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Jan 22, 2018

2018 European Figure Skating Championships: Ladies Recap



The ladies event at the 2018 European Figure Skating Championships in Moscow, Russia set the stage for one of the most hotly-anticipated tête-à-têtes in figure skating this season: Evgenia Armanovna Medvedeva vs. Alina Ilnazovna Zagitova.  On stage left was reigning World and European Champion Evgenia Medvedeva: undefeated since November 2015, but convalescing from a foot injury that necessitated her absence from the competitive ranks for months.  On stage right was upstart Alina Zagitova: reigning World Junior, Grand Prix Final and Russian National Champion, undefeated in the senior ranks since her senior debut this season at the Lombardia Trophy.  Dare I slip in a metaphor here about an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object? Throw in the fact that Ms. Medvedeva and Ms. Zagitova both train under the sharp, disapproving eye of Eteri Tutberidze, and here we have 2018's version of Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski circa 1998, if Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski both trained under Frank Carroll and were even more dominant than they were in 1997-98 (really--do you see Ms. Zagitova losing anything to a Laetitia Hubert-like skater anytime soon?). Or would the more relevant comparison be to Alexei Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko in 2002 (history of sharing a coach; unparalleled rivalry at the top of the field; Russian)? Take your pick . . . though I suppose the results of the Pyeongchang Olympics will determine which comparison is more apt.

As you may have noticed, the gods have spoken this weekend and have anointed Alina Zagitova as the new European Champion, unceremoniously breaking Ms. Medvedeva's winning streak after two and a half years. Ms. Zagitova has definitely benefited from Ms. Medvedeva's unfortunate injury this season, but what Ms. Zagitova has benefited even more from is the irrationally huge, ludicrous inflation in the Program Components Scores and the Grades of Execution scoring that has been underfoot in the competitive ranks for the past couple of seasons. With judges throwing out 9-range scores like candy and clumping together skaters of disparate abilities who are somewhat arbitrarily perceived to be at the "top," every figure skating competition essentially becomes a contest of who manages to have the highest base value for their jumps.  Obviously, in this unfortunate milieu, Ms. Zagitova--who has the highest 3A-less base value of the ladies by backloading all of her jumps and repeating the 3Lz and the 3F--should be and is dominating.

While Ms. Zagitova should be rewarded for her technically ambitious programs,* her shortcomings as a skater are not accurately reflected in the scores, particularly her Program Components Scores.  While Ms. Zagitova's programs are admittedly packed with transitions in the classic Tutberidze style and her choreography does reflect the music to a large extent, that doesn't justify the solid 9-range scores Ms. Zagitova is rewarded in all five categories of the Program Components Scores.  Take Skating Skills, for instance--do Ms. Zagitova's short, choppy crossovers, limited flow and relative lack of speed and ice coverage really merit Skating Skills marks solidly in the 9-range? And while I--unlike others--don't find Ms. Zagitova's controversially backloaded choreography objectionable, it's hard to ignore the fact that Ms. Zagitova does rush through her choreography and messes up on her timing sometimes, like during her LP at Europeans--shouldn't this be reflected in the Interpretation score? Averaging 9.43/10 at Europeans suggests otherwise. I'm aware that this post may seem like I'm a Zagitova h8rrr, but I'm not--I actually do enjoy watching her skating (and have even defended her Don Quixote in the past!).  It's just that I also like to see scoring that is somewhat reflective of reality; sadly Ms. Zagitova's Program Components Scores are not.  However, as noted before, Ms. Zagitova's scores are symptomatic of a larger program in figure skating scoring right now--with PCS capped by design and the judges inclined towards bunching the "top" skaters near the top of the PCS maximums with insufficient differentiation between not only the different Components themselves, but also between the different skaters--the key to winning in virtually every single discipline now is maxing out the technical scores, which are not capped.**

Of course, Ms. Zagitova skated extremely well at Europeans this weekend, and has firmly established herself as a co-favorite for the Olympic gold medal at Pyeongchang.  Indeed, Ms. Zagitova's weakness has been her short program all season, but her personal best short program performance this weekend has shown that she can produce a clean short under pressure. And that is the key to Ms. Zagitova winning the Olympics in Pyeongchang: skating a clean short. With only three jumping passes, the other ladies stand a chance of giving themselves a bit of cushion in the SP heading into the LP, where Ms. Zagitova has dominated all season. If Ms. Zagitova skates a clean SP at Pyeongchang, that forecloses a whole range of possibilities.

After virtually two seasons of ladies competition when the only pressing question regarding the gold medal was how many points would Evgenia Medvedeva win by (instead of, say, who would win), it is strange to see Ms. Medvedeva not on the topmost step of a podium.  Although Ms. Medvedeva claims to have fully recovered from her previous foot injury, it's clear that the the aftereffects of the injury still remain: Ms. Medvedeva's jumps generally lacked speed and flow off their exit edges, looked even more muscled than usual (rotations, for example, looked more questionable than ever--see, e.g., the 3S-3T in the LP), her edges looked a bit flat at times and her overall flow and speed was not her best.  Of course, Ms. Medvedeva's step-out on her 2A in the SP was quite costly as well in retrospect.

On the PCS front, it's legitimate to question the astronomical PCS (77.14!!) given to Ms. Medvedeva's Anna Karenina LP at Europeans, but then again, it's also legitimate to posit that the PCS gap between Ms. Medvedeva and Ms. Zagitova should surely be wider than a mere 2 points. Again, this is a problem with the judges' trend of arbitrarily bunching together the top skaters within an artificially narrow range near the top of the PCS maximums.

It'll be interesting to see how Ms. Medvedeva copes with the golden aura of invincibility being torpedoed so close to the most significant competition of her life.  Unfortunately for the anti-Medvedeva partisans out there, it's clear that Ms. Medvedeva will not go down without a fight--her LP at Europeans was, as Terry Gannon would say, was "all about heart and guts." One would imagine that Ms. Medvedeva's skating will improve with a few more weeks of proper training and conditioning, which is why I would disagree with those who are presumptively crowning Ms. Zagitova the new ladies Olympic champion at Pyeongchang.  Ms. Zagitova has been vulnerable in the SP this season, and if Ms. Medvedeva skates her usual clean SP at Pyeongchang, she may be able to build up enough of a cushion to offset Ms. Zagitova's base value advantage in the LP.  Moreover, it's also possible that Ms. Medvedeva may also try to close the base value gap by backloading more of a her jumps in the LP--notably, Ms. Medvedeva's discarded The Leftovers LP from the Ondrej Nepela Trophy earlier this season was more backloaded than her current layout--or she may repeat a jump other than the 3T in the LP.

What's also interesting is to observe--or perhaps more accurately, speculate on--how Ms. Zagitova's victory over Ms. Medvedeva has (or has not) influenced the group dynamic at Team Tutberidze.  Indeed, this weekend has produced much frothy speculation over pressing topics such as the body language and facial expressions of Eteri Tutberidze, or the post-skate reactions of Daniil Gleichengauz. Indeed, it's difficult not to be entertained by the elaborate theories, often accompanied by liberal amounts of inference and embellishment, on how Team Tutberidze is dealing with the possible upending of the pecking order at Sambo 70 this weekend. May Xenu send a NBC crew to Sambo 70 before the Olympics so they can create an epic fluff piece about the Medvedeva-Zagitova rivalry!

Mesozoic Era relic Carolina Kostner skated a lovely short program in Moscow this weekend, setting an impressive new personal best score of 78.30 at the geriatric age of 30 while competing against larvae literally half her age (e.g., 15-year-old Ms. Zagitova). Ms. Kostner's long program, however, was somewhat of a throwback to the Ms. Kostner of the early aughts: disastrous. Nevertheless, despite eking out merely three clean triples in the LP, Ms. Kostner managed to hang onto a bronze medal to win her eleventh straight European medal.  Ms. Kostner, however, admittedly benefited from some rather lenient calling courtesy of the ever-capricious technical panel--for example, the technical panel managed to overlook the rather egregious under-rotation on Ms. Kostner's 3Lz in the LP, which was obviously short of rotation in real time.  Though there have been some polite guffaws of disbelief at Ms. Kostner's PCS in light of her rather muted and mistaken-ridden performance, Ms. Kostner has cleverly sidestepped any criticism of her scoring by stepping out in a new bedazzled chartreuse unitard for her Prélude à l'Après-Midi d'un Faune LP, a daring sartorial choice that has dominated all discussion of Ms. Kostner this weekend. Brava, Carolina!

Maria Sotskova, skating's very own younger and blonder Ivanka Trump (if POTUS sees you--run, Masha, run), placed fourth overall despite a third place LP (albeit a score that trailed her compatriots by over 20 points).  Unfortunately for Ms. Sotskova, her errors on the 3Lz over both programs cost her what could have been her first Europeans medal.  Given Ms. Sotskova's prowess at the toe jumps, it's strange to see her struggle so much with the 3Lz this weekend--hopefully it's just nerves as opposed to an injury.  Also unfortunately for Ms. Sotskova, the judges clearly see her as a second-tier competitor compared to her compatriots (as indicated by her PCS).  How can Ms. Sotskova improve her PCS? The cynical among us would suggest that all Ms. Sotskova would need to do is backload more jumps and land her triples more consistently, but what would probably also help would be for Ms. Sotskova to rethink her packaging. While Elena Buianova's team at CSKA has improved Ms. Sotskova's skating skills, their packaging tends to be rather old-fashioned and for someone like Ms. Sotskova who isn't the most charismatic skater, Ms. Sotskova's politely bland programs and choreography don't exactly inspire the judges to lunge for the 9-range in PCS.





*That said, the rotation of Ms. Zagitova's jumps can somewhat be questionable, as are the GOEs on some of her elements. . .

**For example, just look at skating of Shoma Uno this season, which has sadly regressed in virtually every single category of PCS so that he can increase his base value with more quads and more backloading. Of course, this has not been reflected in Mr. Uno's scores this season, and likely will never be as long as he keeps landing his jumps.

17 comments:

  1. More than the scoring, I am more mortified by the green unitard that Carolina chose.

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  2. Shoma's scores are most inflated among any skaters in the past seasons.
    Shoma's poor skating skills,too much crossovers and the empty Choreo. Ugliest jamps with Pre-rotation, double footed... how he could he get that high scores. Did he buy the judges with the bribe, like the gift he distributed to the related parties. he even signed his name on the card.

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    1. I don't like Uno's bland SP choreography either but he definitely does not possess poor skating skills. Japan is lucky to have two such talented male skaters at the same time.

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  3. Also...Shoma's family spent a lot of money to buy the media, TV, Newspapers and magazine to claim his son to be the No. 1 skater over Yuzuru Hanyu, and distributing the false article to impress people that Shoma is greatest. Shoma's family is most evil spirited.

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  4. The name of the Japanese newspaper that Shoma's family bribed was Asahi paper. They have been envious of Yuzuru Hanyu, so their doing numerous ill things to Yuzuru. If Shoma's family keeps going like that in the upcoming Olympic, they can caught as a criminal. Should stop their conspiracy.

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  5. I love it, the racist conspiracy theorist Hanyu fans are reaching beyond the borders of Japan...

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    Replies
    1. But why "racist"? Uno and Hanyu are both Japanese, surely?

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    2. Mostly because Japanese fandom will use accusations and innuendos about someone secretly being Koran at every opportunity. The Asahi newspaper is famous (among Japanese nationalists) as being pro-Korea and anti-Japan, so that's what the comment is insinuating.

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    3. Thank you for the reply. I had no idea such undertones existed among the (more extreme) fringes of the Japanese fandom.

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    4. I've only heard that before when some people want to dislike Hanyu they comment that he is half Korean because people in Miyagi have highest percentage of Korean immigration etc. But my Japanese friend laughed it of because: "They're being ridiculous, we (Japanese people) are all Korean or even Chinese if we date back from 1000 years ago."
      it's just silly.

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    5. Yuzuru is never the Krean. Every conspiracy is made up by Uno’s Parents.

      Korean is Uno’s

      His mother is Korean. His grandfather is Yakuza.

      Uno’s Family is known to buy the Japanese media to sell their son with the false made up story. In Japan, Uno has no popularity , therefore Uno’s Family has to bribe the related media.

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  6. Remember how everyone was shocked at the high scoring of the Russian girls at the Euro Championships preceding Sochi, and how everybody tried to convince themselves that it wouldn't spill over onto the Olympics, that the scores of Lipnitskaia and Sotnikova were outlandish and fluff event only? And then what happened.

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  7. if anyone understand Italian, you can hear what they are talking about Shoma Uno's poor skating.

    https://www.spreaker.com/user/talk-sport/puntata-1

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  8. I'm not as big of a fan of the ladies' discipline as the current men's one, so I don't have much to contribute towards this Med vs Zag conversation but I'm pretty confident that if Med returns to full form, with tweaks in her program that will give her more buffer against Zag, she'd still be as unbeatable as she's always been. Glad Zag's around to shake things up, though. And with this defeat, if she's a true champion, it'll help her grow even more as a competitor and become even stronger than before when she was the only one on top. Also, maybe this will help lessen all the hate against Med, especially when she finally starts winning again.

    And admittedly a supporter of Hanyu who doesn't have anything against any of his rivals (and even thankful to them for giving Hanyu the kind of motivation that seems to be a vital ingredient for him to achieve his more impressive feats--though I do wish they were marked less improperly so as to enable them to rise to their fuller potential as skaters, these kids can put out better stuff on the ice if only they were given proper encouragement to), it's always entertaining for me to see arguments like this. Doubly so when I see them in posts that has more or less absolutely nothing to do with the skaters in question, like this one. The quality varies though, and this one unfortunately, isn't any better than the drivel they show on TV these days. Some fan who may or may not be an avid Hanyu supporter says something, usually out-of-this-world theories and accusations--that gives off the impression that there are more...overly passionate Hanyu fans...and another seemingly non-fan who would jump on that idea and magnify it by over-generalizing fans, just as...passionately. This is recycled stuff, man. It's almost formulaic, even, at this point. C'mon guys, you can do better than this.

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  9. I only ask Judges to be non bribed and fair. Chen and Shoma who have poor skating skille were most over scored. Look the video.

    “Re-upload of top men 1-foot skating. Chan/Hanyu well-ahead of the field but scores are not reflecting it? Hanyu/Chan crossovers=26, Fernandez=28, Jin=30, Chen=39, Uno=49! “

    https://mobile.twitter.com/girolle01/status/950267599870337024

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    1. Their skating skills aren't poor, you know. It's saying things like this that makes whatever real point you're trying to make a lot less valid. Just because judges and certain media are indicating that these skaters are doing things that are clearly not to make the field more competitive, doesn't mean the things they are doing are also a figment of everybody's imagination. Unfairness doesn't have to be a two-way street.

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  10. Here is another critical issues on Shoma's Inflated Scores pointed by Euro Commentators by Kiss&Cry, other than his CHEATED Jumps. Some strategical group behind Shoma's back who is supporting this false scores.

    ** Excerpted from "PodCast Kiss&Cry-Episode 9 GPF by Euro Commentators "

    M): Another question on Shoma Uno:

    “I appreciated what you said about Shoma’s complete control over upper body movement.
    And that maybe that helps distract judges a bit on what he does on his feet.
     
    Do you think that is the strategy that went into choreography of Vivaldi where most of the time his arms and hands movements are mainly above elbows and shoulders?”

    Totally. It is exactly the concept we repeated more than once.

    (A): It is a conscious strategy for sure. It’s a smart program.

    Uno is an enjoyable skater, he has some limits – that maybe we don’t see
    reflected in his scores and we’d like to see those remarked more there –
    but it’s not a critique on every aspects of his skating nor of his programs

    (M): When one see those very high scores for him and one can’t understand the reason,
    I think that’s the point where to start (to understand what happened).

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