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Apr 8, 2017

2017 Worlds: Ladies Review

Kaetlyn in red
Gabby in blue
Evgenia is World Champion (again)
Will she win the Olympics too?

Evgenia Medvedeva skated her 295029595180th clean performance of the season to win her second world title, as expected by anyone with more than a rudimentary knowledge of the current figure skating season. Much ink has already been spilled on Ms. Medvedeva's consistency (laudable), choreography (ludicrous), and reliance on backloading and tanos (lamentable), but having watched Ms. Medvedeva skate live multiple times, I think several things are worth noting about Ms. Medvedeva.  First, Ms. Medvedeva's jumping technique has improved since last season. While many of her jumps last year were quite labored, her jumping has been much smoother this season, and to me, only her axels seem particularly labored. Ms. Medvedeva's 3F-3T, for instance, seems much improved. Second, Ms. Medvedeva's skating comes across much better live than on screen. At the most basic level, the most cringeworthy moments of Ms. Medvedeva's choreography are much more palatable when seen from a safe distance as opposed to the close-ups used in the broadcasts. More broadly, however, the best qualities of Ms. Medvedeva's skating--her lightness and smoothness, mainly--are much more apparent live than on camera.  Thirdly, after watching so many skaters seem so blasé (or worse, vaguely embarrassed) by the programs they are performing, it is notable--and noticeable--how much Ms. Medvedeva commits to her programs every time she performs. Everything a choreographer could want in a pint-sized package, Ms. Medvedeva is forever picking up the phone at the end of her LP with an impressive amount of facial anguish. Moreover, to Mr. Averbukh's credit, such an indelible moment of choreography can even be seen as a clever exercise in self-reference, considering how he phoned in his choreography duties for Ms. Medvedeva's LP this season.

Kaetlyn Osmond, finally breaking her perpetual pattern of skating a strong SP only to fall apart in the LP, placed second (albeit with a significant distance behind Ms. Medvedeva). With a doubled loop as her only major error (has Ms. Osmond cleanly landed the 3Lo in her LP any time besides the GPF?), Ms. Osmond's performance of her La Boheme LP at Worlds was by far her strongest LP performance all season. There's much to be appreciated about Ms. Osmond's speed and power across the ice, as well as the spring and amplitude of her jumps--the statuesque Ms. Osmond clearly is the palate cleanser to all those who tire of the Eteri Tutberidze formula of ladies skating. Ms. Osmond's Edith Piaf SP is perhaps the strongest ladies SP this season, but her La Boheme LP is unfortunately disappointing for a Jeffrey Buttle program, consisting mostly of disconnected musical selections and choreography failing to cohere--personally, I found the last third of the program with Ms. Osmond portraying the death of Mimi particularly jarring and pasted on, replete with rather clichéd angsty fist clenching and neck-stroking that does little to take advantage of Ms. Osmond's considerable charisma and performance skills.

Gabrielle Daleman, also of Canada, won the bronze medal to the surprise/shock of many in the figure skating world. Anyone who predicted that Ms. Daleman would be on the world podium at the beginning of the season, kindly put down your crystal ball and email me immediately. For those of us lacking ready access to the forces of darkness/other means of clairvoyance, Ms. Daleman's bronze medal was a pleasant surprise and a reminder that ice is slippery even in the face of the Russian Federation's dominance of the ladies' discipline. Like her compatriot Kaetlyn Osmond, Ms. Daleman finally conquered her demons and held it together to skate a near-clean LP performance at the right time. Ms. Daleman's speed and power across the ice and the height and power of her jumps (that 3T-3T alone deserves a ticker tape parade) makes her a very exciting skater to watch, but she can benefit from better packaging--while Ms. Daleman's dramatic SP music suits her, it is very repetitive, and her Rhapsody in Blue LP is extremely derivative of every single Rhapsody in Blue program ever performed in figure skating (and there are many!). Now that Ms. Daleman is a world medalist, maybe Lori Nichol will spend more time on Ms. Daleman's choreography next season.

Karen Chen placed a strong fourth overall in the ladies division, making a strong case that she will be the skater to finally break the Wagner-Gold duopoly once and for all in US ladies skating. After Ms. Chen's abysmal showing at Four Continents this season, I had a feeling that fans of US ladies skating were preparing for the worst and steeling themselves for the ignominy of sending merely two ladies to the Olympics, but all turned well with Ms. Chen's fourth-place finish. Ms. Chen's On Golden Pond SP was truly a memorable performance in the ladies event--in this world of 1.5 second micro-spirals used as throwaway transitions, it's so nice to see a held-out, fully-extended arabesque spiral as a choreographic highlight--but it should be noted that Ms. Chen needs to clean up her jump technique. Ms. Chen arguably benefited from a lenient tech panel this competition that was conveniently blind to both wrong edges and underrotations alike--some of Ms. Chen's jumps (e.g. the 3Lz-3T in the SP) were VERY borderline and would undoubtedly be easy prey for a more trigger-happy tech panel.

In a valiant effort to single-handedly resurrect Japan's chances of three ladies' spots for the Olympics, Mai Mihara captured the fifth-place position overall despite an ignominious fifteenth-place short program. Ms. Mihara also captured the hearts and minds of the Hartwall Arena audience in the process by receiving the only standing ovation among the first two groups. Ms. Mihara's Cinderella long program, despite the late 1980s Machiko Yamada packaging, juvenile choreography, and lack of polish, was skated with such speed, energy and big jumps such that the overall effect managed to be utterly charming, bubbly and delightful. A well-deserved standing ovation! Ms. Mihara's upper-body movement and interpretative skills could use a great deal of refinement, but that will come with time. Ms. Mihara has the basic foundational skating skills and jump technique to succeed, and with this strong fifth-place finish, she has made a strong case for herself to take one of Japan's two Olympics spots next season.

Carolina Kostner skated what perhaps was her weakest set of performances this season and placed sixth. This was my first time ever watching Ms. Kostner in person, and I couldn't help but feel but disappointed. I'd never thought I'd type these words, but Ms. Kostner looked very slow on the ice in both the SP and LP. Moreover, her jumps were quite shaky, and her Vivaldi LP was very  . . . bland. That is, the music of her LP was beautiful, and Ms. Kostner's skating quality is objectively very polished and finished, but there seemed to be a strange disconnect between the beautiful music and the beautiful skating. However, I liked Ms. Kostner's SP very much (tilted jumps and all) and Ms. Kostner should be commended for holding her own despite competing against people practically half of her age.

Ashley Wagner placed a disappointing seventh place, with a tenth-placed long program to cap off a season that never fully got off the ground. Unfortunately, perhaps because of personal issues, Ms. Wagner's skating has visibly regressed on all fronts this season: her (already weak) spins are even slower, the footwork sloppier, the performances uninspired, and the jumps have noticeably lacked height. Many of Ms. Wagner's jumps looked visibly underrotated at Worlds--I am not a card-carrying member of the Underrotation Inquisition, but there comes a point when even I have to throw the carrots when I can see giant, obvious hooks upon landing without the benefit of either slo-mo or a close-up. While Ms. Wagner had two jumps called underrotated at Worlds, she was extremely lucky that the lenient tech panel did not slap more underrotations on her (the 3F-3T and 3Lo in the SP being the most glaring examples). Given her oft-stated preferences for being in an underdog position, perhaps this disappointing season will motivate Ms. Wagner to come back strongly with a vengeance next season just in time for the Olympics. With three US ladies spots available, there is room for redemption.

Finally, I am still not over Anna Pogorilaya's utter meltdown at Worlds this season. *sob*


  1. I think people have become overboard with attacking Medvedeva for her program. I do think the voice over is tasteless and should not be there. However, the choreography and the theme do not erase Medvedeva's improvement. She is no longer skating like a snail on ice like 2 season ago. Her jumps also look better than before, which surprised me hell a lot. I hope she will get something not mimicking anything/anyone next season.
    Osmond has the best SP of the season for me. Her LP is not as good. I have notice she has very wild jumps and even when she land them with great flow, the way her body tilt on the air look scarily dangerous. The issue with Osmond is that she has too much power and less control.
    I honestly do not see anything special in Daleman's skating except her huge jumps.

  2. Karen Chen... I love that she has such a beautiful spiral, how rare is that these days? I hope she will pull herself together more often. She is amazing!
    I love Mai Mihara, her speed is phenomenal. And I love that she is so natural. She does not have to force herself to be mature and sophisticated. How rare is that these days, when you see a child skating so delightfully in the biggest stage?
    Carolina has passed her prime longgggg ago. Hopefully she will be able to skate more happily.
    I am not over Pogorilaya either.

  3. I actually really love Medvedeva, if anything for her sheer pluck and mental game when it comes to competitions. I also think people have gone crazy in picking her apart. I seriously think the more it seems like a Russian may win in South Korea next year, the more hate she will get, sadly.
    However, I am also not so sure of her chances in Pyeongchang mainly because the timing of her growth (puberty-wise) may not be right - she may be going thru that growth spurt next year and it will probably affect her performance.
    Past winners are usually either pre-pubescent (15-16 plus) or after (like Yuna smack on age 19 after going thru puberty hell around 2008). So yeah. I don't know. I'd love to see her win though, only to smack down the haters haha.

    also not over Pogorilaya here - I hope she'll only get stronger from this point on.

  4. All I can say is, the more impassioned screeds I see about how Ms. Medvedeva is not fit to lick the skating boots of either Yu-Na Kim/Mao Asada/Carolina Kostner/[insert past skater here], the more amused I get when the judges shower her with crazy high scores. Must be some weird version of the Streisand effect or something . . .

  5. Can I just say how happy I am that you are writing again?