Aug. 08, 2016
Summer Skating: Glacier Falls Summer Classic Highlights
I'd hoped IceNetwork would upload the full event video of the Glacier Falls Summer Classic sooner so I could do a proper recap. But the Olympics start tomorrow, and I have a whole other post's worth of new skating programs to write about. Plus, there's free live stream this weekend of the Championnats Québécois d'Été, a regional competition in Canada that boasts an ice dance line-up almost as formidable as some we'll see during the Grand Prix, and I suspect some fan videos of the top competitors at the Asian Open will turn up, too. It's barely August, and there's already more figure skating to watch and analyze than I have time for. So I'll have to get cracking on these Glacier Falls fan videos. Fortunately, a variety of dedicated spies sat in the bleachers last weekend, producing among them an excellent highlight reel of one of the highest-profile North American club competitions of the summer.
Jason Brown's short program isn't new in the strictest sense: he skated it at the Team Challenge Cup back in the spring. The choreography has been substantially cleaned up since then, though, and it looks like a different piece now that he's been practicing it for a few months. I'm a little disappointed in his program music this year because everything is so sad and serious; I'm sure he's trying to demonstrate his maturity to the judges, but his goofy showmanship is what sets him apart. Nonetheless, this is pretty darn awesome, and it's hard to imagine any other men's skater performing it. He earned upwards of 95 points for this short program, and part of that is surely score inflation. (Bless judge #2, who gave him straight 10's for all his components.) But his astronomical components scores also reflect how difficult of a program this is just to get through. The reason he has time for all those beautiful moves that display his edges and flexibility? He whips through a rococo step sequence like it's a set of back crossovers, all the while making the frenzied motions look lyrical and controlled. He also exits his triple Axel into a back outside spiral, which he curves into his combination spin, all without a change of foot. If his quad were competition-ready, this would easily cross the 100-point threshold. Even with only triple jumps, if he skates this well at international meets, he'll take home some serious hardware later in the season.
Brown wasn't the only men's skater to hold off on the quads at Glacier Falls. In fact, only one man in the entire event landed a clean quad, Australia's Brendan Kerry, and his quad toe was a bright spot in Tim Dolensky gave his quad salchow a shot again in both programs; the good news is that he's consistently getting credit for rotating it, and the bad news is that he's consistently landing it on his butt. Vincent Zhou, on the other hand, left his hardest jumps out of his performances at Glacier Falls, concentrating instead on presenting his more mature and intricate choreography. He's a more elegant skater now that he's returned to Tammy Gambill for training, but his technical consistency worries me. His triple Axel, a reliable jump for him last season, is shaky now, and he had serious trouble with popped jumps in his free skate. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Zhou's new short program more than any other I'd seen from him. He hasn't quite found his James Bond mojo yet, but he clearly likes the music and relates to it. In a country where even the second-tier men's skaters can recover from errors with high components scores, that's a crucial step forward for Zhou.
Speaking of American men's skaters whose performance quality often makes up for technical problems, Glacier Falls gave us a first look at Grant Hochstein's new free skate. I'm thrilled that he's skating to Il Pagliacci, a great opera that doesn't get enough love from figure skaters, and Hochstein brings the right combination of theatricality and playfulness. It's simultaneously his kind of music -sensitive and dramatic - and a different side of his personality than he gave us last season. Although his performance at Glacier Falls was full of jump errors, including a popped quad attempt at the beginning and a freak fall on what should have been an easy triple lutz, they're not the kind of technical mistakes that make me worry for fall. It looks like Hochstein's purpose at Glacier Falls was not to win a medal but to get rough drafts of his programs in front of judges and an audience. This program does need some fine-tuning, especially in the transitions, but it's a memorable routine that plays to his strengths.
Add yet another spirited young Texan to the list of middle-schoolers on the verge of saving American ladies' skating. Ashley Lin's high, centered triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination brought her the highest short program score at the event. She had trouble in her free skate, mostly because someone had the bonkers idea to have her compete a triple flip-half loop-triple salchow in the second half of her program, which led to falls and downgrades. Lin is only thirteen, so she has time to refine those difficult elements. I hope that in the process, she keeps on smiling, because she lights up the rink. If she and both make it through puberty unscathed, theirs could be the next epic American rivalry.
For now, Starr Andrews has a couple of years more experience than Lin or Nguyen, and a truckload of artistry to show for it. Her triple-triple combination isn't as explosive as theirs, and unlike the judges, I'm not entirely convinced that she rotated the second jump. Still, Andrews' musical expression and star quality put even most senior ladies to shame. She's also the best American spinner since Alissa Czisny.
Much has been made of Caroline Zhang's return to the ice after a series of hip surgeries, but her performance at Glacier Falls makes me fear that this is going to be a disappointing final act for her. As expected, she's lost much of the flexibility that made her spins so stunning early in her career, and she can't be faulted for the cautiousness of those elements. But the jump issues that plagued her in her youth haven't resolved themselves: she popped several jumps and struggles to maintain a clear edge on her lutz. I admire her for going for a triple loop-triple loop combination, especially so late in the program, but she doesn't get full rotation on the second jump. Most worryingly, her performance quality hasn't really progressed; she doesn't show much sign of relating to her music or telling the story embedded in it. That ought to be her biggest advantage over her teenage competitors, but instead, even the juniors are overshadowing her in terms of style and emotion. [Correction: Zhang underwent only one surgery, but one with a particularly long and painful recovery process. It's impressive that she's returned to skating and is able to perform at this level already!]
Despite placing second in a fairly deep field, Paige Rydberg didn't get much attention at Glacier Falls. While many of her competitors wobbled through new choreography like baby deer, Rydberg looked confident. Her posture and speed make her a pleasure to watch, and they raise her components scores as well. Artistically, she's a bit of an ice queen, although Evita is a good fit; if she can relax and find her inner Madonna, she could grow into this program. She looks like she has enough rotational power to upgrade her opening triple flip-double toe loop to a triple-triple, and she's going to need it if she wants to get noticed. The most striking thing here, though, is how well Rydberg maintained her technical consistency, as she has a history of skating great short programs but blowing it in the free skate. Here, she recovered mentally from a doubled flip and nailed the difficult jumping passes late in her program, a sign of maturity that will serve her well.
The undisputed star of the Glacier Falls ladies' event was Mariah Bell. Last season looked like a career-ending disaster for her, but she's clearly used the spring and summer to regroup. The fans on the message boards went bananas for her Chicago short program, although if she's going to go all-in on a Fosse number, I'd like to see more sharpness in her upper body movements. I preferred her graceful free skate, which gives her lots of opportunities to show off her edges and flexibility. Bell also re-established herself at Glacier Falls as one of the most technically adept American ladies, opening with a textbook triple lutz-triple toe loop and getting full rotation credit for her triple flip-half loop-triple salchow despite a very rough landing. She could spend the autumn flying under the radar at senior B events, then emerge as a big threat at Nationals. She'll certainly have the audience in the palm of her hand wherever she goes this season.