2003 USFSA Fall Invitational

This event is one of the three made-for-TV events that the USFSA produces each season under their contract with ABC. As was the case for last year's events, this fall's event was conducted as a competition for eligible singles skaters only, consisting of a regulation free-skating program only (no short program). This competition was conducted under the traditional 6.0 judging system, but it was reported before the event that there would also be US judges present scoring the programs of at least the US skaters under the new Code of Points system in order to provide them with feedback on how their programs would be scored before they go to their first Grand Prix events.

In spite of the fairly standard format, these early-season competitions tend to be unpredictable because the skaters are in varying degrees of readiness and also take the made-for-TV format with varying degrees of seriousness. This year's competition was no exception. Nobody really turned in a great performance, but it was interesting to get a first glimpse at many of the new programs we'll see through the coming season.

The judging panels for both the men's and ladies' competitions included toe-tapping judge Sviatoslav Babenko. For goodness' sake, *why*? Couldn't the USFSA find some other judge to invite? Do they have to give the impression that they're endorsing judging misbehavior by inviting a convicted cheater to judge their event? So much for the idea that the USFSA would be taking a tougher stance on international integrity issues under Chuck Foster's leadership. At least Babenko was thoroughly booed by the audience both times he was introduced.

Here's a link to the official results of this event.

I didn't take any photos this time, BTW. I did bring my camera, but found that the rink lighting was pretty marginal (they didn't have the bright TV lights on), so in the end I decided not to bother and just concentrate on taking notes.

My notes are in skate order for each event.

Men

Tim Goebel (2): "Queen Symphony" in a black outfit with a blousy top in the style he favors, with red trim on it. 3x/2t/3r with a fall-out on the last jump, 3s/3t, 3t, butterfly back sit with an unattractive hunched-back position, sit/back sit/upright spin, slow steps, 2x, spirals, 3s, standing around, 2x(?), straight-line steps, 3 flutz, spread eagle, 3f, circular steps with a very small pattern not nearly the full width of the ice, flying spin of some sort, camel/sit/back camel/sit/scratch combination. I thought the choice of music did nothing for him; the whole program seemed like a real downer, dreary and with no spark and no personality and nothing to draw people in. Plus there were awkward gaps in the choreography at the transitions in the music. Is it too late for him to ditch this for the Grand Prix season and go back to the Spanish-themed program he tried at this event last year? That wasn't a great program by any means either, but it was better than this.

Ryan Jahnke (4T): Brazilian medley in a purple and brown outfit with loose sleeves in bright rainbow colors. The music has a lot of percussion and vocal effects and goes with the funky costume. 3x tilted in the air and nasty fall, 3t, sit spin with several position variations, 3z turn-out/2r, great MITF section, into the slow section of the music with a spin combination with a gazillion different positions where he also spins on both edges on both feet, 2x, spread eagle with a head twist timed exactly to the music, 'tano 3z, camel on both edges into a funky upright spin, 3f with a step out, 3s, straight-line steps, 2r step out, butterfly sit. Since I first saw this program at the Colorado Championships in August, I can see there's been more difficulty added to the spins, in particular. It's really too bad Ryan left his jumps in warmup -- he did two effortless, floating triple axels and a very respectable quad toe attempt, among other things. We were wondering if he might have hurt himself on that first fall since the other things he missed are usually not things he makes mistakes on. Hopefully we will see cleaner versions of this program at other events this season, because I cannot say enough good things about the program itself. It is head and shoulders above anything else we saw at this event, more like an interpretive free skate in its construction, with a lot of full-body movement, use of different levels throughout the entire program, and many things choreographed right to the beat and phrasing of the music. (Whatever was the judge who gave him a 4.9 for presentation thinking?) Personally, I find Ryan's ongoing collaboration with choreographer Tom Dickson to be one of the most exciting and important things in skating nowadays. Tom's choreography for other skaters is impressive enough in his ability to give them all individual programs that suit their own level of development, but in Ryan he has truly found a master interpreter of his best and most challenging work.

Michael Weiss (3): Medley of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", "Amazing Grace", and "Battle Hymn of the Republic", in a navy military-style outfit that reminds me somewhat of the one he wore in his first senior season ten years ago. 4t fall, 3t, upright spin, posing in front of judges, 2x with a step out, 3r, I think a butterfly camel to an upright spin, spiral and pivot, walley into a 3x, circular steps that included a 1.5 flip or something like that, 3s, 3z, camel with a hop transition into a back sit, shoot-the-duck, er, "Mike pike" into a 3f/2t, straight line steps, flying camel with a hop transition except that he nearly fell into back sit/upright. I found the program not as offensive or cheesy as it might have been given the choice of music, and the military style seems to suit his upright bearing. OTOH, while it's a well-done program of its type, it's nothing new or original, either.

Takeshi Honda (4T): "Warsaw Concerto" in a black suit with half a jacket with flappy scraps of fabric on the other arm, like Bullwinkle with half his sleeve chewed off. 2t (obviously a popped quad attempt), 3s, 3x fall, camel/upright spin, 4t fall, 3z, butterfly spin, 2r, 3f hung on, spread eagles outside to inside nice, death drop, Morozov-style straight-line steps, spin combination. Takeshi was miming playing the piano at various points in the program, but all of the choreography seemed to be concentrated in his right arm, with little or no involvement of the rest of his body. Afterwards I was wondering if this might have been deliberate, with the asymmetric costume designed to reflect it? It seems like a rather bizarre strategy for a competitive program, if so. At this point in the competition, BTW, Takeshi was behind Ryan in the standings.

Evgeny Plushenko (1): The same old "St. Petersburg 300" program from last season in the same old costume. 4t two-footed (I could clearly hear the "chink" of the other foot on the landing), 4t/3t with a tight landing on the second jump, posing in front of the judges, 3x, 3z, 3x step out/2t, 3f, 3r, sit/back sit/side sit, spirals including one in biellmann position, 3s, camel/attitude spin done better than at Worlds, straight-line steps, flying camel, camel/biellmann/back sit/scratch. I'm not crazy about the program, but overall it was very strong, fast, and secure skating, and there was no doubt whatsoever that this was the winning performance of the evening.

Scott Smith (4T): The saxophone concerto program in a plain black outfit with a little blue sparkly trim at the waist. 3x/3t, 3t, 4s fall, flying camel/sit, 3z fall, straight-line steps, 3r wild landing, camel to outside edge, 3x, 3f, death drop, spread eagles, 3s turn out, camel/butterfly/sit/scratch spin. A very nice performance for Scott and you can see he's trying really hard to improve his stroking and musical interpretation and getting more into his knees and being more expressive with his upper body, but he's still not quite at the same level as the other skaters in terms of speed and flow yet. A split judging panel completely reshuffled the ordinals so that Ryan, Takeshi, and Scott all ended up in a tie!

Exhibitions

Tiffany Scott & Phil Dulebohn did their new short program, wearing burgundy outfits. Familiar-sounding classical music that I couldn't place off the top of my head. Back press lift to a one-arm position, throw 3s that covered no distance, sbs toe loops -- he did a triple, she only a double, sbs camel/hop/back sit spins, 2 twist not very high, she fell on her butt in the death spiral, pair spin kind of slow and awkward. BTW, Tiffany has grown her hair out again and it's back to the bun.

Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto skated their "West Side Story" free dance. I didn't take any detailed notes, but I recall a couple nice lifts, and that they seemed to slow down every time they had to twizzle. The first cut of music was a vocal version of "Tonight", but after that the whole thing seemed to degenerate into a generic latin dance like so many of the Detroit dance teams used to do. It did not really seem like they were attempting to interpret the story at all, perhaps because they're so ethnically wrong for this program theme -- of course Ben can be a convincing Shark, but where does the perky anglo blonde come in?

Ladies

Ann Patrice McDonough (3): The first of the duelling "Swan Lakes", in a very sparkly white outfit with a picture of a swan on her chest and flappy things on her arms. Arms go flap flap, 2x with no height, flap, 3z, flap, 3t fall, 3r possibly cheated, flying camel to donut position, 3f awkwardly landed, more flapping, 3s, spiral sequence kind of wimpy (she wasn't even in a spiral position on one of the long edges), 3z with a hooked landing and not in combination so she should have gotten a Zayak deduction, layback with a catch foot, split, hop, 2t, some kind of spin, Morozov straight-line steps with still more arm-flapping, spin combination very crisp and fast ending with a Y spin. Sigh, but I think everything about this program is just a mistake -- the music, the over-done costume, the flapping arms, the Morozov steps that it seems everyone on the planet is copying nowadays.

Jenny Kirk (4): "Die Fleidermaus" in the same light blue outfit as last year. 3r, 3z fall, layback nice, spirals, 3t/2t, 3f/2t, camel/sit/layback/back camel/brief half biellmann, camel/catch foot/back sit/Y spin, spread eagle, 3f fall, 3s, wimpy straight-line steps that didn't go the full length of the rink and that she seemed to give up on about halfway through, 2x, flying camel/scratch spin. Looks like Jenny is still really struggling with her flip and lutz technique, as she was not having good luck with those jumps in the warmup, either. Plus the whole performance seemed kind of lifeless.

Michelle Kwan (2): "Tosca" in a lavender dress with sparkly things on the shoulders and more cleavage than she's typically shown in the past. 3t, 3z two-footed, 3f stepping directly into a 2x, flying camel, 3s, layback, camel/sit/back sit/cross-foot, inside/outside spiral, 3t/2t, eagle, pop z, back spiral with her hand on the ice, more Morozov-style straight-line steps ending with a falling leaf, death drop into a back scratch. Hmmm. I dunno. If you're going to borrow music from one of your competitors, you'd better do a better job with it than they did, and I have to say I wasn't terribly impressed by this program. Maybe the choreography will grow on me more with repeated viewing and/or Michelle can add more to it as the season goes on, but I think a bigger problem is that this music is so *heavy* and ponderous. I think Michelle would be better served by doing a program theme that allowed her to show more fire and excitement, and that would bring the audience along with her enthusiasm.

Fumie Suguri (5): bright turquoise dress with loose flappy sleeves. The music is a familiar Mozart blend, I think symphony #40 and one of the piano concerti. 3z fall, 3f, fell on an underrotated 3s, layback, standing around in front of the judges, 3r badly two-footed with with hands down, 3z two-footed, spirals into 2x, flying camel onto inside edge, 3f/2t, straight-line steps with a lot of one-foot turns but a stumble towards the end, camel/layback/back sit/scratch spin very fast. I think the program is interesting and has potential, but she didn't skate it well this time.

Elena Sokolova (6): Imagine the most boring Muzak Maria Butyrskaya ever skated to and make it one notch worse, and that's what Elena is doing. Black outfit with a lot of sheer illusion on the top and diagonal slashes. 3z turn out, 2 lip step out, 2s, flying camel, 3r cheated with a turn out, layback, 3t really telegraphed, spin combination, 2t/2t, skid spiral, circular steps with a lot of arm thrashing, 2x. On top of that, there was a lot of two-foot skating throughout the entire program. Yeccchhhhh. Talk about a depressing mess. Babenko's marks for her were ridiculous given how little content she had in the program.

Sasha Cohen (1): The second "Swan Lake" in a black and white outfit with contrasting feather patterns, not too sparkly. 3 flutz cheated/2t, 3f/2t, 3r, flying camel/sit/sasha spin, brief 1-foot steps into 2x with a wild edge on the landing, spiral, flap flap, camel/upright with a neat position variation, biellman spiral on a flat, spread eagle, 3t, 3f two-footed, 3s from turns, layback, more Morozov-style straight-line steps including running around in a little circle on her toe picks, more arm-flapping, camel/sit/layback/back sit/half biellmann. So much for Sasha's disclaimers that she was using the "unfamiliar" parts of Swan Lake -- it all sounded like the same old stuff to me. Will she *ever* choose some music that hasn't already been done to death by 10 gazillion other skaters?

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