This Thanksgiving weekend, figure skating fans from all over the U.S. and abroad will head to Lake Placid, NY for Skate America 2017, sixth and last event of the ISU Figure Skating Grand Prix 2017 series before the Final in Japan in the beginning of December. 58 athletes representing 12 nations will be competing over three days to determine Skate America champions in four figure skating disciplines (ladies’ and men’s single events, pairs’ and ice dance) as well as to earn their spots in the Grand Prix Final.
Lake Placid, NY is a small mountain town that is rich in sports history – having hosted two Olympic Games (in 1980 and 1932) and numerous sporting events throughout the years (including several Skate America events). As a fan of the sport, I could not miss this event held within a reasonable driving distance from our Boston suburb – especially with Winter Olympics 2018 coming up in less than three months! (There is still time to make Skate America part of your Thanksgiving weekend: here is event’s website for tickets and other info). While we are in town for Skate America, we will also be exploring Lake Placid’s historic Olympic sites and admiring the gorgeous nature. Stay tuned for our follow up story and pictures on the blog and social media!
Whether you are headed to Lake Placid or will be following the event on TV, here is some useful information for you.
Grand Prix of Figure Skating (run by the International Skating Union) is the most important annual competition after the World Championships. It is a series of six international invitational events held in Canada, China, France, Japan, Russia and USA each season over six consecutive weeks. Skaters in each of the four figure skating disciplines are invited to participate in two of the six events based on the World Championship results in the prior year; they collect points towards qualifying for the Grand Prix Final (only six skaters/couples in each discipline qualify to compete in the Final – which this year will be held on December 8-10 in Japan).
FIGHT FOR THE GRAND PRIX FINAL
Being the final leg of the series, Skate America will finalize the list of six higher placing skaters in each discipline who will make it to the Final.
Ladies have already determined the five best skaters (those who have already completed their two Grand Prix events and earned 26 points or higher); but the last ladies’ Final spot will be decided at Skate America. Ashley Wagner of U.S. and Polina Tsurskaya of Russia (each with 11 points from third place finishes at prior events) – need to win (winner gets 15 points) to guarantee the place in the final. Placing second (13 points) may still put either of them in the Final provided they win the “tie breaker” with Japanese skater Wakaba Higuchi (she earned 24 points in her two events) based on scores and provided the “other” one of these two would finishes lower.
Update: on Tuesday, Russian skater Evgeniya Medvedeva (2017 and 2016 World Champion) who already made Grand Prix Final by winning in Russia and Japan, announced a serious foot injury that threatens her participation in the Final. If she withdraws, another lades spot would open up and more Skate America “scenarios” would make it possible for Tsurskaya or Wagner to take it.
Men’s field is more “open” this year with several leaders out of the picture (Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan is on rest due to ankle injury; Canadian Patrick Chan has skipped his second Grand Prix in favor of training and Javier Fernandez of Spain did not have a good skate at one of his events due to illness). With only two skaters so far having scores 26 and above, four participants of Skate America’s men’s event have a shot at making the Final: Nathan Chan of the U.S. and Sergey Voronov of Russia (15 points each currently following their wins at Russia’s and China’s events accordingly), and Boyang Jin of China and Adam Rippon of U.S. (13 points each).
In Pairs competition, Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford of Canada and Aliona Savchenko /Bruno Massot of Germany (15 and 13 points accordingly for first and second place finishes in Canada) are expected to make the final six, but there are some Skate America placement scenarios where Natalia Zabiako/Alexander Enbert of Russia (9 points) may qualify to the Final.
In Ice Dance brother-sister pair Alex and Maia Shibutani of the U.S. (15 scores from their win in Russia) and Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy are highlighting the competition with best changes to make the Final.
You can try your own hand at figure skating “math” by checking the current standings at ISU website.
BATTLE FOR OLYMPIC SPOTS
In the pre-Olympic season, Grand Prix becomes even more important as skaters are vying to make their country’s Olympic teams and need to impress their national federations. As each country is able to qualify between one and three participants in each discipline (based on the performance at the World Championships) the rivalry for the spots on national team in leading figure skating power houses such as Russia, Japan and the U.S. will be fierce. Some of these countries’ best skaters are competing in Skate America!
American Ashley Wagner (silver medalist at the 2016 Worlds in Boston) for one could use the boost of winning here as she is competing in her third Olympic cycle and hoping to make the Olympic team. Japan’s Satoko Miyahara (2015 World silver medalist) is coming back after competition break due to injury, and she also badly needs to prove herself to the Japanese federation – as Japan has only two ladies spots at this Olympics and a long list of contenders.
Update: Anna Pogorilaya of Russia has reportedly withdrawn due to injury but will be replaced by her country woman Seraphima Sakhanovich.
If you are following figure skating at least at the Olympics, you probably remember that the old 6.0s scoring system was replaced in 2004 in response to several high-profile judging controversies. In the new system a base value of each required skating element in the program (e.g. jumps, spins, jump combinations and step sequences in singles events) is added and then also given a grade of execution by the Technical Judging Panel to be added or deducted from the base value of the element. The technical score is then combined with a separate score for “artistic components” (made up of scores for skating skills, transitions, interpretation of music, performance, and composition). Artistic scores (on a scale of 0.25 to 10) from these five categories are added together and multiplied by a factor (depending on the type of competition) for skater’s final “artistic” mark. To give you an example in how much the subjective part still plays a role in the sport, at the recent Grand Prix event in France, a winner – 15-year old Olympic podium contender Alina Zagitova of Russia – received a technical score of 81,80for her long program and an artistic score of 69,54. Second place finisher Maria Sotskova (also of Russia) received 73.78 for her technical elements and 67.21 for “artistry”.
TO QUAD OR NOT TO QUAD
In the current scoring system where each element is accounted for, most skaters are looking to maximize their scores with mastering as many high base value elements as possible. Nathan Chan of the U.S. who is headlining the men’s event at Skate America is the first skater to land all five different quadruple jumps in one program at the international competition. The jumps are what Nathan “is known for” and he will continue to work on consistency (to land all those jumps time and again) on his way to the Olympic podium. Yet other skaters are placing more emphasis on clean performances of less technically challenging programs – to improve their grade of execution and avoid potential fall deductions that come with quadruple jumps. With several exceptions, however, the main podium contenders in each discipline have some of the most technically difficult programs in the field.
Several more experienced skaters (this list includes Ashley Wagner, 26, Carolina Kostner, 30, and Javier Fernandez, 26) are focusing on balance between technical and artistic components of the programs. For me, these are the most entertaining skaters to watch.
Who to Watch at Skate America 2017:
Ashley Wagner, USA (2016 World Silver Medalist, Three-time US Champion)
Polina Tsurskaya, Russia (rising star, could qualify for Grand Prix Final)
Satoko Miyahara, Japan (2015 World silver medalist)
Gabrielle Daleman, Canada (2017 World bronze medalist)
Alena Leonova, Russia (2012 World silver medalist)
Karen Chen, U.S. (2017 U.S. champion)
Boyang Jin, China (2016 & 2017 World bronze medalist)
Nathan Chan, U.S. (2017 U.S. Champion, 2016 Grand Prix Final second place; first skater to land all five different quadruple jumps in free skate in competition)
Sergei Voronov, Russia (just won Grand Prix of China, could qualify for Grand Prix final)
Adam Rippon (2016 U.S. Champion)
Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Canada (2015 & 2016 World Champions)
Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, Germany (2017 World silver & 2016 World bronze medalists; Aliona is also Olympic bronze medalist with her former partner Robin Szolkowy)
Alexa SCIMECA KNIERIM / Chris KNIERIM (2016 U.S. silver medalists, 2015 U.S. champions)
Alex and Maia Shibutani, USA (2016 World Silver Medalists, 2017 World Bronze Medalists)
Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, Italy (2014 World Champions, 2016 European Silver Medalists)
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