Skating Off-Season News Roundup: Korean Qualifiers and North American Competitions

Korean Nebelhorn/Olympic qualifier features a shock result in the men; Glacier Falls, Lake Placid, and Minto hold their annual events.

It is now a month before the season more or less begins with the first Junior Grand Prix event in Brisbane. The entries are even up for this opening three-discipline JGP event. The fields here are all slightly smaller than usual; not all European federations are willing to pay for their skaters to fly all the way to Australia. The South Korean slots are all TBAs, though they should be filled after this weekend. But the men’s field already includes two of last year’s JGP finalists, Alexei Krasnozhon and Roman Savosin. All six of the Russian, Japanese, and American ladies are new to the circuit, but the pair from the first country especially should be watched. The ten ice dance entries include Sofia Polishchuk & Alexander Vakhnov and Chloe Lewis & Logan Bye.

But other competitions have already begun, including the first official, ISU-approved, international competition of the 2017-2018 season.

Figure Skating Korea Challenge

Undisputedly the competition where the stakes were highest was in the on in which home Olympic berths were in play. South Korea has long used ranking competitions to decide various international assignments, including the Junior Grand Prix, and this weekend in Seoul, as is typical, the top junior men and ladies skated off to earn the latter. But held in tandem with that was another competition, at which skated the Olympic hopefuls.

It won’t determine the Olympic berths by itself; there will be another ranking competition in December, and results from Korean Nationals in January will also factor in. But in the three disciplines where Korea doesn’t have Olympic berths yet, it was the sole decider for who went to the Nebelhorn Trophy in Obertsdorf to try to earn them. Initially this wasn’t seen as significant, until a shock in the men’s competition turned that scene upside down.

This was supposed to be the ascension of Jun-Hwa Cha, who likely would’ve won Korea a berth at Worlds had he been old enough to skate there. But he came in struggling with injury and boot problems, and they took their toll. The trouble started in his short, and in his long things were so badly he ended up third. The latter especially is a program it would be good to see skated well at the Olympics, but now he’s facing a battle just to get there. That he apparently worsened his injury by skating doesn’t help either.

His two elders ended up in close competition for who would go to Nebelhorn instead. June-Hyoung Lee, less technically accomplished, tried no quads and struggled with two of his three triple axels. But he made no major errors, and after the first two jumping passes he nailed most of his long. Even with much of it having to be muted on YouTube due to copyright issues he approached Cha’s level of artistry in the short, and even with the opening stepouts his free program was kind of the performance of the event:

He won both segments and the ticket to Germany, four points ahead of Jin-Seo Kim. Kim stood up on a quadruple toe loop in the free, and performed both programs with real feeling, but was done in by some major errors.

The ladies already have two Olympic berths, courtesy of Da-Bin Choi. At one point she considered withdrawing from this event, but instead she came, and won it. She played it safe technically in both programs, which weren’t the most exciting of the week, but were cleanly and nicely done. Far behind in second, Hanul Kim nonetheless established herself as a contender with solid skating, while doing an odd Mirai Nagasu impression, and going for triple-triples, though she didn’t rotate everything. So-Hyun An took third, coming back from seventh with the kind of second-place free that also showed her ability to contend.

Other possible contenders faltered. So-Youn Park and Nah-Hyun Kim, two ladies trying to come back from injury, were both done in by bad free skates, though Park’s second-place short had looked dramatic. Park’s teammate from Sochi, Hae-Jin Kim, was never in it.

The pairs and ice dance fields were both shrunk from Nationals. Amid rumors that the pairs champions have broken up, two other teams fought each other in their stead. The brother-sister team of Su-Yeon & Hyung-Tae Kim, who had more awkward skating but more technical difficulty, were initially in second after a messy short, but a cleaner free got them the win. Yura Min & Alexander Gamelin were the only dance team that showed. Their short dance was a little disjointed, but she was thoroughly divatastic in it. Their free dance didn’t give her that kind of opportunity, but it did let them be very graceful.

South Korea is, in fact, going to get host entries out of the Additional Athletes Quota for any individual Olympic event for which they do not qualify. (Technically it’s not guaranteed, since filling out the team event is the priority. But there’s no way Russia, the U.S., and Canada won’t qualify for that, and they’re filled out already, so there will be the needed three berths.) That’s definitely a relief in the men now, though Lee may still qualify a men’s spot on his own. Min & Gamelin’s chances at Nebelhorn are good too. The Kims, however, have the odds against them.

Although the Korean federation reserved the right to send the younger participants in the Olympic qualifier, who were not allowed to participate in the JGP qualifier, to JGP events, they also stated two berths awaited the top two men and top five ladies from those ranking competitions. They also were ready to give them to winner of the pairs, but in the end there wasn’t a competition there.

With five men competing, everyone was going to get at least one event. But three men were far above the other two, having battle of the character programs which included a ripoff of/tribute to Phlippe Candeloro. In the end, Geon-Hyeong An and Sih-Yeong Lee, with less than two tenths between their final scores, went 1-2 and secured two events, while five points behind Young-Hyun Cha secured only one from third. But the abilities of all these men are limited, with none even trying the triple axel, or having a hope of factoring into their events without it.

The ladies are a different matter; in fact, even An or Lee would barely have come in second against them. Their field was bigger, and full of girls going for difficult triple-triples, including two who made a splash on the JGP circuit last year. One, Eunsoo Lim, even has a JGP medal to her name. But it was the other one, Ye-Lim Kim, who won by a huge margin. Her short program especially was a true treat to watch:

Her technically flawless free also made for good watching, although there one sees more potential than full active artistry right now. That was common enough in this field. Second place Lim sold her short for all it was worth, then worked best she could with the odd tango medley of her free. But she also had a handful of technical errors, none too costly, but she was still third in the short behind Yun-Kyung Kam. Kam’s short program was almost too much for her to handle, but she held it up to announce her arrival. She showed some artistic range too with her contrasting long. Errors there helped drop her to fourth, but she still got her two events for her first year on the circuit.

Also set to make her JGP debut is Young You, although the only reason she hasn’t been there yet is because she wasn’t old enough until now. Whether she’ll remain able to do technical content gotten so young remains to be see, and major mistakes in both programs here left her in third. But in both her short and her contrasting long, she displays a storytelling ability that she should definitely hold on to. The last lady to secure two berths was Hyun-Soo Lee, another newcomer. She wasn’t on the level of the top four, but was still pretty good.

Download Friday results here, and Saturday results here. Unfortunately, as this goes up Sunday night, full scores for the final day are not yet available.

Glacier Falls Classic

On the other side of the world, in the singles, the event of the week was the Glacier Falls Classic in Anaheim, California. Though the top three American men competing there had all competed this summer already. Nor did any of them skate their best. Ross Miner’s relatively clean long was enough for him to come up from fourth for a surprise win. He fell on both his opening quad attempts, but second place Jason Brown and third place Grant Hochstein didn’t land any clean quads either. Brown’s short was good enough to lead, but his free was ugly. Hochstein was narrowly second in that segment, but he had some trouble of his own. View free skate results here.

This may not be the first time Karen Chen’s skated her new short program in competition, but it is the first look most of the world is getting at it. Appropriately enough, she nailed it, showing her short is a vehicle that can take her far, and even netted her 73 points:

Chen also nearly broke 145 in an almost as good free, though there her triple-triple was less successful. Behind her in second, Caroline Zhang impressed too, skating both her programs with elegance and finesse. Unfortunately, Polina Edmunds did not impress as much, with two bad skates leaving her in eighth. View short program results here, and free skate results here.

Lake Placid International

But the ice dancers were all in Lake Placid. For many years now, most of the North American ice dance community have gathered there at the end of July for the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, where if it is a version of ice dance that anyone competes in, there is a club-competition style of event for it. But last year for the first time, there was an official international competition there too, the Lake Placid International. It was back this year, and was the event of choice for most of the senior couples in town, and most of the higher-ranked junior ones.

Though plenty of foreign couples were in the senior competition, at least, the podium was still a U.S. sweep. The entries being who they were, that wasn’t a surprise. What was was which one was on top. Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter were toppled from the top of the junior scene last year in a season where they were plagued by continual errors. But this weekend they were on the entire time, winning by nearly ten points. From going between contrasting music in the short dance, to their craftily choreographed tango free dance, they showed just how good they can now be when they’re on:

Rachel & Michael Parsons, the team that toppled them, had a rough start, with a long wait for the short dance music to start and then a fall. They did better after that though to get their way up to silver, even if the chorography of their free dance doesn’t really meet the challenge of the music. It probably helped them that Elliana Pogrebinsky & Alex Benoit, second with their short dance, had a late lift that went wrong in a free dance with way too much of “I Put a Spell on You,” though bronze was still no problem.

Most of the teams in the junior international competition were American, including all the medalists. Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko took the gold. Their short dance songs were a bit of a strange match, while their free dance music was strange only in that is was much like what they did last year. But they did last year’s free dance well, and this one even better, even with a moment of uncertainty at the very end.

View full results here.

Minto Summer Skate

In Canada, the Summer Skating Series started with the Minto Summer Skate in Ottawa. Like the U.S. club competitions, they are unofficial events, contested mostly by Canadian skaters, but with foreign skaters mixing in freely, used by higher-ranked skaters to get mileage and feedback, and those a step below to impression the federation and get international assignments. The Minto Summer Skate is one of the smaller ones.

The major event was the men, where the field included four men who all have a chance of joining Patrick Chan on the Canadian Olympic team. But they all ended up getting outskated by one too young for that. With the memorable short with a quad salchow-triple toe combination, it was a pity Stephen Gogolev didn’t take the lead:

But when Roman Sadovsky skated a mostly just okay one with the same combination, he led by two points. Gogolev then did a solid rendition of his long program, a holdover from last season, and not as striking, which a couple of errors didn’t help. But when Sadovsky’s free skate included two falls, he dropped behind, and Gogolev won.

Nam Nguyen too did not get a new long program. You wish instead he hadn’t gotten a new short; his high drama “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” felt like a bad idea even before the multiple large errors. He skated the first half of his long very badly too. Although when he pulled things together for the second half, he showed he still has the judge’s favor by actually scoring slight higher than Sadovsky in the free. Julian Yee, a Malaysian skater hoping to make the Olympics via Nebelhorn instead, had a similar trajectory: disastrous short, followed by the free he’s skating for the second season in a row. Except Yee stood up on everything and was far more entertaining, but couldn’t score nearly as high.

Earlier in the week, Elladj Balde confirmed he and Liam Firus will both retire after this season. Firus thus started his final season here, and it wasn’t a good start. He struggled in both programs, and he does not have Nguyen’s favor with the judges to make up for it. At least he finished the competition, though. Not so lucky was Nicolas Nadeau. He was actually fourth after the short, but his program had still been bad, and then he pulled out of the free without explanation.

Alaine Chartrand was the top skater in the women’s field, and she had no problem dominating with a solid short and even a free skate where the underrotation issues (she underrotated her triple-triple in both programs) got worse, though both programs definitely have more potential. None of the other ladies even broke 90 in the free or 150 overall. Nor were either of the two senior dance teams that impressive, and no senior pairs competed at all.

View full results here.

Other Events of the Week

In Japan, there may not have been any significant competitions this week, but there was THE ICE. Mao Asada’s annual show remains a highlight of the summer, and it also contained a pair of short program debuts, including Satoko Miyahara’s. It seems she’s following a geisha theme this year, since her Madama Butterfly free will be done with a short to Memoirs of a Geisha:

She also talked very briefly about the short. Google Translate rendered her words as “It’s a strong women’s movie going aiming and I hope I can express it to fit the atmosphere of the movie.” That’s pretty consistent with what she said about her free program last year, and also with what she’s doing on the ice. This is heavily used music, but this seems like a more serious, character-driven take than most programs we’ve seen, which instead play up the exoticness. That may make this one of the best programs to this music anyone’s done yet.

Unfortunately both skaters debuting their shorts struggled with their jumps in them, and in Takahito Mura’s case it broke the mood more. And while his performance is not without feeling, or connection to the music, one is still left wanting a good deal more of both, especially for his choice of music. Shoma Uno also debuted his new version of Turandot, and with age he has found one piece of sense: he’s dropped the Paul Potts version of “Nessum Dorma” and is now using Pavarotti, to whom none else can compare.

Patrick Chan didn’t skate anywhere this week, but he did get in front of camera, and in the resulting interview he revealed his programs. It seems he’s going wistful this year, his short to Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” and his free to the Jeff Buckley version of “Hallelujah.”  He’s not the only high-profile Canadian man to skate to the latter in recent years, but his ability to do justice to the feelings of this music isn’t really is doubt. That his chance at Olympic gold may well be past due to the field passing him technically will likely enhance the mood.

Gabrielle Daleman didn’t compete anywhere either, but we got a sneak peak at her short. It looks like there’s going to be at least two high-profile Carmens this year:

I am… Carmen #ShortProgram #Sass #Flirty

A post shared by Gabrielle Daleman (@gabby_daleman) on

One gets the feeling that, in terms of attitude, Daleman would more likely than not win a Carmen-off over Chen.

Also a Lord of the Dance, courtesy Ivan Righini:

Which is all well and good, but the hair’s disturbing.

We also got Alexander Samarin’s music, courtesy his coach. His short is to Moonlight Sonata, which is a little unusual for him; he doesn’t often to classical. His free is to Metallica’s “Unforgiven III,” which is more his usual style.

It’s going to be a while before we see Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier, who are starting late after overloading themselves last season. That was one of the things they talked about this week in a lengthy interview. They also gave a lot of details about their already announced long program and still withheld short program. The National championships weren’t the only American pair interviewed this week. So were Deanna Stellato & Nathan Bartholomay. In contrast to Denney & Frazier, they’re going to multiple club competitions; their third comes up next week. They talk about both the programs and ambitious technical elements the world saw them go for last week.

Also interviewed this week were Sara Hurtado & Kirill Khaliavin, days after the Spanish federation revealed he and Olivia Smart are both getting their Spanish citizenship, leaving Spain’s two best teams to freely battle each other for the country’s one Olympic berth. They decline to say much against the federation, despite them ignoring their own criteria to send their rivals to Worlds instead. Instead they talk up their free dance, and it turns out they are doing flamenco after all: they’re doing a flamenco version of Don Quixote! At least that’ll be a little different, and that they’re doing their own original storyline further helps.

But for another cross-national team, the fate of their Olympic prospects is sealed. Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Nikolaj Sorenson, unable to get her the needed Danish citizenship, actually appealed to the International Olympic Committee for an exception so they could compete anyway. But, as expected, they were denied. It’s a shame that such a talented team won’t be at the Games, but there’s nothing to be done.

Next week’s another crowded one, with events in Pennsylvania and Alberta, and the first official international event of the season for singles and pairs, the Asian Open Figure Skating Trophy in Hong Kong.

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