With the conclusion of the Cup of China, one thing's for sure: more than a couple of skaters are still trying to find their footing.
Take the men's event, where the eventual winner from the United States, Jeremy Abbott won on the total points from two 3rd place performances. The good news: Abbott is a terrific skater and a treat to watch. It would seem as if he's on the path to redemption after failing to medal in his own country and qualify for worlds last season.( I say good news because Abbott's sophistication and overall skill as a skater can only push the other men.)
The highlight for me was seeing China's Nan Song skate clean in the short and win the free program. This earned him not only a bronze and his first Grand Prix medal; but his first finish on the podium at a senior international event.
It was also nice to see Japan's Nobunari Oda push through and move up from 4th after the short to take the silver.
The highest ranked man to skate in China and reigning world bronze medallist, Artur Gachinski, dropped like a rock from 1st after the short to 5th overall. The Russian proved that when jumps fail, it's helpful to have program components as a back-up.
In ice dance, I wondered before the event whether or not the reigning world bronze medallists, Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani, would make enough of an improvement in the off-season in their overall presence to defend.
My prediction that the Russian team of Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev would be the ones to test them proved true. Bobrova and Soloviev are a team I've been keeping an eye on. As the current European silver medallists, they also have a strong track record and made their presence felt with a decisive win and 15.12 point lead over the Americans. Taking bronze were the French team of Pernelle Caron and Lloyd Jones.
I still find myself surprised by skating once in a while which is exactly what happened in the pairs' event. CBC figure skating commentator Kurt Browning felt the same about gold medallists from Russia, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov: "I realized it was a full two minutes into their program before I said anything. I have to say they were really good when I wasn't expecting them to be. She looked somehow humbled which she has never looked before."
The Russians, who took both the short and free programs, were understated, elegant and technically very strong where frequently they had descended (for me) into artistic silliness in one or the other of their programs in any given season. All of a sudden 'who is the best Russian pair' takes on a new dimension, and stay tuned - that fight could go the distance.
In the meantime, China's Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, my pick for gold, continued to look lethargic on their way to their second Grand Prix silver medal.
Reigning Canadian champions, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, had a solid 2nd place short program. Skating their free program to 'Henry V', they were still able to fill the rink from a presentation point of view but struggled on the technical side. Moore-Towers and Moscovitch finished their two Grand Prix events with bronze medals in both.
The women's event was all good news for those skaters finishing on the podium. Taking the gold was Italian Carolina Kostner, who won the short and followed it up with a season's best score in the free. Kostner has long since acknowledged that she is often not at her strongest at the beginning of the season. Adding gold in Shanghai to the silver medal she won at Skate America means that Kostner's earned enough points to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in Quebec City in December.
Mirai Nagasu also expressed relief at her solid second place performances. The American often rises to the challenge in one or other of her programs. In Shanghai, Nagasu broke her own good program/bad program 'curse.' This was even more significant given her shaky performance at Skate Canada a week ago.
The 2011 junior World champion, Adelina Sotnikova was impressive in her Grand Prix debut. Her 'good news' was a bronze medal showing that served notice to the women of the world that there is some great talent coming out of the women's ranks in Russia and just in time for Sochi.
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