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Venue Comfort Level: Winter on Hoth
As I write this, Day 3 practices are underway, but I desperately need coffee and a trip to my favourite bookstore. So here I am writing about Day 1 and 2 practice sessions, which were fascinating.
First, the mood in the building is quite different from competition. Event staff were still setting up the venue on Wednesday and Thursday morning and security was practically non-existant, save for bag check at the door. I was able to wander freely, so I could go down to ice-level exits to take pictures and video. Once we hit an hour to the start of Junior competition, however, event security came out and started scrutinizing tickets. Unbeknownst to me, I bought tickets in the section adjacent to the ISU reserve seating block: off-duty officials, coaches, and a smattering of skaters are running up and down the stairs next to my seat, so security keeps giving me grief when I try to head back to my section.
The rink is freezing. This should go without saying, but Doug Mitchell Arena is extra cold. I thought I brought enough layers after finding this out during Nationals in January, but a wool coat, sweater, shirt, and lap blanket aren’t enough. I’m on the hunt for winter-weight socks today so I don’t loose feeling in my feet again during the men’s event tonight.
In other news, I am happy to report everyone’s favourite Javi banner is in the venue and making people smile!
The drama from Day 1 was the absence of Jonathan Guerreiro from Ice Dance practice. Apparently Guerreiro’s skates were delayed in transit. This meant Tiffani Zagorski practiced solo on Wednesday, which is such a boss mood. Practice sessions are full of jockeying, preening, and power-tripping, so to hold your own without your partner takes serious nerve. She received lots of applause from the crowd at the end of the session for it, too.
On the literal opposite end of the rink were the Montreal dance teams. Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer set up camp near the judging table, away from the K&C—and within eavesdropping distance of me! Their teams were both looking relaxed and happy to be in the building. Hubbell & Donohue in particular were hamming it up in Thursday’s practice, psyching the audience out with their end of session bows and clowning around.
Speaking of H & D: they have made significant changes to their free dance since we last saw it at Skate Canada. Major music edits, choreography changes, the lot. Get ready for Romeo and Juliet 2.0 to debut on Saturday night.
Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres are skating like they own the building. You would never know from looking at them this week that this is their first Grand Prix Final. The throws are enormous, the lifts are confident, and they were one of the few teams doing anything approximating a full run-through. Whenver I see pairs skipping the side-by-side jumps in their run-through it makes me cringe because they must be the most-missed element. I understand teams want to conserve energy, and spilling on your jumps in an official practice is bad PR, but what better time to train the jumps under pressure?
*steps off of soapbox, returns to reguar business*
Speaking of missing jumps: I don’t think Zabiiako and Enbert attempted a single side-by-side jumping pass in practice, but somehow found time to practice all of the sword fight choreography from their Alexander Nevski short program. #priorities
Tarasova and Morozov are stunning in person. The air Tarasova gets in their throws is alreay spectacular on broadcast, but in person it’s staggering. She must be clearing 5+ meters of ice coverage on each throw and it make my knees ache on her behalf.
There was a lot of ego and uneasiness in the men’s practice sessions. The only skater who looked totally unfazed about being at the Grand Prix Final was Junhwan Cha. Full run-throughs of both programs, minor errors, but little drama. Wipeout on the quad salchow? Skate to the other end and do a beauitful triple lutz-triple loop combo. He’s approaching this like it’s just another day at the rink, and for him, I suspect skating with this kind of company isn’t anyting to freak out about. If you train side-by-side with Hanyu, Fernandez, et al., sharing the ice with Nathan Chen and Shoma Uno is no biggie.
Neither Nathan Chen nor Shoma Uno looked on top of their game in either practice session. Nathan spent a lot of time drilling quad flips and tackling the jumps in his run-throughs, but not the spins or the choreography. That habit is not serving him well come competition as his programs soften a bit artistically in competition.
Shoma, meanwhile, had a blistering opening 30 seconds for his short program run-through before totally blowing the first quad flip of the program. He had a rough time with the quads in general in both sessions, and he was clearly frustrated by taking full-body hits. He spent a lot of time circling back to Mihoko to discuss the situation before trying and falling again.
Also uneasy: Keegan Messing. He did not look his usual sparkling self in either session, although the spins were, as always, gorgeous. I think he’s feeling the pinch of qualifying as first alternate and might be nursing a bit of anxiety about finding himself in the equivalent of the final flight at Worlds again. If he can relax, he’ll find his performance magic again tonight.
The ladies practice sessions were off. the. hook. High competitive tension, everyone fighting for position, skimming one another during run-throughs. Maximum drama. It was awesome.
Rika Kihira did two clean runs of her short program and put the other ladies on notice that she’s the real threat in this event. She’s an easy jumper and a very confident skater: her edge quality is already lovely and it will get lovelier as she matures. Also, her costume is delightfully sparkly in person and I love it.
My favourite, Kaori Sakamoto, had solid practices as well. A few bobbles here and there, but she picked herself back up again and popped off one gorgeous triple loop after another. She did have one hilarious pratfall going into a spin that left her starfished on the ice—she laughed at herself, too! Also: her speed is a glorious thing to behold. Three crosscuts and she covers the entire length of the ice. She carries enormous speed out of her jmps as well.
Satoko Miyahara had the roughest practice sessions of the three Japanese ladies, which is to say she looked a bit tight but still pulled off clean run-throughs. She didn’t look as sharp as I would have expected. Again, another front-runner feeling some pressure from the sudden arrival of Rika Kihira and her triple axels.
Team Mishin approached the practice sessions as another day in the office. Sofia Samodurova and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva left yesterday’s practice early after they each heard their music, and pretty much kept to themselves. Elizaveta, as the elder stateswoman of the group, looked particularly nonplussed by the jumping circus.
And finally, Alina Zagitova was holding her own on the ice—but barely. Her work ethic is impressive: every time I looked up she was landing another clean triple, over and over again. Watching her skate alongside the others, however, casts her deficiencies in sharp relief. Her knees aren’t as soft as any of the Japanese skaters, and she isn’t quite as secure on the jump landings anymore. She does not generate much power per stroke, which is really noticeable compared with Sakamoto in particular. In short, this is a girl willing herself to win, but I don’t know how much longer she’ll be able to hold off the competition.