Summer Skating: Adam Rippon, Rika Hongo, and more

By srasher
Jul. 20, 2016

Skaters are doing their best to be kind to their news-starved fans. Even more than in past years, athletes are premiering and workshopping new competitive programs at summer shows in Japan and Korea. Meanwhile, the North American club competitions are well under way, with the Broadmoor Open, L.A. Open, and Philadelphia Open already in the books, and significant meets taking place every weekend from here on out. Some offer live streams, and most don't complain about home videos posted to YouTube. Still, it's tough to find video of many performances, and programs with copyright-infringing music are getting blocked or removed ruthlessly.

That means I can't share several performances by up-and-coming Americans. In some cases, that's for the best, since the clip I saw of Tomoki Hiwatashi's free skate was a nightmare. He doesn't have a handle on his challenging senior-level choreography yet, and it's tying his technical content into knots. Rumors of a coaching change and cross-country move might play into the state of his skating. It's not clear whether he's moved permanently to Kori Ade, or if this is just a summer workshop. 

Other videos from the Broadmoor Open haven't been completely removed, but they're marked private, which means I'm not going to link them directly. The highlight for me was Emily Chan's new free skate, to an orchestral version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." It shows off her long lines and gorgeous performance quality, but the transitions might be too simple to succeed in seniors. Her jumps weren't there, either, although it was hard to tell how many were errors and how many were intentional doubles so she could focus on getting the routine laid out.

The technical content seems to have backslid for Rika Hongo, too, although she probably kept her jumps conservative at Dreams On Ice because she was skating in the dark. Not everyone is as nuts as Shoma Uno, throwing in extra quads in a rink with no boards. It does look like she's planning a triple lutz-triple toe loop at the top of this new short program, and I hope she's able to take off more confidently in competition than she did here. I love the footwork entrance into her double axel, though, and the intricate steps throughout will look a lot better once she's committed them to muscle memory. It's good to see Hongo building upon the performance style that sets her apart: she's so overdramatic that she can keep up with Carmina Burana. I'd feared that she might be corralled into a more delicate and conventional style, but instead, she's recommitted to her role as Team Japan's go-to Disney villain.

Sean Rabbitt's new free skate was one of the many casualties of this summer's YouTube copyright blocking bonanza, but his terrific short program from the L.A. Open got to stay. He scored 73 points with only a double Axel, highlighting the speed and musicality that keep him in the conversation among American men's skaters even when his technical content can't keep up. He's going to need a secure triple Axel to contend elsewhere, but I hope this clean skate, which is impressively polished for mid-summer, will catch some eyes. He's in the international selection pool this year, and he's looking strong enough to merit some senior B assignments.

But the real highlight of the L.A. Open was Junior Ladies' winner Kaitlyn Nguyen. Only 12 years old, and returning to the ice after an injury took her out of the novice field at 2016 US Nationals, she might be the most promising pre-teen skater in the United States right now. She opened her free skate with a huge triple lutz-half loop-triple salchow and kept her momentum throughout her performance, nailing a double Axel-triple toe loop in the second half. It's fun to hear the audience gasping with amazement as the jumps seem to get bigger and bigger. Nguyen's choreography is understandably simple for now, although she gets a few opportunities to show flexibility and a canny sense of rhythm. Let's hope she stays healthy, because this is definitely one to keep an eye on.

Bless the phone-wielding wizard who captured this one. Adam Rippon field-tested his new short program at something called the Cactus Classic, and we have receipts. He played it safe technically, replacing his usual quad lutz attempt with a no-sweat triple lutz-triple toe loop and making me wonder if this is the only time we'll get to see him skate this program clean all season. It looks like he's still getting his head around the choreography, and there's way too much empty space for crossovers and telegraphing, especially at the beginning of the program. On the other hand, EDM is a great look and sound for Rippon, especially when the step sequence gives him a chance to cut loose. 

I'll wrap this up with a sticky summer treat. If you haven't watched Johnny Weir's fan dance duet with Hao Zhang from Amazing on Ice, go do yourself a favor.