Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Farewell to 2016 with Michelle Kwan's "Winter Song" by Ingrid Michaelson

As 2016 comes to a close, I wanted to share a beautiful program that reflects all the greatness of the last year. This is one of my favorites.

After a long time away from the ice, Michelle Kwan returned here at Yuna Kim's skating show in Korea in 2010. It was wonderful to see Michelle again and to see that she still skated with the same joy that was the hallmark throughout her legendary career.

I wish everyone a very happy new year!!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Ilia Kulik's "Who Wants to Live Forever" from the 2012 Stars on Ice Tour

I love this performance by Ilia Kulik. Such a natural talent. I love the way he flies across the ice with such reckless abandon and the way he soars in his jumps. Great performance!

Heart and Soul: Evan Lysacek's "Carmen" from the 2006 Olympic Games

No one could compete like Evan Lysacek. Or perform with such heart for that matter. In this come-from-behind performance in Torino, Evan showed everyone why he would be a force to be reckoned with over the next quadrennial to Vancouver. Tenth after the short program, Evan exhibited true passion and grit to move up to fourth place after the freeskate. Even showed the world what he was made of. It's no wonder that he went on to become a 2-time U.S. Champion, World Champion, and then Olympic Champion. Such determination and passion! I love this program; it warms my soul!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Flashes of Greatness: Denis Ten's 2014 Olympic Freeskate

On a night where figure skating greats crashed and burned on Olympic ice, Kazakhstan's Denis Ten rose out of the ashes and shone like gold on the Sochi ice. Had Denis placed higher in the short program, he could have won gold with this near-perfect and powerful freeskate. As it turned out, Ten won the bronze--still a huge achievement for a skater from a country that is not known to produce figure skaters. Denis has always been an enigma: brilliant one moment and inconsistent the next, but this performance will live on as one of his greatest. By far my favorite performance of the Sochi Olympics in the men's freeskate. Bravo Denis!

Flashback to 1984: Brian Orser and Brian Boitano

At the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, the world saw two talented skaters named Brian finish second and fifth. Four years later, the two would go head to head in one of the biggest sports showdowns in history: The Battle of the Brians. In watching their Sarajevo performances, Orser moved with speed, flair, and a bit of reckless abandon as he soared into flying sitspins and delayed axels. Boitano was a talented jumper but hadn't yet found his artistic point of view. At the end of Boitano's freeskate, Dick Button said something about how if Boitano could focus his skating in the next four years (finding moves that were different and unique), he could set himself up well for Calgary. The world had no idea just how well, as Boitano would leave that Games having established himself as one of the greatest skaters that ever was.

I love watching the progression of these two skaters from Sarajevo to Calgary and so, it's worth a look back at the 22 and 20 year old, receptively, who would develop into two of the sport's most well-known rivals in the four years that followed.

Russian Diva Series: Part 2: Anjelica Krylova & Oleg Ovsyannikov's "Masquerade Waltz"

When it came to giving drama, Anjelica Krylova did just that. The 1998 Olympic silver medalist and two time World Champion knew how to deliver the diva stare and project her performance all the way up to the last row. While this team's "Carmen" during the 1997/1998 season had the most dramatic ice-diva moments, this "Masquerade Waltz" program from the 1996-1997 is my favorite. As Dick Button tells us at the start of the dance, the story is one that portrays a man who comes home from a waltz and suspects his wife of having been unfaithful. In the end, he kills her.

Maya Usova and Alexander Zhulin's "Four Seasons" by Vivaldi

I had never actually watched this whole performance until a few minutes ago. After seeing it, I wonder, what was I waiting for?!

As Tracey Wilson explains at the start of the performance, Usova and Zhulin portray two statues who come to life. Throughout the performance they hold various statue poses. From what I know about Usova and Zhulin, this program is the embodiment of who they are: balletic, artistic, passionate, and unique.

Nathan Chen's 2016 Grand Prix Final Freeskate

Nathan Chen has been flirting with brilliance all season. Now he's officially achieved it. So proud of Nathan for landing 4 quads (two in combination) at the recent Grand Prix Final in Marseille, where he finished second to reigning Olympic Champion, Yuzuru Hanyu. I've noticed vast improvements in his choreography since the last season and the more he improves, the more dangerous he will be as a gold-medal threat in any competition. Look out PyeongChang!

Restoring my Soul: Michelle Kwan's "Winter" by Tori Amos

This year, for the first time in six years, I did not post my "12 Days of Christmas" skating countdown. In fact, this year I posted on the blog far less than any other year. This was a year of change with more demands on my time than ever before. While I am grateful for all the opportunities and experiences of 2016, I would be remiss if I didn't also mention that the constant transition, hustle, and general overload wore me down and left a lot less time for the thing that I love: reading, blogging, and watching skating. I understand that there is more to life than figure skating, and I embraced all that this year, but in the end, something was missing. Up until a few days ago, I felt like I was at the end of my rope. I needed time to rest, relax, restore, and enjoy all the things that I love. There is a saying that goes, "You have to fill the cup before you can pour it out." In the last few days, I've been doing just that. I needed the opportunity to take care of myself, take time to just be a person, and fill my life with the things that are such an integral part of my soul.

Figure skating has been a part of my life for almost 23 years now. It's a big part of who I am. I have countless memories of watching skating competitions, attending skating competitions, reading about skating, writing about skating, and also skating myself. As we say goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017, I hope to have more time to indulge in my passion. Skating has always brought me such joy. One of the reasons that I love this blog is not only because I love skating and writing, but because I feel like it's the one way that I can share my inspiration and love of the sport with others. I don't know who reads this, if people just click on the pages for a moment, or if they stop and stay awhile, but either way, it makes me happy to think that someone, somewhere, can read my blog and watch the videos that have always made me smile, moved me to tears, or brought me so much entertainment and joy.

One skater who has not only brought me some of my favorite moments, but also served as one of my life's inspirations, is Michelle Kwan. It seems only fitting to share one of her most beautiful programs "Winter" by Tori Amos, as the beginning of my pledge to spend more time with my sport and to take more time to share what I enjoy with others.

This program of Michelle's is everything that I love about figure skating in one program. It is pristine, elegant, heartfelt, flowing, pure, and serene. This is figure skating's true essence.

To everyone who stops on this page and stays awhile, I hope that you enjoy this piece of art as much as I do.

Merry Belated Christmas and a happy and healthy 2017 to all!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Patrick Chan's "A Journey," Composed by Eric Radford

So happy to see Patrick Chan back in a good mental and physical place. Beautiful skating and awesome technical elements. No one moves quite like this. This is skating at its best.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Russian Diva Series: Part 1: Maria Butyrskaya

My sister and I were having a conversation yesterday about Russian skating divas. The top women on the scene these days--Evgenia, Elena, Elizaveta, Anna, Alina--are fierce, and beautiful! But this isn't new. How can we forget the great Russian divas of the past? The first that came to my mind is Maria Butyrskaya. She was never the most gifted skater, but what she lacked in natural talent, she made up for with sheer determination, grit, and plenty of sex appeal.

Maria captured the world title in 1999 in Helsinki, defeating reigning champion, Michelle Kwan. She never reached those same heights again, but went on to become an entertaining show skater. There is much love for Maria in my book--I truly admire the determination and perseverance that she showed throughout her competitive career.

Maria finished her career with six Russian National titles, three World medals (including her 1999 gold), three Grand Prix final medals, and three European Championship titles.

For some reason, I cannot find her 1999 Worlds win on You Tube, so instead I will post her 1999 European Championships win. This event led up to the Worlds in Helsinki.

Here's a clip of Maria's pure elation at the end of her World Championship win:

Friday, October 28, 2016

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tribute to China: Sui and Han's 2016 Worlds Freeskate

As an up-and-coming pair on the figure skating scene, Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China, are taking the world by storm. With their power, grace, and beauty, I see nothing but the brightest of futures for this pair. I look forward to seeing them compete this season!

Tribute to China: Xue Shen & Hongbo Zhao: 2003 World Freeskate to "Turandot"

One of my favorite performances of all time. Competing with an ankle injury, Xue Shen showed the ultimate determination and heart to perform a perfect and passionate performance to "Turandot." Shen and Hongbo Zhao performed as one and gave the world chills. This performance never ceases to remind me why I love this sport. Perfection.

A Tribute to China: Qing Pang and Jian Tong: "The Impossible Dream"

A stunning Olympic moment enjoyed and appreciated by all. Qing Pang and Jian Tong captivated audiences around the world with their near perfect performance to "Impossible Dream" at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. These two captured the Olympic spirit and delivered a heartfelt performance that won them the silver medal to their countrymen, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao.

A Tribute to China: Lu Chen's "Butterfly Lovers"

I'm in Beijing right now. As I sit here in my hotel room, looking out the window at this beautiful, bustling city, I can't help but think back on all the amazing Chinese figure skaters that I have loved and appreciated over the years. Such wonderful memories. The first skater and performance that I'd like to honor is the lovely Lu Chen, 1994 and 1998 Olympic bronze medalist and 1995 World Champion. At the 1998 Nagano Olympics, she skated a magical, ethereal piece to "Butterfly Lovers." This performance was so significant as Chen had been 25th at the World the previous year and had struggled to regain her championship composure. She had lost favor with her country and the skating community, and this is the remarkable and emotional comeback performance that left everyone in tears. As Scott Hamilton said in his commentary, " I love when wonderful things happen to wonderful people."

'Edges of Spain': A Stars on Ice Masterpiece

This Stars on Ice performance to Aranjuez, titled "Edges of Spain," is everything that professional skating should be: quiet, beautiful, masterful, and strong. Love this!

Paul Wylie: Classics Never Go Out of Style

This will never get old.

Maia and Alex Shibutani's 2016 Skate America Freeskate

Watch out world! This is mesmerizing. I can't wait to see how this program will continue to evolve over the season. Pure and beautiful skating!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Adam Rippon: Taking Musical Risks

I've taken a 9-month hiatus from my blog. This is the longest break I've ever taken in my blog's 6-year history. The break had nothing to do with my lack of interest in skating, or a lack of interest in this blog, but rather, due to the craziest life-schedule that I've ever had. I've gone through a lot of ups-and-downs since January. Last I wrote was the evening of the men's freeskate. Since then, I have had six jobs and a new relationship. Needless to say, my blogging time has been non-existent. But I've missed it. I hated that this project that I've had going for six years was almost defunct, but I knew that at the right time, I would bring it back. Now is that time! I wouldn't say that my schedule has died down, but the desire to write about skating and to share the beauty and power of the performances was stronger has won out.

Since my last blog post discussed the men's final of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, it seems fitting that I am going to reprise my blog by focusing on that competition's gold medalist: Adam Rippon. Also since that blog post, I have had the chance to interview Adam on the telephone and write an article about him for a Pennsylvania lifestyle magazine. I had a wonderful conversation with Adam and marveled at how down-to-earth he was. So polite, respectful, friendly, funny, and insightful! It was a great experience.

In today's post, I'd like to feature Adam's awesome performance from the 2016 Worlds in which he threw down the gauntlet. Though he finished sixth, the result hardly matters, as his skating was the most smooth, confident, and consistent that I've ever seen it. That in itself was a personal victory! In skating to the Beatles, Adam, who typically skating to classical "War horses" in the past, tried something completely different. This season, he's skating to "Bloodstream" by Stateless. Prior to seeing Adam's performance at the Japan Open, I had never heard this song before. It was so different than anything that I've heard, and is certainly different from anything that we've heard in the skating world. So refreshing! I've heard some mixed reviews about this program, but just given the fact that it's something so fresh and will stretch Adam to new artistic heights, I am a big fan. I feel that this program is an authentic extension of Adam and I like the vibe that it delivers.

In my interview with Adam, he expressed that he wants to skate to music that more people can relate to--something that will bring in new audiences. I feel this "Bloodstream" program does just that.

My respect for Adam went up several notches since our interview and I wish him nothing but the very best for this season! I'll be rooting for him!

Adam's 2016 World "Beatles" Freeskate:

Adam's "Bloodstream" by Stateless:

Sunday, January 24, 2016

This Will Restore Your Faith in Figure Skating: Part 6: Nathan Chen's "Symphony No.3" by Camille Saint-Saens

Skating fans watched history tonight as 16-year-old Nathan Chen landed four massive quadruple jumps, two in combination, in a program that sent a clear message to his competitors that he is not only the future, he is the now.

Four quadruple jumps in one program is the most completed by any man in the world, and with two quads in the short program (though one wasn't perfect), Nathan's overall competition quad-count was six, another world record.

Skating to "Symphony No. 3" by Camille Saint-Saens,a piece skating fans will remember when Jeremy Abbott used it en route to his second national title in 2010, Nathan was much more fluid and comfortable than in the short program. Amidst the stunning array of quadruple jumps, Nathan skated with speed and utilized the tension and power of the music to create a championship moment that brought the crowd to its feet. How can I say this in layman's terms? He pretty much rocked it.

Finishing third overall, Nathan came up just short of capturing the title, but was arguably the most impressive skater in the entire event.

With the World Figure Skating Championships in Boston looming, and the Winter Olympic Games only two years away, Nathan Chen has just catapulted himself into the world-contender discussion. In the last six years, the U.S. men have only been on the periphery of world prominence. All that is about to change.

Congratulations on making history, Nathan. This is just the beginning!

My faith in figure skating has been restored!

Blurred Lines: Musings on the Men's Free Skate at the U.S. National Championships

The men's event at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships is one that we won't soon forget. Even now, hours later, I'm not sure what the heck I witnessed. Let's Review:

1.) Amazing artist skating from the second-to-last group: Grant Hochstein and Alexander Johnson. Both skaters understand how to package musicality and performance quality with technical precision. Johnson's choreography was unique and intricate, his control over the blade first-rate. Hochstein delivered what may have been my favorite performance of the night. Skating to "Les Miserables," the 25-year-old rose to the level of grandeur that the music created with an inspired free skate that built momentum throughout and culminated in a standing-ovation.

2.) Fifteen-year-old Vincent Zhao made his case in the quad-conversation with a strong free skate to "The Godfather," establishing himself as a podium-contender in the near future.

3.) A very strange and uninspired skate from the leader, Max Aaaron, who apparently was ahead of his music for most of the program. To get back on pace, he had several awkward pauses (Scott Hamilton called them "choreographic breaks") that made it appear as if he was resting, or skating in a practice, rather than competing for national gold. Don't get me wrong, Max was very good technically, with two standout quads, one in combination with a triple combination, and I like his speed and power, but I couldn't help but feel that he looked dead inside. There was absolutely no spark or energy in that performance. I'm not sure if he was holding back in order to focus on his elements, but unfortunately, his competitive strategy severely limited the impact of his program.

4.) An unbelievable effort from 16-year-old Nathan Chen, who threw down FOUR (yes, four) quadruple jumps in his free skate, becoming the first man to ever land four quads in one program, and six over the course of a competition. Not just in the U.S. In the WORLD. Incredible athletic fireworks. My sister and I knew we were watching history, when we noticed that we were at the halfway point in the program, and the only jumps we had seen so far were quads! Nathan Chen made a major statement here. He's going to win many national titles and will soon be in contention for world titles. With the Olympics two years away, anything is possible.

5.) And then there was Adam Rippon, the 26-year-old veteran, who has been so close to winning so many times before. He fell on his only quad attempt (abeit, it was a quad Lutz, the hardest quad attempt in the competition), and though he landed 8 other clean triples, I was perplexed with his technical scores, which was higher than skaters who had landed multiple quads. Adam is a wonderful artist with beautiful spins, footwork, and a performance quality that is far superior than most of his competitors, but how triples beat quads on the first mark, I'm not sure? The long and short of it is that he won his first U.S. National title in what was a huge statement by the judges: the overall package of both jumps and artistry is more valuable than jumps alone.

I have loved Adam's skating for a number of years, and I actually thought that he was robbed of the gold medal last year, but with this year's victory, the lines are a little more blurred. How was his technical score boosted so much? I'm not begrudging Adam the title, and I don't necessarily think those behind him should have won, it was definitely just a victory that leaves people wondering what the heck goes on inside the judges' heads. Figure skating is anything but transparent, and that's what leaves viewers changing the channel.

Overall, a wonderful, yet strange, frustrating, yet satisfying men's final. In other words, it was a typical Nationals. And I loved it!

This Will Restore Your Faith in Figure Skating: Part 5: Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea's "Music of the Night"

Yesterday in St. Paul, MN, Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea dazzled audiences en route to a convincing win at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Skating to "Music of the Night," from Phantom of the Opera, the team made an overdone skating "warhorse," feel fresh and vibrant with a performance that brought the audience to its feet.

Coming off the heels of a stellar short program to "Take Me to Church," by Hozier, Tarah and Danny proved that they are the best in the U.S. by delivering the technical goods and a performance that was smooth, soaring, genuine, and free. My sister and I can't say enough good things about Danny's skating--he skates with big sweeping movements, secure edges, and an abandon that we haven't seen from anyone in years.

We love how this team's choreography perfectly uses the accents of the music to feature highlights and movements that reach out to the audience and pull us into their performance. I commented to my sister that they "look up," and they "reach out,"--they embrace us with their joy. They even smile when they skate. In an event where the pressure is palpable, it's refreshing to see a team rise above that and show authentic emotion.

When this performance ended, my sister and I clapped, and she said, "This gives me hope."

The judges thought so, too, rewarding Tarah and Danny with the highest total ever achieved in U.S. pairs skating under the new scoring system.

This team, and this performance, has renewed my faith in U.S. pairs skating. They created a moment for all of us that reminds us of why we should do anything: because we love it. Tarah and Danny's love for skating translated brilliantly Saturday afternoon, and the world of skating is grateful for it.

To Tarah and Danny: thank you, and congratulations!

My faith in figure skating has been restored.

This Will Renew Your Faith in Figure Skating: Part 4: Gracie Gold's "Firebird"

When I saw Gracie Gold capture the gold at the U.S. National Championship in Boston in 2014, I thought she'd be unbeatable for years to come.

But then she wasn't.

Crumbling under the pressure at critical moments in the last two years, both on the international and national scene, I'm pretty sure I wasn't alone in having doubts about Gracie's competitive focus. Her performance in the short program, where she performed a gaping single-Lutz, in lieu of her marquis triple-triple combination, gave credence to these doubts.

And then, she showed up.

Last night, skating last in a powerhouse group of women's competitors at the U.S. National Championships in St. Paul, MN., Gracie Gold finally lived up to her name. She embodied the character of Stravinsky's "Firebird," with a performance that was full of athletic firepower and artistic sparkle.

Though I'd still love to see Gracie exude more and become a more genuine artist, what she put out on the ice last night was impressive, and from an athletic standpoint, pretty awesome. It was great to see her come back from a devastating performance and throw down the gauntlet on a night when her closest competitors skated lights-out. Gracie finally did her job, and she did it really damn well.

Bravo, Gracie! Congratulations on showing everyone what you already knew about yourself: you are the skater to beat.

My faith in skating has been restored!

This Will Restore Your Faith in Figure Skating: Part 3: Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani's "Fix You" by Coldplay

This program has given me chills all season. What has also given me chills is that this team has been grossly under-marked all season (and throughout their careers), always coming up short to their U.S. compatriots--a team who is strong, but whose superiority, is often in question. After finishing second at three U.S. Championships, and third at two, the Shibutanis were primed to earn the one title that they knew in their hearts that they truly deserved.

Finally, yesterday at the U.S. National Championships in St. Paul, MN., the brother and sister team of Maia and Alex Shibutani, rose out of the ashes like a pair of majestic phoenixes and flew across the ice with prowess, conviction, and a raw emotional energy that pulsed through the arena with the undulating beat of Coldplay's masterful composition.

When they hit their ending pose, facing the audience, it was a culmination of their greatest national skate, and one that seemed to say:
" We have arrived."

To be fair, the Shibutanis arrived years ago, but this is the first year that their true selves have emerged. This Coldplay program is a genuine reflection of the struggle of their careers: being so technically perfect, yet being denied, being "almost," but not quite. All the frustration and criticism fueled them to face their demons and silence their doubters. Throughout the years, the Shibutanis have never lost sight of who they are and what they are capable of doing. Last night, everyone else finally saw that, too, with a program that left the audience on its feet, and tears in the eyes of those watching at home.

In a discipline where so much of the performances are "put on," featuring caked-on make-up, forced smiles, and campy-rehearsed routines, Maia and Alex delivered something that was stunningly unique; something that was as organic as it comes, a seeming natural extension of themselves. And it was damn brilliant.

Nothing made me happier than seeing the judges award the title to the best in show, when so often, other factors are at play. As my brother-in-law says, "Figure Skating: where the judges make shit up." In a sport that earns that reputation from the average viewer (and he's absolutely correct,) I love, love, love when the judges get it right.

Congratulations, Maia and Alex. You truly deserve all of your success!

My faith in figure skating has been restored!

This Will Restore your Faith in Skating: Part 2: Polina Edmunds' "Moonlight Sonata"

Thursday evening at the U.S. National Championships in St. Paul MN., Polina Edmunds schooled the top contenders with this stunner of a short program to "Moonlight Sonata." Formerly bare-faced, donning braids and beads in her hair, the teenager from California seemingly transformed overnight from fresh-faced teen to a sleek and sophisticated woman, ready to take on the world. Polina looked so mature that my sister and I did not recognize her in the ladies short program recap photo that appeared on the Ice Network homepage.

This is the best short program I've seen from Polina, but also one of the best short programs I've seen from anyone in a long, long time. It had polish, it had precision, it had power, it had command. It had everything. This is a short program! This. is. how. it's. done.

My faith in figure skating has been restored!

This Will Restore Your Faith in Skating: Part 1: Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea's "Take Me to Church" by Hozier

Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea's new short program "Take Me to Church" by Hozier brought down the house at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Paul, MN., launching them into a commanding lead.

This is a perfect example of how the new rule allowing music lyrics can be used to make figure skating accessible to the average person flipping through the channels. I mean, why skate to "Carmen," when you can skate to Hozier?

Not only was the music an incredible vehicle for this team, the program itself was so well choreographed. My sister and I were raving over the use of "highlight" moves by Danny: a leap into the air on the accent of the music, a perfectly placed "butterfly" that soared along with the vocals. Danny's skating is big, open, and free, and together, the team emanates a genuine feeling of joy.

Loved this. My faith in figure skating has been restored.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Todd Eldredge: Comeback Kid

After a three-year absence from the World Championships, Todd Eldredge returned to the 1995 Worlds in Birmingham, England, with a newfound determination.

How do you successfully stage a comeback? Watch, and learn.

Eldredge finished with the silver medal and the respect of everyone. This kind of courage and fight under pressure would define Eldredge throughout his career.

The following year, he was World Champion.

In 2001, Eldredge would finish his Worlds career with 6-podium finishes. This courageous performance at the 1995 Worlds stands out as the one that started the momentum that would propel Eldredge to World prominence. To this day, he is one of the most-decorated and well-respected American champions.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow's 1998 Olympic Free Dance

First post of the new year. And it's a good one.

Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow arrived at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano Japan with something to prove. Not to the judges, but to themselves.

After being unhappy with their material that season, the 5-time U.S. ice dance champions, scrapped their free dance and created a new program in the month between Nationals and the Olympics. They worked on choreography late at night into the wee hours of the morning. The end result was stunning. This piece, a variety of tangos by Astor Piazolla, is the best work of their career. Subtle and intricate, yet passionate and flowing, this program is a perfect example of why ice dancing is a showcase of masterful skating skills, beautiful movement, and the silent story that is told between partners.

Punsalan and Swallow were always under-marked, and this competition is no exception. Now many years removed from this event, the marks and placements simply don't matter. Brilliant skating always withstands the test of time.