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Alexandra

Women's skating

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Kwan in Eye of the Storm

Veteran Skater Is Composed, Reflective About Medals, Life

The pixies are out on the ice today, their sparkles sparkling, their spangles all spangled, their ruffles fluffed to exact specifications. This is just a practice, but it is the last practice before the ladies singles figure skating competition begins Tuesday, and the judges are here watching. So it is important to look just so.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/artic...-2002Feb18.html

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Ah Michelle. She's just fantastic. I'm mesmerized just reading her words. When she first came onto the scene amidst the US Nationals Kerrigan scandal I was stunned by her abilities and upset that she didn't win the competition. She certainly outclassed and outskated Tonya Harding, but the judges wanted a ladies' champion not a girls' champion as one commentator mused. I'm really hoping she skates with her heart this time. It could make all the difference in the world.

Oh, and Sarah Hughes' hair is too short. In the spirit of some of the other Washington Post articles, that should be an automatic 0.3 deduction tongue.gif

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I'm so looking forward to this competition. I don't know why everyone says that it's Kwan's to lose. According to this article, "Russian rival Irina Slutskaya has beaten her in every major head-to-head event this year, mostly on the strength of superior programs. Sounds to me like it's SLUTSKAYA'S to lose, not Michelle's. I hasten to add I much prefer Kwan's skating. She's such a complete skater although I do think that as she's grown older, she's lost a little confidence in her jumping ability. When she first arrived on the senior lady's scene, her jumping seemed fearless. While she's still a slender, slightly built person, her body has matured in the ensuing years and it seems that she's not regained that absolute confidence.

But what artistry and musicality! When Kwan is "on", the music flows from every part of her body. The same can be said for Sasha Cohen. I'm hoping that her long program isn't the same as it was for Nationals. I was very disappointed in that one. Her short program being flawless, I had high hopes for an equally artistic long program. I thought that, other than her amazing jumps, it was a lightweight program - very little in between the jumps.

One really has to give a lot of credit to Slutskaya. This young woman has completely reinvented herself as a skater. She'll never have the artistry of a Kwan or a Cohen but she's certainly come a long, long way in a few short years. For several years she was the Timothy Goebel of female skating - all jumps and nothing else. She changed everything about herself and her skating: hair, costumes, but most of all her training and her choreography. I know that I spend a lot of time on her shortcomings but we really should admire Slutskaya for her ability to make major changes in her skating. How many other people are able to do so as well?

And then there's Sarah Hughes. To me, she's the real underdog, even more so than Cohen. Hughes's coltishness makes her skating uneven but she's grown so much so quickly that it's hard to say from one program to the next how different her skating might be. I have a feeling that the stability, when it arrives, will be sudden and dramatic. While she doesn't appear to have that inborn musicality, she does seem to be a tenaciously quick study. I imagine her as the gangly teenager who suddenly grows up. I'm waiting.

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I have to agree about Irina. A few years ago she was really struggling with her jumps and especially her artistry. But now she's really good, her jumps are impeccable and her spins are quite good. She's not as smooth as Michelle or Sasha, but she's more polished than Sarah H. and can certainly win gold with a clean performance.

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I thought Sasha was awesome tonight! She is very special. Just pure talent. Michelle is still wonderful and such a joy to watch. Huges is very fine, too, but I don't think she is quite there yet. She did very well tonight though. Irina has come a long way, but she does not have the fluidity and the artistry of Kwan. It will come down to the long program there. If Kwan is clean, she should win it. If not....well, it's up for grabs. Sasha is right there and could do it. Less pressure on one of her age, like with Tara Lipinski. I don't think Irina can compete with Michelle in the long program, if both skate clean.

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Kwan was outstanding in her short program. Her initial triple/double combination was smooth as silk, and the triple flip where she slipped off her toe on takeoff, and still landed the thing - I didn't think that could be done! There is nothing like her final spirals. I'm not really a partisan, here, but I seldom see things that impress me as much as she did with this short program. smile.gif

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I am truly disappointed. I missed Sasha Cohen's short program! frown.gif My watch was 10 minutes slow. Can anyone tell me if it was the same program as the one she did for the Nationals? That was a lovely short program. I don't think I've ever seen a skater with her level of artistry combined with athletics. Her jumps are so assured and her skating has such a lovely balletic quality.

Michelle did a nice job but I didn't find it inspiring. In fact, I actually thought that Slutskaya skated better. She had such wonderful speed, her jumps had their usual solidness, and overall her program seemed harder. I prefer Michelle's style but in my attempt to be truly objective, I think that Irina's was the stronger program.

Hughes was OK, not great, but OK. Still a rising talent who hasn't yet hit her stride.

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I thought it was a fantastic competition, lots of very clean skates. Sasha was incredible, really lovely to watch. I love that spiral sequence. Her marks surprised me a little for someone skating so early but I think she's her final placement was right. Michelle, I enjoyed this program more in Nagano, but it was great here too. I would have put Slutskaya first though. She's not too far behind in presentation to Kwan - her spirals have improved a lot! - and the difficulty of her jumps and footwork were superior (and this is the short program after all). If she does all those difficult jump combinations she's been practicing and skates clean I think she could win.

I was a bit disappointed that Butyrskaya came behind Sarah Hughes. Butyrskaya has such incredible artistry but she seemed slow and her landings very stiff. Sarah's skating makes me a little uncomfortable - that 'coltish' quality that has been mentioned. She's been around for a couple years now and while her presentation is better, the quality of her jumps hasn't changed at all (flutzing, under-rotation). VERY disappointed that Viktoria Volchkova underperformed. She has the most beautiful jumps out there and usually does well in SPs but she looked completely out of sorts on the ice.

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And here's the draw for the free skate.

19 BUTYRSKAYA Maria RUS 5 2.5

20 HUGHES Sarah USA 4 2.0

21 SEBESTYEN Julia HUN 6 3.0

22 COHEN Sasha USA 3 1.5

23 KWAN Michelle USA 1 0.5

24 SLUTSKAYA Irina RUS 2 1.0

Honestly, why did they put a day between the SP and FP? I really can't wait!

And a BBC link on a little technical analysis of the short

http://news.bbc.co.uk/winterolympics2002/h...000/1830770.stm

[ February 20, 2002: Message edited by: sylvia ]

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I did read that Butyrskaya had an appendectomy in November. If true, that could account for her slowness and heaviness during her skate. She's usually a much stronger short program skater. She looked tired.

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I was wowed by Sasha Cohen last night. This is her first major international competition and she performed with poise and showed no fear at all. Her spirals and extensions are gorgeous, and that lay back spin was lovely. What a talent!

I was taken aback by Slutskaya'a performance. She has grown so much as an artist and her athleticism was beyond question. Her one-legged footwork sequence was the best of all the ladies and her jumps were rock solid.

Michelle's performance was good, but not 'inspired', to quote Sandra Bezic. She just squeaked by Irina in the ordinals. I think Michelle must skate the performance of her life on Thursday night or hope that Slutskaya makes serious mistakes in order to win the gold. Michelle is the superior artist, but she needs to generate more speed and momentum in her program, as well as skate cleanly, to beat Slutskaya. Slutskaya's a real threat I'm afraid. It would be great if Michelle took gold and Sasha took silver, but that may not happen.

[ February 20, 2002: Message edited by: Melissa ]

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Victoria et. al. - I totally agree with your opinions of the delightful Sasha Cohen. What a gorgeous dancer...er...skater! And she's feisty as can be, too - not just the prim little peggy Fleming ice princess type, LOL! Michelle and Irina were also wonderful. Hughes - not bad either.

During the past few days, I have learned to be patient & grateful for the 'crumbs' thrown our way by NBC. I mean - we actually got to see Russia's powerful #3 lady Viktoria Volchkova (who self destructed...too bad) & the lyrical Galina mMniachenko of Ukraine (also self destructed). But - hey! - am I being too greedy to ask to have seen the skate of the 6th lady to make the final group, Hungary's little dynamo, Julia Sebestyen? I am also sorry that NBC did not show Japan's balletic Fumie Suguri either; she did quite well - in 7th or 8th place, I think. Well, at least we'll probably get to see Sebestyen's long program tomorrow, as NBC has been showing all of the skaters in the final warm-up groups, in the other events (pairs, men, dance).

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i know i've mentioned it before, but when they experimented with pay-per-view for complete (gavel to gavel, one might say) coverage of events, i really enjoyed seeing every single competitor over a period of a couple of hours. i like seeing the ones who aren't as good too. i feel the same way about ballet competitions.

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NBC tried the pay-for-view option for the Barcelona '92 Olympics...perhaps also for Atlanta '96? Why did they stop offering this option - did it 'bomb' financially - or were advertisers on the regular network upset that it would lure too many viewers away from watching their commercials? I don't think that it's ever been done for a Winter Olympics. There is such a craze for ice skating that I bet that NBC would make money on it. And we would be spared the 'cultural hot tub' advertisements on NBC! [Actually, I like the 'hot tub' series of ads...very clever...as well as the Bank of America 'athlete-wanna-be' series.]

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Very impressed by Slutskaya last night. No, she'll never be Miss Seamless Flow, but she has worked very hard and improved her presentation immeasurably. Amazing the way she gets into the air for her jumps. I thought the night was hers, and Cohen's. However, it's the short program, and all anyone wants to do is not fall down, be in position for a medal,and get off the ice. All the girls in the lead did what they needed to do, although Sarah Hughes must be more than a little disappointed. Kwan was far from her best, I thought, and benefited from the save-the-best-marks-for-last mindset. Admired her spunk in pulling out that triple flip, but can't say a lot more than that.

Interesting to note that the NBC commentators, who have been voluble on the subject of possible judging irregularities, were mum last night, preferring instead to favor us with insights into Michelle's Renewed Joy in Her Skating.

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dirac,

What I noticed about the commentators was how they repeatedly stressed how the judges were 'dissecting' each performance and the required elements. They made it sound like the judges were

going to great lengths to mark each skater carefully. Perhaps that explains why it took so long for each lady's marks to come up.

I too noticed them talking about Michelle's new found joy in her skating. Aside from the smile during her spiral sequence, there wasn't much joy to be seen at all.

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I was disappointed with the judging. If they really were dissecting each element, it would be Slutskaya, Cohen and Kwan in 1st, 2nd, 3rd. Slutskaya had the jumps, the footwork, the speed in her spins. Cohen's presentation and spiral sequence was the best of the night and apart from her slight flutz was very clean. Michelle had too many faulty take-offs and landings. I couldn't believe she got a 5.9 in her technical mark, but there you go. The marks take a little longer to come up because of the instant replay the judges have available to look at the elements again, but it sure doesn't seem like they're using it. I hate to bash skaters but if the judges don't make appropriate deductions then the skaters will never clean their jumps up. And it's another black mark for the 'sport' when favouritism takes hold. I'm relieved that the right skaters made the top 3 as they all have an equal shot at gold but I'm afraid the irregular judging will carry over into the long program.

Eurosport did show Fumie Sugari and she was exquisite. Her program had a similar feel to that of Sasha and Sarah (and a similar costume to Sasha as well!) It hurt her coming so early on I think because she rivals Sasha and co. in presentation and was very clean. Definitely one to watch.

I heard the same rumours about Butyrskaya but I think it emerged that there was no appendectomy. She wasn't really at her best but at least she has nothing to lose now and can hopefully deliver a really good LP.

[ February 20, 2002: Message edited by: sylvia ]

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I mostly concur with Sylvia's ranking of the skaters although I'm not sure, having not seen Cohen's short program (was it the same one as her short for Nationals?), I can't rate where she should be. If it WERE the same as her Nat'l short program, then I'd say she deserved the second place too.

Although I've always loved Michelle Kwan's skating, I've seen nothing in the last couple of years to impress me. Frankly, I don't see improvement during that time. Slutskata continues to improve. I have so much admiration for her because of that. Kwan has always had enormous musicality - it's no more evident now than previously. She's skating to her former short program. Nothing new here. And she's not skating it as beautifully as she did when she first presented it. Her jumps are tentative rather than assured and her speed has slowed down. So, where's the improvement?

I agree that there's a lot of TALK, both from the commentators and from Kwan herself, about letting her love for her sport shine through but it's not showing up in her skating. So I don't believe it. I think Kwan is scared of the competition, terrified even, and is trying to use words to psyche herself up and maintain an image she feels compelled to maintain. I feel sorry for her.

By contrast, Sasha Cohen, not known in the past for her invincibility on the ice, looks better than ever. But Sasha's got nothing to lose. Because she was off the circuit for most of last year, everyone forgot about her and so Sarah Hughes's name was promoted. One has to feel sorry for Hughes now. It must be a blow to have someone skate on past you.

I can't wait for the long programs!

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You could actually argue that Kwan deserved first, although I'm not disposed to make the argument myself. She wasn't very fast, but her spins were better centered than Slutskaya's, for example, and although Irina's footwork was more striking there were a couple of dead spots before her jumps. And she has a huge inbuilt advantage in that even on an off night she's easier to watch and has a better line than almost anyone else. I'm inclined to think that whichever one skated last would have gotten the top score.

I'm not sure that I'd call Kwan terrified right now. She pumped her fist as if she'd creamed everyone else, although that may have been bravado, and her demeanor as she acknowledged her rapturous audience was not exactly "Aw, shucks, me?" To me it looked more like, "I'm here, I've waited four years, and I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. De Mille." Pretty cheeky of her to thumbs-down her technical marks, I thought.

Two links:

Costume designer David Draper comments on the fashions at the Olympics this year, for the San Francisco Chronicle:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?.../SPcostumes.DTL

Bill Plaschke comments on Kwan's performance last night for the Los Angeles Times:

http://www.latimes.com/sports/printedition...s%2Dpe%2Dsports

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Thanks, Dirac. I think Bill Plaschke expressed my feelings very well.

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Althoguh Irina has improved great amounts in the last few years and Michelle has not (an opinion that I disagree with. her skating has matured considerably), I don't believe this necessarily makes her a better skater. Michelle simply hit her peak earlier and became a great skater years before Irina came into her own. I don't think it's fair to criticize someone simply because she became great early and hasn't continued to soar in ability. That would be like punishing your child who always gets straight As simply because she isn't getting A+'s now, and rewarding the C average student for all of a sudden getting As. While the latter achievement is to be commended it doesn't diminish the abilities of the former. When she's on, like the other night, Michelle's skating is as smooth as silk and there is no break between the artistry and the athleticism; that is, or should be, the true mark of a great skater. And as was said of the pair's skate, it's not what has been done on other nights or what was potentially possible for the skater, what counts is what was done on the night in question. I've seen Michelle skate the same SP many times before and while some might think she's skated it significantly better in the past (I happen to disagree) she was lovely the other night and deserved the marks she got (plus a little more for technique). Besides, there have been times in the last year that Irina has benefitted from the save-the-marks campaign (Grand Prix Final comes to mind), so it's just the nature of the beast. I don't think there can be any complaining about the marks though. Michelle was killed on Technical Merit (not too sure why) and properly rewarded for Presentation, then 5 of the 9 judges said (in their ordinals) that they found her overall program to be better than Irina's and Sasha's.

I agree with one thing in that article though, none of them is Michelle Kwan. She's not a baby ballerina like Cohen, or a jumping bean like Slutskaya, she's the mature and complete Prima Ballerina Asoluta. Kinda like Margot Fonteyn maybe...

Knowing that it will likely draw some criticism, I'll leave that daring and bold statement in as evidence of my 'attack' in this post. Wouldn't want to be accused of lacking a finishing punch smile.gif

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What seems to happen is that if there are a lot of clean skates, the judges box themselves in and run out of marks so maybe it explains some of them are so skewy.

[ February 21, 2002: Message edited by: sylvia ]

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Colleen probably expects this smile.gif but I still respectfully disagree with her, especially with, "Michelle simply hit her peak earlier and became a great skater years before Irina came into her own. I don't think it's fair to criticize someone simply because she became great early and hasn't continued to soar in ability."

Yes, Kwan peaked early, but she hasn't maintained that peak technically. She certainly has maintained her artistic sensibilities - they're an immutable part of her skating, and I'm very grateful to her for having those qualities because they're what make me love her skating so much. I wouldn't say she's grown artistically over, say, the last two years but I agree, that's OK. It's just that, because Olympics is about winning and it's about who's best right now, I'd like to see Michelle's skating be at its very best and I'm concerned that it's not.

That said, her jumps haven't been secure enough in the last few years as they were earlier on. And that's what's dogging her now. I DO think it's fair to hope that she'll improve rather than regress in that area. I have tapes of her earlier performances - her skating, and here I'm talking about her jumping, WAS technically stronger than at present. She shouldn't win a gold medal based on her past skating but on her performance in the here and now. I'm rooting for her all the way - I think she has it in her to put together a really great skate but she has to believe that of herself. I WANT her to win the gold. But fairly.

It's ironic that I'm trumpeting Slutskaya because she's got a style I've never cared for. But I admire her tremendously. And I do think that the American media dismisses her accomplishments because she's not "one of ours". But if she WERE American, you can bet that there'd be reams of stories about her indomitable fighting spirit, incredible work ethic, constant growth as an artist. I just want to see her get the credit she deserves for all this.

While I understand what you're saying, Colleen, about an A and a C student, the issue once again comes down to who is the A student right now? By your argument, Michelle ought to win because she used to get A's even though she doesn't now. And Slutskaya should be punished for getting an A because in the past she used to get C's. But that's not how the judging works and I'm just trying to place my remarks within the context of how the judges will see it.

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At the risk of being called 'racist' I cannot help but point out the REFRESHINGLY WONDERFUL ethnic mix within the top six ladies skaters (the top group of competitors going into tonight's Ladies finals): at least THREE ladies of Jewish heritage, one Chinese-American, one Slavic Russian orthodox, one Magyar. I'm old enough to remember when only 'WASPs' competed in Olympic-level figure skating. The new diversity has been noticeable since the 1980s (Debi Thomas, Kristi Yamaguchi, Surya Bonaly, etc., competing at the top of the sport).

I think that it is something nice to keep in mind as we watch these skaters tonight. How far the world has come! Maybe one of these years it won't even be cause for amazement smile.gif ...but for now I, for one, am happy to be amazed.

Similarly, wasn't it great to see the first African-American, male or female, win a gold medal in a Winter Olympics, two nights ago, when Veneta (sp?) Flowers of Alabama won gold in the two-person women's bobsleigh event?

Vive la difference!

[ February 21, 2002: Message edited by: Jeannie ]

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Michelle Kwan is the best of her time, the compleat skater. There isn't any argument about that, and when she's at her best no one combines athleticism and artistry as she does, or did. But I'm seeing an awful lot of artistry right now, and not nearly as much genuine athletic excitement as Kwan used to provide for us.

And there's a sense, harsh though it may be, in which it doesn't matter that Kwan has dominated for years. The gold medal, or first place in any competition, is not a body-of-work award, although the judges sometimes seem to treat it as such. But that's skating. smile.gif

Jere Longman and friends judge the short program, for the New York Times. Yes, it's a chick thing:

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/21/olympics/21FANS.html

[ February 21, 2002: Message edited by: dirac ]

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