Rinkside Reports from 1998 Skate America

This page contains my reports from 1998 Skate America.

Please forgive the scattered nature of these comments; I'm very tired and don't have much time to write up my notes. I may get around to filling in some more details later.

Thursday's report

Thursday's events were the compulsory dance, and the short programs for pairs and men. I don't have much to say about the compulsory dance, other than to note that Irina Lobacheva ought to win an award for the worst use of flesh-colored illusion fabric.

Some highlights (or low-lights) for the pairs:

Both the Stieglers and Ina & Zimmerman are skating to "Don Quixote" for their short, and they both made a mess of their programs here. In addition, the Stieglers still look like juniors, and I&Z don't look like they're ready for prime time yet.

Sargeant & Wirtz did a fine job with a clean short program. They're skating to the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze are in a class by themselves, of course, although I thought their program wasn't so terrific. The Hartsells also skated clean but it was interesting to observe that the judges dropped them a tenth or two on the second mark compared to the first. Again, the program is weak, with really generic music and choreography.

In the men, the main interest was seeing the different strategies the men are taking in response to the changes in the rules for the short program requirements. Now that the men have a choice of doing either a double or triple as the solo axel jump, Delmore and Weiss have opted to do the triple and put some other jump as their combination, but they each only managed a triple/double -- Delmore a triple lutz/double toe, and Weiss a triple flip/double toe. Clean triple axels for both of them. Delmore's presentation and choreography are much improved from last year, and I was particularly impressed that he did his combination out of a footwork entrance. I'm sure a lot of people liked Weiss's leather pants, but he's wearing an incredibly ugly orange and black patterned T-shirt with them.

Urmanov went for the "traditional" program with triple axel/triple toe, triple lutz out of footwork, and double axel, but his combination was a little wonky and he fell on his lutz. I thought he seemed nervous as he was nailing these jumps consistently in practice and warmup. Costume was black with white trim including a collar patterned like a piano keyboard collar, dolman sleeves, sequins, and no gloves.

Yagudin also went for the "traditional" elements and hit everything cleanly. It's a circus program with lots of clever choreography, and he seems to be skating with a lot more flair and confidence than at Worlds, even. He's improved tremendously since I first saw him two years ago.

Finally, Stojko went for a triple axel combination and quad toe as the jump out of footwork, but he doubled the back half of the combination and fell on the quad. He was not having very good luck with them in practice. I also feel that he is not really doing the jump directly out of footwork, as he does the footwork, and then does a loooong approach with his usual setup into the quad. He seems to lose a lot of speed through the footwork which may account for his troubles in landing the jump. I was somewhat surprised that the judges put him ahead of Weiss with the fall. There's no way he can justifiably complain that the judges aren't giving him the marks he deserves.

Shep Clark didn't skate well, unfortunately. He went for the "traditional" program but came to a dead stop on his triple axel, hopped around a couple times, and did a "toe axel"; then he fell on his lutz.

Friday's report

Today's events were the original dance and the ladies' short program.

This year's original dance rhythm is the waltz. We were treated to no less than three different renditions of "Masquerade Waltz". Given previous high-profile treatments of this music by Klimova & Ponomarenko and Krylova & Ovsiannikov, I think it's time to add this to the "banned music list" along with Malaguena, etc. The best of the three interpretations this time (and in fact of the whole competition) was that of Anissina & Pezierat. Lang & Tchernychev did a decent job in spite of a fall. Chalom & Gates, though.... eh. Not very waltzy, plus they were wearing gimmicky costumes with masquerade masks which I thought were over the line for being overly theatrical. They got hammered by the judges, and I think it's pretty clear that they've definitely lost their place in the pecking order for US dance teams now.

Lobacheva & Averbukh also had a really good waltz (using one of the less familiar Strauss waltzes, I believe) and were quite close behind Anissina & Peizerat. Once again, though, Irina's costume was pretty dreadful with the top consisting of flesh-toned illusion fabric with a few strategically placed patches of beads and sequins. Ick. The Italians skated to Tchaikovsky and their dance was clearly of lesser quality, with too much frantic arm-waving to distract from the fact that they weren't doing as much with their feet.

The Canadians LeFebvre & Brunet were the only team to use vocal music for the waltz. I hope they were deliberately playing up the cheesy aspect of it -- their expression was really overdone, and they ended by blowing a kiss to the judges! -- as I thought it was actually quite enjoyable in its silliness. Good speed, flow, and waltzy feel throughout. They also had a fall in the dance, though.

None of the ladies skated a clean program, which was kind of disappointing. Maria Butyrskaya fell on her lutz (after she'd been landing the combination consistently all during practice and warmup); Nicole Bobek made a last-minute change to a flip combination after being totally unable to land her (f)lutz in the afternoon practice, but then fell on the flip as well, besides appearing very tentative and cautious throught the program; Elena Sokolova landed the lutz combination after not doing so at all during practice, but then fell on her double axel; Anna Rechnio wound up doing double lutz/double toe after struggling with the lutz all day; Brittney McConn did the equivalent of a "waxel" with her lutz; and Angela Nikodinov doubled her flip out of footwork.

If any skater was "robbed" in this event, I thought it was Jennifer Robinson. She fell on her lutz but I thought her program was very well put-together and presented, and she has really soft knees and nice flow and edge quality.

Saturday's report

At long last, here are my notes on Saturday's events.

The afternoon started out with the pairs final. The Stieglers were actively painful to watch. They did manage a better triple twist than I'd seen them do before, but they missed both throws, both missed their double axels, only did double toe loops, screwed up the dismount of one of their lifts, and finally Johnnie totally missed the entrance to his camel spin. Khalturina & Kroukov were also really awful to watch.

Ina & Zimmerman skated a pretty good performance in terms of their elements -- John even landed both his triple toe loop and double axel, and looked like he could hardly believe it himself. The big problem (aside from general problems with unison) was that they only had one throw in their program, and Kyoko fell on it.

Most people seemed to hate Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze's music, but I liked it and found the program engrossing. They screwed up their triple twist and a throw, otherwise everything was clean. Sargeant & Wirtz turned in another great performance to place second. Their main problem is that everything they do is so quick and choppy and lacking in flow.

The other pairs were all sort of non-memorable to me, and I think the judges had them all pretty closely bunched together.

The men were up next. This was the best part of the whole competition. It was good to see Alexei Urmanov skating such a good performance -- the only real problems were that the landings of a few of his jumps were a little scary, although I think they all counted as clean. He seemed to be lacking a little of his usual panache and confidence. (In the short, I thought he actually looked nervous.) I tend to think that his program would get the highest presentation marks of the four top men here if he were really "on" and skated it with full conviction.

Elvis Stojko is doing yet another movie-theme program, yawn. I guess the big news is that he actually does a spiral in this program! Yahoo. Seriously, this is the first time I've ever seen Elvis competing live. I found myself being more impressed with him in person than I'd been from watching him on TV. If you put up with his well-known flaws -- the weak spins and bent-over jump landings, for instance -- he's not that bad otherwise, as his footwork and speed and general presentation were better than I'd been expecting. Anyway, he missed his quad and a triple salchow, then doubled his lutz. He looked like he was kind of running out of steam by the end of the program -- it seems he's not yet in the best of shape in terms of his conditioning.

Michael Weiss skated a surprisingly good program, with two triple axels, even. The two-foot on his quad was pretty slight and I think it was probably the closest he's ever come to landing it cleanly. It was interesting that neither he nor the press made any fuss over it this time; I guess since Tim Goebel got into the record book first, failed attempts at quads are no longer worthy of controversy. Anyway, my main gripe is that Weiss's "Mulan" program seems like a step backwards for him, as it's a completely unremarkable generic movie-theme thing. I wonder if he got a costume deduction, BTW, since those sure looked like tights he was wearing.

I didn't really care much for Alexei Yagudin's "Lawrence of Arabia" program, either. I never saw him do a complete runthrough in practices so I didn't have a feel for just how much posing in front of the judges there was until he did it in the competition. On top of that, the presentation is all aimed at the judges as well, so that if you were sitting in the corner opposite to the judges, the way I was, all you got was a distant view of Alexei's backside. Technically, though, the program was very, very impressive. His jumps are huge.

Derrick Delmore's program was sort of a mixed bag -- he hit a fair number of his jumps, and missed some others. Again, my main problem was that I thought the program was just not very interesting. The music and style are very similar to his long program from last year. I was disappointed because I liked his new short a lot better.

Shepherd Clark, sad to say, totally embarassed himself at this competition. He only landed two triples in the long, and even worse than that, I had the strong impression that he started to improvise and leave out choreography once he started to make mistakes on the jumps. It was the same "Warsaw Concerto" music and costume from last year. I'd read that he was supposed to have a new program to music by Richard Strauss; what happened to it? Honestly, I like Shep, but he didn't do himself any favors at this competition.

The dance competition was next. There wasn't much doubt that Anissina & Peizerat were going to win this, but I didn't particularly like their "Man in the Iron Mask" program. The big problem is the music, which is not only typically boring movie music, but some of the cuts they used don't have anything that sounds like a recognizable beat or rhythm. Some of the lifts and other tricks were spectacular but the rest of the skating was pretty forgettable. Anissina's costume was kind of interesting, with a ruffle to match her dress running down one side of her tights.

Fusar-Poli & Margaglio skated to "Dracula" in vampire makeup and lavender costumes with ruffles and bat wings. They seemed to be going for shock value, starting their program with a particularly tasteless lift, for instance. They seemed to be going for lots of dramatics in their expression, but I think the boring movie music is the weak part of the program.

Irina Lobacheva's latest costume atrocity was a red dress with a strip of flesh-colored fabric all the way down one side, the whole thing being criss-crossed with some silver bands. I wrote down "disco fiddle" to describe their music. It's not a particularly memorable program.

Semenovich & Fedorov also did a dramatic theme program, to "Phantom of the Opera". In practice Fedorov was wearing a mask but thankfully they ditched it for the competition. Semenovich's dress reminded me a lot of Angelika Krylova's "Masquerade Waltz" dress from two years ago, complete with the built-in auto-wedgie. About the best thing I could say about them is that they were very fast and covered a lot of ice.

The battle for fifth place was kind of interesting with Lang & Tchernyshev and Lefebvre & Brunet both doing tango programs. I thought L&T had more complex steps while the Canadians had more speed over the ice and better expression. The panel was pretty closely split between them.

As for the remaining teams, the Austrians were completely forgettable and the Japanese team looked more like novices than juniors. Chalom & Gates did a program to Mozart in flowy costumes which was quite pleasant in parts, but in other parts I got no sense that they were skating to any kind of rhythm in the music. In general, this team lacks the speed and ice coverage of those who placed ahead of them.

Then it was on to the ladies splat-fest. Ugggh. This competition was a mess, with everyone making multiple mistakes.

Jennifer Robinson skated to Debussy in an asymmetrical, one-sleeved blue dress. She landed a triple lutz/double toe combination that may have been clean, and two triple salchows, but she put a hand down on her loop, fell on a flip (or toe loop?), and popped the second lutz. She has a very unusual set-up to her lutz, doing it crosswise in the middle of the rink instead of in the corner. Perhaps she's doing it there so that the judges can see that she's not actually flutzing it, although she always switches from outside to inside to back to outside.

I'm afraid I zoned out during Shizuka Arakawa's program and didn't write down her elements. She skated to "Mulan" in a red dress.

Brittney McConn is developing a frightening resemblance to Tonia Kwiatkowski. Quick, send this girl to Toller Cranston before it gets any worse! She got two triple salchows, a loop, and a toe loop, but popped a flip, fell on the lutz, and dropped out of her double axel on two feet.

Anna Rechnio is skating to ballet music from "Sleeping Beauty" in a frilly pink dress, and I don't think it suits her at all -- she's such a power skater underneath. All during the week in practices she was having a lot of problems with two-footing her jumps and it carried over into her performance. I think the only thing she landed cleanly was a triple toe loop.

Silvia Fontana actually landed a triple lutz! It was a pretty ugly jump and may have been cheated on the landing, but she looked thrilled to have stayed upright on it. Her program was to music from "La Boheme" in a gold beaded dress.

Nicole Bobek skated to yet another version of the "Evita" program she's been using in various incarnations since 1995. I really hope she is planning to get something new by Nationals since, besides being old, this program is really choppy and disconnected and it just sort of ends in an abrupt way. My notes are that the only triple she landed cleanly was a salchow, and I was astonished by how high her marks were. Based on what I saw of her in practice, she's not landing her (f)lutz at all, and she was not even trying a triple loop.

Maria Butyrskaya recycled her old program from last year, too. She had two major splats, the four triples she did land had questionable landings, and she didn't include a combination of any sort in her program. This meant that Angela Nikodinov had a serious chance to win the competition.... she started out strongly enough with a triple lutz combination, triple flip, and triple loop with a step out on the landing but that was probably good enough to be counted by the judges, but at that point she just seemed to give up on the program; she doubled the remaining three jumps, and didn't put anything into the choreography or presentation. This competition could have been hers for the taking, and she just gave it away. I'm seriously bummed because I like Angela's skating and think she has a lot of ability, but she doesn't seem to want to win.

Elena Sokolova managed four clean triples -- a toe loop, two loops, and a salchow. Her lutz was definitely two-footed, and the flip was even more so. The program didn't do anything for me, and I noticed that her basic skating technique is fairly weak; her edges are not very deep, she doesn't get much "push" from her stroking, and so on. Even though Maria's falls were much nastier than the mistakes Elena made, Maria deserved to be ahead, and it wasn't just that the judges like to "hold her up".

Finally, there was Tatiana Malinina skating the same "Aladdin" program from worlds. She started out OK, with a lutz and toe loop (I think the flip was two-footed), but the rest of the program was very messy with two falls. She was skating much better in practice.

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