1998 World Figure Skating Championships

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Sandra's rinkside reports

Sunday's report

It's been a long day of skating! Actually, two long days. I got here around noon on Saturday and spent the afternoon at the practice rink, where I caught about half of the ladies free skate practice, one group of dance, and the handful of men who bothered to show up for their short program practice. Then pairs at the Target Center. Today I spent entirely at the main arena, watching more ladies free skate practices, the men's qualifying rounds, and more pairs, although I skipped out before the end just so I could write up a report before I crashed. :-P

For the most part, I'll skip over the practices since I didn't take detailed notes on anybody, and it's all starting to seem like a blur in my mind. Of the ladies I have seen and remember anything about, Anna Rechnio is skating better than I've ever see her do before -- landing all of her jumps, etc -- and I saw Laetitia Hubert land a triple lutz/triple toe in the warmup before doing a runthrough where she missed just about every jump in the entire program. Who knows what to expect. Tanja S. is struggling with her lutz and salchow. Maria B. looks great with her new haircut but I came in too late to see her program runthrough. More on ladies tomorrow after qualifying. For the pairs, I have thus far been disappointed as neither B&S nor K&D have shown up for the two practices I've attended.

My notes on the men's qualifying are similarly sketchy. I wasn't keeping exact track of jumps, etc; more just general impressions.

Group A:

Ivan Dinev is actually quite good. He has very straight, tightly rotated jumps and some sense of his music and adequate presentation overall. He does look quite young.

Michael Tyllesen gave everyone some anxious moments as he managed to land only one triple jump cleanly in spite of having an inventive and entertaining program and obviously superior all-around skating skills. There was some last-minute juggling around of the oridinals around the bottom of the pack and he wound up making the cut, phew. Hope to see him skate this program better later in the week. He also gets an honorable mention in the costume category: blue and yellow shirt with diagonal colored pieces on it, and pants that were surely tight enough to merit a costume deduction.

Zag skated an adequate program, landing a nice triple axel/double toe and managing not to double or fall on his 'tano lutz for a change. Only the one triple axel and a couple other popped jumps kept him from doing any better than third in his group. Weiss, I thought, was overmarked in comparison, but probably deserved to be second anyway, just not with 5.7's and 5.8's for that performance as it had a number of small mistakes and seemed to lack something in intensity.

I have to confess that Steven Cousins's popularity is a mystery to me. I've seen him do some very funny exhibition programs, but I find he lacks anything to hold my interest when he does anything more serious.

Misha Shmerkin is much shorter in "real life" than I thought he was from just seeing him on TV. He's very cute, in fact. Very messy skate, but his costume ought to get some sort of award. Red and orange and green and black and cream with sequins.

Roman Skorniakov also deserves a costume award for his black outfit with silver sequins around his midsection and silver fringe on the shoulders. It was the fringe that drove this one over the edge. He's a terrific jumper but had very little else of interest in his program, as it was quite weak in its choreography. 3 axel/3 toe, and 3 flip(?)/3 toe.

Emanuel Sandhu looked kind of tentative through his whole program. He landed two triple/triple combinations but also popped or doubled a bunch of other jumps. Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me is that in his practice yesterday I'd seen him doing all sorts of great spirals and ina bauers and spins, and most of them were not in his program at all.

Yamato Tamura also had two triple/triple combinations but he doesn't have a triple axel. Good edges and flow.

Todd Eldredge's new costume looks like he took the white one he was wearing for his exhibitions this season, and dipped it in navy blue dye. It looks like he is attempting his quad toe out of footwork now, a long series of three turns. He tripled it here but the rest of the program was fine. People thought he looked like he had some of his old spark back.

Group B:

Szabolcs Vidrai did a triple axel/triple toe and a nifty one-foot footwork sequence, but the rest of his skating was pretty ordinary. He was doing some sort of motorcycle or race-car program. His costume was this silver-studded black suit with fringe and red insets up and down his legs.

Takeshi Honda couldn't land a triple axel, but he landed a quad toe! First time I've ever seen him smile when skating. When he finished his program he patted himself on the head. Very cute.

Plushenko looked awesome. 8 triples and a quad toe. I wonder if he is too young and too new to realize what pressure is yet.

Sandwiched in the middle of the quad brigade, we had Olavarrieta of Mexico, who could not even land a triple jump to save his life. His jumping was really about at the level of an intermediate in the US. OTOH, his spins were more than adequate, including one of the best layback spins I've ever seen from a male skater. I also thought he had one of the most beautiful costumes of the day -- black pants and shirt shading to teal on the sleeves, very tasteful and understated.

Up next was Guo of China, who put a hand down on his first quad attempt but landed the second one cleanly. He was shown on TV at the Olympics so you all already know about his dreadful spins and choreography.

I personally found Gilberto Viadana to be one of the most interesting skaters of the whole event. He popped his triple axel attempt (I never saw him land one cleanly in practice although he is clearly pretty close to getting the jump), but he skated with great expression and a lot of charisma. It's a tango program.

Patrick Meier has a big fan contingent but struck me as being less remarkable. Another weird costume, dark green and red with white ruffles at the neck and cuffs.

Yagudin also landed 8 triples cleanly but did not attempt a quad. I'm guessing that's why he wound up behind Plushenko, although I think it could have gone either way.

This was my first look at Andres Vlascenko this season. He had a messy skate but I was too busy observing his attire to be paying too much attention. He's wearing a pleated white satiny-looking shirt that has black embroidered musical notes hidden in the pleats (so you could only see them when the shirt billowed out as he moved), and what looked like a violin on one sleeve and music staves on the other. It's no doubt highly symbolic of something, but what?

After the end of qualifying, there was a nasty scene in the arena as the staff was trying to tell people that the following pairs practice was going to be closed and people who had tickets were complaining about being thrown out. It took about half an hour before the angry mob won the dispute and we were allowed to stay. In general, I must say that the people running this event seem pretty clueless about spectator arrangements. The people at the transportation desk yesterday had no clue about spectator buses to the practice rink, and suggested I talk to the hotel doorman to find out which bus and where to catch it. The doorman didn't have a clue but suggested I ask the driver of the competitor's bus if they knew anything about it, and the driver just told me to hop on the competitor's bus, which I'm sure was not really kosher.

Monday's report

This is going to be pretty short, since the only thing going on today was ladies' qualifying.

One thing I perhaps didn't make clear enough in my report on the men yesterday was that overall the level of skating was very high. There were very few falls, and even skaters who wound up near the bottom of the standings usually had their good points. This was less true of the women, as we saw a lot of falls and a lot of skaters who were pretty clueless about presentation.

Group A:

Anna Chatziathanassiou had the longest name and fewest jumps of any of the ladies. Her big tricks were a single axel/single loop combination and a double lutz and double toe in sequence. That's comparable to what juveniles do in the US except that she had more developed presentation.

One of the other skaters who did barely make it out of this group was the Korean girl Hyung-Kyung Choi. She landed a triple toe and triple salchow, but what really made the difference was that she has first-rate presentation skills -- she skated a tango program with a lot of very showy choreography.

Shirene Human, unfortunately, did not make out of qualifying. As others have reported, she is actually a normal-sized woman. Watching her, I thought that the criticism of Glyn Watts' unimaginative choreography has perhaps been exaggerated; unlike a lot of the other skaters, Shirene actually *had* choreography and a program that looked like she was doing more than skating from jump to jump. Unfortunately, Shirene just didn't land the jumps this time.

Julia Sebestyen, whom I've seen skating at Simsbury in the past, was one of the skaters who was really lacking in choreography. She started off her program with a nice high triple lutz and also had a triple salchow and toe loop, and she also did a donut-to-biellmann spin.

Joanne Carter doubled her lutz but did a triple loop/triple loop combination. Lenka Kulovana got in a triple toe/triple toe. Elena Sokolova did triple loop/triple toe. I saw Shizuka Arakawa do a triple lutz/triple toe in the warmup but she blew the lutz completely in her program. So it's impressive that so many of the ladies are going for the triple/triple combination.

Among the top finishers, Michelle Kwan skated a fine program, a few of the jump landings looked a little less secure than they could be, and her spins could be faster, but she's clearly "in the zone". I don't think anybody is going to be able to touch her for the title unless she blows her short program and winds up too far back to catch up in the long. Slutskaya and Sokolova both skated well, each making a few mistakes on jumps but landing a triple lutz, etc. Likewise for Tonia Kwiatkowski.

I somehow managed to forget to take any notes on Laetitia Hubert, but she didn't have a good skate. She did a mostly doubles all the way through her program.

The bletcherous costume award of the day goes to.... Yulia Vorobieva, who was wearing a bright green sequinned dress with a red ruffle at the waist. To balance this out, she also gets the award for the best spin of group A, a very long and fast combination spin at the end of her program with several changes of position before finally pulling in to a very fast back scratch.

One other costume note: I have a suspicion that Shizuka Arakawa's dress is a Toller Cranston design.

Group B:

Maria Butyrskaya was the first skater up in the second group, and she had a very good skate, just one or two minor errors. If she skates like that in the final I'm pretty confident she will go home with a medal.

Silvia Fontana is vastly improved from two years ago as she has been seen landing triple lutzes and flips in practice and is skating with a lot more control. In her program I think she only did triple toe and salchow and doubled all the other jumps, but it was enough to do the job and she looked very happy. Her program is very "Italian".

Vanessa Gusmeroli didn't have a particularly good skate -- I think she popped two attempts at the flip. She landed a triple loop/double loop, among other things.

Anna Rechnio lived up to her practices and did a program with 5 clean triples. She gets tremendous height and delayed rotation on all of her jumps. I think the thing that is going to limit her right now is her relative lack of expression. Fortunately she is skating a tango which calls for looking grim. Nice black velvet dress, but cut impossibly low over the chest. That flesh-colored fabric can be a good thing.

One of the other really nice costumes of the day was worn by Olga Vassiljeva from Estonia, a black and dark blue sparkly creation with a high neckline in front and an open back. I kept wondering if it was coincidence that both she and the Estonian man skater we saw yesterday were dressed in colors to match their flag.

Tanja Szewczenko did not have a good skate either. I think she landed only a flip and a toe loop cleanly and either two-footed, fell on, or doubled everything else. She was having a lot of trouble with the lutz and salchow in practices. I can see why she's so appealing, as she is always smiling and skates with good expression and speed. I think she'll have a great pro career even if she never gets another worlds medal.

Lucinda Ruh had so many problems with her jumps that we were all afraid she wasn't going to qualify. The only thing she landed cleanly was two double axels, everything else was a mess. Wonderful spins, but I think it was the superior quality of everything in between the elements that held her up. She skates fast and is very musical. She's skating to the Gliere harp concerto so her program has a similar character to Michelle Kwan's.

I'm afraid I was sort of dazed again throughout Elena Liashenko's program, and have a hard time remembering anything other than that she was wearing a red dress. I suppose she must have landed some jumps since she wound up in third place in group B, just ahead of the other Ukrainian, Yulia Lavrenchuk. Yulia opened her program with a tremendously high triple lutz and for a while I thought she might knock Anna out of second place, but she doubled the flip(?) and missed one or two other jumps, and that was it for her.

Tuesday's report

I decided to skip the compulsory dances today and spent the day at the practice rink instead, where there were short program practices for ladies and men, and then a men's free skate practice. There were a lot of no-shows for the morning short program practices, but most of the guys showed up in the afternoon, and we saw some pretty spectacular skating. In one group alone, Eldredge and Zagordniuk were attempting quad toes (Eldredge got two clean ones, Zag none) while Weiss and Pliuta were both blasting away at quad lutz attempts, both getting some two-footed ones but none clean. I'm inclined to think Pliuta is closer to getting this jump than Weiss just because he is attacking the jump with so much more speed. We also saw quads from at least Plushenko, Honda, Guo, and Liu. (Am I forgetting anybody?)

Other highlights: Sandhu did another entirely jumpless practice session, leading to speculation about whether he is still nursing an injury and is trying to avoid wear and tear. He did a complete runthrough of his long program choreography, at least, which was still wonderful to watch. Gilberto Viadana also did a mostly jumpless runthrough but that was great, too. Later we passed him in the mall attached to the Marriott and I wished him good luck, and he seemed a little surprised that anybody recognized him. (He wears glasses off the ice and looks appealingly nerdish.) But he seems to be getting a lot of positive comment from fans. The Russians both skipped morning practice; in the afternoon, Plushenko looked great, Yagudin was struggling a little.

As for the ladies, Michelle Kwan and Lucinda Ruh were both in the same group. Lucinda seems to have such superior presentation and basic skating skills to most of the other ladies in the event, but when she and Michelle were just warming up you could see there was still a huge gulf between them; Lucinda wasn't getting the full extension on her stroking, her waltz jump didn't have the same "kick" and ice coverage, and so on.

Michelle skated a clean short program runthrough, but we observed that while she is entering her lutz with a lot of speed, she is still landing it with very little flow. So I walked around to where I could inspect her lutz prints, and there I saw the evidence that she is having trouble with her picking technique again. Instead of planting the pick firmly, it looks like she is skidding backwards on it for perhaps 6 inches, which would surely account for the loss of speed. OTOH, I also saw that she is not flutzing: she's on a definite outside edge before it flattens out in the last few feet, but it never rolls completely over onto an inside edge.

After this, I went to look at the World Figure Skating Museum exhibit they have set up in an empty store in the mall downtown. It has costumes from Yamaguchi, T&D, G&G, Hamilton, etc., along with medals and skates and photos and other stuff on display. It's nice that they did this since probably most fans wouldn't bother to schedule a trip to Colorado Springs to see this stuff.

Next it was the pairs short program. I found my real seat for the first time, and I really hate it. It's low down in the corner right next to the tunnel where the TV people go in and out, so I had people going in and out, this rail partly blocking my view, and a security guard with his walkie-talkie making noises standing right below me, and I was also close enough to the CTV booth on the other side of the tunnel to hear them doing their commentary. Plus I don't like sitting so low in a corner because it's hard to see what's going on at the other end of the rink. (I paid $525 for this?) So after the first Zamboni break I moved away from there to sit with a friend higher up in the same corner. I dunno what I'm going to do later in the week, when the arena starts to fill up and open seats are harder to find.

BTW, here's a trivia bit. Did you know that when Barb Underhill tapes her pieces where she chats with whoever the guy they have with her in the CTV booth is, they have her stand on a box? And she still only comes up to about his shoulder.

Meanwhile, over in the ABC booth, Dick Button was nattily attired in a green and black lumberjack plaid shirt. Robin Cousins was wearing a cream-colored sweater in the BBC booth.

If you don't want to see spoilers, stop reading now. I assume most of the top teams will be shown on TV Friday night. Probably by the time everyone reads this, it'll be old news that Ina & Dungjen had to withdraw because he cracked his head in practice on Sunday, and that Kazakova & Dmitriev are out because of food poisoning or something like that. For the rest:

Schwartz & Muller skated a clean program. Shen & Zhao had a minor problem on their triple toes (he stepped out) and their spirals and pair spin were both pretty weak. Meno & Sand got the triple toes but had a major unison fault on their side-by-side spins. The German judge's low marks got a lot of boos. For Savard-Gagnon & Bradet, she put a hand down on the triple toe, plus I thought their footwork was easy and their pair spin was kind of messy. Eltsova & Bushkov both barely landed their triple toes but they got hammered by the judges because they got behind their music, finished their pair spin a good 5 seconds after the music did, which made them run overtime, so they got hit with deductions both for going over time and for missing the second half of their spin as well as a hit in the presentation mark for missing their music.

I thought Lyons & Wells were over-marked given that he doubled the salchow (I honestly don't think he even had any intention of doing a triple; he didn't try one in warmup) and they were terribly slow in the middle part of the program. Khalturina & Krukov, OTOH, seemed undermarked; they did land the triple salchows and also had a big twist, and got a partial standing ovation from the crowd. The only fault I spotted was that they seemed to be skating somewhat cautiously throughout the rest of the program once they got the twist and jumps out of the way, and the dismount from their lift was a little scary.

Sargeant & Wirtz seemed to get a deduction for something but I'm not sure what it was. The only problem I wrote down for them was that their spins got out of unison at the very end. They did land the triple toes. Zagorska & Siudek hit all the big tricks, with triple toes, a high twist, and a very flashy flip-up to star lift, but their side-by-side spins were pretty wretched -- his back sit spin, in particular.

Bereznhaya & Sikharulidze both missed the triple toes. The rest of their program was fine but I got the impression that they were being a bit cautious and not skating with as much speed as they usually do. Sarah Abitbol also splatted on her triple toe, plus I was wondering if they got a deduction for an illegal lift because it looked like Bernadis was supporting her with a hand on her upper thigh instead of her hip. Filonenko & Marchenko were impressive primarily because they were really, really fast -- they also had a problem on the triple toes, but they had a big twist, fast spins, fast spirals, etc. They're both tiny but they sure have lots of power. I thought they ought to have been ahead of Lyons & Wells for that reason.

Anyway, with all the other top pairs either dropping like flies or screwing up badly in some way or another, Meno & Sand wound up in first place kind of by default. I think they're going to have to screw up pretty badly themselves in the long to come away without a medal here now.

Costume notes: Worst of the night was definitely the bright neon orange from head to toe worn by Nekrassova & Mintals. Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze have new sparkly beige costumes which are not as nice as the plain grey ones they had earlier in the season, plus Anton really, really needed to have matching boot covers -- the black boots just didn't go with beige pants. I think Eltsova & Bushkov also had new costumes; she had an orange-red dress and he was wearing black and a shade of red that didn't quite match her outfit. The best costumes of the night were probably Sargent & Wirtz's yellow and rust outfits, and the dark red and black ones that McGrath & Carr had for their Spanish-flavor program. Shen & Zhao would have gotten an award too, except that she was sporting a major wedgie for most of the program. Ooops.

Wednesday's report

This has been a long day with both the men's short and pairs final. Beware, spoilers ahead.

Steven Cousins started out the men with a mostly clean short (with a 3axel/2toe), although he skated with such hesitancy and caution it was obvious he wasn't going to wind up in medal contention. I think he got a deduction for something but wasn't sure what. Dark blue pants, tight T-shirt with asymmetrical blocks in various shades of blue to match.

Cousins was immediately followed by Andrejs Vlascenko, who did a 3axel/3toe with a two-footed landing on the second jump. More importantly, he was much faster and had better presentation. Metallic blue shirt tied with a knot at the waist over a black outfit underneath.

Remember Margus Hernits from the Lillehammer Olympics? Triple lutz/triple toe for his combination, with triple flip as the jump out of footwork. He still looks very young. Needs to work on carriage and speed. Plain black shirt and pants.

Up next was Gilberto Viadana. Geez, no wonder he was surprised that anybody recogized him off the ice: for his program, he was wearing a tasty red and gold harem boy outfit with orange boot covers that didn't quite match. (I'm sure Eda must have been going ga-ga, but remember, I saw him first!) He skated to "Le Corsaire". Gorgeous lutz out of footwork, but the axel was hopelessly tilted. Splat. Circular footwork featuring nice split half loops as accents.

Sigh, poor Emanuel Sandhu. He had absolutely no speed going in to his triple axel and fell, then doubled his triple lutz. I've observed that he seems to be trying so hard to get beautiful positions that he loses balance and control of his spins, and that's kind of what happened here. Plus he was slow and hesitant through his footwork. Personally, I think it was a huge mistake for the COA not to send him to Nagano, where he could have made his senior international debut safely in the shadow of Elvis Stojko.

Ivan Dinev landed triple axel/double toe but put his hand down on the triple flip out of footwork. Like I said after seeing him in qualifying, he's an all-around good skater, with decent presentation and spins as well as jumps.

In the next group, we had Anthony Liu, who was wearing a particularly elaborate costume: dark grey pants, dark red shirt with gathers or ruffles on the sleeves, topped with a tunic-cut vest in dark grey and black with randomly placed sparkly patches on it. It really looked very nice and not overdone. Triple axel, scraped the free foot on the landing, and a wimpy single toe. Very fast entrance into the triple lutz. Wild flying sit spin.

Zag in his usual black and gold tango outfit landed a big triple axel/double toe and a not-so-great non-'Tano triple lutz. His change sit spin was badly centered but I think this is the first relatively clean short program he's skated since last year's Europeans? I was immensely relieved but I thought he was still undermarked for it.

The bletcherous costume of the day award goes to.Roman Skorniakov who was attired in yellow and black checks from head to toe, plus a black vest with lime green trim. I think he ought to have gone for some lime green boot covers to complete the look, though. An honorable mention was also in this group: Vahktang Murvanidze's black T-shirt with a strange silver fringe wound around and over the shoulders in a random asymmetrial fashion.

In the next group we had Kyu-Hyun Lee in a very colorful outfit consisting of blue and black striped pants and a matching blue sparkly shirt. No sign of the blue hair gel he's been seen wearing in the past, though. He blew his program in basically the same way as Sandhu, having somewhat more speed but less style to make up for it.

Evgeny Plushenko came out in his green and gold matador outfit and landed triple axel/triple toe and a scary triple lutz. His flying camel was very slow, and why does he bother doing that ugly catch-leg position at the end of his combination spin? Surely he can find another position that looks good on him.

Alexei Yagudin also landed triple axel/triple toe and had a scary triple lutz, but the quality of his spins was better -- his flying camel, in particular, was nice and fast. Plus you could see that his sense of presentation was more developed than Plushenko's. So I thought it was pretty clear-cut that Yagudin should have been ahead.

The next group had Laurent Tobel, the runner-up for the bletcherous costume award. Tight royal blue velvet with random multicolored sequinned squiggles, even on his boot covers. Typical dorky choreography that got the crowd going, but the skating was nothing to write home about. I feel kind of sorry for the guy; I guess he figures he's going to look dorky no matter what style he tries so he might as well emphasize it, but it has to get pretty tedious after a while.

Misha Shmerkin opened his program with a nice triple lutz, overrotated his triple axel, and then proceeded to get increasingly sloppy through the rest of his program, as he did in Nagano; very wild double axel and spins, etc. It was well-disguised by the enthusiasm of his choreography, but he must have picked up another couple of tenths of deductions.

Takeshi Honda landed a somewhat wild triple axel/triple toe, but then put a hand down on the triple lutz. The rest of the program was fine, and he's fast and smooth. By contrast, Yamato Tamura's disintegration was rather shocking, as he managed only a two-footed triple flip/double toe for his combination, almost fell in his flying spin, doubled the lutz, and then had a very disruptive fall when he was basically just doing some transitional footwork between the elements. Ouch.

Szabolcs Vidrai had good jumps (clean triple axel/double toe and triple lutz) but weak spins. He was wearing a white peasant tunic with elaborate red and gold embroidery over black pants with a matching red and gold stripe up the legs.

Todd Eldredge was the last in this group. He basically fell on the triple axel (overrotated, stepped out, put his hands down). The rest of his program was fine. Personally, if I'd been a judge, I would have put him behind Zag, but the panel had him in third. Todd's marks were fair but I did say I thought Zag was under-marked, right?

Michael Tyllesen started out the final group. The triple axel looked like it might have been two-footed to me, and then he popped the flip. Once again, really interesting choreography.

Evgeny Pliuta landed triple axel/double toe and triple lutz, but then effectively shot himself in the foot by stepping out of his double axel and having trouble centering his combination spin. Grey velvet pants, darker grey shirt with sheer sleeves.

Michael Weiss landed triple lutz and triple axel/double toe but also had a bit of trouble centering both his combination spin and change sit. If I were a judge, I would have probably put him ahead of Zag on the basis of the better lutz, but I think Zag had superior presentation. On the other hand, I fully expected the panel to hold Eldredge up in third and was surprised when they did not do so.

The revenge of the silly mistakes continued when Zhengxin Guo stepped out of his double axel after landing a triple axel/triple toe and triple lutz. Generic black outfit.

Markus Leminen is one of Doug Leigh's students and he skates exactly like Steven Cousins -- the same axel technique, similar choreography and carriage and upper-body mannerisms, looks down at the ice too much, etc. Landed triple axel/double toe but couldn't hang on to the lutz landing.

Leigh's other student, Jeff Langdon, wound up the competition with a clean program. Triple axel/double toe, triple flip. Nice position in the change camel, but kind of slow. The Canadian contingent in the arena went nuts.

My notes on the pairs are not as extensive as I was too lazy to write down much until the final two groups. Of the skaters in the earlier groups, Lyons & Wells managed to hold their 10th-place position with a decent performance; Brian popped both triples but their lifts and throws were fine. Khalturina & Krukov and Filonenko & Marchenko both had much messier programs, while Savard-Gagnon & Bradet were clearly stronger and faster than Lyons & Wells and also skated without disruptive errors.

Eltsova & Bushkov had problems with their two opening solo jump passes but skated the rest of the program well. Shen & Zhao had a typical kind of performance for them with spectacular tricks but very little in between them. Abitbol & Bernadis went only for the throw double axel (instead of the triple they attempted in Nagano), landed the triple toe loops but then she fell on the double axel and put her hand down on the second throw. I loved her outfit -- a plain black unitard with some accent around the waist and a minimalist fringy skirt. To round out this group, Sargeant & Wirtz had a great skate, the only real problem being the sloppy double axels -- I don't know how she managed to land that. I thought the music they chose was particularly challenging to skate to and that it gave their program interest. They were fast, too.

Meno & Sand opened the final group. From the very beginning of their program they seemed slow and cautious, and then why on earth are they only doing double axels instead of triple toes? And then Jenni fell on the throw triple salchow, and they changed the double axels in the jump sequence to singles and had trouble landing those, likewise with the double flips(?) at the other end of the rink. And they were slow, slow, slow through the whole program. I have to say I am totally shocked at how high their marks were, because in my mind they absolutely did not deserve them. I think they belonged behind Sargeant & Wirtz, to tell the truth, and maybe even the French team. After their marks came up, I was really horrified at what a total travesty it would be if they actually managed to win worlds with a performance that bad.

Schwarz & Muller blew any chance of taking the lead away when Peggy put her hand down on the first throw and then fell on her butt on her double axel. Fortunately, Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze came to the rescue with a good skate. He had a minor problem with his triple toe and she singled her axel, but everything else was fine. First place votes from all the judges, thank goodness. Zagorska & Siudek wound up the competition with a messy performance that probably ought to have dropped them farther than it did. They'd had an accident on a throw in the warmup and Dorota had crashed into the boards nose-first, and I don't think they'd gotten over it by the time it was their turn to skate.

Thursday's report

This is going to be a pretty quick report, since the men have already been shown on TV and I don't have very much to say about dance.

I actually skipped the first half of the original dances in order to skate myself and go to the choreography clinic with Lori Nichol at the little tank ice rink they have set up across the street from the arena. She had about five local club skaters as demonstrators, so that I didn't get any instruction from her myself. In the first part she had them do some step patterns emphasizing primarily extension and toe point and not toe pushing. The focus of the second part of the demonstration was on inventing and improvising movements and developing them into more expansive versions. It was all very interesting.

I eventually got over to the original dance and saw the last two groups with all the top skaters. About the only things I have to say are that I thought Bourne & Kraatz ought to have been placed even lower than they were because their jive is so weak (lots of 2-foot skating, for instance), and that I saw no evidence of block judging -- for instance, it was the US and UK judges who were giving them the lowest marks.

The top men have already been on TV and I already gave lots of details on costumes, etc in my reports on the qualifying rounds, so I'll only give the highlights.

Skating in the very first group, Roman Skorniakov from Uzbekistan gave a very strong performance with a triple axel/triple toe and 5 other triples. He's a decent spinner, too, and his only real problem is that his program as a whole was kind of boring and didn't make very good use of the music. (His short program was pretty dreadful, too.) Marks were generally around 5.0/4.8, and he'd probably have gotten higher had he skated later on.

In the second group, Zhenxing Guo landed triple axel/triple toe, quad toe/triple toe, etc, fell on the second quad attempt, etc., but I have to believe he is probably the worst spinner in the entire competition (I'd confidently predicted that he would get more rotations in the air on his jumps than in all his spins put together) and there was basically nothing else in his program. Marks around 5.4/4.8 reflected this.

Ivan Dinev, also skating in the second group, basically disintegrated, landing triple axel/double toe but then popping at least three other jumps. Very messy. Well, he's had a great season up until now, and he's still very young.

In the next group, Evgeny Pliuta seemed to be having lots of problems controlling the landings of all his jumps. I counted 6 triples. He did not attempt a quad lutz, doing a badly landed triple instead.

I got 8 clean triples for Szabolcs Vidrai but his only triple/triple combination was a triple toe/triple toe. I also thought that his spins were novice level or below, almost as bad as Guo. His marks were in the 5.3/5.2 range and I thought they were much too high. I also couldn't figure out why he was such a big hit with the crowd. Maybe his motorcycle program just reminded me too much of John Baldwin's horror in Philadelphia.

Takeshi Honda got credit for two triple axels, a loop, and a salchow. He fell on his quad attempt, doubled the lutz, and fell out of the flip. Not a particularly sparkling performance. Marks were 5.2/5.2ish.

Michael Shmerkin self-destructed, landing only two triples and having three major splats. Sigh. It was kind of painful to watch.

Jeff Langdon, by contrast, had a pretty good performance. I counted 5 clean triples, including a triple axel/double toe, triple flip/triple toe, and a good attempt at a triple salchow/triple loop combination. I observed he has a real problem with his picking technique on his flip and lutz. Marks were in the 5.2/5.3 range.

I counted 6 triples for Steven Cousins but his only combination was a triple toe/double toe. Plus, as I've said before, I don't find his presentation very effective and this program just doesn't really suit him and it has an awful lot of crossovers in it. So I was a bit surprised that the judges put him ahead of Langdon by an obvious margin (5.3/5.4ish marks).

Starting out the final group, Michael Weiss made a mess of his program. I thought his presentation marks were really, really generous. It's not a bad program in terms of structure and choreography, but with three falls and two popped jumps the overall effect really suffered. I also can't see that, with only 3 clean triples and no triple axel among them, he deserved higher technical marks than Skorniakov (who, as said, had 7 triples and respectable spins, etc. too). In short, I think Weiss really ought to have been put behind Langdon and Cousins.

Zaggy, by contrast, managed to rise to the occasion. It was wonderful to see him skate so well, to see it acknowledged by the audience with such enthusiasm, and to see him looking so pleased with himself. He's had such a dreadful season up until now. I'm only sorry he didn't get a medal out of this; I thought he was undermarked in the short and that he might have legitimately been put ahead of Yagudin in the long. I'm also hoping that Dick Button wasn't still telling everyone on TV about how boring he thinks Zag is. The rest of the audience in the arena clearly didn't agree with that.

I think the things that made the difference for Yagudin was that he did squeak out a triple axel/triple toe and that his triple lutz was much more securely landed than Zag's. But presentation-wise, he really lacked energy through the whole program. I don't think he normally skates that slowly.

Andrejs Vlascenko also seemed to be somewhat "off", with some shaky jump landings, a slow section that was too slow, and then getting too wild at the end of the program. I'm glad I was sitting close to the ice during qualifying to see his shirt, BTW, because it wasn't as effective from higher up in the arena.

As for Todd Eldredge, this was not one of his greatest performances ever, either. Glad to see he actually rotated his quad even if he didn't land it, though. I'd say that in practices he was probably doing five triples and one or two doubles for every one that came out with four rotations, which was not very encouraging. He spent so much time working on that jump and seemed so mentally fixated on it, that I felt he was probably not paying sufficient attention to his other jumps and the lack of concentration in practice carried over to the competition.

Plushenko, rounding out the competition, had so much stuff crammed into his program that he fell three times and still landed 7 triples just like the other guys. But his spins were weak, and the falls ought to have affected his presentation marks more than they did. In fact I thought both Zagorodniuk and Vlascenko ought to have beaten him handily there.

One more thing I want to mention: the excessively nationalistic behavior of the Canadian fans in the arena has been so obnoxious that I've heard a lot of people making unfavorable comments about it, and saying things like it's no wonder the Canadian skaters keep choking -- they're probably intimidated by all the hype and flag-waving. My own reaction is that if this is the way Canadian fans normally behave at competitions, I'm never going to go to a skating event in Canada. I also think it's kind of insulting to the other skaters. You expect that there's going to be some amount of home-country partisanship from locals who are only casually familiar with skating and don't know any better, but fans who are serious enough to travel out of the country for Worlds ought to know enough about skating to be appreciative of good performances no matter what the nationality of the skaters. So how about doing some of that loud chanting and cheering for the skaters who are actually winning the medals, as well as the Canadians?

Friday's report

I'm starting to get pretty fried; thank goodness the week is nearly over with. I skipped practices this morning in order to sleep late, then headed over to the arena in time to see the ladies' short programs.

I think this was a very difficult competition to judge because of the field being so large and because so many of the competitors made mistakes. It's really hard to remember what skaters in the first group did by the time the ones in the last group are skating, too.

Because I'm so fried, I'll just summarize what happened to some of the top competitors:

Gusmeroli: fell on double axel, probable deductions for retrogression in spiral sequence and flying camel that travelled

Malinina: clean, but spins, spirals, and presentation were weak.

Carter: only a double lutz/double toe combination.

Butyrskaya: popped lutz, two-footed the double axel

Lavrenchuk: fell on triple flip out of footwork

Vorobieva: clean, but tiny jumps, no power

Slutskaya: fell on triple lutz

Szewczenko: hit the boards and fell on the second jump of her combination; spins and double axel were also weak

Sokolova: two-footed triple lutz and put a hand down

Kwiatkowski: skated in slow motion, stepped out of triple lutz

Liashenko: slight two-foot on triple flip, weak spirals & combination spin

Of the three leaders, only Anna Rechnio skated a really clean program. The triple loop out of footwork and triple lutz/double toe were both big and powerful. She's been skating so well in practices all week that it's great to see her do it when it counts and get some credit for it from the public! She got a standing ovation and I'm sure she's going to be in all the newspapers and on TV. If she skates her long program the way she did in qualifying she will almost surely get a medal.

I'm sure Michelle Kwan will take the performance she gave here but it really wasn't as well as she skated at either Skate America or Nationals. Her double axel was truly scary and she seemed a little "off" her music at points and just not as crisp as I remember her being in this program before.

Laetitia Hubert didn't skate quite cleanly either -- she put a hand down on her triple flip -- but I thought the choreography of her program was very different and interesting. In fact, I got caught up enough in the choreography that I got a little distracted from checking off the required elements. She did a strong triple toe/triple toe combination instead of a lutz, and of course she skates fast.

I'm sure that the ordinals for third place and below were really a mess. Like I said, it was really hard to compare skaters like Malinina and Vorobieva who landed their jumps but whose skating was clearly of lesser quality overall, to flawed performances by stronger skaters with better presentation skills like Butyrskaya and Slutskaya.

Vorobieva gets the bletcherous costume award. I wonder who told her that purple and green go together? Plus silver fringer on her chest to top it off!

One other comment I must make is that if I never hear "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" again, it'll be too soon. It seems like we've had multiple skaters in all three disciplines using it.

As far as the free dance goes, I don't have much to say. It seemed that most of the crowd had made up their mind before the event even began that Bourne & Kraatz were the only couple worth watching, and the applause for everyone else was embarassingly tepid. Personally, I love Anissina & Peizerat's free dance and was glad to have a chance to see it in person. I'm very sorry that Grishuk & Platov decided not to compete here. The newspaper quoted Pasha as saying something like "Why would I want to go to Minneapolis?" Well, how about because there are a lot of American fans who would have liked to see them skate? They live and train here but we so rarely have a chance to see them skate their competitive programs.

I think the bletcherous costume award of the event will have to go to Grushina & Goncharov, whose bright blue and red outfits made them look like they escaped from a Pippi Longstocking book. I was also glad I finally had a chance to appreciate Rene Lohse's see-through pants in person. Finally, for most tasteless program, I think I have to nominate Lobacheva & Averbukh's "Jesus Christ Superstar", not so much because of the religious theme, but because I have finally figured out that she must be trying to portray the cross, and I have a generic dislike of dances where the woman is supposed to be an inanimate object.

Saturday's report

I think the last two groups of ladies were shown on TV live so I will not bother to give a detailed report about who did what. Of the ladies in the previous group, Elena Sokolova landed 6 triples including a triple loop/triple toe combination but popped three different attempts at the lutz, and the skating in between the jumps was clearly not of the same quality as the other two Russsian ladies'; slower, not quite as assured, positions not quite as neat, etc. I made a bathroom break during Diana Poth's program because I couldn't quite bear having to sit through that "Samson & Delilah" music again, but apparently she landed a lot of jumps, too. In qualifying and in the short program I found her presentation kind of uninspired. Joanne Carter landed a big lutz and loop and two triple toes in sequence with a double toe, but she fell twice and never got a combination in. She is very fast though, and has fast spins and really attacks her jumps.

As I've noted in another post, I knew Michelle was in big trouble with that double axel before she even took off, because she was moving so slowly. I think her presentation is definitely the best of the field, but she really needs to work on the speed and power if she wants to stay competitive technically with the Europeans. I think that if Irina had landed that triple flip, she would have beaten Michelle in the free skate on the basis of her technical marks.

Tonia Kwiatkowski skated much less sluggishly in the free skate than she did in the short. I think she actually got the biggest ovation of the night. I'm so glad that she got this opportunity to compete and end her career with a performance she can be proud of.

Overall, the level of skating in the event was kind of disappointing. I saw a lot of depth to the field with any number of the skaters capable of delivering a medal-quality performance, but nobody was really able to skate up to their potential. I saw this also in the men, where several of them skated much better in qualifying, and I'm glad I got to see the qualifying rounds because I think it gave me a better idea of the true abilities of the skaters. I'm inclined to think it wouldn't be such a bad thing to have the results from qualifying factored into the overall placements so that consistently good skating is rewarded more and random silly mistakes are penalized less; as long as they are going to make everybody qualify anyway, they might as well make it worth something.

By the way, the judges started out marking the skaters in the first group so high that I thought they might run out of room later on. I guess they were lucky that a bunch of the later skaters bombed so they didn't have to start handing out marks in the 6's and 7's.

A few closing thoughts on worlds in general:

I must mention the gentleman who was sitting a couple sections over from me who threw a teddy bear to *every* skater after their performance, the whole week long. Besides being notable for his generosity, he had a heck of a throwing arm.

There were an awful lot of empty seats in the arena, even for the ladies' free skate. I'm under the impression that most of the empty blocks were probably sponsor seats. I wish the organizers of these events would get a clue and offer these seats to paying customers who will actually use them. During most of the week it was pretty easy to move around if you wanted a better seat, but on Saturday night the ushers suddenly started hassling people about that, even though there were still plenty of open seats available.

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