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Dec 5, 2017

Best Moments of the 2017 Grand Prix Season (So Far)

Another year, another Grand Prix of Figure Skating season. Gone are the days in which the top skaters skipped the Grand Prix season with impunity and skaters like Michelle Kwan had to be enticed to just show up with cold, hard cash.  No--these days, even skaters of the topmost echelon are gritting their teeth through injuries, illnesses, and other assorted maladies so that they can tough it out through to qualifying for the Grand Prix Final (or worse, injure themselves trying to do). Correspondingly, national figure skating federations look to the results of the Grand Prix series to help select their Olympic and/or World teams, fans of the sport engage in vociferous debates over the scoring and/or tech panel calling after every single Grand Prix event, and the Japanese Skating Federation glitzes out their perennially sold-out NHK Trophy as if it were a contemporary Super Bowl halftime show with an unlimited budget. Observers of the Grand Prix of Figure Skating live in exciting times indeed.

With the Grand Prix Final coming up soon, let's dispel the dark cloud of injuries and absences hanging over the Grand Prix Final this year and focus on the highlights of the Grand Prix season so far:

Mikhail Kolyada's SP 4Lz at the Cup of China
One of those feats of gravity-defying athleticism that leads one to ruefully bemoan one's own stolid clay form, Mikhail Kolyada's 4Lz during his breakthrough 2017 Cup of China short program is a credible candidate for the best 4Lz ever (so far). INCREDIBLE height (Mr. Kolyada actually finishes rotating in the air with time to spare!), great distance, smooth as silk landing, effortless throughout--what more can one ask for? Ok, admittedly Mr. Kolyada's 4Lz, as the solo jump in the SP, requires preceding steps to avoid a GOE deduction . . . but the jump in and of itself was amazing.

Wakaba Higuchi's Skyfall LP at the Cup of China 
As the best ladies' long program this season, Wakaba Higuchi's Skyfall LP signifies the artistic blossoming of this talented young skater from Japan.  Confessional time: prior to watching Ms. Higuchi perform Skyfall this season, I was decidedly of the opinion that Ms. Higuchi was a technician with the charisma and musicality of a block of wood.  As usual, however, I was wrong: Ms. Higuchi has clearly worked hard on her performance quality over the summer and her powerfully passionate Skyfall LP is the wonderful fruit of such labors.  I've been fascinated by this program ever since I saw a brief clip of Ms. Higuchi working on Skyfall's choreography with Shae-Lynn Bourne over the summer, and each viewing of Skyfall results in a newfound favorite moment of the program. What's yours? Mine is currently vacillating between (a) the step sequence, where Ms. Higuchi shoots a gun at the judges (very apropos), (b) the creative choreographic sequence leading to the final spin, and (c) the back counter into the 2A-2T-2Lo sequence right as the drums start beating.

Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron's Moonlight Sonata FD at the Internationaux de France
Just effortlessly beautiful throughout . . . this is a program worthy of the Olympic title.

Kristina Astakhova/Alexei Rogonov's La La Land LP at the Rostelecom Cup
Another confession: I thought La La Land (the film) was an utter bore, a watered-down Les Parapluies de Cherbourg of little interest.  However, Astakhova/Rogonov's La La Land LP unequivocally exudes a fresh and youthful charm that never fails to make me smile whenever I watch the program. Lovely choreography and presentation--Astakhova/Rogonov's performance at the Rostelecom Cup should've won at least the silver! #wuzrobbed

Polina Tsurskaya's SP jumps at the NHK Trophy
To continue the confessional tone of this post, when I first saw Polina Tsurskaya's Light of the Seven SP last season during the Junior Grand Prix season, I was convinced that she was portraying Cersei Lannister measuring out the barrels of wildfire throughout the program and then finally igniting the wildfire at the end to blow up the Great Sept of Baelor. To my amusement, I found out this season that Ms. Tsurskaya's Light of the Seven SP was in fact not meant to be a portrayal of Game of Thrones at all, but was supposed to have some (rather Averbukhian) storyline involving an artist realizing the futility of her life's work, or something . . . anyway, yes, this SP contains approximately eleventy-billion seconds of standing around measuring barrels of wildfire painting posing plus an overdose of O-face as a vehicle for musical expression, but let's be real: when we watch Ms. Tsurskaya right now, we're not here for the choreography or nuanced music interpretation--we're there to watch those jumps. And what beautiful, huge, effortless jumps they are . . .

Wenjing Sui/Cong Han's star lifts at the NHK Trophy
Sui/Han have such wonderful and creative star lifts in both of their programs, particularly their trademark star lift in the LP with the spread eagle entry (difficult!) and Ms. Sui in the handstand position while Mr. Han is on one foot (VERY difficult!), all done as the strains of Puccini's Nessun Dorma swell up around them in triumph. If there was a team that deserved to have their lifts set to the climatic parts of Nessun Dorma, Sui/Han are it. If only Sui/Han's programs this season were as wonderful as their lifts though, sigh . . .

Adam Rippon, Arrival of the Birds/O (Fly On) LP at the NHK Trophy
A beautiful performance, with some very clever, thematically-appropriate transitions into the jumps.

Alina Zagitova, Don Quixote LP at the Internationaux de France
I'm fixated on this particular sequence of jumps in Alina Zagitova's Don Quixote: 3Lz with both arms over her head, right into a split jump into 3S with both arms over her head, arm out on the landing, 3F, with the same arms, all done right to the beat of the music throughout. Ms. Zagitova makes it look so easy, but it really isn't.

Gabrielle Daleman's SP 3T-3T at Skate America
The other jumps may come and go, the choreography and interpretation may waver, but Gabrielle Daleman's 3T-3T is solid as a rock and has just phenomenal height and distance.

Rika Hongo's Frida LP at the NHK Trophy
Another Japanese lady who has clearly worked hard on her performance skills over the summer with Shae-Lynn Bourne, Rika Hongo's Frida LP is her best program since Riverdance.  I'm fascinated by the last minute or so of Ms. Hongo's LP--the elements are linked together so cleverly and creatively, with Ms. Hongo's choreographic sequence (featuring a split jump, twizzles, catchfoot spiral, and more!) just seamlessly flowing into the creative fan spiral entrance into the 2A-2T, which in turn leads into the lunge entry into the final combination spin, with all this done right to the music.  And of course, Ms. Hongo's passion and attack really shines through during Frida, which helps the whole thing soar--it's great to see Ms. Hongo back after seemingly losing her way last season.


Emmy Ma, One More Try SP at the the Junior Grand Prix of Riga
Sensational interpretation by a junior skater!! The sheer, palpable emotion of Emmy Ma's performance makes me want to sing along to One More Try whenever I watch her skate this SP . . .

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