Skating Off-Season Weekly Roundup: Grand Prix Order and Other ISU Decisions

The main news of this week was the release of the Decisions of the ISU Council. The Council met during the World Championships in Helsinki, and they’ve now announced not only the Grand Prix and Challenger schedules for the upcoming season, but even the Grand Prix schedule for the post-Olympic season.

Once upon a time, the order of the Grand Prix events was always U.S.-Canada-China-France-Russia-Japan.  Since they started changing it around in 2009, more seasons than not the order’s not unlike that, but it’s also become common for the series to have a North American, European, and Asian leg, with the two events on each continent happening back to back. Skate America is also typically still first, so it can get to be the unofficial start of the senior-level skating season. But it’s not always convenient for a national federation to hold their event first, and the skating at the early events are often weaker.

So this fall, the Russians will take a turn at holding the Rostelecom Cup first, and Skate America will get to finish the series instead. But more surprising, perhaps, is that only the Asian events are happening back to back. Skate Canada remains in its traditional spot as second event, while the Trophée de France will happen fifth. There are likely reasons for this told behind closed doors. The post-Olympic Grand Prix will have a more typical North America-Asia-Europe order.

With some slight differences in order, the Challenger events are the same as last year, except they now include the Minsk-Arena Ice Star. This Belarussian event, first held in 2012, was previously a more minor international, so this is a promotion. Meanwhile, the Nebelhorn Trophy will be doing double duty as Olympic qualifier, even though this may complicate what kind of skaters will be allowed into at least its singles field. Every country without an Olympic berth in one or more of the disciplines with someone to send will send them, and in the past Nebelhorn has had to limit the number of singles skaters countries who have already qualified are allowed to send, simply because those fields were so overloaded. But apparently the ISU does not view that kind of possible restriction as a dealbreaker for the Challenger series.

After we went back to skaters drawing their start order on the Grand Prix last season, it seems the ISU, or possibly just the TV networks, didn’t care for the results. Short programs will once again be skated according to world rankings, despite the occasional odd order this produces, and long programs according to short program results. The Olympic Team event, too, has been skated in accordance with these rules, and it looks from the release that they’re doing that again.

But at least they’re listening to the athletes themselves a little more than they used to. They’ve been heavily criticized for that in the past, but the inclusion of representatives among the officials at meetings is a good sign. John Coughlin especially should be a good representatives; he has shown himself to be an intelligent man. They even seemed to have granted mercy to the Synchronized Skaters, who would’ve been further marginalized had the ISU gone through with their proposed Ultimate Skating Event. Hopefully they’ve seen enough sense to leave a new odd event no one has any interest in permanently on hold.

There wasn’t the flood of announcements from the skaters themselves that there was last week. But we do have the first significant coaching change of the year. Top Israeli team Isabella Tobias & Ilia Tkachenko announced on Facebook they’re leaving Igor Shpilband for Marina Zueva. Tobias and her former partner Deividas Stagniunas had actually trained under both coaches back when they’d been a team, and chosen to stay with Shpilband after their infamous breakup in 2012. But Zueva’s been the more successful of the two coaches since, so it makes sense she and her new partner would change their minds.

We also got a handful of music announcements, including one that contradicts what we’d already heard. Around the time two of the top three Chinese teams were headed for Worlds, the third, Cheng Peng & Yang Jin, were headed to Canada for choreography. At the time the report was top Canadian choreographer Lori Nichol would only do a new short program for them, and they would be keeping their Umbrellas of Cherbourg long. Perhaps that was the plan at the time, with them changing their minds after arrival.

Now the report is that they have not only a new tango short, but a new long to The Butterfly Lovers. This violin concerto by He Zhenhao and Chen Gang, based off an ancient Chinese legend often compared to Romeo and Juliet, is one of China’s most famous pieces of music. In the skating world, it is most known as the music with which Lu Chen, China’s best ladies’ skater to date, won her second Olympic bronze in 1998. Peng & Jin aren’t the first skaters to have used it in her wake. They did lyrical well enough in Umbrellas of Cherbourg, so we can be optimistic about how well they’ll do with this music, even if they might not match Chen. As for if they can pull a tango off, we’ll have to see.

Also using music identified a bit strongly with other someone are Italian number twos Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri:

Part III of Exogenesis was first used by ice dancers, but it only really became famous when Jeremy Abbott skated to it in both the 2012 and 2014 seasons. After the latter, probably because of him, its use exploded, and three years later it officially has overused status. Honestly, Guignard & Fabbri, though pleasing to watch, having shown nothing to indicate they can stand out from the flood of skaters who are not Jeremy Abbott skating to this music. Even Ashley Wagner couldn’t quite do it, though maybe Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko did something memorable enough.

At least Spanish team Sara Hurtado & Kirill Khaliavin have found something not overused for their short dance:

Carlos Santana is always good to dance to, even if we don’t yet know which songs they’re using. Unless somebody wants to listen through his extensive discography to figure out what matches best with the required rumba rhythm.

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