The wild and woolly men’s event at Skate America

LAKE PLACID, N.Y.

Nathan Chen still has a beautific head of hair. Perhaps a little more tousled than usual. Perhaps it’s the least of his worries. At least he is in one piece. Some of his competitors took a physical drubbing in the men’s free skate at Skate America. It was hurtful to watch at times.

The scariest moment came when Daniel Samohin, he of the bulldozer, bone-crushing falls, flipped out of his second jump, a quad Salchow, and he stretched his arms out to break his fall. And he dislocated his shoulder. For several agonizing moments, he tried to push it back in. Couldn’t. Somehow he scrambled to his feet, calling constantly for the music to stop, to show he could not continue as such. It was long and horrific. Although there were many red-shirted medical folk at the end of the rink, none came to help.

None. Perhaps they didn’t have ice grippers and feared for their own safety.

By the time that Samohin finally got off the ice, people in the audience had tears in their eyes. Resting their heads on their loved ones’ shoulders. Rather traumatized. Me, too. I had just spoken to this engaging young man in the morning.

Samohin never came back. Medical people pushed the shoulder back together and shipped him off to a local hospital to make sure nothing else was damaged. And Samohin went off into the good night (The snowfall came later.)

The Israeli Olympic Committee said later that Samohin would undergo physical therapy and would return to training in a week. Seems a rather ambitious schedule.

Chen was unaware of the incident. He was warming up in the backstage. So was Adam Rippon, who did exactly the same thing to his shoulder late last summer – pushing his arms out to break a fall.

”When I heard he dislocated his shoulder, I went: ‘Oh my god.’ I know how bad that feels,” Rippon said. “When I did it at home…I felt nauseous. I thought I was going to black out.”

Then Rippon went out and did the same thing with a fall on his first jump, a quad Lutz. It was the bird routine, and in a way, it fit into his choreography. He snatched his arm, pushed it back into its socket with a couple of yanks, shook it out and kept going.

“But now that I’ve done it again, It’s like: ‘Just get back in there buddy,’” he said. And he won the long program and the silver medal overall, unable to overcome Chen’s whopping lead after the short program.

Rippon used the incident to his favour. “You know what?” he said “I love drama.

“I wanted to show my character, that I’m really tough and I’m up for the challenge of anything, including the Olympic Games. I want to show that I’m a really reliable competitor. And that I’m going to be at the Olympics for Team USA and help them get a medal.

But first, I’ll see you all at Nagoya.”

So Rippon, with his performance, also qualified for the Grand Prix in two weeks in Japan. Only six men go. Chen has won two Grand Prix events now, and will also go as well as Skate America bronze medalist Sergei Voronov, who won Grand Prix Final bronze two years ago.

Then there was Chen. He emerged with only his ego bruised. But he did many amazing things too, including an opening quad Lutz –triple toe loop combo that earned him 20.04 points, with an array of +2s and a couple of +3s. A second solo quad Lutz came later – in the second half of the program!!!!! That got him 16.10 points alone.

But there were blemishes, too. He doubled a quad Salchow. His wonderful new quad-Salchow combination turned into a double toe loop –single loop – double Salchow. That’s just so not Chen.

He also singled an Axel in combination with a double toe loop.

And remember his coach, Rafael Arutunian busily smoothing out the nicks in his blade before his short program? They decided to solve the problem by replacing the blade altogether for the free. Just that blade.

After the free, Chen admitted it wasn’t a good call. The blade was very sharp – too sharp – on the inside edge, which would have affected his Salchows and Axels (the Axel is his nemesis anyway.) So we didn’t really see the Chen that we know is there.

He is so easy to like. A good lad, is Nathan Chen.

He uses the word “recalculate” often. He says he’ll be recalculating for the Grand Prix Final. He looks like an adult on the ice, but in a press conference row, betwixt Rippon at 28, and Voronov at 30, he looked quite boyish.

All three medalists were coached by Arutunian. Arutunian coached Voronov from the time he lived in Moscow, before he moved to the United States.

“He gave me the technical base,” Voronov said. “I was 10 years old and he taught me to do the double Axel and he do it in a way so that later, I was able to do the triple Axel.

“I’m a little bit envious – in a good sense – that [Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon] that they are working with Raf. And when I see him, it’s a kind of nostalgic feeling.”

Canadian men had a disappointing trip to Lake Placid. Liam Firus – a last-minute entrant – fared the best, finishing sixth in the free with his stunning “La La Land” routine. It’s not easy music to skate, and who else but Firus and his beautiful edges could carry it off?

Firus finished eighth overall. Kevin Reynolds ambitiously tried a quad loop to open his program and then fell on a quad toe loop. Doubled a late Axel. But what hurt Reynolds the most were four jump rotation downgrades, particularly on the quad Salchow and the first triple Axel.

He said he knew that his upper body was actually in an over-rotated position on most jumps, so that how could the rest of his body be underrotated? He would have fallen if that were so, he said.

He said he’s discouraged at such calls, after doing all the work to get it right. Makes you wonder why you bother, he suggested.

Reynolds finished 6.78 points behind Firus.

Roman Sadovsky, who was competing in his first senior Grand Prix and got the assignment only 1 ½ weeks ago, finished tenth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Daleman, the perfect Carmen.

LAKE PLACID, N.Y.

Gabby Daleman blew into the mixed zone after the women’s short program like a red tornado. “Ola!” she said.

And it went up from there.

Daleman is a bundle of positivity and high energy. Hard to believe, since she ‘s been suffering from a chest infection for the past week and a half. She’s about 85 per cent okay, but she awoke the morning of the women’s free at Skate America with a little fever.

But on Saturday, she swept it off like it was nothing. “You get the cards you’re dealt with,” she said. She didn’t think of it as an illness, but an opportunity for cardio training. In other words, training through it? And if you can do it when you’re sick, look what you can do when you’re not.

Daleman has often skated through injuries and illnesses. It almost doesn’t seem normal when she’s completely healthy. It hasn’t stopped her high energy in Lake Placid. “I’m a little tired,” is all she’ll say but she chalks it up to skate so late in the day. Past her bedtime.

She is the reigning world bronze medalist.

This is how she saw her day, skating to “Carmen,” which suits her like gloves on a winter Lake Placid day: “”I was very happy with how that program went,” she said. “The crowd in Lake Placid is amazing. I performed better than I did at Cup of China. (where she won the short program]. My jumps were actually pretty good. I was very happy with the way they went. And my spins and footwork. The whole package is just coming together. I’m very happy. It’s a stepping step [stone] to the Olympics. I’m definitely on the right track.”

Daleman loves this “Carmen” routine, choreographed by Lori Nichol. She loved it from the beginning. She loved it on Saturday when everyone started clapping to it. “That makes me feel so much more comfortable,” she said. “I’ve always loved the clapping music to get the crowd involved.

“The crowd is amazing. It’s so important for them to like the program.

“I do love playing this character. It’s so sassy. It’s so flirtatious. “

The crowds clapped even in China, which surprised Daleman. “Normally they are very quiet,” she said. They clapped at her first competition this season at Finlandia Trophy, too.

So many people love her short and long programs, and Daleman is glad, because they are her Olympic choices. Her free is to Gladiator, music that you think would suit a male. But it suits Daleman, too. She attacks. Always. Man the torpedoes!

At Cup of China, seven women were within 3.75 points of each other after the short program. Essentially tied. In winning th short, Daleman was ahead of Wakaba Higuchi, Elena Radionova, Alina Zagitovaa, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Marin Honda and Mai Mihara. Probably one of the toughest women’s event in the Grand Prix series. Daleman felt as if she had fallen into Japanese and Russian nationals combined.

In the end, Daleman ended up seventh overall.

This time, Daleman is third, having flipped off a triple Lutz, and is only 2.64 points behind leader Satoko Miyahara. Daleman is only 1.32 points behind second-placed Kaori Sakamoto, a youngester who jumps with great speed and surety.

 

 

 

 

 

The cast of characters in Skate America’s men’s short program

LAKE PLACID, N.Y.

Nathan Chen has a beautific head of hair. Charcoal black curls sproinging out of his scalp like the crazy curves you encounter on a Lake Placid road. And what a ride he takes those curls on: up death-defying quads here, around some new fascinating body movement there. Heavens, even pair skater Eric Radford says he feels like he’s watching an artist now.

Chen says his mother cuts his hair. But it grows fast.

What a trip we’ve seen so far from the 17-year-old Chen so far at Skate America. He takes all the bumpy roads with this intelligent calm. He speaks that way. You get the feeling that this young American can take all the trials by fire that he will get in the coming months.

Chen has a whopping lead after the men’s short proram, scoring a personal best of 104.12, exactly a point more than his previous best. And he wasn’t perfect. His landing on the triple Axel was a bit wonky. It cost him a few bits. But his thundering quad Lutz-triple toe loop alone gave him 19.90 points. Judges were handing out +2s for a formidable move like that.

All this and Chen had to pause in the warmup to push his leg up over the boards. From his bag of tricks, Arutunian pulled a sharpening stone, spent a few seconds running it up and down the upraised blade and back Chen went, working his magic. Arutunian fluttered about backstage, giving the blade some more elbow grease. Chen said there had been a nick on his blade, and he’ll have it perfect for the long.

For the long program today, he’ll unleash a new quad combination, a quad toe loop-half loop-triple Salchow. He says he just wants to top what he did at Cup of Russia, where he had troubles with his triple Axel – his least favourite jump – in both the short and long programs, and finished second to Yuzuru Hanyu in the short program. But he won the free and the gold over the Olympic champion. (Remember the kiss and cry in Russia, with emotional coach Rafael Arutunian shaking Chen like a leaf, saying: “We won! We won!” Chen remaining stoic through it all. Perhaps a smile.)

The cast of characters in the men’s event didn’t end there. Adam Rippon finished second, about 15 points behind his teammate, with 30-year-old Sergei Voronov of Russia third at 87.51, losing a few points on his triple Lutz, but not his quad toe loop – triple toe loop comb, from which he raked in 16.31 points. And the crowd cheered. You could see their faces, smiling at this supposedly over-the-hill Russian who had probably all but been tossed to the faceless heap in his country, as it has been scurrying to replace the iconic Evgeny Plushenko.

Of course, Rippon is a vaudeville show all on his own. A quote machine for a reporter.

He has made a seamless comeback from a Jan 6 accident that caused him to withdraw from the 2017 U.S. championships and miss the worlds, too. During practice, he had sprained his left ankle and fractured the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. (Evgenia Medvedeva’s injury? If so, don’t expect to see her for a while.)

Rippon dazzled. It wasn’t just the clean non-quad trip he took; it was his delivery. He’s himself on the ice. And Himself is fun and fascinating.

“If you’re 28 and not having fun, girl, get out of Lake Placid,” he said. “Do something else.”

On the subject of his time away from all of this fun, he said: “I want to say that it was tough, but I really want to say it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

“I remember sitting and looking out a window and being really dramatic and saying: ‘This is my comeback story and I can come back even stronger. ‘I think that time away made me realize how lucky I was to be able to be doing what I was doing.”

He appreciates where he is now. He’s grateful. He says it’s made him a better person and a better athlete.

And the one-two finish of he and Chen at Skate America? At least so far? “I think we make a good team,” Rippon said. “I think we’d make an even better Olympic team.”

The comeback isn’t just about his foot. He and Chen were practicing together a month before his first event at Finlandia. Rippon was cheekily copying Chen’s choreography. But he hit one of his quad Lutz holes in the ice and tripped. He instinctively threw out his hands to brace the fall and dislocated a shoulder. That’s why we are not seeing the Rippon Lutz these days, in which he puts both arms above his head.

It has forced him to work more on his quad, he said.

“Listen, the road is filled with bumps,” Rippon said. “You’ve got to take the punches.”

He kept the short program from the previous year and the free, too. “Girl, I’m getting my money’s worth,” he said. “I only skated it three times.”

Even so, when he was skating them, he knew they were his Olympic programs. When he broke his foot, he knew there was an opportunity to use them this year, too.

He had originally asked Jeff Buttle to choreograph a new short program for this season, and he wanted to do something original and very much a part of himself. So the music he uses includes his own voice, singing a cover of Rhianna’s “Diamond,” “I wanted something that would really embody who I was and show me as a whole rounded person,” he said.

“But ironically, I feel like this trashy dance club program embodies me better than even my own voice could. So sometimes actions do speak louder than words.”

He turned that discarded short program routine into an exhibition program at the NHK Trophy, where he finished second. However, instead of skating it, he grabbed a microphone and sang. It wasn’t bad.

“It wasn’t too bad,” he said Friday. “But it wasn’t too good, either. It was my first time singing in front of everybody. My first time singing in front of anybody was in front of 10,000 people. So you know what? It’s all right.”

He said he has been told that he’d better skate that routine this week in exhibitions, and not just sing.

And Rippon did something in the 6-minute short program warmup that nobody ever does. He left the ice after five minutes.

“I just felt comfortable, confident,” he said. “When I got to the five minute point in the warmup, I just kind of got off. I just felt ready. I felt in the ice, in my own body and ready to go. I told Rafael, who said: ‘Don’t scare me tomorrow.’”

He won’t do it for the free, but he admits it was a dream of his. “Give me those guards,” he said. “I’m going to beat the rush. There won’t be any traffic. I’ll get right to my spot so I can start focusing for my performance.”

And it worked.

There’s every chance that Rippon could actually qualify for the Grand Prix Final. If he does, he said it will be another check on the criteria to get to the Olympics.

So yes, there was a cast of characters, and it wasn’t only the top three men. Daniel Samohin of Israel finished fifth with 82.28 points, although he fell on a quad Salchow. But for a couple of years, he’s been a human Zamboni in practices and competitions. He’s taken extreme punishment in falls. You could do a news reel of all his falls, as somebody has already done with Anna Pogorilaya falls. Nobody know why he hasn’t been more seriously hurt.

But in the short program, we saw another side. “My practices are usually like that,” said the gregarious skater. “Don’t get me wrong. My practices are always up and down. So the fact that I couldn’t do a jump or whatever else is not really my issue. I was trying to focus on the transitions and footwork so I really need to check the levels on that. That was our goal.”

He said he doesn’t know why he fell on the quad Salchow. Perhaps he lacked a little confidence. As he went up into the air, he was fine and then he thought: “Oh my god, I’m landing it. And I let go.”

“It happens.”

At Rostelecom Cup, he had a far worse result, but he didn’t blame himself. He was ill. In fact, he says he’s still coughing from that virus. In the short program in Russia, he earned only 62.02 points (20 points less than here) and was last of 12. He was last of 12 in the free, too, after three falls. He wasn’t really bummed out about it. He once got marks as high as 82 or 83 at a European championship a couple of years ago.

He knows what he’s capable of, he says. And he just has to be patient and “work through my tough time.” And indeed, he has had rough times.

In the free this week, he plans two quad toes and a quad Salchow. And two triple Axels. Buckle your seatbelts when Samohin skates.

 

 

 

 

“And it made me appreciateaand ithing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All about working smart

LAKE PLACID, N.Y.

Have you ever wanted anything so badly your teeth hurt? Your face fell? Your knees knocked?

Little Satoko Miyahara has that look on her face. When she comes to the boards for advice from coach Mie Hamada here at Skate America, her eyes are trained on her coach’s face and they radiate like headlights on full beam with earnestness and intent. There’s a sense nothing will stop her, not if she has anything to do with it.

The world silver medalist from 2015 is not a little girl anymore. She’s 19, but stands only 4-foot-11 in her socks. We haven’t seen her much lately.

She’s competed only once since December of 2016, when she was seen at Japanese nationals. In that one comeback event at NHK Trophy two weeks ago, Miyahara was fifth, 33 points behind reigning world champ Evgenia Medvedeva. She’s only been training full-on since October. In September, not so long ago really, she was training only one hour a day.

For six months, she didn’t jump at all.

Miyahara has been off because of injury. But not just one injury. Three. It’s a miracle that she’s back. The reason for all of her injuries has been deemed poor nutrition and lack of sleep, work being the obsession of her culture. And poor bone density was an issue, alarming because of her age.

Miyahara was under such a determined schedule, she was sleeping only five hours a night.

In January 2017, she suffered an injury to her left groin, most specifically a bone in her pelvic girdle. There was a crack in the middle of the bone, therefore not easily seen on x-rays. Because of this, she had to withdraw from Four Continents, Asian Games and eventually, the world championships in Helsinki.

Finding the crack didn’t end her woes. She suffered an injury to the top of her left foot in July.

In September, Miyahara developed inflammation in her right hip.

It was not enough to fix the injuries as they continued to pop up. Miyahara needed to overhaul her life. She hates milk, which is believed to help problems with bone density. So the skater had to learn how to eat and gain five to eight pounds, hopefully in bone strength. Her team members separated her enough from her work life to get eight hours of sleep a night.

So Miyahara took the challenge and focused on her body, adding five to six pounds to her tiny frame. She sees it as a challenge. She does feel stronger, she says. She takes medicine and calcium, drinks milk, eats fish and fresh vegetables.

As she has begun to train more diligently, is the weight coming off again? That’s the question.

Her training mate is Marin Honda. There’s much excitement about the young teen, but at Skate Canada, she bombed in the short program, finishing 10th after a fall on her triple Lutz-triple toe loop combo (underrotated), singling an Axel and not maximizing her levels on some spins and footwork. She did come back in the free program to be third.

Honda had no issues at Skate Canada other than the fact that she “doesn’t want to train,” said Hamada. “She’s not a hard worker. She found out at competition that she needed to work on steps and spins.”

Indeed, she is a talent. She already has lots of sponsors in Japan.

Too bad there couldn’t be a happy medium. There are many talented young female skaters in Japan, but perhaps we can look to Wakaba Higuchi, who skates with joy. And that’s half the battle. Maybe all of it. Sometimes wanting something has to be tempered with this.

Skating with joy makes you dangerous.

 

 

 

Liam Firus: spinning straw into gold

LAKE PLACID, N.Y.

You gotta love him.

Trips and stumbles, disappointments and dark valleys, nothing, in the end, stops Liam Firus.

He’s here. At Skate America. And he found out about this grand assignment two days ago. After a trip to the Warsaw Cup in Poland, he got the nod, jumped in his one-horse sleigh and drove to this sparkly little town in the midst of a winter wonderland.

He had won a medal for the previous three seasons at Canadian nationals, (a silver and two bronze), and then last year, disaster struck. He had a nightmarish short program, in which his suspender came undone at the end of a spin, stuck hands down on a triple, popped a jump, and tripped on his toe picks, just skating, so that overall, he dropped to seventh place, off the world team and the national team, too. With no Grand Prix assignments in sight.

“I wasn’t stepping anywhere right,” Firus said of his Canadian championship effort.

But, incredibly, he added: “But that almost needed to happen.”

“Of course, I was upset. I cried my heart out. I was heartbroken. I had medalled three years in a row and then I came seventh. I thought: ‘What happened?’

That whole year had been tough. He sprained his ankle. He hit his head on the ice the week before Canadians and split his head open.

After his dismal national experience, Firus left, didn’t talk to anybody and had dinner with himself. And then he planned what he was going to do this season, his last.

“So far, I’ve stuck to the plan and it’s been working,” he said. “I didn’t go into a pit and dwell on it. I was okay, I’ll be sad about it for 30 minutes and went out and figured out how I’m going to overcome this obstacle.”

The answer? Work hard. Listen to his team. Trust that they are right. Don’t listen so much to yourself, because you are biased.

His team? He’s still involved with one of his early coaches, Lorna Bauer, back home in Vancouver. He talked to her every week. Bauer keeps him grounded. She’s like a second mom to him.

And current coach Bruno Marcotte: “He’s awesome,” Firus said. “He believes in me. He makes me believe in myself, too. He’s that type of person, even on down days. At the end of the day, it’s about trust. There is a lot of trust in my team. And I think that is what is making the difference.”

So Firus set out to prepare himself for a bumper year. “There’s a good quote: ‘When you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail,’” Firus said. So he planned. He remembers that lonely night at Canadians and he uses it to motivate himself. “It wasn’t fun,” he said. “But it was good.”

He took to the Challenger circuit, a step below the Grand Prix. At his first event, the U.S. International Classic at Salt Lake City, he encountered a formidable men’s field: Nathan Chen, Max Aaron, Tim Dolensky and Takahito Mura.

Firus finished third, behind Chen and Aaron. Most importantly, he was on fire like no one had ever seen him. In the short program, he landed a quad toe loop that earned him some +2s. He fell on his nemesis, the triple Axel, but landed a deft triple Lutz –triple toe loop combo.

In the long program, he attempted two quads and a triple Axel, landed the first quad toe (12.30 points), and stumbled out of the second. But he landed that darned triple Axel.

“I’ve been saying for a while that my Axel is better,” he said “My Axel is a jump now that I don’t miss and it’s rare.

“It’s taken me eight years, but I think I’ve conquered it now.”

The end result of it all was that Firus improved his personal best by 38 points to a total score of 248.29.

“My focus was just to enjoy it and appreciate it and not really stress about things that have gotten in the way of me really taking in the whole experience of competing and what a joy it is,” he said. “That clearly worked.”

Off Firus went to the Warsaw Cup, where he finished third with not such soaring efforts. But there was a change to Firus’s mindset.

“This being my last year, I don’t want to be stressing the whole weekend,” he said. “I just want to take it all in and remember this year for how amazing it us.”

Enjoy? He decided to stay an extra day in Warsaw and sightsee. Relax. Smell the roses. He didn’t get home until Tuesday night at 7 p.m. His ice-dancing brother, Shane, picked him up at the Montreal airport and they went out to find some grub.

Exhausted, Firus slept the night, jet-lagged still.

At 6:30 the next morning, he woke up, and at 7 a.m., high-performance director Michael Slipchuk sent him a text: “Hey Liam. Give me a call when you can.”

Firus shot back: “Give me half an hour. I’m just going to shower and have a coffee.”

Back came the Slipchuk missive: “ASAP! It’s good news.”

Firus skipped the shower, thinking: “No way. No way. There is NO WAY.”

Every time someone had dropped out of a Grand Prix event, Firus had hoped that he’d be the replacement. And he wasn’t picked. He needed a coffee before he talked to Slipchuk.

“Are you ready to compete this weekend?” Slipchuk asked him. And Firus knew that Skate America was this weekend.

“I guess I can’t really say no,” Firus said. “So it was awesome. We confirmed it right there on the phone.”

Just as Firus was hanging up from his fruitful chat with Slipchuk, Marcotte called. “Let’s do it,” Marcotte said.

First Firus had to do some repairs on a skate. He struck off for the skate shop at 8:30 a.m. and by 9:30, job done. He trained for three hours, went home, did his laundry, packed and drove to Lake Placid.

What a difference a day makes. He went to bed, Grand Prix-less and woke up, having bagged Skate America.

He’s never been to Lake Placid. He marveled at the winter wonderland, here, with all the frosted trees and fresh snow.

Best of all, he has his own room in the official hotel. Athletes are usually paired off with a roommate. But the pairings had all been made, and Firus was odd man out. Does he mind? “That’s a bonus,” he smiled. “I don’t have to share a room with anyone.”

After this season, don’t consider Firus a lost soul. Four years ago, he passed his Canadian Securities Course. He’s in school at Concordia, studying finance.

And remember, Firus is the guy who passed up on his berth to the 2016 world championships in Boston, giving it up to another skater that he thought might have a better chance to get Canada more spots for men at subsequent worlds and Olympics.

In the same vein, Firus is the guy who is going to jump in his car, drive across the country and give back to the sport, conducting seminars and telling young skaters at clubs about what he has learned. Joining him will be training mate Elladj Balde., another generous soul.

“Elladj has so many different lessons that he has learned than I have,” Firus said. They competed in various countries. They have different technique. He and Balde have set up a lot of seminars already on the east coast of Canada, and they have a few in Ontario. They want to go coast to coast.

“We’re just going to get in our car and drive,” Firus said. “Even if the club’s can’t afford it. It’s not about the money. We’re going to just pop in and say, hey, this is what we’re doing. We want to help.”

And this is where his journey has taken him.

 

 

 

 

 

Stolbova and Klimov: fighting to get back to the top

LAKE PLACID, N.Y.

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov haven’t given up. No they haven’t, despite a year or two of disappointments and injuries and setbacks.

They are not here at Skate America. They have already qualified for the Grand Prix Final in two weeks (second at both Rostelcom Cup and NHK Trophy), with Skate America offering the last chance to qualify for others.

 

Nobody has forgotten the Olympic silver medalists from four years ago. They are at home with coach Nina Mozer, training with intent and straight-ahead focus. And their twist is much better now, says Vladimir Zhovnirsky, here coaching Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert of Russia.

 

You see, their triple twist hasn’t been all that hot for the past 1 ½ years, and Zhovnirsky says it’s down to Klimov’s gimpy shoulder (a nerve problem), which hampered him at the world championships in Boston and all that season. Last season, they had to withdraw from both of their Grand Prix events.

 

Zhovnirsky says the shoulder is much better.

 

Stolbova also didn’t skate for a long time because of injury. The whole last season, it was one thing, then another. Stolbova also endured an inflammation in an ankle, due to a nerve problem. “They didn’t practice 100 per cent,” Zhovnirsky said. “Of course, his shoulder was a big problem.”

 

Earlier this season at Finlandia Trophy, Stolbova and Klimov had a meltdown, all stemming from a pant strap that had come loose and fluttered around Klimov’s ankle. He didn’t ask for a time out. He repaired the problem and went on. But the magic was broken. And mistakes piled up.

 

The twist is now going even better than it did in Japan.

 

Also, they’ve added an ambitious throw triple Lutz to their routine. They knew very well that the throw double Axels they were doing weren’t going to cut it if they wanted to make it to the top again. It’s like going from zero to 60 in a moment.

 

It only took them a month to get it ready. Zhovnirsky didn’t expect their mastery of it would be so quick. They landed it at Finlandia Trophy and got high GOEs for it.

 

“They were motivated,” he said.

 

So many people in the Mozer club are setting aside any thought of quad throws for the time being. “It’s too dangerous,” Zhovnirsky said. (This week, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are attempting to get at least one +3 on their throw quad Salchow.) Stolbova and Klimov had been training a throw quad Salchow at one time and they landed a couple of sparkling ones with speed. And they were huge. But then finally, it just became too dangerous to do, the assistant coach said.

 

Of course Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov do a quad twist, huge as a barn.

 

So yes, Stolbova and Klimov want to get to the top again, to win Grand Prix Final. Stolbova is a fierce competitor. “She is the kind of person who wants to win every time,” Zhovnirsky said. “Every time, every practice, every element. If it’s not perfect, she gets angry and upset. Sometimes, it’s not so easy for us.”

 

Her coaches would tell her than an element she’s done is good. “No,” Stolbova will say. “Not good enough.”

 

She’s angry at herself but also at others. And the gentle Klimov is first glance. “Fedor has to be perfect as well,” Zhovnirsky said.

 

Jokingly, somebody said she should have skated with Maxim Trankov, the 2014 Olympic pair champion with Tatiana Volosozhar.

 

Zhovnirsky said they did skate together for a couple of months, but that was like mixing powerful explosives. They fought. Luckily, they both survived. Klimov is the calm to her fire.

 

Patrick Chan hits a low point

REGINA

It hurt to watch.

This “Hallelujah” was a broken Hallelujah, in Leonard Cohen’s world. In any world.

Skating to Cohen’s masterpiece, Patrick Chan finished seventh in the free skate at Skate Canada International on Saturday. And his voice sounded hollow.

Second in components (90.86) but only 10th of 12 in technical prowess (61.41) , Chan had to let the churning waters rush over him and wait for a better day.

Trouble is, his next go-around is in only two weeks at NHK Trophy in Japan, only the second time in his career that he has competed there. He contested NHK the first year that he turned senior internationally, so many years ago. “It’s come full circle,” he said. “It’s been quite a journey.” But this part of the journey is a little cloudy.

“I never had a skate like that in a big event,” Chan said. The problems started early: he fell on his opening quad toe loop that was to be part of a quadruple-triple combo, had a hand down on the triple Lutz, tripled another quad toe, and then suffered a endless string of doublings.

“I felt good and calm and when they called my name, I felt confident and my body felt somewhat good then,” he said. “But then I think the first fall kind of shocked me. It was a bit of a surprise. It’s been a bit of a rough road here.”

The bumpy ride started when his travel plans from Detroit went awry and his luggage didn’t arrive until just before his short program. It was a frustrating, unsettling trip. Perhaps it lingered behind his brows.But Chan said his problems in the free were physical. Sometimes, they are connected, even when you don’t know it.

In replays, Chan could see that his upper body was a little high and his legs weren’t being patient (sometimes they have a life of their own), and they weren’t taking the time to “load and jump.” The timing was too quick.

“I can only control what I can control,” he said.

Coach Marina Zoueva told him that it was good that Chan came to Skate Canada nonetheless. He needed to get started. He had only a minor local competition early in the season and then pulled out of Nebelhorn Trophy because new skates he had ordered had been delayed in arriving and he didn’t feel confident at the time in them. He hated to miss Nebelhorn. So he had to be full throttle at Skate Canada, at home.

“It was hard for me to get started this year,” Chan said. “Maybe because I know the end is near. So it’s getting harder and harder and harder to push myself and keep grinding it out at the very highest level. It gets tough.”

“Yeah it sucks but I’ve had great days too, so I’ve got to trade it off sometimes, too,” he said.

Chan doesn’t have very long to right his ship at the NHK Trophy. He’s going to take things one day at a time. “But it’s hard,” he said. “It’s definitely much harder now. I come to these events and the novelty has worn off a bit and eventually on a year like this year, I just really want to take my time and not panic.

“If making mistakes is how I have to get to the Olympics, then that’s how it is and that’s okay,” he said. “I really have had a lot of success this whole career. If I have another one, great. If I don’t, then it’s okay. I know it’s part of the process.”

He was asked if he would ever just withdraw from NHK and focus on gathering his strengths for nationals, the Olympic qualifying event.

Okay, that’s an idea, he said, and it’s a strategy. But travel for Chan is tough – not just this past week but he’s always felt drained from long trips and long hauls.

“Look at this week,” he said. “You got moments like that, you just kind of throw your hands up and …I’m not a fan of this. I’d rather be home and be in my own bed and be comfortable.”

It’s tempting to just give NHK a pass, he said, “But sometimes you’ve got to define when to push yourself through the tough times. When you really don’t want to, you have to push yourself or whether it does mean just pulling yourself back. “

He’ll have to figure this out in the next week.

Meanwhile, getting through that rough skate, Chan said he just started thinking out how he felt. He felt tired, like he was just about to go to bed. His legs were heavy. He tried to keep the intensity of the program,

“I hope I at least did that and finished the program with a strong footwork sequence,” he said

Then he paused, realizing what he was saying. “I mean, look at me,” he said. “I’m trying to find the good in this footwork sequence, when everyone is doing quads.

“Not much positive I can say at this event, but it’s okay.

“It’s okay. I just keep telling myself that it’s okay.”

The heartwarming part, the heartbreaking part, was that when Patrick took his final, wilted bow, the crowd at the Brandt Centre began to stand and cheer. And cheer for Patrick Chan.

 

 

 

 

 

Brian Orser: dance coach to the stars

REGINA

Brian Orser added a new dimension to his career persona Thursday at Skate Canada International: ice dancing coach.

People took a double-take at the sight of the coach of Olympic and world singles champions leaning against the rink boards, overseeing the first practice of the day for Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

So how long had Orser been working with the 2010 Olympic dance champs? the duo were asked.

“About three hours,” Moir said.

Truth be told, Virtue and Moir’s coaches, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon were delayed getting into Regina. So Orser stepped in. He did, in a pinch.

“It was like we had won a radio contest,” Moir quipped. “GET COACHED BY BRIAN ORSER FOR A MORNING!”

“I think when Patch and Marie texted us to tell us, we went: ‘Oh my god! That’s awesome! Brian Orser is going to be coaching us?” I think maybe they were a little insulted,” Moir said, tongue in cheek, as usual.

They were back with their normal coaching staff for the second practice in the afternoon.

But meanwhile, Orser didn’t just go through the motions. He advised them. Arms waved. Things were said.

‘He’s lived it,” Virtue said. “He knows exactly what to say. He coaches the best of the best singles. It was just so neat to look over and see him by the boards.”

And tips? “Oh yeah,” Virtue said. “He has great key words. Just about the glide of the blade and managing our patterns. He was incredibly helpful and more than anything, it’s just that sense of comfort and a nice little confidence boost.”

Actually, Dubreuil and Lauzon and Orser have had a longstanding friendship. Before the past world championships, the schools met at a mid-way point between Toronto and Montreal- Kingston, actually – and staged a two-day camp. “We all connected on the ice and did stroking classes,” Orser said. Virtue and Moir were part of it. Virtue thought it “invigorating.’’

Still, Orser doesn’t think he really did much on this Regina dance-coaching expedition. “Especially at this level,” Orser said. “They seemed to be in charge.”

He hasn’t forgotten that Lauzon also helped him out one time at a European championship at which Orser had a time conflict, Lauzon looked after Javi Fernandez at a men’s practice, while Orser thinks he may have been tied up with a women’s practice elsewhere.

“It was funny, because for a couple of the practices I had with Javi, he was terrible,” Orser said.

“And then I asked Patrice to look after him…and afterwards I saw him and said: ‘Patrice, how was it?’”

“It was perfect,” Lauzon said. “He didn’t make a mistake.”

“Like really?” Orser thought. “I guess well, you’re it, then.”

Lest anyone think Orser is as out of place in a dance venue as a knife in a fork rack, well, you’re wrong. Orser has his silver and gold senior dance tests.

His partner for the tests? Michelle Leigh, coach of 2016 Canadian women’s champion Alaine Chartrand.

“All the way to the end,” Leigh said. “We had fun doing it.”

Was he a good dancer? “Oh yeah!” Leigh said. “We both got our gold dances when we were young.” Orser passed his at the first try.

It was a thing that the Mariposa Skating Club coaches insisted upon: that singles skaters must learn dance, too. Leigh said it was a good strategy: extra ice time.

Once, she recalls, they danced a test for the Argentine tango which has a series of steps at the beginning. One of them tripped. It was so long ago, Leigh doesn’t remember which one of them did.

“And we laughed the whole way through the test,” Leigh said. “Our mothers were so mad at us.”

That wasn’t all. At club carnivals, Leigh and Orser also skated as a pair. There is a photo in Orser’s autobiography that shows Orser trying to hoist Leigh up in a pressure lift, but managed to get his partner only up to his chin.

They also did cartwheels and side-by-side Russian splits. “It was always a contest to see who could jump higher,” Leigh said.

The friendship still thrives. And Virtue and Moir count Orser as a close personal friend, too. Actually, they very well know what to do in a dance practice. Their coaches have prepared them well. They coached by text.

So mostly, having Orser at the rink boards served as a definite confidence boost. “It didn’t even feel weird at all,” Moir said. “It’s a good sign.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hallelujah, Chan finally arrives at Skate Canada

REGINA

What a day (or two) Patrick Chan has had.

He missed the first men’s practice on Thursday at Skate Canada International. And he arrived just in time to take the ice for the second men’s practice. Without a suitcase. Which means, at the moment, he has no clothes, just practice clothes. And thankfully, his skates.

Chan was to arrive in Regina on Wednesday. His itinerary? He was to fly from Detroit to Toronto and then on to Regina.

He couldn’t get off the ground in Detroit. His flight from Detroit was delayed by four or five hours and he missed is connection in Toronto. By then, it was late in the day, so he stayed the night in Toronto.

Somewhere, and somehow, his luggage went missing. “I might have to borrow a shirt [for competition,],” he said. Luckily, I have friends here.”

Chan has his skates because in North America, skaters can take them in their carry-on luggage. “The TSA has allowed it,” Chan said. “In Asia and Europe, I don’t know. But in the past, they’ve made me check in my skates once I arrived in Europe and was connecting in Europe.”

Chan said all the problems he’s had the past two days have been a good test. “The whole hectic travel day,” he mourned. “It’s frustrating. I’ll be honest. Like anybody, I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I’m running around like a dog in the airport, trying to get on a plane. It’s a bit ridiculous.

“But that’s travel. You can’t really control that.”

Chan said he looks at the incident as an opportunity. He said his misfortunes have relaxed him here. He’s going to roll with the punches. “If I don’t have a costume, I don’t have a costume,” he said. “I have my skates. I’ll show up. That’s all I can do.. It’s a good adventure.”

He went out on the ice and practiced his “Hallelujah” free skate, obviously not making jumps the priority. You could see the beauty of it.

There’s no chance his luggage will arrive by the end of Thursday. Perhaps the luggage will finally show up tomorrow, if he’s lucky. He’s hoping it will arrive before competition starts. The men’s event is in the early evening Friday. He at least would like to see his long-program costume again.

So Chan is chilling. Skate Canada International is like a reunion for him, to see his teammates and old friends. He’s here. And ready.

Weaver and Poje: Je Suis Malade

REGINA

“Je Suis Malade” isn’t just music. It’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje’s music.

When anybody else skates to it, Weaver and Poje automatically come to mind. You see Weaver and Poje. Not somebody else.

When they created it during the 2011-2012 season, they breathed it. They lived it. It was magic. It made them. It was their signature piece.

On Thursday, on the eve of Skate Canada International in this flat prairie town, Weaver and Poje created the ripple of the day – a mountain really – when they revealed they were setting aside their current free dance to Spartacus and bringing back “Je Suis Malade” for the Olympic season.

They just had to.

Everywhere, people are going: “YES!”

‘It still lives in us,” Weaver said Thursday after a practice.

We last saw “Spartacus” at the Autumn Classic. The response was lukewarm. It was medium. It’s not what you want during an Olympic season. You want HOT. And you want it now.

“I think in an Olympic season, you have to be out of the gate, stating your case, especially in ice dance,” Weaver said. “There is no time to persuade anybody, including ourselves. We are taking the ice now, knowing that we have the absolute best program for Kaitlyn and Andrew. No doubt about it. And that’s the confidence we need going into this Olympic season.”

Of course it won’t look the same. Weaver and Poje aren’t the same skaters they were six years ago when they stopped traffic and made people weep with this heartfelt routine. Rules have changed, too.

“We had to [make changes],” Weaver said.

“We’ve grown since we did the program last, so there were rules changes, but aside from that, we’ve changed as skaters and made some things [in the original routine] not suited for us that we want to express in our techniques and really just try to get the essence of the program,” Poje said. “And keep everything we love but still show off all our strengths and show the progress that we have made over those seasons.”

For example, some footwork rules have changed. Now “Footwork B” is much more open. Years ago, the ISU required cascades of one-foot sections. Now the rules are much more lenient about the positions and one-foot sections. “Back then we were all tied up doing this footwork, so now we’re able to express the music better,” Weaver said.

“In fact the program is better than it was before,’” she said. “We are better. We are wiser. We are more mature and I think that the six years of life that we’ve lived since then is perfectly funneled into this program.”

Already last summer, some fans were suggesting that they go back to “Je Suis Malade” for the Olympic season. And Weaver and Poje listen to their fans. After all, “Je Suis Malade” was a suggestion from a fan in the first place.

But Weaver and Poje had loved that season so much with that routine, they wanted to close the door on it, with fond memories. They had used it with glee partly because that season they had performed it in so many francophone settings: Grand Prix Final in Quebec City, national championships in New Brunswick, world championships in Nice.

“No, let’s push ourselves to try something new,” Weaver said.

But the seed was planted.

After Autumn Classic, coach Nikolai Morozov looked at them and said: “I think you need to do [Je Suis Malade.”

They said okay.

“We didn’t fight it,” Weaver said.

They had had a few notes about Spartacus from their team, their coaches, some judges, some fans. It was the general lay of the land with the reaction to this routine.

Weaver and Poje had to head back to Toronto anyway, planning on making many changes to Spartacus with choreographer Lori Nichol.

And they skated “Je Suis Malade” and “Spartacus” back to back for her. And Nichol agreed. They had to do Malade. “It was another nail in the coffin for that program,” Weaver said.

They loved Spartacus. It just hadn’t totally developed. And there is no time to make it grow into what they need. Spartacus hasn’t disappeared totally. It will return sometime. Just not this season.

So will they dust off their old costumes? They thought about this. “We pulled them out of the closet,” Weaver said. “And went UGH.”

They were old and sweaty and the colours had drained from them.

So they are designing new ones.

“Besides, I think we’ve matured a lot and found our real image and our aesthetic, so we redesigned them, keeping the same vision,” Weaver said.

We may not notice a difference.

“It was honestly a labour of love,” Weaver said. “It was fun and exciting and hard and challenging but these past three weeks have been very rewarding.”

Sometimes, Weaver still finds herself thinking: “Did we really go back to that program? What? Were we crazy?

“But then we get out on the ice and it all makes sense.”