Feb 16, 2015
Four Continents 2015: Ladies
The collective age of the ladies podium at the 2015 Four Continents Championships averaged around 16.67 years, which gave this competition the feel of a junior competition. The actual skating itself certainly did not deviate from this feeling.
Polina Edmunds won this year's iteration of Four Continents, a surprise win during her debut at the event. I think most people predicted that an American lady would be on the podium at this competition, but perhaps another American lady. Nonetheless, Ms. Edmunds gave an extremely strong long program performance, pulling up from a fourth-place finish in the short program. Unfortunately, I find Ms. Edmunds' programs this season a step backwards from her programs last year. While Ms. Edmunds was appropriately packaged as a budding young ingenue in her Peer Gynt long program last year, this year's packaging in her long program is merely young. It's one thing to dress in sparkly pink ombre ruffles when you're a sixteen-year-old built like, say, Elena Radionova, but it's another thing when you're a tall, long-limbed sixteen-year-old built like Ms. Edmunds. Like . . . Kate Moss can look fantastic in a Balmain minidress even now, but you can't say the same thing about the average 41-year-old woman. In short, it just looks age inappropriate as opposed to good. All this hubbub about Ms. Edmunds' packaging is unfortunate because her long program is actually quite good. It nicely complements her light, airy style, and there's a good amount of detail throughout. It ends a bit abruptly for my taste, but it's still a pleasure to watch. The biggest thing that bothers me about Ms. Edmund's skating is that she sometimes slows down and majorly telegraphs her jumps--e.g. her first flip in the LP--but she's improved on this overall since last year, so hopefully she'll get it entirely out of her system. Also, I do hope she takes a hard look at her own flips, which had questionable edges in a way that was obvious even from my shaky Internet feed. As usual, her flips received edge calls at Four Continents, which will hopefully provide a good, sorely-needed wake-up call.
Satoko Miyahara finished second overall, but she gave her weakest LP performance of Miss Saigon of the season so far at Four Continents, with a few shaky jumps and a fall(!!). Though Miss Saigon was by far the most sophisticated and mature long program of the competition, I'm not entirely surprised that Ms. Miyahara received fairly low PCS for the performance--even outside of the jumps, the performance at Four Continents lacked the conviction and finesse we've seen from Ms. Miyahara earlier in the season (and as much as we wish it were otherwise, the judges have yet to distinguish the categories of PCS separately). And of course, the stutters on some of the jumping passes further interrupted the flow of the program. Luckily, like some of her competitors, Ms. Miyahara definitely benefited from a lenient technical panel at this competition, which seems to be a thing at Four Continents. Love love love Ms. Miyahara though--the amount of transitions and details that match the nuances in her music is astounding. Lovely skating skills as well, with speed generated from edges instead of simple stroking. I will continue to offer small children to various deities so that Ms. Miyahara would be able to fix her picking technique in her toe jumps.
On the other hand, Ms. Miyahara's packaging in her SP is quite terrible--the choreography is not bad (albeit a little bland especially compared to her stellar LP) but those twee little puffed sleeves on her dress scream JUNIOR.
Rika Hongo placed third overall after finishing third in both segments of the competition. My earliest memory of Ms. Hongo was watching her skate a truly dreadful and utterly mismatched Swan Lake program during the 2012-2013 season. Seen from that perspective, Ms. Hongo's skating has improved leaps and bounds since then, and she clearly feels the music of Carmen much, much more than she ever did when she was skating to Swan Lake. But Ms. Hongo's poor posture and hunched shoulders are still so, so distracting, especially when she does her double axels. And it drives me mad whenever I watch Ms. Hongo spin through the musical climax of Carmen at the end of her program (though that's her choreographer's fault). I wish Ms. Hongo's team would branch out and stop having her skate to these tired old classical warhorses for her programs, all of which accentuates her flaws. More contemporary pieces would help to disguise Ms. Hongo's lack of polish and finesse, and add some personality to her skating. Why do so many coaches and choreography insist on recycling the same pieces of music over and over again with zero regard for their skaters' style and interpretative ability? It boggles the mind.
Gracie Gold placed a surprising fourth at this competition, surprising because she was the American lady most predicted to be on the topmost spot of the podium. Ms. Gold's shaky performances at Four Continents this year have surely inspired the more tense-nerved U.S. ladies supporters to stick more forks in her/form prayer circles. I'm sure the question percolating on many a mind after Four Continents is whether Ms. Gold should leave Frank Carroll. Right now, I'm leaning towards "no." Mr. Carroll is a coach, not a miracle worker. If the problem is nerves/mental focus/personal issues, there's only so much Mr. Carroll can do short of hiring a sports psychologist/ordering a lobotomy. Maybe a new choreographer not named Lori Nichol would be helpful in order to take care of Ms. Gold's penchant for skating somnambulistic programs, but I think sticking to Mr. Carroll is the best option so far.
Zijun Li placed fifth after an impressive fourth-place finish in the long program. After watching Ms. Li struggle so much since her impressive showing at 2013 Worlds, it was thrilling to watch Ms. Li skate what was easily her strongest competition in almost two years. However, despite her seemingly clean program, her lower base value and a wrong-edge call on her 3Lz kept her from contending for a podium finish (note that Ms. Li only completed two jump combinations, and both of them were in the first half of her program). Surprisingly, however, the benign tech panel refrained from slapping URs on some of Ms. Li's more questionable jumps, which isn't that much of a bad thing since I am SO over the Underrotation Inquisition. I do wish that Ms. Li has a more substantial program than her current long program, which is notable only by virtue of being a curious muzak mashup of Moon River and a particularly sleepy version of a Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto. The program is just so one-note--it lacks nuance and shade, and the choreography is so simplistic. Ms. Li has a natural charm and ease to her skating that makes the performance easy on the eyes, but there's only so much charm can do.