Where do we even begin? Plastic trophies? Pyrotechnics? A venue falling apart? Let’s start with…
The Good Stuff
Rika Kihira Nailed ItEmbed from Getty Images
Remember how Rika Kihira didn’t even have Grand Prix assignments back in June? Now she’s going to the Grand Prix Final with a real chance to win the whole damn thing. Kihira is showing uncommon mettle and maturity for a 16 year old in her Senior season debut. Her presence at the Final will likely give Alina Zagitova a serious case of déjà vu. Zagitova pulled off the same feat last year, and may find herself defeated by a teenage phenom in turn. Kihira is laying the groundwork for a stunning season to come.
Nathan Chen Didn’t Blow ItEmbed from Getty Images
Everyone’s Favourite Boy Wonder and Freshman Yalie Nathan Chen found himself in an unusual position Friday night: third place after the short program. A botched quad flip and several level downgrades in the short program put Chen in the underdog role for the free skate, but his quiver full of quads saved the day.
Chen has yet to skate to his potential this season. He won both of his events, but not without errors. The mistakes, stiff knees, and downgraded spins point to a skater operating at about 80% capacity. He’s making the best of an irregular training environment and his programs are a perfect match for his growing artistic sensibility, but he’s not demonstrating that little bit extra that could make him unbeatable. We’re a long way from Polovtsian Dances, but it’s no Otoñal, either. I can’t wait to see how he stacks up against the other finalists in Vancouver.
Papadakis and Cizeron Brought ItEmbed from Getty Images
Papadakis and Cizeron skated two gorgeous programs and it’s a shame we won’t see more of them at the Grand Prix Final. They skate with maddening ease, and they’re finding new ways to blend technical difficulty with effortless expression. My only complaint: can someone please find a way to properly performance test their costumes? You would think after the Olympic Costume Fiasco™ nearly every bit of fabric would be glued down, but 30 seconds into their free dance there was a costume malfunction. That very small nit (ahem) aside, these were the two best ice dances of the season.
Jason Brown Got It DoneEmbed from Getty Images
I commented after Skate Canada that I believe in the Jason Brown 2018 Rebuilding Project. That project saw it’s first success with Brown’s second place finish in Grenoble. Several commentators have used Brown as an example of the kind of skater who could thrive under the new +5/-5 GOE spread. Internationaux de France was an intriguing test of that theory. Brown led after the short program without a landing a quad, and he accumulated enough points to keep Alexander Samarin at bay in the free skate–again, without a quad. The lack of consistent quad jumps will prevent Brown from contending for gold medals in a full field, but his performance this weekend keeps him in the conversation about how the men’s event will develop under the new rule changes.
Bonus points: Brown finishing ahead of Samarin secured a spot at the Grand Prix Final for our favourite floppy-haired South Korean, Junhwan Cha! We’ll enjoy more #JUNLIET! in a couple of weeks!
The Nasty Bits
While some skaters celebrated qualifying for the Grand Prix Final this weekend, others were cursing on the opposite side of the boards. But for a placement or two higher Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, Mai Mihara, Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, and Evgenia Medvedeva would have booked a ticket to the Grand Prix Final. Instead, they’ll either be training or sadly eating popcorn in front of a laptop watching the livestream and thinking about what could have been.Embed from Getty Images
Medvedeva Finishes Fourth
The scene in the Kiss & Cry was grim following Medvedeva’s error-riddled free skate. This is the first time Medvedeva has finished off the podium in her senior career. I have no doubt this is a bitter disappointment and that she’s weathering a hailstorm of doubt and criticism. Much like Jason Brown, she’s adapting to a new training environment, new jump technique, and a new country. Given all that change it’s ridiculous to assume she would simply keep grinding out triple triples like sprockets. I also have no doubt that she is in excellent and capable hands: Brian Orser & Co. work their damnedest to bring out the best in their skaters, and rebuilding Medvedeva’s technique is going to take time. If she’s willing to stick with it, I think Medvedeva’s fourth place finish will be a blip in the long arc of her amateur career.
Event Planning? What Event Planning?
Internationaux de France has a reputation, shall we say, for being the hot mess of the Grand Prix series. Chronically under-attended and bereft of a title sponsor, I am wholeheartedly in favour of turning this event over to Finland forever and extinguishing the trash fire. Hell, we could just give Japan a second Grand Prix and the ISU could make even more sacks of cash off the sale of Hanyu-themed merchandise and package tours. And yet, the FFSG holds onto this event. Unlike whatever adhesive was used on this rinkside advertisement:
Perhaps the glue designated for that poster board was put to a different use by the committee members tasked with designing medals for the event. That’s the only explanation for issuing engraved, colour-coded plastic hexagons in lieu of actual medals. Even better: last year it was stars!
2017 vs 2018— Jackie Wong (@rockerskating) November 24, 2018
Programs have changed
Costumes have changed
Plastic stars became plastic irregular hexagons pic.twitter.com/fOjjsmnJGP
The only sensible explanation for the awarding of plastic hexagons the size of dinner plates is that the event organizers obliterated their entire budget on firework cannons for the victory ceremonies. Oh, and those enormous LED screens in the K&C that featured an unidentifiable pair of skaters floating up and down on a migraine-inducing background couldn’t have been cheap, either:
Remember when Lalique was the naming sponsor for this event and the winners in each discipline were given a beautiful crystal statue? Those were good times. Sigh.
In lieu of real hardware, please enjoy Gabriella Papadakis’s reaction to receiving a piece of French plastic for the second year running. It really is the only way to react to a Formal Hexagon.
So long and thanks for all the fish, Internationaux de France!