Well, the figure skaters have left St. Paul. They’ve flown back to their respective hometowns and (unless they’re competing again right away) are hopefully still taking some much-deserved time off. At the Xcel Center, already the cowboys have ridden through for the “World’s Toughest Rodeo” this weekend – apparently the ice surface was simply covered with flooring and lots of dirt. But now that’s already been cleared away as well to get ready for a concert and three Minnesota Wilds hockey games this week.
But the memories of the 2008 National Championships still linger. At least for me, anyway. Lots of journalists are wondering if figure skating is still compelling, now that we have the confusing (and perhaps homogenizing) new judging system and now that we have such tiny jumping beans for champions. I happen to think that, yes, perhaps even because we seem to be in a new era, skating is as compelling and as intriguing as ever…it’s just a matter of who and what you pay attention to.
I, quite frankly, can’t wait to see what’s going to happen in the next couple of years, in the lead-up to the 2010 Vancouver Games. Along the way, surely there will be triumphs, disappointments, scandals (both real and contrived), injuries, retirements, and lots of hard work on the part of skaters, coaches, officials and, media personnel. Hopefully, there will also be some fun.
I had a blast tracking this year’s competition, so much so that I have decided to create my own set of awards. If I could present these in person, they wouldn’t be in the form of trophies, or certificates, or medals. I think, instead, I would give out…snowballs, conveniently constructed from Zamboni shavings. After all, snow, like success, is fleeting and, fortunately so are foibles.
These snowballs could obviously never sit on a shelf. But before they melt away, the recipients could throw them at each other. Or at the media. Or at me.
So without further delay…
MOST ENTERTAINING INTERACTION WITH THE JUDGES:
Winner: Ryan Bradley. For his Short Program set to the music from The Godfather. When the music started, he looked toward the judging table and made a serious yet playful “Capiche?” gesture with his right hand. The audience tittered. Just before his mammoth Triple Axel, he coolly blew the judges a kiss. Throughout the rest of his program, his arm movements were more abstract yet in character, mob-like, somehow. Later, for the Long Program, he channeled Charlie Chaplin, including a cane-twirling penguin strut aimed, again, right at the judges.
Winner: Maia Shibutani. For seamlessly opening and closing a decorative fan while performing to Japanese folk music with her brother, Alex, in the Junior Original Dance. I can imagine that if handed this prop to maneuver while also skating, most of us would probably manage to drop it, even if it were attached to our wrists. And I’m sure that, for me, it would probably get stuck closed, or open, or in my hair, or costume, and, Lucille Ball-style, I’d have to stop and ask the referee to assist with my technical difficulties. But this 13 year-old expertly flourished the fan at all the right moments so that it seemed to be an extension of her arm and nicely accentuated both the music and the choreography.
Runners-Up: Ben Agosto and Tanith Belbin. For passing a hat back and forth in their Hoedown Original Dance set to the music of Cotton-Eyed Joe.
RECIPIENT OF MOST POST-PERFORMANCE KISSES (IN PUBLIC VIEW)
Winner: Rena Inoue. Total kisses received: Six (total does not reflect kisses out of public view). Delivered by partner (and now fiancé), John Baldwin, after Senior Short Program. This included three while still on the ice (1. on hand, 2. on both hands 3. on top of head) and continued in the Kiss and Cry where she received three more, woodpecker-style to the side of her head. After the Long Program, she would go on to receive a mere five Post-Performance Kisses (in Public View,) though one was of extended length and could therefore possibly be counted as two.
MOST SYNCHRONIZED PAIR SPIN:
Winners: Inoue and Baldwin. For their Short Program side by side spin. Four separate positions, all of which matched. Several rotations. Same exact timing. Synchronized exit. No easy feat.
STRANGEST CHOICE OF ADJECTIVE:
Winner: Dick Button. For giddily remarking that there was something “sexual” about Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s Eleanor Rigby Freedance. This performance was many things, including “fantastic,” “intricate,” “powerful” and the list goes on, but it was not particularly sexual. It seemed Dick Button just wanted to use that word.
MOST TALENT UNDER ONE ROOF:
Winner: The Gilles Family of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Todd Gilles, 21, earned 6th place in Senior Dance with new partner Jane Summersett, which renders them 2nd alternates for Worlds and first alternates for Four Continents. Alexe Gilles, 16, won the Gold Medal in Junior Ladies. She is the first alternate for both Four Continents and also Junior Worlds. Piper Gilles, 16, won the Silver Medal in Junior Dance with her partner Tim McKernon. They are first alternates for Junior Worlds. There are also two other kids in this family and a coterie of pets: can you even imagine the schedule over at their house?
Winner: Evan Lysacek, Senior Men. At the end of his Short Program circular step sequence. I counted 46 turns but it was very blurred, so it might have been 47. He and the Tazmanian Devil should definitely have a twizzle-off.
Kimberly Navarro, Senior Dance. For the black and white polka-dotted dress she wore for the Yankee Polka with partner Brent Bommentre. I already have a soft spot for NavBom and a predilection for polka-dots…combine the two and this compulsory dance was very much worth watching.
FALL MOST LIKELY TO MAKE THE VIEWERS (AND SKATER) WINCE:
Winner: Michael Villarreal, Senior Men. For the fall on his first Triple Axel in his Long Program. It was one of those falls where every part of his body seemed to slam into the ice. It was kind of a stop, drop, and roll made all the more difficult to witness (and probably experience) due to the fact that he had at least four minutes and several more jump passes to go. He gets substantial extra credit for not only quickly peeling himself up and continuing but for immediately landing a great Triple Lutz, Double Loop, Double Toe. After a fall like that, some of us might still be down one the ice, whimpering.
MOST UNUSUAL FALL:
Winners: Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, Senior Pair. For their triple twist in the Long Program. On the landing, she was a bit forward and he missed catching her hips. He managed to somehow keep her from falling, but in the process of trying to get her balance, she looked to be groping in the dark with her arms and knocked his feet out from under him…needless to say, it’s not usually the guy who falls in these situations. I know from experience that four skates and eight limbs in such close proximity can result in some wacky falls, but this was an original. Once again, kudos on the recovery.
Winner: Senior Ladies Long Program, Placements 11-20. The event was broken into to two parts on Saturday, 8:45 AM and 7:50 PM, so those who didn’t place in the top 10 in the Short were banished from prime time. Instead of skating in front of a packed, frenzied crowd during the marquee event, they got the breakfast shift, in fact, the earliest start-time of any event in the competition. These skaters have still achieved so much and no one can take that away from them, but as far as fanfare, as far as buzz, as far as skating in front of a packed house with the cameras rolling and the commentators at-the-ready, just in case, they might as well have been in Junior, or Novice for that matter.
Molly Oberstar is a Minnesota skater who was essentially skating in front of a hometown audience for her first time in Senior Ladies at Nationals. She happened to skate last in the Short Program on Thursday night. She skated clean and the crowd went wild. She got 11th place, just missing the cut-off. Angie Lien, her fellow competitor and club member, (both from Duluth FSC), was competing in her last Nationals. I asked her about this situation. She thought it was “a little silly that the Senior Ladies had to be split up this year because of the TV contract with NBC.” Though she still had a great experience and appreciated “those who got up early to cheer us on”, she of course noticed that the “audience was much smaller than on Saturday night.”
Furthermore…we all know it’s difficult to “jump the warm-up”, in other words, place higher than the warm-up group you’re in for the Long Program (and of course the new system is supposed to make this more possible), but what are the chances of moving up after nine hours have passed? This amount of time makes it seem like two separate events. I realize that 20 Long Programs takes a long time and that the group was this large because there were several byes for international competitions. I appreciate that ice dance shared the limelight on Saturday night. And I realize all of this has a lot to do with TV scheduling, but I think that, for these skaters, it’s demoralizing. An insult.
Winner: Senior Men, the infamous 244.77 tie between Lysacek and Weir. For those of you who think “something fishy is going on” with the judging of skating, even with this new system, you may be right, but this is not your evidence. Of course the scores were probably inflated and we can debate the validity of them into the next millennium, but it would have taken at least several hours if not days for the Technical Specialists and Judges to get together and rig those scores so that they’d come out exactly the same for the sake of more media attention. That was an instance of pure, freakish happenstance. It was also quite entertaining, especially after all the rivalry hoopla created by (or at least significantly fostered by) NBC.
Winner: Rachael Flatt, Senior Ladies. After finishing a clean Short Program. Grin nicely decorated with tinsel and lip gloss.
Runner up: Rachael Flatt, Senior Ladies. Upon cleanly landing a Triple Flip, Double Toe, Double Loop combo at the end of her Long Program, her seventh and last triple pass. Grin coincided with a wide-eyed look of pure joy.
Second Runner up: Rachael Flatt, Senior Ladies. Upon receiving her scores for both programs. Grins accompanied by endearing giggles.
And they’re saying it isn’t fun to watch such young girls win. Granted, it may not be as “sexual” to borrow Dick Button’s word, but, after all, aren’t babies used all the time as marketing tools? Cute sells! In fact, one of the best Superbowl commercials this Sunday featured an infant buying stocks at his computer. My only concern is that if we get to the point where our champions are so young that they’re still breastfeeding, is that going to be considered an unfair advantage? Better revise the controlled substance list, soon