Maybe it’s the euphoria induced by waking up at 4:45am to watch competition, but Grand Prix Helsinki felt extra dramatic. For those of you who stayed in bed–how sensible of you!–read on for the recap!
First, for the Score Keeners, Event Protocols! Find the +5s!
Biggest WTF Moment
Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert’s “Alexander Nevski” Short ProgramEmbed from Getty Images
I brushed up on my Russian medieval history thanks to Zabiiako & Enbert’s short program. Nothing like a left-field Prokofiev music choice to spark an impromptu lesson on the life of Alexander Nevski. Also: sword fight choreography. If this isn’t a classic Nina Mozer-masterminded program I don’t know what is.
Kaori Sakamoto’s Free SkateEmbed from Getty Images
Kaori Sakamoto left the ice crying after her short program: two hard falls and a sub-60 point score were a shock to the Skate America silver medalist. A solid night’s sleep and 24 hours later, Sakamoto took the ice and skated a brilliant free program. I love her free skate, and her performance here was a testament to her growth as a competitor: unruffled, patient, and save for one small bobble in the spiral sequence, clean. Scoring 140.16 lifted her from 7th to 3rd place, gaining 11 crucial placement points in the Grand Prix Final qualification standings. She will need help from other skaters to secure a spot at the Final, but she should be proud of that comeback skate.
2018: Year of the #BrezinaissanceEmbed from Getty Images
I’m not sure anyone–including Michael Brezina–would have predicted two silver medals in his Grand Prix Events this season. The last time Michael Brezina qualified for the Grand Prix Final was 2011, but with 26 qualification points in hand, he needs to start looking for flights to Vancouver in December.
Brezina, now 28 and in his ninth senior competitive season, may finally be finding his groove. His technical content can’t match the top of the field, but the new +5/-5 GOE range and the adjustment in element base values are working in his favour. When competitors make errors, Brezina can sneak onto the podium with a couple of well-placed quad salchows. His scores could be even higher if the ISU would recognize air guitar as a level feature.
In the meantime, I’m giving Brezina +5 for sneaking his phone out of his pocket for a podium selfie with Yuzuru Hanyu and Junhwan Cha.
Speaking of the 2x OGM, he’s such a highlight he deserves his own category…
I knew the Men’s event would be exciting, but I was not prepared for the drama served up by Yuzuru Hanyu. The odds-on favourite to win delivered high style and three new world records, dazzling the field with sequinned glory. I don’t think Hanyu has ever sported outfits as blingin’ as this season’s, and that was before he added the extra neck ruffle and crystals to the short program costume.
Hanyu wasn’t flawless in Helsinki, but he was mesmerizing. He scored 190.43 with two under rotation calls and a handful of negative GOEs in the free skate, beating Brezina by nearly 26 points. The technical content of both programs is the most ambitious of his career: six quads in two programs, including the first quad toe triple axel combination ever recorded in ISU-sanctioned competition during the free skate. He’s daring his competitors and physics to try and take him down and he just keeps winning.
I can’t imagine skating against him. Either you put a poster of his face above your treadmill and will yourself to train harder to match him, or give up and weep into your bronze medalist’s bouquet.
Watching Hanyu’s programs at 5am I had to avoid spooking my sleeping neighbours and spouse with my enthusiasm. I settled for silent fist pumping when he landed that 4T + 3A. His skating defies explanation and we are lucky that two Olympic gold medals, two World titles, and an actual mountain of plush Pooh Bears into his career, he’s still looking for ways to thrill us.
Now, on the other end of the spectrum…
Helsinki was definitely Kolyada’s Sink of Hell. Drink if you wish he’d had landed at least one of those quad lutzes:
Not a single damn thing went right for Kolyada this weekend. Popped quad lutz attempts and hard falls would be bad enough, but the ignominy of stumbling in a step sequence had to be the hardest kick to the metaphoric shins. He has so much charisma on the ice, boundless talent, and that ineffable something that makes you sit up and pay attention as soon as he starts stroking around the rink. But, where you can see Hanyu make the calculation in the air that he will. not. let. a. jump. go, you can often tell right from the takeoff that Kolyada has given up on an element before he’s halfway in the air. His inconsistency is crippling his career.
Worse than the psychological damage inflicted by poor skates, Kolyada’s fifth place finish effectively wrecked his change to qualify for the Final. He competes head-to-head again against Hanyu at Rostelecom Cup in his second (and final) event. I wish him luck, but the odds of scraping enough points to qualify for the Final on strength of the potential Rostelecom placement are low. Kolyada knows what Hanyu can do–and, critically, what Kolyada himself failed to do.
10% Bonus: The Men’s Victory Ceremony
CBC aired the men’s victory ceremony, and thank goodness, because any VC that involves Hanyu is full of Podium Shenanigans™. In addition to the Brezina Podium Selfie we also enjoyed:
World’s Tiniest Smug Fist Pump
“Yuzuru, Baffled by Bouquets”
Junhwan Cha proving that he Totally Knows How Flowers Work, Geez, Yuzuru
And, last but not least, the classic Hanyu Podium Jump
Here’s to many, many more podium jumps to come!
With the close of competition in Helsinki we are officially halfway through the Grand Prix season. Next week: NHK Trophy!
Header/feature image ©International Skating Union (ISU)