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Apr 1, 2015

2015 Worlds Recap: the Ladies (Part One)

Like most seemingly rational people prior to the ladies event at 2015 Worlds, I predicted that the ladies podium at Worlds this year would have a Russian in the gold  (Elizaveta Tuktamysheva) and silver (Elena Radionova) positions and an American in the bronze position (my choice was Gracie Gold, but others favored Ashley Wagner, which was not an irrational choice). In the deepest, darkest, and most delusional recesses of my heart, however, I hoped for a slightly different podium: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Satoko Miyahara, and Elena Radionova. I nursed hopes of this dream podium in desperate times, but my rational self knew that my rational podium prediction was at least 74.3% times more likely to come to fruition.

[Insert typical caveats and clichés about ice being slippery here, etc.]

However, I was thrilled that my dream podium actually came true!! Given that my dream podium predictions usually have a distinctly delusional flavor to them, they are almost never reflective of reality so I was almost overcome with shock when I realized that my dream podium prediction was actually, well, manifesting in reality (admittedly, the shock could also be somewhat attributed to sleep deprivation). Of course, my dream podium for the ladies this year was not quite as . . . delusional ambitious . . . as past dream podiums, but I'm just thrilled that it came true.

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva was crowned the new ladies World Champion this year with a commanding lead of around 17 points over Satoko Miyahara, the silver medalist. Ms. Tuktamysheva's skating is not exactly my cup of tea, but it's difficult not to root for her. Indeed, Ms. Tuktamysheva's career trajectory would make an excellent, heartwarming NBC fluff piece replete with the solemn interview, dramatic music, and uplifting ending. It's extraordinary how Ms. Tuktamysheva was considered a young prodigy and aspiring Sochi medalist at the beginning of the past Olympic cycle, struggled competitively for a couple seasons, and was completely written off after placing a dreadful 10th place at her own Nationals and missing the very Olympic team she was predicted to make in 2014. I distinctly remember that there were a lot of talk (including by me . . . ) about how Ms. Tuktamysheva should retire at the ripe old age of 17, or should leave Alexei Mishin and find another coach, couldn't jump, was generally hopeless and would be crushed by the oncoming onslaught of young Russian wunderkinder. Yet here we are in 2015, and Ms. Tuktamysheva is not retired, has been landing triples left, right, and center with eerie consistency all season, and is still with Alexei Mishin. Oh, and she's also the 2014 Grand Prix champion, the 2015 European Champion, and finally, the 2015 World Champion.

Actually, as an aside, it's very amusing reading my comments about the Russian ladies from the past. Here was what I wrote on this very blog on November 24, 2012:

Our purported future overlords, the Russian superbabies, have mostly underwhelmed this season. Julia Liptnitskaya still skates like a small robot and her jumps do not look like they are going to survive puberty. Elizaveta Tuktamisheva has also been been struggling with her growing body and her purported artistic Renaissance with David Wilson choreography, etc., has mostly stayed mired in the dark ages of Mishin. Adelina Sotnikova continues to mystify with dreadful programs and performances despite her obvious talent level. There is no salvation in Polina Shelepen, Polina Korobeynikova or Sofia Biryukova. Contrary to the lofty predictions of some, the tantalizing prospect of a ladies OGM at Sochi looks like a distant proposition for the Russians from the way things are looking right now.

OK, I was right about Polina Shelepen, Polina Korobeynikova, and Sofia Biryukova. But Julia Lipnitskaya is the 2014 Olympic team gold medalist and 2014 world silver medalist, Adelina Sotnikova is the 2014 Olympic champion, and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva is the 2015 World Champion. Please excuse me while I remove the egg from my face.

Anyway, Ms. Tuktamysheva's short program was undoubtedly the highlight of the entire ladies competition. Although Ms. Tuktamysheva has successfully landed the 3A at several B-events prior to Worlds and was landing them in the practices at Worlds and even during the warm-up before the short program, I was 100% Ms. Tuktamysheva was just pulling a Shizuka Arakawa and was practicing the 3A to intimidate the competition. And of course, I was proved wrong less than a minute into the short program when Ms. Tuktamysheva landed a superb 3A, undoubtedly fully rotated and with great spring. After picking up my jaw off the ground, I watched as Ms. Tuktamysheva proceeded to casually land a 3Lz and a second-half 3T-3T as if she landed four-triple short programs at World Championships everyday.

What can I say? Perhaps I could point out the weaknesses in the program's choreography. Or I could raise my eyebrows at some of those mediocre spin positions. Maybe I could also cough delicately at the relative lack of ice coverage? BUT WHO CARES? Because, frankly, it was so incredibly exciting to watch a ladies four-triple short program done with such attack, confidence, and sheer chutzpah. Ms. Tuktamysheva is clearly comfortable with the style and music, and the program truly feels authentic to her. The strength of Ms. Tuktamysheva's technique also helps here--it makes the whole thing look so easy and natural. Yeah, it's not the most nuanced nor the most original nor the most doubleplustransitionful program in the world. But by god, the sheer confidence and conviction in Ms. Tuktamysheva's performance (and those four triples!) lunges at you from start to finish with a vise-like grip on your eyeballs. It is legitimate to prefer the much more nuanced, polished and PCS-compliant short program of Mao Asada at 2014 Worlds, which is the current benchmark for ladies short programs. But the sport of figure skating is nonetheless irrevocably enriched by the existence of Ms. Tuktamysheva's short program at Worlds this year.

Ms. Tuktamysheva's long program was far more anti-climatic, but not like it mattered--the world title was in the bag the moment her short program ended. Considering the fact that Ms. Tuktamysheva has been competing at 113019735103918131930139184 competitions this season and still has one more to go (WTT), let's just call it a day and attribute her (relatively) lackluster long program performance to fatigue. Speaking of Ms. Tuktamysheva's 19319318661371891419438191 competitions this season, I wish people would be more restrained instead of insisting that other less successful competitors should follow Ms. Tuktamysheva's lead and also compete in 134139431714194184141 competitions next season. It reminds me of the JSF sending almost all their skaters to Nikolai Morozov after he coached Shizuka Arakawa to Olympic gold, or all those calls to send every promising male skater to Brian Orser right now. Just because it works for one skater doesn't mean it'll automatically work for every skater  . . .

Satoko Miyahara placed second overall, albeit with a third-place short program and a fourth-place long program. Luckily we exist in IJS days now, because all that ordinal shuffling at Worlds this year could've been a nightmare during 6.0. Ms. Miyahara's second-place finish kept the 10-year streak of Japanese ladies alive, which is quite impressive given that the consensus seemed to regard Ms. Miyahara as a mere dark horse candidate for the bronze medal prior to Worlds.

Anyway, it seems that any discussion regarding Ms. Miyahara must involve a discussion of her jumps, which have been slapped with epithets as flattering as  "minuscule," "microscopic," and "approx. 2 inches off the ice in height, yuck." It is of course undeniable that Ms. Miyahara's jumps are the smallest among the top ladies, don't have the greatest technique (esp. her picking technique, which seems off to me somehow), and rely on rotating at ultra-high speeds . . . all of which puts her TES at the mercies of any technical panel. But, in my humble opinion, it does appear that Ms. Miyahara has been working hard on her jumps all season and they for the most part look considerably more rotated at Worlds than they did at the beginning of the season. I can also see why people grouse about Ms. Miyahara's jump GOE, but considering the fact that Ms. Miyahara's skating in between the jumps fulfills so many more of the PCS bulletpoints than say, the skating exhibited by her two competitors on the podium but the marks don't exactly reflect this, I'm willing to let any concerns about her TES slide. It all balances out in the end . . .

Speaking of PCS, allow me to take this opportunity to rave (yet again) about Ms. Miyahara's Miss Saigon program, the best ladies long program in the field this year. Such stunning choreography (the placement of that spiral!), such beautiful skating skills, such mature, nuanced interpretation. I could watch Ms. Miyahara skate Ms. Saigon over and over again. Criticize her jumps all you want, but I hate it when people criticize Ms. Miyahara's skating as juniorish. Yeah, she physically looks juniorish because she's so small, but she certainly doesn't skate like a junior.

In third place was Elena Radionova, a somewhat surprising finish given that her remarkable consistency at landing high base value programs had many pegging her as a sure bet for at least silver. Ms. Radionova had by far her worst competition--performance-wise--at Worlds this season. Frankly, I can't even remember the last time she ever made so many mistakes. However, it transpired that Ms. Radionova had taken ill shortly before the competition and skated with a fever. As someone who was recently sick with a high fever, I can't help but be extremely impressed that Ms. Radionova was out there skating her heart out and selling every last note of her programs with a fever. I myself had trouble getting out of bed to make a cup of tea while I was sick, so I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like landing triple jumps with a fever. Mad propz, girl.

Anyway, Ms. Radionova skated quite well for someone who was ill, though her skating was noticeably more labored than it was in more salubrious circumstances. As with Yuzuru Hanyu, I'm impressed by how Ms. Radionova always skates with such energy and spirit--she never phones anything in, never gives up, and every jump, every piece of hokey choreography is always done with 200% effort even when she's running a fever. There's so much fight in her, and love her or hate her, that sort of tenacity is something truly to be admired. The way she nailed that 3Lz-3T in the long program on her second 3Lz jumping pass after missing the planned first one sums it all up for me.

Indeed, admiration for sheer tenacity might perhaps explain why I am such a fan of Ms. Radionova's skating, given that she embodies so many qualities I dislike: terrible posture, lack of body awareness, horrendous music cuts, cheesy choreography, garish costumes, sloppiness, dodgy technique, choppy skating, flailing limbs, rounded shoulders, stiff knees. And the list continues . . . but I am a fan, I love watching Ms. Radionova skate, and her performances never fail to make me smile. Full disclosure: I've loved watching Ms. Radionova skate ever since watching her in some random domestic Russian competition when she was only 10 or 11 years old. But if I want to aspire to at least some modicum of objectivity, it's difficult to justify Ms. Radionova's PCS. For example, let's compare Ms. Radionova to Ms. Miyahara in the long program. As I've stated earlier, I love them both, but it's mind-boggling that Ms. Radionova outscored Ms. Miyahara on PCS at Worlds, particularly given that they were skating back-to-back! On what planet does Ms. Radionova deserve to outscore Ms. Miyahara in Skating Skills? I mean, just compare their edges. And don't even get me started on choreography . . . I get that Ms. Radionova is probably 84.32% more effervescent and charismatic to watch in person and it's hard to resist that, but if the officially-listed PCS criteria are to mean anything, it would be nice to see them reflected more in the marks.

Also--is anyone as worried as I am about the future of Ms. Radionova's jumps? She's clearly been sprouting like a weed (I just realized that Ms. Radionova was the tallest lady on the podium, which is kind of hilarious), her jump technique is not great, and so many of her jumps have been relatively labored and precariously clung on through sheer force of will for much of the season . . .

Given that this recap is way too long already, comments on the rest of the ladies will be written in a second post, coming soon to an authorized retailer near you.


  1. Dear Morozombie,

    I have been a long-time admirer of your blog, which I find to be very well-reasoned, fair, insightful, articulate, and extremely entertaining! (Sadly, one of my favorite posts of yours—your ode to Mao Asada’s “Ballade No. 1” seems to have disappeared, though.)

    Like you, I appreciated Ms. Miyahara’s graceful carriage and smooth skating, and I really enjoy her subtle but heartfelt delivery of her Miss Saigon program. Her jumps do leave something to be desired, but fortunately (unfortunately?) for her, I don’t think she’s going to grow anymore, so I don’t think she will lose her jumps.

    However, my heart belongs to Elena Radionova!! Bravo to you for knowing that she was ill—unlike all of the professional commentators and fans who were blaming her poor performance on a lack of mental toughness/debut-Worlds jitters or puberty.

    Like you, I am somewhat ambivalent about my love for Ms. Radionova. I completely agree with your assessments of her shortcomings; indeed, there are so many things I hope she works on over the coming seasons, but thanks to her irrepressible spirit and the infectious joy she brings to the ice, I can’t help but adore her.

    You are certainly not the only one who is worried about her jumps! In fact, I’m sure there are plenty of skating fans out there who 1) are predicting doom-and-gloom for the coming season and 2) gleefully awaiting said doom-and-gloom.

    But, being a huge Radionova fan, I am hoping that her jumps survive puberty, or if she struggles for a season or two, that she can at least make it back to top-contender position by the next Olympics. Certainly, her technique is somewhat unconventional, her jump landings have been messy, and she does not get much height or flow coming out of the jumps. However, I’m not sure there is something fundamentally wrong with her technique. (Though I’m admittedly not an expert.) Watching her jump does not make me frightened like, for example, Lipnitskaya made me feel last season. To my eye, Radionova doesn’t excessively wind-up her upper body before jumping or employ a mule kick, and she has a nice, tight, upright position in the air. My major concern would be about her high shoulders in her jumps, but I cannot tell if that is the result of her muscling the jumps or just how she skates (with perpetually hunched shoulders).

    She may never be one of the world’s premier jumpers, but there are two reasons I am hopeful that she will survive puberty okay (besides her tenacity). First, she has grown about 5 inches over the past year, and the fact that she has been able to be amazingly consistent over the season despite the growth spurt gives me some hope that her technique is solid enough to survive. (Radionova herself has claimed that her growth spurt hasn’t affected her jumps.) I am thinking that perhaps some of the messiness in her jumps this season was due to her constantly readjusting to her new height. However, the real tricky part will come when Radionova stops growing taller and starts filling out (this appears to be the situation Lipnitskaya is facing now).

    Second—this is a bit out-there, but—given that other, more famous Russian coaches have been trying to lure Radionova away from Inna Goncharenko (which Goncharenko has confirmed in interviews), it seems that the Russian experts, at least, expect Radionova to remain competitive and thus see her as worthy of poching.

    But who knows, really? I could be wrong! Only time will tell, I guess!

    As always, I look forward to your next post.


  2. I think both Satoko and Elena might have troubles with jumps in the future as both have some flawed technique. With Satoko it's too much pre-rotation. With Elena it's muscling her jumps.