Mar 30, 2015
2015 Worlds Recap: the Men
Given the quality of the men's skating in previous events of late, I was expecting meltdowns left, right, and center for the men at 2015 Worlds. Fortunately, the quality of the men's event was not all that bad! Therein lies the benefits of low expectations . . .
Javier Fernandez won the world title, thereby solidifying his considerably-solid place in Spanish figure skating history by being the first Spaniard to win a figure skating world title. Given the warm reception the figure skaters received at the Barcelona Grand Prix Final this season, Mr. Fernandez's achievements as a pioneer of Spanish figure skating have undoubtedly spread the gospel of figure skating to Spain, which is great to see. It's always heart-warming to witness skaters from smaller federations/non-traditional skating countries beat the odds and succeed--unlike relatively more egalitarian sports such as football (or 'soccer' in the American parlance), figure skating can be prohibitively expensive without the necessary infrastructure and support systems that are in place in countries where figure skating is more established.
Mr. Fernandez skated extremely well at Worlds, his only major mistake being a fall on the 4S in the LP. However, there's a certain sloppiness to Mr. Fernandez's skating that needs to be worked on so that he doesn't lose any unnecessary points. For example, take the short program, where Mr. Fernandez's clean program placed a slight second behind his training mate Yuzuru Hanyu with a fall on the 4T. Though many disagreed with this result, I agreed with the judges. Though not major mistakes, there was a lack of attention to details that added up in a way which detracted from the overall picture and led to decreased GOE--the off-axis jumps, the slow, messy spins, the sloppy footwork. These problems were also present in the long program as well (just look at his LP's atrocious final spin *shudder*). However, given how Brian Orser has exponentially cleaned up Yuzuru Hanyu's past sloppiness, I have no doubt in his ability to do the same to Mr. Fernandez. In the end, however, Mr. Fernandez must nonetheless be congratulated for giving a World Champion-worthy performance (plus, his reaction to his win was just hilarious).
Despite this season undoubtedly being his annus horribilis, Yuzuru Hanyu placed second overall at Worlds, winning the short program but falling to third in the long. In most other circumstances, a silver medal at Worlds would be disappointing to a reigning World and Olympic champion, but in the context of Mr. Hanyu's bizarrely extensive litany of illnesses and injuries he has suffered this season, it's difficult to see the World silver as anything but a triumph. I was most impressed by Mr. Hanyu's sheer determination in the long program--after catastrophically blowing his first two jumping passes, Mr. Hanyu pulled himself together and nailed the rest of the program. Somehow he managed to remain upright despite his jumps not being anywhere near his best (some of them tilted, tight, landed with little flow). It was sheer force of will landing those jumps, and it reminded me of Elena Radionova's tenacious and equally admirable performance just a few hours prior.
As for the short program--I can think of no higher compliment to give but to say that I do not think that Mr. Hanyu would've been capable of adequately skating his Chopin short program as little as two or even one year ago. It really speaks to his development as a skater--despite my common use of that epithet in the past, I would not call Mr. Hanyu a wet noodle given how he skates now. It's extremely impressive how Mr. Orser was able to excise the ragged gangliness from Mr. Hanyu's skating, as well as increase the quality of his skating skills and stamina. Had Mr. Hanyu been healthy (or even just slightly less banged-up this season), I have little doubt that Mr. Hanyu would be the 2015 World Champion. Even skating nowhere near his best, Mr. Hanyu lost the world title by under three points. For next season, then, I hope Mr. Hanyu will be able to remain healthy as well as bring back the beautiful original choreography of his Chopin short program.
Denis Ten placed third overall despite a first-place finish in the long program. Unfortunately, an extremely flawed short program torpedoed his chances of winning his first world title. To be honest, I didn't even expect Mr. Ten to win a medal here at Worlds, given how he performed so well at Four Continents--I'd assumed that he'd used up his usual quota of one good competition this season already there. However, perhaps Mr. Ten has slightly expanded his quota to having 1.5 good competitions per season, as his long program was performed very well: of the top three, Mr. Ten had the cleanest program, with only step-outs on the 4T and 3A.
Mr. Ten should be commended for having two strong programs this year, particularly his Silk Road-themed long program, which was both thematically appropriate for the location of this year's Worlds and used unusual music to boot. I especially appreciate how his long program has some transitions that are difficult but also really works with the music (e.g. the transition into the solo 3A), as well as the way his first spin and second step sequence were very well choreographed to the music as well. The only quibble I would have with the long program would be the final two spins (particularly the sit positions) as well as the fact that Mr. Ten takes up more time setting up for his quads than the two other top men, which makes the first minute of his long program look quite empty in comparison. Nonetheless, my nitpicking aside, it appears that Lori Nichol has found her new muse in Mr. Ten after the departure of Carolina Kostner from the competitive ranks, and I do hope Mr. Ten's collaboration with Ms. Nichol would be a fruitful as the one Ms. Nichol had with Ms. Kostner.
Jason Brown placed fourth overall, albeit with almost twenty points behind Mr. Ten. After all the quad hullabaloo, it's amusing to see the quadless Mr. Brown place fourth. But I have a confession to make regarding Mr. Brown. The first time I watched him skate was at the 2011 U.S. Nationals, and I loved his Turandot and became an instant fan. However . . . in the past couple of years (and particularly this season), I've found my enjoyment of Mr. Brown hobbled by the fact that the choreography of his programs has been so pedestrian. Lots of transitions, yes, but so many of them thrown in for the sake of having transitions and have little to do with interpreting the music or the program concepts. Mr. Brown's spins and footwork, though of high quality, can also be better matched to the music of his programs as well. Mr. Brown has the ability to be one of the most transcendent skaters in the world, but not with programs like the ones he has this season. Of course, this does not detract from the many very fine qualities in Mr. Brown's skating, but why do jingles when you can compose symphonies?
Nam Nguyen placed fifth, thereby solidifying Brian Orser's reputation as the premier coach of male figure skating talent today with three skaters in the top five at Worlds (and, not to mention, preserving Canada's two spots). While Mr. Nguyen put on a fine display of jumping talent (except for the axel--he still has traces of the trademark Joanne McLeod bad axel technique), his skating outside the jumps is quite juniorish with mediocre basics, mugging, discount-Daisuke Takahashi choreography, and so on. Admittedly, the harshness of that criticism is somewhat tempered by the fact that Mr. Nguyen at sixteen years of age is still of junior age. But despite the juniorish qualities of Mr. Nguyen's skating which puts him at a disadvantage when he's competing with the big boys, he has a palpable joy in his skating that is positively infectious even to the critic with an upturned nose and one eyebrow cocked.
Fan favorite Misha Ge skated two strong performances and placed an extremely surprising 6th place, a vast improvement on last year's 27th place. Isn't it extraordinary how Mr. Ge is invited to skate at so many post-competition galas despite finishing nowhere near the podium? Mr. Ge's crowd-pleasing qualities will definitely serve him well during his post-competitive career--even if he never wins a championship medal, he's likely to be in-demand as a show skater.
Anyway, despite Mr. Ge's extremely energetic style, Mr. Ge curiously chose two relatively placid and calm pieces of music of his programs this season: Ave Maria for the short program, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg for the long. I suspect Mr. Ge is portraying Jesus Christ for the short, which at least makes some sense, but I'm rather confused by Mr. Ge's over-the-top interpretation of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. His PAIN and ANGST during the final minute of the program in particular seemed to have been directly borrowed from a dramatic 90s-era Russian ice dance routine, which is a jarring contrast to the mopey, sweet, and wistful music of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Like, I mean . . . it's not a terrible, angsty, apocalyptic event when Geneviève and Guy broke up and married other people. Who wants to get married to their teenage significant other anyways?
Maxim Kovtun, whose place on the popularity spectrum among fans is exactly opposite to that of Misha Ge, finished in 7th place, veritably arising from the dead after a dreadful 16th-place short program in which he popped two jumps. What can one say about Mr. Kovtun that hasn't been said already? Yes, he still adopts a Quasimodo-like posture when he enters into his jumps. His interpretation of music can charitably be described as minimal. And so on. But objectively, I do think that Mr. Kovtun has improved as a skater in terms of presentation. He no longer flails his arms as if to ward off a swarm of killer bees. His choreography this season isn't too bad and he's much less wooden than before. Mr. Kovtun is far from being fully-cooked (or so to speak), but given his current trajectory (and if he ever fixes those terrible jump entries) he may be soup yet.
Adam Rippon preserved the U.S. men's three spots for next year's Worlds with his eighth-place finish. Despite all the talk about his 4Lz, Mr. Rippon was unable to complete a ratified 4Lz at Worlds, receiving a (obvious, and deserved) downgrade in the short program, and popping the lutz into a double in the long program. Though Mr. Rippon is a polished skater who is pleasing to watch, the overall impression of his programs this season is marred by some extremely long jump set-ups, particularly his rather empty short program.