Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tribute to the People of Japan, Part 2: Miki Ando's "The Mission" by Ennio Morricone

As the last post in the Tribute to the People of Japan, Part 2, I'd like to highlight the 2-time and reigning World Champion, Miki Ando. Miki is currently ranked first in the ISU World rankings.

Miki is one of the world's most talented female jumpers. She is the only female skater to have landed a quadruple jump in competition, a feat she accomplished at the 2002-2003 Junior Grand Prix Final. When Miki combined her tremendous jumps with a new artistic packaging in the 2006-2007 season, a result of work with world renowned coach Nikolai Morozov, she became the World Champion at the 2007 Worlds in Tokyo, Japan. Miki was named Vogue Japan's 2007 Woman of the Year.

This season, Miki skated beautifully at the World Figure Skating Championships in Moscow,Russia, and defeated reigning Olympic Champion, Yu-na Kim, who was heavily favored to win, in the process.

Though Miki has never been my favorite skater, as I sometimes don't think she listens to the music, and skates disconnected to it, I certainly admire her technical precision, and her tenacity as an athlete. She also appears as a genuine, likable person in interviews. I saw her skate last year on the Stars on Ice tour in Wilkes Barre, PA, and was impressed with the speed, flow, and technique.

In her short program this season, to music from "The Mission" by Ennio Morricone, Miki seems to feel the music, and skate with it, as opposed to skating to it. Her connection to the music and choreography enhances the beauty of her skating in this program. This is a positive improvement that really made me enjoy her skating in this piece. This is the best Miki has ever looked!

Congratulations to Miki Ando for a well-deserved second World Championship title!

I hope you enjoy Miki's "The Mission":

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tribute to the People of Japan, Part 2: Mao Asada's "Fantaisie- Impromptu" by Fr├ęderic Chopin

Mao Asada first made a splash in the senior ranks during the 2005-2006 Olympic season as a 15-year-old. She finished 1st and 2nd in her two Grand Prix assignments, and won the Grand Prix Final over Russia's Irina Slutskaya, the reigning World Champion, who was one of the favorites for the upcoming Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. Mao's victory caused a major uproar in skating communities, not only because she was so young, triumphing over the veteran, but because she was too young to compete in the Olympic Games. Many felt that Mao had proved herself to be the the No. 1 skater in the world that season, especially because she had defeated top skaters in the process, and it was unfair for her to be ineligible to compete in Torino. What was even more befuddling is why Olympic-ineligible skaters are allowed to compete in the Grand Prix Series, but not in the Olympics or World Championships? Some skating fans felt that Mao would have been a gold-medal contender in Torino, and I'd have to agree, given her strong competitive record in the fall of 2005.

The following season, Mao, at age 16, was age-eligible to compete at the Worlds in Tokyo, Japan where she turned in a stellar performance and finished second to countrywoman, Miki Ando.

Though I was impressed with Mao's skating up until then, I was not really a fan of hers until the 2007/2008 season where she really proved her mettle as a competitor and a person. At the beginning of her freeskate at the Worlds in Gothenburg (depicted in the video link below), while attempting the precarious triple axel jump, in a freak mistake, Mao slipped off the edge of her skate, and hit the ice and the boards. The audience gasped, wondering if she would continue. Continue she did, landing a triple-triple combination at the other end of the rink. Mao skated with courage and grace throughout her program to the music of Chopin. Instead of rattling her, the fall seemed to motivate her to skate the rest of her program with precision and heart. She claimed her first World title, ahead of Carolina Kostner and Yu-na Kim.

Mao's mental and physical ability to overcome adversity was proven on that day, but so was her strength of character. That's when I became a true fan.

She's had her struggles over the years-- notably this past season when she dropped to 6th at the World Championships, and 9th in the ISU World Rankings--but she still remains a 2-time World Champion ('08,'10), and the 2010 Olympic silver medalist. During the Olympic Games, Mao entered the Guinness Book of World Records for most triple axels performed by a woman in one competition: 1 in the short program, and 2 in the freeskate.

Enjoy Mao's "Fantaisie-Impromptu" by Fr├ęderic Chopin from the 2008 World Figure Skating Championships.

Click HERE to view video:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tribute to the People of Japan, Part 2: Nobunari Oda's Charlie Chaplin Freeskate

During the 2009-2010 Olympic season, Nobunari Oda debuted his Charlie Chaplin Freeskate to great success. The 24-year-old skater won both of his Grand Prix assignments, and finished second at the Grand Prix Final to eventual Olympic Champion, Evan Lysacek.

Nobunari , a 6-time Japanese Championship medalist portrayed Chaplin, the comic best known for his silent film work, with boyish charm and sterling technical ability. Nobunari has some of the best knees in the business, as the landings of his jumps are soft, and supple with a smooth outflowing edge.

Enjoy Nobunari's Charlie Chaplin freeskate!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tribute to the People of Japan, Part 2: Shizuka Arakawa's "You Raise Me Up" by Celtic Woman

I'm pleased to present part 2 of the Tribute to the People of Japan feature. I posted part 1 of the tribute back in March when the natural disasters struck Japan. I hope to honor Japan by showcasing some of the most influential, outstanding Japanese skaters, who a true testament to their extraordinary country.

I first saw Shizuka Arakawa during the television coverage of the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. Shizuka, then a 16-year-old, skated before the Emperor and Empress of Japan, who were in attendance, during the free skate portion of the ladies competition. Though she finished 13th, it was a promising start for the teenager. The next time I remember seeing Shizuka was when my sister and I attended the 2003 World Figure Skating Championships in Washington, D.C. We had free tickets to sit in one of the suites during the qualifying round (my uncle has connections). Shizuka, skating to music from "Titanic" by James Horner, captured our attention. My sister and I put a star by her name in our program because of how much we enjoyed her overall skating quality. Her jumps her big and strong, and her presentation was smooth and delightful. We took notice, especially when she ended up finishing 8th overall during the official competition, which was a huge improvement from her previous World Championship appearance in the 1997/1998 season when she finished 22nd. Only one year later, Shizuka catapulted up the world ranks, and won her first World title in stunning fashion in 2004. Two years after that, she was Olympic Champion.

Shizuka is the first Japanese figure skater to ever win an Olympic gold medal. She is only the second Japanese skater to win a figure skating medal of any color, after Midori Ito's silver medal from the 1992 Albertville Games. Moguls skier Tae Satoya, who struck gold at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, is the only other Japanese female to win an Olympic gold medal. When Shizuka won gold at the 2006 Torino Games, she was the only Japanese athlete in any sport to bring home a medal.

Shizuka's Olympic win was a major triumph, not only for Japan, but for Shizuka herself, who proved not only her naysayers, but her own doubts in her ability, wrong. She won the 2004 World Championships in Dortmund, Germany, but dropped to ninth place at the World Championships in Moscow, Russia, the following year. I recall hearing that Shizuka almost considered retiring, but the lure of the Olympic Games kep her in the race for one more season.

Heading into the Olympic Games, no one knew what to expect from Shizuka, who had yet to recapture the magic and consistency from her World Championship win two years earlier. In the freeskate, Shizuka was clean, albeit a doubled triple loop, yet cautious. She didn't attempt her plan triple, triple combination, and opted for a safe program. Sasha Cohen, who had been first heading into the freeskate, fell twice, so Shizuka knew all she had to do was remain vertical to move ahead of her. Russia's Irina Slutskaya, another favorite for the gold, also fell in her free skate, so Shizuka's choice to be smart and skate cautiously and cleanly paid off in the end.

Though it was a less ambitious and scintillating skate than other iconic Olympic performances in the past, Shizuka, known as "cool beauty" was lyrical, and elegant, and received an ovation at the end of her program. The quality of her skating was, and is, undeniable. Her jumps float effortlessly, her extraordinary flexibility is on display in her signature Ina Bauer, and her sophisticated presentation exudes maturity and grace.

In the exhibition gala the day after the free skate, Shizuka skated to "You Raise Me Up" by Celtic Woman. It is a glowing example of her stellar abilities as athlete and artist.

I hope you enjoy Shizuka's "You Raise Me Up":

For posts featured in part 1 of the Tribute to the People of Japan, click on the links below:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ryan Bradley's "Amadeus" freeskate

It was announced this week that reigning U.S. Champion, Ryan Bradley, is retiring from competitive skating. This past season, Ryan fulfilled one of his lifelong goals of becoming the best skater in the nation, and also competed in his third World Championships. His 13th place finish at Worlds was his best placement at the event. Ryan has decided to bow out of the sport after enjoying his best season. Click HERE to read the article that was released on earlier this week.

In honor of Ryan's competitive career, which included a silver medal at the 2007 U.S. Nationals, I'm posting his "Amadeus" freeskate from last year's Nationals in Spokane, Washington. Though Ryan skated this same program in his winning effort at Nationals in Greensboro, N.C., in January, I'm highlighting this one because I think it is a tremendous performance that left Ryan only about 7 points (behind Johnny Weir) from making the Olympic team. Other than a doubled triple axel attempt, Ryan's skating was "on" here--including two outstanding quadruple toe loop jumps.

Always a crowd pleaser, Ryan's spoof of classical music here is sure to make you smile. It was particularly remarkable that during the most pressure-filled competitive program of his career at last year's Olympic trials, Ryan was the only skater that managed to infuse levity into his program. While my heart ached that he came oh so close to making the Olympic team, Ryan's performance here should still be remembered as a winning effort. He never gave up, fought all the way through, and made people laugh and smile the whole time. Truly a talent! I am thankful to Ryan for giving skating fans so much entertainment, humor, and joy throughout this performance, and his entire skating career.

Congratulations to Ryan on the accomplishments of his amateur career. Wishing him all the luck in his professional career!

Enjoy Ryan's "Amadeus":

More Ryan Bradley Performances:

2011 Exhibition to "Pure Imagination" from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

2004 Nationals free skate to a medley of country music:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze's 2002 Olympic Short Program

In honor of graduation weekend, and the completion of my last paper of the semester that I just submitted less than an hour ago, I'm posting Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze's 2002 Olympic short program skated to the music "Lady Caliph" from the La Califfa soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. I wanted something subtle, beautiful, and profound to celebrate the end of a special chapter of my life. Elena and Anton's performance is just that. It is beyond words. Watching it is an experience.

I hope you enjoy this artistic masterpiece:

Friday, May 6, 2011

Shakespeare on Ice: Kristi Yamaguchi's "Romeo and Juliet"

In honor of a good semester of Shakespeare and the Shakespeare final exam last night, I thought it would be fitting to post some Shakespeare on ice today.

At the 1993 World Professional Championships, then newly-crowned Olympic Champion, Kristi Yamaguchi skated this masterful program to Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet". Kristi's exquisite artistry is on full display here. It is with subtle grace and ethereal movement that she portrays Juliet.

This music has been skated to more times than I can count (it's on the same list as Bizet's "Carmen"), so it is no small feat that Kristi manages to bring something fresh to this interpretation. Her movements are delicate and nuanced. The feeling of the performance is natural and honest.

I wish I could further articulate the beauty of Kristi's skating here, but my mind is sufficiently fried from finals week. Fortunately, Kristi's skating speaks for itself.

I hope you enjoy Kristi's "Romeo and Juliet":

Shakespeare bonuses:

Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov's "Romeo and Juliet" from the 2011 World Championships:

Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat's "Romeo and Juliet" from the 1998 Winter Olympics:

Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko's "Romeo and Juliet":

Kurt Browning's portrayal of Mercutio from "Romeo and Juliet":

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Unfortunate Split of reigning U.S. Champions John Coughlin and Caitlin Yankowskas

I just read the news on that 2011 U.S. Pairs Champions John Coughlin and Caitlin Yankowskas have called it quits. This news comes as a shock to me because this team just had a breakthrough finish at the World Figure Skating Championship in Moscow less than a week ago when they finished a strong 6th in their World Championship debut. That finish was the highest one for an American team since the 2006 Worlds in Calgary, following the 2006 Olympics, when Rena Inoue and John Baldwin finished 4th. It was the highest finish from an American team in a non-Olympic year since 1997 when Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen finished 4th.

In late January, Caitlin and John mesmerized audiences with their breathtaking rendition of Ave Maria, dedicated to John's late mother Stacey, winning their first National title. (Click HERE to see the video.)

I am baffled by this split. Caitlin and John seemed to just have begun to tap into their potential as pairs skaters. They were terrific this season, and I was already looking forward to their programs next season. This is quite unfortunate, not only for their fans, but for U.S. Figure Skating in general. This is the third split from a top-U.S. pair in a short period of time. Last summer, the split of 2-time U.S. Champs (2008, 09) Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker was announced. Shortly after this year's nationals, the split of last year's U.S. Champs, and Olympians, Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett was announced. And now Caitlin and John.

No reason for a split was indicated, but it is my assumption that since this has been an emotional year for John, with his mother's death only a year ago, maybe he feels that he is ready to move on? He continued skating for his mother, and proceeded to win a national championship. Maybe he's emotionally spent and feels he's accomplished all of his goals? The icenetwork article says that John is "evaluating his options" before making future plans, but wants to stay involved in the sport. (My guess would be as a coach, since he's already active in that now). Caitlin is searching for a new partner. Only time will tell if more details on their split is revealed. I suppose it doesn't matter, as more information won't change the outcome.

As disappointed as I am, I can only trust that John and Caitlin have made the right choice for them personally (even though professionally, it seems obvious that they've cut a promising career far too short). I wish them both the best of luck. We will always cherish the memories that they gave us at this year's U.S. Nationals.

I can't find a video of their short program from Greensboro, but found one from their bronze-medal winning effort at last fall's Cup of China.

John and Caitlin's "Oblivion" by Astor Piazzollo:

click HERE to access video.

Study Break: Kurt Browning's "Antares" by the Tragically Hip

In this number, "Antares," written especially for Kurt by his friends in the band the Tragically Hip, Kurt's intricate footwork and effortless jumps are a sight to behold. Watch for Kurt's quadruple toe loop (the second jump in the program).

This is one of my favorite Kurt exhibition numbers. Kurt is a genius. That's all that needs to be said.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Study Break: Madison and Keiffer Hubbell's "Sognami" by Allesandro Safina

At the 2009 National Championships in Cleveland, Ohio, the brother and sister team of Madison and Keiffer Hubbell from Toledo, Ohio skated their freedance to "Sognami" (Dream of me) by Allesandro Saffina in their national senior debut. They placed 4th. My sister and I were in attendance that afternoon in Cleveland, and greatly enjoyed this performance.

I don't think the Hubbell's have captured this same kind of magic in their freeskates since, but this is certainly indication of what they're capable of if they have the right piece of music and the right choreography. They are both strong technical skaters. I haven't been able to find this video...until last night! I love the program and wanted to share it with all of you as today's inspiration, and in my case, for today's study break in the midst of finals week! My favorite move comes at 2:10 in the program.

Enjoy Madison and Keiffer's "Sognami":

Monday, May 2, 2011

World Debut: Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov

The pairs competition at this year's Worlds was extra exciting, mostly because of the world debut of a new pair: Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, representing Russia. They skated superbly and earned the silver medal in their first major international event.

Both skaters have had previous partners. Tatiana competed with Stanislav Morozov from 2005 until last season. The couple were 4-time Ukranian Champions. They finished 12 at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, and 8th at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Trankov skated with Maria Makhortova from 2003 until last season. With Makhortova, Trankov is the 2005 World Junior Champion, 2007 Russian National Champion, and a 3-time European Championship medalist

In the past, I've heard Tatiana described by skating commentators as one of the best female pairs skaters in the world, who was held back from her true potential by her sluggish, ox-like partner (who incidentally is also her off-ice partner). Trankov and Makhortova's relationship was so troubled that their former coach, 1984 Olympic pairs champion, Oleg Vasiliev, had to come up with incentives for them not to fight.

After ending their partnerships at the end of last season, Volosozhar and Trankov decided to team up, and magic has ensued ever since. One of their coaches is Stanislav Morozov. Tatiana's Russian citizenship came through just in time for the pair to win the National Russian title. At Worlds, they exceeded expectations, and have become the new "ones to watch." If they can finish second in their first Worlds in their first season together, imagine what they can accomplish with more time! It's going to be an exciting rivarly between them and 3-time and reigning World Champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany. (Interestingly enough, Tatiana and Aliona are both from Ukraine, and both formerly skated with Morozov).

See for yourself just how good this new pair is!! Enjoy!!

Tatiana and Maxim's short program to "Carmina Burana" by Carl Orff:

Long program to "Romeo and Juliet" by Sergei Prokofiev: