Friday, February 26, 2010


6 is the number of women in the final group during the Ladies Free Skate Thursday night.

6 is the number of great performances performed in that final group.

Your math is good...that means that every woman in the final group of skaters had a great skate. So many back-to-back great performances is a rarity in figure skating. It's even more of a rarity at the Olympics. Not a single fall in the final group and solid performances all the way around.

Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu continued to exceed expectations for the U.S. Both had clean free skates, Mirai with the better of the two, placing 4th. Miki Ando, while a bit conservative, was leaps better here than she was in Torino, placing 5th.

Joannie Rochette, who I cannot even imagine how, had an amazing free skate with just one little glitch. Joannie, who lost her mother just Sunday, has shown unbelievable strength at these Olympics and I'm sure with her mother watching from above, found herself winning a Bronze Medal. Amazing!

The top two ladies again didn't disappoint. Kim Yu-Na skated first and was unbelievable. She had unimaginable pressure placed upon her by her native South Korea and delivered big time. She had the previous high score ever set for a woman and shattered that total by about 18 points. Mao Asada, with a Gold basically out of reach after Kim's performance, fearlessly attempted and hit two triple axels in her free skate, becoming the first woman to land three triple axels in Olympic competition. With her effort, she took the Silver behind Kim's Gold, the first figure skating medal ever for South Korea.

Tomorrow all these girls get to unwind and have some fun without the pressure of the judges during the exhibition gala.
You can read this and all my other blog posts at the One Winter Five Dreams Gold Blogger Site!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Proud" - Tugba Karademir

I first met Tugba outside of the training rink here in Vancouver. She came out of the rink with a confident step and a gleam in her eye. I said, "I'll try not be the crazed skating fan right now...I'm beyond excited to meet you!" Her response, "That's awesome." I knew right away I liked Tugba.

We chit-chatted skating and as I got to know her I realized she is very real. There is nothing put on or rehearsed about Tugba...she's real.

Spending some time with her will certainly be one of the fondest memories I take from these Olympics. I've been following her career since 2003 when I first saw her compete at the World Figure Skating Championships in Washington, D.C. When I asked her about her preparation for this event she was very confident and self assured; "I know I'm well trained. I see myself as one of the top girls this year and I know what I've done in training so I feel very ready for this event. I qualified quite early for Vancouver so I've been able to really prepare. For Torino it was rush rush rush to make the Olympics and here I've been able to really focus and prepare." There is that confident Tugba I was speaking of.

When I asked her what one thing she would have me blog about her she was clear in her response; "That I'm proud to represent Turkey. It means a lot to me. Turkey has made some real progress as far as creating a skating program and I feel like I was a part of that, and it makes me really proud."

Like Clyde and Robel, she said all the comments on her athlete blog were motivating and help justify the sacrifices she has made. "When you train as an elite figure skater you don't have the life that others have. When all my friends are going out or going to the prom I was training. But it's what I want to do. I love being out there on the ice and I know all the sacrifices that my family and I have made is worth it."

Tonight she'll perform her Free Skate and 'proudly' represent her home nation of Turkey. No matter the result, she can be 'proud' that she has been the face of Turkish Figure Skating through two Olympics now and is a role model for many in Turkey and around the world.

Tugba is proof that you can achieve what you put your head to. We are all fortunate that she has "Shared her Passion" with all of us.
You can read this and all my other blog posts at the One Winter Five Dreams Gold Blogger Site!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Testament on Ice

The Ladies Short Program was a testament on ice. It was an evening of amazing skating, great personal triumphs, small victories, and big accomplishments.

First, One Winter, Five Dreams athlete Tugba Karademir gave us all something to cheer about. Tomorrow I'll share some insights about Tugba and the time I spent with her but I am pleased that she has qualified to skate in the free program. She gave a wonderful performance to 'Bazaar Istanbul' and while I was a little disappointed in the judges marks I was not disappointed in her at all. We proudly waved the Turkish Flag she had signed for us! Great job Tugba and go get em' the free skate!

The American Women have exceeded expectations here and both Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu find themselves in the top group of women heading into tomorrow's free skate. U.S. Media has been harping on the fact that American women had little chance to medal but both Rachael and Mirai have proved they are in this competition too!

Joannie Rochette, had probably the toughest job of all. On top of the pressure to compete for your home country, she tragically lost her mother to a heart attack just Sunday and had to deal with the intense grief that accompanies such a painful lost. But rather than withdraw from the competition and mourn in private, she choose to continue with the competition and compete. When she took the ice, I have never felt such a wave a support for any athlete. Canada is well aware of her loss and the crowd at Pacific Coliseum showered her with love prior to her performance. I watched with tears in my eyes as she hit element after element perfectly...effortlessly. At the end of her performance she was met with thunderous applause, an instant standing ovation, and a flood of tears from the Canadian crowd that was so proud of her and behind her. She herself collapsed into tears in the arms of her coach as she received her marks. She's in position to medal, but I suspect that doesn't really matter at this point. What's more important is she is doing what her mother wanted her to do...her best.

The two top competitors gave the crowd an epic showdown. First, Japan's Mao Asada hit the first ever triple axel combination in an Olympic Ladies short program on her way to a huge score that brought the house down. Completely unaffected, Kim Yu-Na from South Korea, turned in an equally brilliant performance to music from 'James Bond' that also was an instant hit in Pacific Coliseum. The crowd went nuts when she broke her own World Record with a new high top score. I was sitting behind Kim Yu-Na's choreographer David Wilson, who basically skated the program with her from his seat. He was probably one of the most nervous people in the room and was delighted (and I think relieved) to see her score. These two ladies, Yu-Na and Mao, were billed as the two to beat coming into these Olympics and they didn't disappoint.

What will the free skate hold?
You can read this and all my other blog posts at the One Winter Five Dreams Gold Blogger Site!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

With Glowing Hearts

All over Vancouver you see one phrase, 'With Glowing Hearts' and I saw no hearts glowing any brighter last night than those of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Last night was one of those brilliant moments in sport when so many gave their very best. The top six teams all gave everything. Delobel and Schoenfelder who closed out their career with a heartwarming skate to the 'Impossible Dream.' Faiella and Scali, the master story tellers who enthralled us with their 'The Immigrants' program. Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, who just a year ago many though would be Gold Medal favorites here, happily accepted 4th place with a brilliant skate to 'Ave Maria.'

And as good as they were the medalists were even better. I was stunned when I saw how much Domnina and Shabalin had improved since Europeans and even they gave it everything they had in winning the Bronze.

And the only word I have for Davis and White and Virtue and Moir's showdown is epic. Two teams, pushed it to the limit and gave everything they had and them some and entertained audiences with the best free dance I can ever remember!

All season long I thought Tessa and Scott's Free Dance was a little too bland with their music choice but here, somehow, the music came to life and their skating was transcendent. As they finished their program I had tears in my eyes because it was so perfect. I was mesmerized and as big of a fan for Team USA I am, I knew Tessa and Scott had just skated their way to a deserved Gold Medal. As far as Free Dance greats...I think this dance is right up their with the likes of Torvil and Dean in 1984. Brilliant!

This morning Tessa and Scott was plastered on the cover of the Vancouver Sun and I couldn't be more happy for them. GO CANADA GO!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Thoughts and Prayers

My thoughts and prayers are with Joannie Rochette today.

Upon arrival here in Vancouver, her mother suffered a sudden heart attack and has passed away.

Joannie plans to continue with her short program Tuesday, which will no doubt be a tough moment for her. But I have no doubt the support of this tremendous Canadian crowd will help.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Poster Boy

Last night at Pacific Coliseum an American star was born.

The last time an American man managed to take the top spot of an Olympic Podium, the Olympics found themselves in Canada. Then, in 1988, it was Calgary and Brian Boitano won the "Battle of the Brian's" in a close match with Canadian favorite son Brian Orser.

Since then, Soviet or Russian skaters have dominated the Men's Olympic Figure Skating Podium. Viktor Petrenko in 1992, Alexei Urmanov in 1994, Ilia Kulik in 1998, Alexei Yagudin in 2002, and Evgeny Plushenko in 2006.

Now Plushenko was back for seconds in Vancouver and was the leader after the short program but two skaters were right on his heels; American Evan Lysaccek and Japan's Daisuke Takahashi.

In the free skate, Plushenko and Takahashi were good, but on this night Lysacek was great. With that great free skate, he won the men's title with Plushenko only grabbing the Silver and Takahashi the Bronze.

Everywhere I turned this morning I saw pictures of Evan Lysacek. Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White have been the American face of these Olympics...well...move over, Evan Lysacek has arrived!
You can read this and all my other blog posts at the One Winter Five Dreams Gold Blogger Site!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Russian Domination Comes to an End

Pairs Figure Skating is synonymous with the Russians. Since 1964, the Russians (or Soviets) have won (or shared as they did in 2002) the Gold Medal. It's just understood in Pairs Figure Skating...the Russians win.

But the last four years, after the retirement of 2006 Olympic Champs Totmianina and Marinin, Russia has struggled to produce a top form team. Last season, however, the Russians finally had a team that could go toe-to-toe with the best. Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov won the Bronze Medal at the 2009 World Championships and put everyone on notice...the Russians weren't going down without a fight.

In the short program here in Vancouver the Russians were on, and they gave two Chinese Teams, Pang and Tong & Shen and Zhao, as well as Germans Savchenko and Szolkowy a run for their money. The Russians were third after the short program daring their competitors to deny them their legacy.

But everything changed in the free skate where the Russians made critical mistakes and ended a dynasty of Russian and Soviet Champions. In fact, they failed to even make the podium, finishing an unimpressive 4th.

Instead, a new legacy was born. A legacy that has been in the making since 2002 when Shen and Zhao finished third in Salt Lake City. They finished third again in 2006 just behind their teammates Zhang and Zhang. This time, however, China took the top two spots with Shen and Zhao finally winning Olympic Gold and their teammates Pang and Tong taking the Silver. World Champions from Germany, Savchenko and Szolkowy, backed into a Bronze Medal.

Now it's understood in Pairs Figure Skating...the Chinese win.

Panasonic's Olympic slogan is "Sharing the Passion" and I can think of no other team that has done that more than Shen and Zhao. It took four Olympic attempts to win the Gold Medal (they were 5th in 1998) and they have worked so hard for it. It's nice to see hard work and a journey well traveled pay off!
You can read this and all my other blog posts at the One Winter Five Dreams Gold Blogger Site!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Carrying the Flag

The Opening Ceremony last Friday was an amazing experience. There were several figure skaters who had the pleasure of carrying the flag!

Kevin van der Perren was the first of the figure skaters to enter the arena carrying the flag of Belgium. A name you might not know, Ri Song-Chol, carried the flag for DPR Korea (North and South Korea are not competing under the unified flag at these Olympics), and he will be competing in figure skating. Julia Sebestyen held the flag for Hungary. Alexandra Zaretski carried Israel's flag. The final figure skater to enter the arena was Stéphane Lambiel. Of all the flag bearers, from any country, he looked the happiest! He had a grin from ear to ear and swung the flag from side-to-side with great enthusiasm.

Lots more Olympics to come and the Pairs Short Program is tonight!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Let the Blogging Begin!

It hit me when I was sitting at the airport waiting to board my flight. I was sitting there, and Ice Dancers Cathy and Chris Reed who represent Japan walk right past me and sit down. Two Olympians...right there! They had their team coats on with matching Team Japan bags in tow and it just hit me, "I'm on my way to the Olympics! Oh wow!"

This past week at work everyone has asked me, "How can you even sit still? Aren't you excited?" was very hard to sit still and yes I was excited but I wanted to keep it all contained until I arrived in Vancouver and began blogging. I wanted the excitement and anticipation I have for this once in a lifetime event to come out in my blogging.

I can't contain my excitement any more...I'm at the has really set in that I'm here. I've looked out my hotel window several times just to confirm to myself, "That really is Vancouver out there?" I'm smilng from ear to ear and this grin probably won't leave my face for the next year.

I'm in Vancouver and I'm ready to go...let the blogging begin!
You can read this and all my other blog posts at the One Winter Five Dreams Gold Blogger Site!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Olympics Begin!

I've decided to skip the Pic of the Week...for the next three weeks or so there will be plenty of pics to marvel at...and instead do a quick post on where to get Olympic Figure Skating Info from.

We can begin with me! I will of course be blogging over at One Winter, Five Dreams as the Gold Blogger for Panasonic! But I also intend to keep up with this blog as well during my tenure in Vancouver. It was this blog and my readers that earned me this trip to Vancouver so I definitely (DEFINITELY) will not be leaving you all out of the loop! While there are rules and regulations that I have to follow about Twitter and so forth, I will do my absolute best to keep you guys up to date with the happenings on the ground in Vancouver. This is one of the coolest things I've ever done in my life and I am beyond excited!

There is the NBC Olympics Website that will have tons of valuable info. You can find television schedules for NBC's 835 hours of coverage on their networks which include NBC, USA, MSNBC, CNBC, Universal HD, and Universal Sports. In addition to television schedules you can read athlete interviews, see clips of of happenings around the games, keep tabs on your favorite athletes, and check results and medal counts.

Yahoo! Sports also has a great site with lots of information. Yahoo! has the benefit of having two-time Olympic Silver Medalist Elvis Stojko as their chief figure skating analyst and contributor, providing to fans an extra level of expertise. Yahoo! is branding themselves as 'the go-to source for Olympic insight, trends and analysis, and a hub for fan engagement.'

Finally, don't forget the Official Vancouver Olympics Website. There you can track every sport, see complete athlete bios, get real-time score info, and be informed on what's 'official.' They even have a glossary of terms if you are confused about what a scratch spin is or don't know what they mean by circular footwork. You can also read the Athlete's voice section.

I also have a list of Global Broadcasters (in the sidebar to the right) if you are looking for coverage in other nations including Australia, Korea, Canada, Japan, Russia, or Europe in general.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Good Luck Team USA

Before the Olympics start I have to give a shout to the home team! So here's my big ole' message:


Monday, February 08, 2010

XXI Olympic Winter Games Figure Skating Ladies Preview

Last but certainly not least, the ladies event in Vancouver promises to be one of the most heavily covered by the media because of some international super-stars in the event. 10 Ladies to keep a lookout for:

Mao Asada (JPN) - After a super bumpy start to her season where she failed to medal at Rostelecom Cup and make the Grand Prix Final, she seems to have put the train back on the tracks with solid performances at both the recent Japanese Nationals and Four Continents Cup. In the free skate at Four Continents Cup she was credited with landing two triple axels in the free skate, making the 2008 World Champ a clear technical threat. The big problems for Asada this season, aside from some technical issues, have been the fact that her programs this season (her free skate in particular) leave many people cold. She skating to the very heavy Bells of Moscow which doesn't give her a chance to show off the usual lightness in her skating. Instead we are treated to what feels like a stage-tragedy on ice. If she can find a way to draw the audience in with the heavy dramatics and hit the technical content, she'll be formidable.

Miki Ando (JPN) - Miki is the only member of the Japanese ladies team that has Olympic experience, albeit a disastrous outing in Torino. She says she has learned her lessons from that experience and is prepared for this event:
This time I know what I have to do; I know what the goal is, so of course it's different.
Miki was one of two Japanese ladies to qualify for the Grand Prix Final where she took the Silver Medal in a close contest between herself and reigning World Champ Kim Yu-Na. However, she was just 4th at Japanese Nationals. She made the team on the strength of her Grand Prix outings. Miki is a solid technician but like Asada, her Cleopatra free skate leaves many cold. In this packed field of women it will take more than a series of triple jumps for the 2007 World Champ to strike Gold. If she can excite with her choreography (something she has yet to do this season) and hit the jumps, then she'll have a shot.

Rachael Flatt (USA) - The newly crowned U.S. Champion enters her first Olympics and is seen by many (if not most) to be a longshot for the podium. However, while many write her off, I think she is in a great position to be a factor in Vancouver. She will not be dealing with all the expectations and pressures of many of the top contenders and will be free to cut loose and just go for it. Rachael is extremely consistent technically and recently has managed to get a triple-triple combo back into her short and long programs. I think she can be a factor here and I would love to see her defy her many detractors.

Kim Yu-Na (KOR) - Kim Yu-Na will be one of (if not the most) talked about athletes at these games. The reigning World Champ is the biggest sensation in her native Korea and enters these Olympics as the heavy (HEAVY!) favorite for Olympic Gold. She turned heads at the Grand Prix opener in Paris where she beat her own record score and set a new high benchmark. Her short program, set to music from James Bond, is one of the sassiest and sexiest things ever put to ice and her free skate is a quiet clinic in elegance. Kim Yu-Na's biggest competitor will be herself. She will have media in her face constantly, heavy expectations from her fans, and I think personal expectations she's likely put on herself. If she can manage all of that and skate clean she will have accomplished a great deal (including a likely Gold Medal).

Carolina Kostner (ITA) - Until the European Championships, Carolina's season had been a disaster. When she lost the Italian National Championships, it became a question if she would even qualify for the Olympics. At Europeans, she not only managed to claim Italy's lone ladies Olympic berth, but she did so with a win. However, her win was unimpressive with a free skate marred with mistakes (in fact, almost all the women at Europeans had unimpressive free skates). But, it at least stopped the momentum hemorrhage that was happening and put her on the path of recovery. Now, the question is if the win has put her confidence back in place? Carolina Kostner, while I've never been a big fan, has always been good at constructing programs that are point getters. If she can be confident and land her jumps she'll be in the mix in Vancouver. If she falters...well...she'd be out (How very Heidi Klum of me).

Alena Leonova (RUS) - Recently I'm scratching my head going "What happened?" At World's last season she was this bubbly, effervescent breath of fresh air that simply reveled performing on the ice. She continued that trend this season with big Grand Prix performances that earned her a ticket to the Grand Prix Final. There, however, things came unglued and the troubles began. She bombed that competition, lost Russian Nationals, and was member of the splat fest that was Europeans. She seems to have lost her spark. I suspect with her success came the pressure of expectation, something she had skated free from up until this season. If she can find a way to enjoy what she is doing and use the electricity of the crowd to her advantage, she'll be far better off than if she worries about placement.

Laura Lepisto (FIN) - The 2009 European Champ hasn't had quite the season she had last year, but she still remains one to keep an eye on. This season she has tackled more challenging technical content in her free skate. Like Kostner, Laura didn't have a great skate at the European Championships in Tallinn despite taking the Silver Medal. Laura has very strong component scores but will need to hit the harder jumps to be competitive with the top ladies in Vancouver. Like Rachael Flatt, she may benefit from having fewer expectations and less pressure placed upon her. Laura is one of those skaters that just seems to grab points from nowhere and if she can keep her cool she may find herself in the running for an Olympic medal.

Mirai Nagasu (USA) - She skated up a storm in Spokane on her way to taking the Silver Medal. She kept insisting that she just wanted to skate great and was looking to the future for greater opportunities. Apparently the future is now! She's a gifted skater with the ability to draw audiences in but her main trouble this season has been pesky downgrades. They plagued her at Samsung Anycall Cup of China, HomeSense Skate Canada, and at U.S. Nationals. With a chance to win at all three events, she received downgrades in the free skate killing her chances. If Mirai can get those jumps 'around the corner' as I say she'll be a tough little competitor.

Joannie Rochette (CAN) - The reigning World Silver Medalist was not looking great in the early part of this season. Two scrappy performances in her Grand Prix events and then a botched Grand Prix Final left many questioning her chances this season. She shut everyone up at Canadian Nationals with a brilliant skate that brought the house down and set herself up for success in Vancouver. Joannie, like Kim Yu-Na, will have tremendous pressure and expectations upon her. The media will no doubt be following her every step. If she can keep herself grounded, shut everything out mentally, and reproduce what she did in London, she could find herself on a Wheaties Box. They do have Wheaties in Canada...right?

Akiko Suzuki (JPN) - All season long you just got the sense that she really wanted to go to Vancouver...she really wanted it! She came out smokin' hot at Samsung Anycall Cup of China with a big unexpected win. She qualified for the Grand Prix Final and took the Bronze Medal with another sassy performance. She was finally able to stamp her ticket to Vancouver by besting Yukari Nakano at Japanese Nationals. She doesn't have the same kind of abilities as Kim, Asada, or Rochette but she has heart and guts and a competitive tenacity that's so fun to see on the ice. She's the only Japanese skater to get my blood really pumping this season and I know many others feel the same. I think she is the sentimental favorite here in Vancouver...Miss Congeniality if you will...and hopefully she can use that support to her advantage.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

XXI Olympic Winter Games Figure Skating Pairs Preview

The Pairs are the first to hit Olympic ice a week from tomorrow, on Valentines Day actually. There are nine teams that each bring unique aspects to this competition. Experience, ingenuity, consistency, athleticism, beauty, and fearlessness are some of the many things we can look forward to in the Pairs competition.

Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett (USA) - Many, in fact probably most, don't expect this extremely young and inexperienced team to be a podium threat...but I think they are. The reigning U.S. Champs have three things working in their favor; their ridiculous consistency, the fact they are fearless in competition, and they have nothing to lose by going for broke. That's a recipe for success if you ask me. The one thing that will hamper them is the fact that they don't have the little details such as toe-point, line, extension, etc. mastered. At U.S. Nationals Sandra Bezic made the comment, "There's no box for magic" when discussing the scoring system. This team may knock the socks off of everyone and find themselves still playing catch-up. I hope this isn't the case.

Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison (CAN) - This team will enjoy the support of the crowd as they are Canada's best hope at a medal in this event. The 2008 World Bronze Medalists have had trouble living up to their potential. They failed to make the Grand Prix Final this season. But at this year's Canadian Nationals they turned in a stellar free skate that left everyone, myself included, speechless. When this team is 'in the zone' they are stellar. If they can recreate that magic again in Vancouver and couple it with a clean short program, this team will not only be in the hunt for a medal, it will be for Gold.

Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov (RUS) - History is on this teams' side. When was the last time a Russian or Soviet Team wasn't on the Olympic podium in Pairs Figure Skating? 1960. And since then, a Russian or Soviet team has won every single time (they did have to share in 2002). Four of those Olympic Champions were coached by Tamara Moskvina. Sound familiar? Yuko and Alexander also just won the European Title, desperately close to cracking the highest score ever..even with some little mistakes. This team brings ingenuity and cleverness to the ice coupled with infectious personality and charisma. If this team is 100% clean...I believe the Russian legacy of Pairs Figure Skating Champions will live on.

Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov (RUS) - This team is the Russian Yen to Kavaguti and Smirnov's Yang. They bring a more traditional Russian style to the ice than their teammates. This team has also been very consistent this season, taking medals in almost everything they've entered (the Grand Prix Final was the lone hiccup where they finished 4th despite a near clean performance). What this team doesn't seem to have is that extra bit of 'pizazz' that really gets the judges behind them. They've had good luck this season against some tough teams so if they can continue to be consistent they may sneak onto the podium. Hitting every element and finding a way to make their performance more transformative will be key.

Qing Pang and Jian Tong (CHN) - Part one of the Chinese juggernaut, this team has looked solid this season. Easy wins on the Grand Prix and a very solid Silver at the Grand Prix Final has them in position to be one of the main challengers for a medal, if not Gold, in Vancouver. With loads of Olympic experience to fall back on, this team will know exactly what to expect out there. Their Man of La Mancha free skate has been very well received this season. Like Mukhortova and Trankov, their biggest set back is their sometime lack of extra spunk to set them apart. If they are clean, they'll make a great case for the podium.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (GER) - Along with the Chinese, these two are seen as one of the road blocks in the way of continued Russian domination of Pairs Figure Skating. The reigning World Champions have had the oddest season however. They looked out of sorts in Paris at the Grand Prix Opener winning only a bronze. They went back to the drawing board and created, I think, the most gorgeous Pairs Free Skate...ever (I know that is a big claim but it's how I feel!). They blew the competition away at HomeSense Skate Canada and set a new high score for Pairs Figure Skating. They then watched that score fall at the Grand Prix Final where their problems (and the Bronze Medal) returned. They were still not fully with it at Europeans when they lost to Kavaguti and Smirnov. What does all this mean? It means they need to get their heads together or they are going to miss their shot at Olympic Gold. They have the vehicle to win this, they just need to bring their 'A' game.

Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao (CHN) - The veteran team comes to Vancouver looking for the Olympic Gold that has twice eluded them. When it comes to experience this team has more than any other as they prepare to compete in their 4th Olympics (Nagano, Salt Lake City, Torino, Vancouver). Part two of the Chinese juggernaut, they are the sentimental favorites and could be the team to put an end to Russian domination of this sport. At 31 and 36 respectively, it seems unfathomable that they recently nabbed the highest score ever for a pairs team at the Grand Prix Final. Even as two of the oldest competitors, they are solid as a rock technically. They are also two of the most expressive skaters on the ice. If these two win I don't think anyone would be upset and should they lose many will be heartbroken.

Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov (UKR) - I've said it plenty of times before and I'll say it again...this team is stuck in the zone of mediocrity. They are generally good enough to mention them here as medal contenders, but often find themselves pulling in for 4th, 5th, or 6th place. They didn't help their case at Europeans when they finished off the podium in 4th. Their free skate set to Pearl Harbor seems to labor on and on and you just wish it would end. Despite these shortcomings, they know how to construct a program to earn points and should other teams falter they might back into a medal...but I'm not holding my breath.

Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang (CHN) - Part three of the extremely powerful Chinese team, they actually have the best Olympic credentials of the three teams having won Silver in Torino. This season, however, they have been completely overshadowed by their teammates and have had really lack luster performances. Just last week in Korea, however, they put the train back on the tracks at the Four Continents Cup to win the title with two very solid performances. They didn't have to compete with their teammates in Korea and that might have given them the breathing room they needed to succeed. Trouble is, they aren't afforded that breathing room in Vancouver. Team China is exactly the same as it was in Torino yet completely different outcomes are expected of the three teams. What a difference four years makes!

Friday, February 05, 2010

XXI Olympic Winter Games Figure Skating Mens Preview

An extremely deep field of men will vie for the title of Olympic Champion in Vancouver. Who do I see as the top 12 contenders? There is:

Jeremy Abbott (USA) - Jeremy enters this event as the reigning U.S. National Champion, a title he successfully defended in Spokane. Every time he has competed this season he has looked stronger and stronger. The move from Colorado Springs to Detroit to train with Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen is paying dividends. He has shown when he skates clean he is a force to be reckoned with. Not only does he have solid technical ability (including a quad which has looked rock solid in his free skate) but his component scores are always some of the best in the field. If he repeats what he did in Spokane, he might be the guy to beat.

Patrick Chan (CAN) - When he hits the ice the roar will be deafening! He enters these Olympics as one of Canada's top Gold Medal hopefuls and will have the support of the Canadian people. Like Abbott, he has a knack at grabbing top component scores but his technical ability has come into question recently as he has been working his way back from an injury early in the season. He also had a recent coaching shake-up with he and Don Laws parting on iffy terms. Patrick has reported that the quad will not be in his programs in Vancouver, nonetheless, he remains a threat for the top spot on the podium because of his artistic skill. Again, the home-crowd advantage can help or hurt; it will be interesting to see how Patrick handles the pressure.

Samuel Contesti (ITA) - While he hasn't had the season he had last year with a surprise European Silver Medal and a top 5 finish at Worlds, he continues to skate consistently and could be a dark-horse medal threat. He has crowd pleasing programs that will no doubt go down well in Vancouver and a new found consistency on triple jumps, but he lacks in the component score department. Still, if he skates clean, gets the crowd on his side, and others make mistakes he may find himself in the running for a medal. He has nothing to loose and everything to gain and that may be his biggest asset.

Brian Joubert (FRA) - He looked positively angry on the podium at the recent European Championships where he managed only the bronze medal. Since winning the world title in 2007 it seems like he can't catch a break. He lost Worlds in 2008 despite a clean skate with a quad. Dropped down to 3rd last year after some odd mistakes. He's had to pull out of two consecutive Grand Prix Finals. If all that wasn't enough, he had to deal with a foot injury in December. Oy! Still, he comes to Vancouver with one of the most consistent quads and loads of Olympic Experience. Hopefully, he learned some hard lessons from his failures in Torino that will serve him well in Vancouver. If he is as mad as looks about losing European's, he may come out in Vancouver swinging!

Takahiko Kozuka (JPN) - Part of arguably the strongest men's team (some might contend that Team USA is the strongest), Takahiko is one of several skaters that is easily capable of playing the role of spoiler at these Olympics. This season, however, hasn't been his best. He failed to qualify for the Grand Prix Final (an event that he took Silver in the prior year) and was just third at Japanese Nationals. Despite the recent downturn, his greatest strength is a lack of a weakness. He's solid technically as well as artistically. This season he's fiddled with putting the quad in his free skate, I think sensing he needs a little extra 'umph' to really be a medal threat. If he can complete that jump and skate out!

Stéphane Lambiel (SUI) - A member of club comeback, Stéphane enters the Olympics coming off a successful European Championships. While he only won the silver medal there, he debuted a well received free skate to music from the opera La Traviata. Lambiel's technical ability is suspect without a triple axel, but he is a brilliant artisan who can rake in the points in the component scores. He is also the most gifted spinner in the competition. He's proven himself to be a clutch competitor, often times pulling off great performances when the lights are on and the chips are down. Like many of the top competitors he has dealt with injury in the run-up to these Olympics. If he can get through the gauntlet of triple jumps, complete his quads, and charm the audience, I don't see how he isn't on the podium.

Evan Lysacek (USA) - The reigning World Champ has looked Olympic ready all season. The only time he looked vulnerable was at the recent National Championships in Spokane where a late decision to rearrange his free skate and add a quad led to some inconsistencies and just a Silver Medal. Nonetheless, he has stated over and over that his goal this season is Vancouver and it is there he wants to peak. Up until nationals he was simply cruising along with big wins at Cancer.Net Skate America as well as the Grand Prix Final. Many are touting Evan as the best chance the U.S. has at a Gold Medal and he is certainly garnering the most American media attention. If he can continue to be as steady as he has been most of the season, he'll give everyone a run for their money in Vancouver.

Evgeny Plushenko (RUS) - The 2006 Olympic Champ is looking for second helpings here in Vancouver and he is, for many if not most, the favorite to win Gold. He made his comeback at Rostelecom Cup with the confidence that only Plushenko can display. Many were unsure of how solid he would look after being away from competition for nearly four years and he waltzed back on the scene...with quad and arrogant #1 finger waves. He has been plagued with some slight difficulty with his knee but it didn't stop him from winning Russian Nationals and Europeans. Despite, in my opinion, having a one dimensional approach to choreography, the judges love him and if he manages a clean skate I can't imagine him not winning.

Nobunari Oda (JPN) - When Nobunari debuted his new free skate at Trophee Eric Bompard, I was impressed! Nobunari has found his stride this season with a beautiful Charlie Chaplin program that suits him brilliantly. He's one of only two skaters that have been successful at getting past World Champ Evan Lysacek; he did so at Samsung Anycall Cup of China. Even though he enters this competition as the #2 ranked man from Japan, I think he is a legitimate Gold Medal threat, especially if he attempts and lands the quad in his free skate. He missed making the Olympics in 2006 because of a scoring snafu at Japan's National Championships that ended up reversing the placement at the top and leaving him at home. This time, he gets to show the world what he's got.

Daisuke Takahashi (JPN) - He has had a roller coaster season to this point. A poor skate at home at NHK Trophy followed by a great skate at HomeSense Skate Canada. He then had another meltdown at the Grand Prix Final but rebounded with a great skate at Japanese Nationals. It's hard to predict where Takahashi will come out in Vancouver. The early season issues were attributed to his being off last season with a meniscus injury but stamina issues have continued to plague him. However, when he is in top form, he is hard to compete with. His program is also well suited to him and full of character and his footwork is some of the best in the world.

Tomas Verner (CZE) - I almost considered not including Tomas in this post and instead focus on his teammate Michal Brezina. Tomas started the season promising but it has been down hill ever since. After winning the Silver Medal at Trophee Eric Bompard, he was just 4th at Cancer.Net Skate America. Then he finished last at the Grand Prix Final, lost the Czech Championship to Brezina and finished a disappointing 10th at Europeans...a far cry from the win he was able to produce in 2008. It would be easy for anyone to write him off at this point but Tomas has an amazing resilience to adversity and an ability to put himself back together after disappointing performances. He's humpty-dumpty if you will. If he stays on his feet and rotates his jumps he has a shot at a medal, if he falters...he's toast.

Johnny Weir (USA) - He has already made the headlines and he hasn't even stepped on the ice. Johnny will take the ice with the distraction of having to deal with Friends of Animals, an animal protection group that slammed Weir for his use of real fox fur on his Free Skate outfit. He's decided to replace the fur with faux fur. In a statement he said:
I made this decision after several threats were sent to me about disrupting my performance in the Olympic Games and my costume designer, Stephanie Handler, was repeatedly sent messages of hate and disgust. I do not want something as silly as my costume disrupting my second Olympic experience and my chance at a medal, a dream I have had since I was a kid.
So far this season Johnny has been okay...not stellar. He barely made the Olympic Team with a 3rd place finish at U.S. Nationals. If he is going to be a medal threat in Vancouver he will have to up his game. He does have a flair for the dramatic so he may shock us all yet.