Rinkside Reports from 1999 Pacific Coasts

This page contains my reports from 1999 Pacific Coasts.

Thursday's report

I arrived at the rink later than I'd wanted to, and the only event I was organized enough to take notes on was the senior men's short program. I missed the junior ladies short completely.

John Baldwin was up first. He was put on the ice by Chris Bowman, and both his costume and program looked like Bowman rejects from about 1987. [Actually, I later discovered it to be Bowman's 1988 short program.] The costume was a black one-piece outfit with gold sequins that was very low cut over the chest, and the program was a tango thing that wasn't delivered with even a tenth of the panache that Bowman put into it. Triple axel with entrance perhaps not as badly cheated as usual, only double lutz/double toe for the combination, triple flip out of footwork that might have been slightly two-footed. Spins looked fine to me. Not particularly fast.

Johnny McKinnon did some weird rock music thing in black shirt and pants. Triple sal/steps/double toe for the combination, 2loop out of footwork, fell on double axel. Not much of a jumper, but showed nice edges and footwork.

Trifun Zivanovic did his Rocketeer program in the blue military-type costume. Triple flip/double toe, triple axel -- he really flings himself up into the air any which way and I'm amazed that he can land this at all -- triple lutz from footwork. Much faster than Baldwin, but his program was not laid out very well, with lots of circling around center ice.

Justin Dillon wore a pants/shirt/suspenders outfit in shades of gray and skated to some dancey big-band music that got kind of monotonous after a while. Double axel, triple lutz/double toe, fell on triple flip. Change sit spin was very slow but he does a remarkably good layback in his combination spin -- the best of any man I've seen. Also unusual, he did his circular footwork sequence around the end of the rink instead of the middle.

Michael Chack is using the same tango program and costume as last year. Triple axel in combination was underrotated and two-footed, he got kind of wild on the change camel, and the double axel and triple lutz were clean but not of the best quality. Speed was intermediate between Zivanovic and Baldwin. He says he and Frank have already decided that for Nationals he will do the triple axel as the solo axel instead of in the combination -- I presume he means to do triple lutz/triple toe instead. The change camel is new, too; last year he did a change sit.

Jonathan Barksdale was the last skater, and to put it kindly he doesn't really belong at this level of competition. Fell on double axel and triple flip, threw in a solo single axel at the end of his program. He's very tall and gets a lot of height on his jumps, but he doesn't seem to have much luck landing them.

So, the final results had Zivanovic taking all the first-place ordinals, with things pretty jumbled up for Baldwin, Chack, and Dillon, who wound up in that order.

Friday's report

Some rink notes.... This competition is being held at a brand-new 2-rink facility out in the middle of nowhere in the northern fringes of Scottsdale. The snack bar in the rink isn't open yet, so if you want more than coffee from the cart in the lobby, you have to get in your car and drive somewhere to get it. Not only have they left the hockey glass up, but also the net above the glass. Also, this rink is very cold inside -- perhaps not as bad as the infamous Fitchburg rink at 1995 Easterns, but distinctly uncomfortable.

I have not felt up to taking detailed notes on any of the junior events. Overall, the quality of skating in all of the junior events has been pretty low -- some of the ladies didn't even have double axels, I can't imagine any of the men being in contention for medals at Nationals, and the pairs were downright scary.

A few things I remember about the junior ladies final: Ye Bin Mok didn't skate well but still qualified for Nationals on the basis of her short program finish. Tiffany Stiegler finished second with nothing harder than a triple toe loop. J.J. Matthews pulled up with a more grownup and less cutesy program than I've seen from her before; she also landed a triple toe. I missed Sasha Cohen's program because the event was running late, she was the last skater, and I wanted to skate the session going on in the other rink myself.

The senior events of the day were the short programs for the ladies and pairs.

The crummy skating continued in the senior ladies' short. Just to run down the top finishers who have a shot at making it to Nationals:

Naomi Nam (1) did a big double axel, triple flip/double toe combination, and a triple toe with a two-footed trippy kind of landing. There's something wrong with her picking technique on that jump. Terrific flexibility on the spins and spirals, although the spins are not as fast as they were a couple years ago when she was smaller. I think this is the same program she had last year.

Sydne Vogel (2) did a triple lutz with hands down and turns into a double toe, triple toe out of footwork, ok double axel. Spirals were ordinary, and her layback is not nearly as good as it was a couple of years ago -- both perhaps a legacy of the back trouble she's had. Sydne is faster and more powerful than Naomi, but Naomi's elements were better. Her music is "Addams Family".

Cohen Duncan (3) did a triple salchow out of footwork, fell on a triple toe, and put her hand down on the double axel. She did a gorgeous sideways position in the layback spin, also fine regular-type layback in the combination spin. She appeared slow and tentative throughout the program -- I think she's capable of much more. Very nice carriage. I wrote down "piano blues" for the music.

Kristy Evans (4) did an underrotated, two-footed flutz/double toe combination, fell on a triple loop, nice double axel. She skates fast and has a nice edge quality, but I think she'd be better off trying simpler jumps she can do well in her short -- it was quite obvious in the practices that she never gets full rotation on the flutz, for instance, and the judges clearly know she doesn't really "have" this jump. Generic-sounding movie music, pink dress.

Amy Evidente (5) did triple toe/double toe with a fall on the landing of the second jump, double flip out of footwork, clean double axel. Latin music, gaudy black & neon dress with lots of ruffles and sequins. She looked happy.

Mackenzie Baltz (6) did double axel, fell on triple salchow that was intended to be her combination, triple toe out of footwork. She skated to the same version of "Istanbul" that Scott Davis and Denise Biellmann have also used, and seemed to have at least some sense of the rhythm in the percussive sections. For a tall girl, she really doesn't seem to get deeply into her edges, or really stretch out her positions as much as she might.

In the senior pairs, there were only four teams competing, including most notably the two new pairings that have resulted from the Vlandis & Guzman split. The other two teams were nothing to write home about; I think both just moved up from junior? Piepenbrink & Casteneda, a favorite team of mine from past years, seem to have retired, and Grabow & Oberman have split up.

Vlandis is now skating with Jim Peterson (Laura Handy's old partner from juniors). They skated to fast jazz in purple costumes. Twist was OK, throw triple loop covered very little distance but was cleanly landed, double axels with a fall on his part. Lift was OK, spins a little out of unison, also with positions that didn't really match. Death spiral maybe didn't complete quite a full circle once he got the pivot. She looked very happy leaving the ice, quite a change from how miserable she seemed with Guzman last year.

Guzman's new partner is Amanda Magarian, who some people may remember as a tiny kid skating with Mel Chapman a few years back. She's grown now into a more normal size for a pair skater. They started with the side-by-side spins, good and well-matched positions, unison not too bad. Triple salchows were "messy", according to my notes. Big mistake on the lift, which never got higher than Jered's shoulder. Throw triple salchow also had a major error with hands down and step out on the landing. Strong spirals. Costumes were white with purple and green for her and black with matching purple and green for him, some kind of monotonous new-age type electronic music.

In short.... neither new team is anywhere near as good as V&G were together. I'd say that M&G probably have more long-term potential than V&P -- I'm kind of skeptical that Jim Peterson is going to improve much more, but Magarian is still developing. Of course both teams are likely to improve with more time together to fix their unison and timing problems.

Saturday's report

The first event of the day was the novice ladies long program. The real standout skater of this event was Beatrisa Liang, who is 10 years old and so small she barely comes over the boards. Unlike most of the terminally cute little girl skaters, this one actually has very good jump technique, and her costuming and program choices are neither excessively cutesy nor inappropriately "adult". She actually won the long but placed second overall because she was fifth in the short.

In junior men, I'm going to have to take back what I said about none of them being possible podium material at Nationals. Robert Brathwaite (who was once Stephanie Stiegler's pair partner!) managed to land not only a triple lutz in his program, but a triple axel as well! OK, maybe the axel was a little two-footed, and the end of his program wasn't as strong, and there was very little in it besides the jumps, but it appears the boy can jump and has set his sights high. The only other guy to even try a lutz was Matthew Bohannon, 9th after the short and 7th in the long. He seems to suffer from the typical junior men's syndrome, namely being able to do the harder elements in practice, but lacking experience in doing his program in a competition setting. This kid's from Alaska and I don't suppose he has anybody to compete against until he goes to regionals or sectionals.

In the pairs, Vlandis & Peterson kept their lead after the short. Their program was some serious classical piece I didn't recognize, in grey and red costumes. They had a few messy spots in the program -- one lift was kind of shakey, he tripped and fell on some connecting steps and then popped a double loop.

Meanwhile, Magarian & Guzman had their own problems -- she fell on her double axel and on a throw. Better lifts than V&P. I think the thing that made the difference was that they were kind of slow. Their program used some slow romantic music, and was very different in style than anything I remember Guzman doing with Vlandis.

The senior men's free skate turned out to be a really competitive event between the top four guys, with by far the best skating of the week.

Justin Dillon was the first of the contenders to skate. He wore a dark gold "jiffy pop" shirt and skated to some bouncy Italian-sounding music that reminded me of what Patrick Meier (hi Fran!) skated to at Worlds last year. If there was a theme to the choreography, I couldn't discern it, but there *was* choreography and the program was well-presented. He opened with a spin combination including his layback, double axel, triple lutz/double toe, triple salchow. Circular footwork, then triple loop from footwork, then flip, toe, and another lutz, then triple loop/double toe. Ended with stars into an arabian and a back scratch spin. So, that was a clean program with 7 triples, but no sign of a triple axel from Justin yet, and he did not attempt a triple/triple this year, either (last year he did).

Trifun Zivanovic skated to "West Side Story" in a bright orange shirt. Triple axel/double toe, popped flip, triple toe, triple axel with a step-out, triple flip and lutz clean, fell hard on triple salchow, then triple loop, double axel. Main problem with this program, aside from the hackneyed choice of music, was that it was skated entirely at center ice -- he never got closer than about 30 feet from either end of the rink. As in the short, he was fast and aggressive in his skating.

Michael Chack skated his new Lori Nichol program to the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2 in an all-black outfit which he says is not what he'll wear at Nationals (the new costume wasn't ready yet). He started out with a triple lutz/triple toe which he seemed to land -- but then he caught the edge and fell on his butt. He popped his triple axel before he could collect his wits again, but from that point the rest of the program was clean: triple flip out of footwork, double axel, back spiral into triple loop, one foot axel into footwork into triple salchow, back spiral into triple lutz, triple toe at the end. I think he cut back on the choreography and performance in order to focus on the jumps; for instance, I think he left out a split jump before the triple toe, unless I was imagining (in my sleep-deprived state) seeing him do it that way in practice, and I thought he kind of rushed through the spirals and spins. This program is really packed with difficult jump entrances, anyway. When I spoke to him afterwards he initially seemed kind of distressed about his performance but after people kept complimenting him, eventually he admitted as how he'd skated pretty well, better than at last year's sectionals.

John Baldwin was up next, once again doing his best to imitate Christopher Bowman. This time it was Bowman's 1991 "dipped in black" long program -- exact same cuts of music, same opening choreography, whatever. We were wondering why he was bothering to make eyes at the accountants sitting across the rink from the judges, but having just gone back to watch Bowman's own version, I see that's the part where Bowman was doing his own slobbering in front of the TV camera. Anyway, his elements were typically cheated triple axel, triple lutz, triple flip/triple toe that was two-footed on the second jump, hard fall on another triple axel attempt, double loop, triple lutz/double toe, double salchow, and double axel. Costume was another one-piece black one with asymmetric narrow white bands across the chest.

In the final results, Zivanovic came out on top with a clear majority of firsts, and the second through fourth ordinals were a mess between the other three, with no skater having a majority of seconds. It came out Chack, Baldwin, Dillon on the tie-breaker. Personally, I think Dillon ought to have been third; he had much more content than Baldwin. I can only guess that some of the judges think that even a badly done triple axel is better than 7 other clean triples? As far as Zivanovic is concerned, it's starting to look like he has a very good chance of making the world team this year, but I do wish he would get some help with his programs in the meantime.

So, on to the senior ladies. Unfortunately, the skating here was not as strong as the men, and several of the higher-ranked skaters after the short totally bombed in the long, including, in particular, Amy Evidente. This made it possible for Elizabeth O'Donnell to pull up all the way from 9th to 4th overall by placing second in the free skate. She landed two triple salchows and a toe loop, plus she has a huge double axel.

Naomi Nari Nam won the competition skating to a medley of the Rachmaninoff second and third concertos and the Saint-Saens "Rondo Cappricioso". She landed only a flip and toe loop cleanly for triples, plus two-footed another toe loop and salchow and fell on a loop attempt. The flip was high and fast and her double axel is fine, but the real highlight of the program was the spins.

Sydne Vogel was very lucky to wind up third in the long and second overall as her only clean triple was a toe loop. She fell hard on the lutz, stepped out of the flip, and then doubled or popped everything else. I wrote down "Russian-sounding ballet" for her music. Cohen Duncan, who wound up fifth and did not qualify for Nationals, landed only a triple salchow cleanly. I think the difference between these two boiled down to the fact that Sydne skated with a lot more speed. Sandwiched in between in fourth place in the long was Kristy Evans, who managed to land a triple loop and salchow that were both kind of cheated -- the salchow more than the loop, I think.

In senior dance, there were only two couples competing. Handra & Sinek's free dance was a jazz/swing program. It seemed to have a fair amount of complexity in the steps, but I never got a sense that they were actually skating on the beat of the music. The Simons did a disco middle-eastern program which I found notable mostly for the tasty harem-boy outfit he was wearing. (Eda, you'd better bring plenty of film to Nationals!)

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