Sunday, November 25, 2018

Post-Olympic Skating Season – The Grand Prix series and Skate Canada International

Ladies Podium at Skate Canada International

During the last weekend of October, I flew north to Montreal to attend Skate Canada International (SCI), an ISU Grand Prix competitive event for top senior level figure skaters around the globe. The Grand Prix is a six series event held in countries around the globe every fall, culminating with the Grand Prix Final where the top six in each skating discipline compete for a spot on the podium.  Just making the final is a big deal for a skater, although a spot on the podium is even sweeter. This year’s event will be held in December in Vancouver, British Columbia.

This was my second time attending an SCI event, as I had traveled to Mississauga (outside of Toronto) two years ago (the host city changes every season).  Canadian competitions are fun for me to attend as an American because they are generally better attended than similar events in the US and the fans know their skating. (The event also fit my budget due to the favorable exchange rate). 

SCI was held in Laval, a suburb of Montreal at the newly built Place Bell arena.  Another plus of this event was that the Place Bell is located close to a metro stop so it’s easy to access and not have to worry about cabs or Uber costs.

I also had the opportunity to meet up with other skating fans that I’ve gotten to know through the online skating community and by attending live skating events. Several traveled from various North American locations (including Toronto and Seattle) and we met for a memorable dinner before the competition in Old Montreal, a beautiful part of the city that evokes Paris. 

Onto the skating itself.  This event had a particularly good lineup, despite the retirement of Canada’s top skaters post Olympics.  We got a chance to see some of the newer generation of Canadian skaters rising to the top of the ranks including the always entertaining men’s silver medalist Keegan Messing and the ice dancing pair of Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier who rose through the ranks to claim the bronze medal after a major mistake in their rhythm dance.  Their skate to “Starry Starry Night” was one of the best of the event, full of emotion and intricate and creative moves.  

Other top skaters included US dance champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue (who train in Montreal), who claimed gold here and a trip to the Final.  They came off another win at Skate America the prior week, cementing their status as one of the top teams to beat, now that the Olympic dance podium is either touring (Virtue/Moir), taking the season off (Maia and Alex Shibutani), or temporarily sidelined by injury (Papadakis/Cizeron).

On the pairs side, Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France had an amazing long program to a cover of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game setting a record score under the revamped ISU scoring system.  James/Cipres are setting themselves up as the pair team to try to beat for this 2018-2019 season.  This French pair (who train in Florida under the tutelage of US pairs champion John Zimmerman) have made a name for themselves the past couple of seasons with their edgy programs to pop hits by Ed Sheeran, The Weeknd and Disturbed.

Other notable names who competed at Skate Canada in the ladies’ competition included 2015 World Champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Olympic silver medalist Evgenia Medvedeva, who recently made waves in the skating community by leaving her longtime Russian coach and moving to Canada to train with 1988 Olympic Silver medalist Brian Orser at the Toronto Cricket and Curling club.  Orser is known for training Olympic champions including two time winner Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and Yuna Kim of South Korea, among many other top names in the sport. 

Medvedeva, known as Zhenya to her fans, had been unbeaten for almost 2 years until she was sidelined by injury and then beaten by her Russian teammate, Alina Zagitova at the Olympics earlier this year. She is developing into a more artistic skater on the ice at the age of 19 while struggling a bit with her jump technique.  She popped an important jump in her short program, leaving her in 7th place.  She came roaring back in the free skate, and while she was not perfect, her score was enough to get her on the podium for a bronze medal.  Alas, Medvedeva came in fourth place at her second assignment in France, not making the final.

Tuktamysheva is enjoying a comeback of sorts with renewed confidence and a pretty stable triple axel in her arsenal of jumps after struggling for the past few seasons against some younger Russian competitors.  Now at the ripe old age of 21, Liza (as her fans and friends call her) is having the last laugh, snagging a gold medal here (and a subsequent bronze medal in Japan) on her way the final.  She also made a splash during the post competition gala with her sexy performance to Britney Spear’s Toxic

Last, but not least, first year senior Japanese sensation Mako Yamashita won the silver medal with two stellar performances.  The Japanese ladies are making a statement this season with multiple podium finishes thus far. This year, three Japanese ladies are in the final; Satoko Miyahara, Kaori Sakamoto and 16-year old phenom Rika Kihira, who landed two triple axels at the NHK Trophy in Japan and earned two gold medals at her assignments.

Speaking of Japan, Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno took the gold medal here.  Although he was not perfect and had a scary fall on a triple axel in his short program, he bested the rest of the field here.  Another notable entry was 6th place finisher Jason Brown of the US.  Like Zhenya, he also made a coaching change and moved to Toronto.  Brown is also revamping his technique, but his skating skills and spins remain one the best in the field.  Brown is trying to master quadruple jumps and stabilize his triple axel. Brown had a much better result at his second assignment in France, earning a silver medal behind his teammate Nathan Chen, who is the only US man to make the final this year.

Another Cricket Club skater who did well here was Junhwan Cha of South Korea, capturing bronze.  Cha is a charismatic skater reminiscent of a young Hanyu and while he lacks sophistication, he is maturing into a contender, capturing another bronze medal in his second grand prix event.  His “Romeo & Juliet” program is turning into a fan favorite this season due to some interesting music edits from the Baz Luhrmann film’s often used soundtrack.  Cha also qualified for the final, squeaking by with some mathematical help from Brown’s 2nd place finish in France.

All in all, SCI was one of the best live competitions I’ve been to so far, with many memorable performances.  I’m looking forward to seeing some of these skaters in the final via livestream (alas, I am not flying to Vancouver).

We are in a post-Olympic year and a lot can happen between now and 2022’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, but I will sure to be watching and keep an eye on the veterans and the rising stars alike.


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