On Saturday we took another cable car, up to „Söllereck“ and from there we took a hike to Riezlern, which is a small touristic village in Austria, part of the tourist region „Kleinwalsertal“. In the morning the weather had been very foggy, which made for some beautiful „mystic“ photos.
In Riezlern we spontanously took the „Kanzelwand“ cable car, which was a great decision, because the mountain top was above the fog, so we got a very beautiful view onto mountains Kanzelwand and Fellhorn.
Pretty much a perfect day in the mountains.
We were back in the rink for the second part of the Pairs LP. After the SP had seen relatively many bad skates, I did not expect too much from this competition, but fortunately it was a bit stronger than the SP. Especially the Russian couple Efimova & Korovin had a much stronger skate than in the SP and even managed to grab the gold medal. I enjoyed both their program and their skating style. Knierim & Knierim again had a very complex program, but many technical problems and mistakes. It’s hard to say how much potential they have this season, with such rough skates. Deanna Stellato & Nathan Bartholomay were another interesting couple, since I still remember Deanna Stellato from her Singles career over 15 years ago, when she was considered one of the most promising young female US skaters. Obviously that didn’t work out, but it’s nice to see her back in pairs after all these years and I found their skating style quite pleasant.
The exhibition had a few boring music choices and programs, but overall I found it quite good, there luckily was a good mixture of upbeat music and the inevitable ballads. When the first of those „typical“ exhibition ballads was played at the beginning of the exhibition (I think it was „The Prayer“) my friend S. and I were joking that we’d also „like“ to hear „Hallelujah“, something from James Blunt and Ed Sheeran and „Music was my first love“…Funnily nearly all of those preditions came true (except the last one)…Skating is a lot of things, but not exactly known for all that much innovation 😛 The opening of the competition parts for music with lyrics just leads to all the typical exhibition music now also showing up in the competition parts 😉
I really liked the very traditional „kid’s group number“ to German folk music, that was done as an Opening. My highlight of the exhibition definitely was again Alina Zagitova, her „Survivor“ program was full of energy, entertainment and also high technical difficulties (which is something most other skaters don’t even try in the exhibition). I also appreciated the crowd pleasing programs from Keegan Messing and Alexander Majorov (since we had skipped all the men’s competition due to hiking, it was at least nice to see some of them now).
On Friday we had originally planned to do a longer hike up „Rubihorn“, but then a couple of things came in the way. First of all our hike from the day before had turned from a short hike to a very long one, the Nebelhorn cable car was out of order for a short while when we arrived there early in the morning (good to hear that they are planning to build a new one, since it’s rather outdated by now) and yesterday I noticed that my hiking boots (admittedly they’re over 10 years by now) were starting to fall apart at the soles. I had brought sneakers when I noticed that the day before, but still I didn’t feel all too comfortable about the thought of having to switch to sneakers in the middle of a hike in a rather alpine environment. Since some of my friends didn’t feel all that fit after the big hike from the day before either, we decided to postpone that hike until another year and went up Nebelhorn instead again and took a smaller hike towards „Seealpsee“.
Afterwards we arrived at the rink in time to see the whole ladies LP competition. While the first group had some rather weak skates, I still thought overall it was a rather good and entertaining competition. As in the year before I really enjoyed the skating style and choreography of Brooklee Han from Australia, even if her jumps weren’t all clean. The first real highlight was Marin Honda, who had a very lovely program with a very fitting very cute costume to go with it. She was a lot stronger and more confident than in the SP.
While I also really enjoyed the skates from Loena Hendrickx, Mai Mihara, Ashley Lin and Mariah Bell, the biggest highlight of the LP of course was the skating from Alina Zagitova, who had chosen „Carmen“ for her LP music.
A very traditional choice of course, but I really really liked the choreography and the jumps and execution of her program already were pretty much perfect that early in the season. What a great privilege and luck to get to see her skate live at such a small competition, she was as brilliant as one would expect from an Olympic champion.
The Free Dance afterwards did have some nice programs, but also the usual boring parts. Overall I have to say I don’t remember too many dances, but again Gilles & Poirier were very very lovely, skating to some romantic guitar ballad and pulling it off with a lightness that made it very enjoyable. Still my favorites in this FD were another team, that I had never seen before: Fear & Gibson from Great Britain. Their „disco“ FD was pulled off with so much power, energy and expression that it was great fun to watch and I also thought their lifts looked really effortless. They were rewarded with moving up 2 places from 6th to 4th overall.
Note: this blog post is in English, in case some international figure skating fan Facebook friends want to read it 😉
This year was quite a monumental anniversary for Germanys oldest figure skating competition: Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf took place for the 50th time. In the past couple of years my friend S. (see her blog Glimrende for her impressions) and I haven’t missed this competition very often and despite the fact that our figure skating fandom has become rather mild over the years, we still enjoy the yearly tradition of visiting Oberstdorf for Nebelhorn Trophy. Of course the fact that Oberstdorf is a lovely place in the middle of absolutely awesome mountains doesn’t hurt either 😉
In the past years Nebelhorn Trophy always started in the morning and usually our favorite competition parts took place during the day, which made it sort of hard to combine watching figure skating with hiking. So we were very pleasantly surprised when we looked at the schedule for this year, the competition never started before 2pm and they finally put the men’s competition parts in the beginning, something we’d been hoping for for years (nothing against men’s skating, but in the past year it has become rather technical and focused on quad jumps and it’s just never been my favorite competition part to watch in the first place). This meant we’d have plenty of time for hiking and would still get to see most of the skating. I really hope they keep this time schedule (I also still wonder why the competition always started like 4 hours earlier for the last 49 years, this new schedule seems much more audience friendly too, since I don’t think casual tourist visitors will show up in the morning (unless it rains badly), when there’s so much other stuff to do in the mountains). Talking of audience, it seems the Olympic win of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot had a big effect on attendance, since all the competition parts seemed to have double as many viewers as usually (it will be interesting to see whether this will slowly drop down to normal over the next few years…).
This year we’d arrived a day before the competition, so we could use the arrival day for getting some yummy cake and taking a small walk outside Oberstdorf.
On Thursday we had planned to only do a small hike through Trettachtal near Oberstdorf, we had planned to walk from Oberstdorf to Gerstruben and then directly back.
But since the weather was so beautiful we decided to walk a bit further towards „Spielmannsau“ and then back to Oberstdorf by the very small, but impressively blue lake „Christlessee“.
Overall this meant a hike from over 20 kilometers, but it was absolutely worth it!
Bring on the skating
Since we arrived a bit later than planned, we only saw the last group of the ladies short programs. I really enjoyed the competition, first of all it was a great opportunity to get to see the Olympic Champion Alina Zagitova. She skated to „Phantom of the Opera“ and of course was clearly the best of the competition (although I was not THAT crazy about the SP music, which was a bit overly dramatic). I also really liked Loena Hendrickx from Belgium, who has improved so massively over the last few years, what I especially like about her is that she’s both technically strong and powerful, yet also very artistic and expressive. Mariah Bell from the US also is a skater with a powerful yet expressive style. I liked both well enough that I could even forgive them for both choosing Celine Dion for their short program music 😉 Mai Mihara from Japan also had a lovely skate in her typical understated and elegant style. Overall I thought the ladies SP was very entertaining, despite nearly all of the music choices not fitting my musical taste.
I expected near to nothing from the Short Dance or Rhythm Dance (it seems to change names every year at the moment), since ice dancing has become rather boring and uninspired over the last couple of years and decades. Also the theme of the RD was „Tango Romantico“ which brought back memories of one of the most boring Compulsory Dances of the past. But luckily the variety of music that falls under Tango Romantico was a lot more varied and dynamic than I had feared. I have to say I enjoyed most of the programs, even though a lot of the teams still had some „early season“ problems (I think we saw 3 falls). My favorites were (as expected) Gilles and Poirier from Canada, but I also enjoyed the dances from Jennifer Urban and Benjamin Steffan, since the Tango theme seemed to fit their personality really well and from Koch & Nuechtern. Generally I thought the German dance teams looked quite good at Nebelhorn Trophy (even if I still hope that Joti Polizoakis also finds a new partner soon, the more competition the better ). Overall I enjoyed this rhythm dance more than any of the ice dancing at Worlds in Helsinki last year…
Unfortunately the last competition part of the evening, the Pairs SP was the weakest in my opinion, since many of the teams still seemed to struggle with their elements. Especially Knierim & Knierim seemed rather overburdened with the complexity and difficulty of their SP, so on top of problems with the jumps, their skating and transitions looked rather laboured. Hopefully they’ll be able to grow into the program and Aljona Savchenko as a coach won’t expect stuff from them that is beyond their abilities…still they managed to hold on to first place, since the rest of the field didn’t do better either. A rather positive surprise were Minerva Fabienne Hase & Norman Seegert, who seemed rather polished this early in the season and had a good skate after initially messing up their 3twist a bit. Also the Croatian team had a rather clean and nice skate, even if they of course were not as strong as the top teams overall. The only thing that was pretty much equality unwatchable from all the teams were the sbs spins, which apparently nobody manages to do in synch anymore…
Saturday was the last competition day and S. and I had not been to pleased when we noticed that the final event of the competition would be the Free Dance. Now I used to be a big ice dance fan as mentioned before, but I think even back in the days when I really loved ice dancing I wouldn’t necessarily have wanted it to be the final competition, since it’s just the discipline with the most subjective judging. Maybe it used to have the most entertainment factor, but I don’t really see that anymore today either, so I’m not sure why the schedule in Helsinki was adjusted to have dance last. It’s not as if Finland has a great couple with medal chances anymore. I personally would have prefered the men as the final competition.
The weather on Saturday was still a bit rainy/snowy, so it was a good day to spend it nearly completely at the rink. I was quite excited about the mens final and we did arrive in time for the first group, which didn’t really have big highlights, but nonetheless some rather strong skates. In the second group there definitely was a first big highlight, Misha Ge from Uzbekistan had a very clean and very emotional skate, that really was wonderful to watch. He has been having problems with injuries and announced that this World Championships were probably going to be his last competition, which explains the emotional reaction. By now I’ve read conflicting reports on whether he REALLY has decided whether he quits already, but I’m glad to hear that he is concentrating on choreographing for the moment, because he certainly has a good talent for it and it would be a pity if his creative potential wasn’t used for figure skating anymore.
For the third group I mainly noted down that there was lots of heavy music, so I suppose that wasn’t one of my favorite groups 😉 Another expected highlight of the event was Jason Brown again, who wasn’t 100% clean, but still had a strong skate and I as usually admired his beautiful lines. Kevin Reynolds landed a lot of quads, but due to his deficits in skating still and jump technique that leads to him getting good results, but still not being able to compete with the absolute top skaters. Still I thought this was a very good competition for him and I did find him ok to watch, since his choreographies have improved from earlier years .
After Yuzuru Hanyu had made a mistake in the SP, he finally delivered one his incredibly strong skates in the LP and I feel really privileged to have gotten the opportunity to see him live AND such a good skate, since I think that he’s most definitely one of the best male figure skaters ever. And he does have the rare but important combination of being a great jumper, a great technician AND still being an artistically strong skater. For me he was by far the highlight of the long program:
Boyang Jin of China had a „La Strada“ program that was a bit empty choreographically, but still quite nice to watch. He is not the most artistic skater, but he makes up for it by choosing very audience friendly programs. Another positive surprise in the LP was Shomo Uno, for me he had the best choreography in the LP, skating to a Tango, but not one the typical overused choices that one has heard a thousand times over the years, but an interesting rarely used Tango and I found the choreography very intricate and well interpreted. Patrick Chan and Javier Fernandez didn’t do much for me, Fernandez also had a very bad skate that cost him a medal in the end.
Overall I really liked the men competition in Helsinki and mens skating is a discipline that I definitely like better now than in the past, when I usually had 1 or 2 favorites that I really liked and a few top skaters that were very interesting (like Plushenko or Yagudin), but where I found the overall competition often rather dragging and bland. Nowadays, I tend to like more skaters, even if I don’t have big favorites.
We went to a Mexican restaurant in the break, that had an interesting mixture of self service and regular service that I haven’t encountered in Germany, you have to get your drinks at the bar, order meals at the bar, but then they are delivered to your table.
I didn’t take any notes on the Free Dance, which sort of summarizes my excitement…I had hoped it would have a bit more mixed and entertaining music choices than the Original Dance, but somehow everybody seemed to skate to some contemporary classical music, with the exception of the Polish team, who skated to „Dirty Dancing“ and Chock & Bates, who skated to a remix of „Under Pressure“ from David Bowie and Queen. If I had to choose a favorite, it would again be that program from Chock & Bates, but unfortunately they skated not so well and fell from 4th to 7th place.
I found the finale of the Free Dance a bit strange, Virtue & Moir managed to hang on to the victory despite a small stumble, the French skated very strongly, but somehow their programs always look the same to me, like S. said like „contemporary dancing on ice“. Hubbell & Donohue skated last and were in an excellent 3rd position after the SD and they also started well (fast and with big movements) into their FD, but then he fell quite specularily on the Twizzle sequence and that so badly that I think the whole sequence probably didn’t count anything at all, which led to them falling from 3rd place to 9th.
When they showed the Top 3 winners in the waiting area, everybody sort of looked not that happy, which was a bit weird and when they were interviewed, Virtue & Moir somehow managed to sound so diplomatic, that they gave off the impression of being a bit sorry for having beaten their training mates for Gold. I mean that might be „nice“, but it’s a sport competition after all and if you think of ice dance rivalries of the past, one certainly wouldn’t have gotten such an impression from the likes of Grishuk, Usova, Fusar Poli or Anissina 😀
Overall I wasn’t crazy about the Free Dance, but I’m sure that for people who enjoy the current style of ice dancing, it was an entertaining competition with lots of good skate. That sort of ice dancing is just not so much my taste.
Friday the weather had suddenly changed from „cold, but wonderfully sunny“ to a mixture of snow and rain (luckily turning more into snow most of the time), so we didn’t mind that there wasn’t time for any sightseeing, since the competition started relatively early on Friday. In order to prepare for a weather like today, I had bought a brand new umbrella directly before Worlds, which I put to his first and only use today, because I immediately forgot it inside the rink when we left for the break between afternoon and evening event 😛 Of course it was gone when we came back to the rink in the evening (I always lose all my umbrellas, but losing it on the first ever usage is still a new record).
This morning we accidently found the tram number 7 that we had searched for 2 days earlier, so we took this instead of a train and therefor got a few more impressions from the city.
The afternoon competition was the Short Dance (which is a sort of combination of the former Compulsory Dances and former Original Dance), which S. and I had had mixed feelings about. Ice Dance has been my favorite discipline in the past (with my favorites having been Teams like Grishuk & Platov, Bestemianova & Bukin, Klimova & Ponomarenko, Rahkamo & Kokko, Fusar Poli & Margaglio, Chait & Sakhnovsky, Navka & Kostomarov, Lobacheva & Averbukh and many more). I used to love the costumes, the drama, the personalities of the top stars, the rivalries, the spectacular dramatic programs and much more. But over the last few years, for me ice dance has become a rather technical and formalized discipline and somehow together with that also the programs, music choices and skater personalities seem to have morphed into a bland „competent and technically strong normalcy“ that leads to everbody sort of looking and skating the same to me. Also for me the „dancing“ aspect seems to be getting smaller.
Even though S. and I had been to Nebelhorn Trophy earlier in the season, we had managed to forget what the mandatory music of the Short Dance was going to be and I joked to S. that probably it would be some really weird and unlikely combination, like „Blues and Hip Hop“. When we saw the first pair on the ice, I realized that this probably hadn’t been a random idea of myself, but a memory from Nebelhorn coming out of my subconsciousness 😀 , since the first couple directly skated to a combination of Blues and … Hip Hop (and they weren’t going to be the only ones). I concluded after some couples that the mandatory music was „Blues, in combination with anything to wake up the audience“. Now I don’t have anything against Blues (I even bought a Blues album from Melissa Etheridge recently and enjoyed it), but it is a music genre that I only can listen to in small doses usually. And it’s a music that I’ve never liked much when it’s used for skating programs (male skaters tend to like to use it especially for exhibitions). So sitting through 32 or something Short Dances that all consisted of 50% Blues music was a bit … dragging 😀 Most of the teams started with Blues and then chose some upbeat music in the 2nd half (usually something like Swing), the ambitious top skaters brought some variety into that by skating to the upbeat music first and finishing with Blues.
After the Short Dance I really had some difficulties to name any favorites, except for that S. and I both liked the Short Dances from Gilles & Poirier and Chock & Bates, which were exactly the same 2 couples we had already liked at Nebelhorn Trophy.
For me the most exciting thing about the Short Dance was that I found an exhibition of original costumes from Rahkamo & Kokko during a walk around the rink during a break:
In the break between afternoon and evening we went to an Italian Restaurant with good food, but a bit chaotic service, where I had a pizza with chicken, garlic, blue cheese and rucola (having decided against the alternative of „Pizza Finlandia“ with the odd seeming combination of „reindeer, pineapple & salami“).
After a bit of missing enthusiasm for the Short Dance, I was looking forward to the evening event even more, the Ladies LP!
Similarily to the Pairs event, the Long program wasn’t as clean overall as the short program, but nonetheless a very good competition. Of the earlier groups the absolute highlight was Mai Miharas skate to „Cinderella“, which was absolutely perfect and engaging and brought her from 15th place to 5th place overall.
I also liked the music choice of Xiangning Li from China, who skated to „Princess Mononoke“ (another lady did as well, but I forgot who it was). Ivett Toth from Hungary actually made some mistakes and had a rough skate, but her program was so good, that I still managed to enjoy the choreography a lot.
Another cute program choice was Laurine Lecaveliers skate to a „Grease“ Medley. She’s a very talented skater from France, who has an engaging individual style.
Unfortunately in the LP Anna Pogorilaya managed to bomb in a quite spectactular way, with several hard falls, which left her completely desperate after the LP (and brought her from 4th place to 13th overall). But at least she even manages to bomb with more entertainment and drama than any other skater I’ve seen before 😉 and she got a lot of support from the audience.
Evgenia Medvedeva on the other hand was completely perfect and seems pretty invincible, also her LP to „Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close“ (I’ve read the book, which is REALLY recommendable) was wonderfully choreographed and she managed to interpret the very serious topic (the book and movie is about the terror attacks on the World Trade Center) very convincingly. She pretty much was in a class of her own.
The two Canadian Girls managed to hang on to silver and bronze, which was a really nice surprise. I especially like Gabrille Daleman, who might not be the most spectacular skater ever, but she has a lovely style and did deliver so well at this World Championships. Carolina Kostner also had a rather good skate again and managed to end up on a very respectable 6th place.
If I had to choose a favorite from the LP, I’d probably go with Mai Mihara:
On Thursday the competition began relatively late, so we had a little time for sightseeing. We used the opportunity to walk towards the harbour again and visit two of the biggest churches of Helsinki, the white cathedral and the Uspenski cathedral. The weather and the early morning light were just awesome.
The Uspenski catherdral is a catholic church with a sort of Russian looking design:
The white cathedral is a protestant church, that looks very impressive from the outside, but has a rather typical (for protestant churches) simple design on the inside
After our walk around Helsinki, it was time for the second day of skating. Today it was time for the Men SP and the final of the pairs. Generally I’ve never been too much of a fan of men’s skating (due to them having a tendency to skate to bombastic action movie soundtracks while wearing boring costumes), but currently there are a lot of many strong men and I have to say overall I think the presentation aspect of skating has improved a little bit in men Skating, despite the technical difficulties still dominating everything (S. and I remembered that back when we were big skating fans, Michael Weiss was always talking about trying a quad lutz and now there’s actually skaters doing it , along with other men landing tons of quads all over the programs. Of course a development that does not only have advantages…
In the earlier groups S. and I were a bit amused to see Kevin Reynolds, since he still looks exactly like the last time we saw him (which is an awful lot like Ron Weasley 😉 , plus a very individual hairstyle). As some years ago, he has some deficiencies in skating and jump technique and isn’t the most artistic skater, but he delivered a very strong skate in the SP, that kept him in the lead for a very long time and gained him a good place before the LP. Also Brendan Kerry from Australia was surprisingly strong. I also really enjoyed the SP from Mikhail Kolyada from Russia, who skated to a folkloristic Tango music and had very clean jumps. Boyang Jin from China had a very entertaining and crowd-pleasing program to a music called „Spiderman“ AND a quad lutz. Nathan Chen even had 2 quads (in the short program! that is something one definitely wouldn’t have seen 10 years ago), but fell on the 3axel. Alexei Bychenko from Israel is not the most exciting or elegant skater, but at least he’s usually a guarantee for rather solid skates.
During Yuzuru Hanyus skate it suddenly felt as if we were in Japan, because so many spectators were from Japan and also because as it seems Hanyu is something like a rock star there. Which one could also see from the look of the ice after his skate 😉
Hanyu is my favorite male skater at the moment as well, but he made an uncharacteristic mistake in his rather psychedelic short program and only managed to get 5th place in the SP. I wasn’t too crazy about any of the top 3 of the SP, Patrick Chan has never been my taste (but his music choice to obscure Beatles songs wasn’t that bad), neither is Javier Fernandez (somehow his skating always looks the same to me, no matter what music he chooses, which might explain my subjective impression that he’s always wearing a black costume while skating to Spanish music –> in this SP he REALLY was wearing a black costume and skating to Spanish music). My absolute favorite of the SP was as usually Jason Brown, who just is such an engaging and artistic skater, who can always connect to the music and the audience that I totally prefer him to any male skater with quads. Since Jasons technique is so strong and his other elements are as well, he can compete rather well with the men who have more difficult jumps, which makes me very happy.
After a break it was time for the Pairs LP, which unfortunately wasn’t as strong as the SP, but still good. Of the earlier pairs, I was the most impressed with Marchei & Hotarek and Seguin & Bilodeou, who had the only really clean skates of the earlier groups. Overall the competition was a bit „mixed“ in terms of clean performances and mistakes, but it was an enjoyable evening nonetheless. Savchenko & Massot had a very very good skate and I really enjoyed their big movements and I also like the LP (even if the SP is a bit more fun) as a program. Overall I think they are a good pair, even if Aljona in both her pairings so far has a bit the problem that she is so dominant (in terms of personality and skating skills) that her partners never seem to be able to be her „equal“. In pairs skating that of course always leads to the effect that you are not going to see a real „unity“ on ice like with some exceptional pairs of the past. But considering all that, her successes with both Robin Szolkowy and Bruno Massot of course still were incredible and it’s lovely to see her having so much more fun now in her career with Bruno (even if they were a bit disappointed about „only“ winning silver here in Helsinki). Still one can’t help but wonder what Aljona might have achieved if she had once found a partner who is equally ambitious and technically strong (I suppose it would either have led to incredible brilliance or to „blood and thunder“ 😉 ) or if Savchenko & Szolkowy hadn’t been hindered by the complicated and conflicted coaching and private situation with Ingo Steuer.
Even if Savchenko & Massot had a very good LP skate, I was very happy that Sui & Han managed to hang on to the victory with an also very good skate. I just love their skating style and they are very harmonic as a pair. I find it quite funny, that now that I’m not such a big skating fan anymore, suddenly my favorites are winning in many disciplines 😛 Back when I was a passionate fan, my favorites seemed to hang around 4th to 6th place or bomb at most important competitions (maybe with the exception of Sale & Pelletier in pairs).