Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Comeback of Joshua Farris

Nothing makes me happier than to know that Josh Farris is returning to competition. The 2015 U.S. bronze medalist announced last year that he had to retire due to a series of concussions and the fear of future medical risks. His fans were devastated. However, he's now cleared by his doctors and is on the comeback trail. I'm thrilled that Josh will be skating for us again. He is a truly special artist and I love his skating! Here's one of my favorite performances of his to "Give Me Love," by Ed Sheeran. Welcome back, Josh. We're so excited to see you back on the ice!

That Time When Max Aaron Slayed It: "West Side Story" From the 2013 National Championships

Max Aaron didn't have his best year this year, so let's remember when he did. At the 2013 U.S. Championships, Max Aaaron killed it and took the gold medal. I wish Max could bring back this program, or at least the energy and confidence that he displayed here. This was awesome. Great job, Max!

Thirty Three Years Ago Today: Katarina Witt's Olympic Gold Medal in Calgary

I just saw a post on Instagram from Katarina Witt commemorating her first Olympic gold medal in Calgary. It's hard to believe that it was 33 years ago today! I was just a baby. Though I didn't watch Katarina's Olympic performances, photos of that event are iconic. The young "Brook Shields" of figure skating stole the hearts of the world. What a beautiful champion of our sport!

1984 Olympics Short Program:

1984 Olympics Free Skate:

Shibutani's 'Captivate' to Win Second U.S. Title in Kansas City

Madison Chock and Zach Donahue changed coaches and training bases this season in order to make a move on the podium. They came into this event with a new confidence and a beautiful, lyrical freeskate that exudes a quiet strength. Unfortunately, a fluke fall by Madison eliminated any chance of them moving up from third place. I really enjoy their skating and find their performances to be so genuine and raw, but there always seems to be something that holds them back from really breaking through on the U.S. and world scene.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates came into this championship with something to prove. Coming off of a disappointing Grand Prix Final, and looking to regain their U.S. title, they approached this championship with a ferocity and aggression that was amazing to see. They attacked and left nothing on the ice. They ended up missing the win by 1.0, but they certainly left an impression on audiences and judges. Their "Under Pressure" program was sharp, fresh, and spunky. The only weakness, in my opinion, is that outside of the famous "Under Pressure" chorus, the middle part of the music loses focus and doesn't have the same intensity. This isn't Chock and Bates' fault, of course...just my opinion. Still, they were so impressive and I admire their competitive fire and the way they have really reinvented themselves this season.

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani were captivating. This program might not have the same emotional-appeal and momentum as last season's breakout Coldplay performance, but it's sublime. Their skating is so elegant, smooth, pristine, and infused with a technical precision that is hard to match. Something about this program reminds me of running water. The tranquility of it runs over you and creates a mood of peace and calm. I have to say that this program gave me chills and I felt emotional by the last beat of music. While I think that Chock/Bates had the most power and energy, I can't dispute the sheer beauty and strength of this Shibutani's seamless program. Congratulations on title #2, Maia and Alex. You are classy representatives of U.S. ice dancing!

"So Special Already:" Cain and LeDuc Turn Heads at the U.S. Championships

Well, I guess I haven't been keeping up with my resolution to write more in my blog this year. I've been a busy year, as expected, and though skating has been on my mind, it hasn't quite translated into blog posts. This morning I was watching an episode of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. Sully called Dr. Quinn his "heart song." As lame as this sounds, this is exactly how I feel about figure skating. It is my "heart song." It makes me sad that life pulls me in so any different directions and I try to be so many things to so many people, but at the end of the day, I'm not being who I want to be for myself. I recently had an opportunity to pursue a dream job and I let it slip away. Why? I was being realistic. I have a new job here in Philadelphia that has given me all the things that I thought I wanted--and no doubt need-- but while the opportunity is the best situation I can possibly think of having here, my heart is pulling me elsewhere. I think we all try to be who we think we should be, and do what we think we should do, but are we fighting who we actually are, and what we actually should do?

All I can say is that I'm grateful for my current situation, but I don't think it's the end of the road for me. It's only a stepping stone. What it is a stepping stone to is up to me and that decision has to begin today.

This brings me to talking about Nationals. I didn't write about it at the time, but I still have many lingering thoughts.

First, this is the most excited I've been about the pair event in awhile.

Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay were the first time that stirred me. I didn't see their short program (though I heard they were radiant), and while their freeskate had errors, their joy was evident. Their story is inspiring. Deanna, who had success as a junior skater back in the early 2000s has been away from the ice for 16 years and has now returned to skate with Bartholomay for the sheer love of the sport. Nathan, who I enjoyed watching a few years back with Felicia Zhangis a fine partner to the ebullient Stellato and together they bring something different to U.S. figure skating

Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran. Hmmm, all I can say about them is that they could have been national champions. In theory, they were probably the most capable given their lack of injury and Marissa's success as a 2-time National pairs champ with her former partner, but they blew it, I hate to say. I don' think they had any good reason for their myriad mistakes, other than that their head wasn't in the game. I liked the concept of their program to set Journey songs, but by the end, I was frustrated wit all their errors and left wondering how good the program could have been if they actually skated well. It's not like they are a band new team, so I can't think of why they struggled so much. They have a smooth style and could be good, so I hope they figure out how to get there.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc. Finally. The U.S. pairs team that we've all been waiting for. This team could be "the team." They could be "the ones." I cannot tell you the last time I've felt so excited about a U.S. pair. (Okay, to be fair, I actually felt super excited last season watching Danny O'Shea and Tarah Kayne. They were beautiful and free in their skating last year. Unfortunately, this year, Tarah hit her head on a fall in the short program and got a concussion. It's very exciting then to think about next year when O'Shea and Kayne return along with Cain and LeDuc, another team who skates with freedom and joy).

Can and LeDuc skated to "The Prayer" and exuded a kind of artistry and connection that is rare. Their jump combinations were impressive, their musicality was heartfelt and their side-by-side falling leaves gave me chills. I LOVED this team and the emotion that they brought to the championship. They weren't perfect, but I feel they were under-marked. Even so, what a great first outing at the U.S. Championships and I cannot wait to see them again! As Johnny Weir commented, they are "so special already." I thank you, Cain and LeDuc, for making me feel the kind of emotion that I look forward to at the U.S. Championships.

Haven Denney and Brendan Frazier. Is there anything a Denny sister can't do? Haven is just as tough as her sister, 2-time pairs champion, Caydee, and it was so nice to see her and Fraser return to the national arena. Haven was off the ice for 8 months after a devastating knee injury. I really enjoyed their "Lion King" program from two years ago, and while I wasn't particularly attached to this "Somewhere in Time" program, they still proved just how tough they are. They made mistakes, but overall, they had the strongest program of the night and I'm happy that they won. I'd like to see them get music that they can relate to more--something that displays their athleticism--but I'm confident that their technical ability can make them competitive on the world-stage.

Overall, the pairs event, though not a clean one, had the most interest and intrigue in recent years. I look forward to seeing what these teams can do in the future!