against the tough competition they'll face in the Olympic season.
Favorite outfit: Akiko Suzuki's free skate dress. She may be the only lady who could pull it off so well, and she looked fabulous! (Honorable mention goes to Davis and White's short dance costumes. They were straight out of a fairy tale!)
Favorite program: Fernández' "Charlie Chaplin" free skate at the European championships. One of the most creative routines of the season, and you have to love it when a skater can deliver the technical and artistic goods at once. When it happens, like it did for Javier at that place and time, it's worth savoring.
Best performance: Chan's short program at worlds. Fans typically moan and groan when they see Chan marked so high, but he earned every tenth of a point fair and square this time. You could not hear a pin drop in the arena when he was skating. It was emotional skating coupled with quality edgework.
Best rivalry: Davis and White versus Virtue and Moir. It doesn't get much better than this, especially in ice dancing. These two are far and away the best dance teams in the world, and the fact that they actually train with the same coach and see each other practically every day makes the rivalry all the better. Davis and White were superior this season; it should be a great showdown in Sochi.
Favorite breakthrough performance: Ten's performances in both the short program and free skate at worlds. Lori Nichol brilliantly created two programs, both to music from the movie The Artist, by itself a tremendous creative feat, and Ten executed them both well in London. Who knew he could perform like that, especially based on his earlier showings in the season.
Best comeback: Kim, hands down. Based on the way she performed at worlds, I had to wonder if she ever took a break. Not only did she return to competition -- and she really doesn't even have anything to prove having won an Olympic gold medal already -- but also she showed she is still the one to beat. She could improve how she emotes on the ice, but her technique is precise, and her composure is second to none.
Favorite under-the-radar story: China's Li. With so much focus on Gold and Osmond making their debuts at worlds, another teen also was showing she could be a force to reckon with in her debut. Li, 16, placed seventh overall, but her free skate was spectacular. She placed fourth in that segment, behind Kim, Mao Asada and Kostner -- elite company for sure. She trains in Beijing with Mingzhu Li, who guided Chen Lu to two Olympic bronze medals.
Biggest surprise: The number of quads the men are performing these days. I covered Timothy Goebel when he became the first skater to land three quads in a program and thought that was where skating was going back in the late 1990s. Now that the scoring system is rewarding skaters for trying quads, the men are actually doing them. Fernández did three at Europeans, and Reynolds did three at Four Continents. It's not as if we didn't think the men could do so many; it's just eye popping to see so many actually being done. I especially love that Aaron is trying multiple quads and talking about trying more difficult quads (i.e. flip).
Biggest disappointment: Virtue and Moir not skating as well as they could have in the short dance at worlds. For all the hype of them facing off against Davis and White leading up to the competition, the excitement was let out as soon as they botched their twizzles. Davis and White were exceptional in both the short dance and the free dance, but there was almost no way Virtue and Moir could catch up in the latter.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the disappointing season for the German pairs team of Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. Normally, I enjoy their eccentric style, but their programs this year were not their best. Not even a throw triple Axel at the end of their free skate could repair the damage. I hope to see stronger skating from these two in Sochi.
Favorite quote: Ten at worlds: "When I started skating in Kazakhstan, we only had open rinks and could only skate in the winter. We had a very cold winter. I remember my mother putting three pairs of pants on me. I looked like a cabbage."
Favorite outfit: Aaron's Tron short program costume. It was fun and bold and, of course, went well with the music. I also liked Ten's before-and-after tuxedos from The Artist ... very clever.