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Dec 10, 2011

Grand Prix Final 2011: the Menfolk

Almost like Skate Canada all over again.....

The men's event at the 2011 Grand Prix Final seemed quite eventful even before the actual competition began. Namely, Patrick Chan's now-infamous interview resulted in many Canadians exploding with patriotic (and even minatory!) fury over Mr. Chan's comments about China, the state of figure skating in Canada, etc. Personally speaking, I thought the reaction was rather overblown--of course, Mr. Chan's comments demonstrated a lack of self-awareness (or actually....a lack of awareness in general), but they were quite innocuous overall and certainly didn't merit the flurry of mudslinging that resulted afterwards. That being said, it was nonetheless entirely fascinating to watch the Skate Canada PR machine furiously churning over the past few days.

Despite the controversy, the misunderstood and underappreciated "black sheep of the herd" Patrick Chan won the men's competition (and hopefully the hearts of his fellow Canadians) with a total of 260.30 points while skating to totally different and unique programs set to Take Five and Aranjuez . Okay......clearly, Mr. Chan deserved to win overall when taking the entire competition in mind (i.e. the SP). His Aranjuez long program is actually one of the better programs this year--it's choreographed very well, particularly for a Lori Nichol program. He has clearly the best skating skills in the business. But.....I just don't understand the scoring when it comes to Mr. Chan. His short program....okay, I do understand the 86.63. That was reasonable enough. But the long program....I don't. I just don't understand how he could beat Daisuke Takahashi's far better long program with that sloppy, mistake-ridden performance. Of course, Mr. Chan had the higher base value with his two quads, but some of the GOEs and PCS were rather generous for that skate. For example...Mr. Chan's PE was the same as Mr. Takahashi's and Mr. Chan even had the higher IN score. Riiiiiight.

As such, for the sake of my sanity, I've decided to stop complaining about Mr. Chan's scores after writing this post and just accept them as they are. There's no point of me beating my head against the wall and it's not like $peedy cares unless Jacques Rogge is breathing down his neck in indignant fury. I can only hope that when Mr. Chan wins the gold in Sochi, he skates a better performance than this because the sport really cannot afford another Salt Lake City pairs scandal.

So, scoring issues aside....Mr. Chan's Aranjuez is coming along fairly nicely. I still don't think he has fully grasped the subtle angst of the music just yet, but expression-wise, it's an improvement on TEB and Skate Canada earlier this season. Perhaps it's my Takeshi Honda nostalgia speaking, but I really enjoyed Ms. Nichol's choreography and it shows off Mr. Chan's very smooth skating quite well. Definite points for not using that overdone Vanessa Mae version of Aranjuez--the original version is far superior and a much better musical fit for Mr. Chan's style of skating. Overall, though, the general impression of the program was unfortunately marred by the multiple bobbles and the fall on the 3Lz. Of course, Mr. Chan's skating was very smooth in between the jumps, but all those errors really disrupted the flow of the program. Mr. Chan looked slightly behind the music at times too. All in all, I would have had Mr. Chan win overall, but behind Daisuke Takahashi in the long program.

Daisuke Takahashi came from behind to win the silver medal with 249.12 points overall, a distant second behind Mr. Chan. Unfortunately Mr. Takahashi, a dismal short program with no combination and a flawed, under-rotated 4T put him in a large hole coming into the long program. It's a bit frustrating, because a perfect short program à la NHK in combination with the long program performance he did at the GPF would have put him within striking distance of Mr. Chan, or perhaps even a win (well...maybe not, because Mr. Chan still won the long program nonetheless). Although the mistakes on the quads were unfortunate, I believe this is probably the best route for Mr. Takahashi to take if he wants to get a consistent quad--the quad simply won't materialize if he doesn't keep trying it in competitions. The quads are looking a bit closer with each competition--the 4T here in the long was fully credited and it wasn't technically counted as a fall, and the 4F at NHK was given an under-rotation call instead of a downgrade.

To me, Mr. Takahashi probably had my second-favorite skate of the night in terms of sheer balls-to-the-wall performance alone (Yuzuru Hanyu just edged in front with the performance of the night for me, but it was very close). One really appreciates the suppleness of Mr. Takahashi's skating, the way he is able to draw the audience in with his movements, and his great ear for music particularly when Mr. Takahashi is skating directly after Michal Brezina, who definitely needs quite a bit of work in those departments. The footwork was superb and it was good to see Mr. Takahashi completely avoid the under-rotation calls he incurred at NHK. Somehow, however, judge #8 thought this very good performance was worthy of 5.50 in TR, 6.75 in CH and a 7.75 in SS. Perhaps he/she simply hates the music of Blues for Klook, or maybe it's the same judge who gave Alissa Czisny 8s in TR, CH and SS at TEB, because he/she clearly doesn't understand what these categories of PCS are supposed to represent.

Javier Fernandez won the bronze overall with 247.55 points despite placing fourth in the long program. I know I've said this before, but it is amazing how insanely solid Mr. Fernandez's 4T and 4S are this season, especially since he wasn't anywhere near this consistent with his quads last year. Either Brian Orser is a genius, or Nikolai Morozov really was neglecting Mr. Fernandez for years (probably a bit of both). I am in awe. Mr. Fernandez looks like an entirely different skater this season, and it's not just the vastly improved unMorozov choreography.

Although Mr. Fernandez avoided popping his jumps in the second half of his long program like he did in prior competitions, some of the jumps nonetheless really looked borderline in rotation due to the bobbly landings. Not surprised Mr. Fernandez got the downgrade call on the 3F-2T, and he really racked up the negative GOEs. But the PCS....I know I've also said this before, but I really don't understand Mr. Fernandez's PCS either, especially his SS mark. Mr. Fernandez scored a 8.21, which was ridiculously close to Jeremy Abbott's  8.36 and Daisuke Takahashi's 8.57 in the same category, as well as markedly higher than Yuzuru Hanyu's 8.04. I mean, I do enjoy Mr. Fernandez's skating and have done so for years, terms of basic skating, he's not at the level of the top men. Mr. Fernandez just doesn't have the speed, the flow, the power and the effortlessness of skaters like Patrick Chan, Jeremy Abbott, Daisuke Takahashi or even Yuzuru Hanyu, arguably. Mr. Fernandez sells his programs very well (in the short at least....his expression needs more work in the long) and has decent enough transitions, but Mr. Fernandez's PCS is yet another example of the judges' inability to separate the categories of PCS properly.

Yuzuru Hanyu placed fourth overall with 245.82 points despite a third place finish in the long program. I am admittedly hardly impartial when it comes to Mr. Hanyu, but I personally thought he had the performance of the night and skated well enough to take the bronze, but his mistake on the 4T in his short program (as well as that last 3S in the long program) did him in. Too bad, because the result was quite close between him and Mr. Fernandez, but a fourth-place finish in his first trip to the Grand Prix Final is nonetheless very respectable. What a phenomenal beginning to his long program: 4T with +3 GOE fistpumping, insane 3A off a spread eagle, terrific 3F. I love two-thirds of this Romeo and Juliet long program, and thank Kwan it was the two-thirds that was skated well here. Mr. Hanyu's
 stamina problems showed through with the sloppy mistake on the 3S (again, he needs to recover and pop back into the program faster), but overall, this was the best Mr. Hanyu has skated this program the entire season. His expression at the end of the program summed it up: just exhilarating. Too bad Mr. Hanyu is getting the newbie PCS this season--if he continues skating like this, however, those marks will definitely go up next season for sure.

Jeremy Abbott unfortunately dropped from second in the short program to fifth overall. Given all the lavish praise heaped on Mr. Abbott's short program, I may be the only person in existence who dislikes the program, but even I can see the quality through the cloud of my personal preferences. Still not a fan of the style, but Mr. Abbott does sell it very well. What I find especially good about the short program is that its playful nature relaxes Mr. Abbott and he does look a lot less milquetoast-ish than he does in his Exogenesis long program.

Unfortunately, although Mr. Abbott exceeded my expectations by actually landing the 4T cleanly in the long program (!!!), he also met my low expectations by crumbling in the second half. It's such a pity, because the program was looking amazing up until that second triple axel. Like I've said before, he really needs to nail down his triple axels if he wants to contend with all the top men as befits his talent. But....I still love this Exogenesis program and it looked very beautiful despite all the mistakes. If Mr. Abbott ever skates it cleanly it might just exceed the excellent Eight Seasons long program he skated at the 2008 GPF, one of my favorite CoP programs ever.

On a completely unrelated note....Yuka Sato, dost thou not age? She looks absolutely incredible for someone who is nearly forty.

Michal Brezina finished last with a distant 218.98 points overall. Unfortunately, Mr. Brezina isn't exactly a compelling skater to watch without the big jumps. At least he went for the quads here (even if he landed zero cleanly) but I really, really dislike how Mr. Brezina sets up his triple axels with his free leg raised up so high like can see the jump coming up from a mile away and it just isn't that aesthetically pleasant. Overall, forgettable performances along with forgettable programs. Even though Mr. Brezina won his first GP event this season, he hasn't looked sharp in any of his competitions and I hope this is impetus enough for him to leave Karel Fajfr.


  1. I too can‘t understand Fernandez‘s PCS.

  2. Well said. I like Fernandez, but for him to have won his medal by beating Hanyu on PCS is very wrong.

    I'm pretending the guy in the middle of that picture is not competing. His scoring is a forgone conclusion, so why bother? That makes Mr. Takahashi this year's GPF champion :) Isn't that much better?

    I hope you'll do a pairs post!

  3. I don't understand all the pussyfooting around the obvious score fixing for Chan - that he won that competition was disgusting.

    Chan is not the first beneficiary of this ridiculousness, lets just take some recent men: there was Plushenko with his disdain for artistry, Lycecek with his pseudo-macho flailing arms, and now Chan. I'll bet there is some through-line for all this (you vote for Lysacek this year, I'll vote for Chan next year, etc, etc).

    It's funny, Japan is one of the few places where skaters are making good money, and yet their federation seems not to be out there paying off judges to prop up a legitimately deserving skater like Takahashi.

    What's funny about Chan's comments is that he was griping about the very people who are conniving to have him win competitions - both those on the highest levels to the lowly skating forum shills who seem to make a profession of being apologists for lousy/flawed skaters like Chan and Rachel Flatt.

    Heck, while I love Jeremy Abbott I don't think he should have won, YET you combine both the SP's and the LP's and both he and Chan had 2 falls.

  4. Unfortunately I think no recent single skater has received such blatant favouritism as Mr. Chan. While I enjoyed Plushenko prior 2006, I was aware he was sometimes help up. BUT, he didnt win with so many mistakes, he was most of the times clean while skating a high tecnical content. And while Lysacek was also certainly help up on many occasions, it basically happened during the final one year leading up to the olympics, basically to facilitate the long sought win of men's gold for USA.
    It seems, even when Chan is falling all over the place, the judges find it in their hearts to give him -1, -2 or even sometimes 0 GOE instead of the standard -3, while they do not hesitate to punish some skaters. Although we can argue for ours about the subjective PCS (which is nonsense anyway), those GOEs simply cannot be justified.
    The thing is, the judging is not Chan's fault but it is only contributing to his rapidly growing ego. Shame...
    On a different note, I've also been noticing the PCS inflation of Fernandez this season, which again speaks volumes about the judging inconsistency given how badly he was penalised in PCS in the past years. He has visibly improved but he didnt become Yagudin over night.

  5. It's a shame judges didn't give fair score to skaters. It's not fault of skaters, but judges. The most memorable skating was Mr. Takahashi and Mr. Hanyu that night. Their LP still in my mind. Even though Mr. Chan's skating is very clean (but not at GPF), his skating doesn't stay in my heart never at once. Same kind of program over and over. I'm sick of it...

  6. Anon at 8:49: I'm procrastinating on a pairs post as I type!

    Anon at 12:02: I wouldn't necessarily call say it's blatant score fixing, but more of a combination of intense politicking (after Orser, Browning, Stojko, etc., you bet the Canadians are wanting to win an Olympic gold and I'm starting to get the impression that they're willing to throw V/M under the bus to get it), the effect of the infamous 'corridor,' as well as certain issues with the current structure of the CoP system itself.

    Also, I think Japan's problem is that they have a few too many ponies (or so to speak) in the race. Not only are the Japanese strong in two disciplines, but they also have multiple podium contenders within the two disciplines. There is only so much political capital to spend...

    Anon at 12:33: I wouldn't say Mr. Chan does the same kind of program over and over again, but that he keeps recycling his programs so it certainly feels like it!