Monday, December 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Nationals

Two big national championships took place this past week(end). Japan and Russia put their best foot forward and named national champions, solidified Olympic Teams, and gave us a few (very few) dramatic pauses.

Before the competition most had predicted that it would be smooth sailing for Kozuka, Oda, and Takahashi to make the Japanese Olympic Team but what wasn't so sure was how the three would place coming out of Nationals. Most assumed that Kozuka would get the bronze with the real fight being between Oda and Takahashi. Kozuka surprised all by sneaking into second place after Oda fell on a triple flip in the short. But in the free the world righted itself, with Kozuka slipping back to third and Oda and Takahashi going against each other. In the end Takahashi held on to win with clever choreography and some pretty spectacular (and some not so spectacular) jumping. All three men are Vancouver-bound.

4666 Miles Away in St. Petersburg Russia, the Russian ladies were a hot mess on the ice. Russian upstart, Alena Leonova who was the easy favorite to win this championship, faltered...repeatedly...and found herself hanging on to a silver medal. She almost fell to the bronze after Elizaveta Tuktamisheva won the free skate from 10th place and pulled all the way up to the bronze. The overall winner, Ksenya Makarova, was only third best in the free. Makarova recently placed fourth at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Tokyo.

The men's competition in St. Petersburg was a bit of a spectacle. Evgeny Plushenko, despite a flawed short program, scored a whopping 100.09 points. Everyone is quick to point out that scores at a national championships are inflated. But there is point inflation...and there is ridiculous...I file that score under ridiculous. Plushenko breezed his way to an easy victory with another flawed performance that earned a large score. The actual fight here was between Artem Borodulin and Sergei Voronov. Voronov had a flawed free skate and was beaten by Borodulin but managed to hang on to the silver. Voronov, too, had a huge score from the short program. I'd file that one under...excessive.

Also sealing up victories in St. Petersburg were Domnina and Shabalin who finally had a chance to show off their new programs. They were quite sloppy, understandably after being out of competition up until this point, but also pulled in a big ole score. I filed that one under...exaggerated. I'm a big fan of their Aboriginal OD though...it's fun. Bobrova and Soloviev were second, Rubleva and Shefer third. Khoklova and Novitski withdrew prior to the event. Kavaguti and Smirnov won another Russian Title. Mukhortova and Trankov were second with Bazarova and Larionov placing third.

Back in Osaka, I should note that Cathy and Chris Reed along with Takahashi and Tran won the Ice Dance and Pairs competition respectively.

The biggest of all the showdowns was the Japanese ladies competition which has been a bit of a cliff hanger to this point as to whom would make the Japanese Olympic Team along with Miki Ando (who secured a berth following her silver medal Grand Prix Final performance). Oddly, Ando finished fourth, off the podium at Japanese Nationals only adding to the intrigue of the Olympic selection. Securing the first spot was Mao Asada who breezed her way to an easy victory in the deep field. Triple axels in both the short program and the free skate put her well ahead of the field. Yukari Nakano and Akiko Suzuki were left to fight it out for the last spot. Yukari turned in a conservative free skate hoping to use her short program advantage over Akiko but Akiko turned up the heat and turned in another solid performance to surge ahead of Nakano for the silver, and earn a ticket to Vancouver.

The next big national showdowns come next month with Canada and the United States stepping up to the plate.



7 comments:

evilapprentice said...

I still think that Mao's free program isn't right for her, but it was so good to see her put together 2 clean programs that I'm going to just ride that high for now and worry about the rest later.

Aaron said...

I think it's all still a bit heavy but she did look vastly improved. It think she's at least getting back to the point where she can be competitive with her international peers again.

p!nkroma said...

If only I could see Mao's "Bells" live. It's quite heavy when you watch it on videos. But I've read quite some opinions saying it's really different when you see it live and liked it.

jumping clapping man said...

So, does this mean Khok/Nov won't be on the Olympic Team?

Anonymous said...

I wonder why you don't question Asada's outrageously high marks from the Nationals, as you have previously done on other skaters' high scores such as Plushenko's or Kim's. I mean, look at Asada's PCS from this event. Don't you think it is a bit too high? I think you and your posts are heavily biased in favor of Mao Asada. Would it be too much of me if I ask you to be more fair to other skaters when you write about them? My name is Pete and I don't intend to post this under anonymous. (My PC would't let me.)

Aaron said...

Pete...you're right. Japanese Nationals had inflated scores too. Daisuke and Mao's wins were big.

But while Japan had big inflated scores, Russia had ridiculous out of control scores! When Japan's scores get as out of control as Russia's, I'll begin picking on them more.

Until then...yes, I'm going to come down WAY harder on the Russians.

My bias has nothing to do with the skaters...my bias is about the judges (the skaters can't control what marks the judges give them so we cannot blame them or lash out at them for poor judging). You're right, I am more biased against the Russian judges...it appears they suck way more.

Aaron said...

jcm...I assume that Russia will send Khoklova and Novitski to the Olympics provided they are healthy.