Figure skating is back for 2010-2011 (and I am a little behind due to unexpected cable provider issues…)!
The ISU Grand Prix series runs every autumn, consisting of six international competitions featuring pairs, ice dance, men’s and women’s figure skating on the senior level. There is also a junior level ISU Grand Prix, which we will touch on again later. Just note it.
This year the Grand Prix opened with the NHK Trophy in Nagoya, Japan over the weekend October 22-24. Inexplicably, NBC did not air its selections until the following weekend, which got me all mixed up with my dates and general comfusion—but onwards. Skate Canada went down over Halloween weekend, the Cup of China is coming up next (Nov. 5-6), then Skate America (Nov. 12-14), Cup of Russia (Nov. 19-20) and concluding with the Grand Prix of France Trophée Eric Bompard before the final to be held back in Beijing over December 9-12.
So that’s that informational introduction to the whole Grand Prix shebang.
The NHK Trophy competition saw a mixture of disappointment and triumph for established Japanese figure skating stars. Mao Asada, reigning ladies’ World Champion and Olympic silver medalist had an upsetting start to the 2010-11 season, finishing in only 8th place on home ice. Meanwhile, Daisuke Takahashi—reigning men’s World Champion and Olympic bronze medalist—turned in a typically strong performance, taking the NHK Trophy gold.
The real story for this post, however, is about two newly risen junior champions, skating for the first time at the senior level of competition. The reigning ISU Junior World Champions are both young Japanese skaters (15 years old) who made quite a splash in their first senior Grand Prix. Kanako Murakami beat out one of her heroes, Mao Asada, placing for bronze with a 150.16. Yuzuru Hanyu came just short of the men’s podium with a strong fourth place début performance, totalling 207.72.
Commentators Terry Gannon, Tara Lipinski and Michael Weiss loved the fresh skates given by Murakami and Hanyu, reflecting time and time again that at this time last year they were still skating in the juniors.
At the start of Murakami’s free skate
to the Mask of Zorro soundtrack, commentator Terry Gannon said, “[She] may be the next Japanese star on the horizon… who won every event in which she entered last season—all on the junior level the wins were though—and she is the reigning world junior champion. Now in the senior , skating internationally and in a position to win!”
Michael Weiss followed up reflecting on the junior to senior transition: “It’s difficult, you’re coming off of winning everything as a junior, there’s a lot of expectations on you, especially with the history of the Japanese skaters. And to come out in your home town for your first event—a lot of experience will be gained in this performance.” And then later: “I remember when I first came up from juniors, making that transition, to be on the ice for the first time with your heroes… and you wonder, do I belong here? You won everything as a junior and making that transition is a difficult transition, but she obviously has the elements with that huge triple-triple at the beginning.”
She had a lot of energy and the hometown audience continued to feed her speed and attacking mentality throughout the free skate program, despite a of couple falls in the second half. Tara Lipinski was also commenting for NBC and praised Murakami’s tenacity: “Even with these mistakes, she is not slowing down, she just attacks these jumps. She has so much speed going into them.”
And despite a couple of glitches and spills, Murakami came out of it with a bronze medal—not too shabby for her first senior level international competition, in her hometown of Nagoya.
Fun fact: Miki Ando and Mao Asada, two current Japanese greats are (naturally) Murakami’s heroes. One of the reasons she selected her high school is because that is where Ando and Asada studied. Asada even gave Murakami the blazer that she wore at the school’s entrance ceremony.
As for Yuzuru Hanyu, “another star from Japan on the rise,” he decided to get started with a great quad (going to have to talk about quads at length in a future post), just to note that even though he just came out of the juniors, he can do it all technically.
In terms of criticism, Weiss talked about how when you come up from the juniors and “it doesn’t look like anything can slow [you] down technically,” the area in which young skaters have to grow the most is performance quality in terms of connecting with the audience by maximizing the pull of arm movements and facial expression. Creating and keeping that connection has a lot to do with keeping up stamina throughout a peice—poor Hanyu looked like he just wanted to fall over of exhaustion in the last third of his program.
But it was an impressive program all the same, just out of reach of the podium. Weiss and Gannon talked a lot about potential for Hanyu’s future as a skater and noted that this performance was “a glimpse into the future.”
I just love commentators. And I am so glad that figure skating is back.
Up next? Let’s talk about Jeremy Abbott from the perspective of Stars of Ice co-star Michael Weiss…