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Lots of figure skating 1/10/04

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Just an update on what's happening out there on ice:

Tomorrow on CBS at 1:00 p.m. (CST), there's "Nutcracker on Ice," which I know is not exactly timely, but quite frankly, the holidays came too fast and left too early this year for me, and I don't mind a little holiday postscript when I can finally relax and enjoy. This program features Oksana Baiul and Victor Petrenko. I don't know if this is the same "Nutcracker" on ice that also features Carla Urbanski as Clara. I remember being so surprised by that. For those who may not remember her, she was the 30-something cocktail waitress pairs partner of Rocky Marvel (the truck driver), who were U.S. champs. Believe it or not, she actually looked young enough on ice to play Clara.

At 3:00 p.m. on ABC, there is a portion of the U.S. championships. It's the men's free skate.

And a head's up for the tour of Scott Hamilton's group. This year, they are joined by Oksana Baiul who is reviving her Olympic "Swan Lake" routine. Also, by Paul Wylie -- :):o:wub: -- who, according to choreographer, Christopher Dean, has been bitten by the performance bug again, which I am so grateful for. I saw him skate in an exhibition recently, and he is looking wonderful.

And that's the news from Lake Wobegon.

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And tomorrow (Sat.) evening, at 8:00-11:00 eastern, are the women's and pairs' finals for the US Championships on ABC.

FF, I believe that Oksana is currently dancing a Swan program to the Tchaikovsky music. Wasn't the earlier one to Saint-Saens' Dying Swan? I have seen her on a couple of tv broadcasts, and she looks like she's well on the road back. Her endearing passion is all there.

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I actually don't know which music she is using -- I saw a very short clip of Christopher Dean talking about the new additions to this year's tour. There was also a segment of her speaking about reviving her program from the Olympics, but no more information than that. She did look healthier and more at peace than I'd seen her before. Her technique had suffered for so long, and it seemed to make her behave like a rather rude diva to those doing the commentary. After awhile, I thought to myself that she simply shouldn't jump at all for a time because she seemed psychologically unfit for the jumps. There was also the matter of adjusting to the new body she developed after the Olympics, as she grew rather late in life (height and proportion-wise). Let's hope she finds some peace in her skating now. That particular tour seems to have a lot of fun. I love Dean's "Chairmen" piece.

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Ladies' competition tonight -- free skate -- should be quite interesting. Cohen is in first place after the short program.

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Cohen's short was terrific, but Kwan's free skate was . . . :jawdrop::innocent:

What a thrill! Congrats, Michelle!

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8TH NATIONAL TITLE FOR MICHELLE!!! 7 perfect scores in presentation! I am still recovering from shock to see how far she has come; she never seizes to amaze me. I have to admit, I actually cried with her. I can't imagine what it must have been like for the people who were there to see her perform live. Wow. If she can generate that much emotion and passion through the television...

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I cried too.

Sasha Cohen is likely the most gifted female skater ever, but Michelle Kwan connects with the audience in a magical way. She is a pure joy to watch.

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Oh, yeah, and Johnny Weir's long program wasn't half bad, either. :innocent:

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I actually forgot to watch the US program tonight, because the Canadian Champioships were on at about the same time. The depth in the men's group now in Canada seems pretty good, although it just wasn't the night for Jeff Buttle. He skated in last position following a number of men who had done quite well. I don't think he has adequately recovered from the food poisoning that caused him to withdraw from the Grand Prix final...too bad. We won't be seeing him at the Worlds this year. Sandhu had a wonderful skate - which is so nice to see.

Two surprise gold medals in the women's and pairs events...both teams from Quebec (if it weren't so late I'd probably remember the names too)! :innocent:

Too bad I missed the US Championships though!! :jawdrop:

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Michelle Kwan was transcendent. I cried. Cohen's technique is lovely, yes, But every aspiring dancer should have watched the competition tonight to learn a valuable lesson. If it were all about just getting your leg as high as possible, there would be a lot of people who have professional careers instead of yours truly. Ultimately, it's all about your heart.

And kudos for Jenny Kirk too. That girl is maturing and no doubt will also have a wonderful professional career if she so chooses.

I too loved Johnny Weir's program, and am glad he won instead of Weiss. It's not that I have anything against Weiss. It's just that there was so much more offered from a number of other male contestants. Jahnke was amazing. What a dancer. And I'd watch Bradley even with all of the rough edges and flaws over Weiss, or over Goebel as well. What performance quality!

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Mom2

Two surprise gold medals in the women's and pairs events...both teams from Quebec (if it weren't so late I'd probably remember the names too)!

Marcoux and Buntin(he's from B.C. she's from Quebec) won the pairs. They had a great skate and deserved to win. Langlois and Archetto(5th in World) fell apart for the second year in a row and placed 2nd. I was disappointed with Putnum and Wirtz(3rd)...I think their nerves got to them. The chemistry just wasn't there last night.

15 yr. old Cynthia Phanouf (Quebec)won the Ladies title over 6 time champion Jennifer Robinson who came third behind Joannie Rochette. Phaneuf will be going to Junior Worlds rather than senior which opens a spot for Robinson.

It was nice to see the depth of talent in the men's division. I was very impressed by Shawn Sawyer and Nicholas Young. It's unfortunate that Buttle fell apart but I'm very happy for Ben Ferreira(he is skating in our club show in April!)

The free dance is on this afternoon.

L.

p.s. is there anyone on here that has a boy in figure skating? Could you pm me. I have a couple of questions.

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Yes, it was nice to see Sandhu finally overcome his nerves and skate a good solid program. No other Canadian male skater can meet his artistic ability. But the depth of the men is an encouraging sign - for the past few years, it has been slim pickings. But this year, wow - many good solid young male skaters in Canada.

As for Jennifer Robinson, IMO, it is time for her to retire. She has not progressed at all in the past few years - I do not find her an inspiring skater.

I still think that Kwan is over-rated, transcendent or not, and am waiting for Cohen and Jenny Kirk to mature. When that happens, these two gifted skaters will "connnect" with the audience too - I think Cohen did cast a spell until she fell, but until that point, she was the "swan".

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Sandhu was amazing. He and Kwan have something that Cohen lacks: personality.

Cohen's short program was very nice, but she does not convey passion for skating. She gets by on technique and those constant statements that she looks like a porcelain doll (I find that irritating). Basically, I don't think she seems like a very nice person and maturity won't change that. Kwan is adorable and has proven that she still has it. I knew the commentators were going to be sorry they thought Cohen would win it; shame on them! Jenny Kirk is a beautiful skater. She seemed disappointed by her scores, running away from the kiss and cry. I guess it is natural for her to have hoped that this would be her year, but she is still young, with many good years ahead. She should learn from Kwan that it is important to have a good attitude and get the audience (and judges) on your side. But the judges didn't "hold (Kwan) up" this time, she deserved the win.

Cynthia Phanouf was wonderful to watch. She has so much maturity for a 15 year old. I look forward to seeing more of her in the future. I have always liked Robinson, but maybe it is time to retire.

My eyeballs are now square, but it's been a great weekend. :innocent:

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I missed the US Nationals almost completely this weekend except for Jenny Kirk's short program. But today, during the exhibition skate, they re-aired Kwan's skate from yesterday. It would indeed have been hard, even if Cohen had had a clean skate, for anyone to have topped Kwan's performance last night. All the elements were there as well as that extra magical connection - to herself, to the audience - that Kwan so often brings to her performances.

I adore Sasha Cohen's skating but I'm still waiting for her to put together a performance where she doesn't look as though she's swallowing bitter medicine. I don't know if it'll come with age; it often doesn't. But I still sit with my mouth agape :innocent: whenever she skates - unbelievable technique. I can't ever remember seeing anyone with that kind of perfection in individual elements. I long for her to put together a string of clean performances and to include all the little flourishes in between; something that Kwan has an uncanny awareness of. There's very little "dead" time in a Michelle Kwan skate.

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I don't think it's fair to speculate as to whether a skater is a "nice"person or not...I will concede that I think it very unlikely that any highly ranked, world-class athlete (Tiger Woods, Michelle Kwan and those competitors seemingly on their heels) turns out to be a sweety-sweety when it comes to their sport! If Sasha Cohen's problems as a competitor are, as many seem to think, at least partly psychological -- nerves etc. -- then growing up a little more may help. I certainly hope so.

I feel compelled to write a little in Cohen's defense since I just saw her skate live for the first time as part of the exhibition following the U.S. championships. Her positions are even more exquisite in real space/time than on television. The sheer flow of skating is, as everyone comments, much more evident for all skaters when one sees them live, and seeing a skater with such precise positions as Cohen live really adds to the impact of the skate. All the picturesque poses really move across the ice. In short, she seems still more graceful and certainly "softer" than on television (and I like her on television). I realize, too, that she was doubtless much less tense skating in exhibition -- but I've compared the live skate with the ABC telecast and live does seem to me to make some difference.

I'll add one word more in Cohen's defense. I simply don't believe that it's possible to skate the way Sasha Cohen skates if one doesn't have "passion." It's simply too hard to achieve that skill level. I understand that the passion may not communicate itself all the time to an audience, but especially in those extraodinarily stretched spins in arabesque (I don't know the skating term, some kind of camel perhaps?) with her back slightly arched, she seems to be taking the position to the very limits of what it can be, and the image is, in my eyes, one that does convey passion. With more experience, more confidence (I mean genuine confidence not bravado) and, yes, maturity, she may well be able to bring still more of that quality to her performances.

Whether Cohen will ever be able to win the big, prestige competitions -- I have no idea, but I hope so...For the rest, I love Johnny Weir, a skater entirely new to me, though from what I'm reading, the way he skated this week was new even to people who have seen him before. I liked the fourth place finisher, Ryan Jahnke (?) a lot as well; at the exhibition he seemed to me to have tremendous presence and power, though I can't say the audience roared and ABC decided not to include the skate at all...I also thought Michelle Kwan was fabulous in her competitive skates (which I only saw on television), though I would be happy never to see another woman skater skate to Tosca ever again. I think it's dreadful music for skating and I would say that I would be happy never to see any skater skate to it, but I sort of thought Yagudin pulled it off. Perhaps the sheer power of a great male skater can somehow match the melodrama of the highlights style music "cuts" that skating programs use from the opera.

I also thought Kwan's exhibition skate, though not one of my favorites, showed her ability to respond to a very different kind of music and was, of course, thrilling to see live. I am far from thinking Kwan overated...even in her short program with its small mistake on the double axel she seemed to me to have a more compelling presence on the ice than Cohen or anyone else at this competition. Her interview persona is, too, the most poised and pleasant of any professional athlete I have ever seen and has been so, in the past, after disappointments as well as smashing successes. But all my admiration for Kwan cannot keep me from appreciating Sasha Cohen's lovely qualities as a Skater...and hoping for her future success as well.

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I like Michelle's Tosca program and think she can pull it off quite well, IMO. I do not like the arrangement of Swan Lake Cohen skates to; I much prefer Ann Patrice McDonough's, but there's this one moment when a critical point in the music is cut off which is very annoying.

Unfortunately, I missed the men's competition. I don't know when it aired.

Any thoughts on the pairs competition? It may not be fair to say this since this is my first look at them in a long time, but the American pairs do not look like they're in good shape. :D

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I suppose I'm a bit ornery about music for skating -- I'm actually not crazy about Swan Lake for skating programs either. Just as nineteenth-century critics found it too symphonic for ballet, I find it too symphonic for skating...and the abrupt cutting of the music bothers me as well. I also think the "swan" image created by Tchaikovsky is a woman-turned-swan, and young skaters can't do much with that...

For a while I even decided I prefered to see skaters use shlockier music, since the music cuts and mediocre arena sound systems don't seem to be as much of a crime against the music when the music isn't that great to begin with. And, to consider the problem a little more seriously, I think skating needs music that doesn't, in effect, overwhelm it artistically. But, of course, one tires of listening to schlocky music! So, I'm always hoping for some kind of balance -- something I find interesting and genuinely supportive of dance and movement, but at the same time something that won't 'compete' with the skating and won't suffer too much from the exigencies of cuts etc. (By the by, I like Michelle Kwan's choice of Peter Gabriel a lot.)

I'm afraid there isn't too much to say about the pairs -- though afterwards Baldwin and Inoue seemed fairly candid in discussing their "bittersweet" victory (one of them described it that way) and he also seemed quite the gentleman in taking responsibility for their problems.

ABC telecast men's and dance (final groups) on Saturday afternoon.

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I found the discussion of Cohen and her personality/public persona interesting. I'll agree with Drew that Cohen does look better in person than on television, and that her technique and positions are unusually correct and refined; for example, she does the best forward scratch spin I have ever seen, period. However, I believe that the comments about her not having a "nice" personality, looking as if she is "swallowing bitter medicine", etc, are getting at a serious issue in Cohen's presentation of herself. Whether or not a skater, a dancer, or any other performer is "nice" is not important for the public, and Drew is probably correct that few stars are wilting wallflowers, to say the least. As a performer myself, I feel that what is important is a gracious and welcoming presence-- one which conveys confidence, poise, and an interest in the audience's potential pleasure, joy, and rapture. Alas, Cohen conveys none of these things when she skates in competition, superb skater though she is; she looks tense, edgy, slightly haughty (which is no doubt covering profound nervousness), and completely separated from the audience. Her audience does not seem to exist in her mind when she competes, nor does the response of said audience buoy her and lend her support, extra brio, increased passion, etc. she appears to be enduring an ordeal. I don't know if anyone who saw last night's telecast, in which Cohen waited a long time before even skating out to begin, also recalls Debi Thomas' performance at the 1988 Olympics? Thomas, a brilliant skater and favorite for the gold medal, had a complete meltdown in the free program, and the looks on her face, and her coach's face, were eerily similar to those of Cohen and Cohen's coach last night. That look of terror is unmistakable, and I hope that Cohen's obvious virtuosity, impeccable preparation, and beauty on the ice will someday carry the day and make it possible for her to skate with the freedom she has earned.

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I must admit that I too am a bit disturbed by the criticism of Cohen's personality. She is, after all, only nineteen, and has much to learn, no doubt, about the cultivation of a public persona. Her ability cannot be denied, and I do not find her cold - perhaps a bit reserved in front of the camera - but her passion for what she does is clearly there. She is as musical as Kwan, and if she does not engage with the audience as much, perhaps it is because she hasn't received the same sort of devotion. I don't entirely understand the backlash against her. Perhaps it is because she is so undeniably talented that people wish to see her fail. I look forward to the day when she comes into her own, which despite her flawed performance at Nationals, cannot be far off. Worlds are coming up, and we'll see what she does there.

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Despite Drew's very valid defense of Cohen, I agree that there is a vague nastiness about the persona this skater conveys while performing/competing. There is a qualitative distinction between passion and determination. Cohen does not lack the latter by any means, but it's not something that invites the audience to share her moments on the ice in an enjoyable way.

It seemed to me that Robin Wagner has already had an impact on Cohen, getting her to find a calm place before taking her spot. Some of Cohen's edge is attractively blunted, but her dynamism is still at full potency. It will be interesting to see how this teaming continues to influence the overall impression Cohen makes in the future.

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I hope that nobody is reading my "bitter medicine" comments about Cohen's on-ice appearance as an attack against her character! That was definitely not my intent whatsoever. I was just commenting on her inability to connect with the audience and I think her facial expressions are part of the reason. In no way, shape or form do I believe they're an indication of a personality flaw! I see it simply as a case of nerves.

Cohen shows her intensity with tight lips and an often fierce look in her eyes whereas some other skaters, notably Kwan and lately Kirk, have the ability to put an audience at ease. We see the same thing in ballet. There are some wonderfully talented dancers with technique "to die for" who don't really connect with their audience. Yet none of us would assume that it makes them bad people.

I often LIKE Cohen's intensity. I sometimes love her fierce expressions. Other times, though, I think that it's that very intensity that brings her down. What she shows on her face is also what causes those falls. Such tension evident there. She is SO enormously talented and I've been a most fervent fan of hers since I first saw her skate when she was 15. Nothing would delight me more than to see Sasha Cohen win a string of first place finishes. Much as I love Kwan, it's Cohen I've been rooting for the most these last three plus years.

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Wow. I'll never get over how much emotion enters these discussions on skaters. As for Cohen, I'll stand by my earlier remarks and for this reason. I have just completed the dance major program at my university with dancers decades younger than I (me having done my career/school in reverse). And I have heard my share of comments over the last several years from dancers about their favorite figure skaters. I constantly hear from these youngsters about how they "hate" Sarah Hughes. They adore Cohen. My take on this as an older dancer is that they are still sufficiently immature to believe that technique is everything. (However, even taking that into account, I don't see how anyone cannot comprehend that Hughes --even to someone like myself who was not a particular fan -- gave arguably the strongest, most flawless performance in figure skating history).

It simply takes a different kind of maturity to understand that longevity and magic like Kwan's has to do with HEART. You cannot fake this. This is not meant to take anything away from Cohen's ability. It simply is what it is. She has not yet connected with her audience. This is what endears a skater such as, say, Steven Cousins (who never placed higher than 5th or 6th at Olympics) to the audience and guarantees a long career.

Remember "Pasha?" Yeah, bet you don't. She was going to be the next Marilyn Monroe (of the ice). Where is she now? Who cares? She may have been the darling of the judges in ice dance, but the audience said "We're not buying it."

I would not venture an opinion as to the personality of most of these skaters. The only one I had a personal relationship with was one of my teachers, a former U.S. pairs champion. It's not my place to comment on the personalities of the rest since I don't know them. What I am opining about is that I sense when young dancers eulogize Cohen and dismiss all others, they are not understanding what other qualities it takes to make a complete performer. In that, I think Cohen shares their naivete.

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I'm afraid there isn't too much to say about the pairs -- though afterwards Baldwin and Inoue seemed fairly candid in discussing their "bittersweet" victory (one of them described it that way) and he also seemed quite the gentleman in taking responsibility for their problems.

I'm going to interrupt the Cohen vs. Kwan discussion to ask if someone could tell me what the story behind Baldwin and Inoue is about. I don't have a tv so I find I"m rather out of touch. Thanks.

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As an admittedly "mature" (at least in age) viewer, and one who has a background in dance as well, I think that what you say, Swiss Chard is true. Heart goes a long way. My only argument is that I believe Sacha Cohen has that heart. I like Kwan, and was a long-time fan of hers, but feel that in the past few years, her ego has gotten the best of her. While Cohen may look tense during her skating, Kwan is busy "giving face" trying to look fierce and unconquerable: she has lost the vulnerability I so loved in her earlier presentation. Her performance Sat. night was commendable, but I haven't really seen improvement in her skating for a while. Heart, in my opinion, is not just showing uncontrolled joy when you do well, but doing what you do outside of competitive reasons; that is, finding joy in the ability to do what you love. I don't think Kwan does that any more than Cohen, although she may be more adept at performing joy. I think that Cohen's bitten lips and the extension of her fingertips in her spiral show that joy, although perhaps not in as palatable a way as Kwan - give her time.

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I think that young dancers "eulogize" Cohen because she's a ballet dancer's ice skater. Plain and simple. She has the flexibility most dancers would give anything to have. She has line. She has musicality. Of COURSE they're going to go ga-ga over her. I do too.

Conversely, they don't like Hughes because she's most definitely not of the ballet dancer's mold. Her knees were frequently bent. Her arms and shoulders were often sketchy. That said, I agree that Hughes gave the best performance of the night, and of her life, at the last Olympics but I could never say it was

arguably the strongest, most flawless performance in figure skating history).
Too many legendary performances to choose from.

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