Thursday, November 12, 2015

Matt Savoie is Amazing

Let's take a moment and appreciate the amazing, fantastical skater that is Matt Savoie.

This 2006 Olympian has got it all. Now THIS is good skating. I can't get enough of this program.

The fact that this performance was judged only fourth here boggles my mind and infuriates me. How anything could be better than this, I'd realllly like to know.

But I suppose if there's one thing we know about figure skating, it's that sometimes--actually, more than sometimes-- the judging doesn't make any sense and is unjustified.

Judging aside, Matt's skating and the mood of this performance is to be treasured. This is why I love figure skating.

Thank you, Matt Savoie, for giving your fans so many gifts.

Tonya Harding's "Much Ado About Nothing," and "Jurassic Park"

I'm a day late in posting, but better late than never.

Yesterday, Nov. 12, was Tonya Harding's 45th birthday. This is hard to believe, considering that I remember seeing her skate on TV as a 23-year-old at the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994. Crazy to think about how long ago that was, when in some ways, it feels like it was just yesterday. I remember the event, and my falling in love with figure skating, quite clearly.

I remember Tonya's Olympic skates well, but more for the negatives than the positives, to be honest. That was the first and only time that I ever saw Tonya compete. I decided to look back at her 1994 U.S. National's programs, to see how she did there. I know that she won, but I had never watched her performances, in particular, to see how they compared to what she did at the Olympics a short time later.

Of course, at those Olympic trials in Detroit, Nancy Kerrigan was sidelined by the attack, which Tonya was later accused of allegedly being involved in. But at the time, no fingers were poined at Tonya, and she cruised to her second U.S. title, defeating 13-year-old Michelle Kwan. After her knowledge of the attack on Kerrigan was proven, Tonya was stripped of this title, and banned from U.S. Figure Skating-sanctioned events for life.

In Detroit, Tonya skated an impressive short program to music that would later prove to be ironic: "Much Ado About Nothing." Her triple Lutz, double-toe was as athletic as they come, and the overall presentation, speed on her spins, and delivery of this skate elicited far more excitement than it did when performed in Lillehammer the following month. If she had skated this same performance at the Olympics, she would have been much higher in the rankings. As things played out, Tonya was 10th after the short in Lillehammer, while Nancy Kerrigan was first.

In the freeeskate at Nationals, Tonya landed most of her jumps cleanly, but there were still some mistakes, and it really felt like there wasn't a lot of content. I like the Jurassic Park music, especially the slow section and the track at the end. In the past, Tonya's programs were a hodge-podge of mis-matched musical selections. I found the Jurassic Park program, given all the music was from the same score, to be a much more cohesive program. Even so, given that Tonya said she wanted to win the Olympics, and this would be her vehicle to do so, I'm surprised the program wasn't more impressive. But in the end, Tonya did enough here to win, and earn a ticket to the Olympics. Unfortunately, in Lillehammer, she only finished 8th overall.

The world may never know the truth of the extent of Tonya Harding's involvement in the Kerrigan attack, but we do know that in her prime, Tonya was a tremendous athlete, who pushed U.S. figure skating to new heights athletically in the early 1990s. No matter what people thought of her then, or think of her now, we can never deny her talent.

Though Tonya has gone down some interesting life paths in her time since being banned from figure skating, we can still tip our hats to her on this belated birthday, and remember her as a trendsetter for the sport we love.

Tonya's 1994 short program to "Much Ado About Nothing":

Tonya's 1994 freeskate to "Jurrasic Park" :

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Glitter and the Gold: Katarina Witt's "Robin Hood" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

While scrolling through the news this morning, I saw an article about the release of a new book by Katarina Witt called "So viel Leben" (So Much Life). The article is from a German news source, and upon further research, I found the book on Germany's Amazon, but I have not yet found out if the book will be published in English. The book is formatted like a scrapbook and highlights Witt's career and life for the last 50 years. Yes, 50. Katarina turns 50 in less than a month, on December 3. Keeping my fingers crossed that the book will be released in the U.S.!

While searching for information about Katarina's book, I found this lovely letter from a skating fan about Katarina that was printed in the New York Times nearly 22 years ago.

I loved this letter, especially the end. I will always remember Katarina's 1994 Olympic experience. She competed knowing that she wasn't in contention for a medal, but she wanted to compete to celebrate the Olympic experience and honor her Olympic experiences of the past. She dedicated her freeskate "Where Have all the Flowers Gone" to the people of war-torn Sarajevo, the country that hosted the 1984 Games, when Katarina won the first of her two Olympic titles. The feeling of of passion and hope that she created in Lillehamer was larger than the competition. I agree that Katarina is an example of what a true Olympian should be: an athlete of power and talent, humility and charm, someone with the inner strength and graceful panache..."

Katarina's 1994 Short Program to "Robin Hood":

Katarina's 1994 Freeskate to "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?":

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Maia and Alex Shibuani's "Fix You" by Coldplay

After winning a bronze medal at the 2011 World Championships, brother and sister team Maia and Alex Shibutani seemed destined for world prominence. However, that isn't how things have played out.

Without getting into too many skating politics, some feel that the Shibutani's were given that world medal "too early," and in subsequent years were held back by the judges. It sounds ridiculous even writing that, and I don't know if it's true, but I do agree that the judges haven't favored the Shibutani's since that world medal (which by the way, was totally warranted. The Shibutani's were fantastic in 2011 and their freeskate is still one of my favorites! Click here to see it: )

I will say that I don't think the "Shibs" have had a freedance that I've loved as much as their 2011 one, but the quality of their skating has certainly maintained the same standard of excellence that they had when they landed on the world podium. In fact, their quality has improved, as well as their maturity and sophistication.

Sure, it's easy to criticize a brother and sister team in a discipline that is all about a connection between the male and female partner, but a familial connection can still be strong and emote passion, just in a different way. I've always felt that the Shibutanis bring integrity and class to each program that they deliver. On top of that, their skating skills are supreme. You will not find better twizzles anywhere else!

This year, the Shibutanis have taken on a more personal theme--one that speaks from the heart and tells the story of their career. They are skating to "Fix You" by Coldplay, which starts out with the lyrics:"When you try your best, but you don't succeed.When you get what you want, but not what you need. When you feel so tired, but you can't sleep. Stuck in reverse..."

The Shibutanis worked with the great Peter Tchernyshev, Russian-born 5-time U.S. ice dance champion with Naomi Lang, to choreograph the piece.

I just watched it for the first time, and I have to say that I love it. As gorgeous as the Shibutani's skating has been over the years, I've had trouble getting interested in some of their freedances. Their actual skating was always spot-on and breathtakingly beautiful, but too classic and safe. They weren't creating any excitement and buzz. There wasn't anything to make them stand out from the crowd. And I don't say that because of their skating itself, but rather, because of the musical selection and the very traditional look and feel of the programs.

Meanwhile, their coach/choreographer, Marina Zueva, was creating these groundbreaking, exciting masterpieces for Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. While it might not be the case, you have to wonder if Zueva was not putting all her passion and creativity into creating for the other two, while the Shibutanis got whatever mental energy was leftover. They were second fiddle, and it showed.

But "Fix You" is different. While I'd still love to see them emote and "bring it" more--especially Maia-- this program is one that I feel is authentic to them, and that translates very well on the ice. It feels very real and fresh. Tchernyshev was always a brilliant skater, artist, and performer, and his collaboration with this team is just what they needed.

I love the second half when the music starts to build and they perform their twizzles and highlight lifts. I could feel the momentum gathering and something inside me stirred. So happy to see the Shibutanis skate a program like this that really showcases not only their skating talents, but who they are as people. It's satisfying to see a team who has so much talent, finally have a vehicle that really suits them and can take them to new places artistically.

From anything I've ever see and read, the Shibutanis seem like exceptional people. Add that to terrific figure skaters, and well, I hope that equals their best competitive season yet!

Here they skate "Fix You" by Cold Play, en route to a silver medal at Skate Canada last weekend:

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Ashley Wagner's "Hip Hip Chin Chin"

This girl knows how to bring the sass. Nailed it here!

This is the first part of Ashley's winning performances at Skate Canada last weekend.

The look--makeup, hair, costume, choreography--are impeccable!

Patrick Chan's Chopin Freeskate at 2015 Skate Canada

I just watched Patrick Chan's winning freeskate from last weekend's Skate Canada. It's sublime. Perfect musical selection to Frederic Chopin. The music complements Chan's smooth, quiet, subtle skating style. While watching this, all I could think about was the title of a book written by Dick Button: An Edge is a Lean of the Body. Chan is a master of deep edges, flowing running edges, and all the beauty that skating has to offer.

I loved this! Congratulations to Patrick Chan for winning his first competition after a year off. And he beat the 2014 Olympic champion, Yazuru Hanyu, whom Chan lost to in Sochi.

What a statement this makes to the rest of the world. He's back. And better than ever!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Scott Hamilton's "Hair" from 1996 Stars on Ice Tour

Last month I celebrated the five year anniversary of my blog! Somehow, this anniversary slipped my mind, until now. It's been five great years! I don't do much at all to advertise my blog, and surely it's not as popular as others, but I hope that in my own small way, I have been able to share my love of skating with those who read.

Admittedly, this last year hasn't been my best for posting new content. I started a new job, and now am in the midst of a job search. I haven't been swimming in free time, but still like to post when I can.

I hope you enjoy this Scott Hamilton performance to "Hair" from the 1996 Stars on Ice tour. Scott's entertaining routines, featuring storylines, props, and backflips galore, were a staple on the professional skating circuit in the '80s and '90s. But "tricks" aside, Scott had terrific basic skating skills--he always brought his "A-game" Triple Lutz, spins, and blurring footwork! Scott always showed us why he was such a decorated champion, both for his solid athletics, and his heart as an artist and performer.

I miss seeing Scott Skate today. He was such a warm and generous performer, who always brought his fans such happiness. There hasn't been another entertainer like him since.

Watching this program brought me back to my childhood and the glory days of watching professional skating on TV every weekend. I had no idea how lucky I was. Nowadays, I'm lucky if I catch one hour on TV.

I've said it once and I'll say it again: thank goodness for You Tube!