The competition began today on a cold, gray, wet afternoon, in St' John's, Newfoundland, Canada's easternmost city. The Yankee Polka was skated for the Compulsory dance, followed by the Pairs Short Program and the Men's Short Program. Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon (CAN) skated to the early lead in Ice Dancing. In Pairs, Aliona Savchencko & Robin Szolkowy (GER) were the surprise winners of the Short Program. Jeffrey Buttle leads after the Men's Short Program, followed closely by Johnny Weir (USA).
Due to reduced participation and a more extended schedule than Skate America, this is a most leisurely competition. Plenty of time for idle musing to wander through the head.
So where are the fans this season? Skate America was poorly attended, and now Skate Canada as well. This is an Olympic season, where interest is supposed to be at its height. For today's sessions we estimate attendance at about 1200.
So where are the skaters? Ten Ladies are competing here. Then there are eleven men, just eight pairs and nine dance couples. Pretty dismal. In Pairs, of the eight teams, three are from Canada and three from Russian. Only four countries are represented here in Pairs.
And why are the skaters SO not ready? Over and over at Skate America and now here, skaters say things like "I am happy with my skate for this time in the season", or "I made this or that error, but it's alright for this time of the season."
No it isn't. It isn't alright, and they shouldn't be satisfied for this or any other time in the season. In every major sport the athletes, the teams, are expected to be ready to compete on the opening day of the season. Not the last day. On opening day, the play book is expected to be finished and the players are expected to know the plays and be ready to execute them. But not in skating.
In skating, on opening day, the program isn't finished, no less polished, and the skaters are generally not ready to compete.
Today, and at Skate America last week, the scores have been generally 10 to 20% below the peak of last season. Only a handful of skaters are near being on top of their game. Daisuke Takahashi won Skate America because he was ready to compete. Aliona Savchencko & Robin Szolkowy (GER) lead in Pairs because they are ready to compete; not due to some new mysterious property of the new judging system as offered by Craig Buntin, of Valerie Marcoux & Craig Buntin (CAN), who are here but are not ready to compete.
Alissa Czisny (USA) sizzled in the Short Program and holds a 6 point lead over Fumie Suguri (JPN). Joannie Rochette (CAN) is currently in third place, 8 points back. Carolina Kostner (ITA), the current World bronze medalist, had a disappointing skate. She failed to complete her opening triple toe loop - triple toe loop combination, costing her 7 points and three position, dropping her from a potential second place to fifth.
In Pairs, Aliona Savchencko & Robin Szolkowy (GER) won the Free Skate, and took the Pairs event by 1.46 points. Maria Petrova & Alexei Tihkonov (RUS) placed second, followed by Valerie Marcoux & Craig Buntin (CAN) who scored a crushing 16.7 points behind the leaders.
For the top two teams, it came down to the Russian's jumps. In the Short Program Petrova & Tikhonov missed their side-by-side triple toe loops, while in the Free Skate their side-by-side triple Salchows were scored as a double, and on throw triple Salchow Petrova two-footed the landing. Even with these errors, however, the Russians were placed first by some judges in both the Short Program and the Free Skate, and for some combinations of randomly selected judges, the Russians win. So this begs the question, who really should have won? In both the Short Program and the Free Skate, the Russians earned more points than the Germans for all the Program Components, and for the majority of the elements. This also begs the question, who really should have won? This pairs event illustrates the fact that the new system can identify the best group of skaters and the worst group of skaters, but it does not give a definitive answer for individual places. The wide spread in the judges marks, the random selection of the judges and the arbitrariness of the relative base points assigned to the elements all conspire to make any point difference less then 1-2 points of dubious numerical significance, and the resulting placements open to question. That being said, it is also clear the Russians have issues with the jumps and throws they need to resolve quickly.
Big day today in St. Johns, with the OD setting the stage for the Dance final tomorrow, and the Men's and Ladies events completed with the skating of the long programs.
In Dance, Elena Grushina & Ruslan Goncharov (UKR) and Marie-France Dubreui & Patrice Lauzon (CAN) are in a virtual tie for first place, with but 0.33 points separating them. Melissa Gregory & Denis Petukhov (USA) are securely in third place, 8.61 points back, and 4.52 ahead of the fourth place team, Kristin Fraser & Igor Lukanin (AZE).
Alissa Czisny kicked butt, winning the Ladies event with a 10 point margin. Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen better watch out. New blood will be snapping at their heels at U.S. Nationals in January.
The Men's event was a bit of a demolition derby. Emanuel Sandhu (CAN) moved to the head of the pack to win the Gold medal. Jeffrey Buttle held on to the silver with two falls, one of which split the right inseam to his trousers and cut his thigh. Johnny Weir sprained his left ankle on his opening triple toe loop, which oddly enough looked well landed and received GoEs of +1. He struggle through the remainder of the program, and after element 9, he omitted a triple Lutz and for a moment looked like he was going to stop. But instead he pressed on and ended up eighth in the long program and seventh overall. Sandhu's margin of victory was but 0.66 points, less than than the numerical accuracy of the system; but nonetheless he goes home with the first place points for the final, and the first place money.
Takeshi Honda had a fine skate, but ended up fourth in the long and fourth overall, in large part due to the Byzantine rules for counting jumps. Honda had planned a triple flip - double toe loop as element 3 and then an individual triple flip for element 9. For element 3 he executed a triple flip, and then in element 6, turned an individual triple Salchow into a combination with double toe loop. So by the time he got to element 9 he had already used up his three combinations and already had an individual triple flip. That meant that the second triple flip didn't count and he lost all it points.
Having left out the combination in element 3, he should have saved the third combination for element 9. Or having thrown the combination in element 6, he should have done something other than the flip in element 9. It could have been a triple toe loop, Salchow or Lutz. He even could have done a double toe loop for element 9 and come away with the bronze medal. He also could have left out the third combination for element 6 and repeated the flip and also come away with the bronze, since when you repeat the jump alone with only two combinations completed, the scoring system assumes you intended a combination and gives you the benefit of the doubt and counts the repeated jump anyway. But that's an awful lot to expect a skater to remember in the midst of a program. Improvisers beware!
Competition ended today with the Ice Dance Free Dance competition. Marie-France Dubreui & Patrice Lauzon (CAN) won the Free Dance and moved out ahead of Elena Grushina & Ruslan Goncharov (UKR) to win the dance competition. The Ukrainians placed third in the free dance, but held on the win the silver medal. Melissa Gregory & Denis Petukhov (USA) placed second in the free dance, thanks to 4 points in deduction assigned to the Ukrainians due to falls and extended lifts. In Dance, lifts can have a duration of either 6 or 10 seconds. There is a new deduction this year, if a lift goes over time, as timed by a timekeeper. Last season, if a lift went over time the judges were to reduce the GoE for the lift. This year there is a one point deduction for each lift that goes over time. This basically doubles the penalty for going over time, since a reduction of 1 GoE corresponds to 0.5 points for a dance lift, while the new deduction is a full point. Five teams in the Free Dance today received deductions for extended lifts. So much for a system that was sold as being less punitive than the previous system!
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