The conclusion of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final has made one thing very clear and that's if you aren't prepared to win, then you won't.
Patrick Chan is a great example. He left points on the table with a bobbled jump combination in the short program leaving him to fight his way out of second after the short program. The same could be said for Javier Fernandez whose fifth place finish in the short was less than ideal.
Once the skaters took the ice for the free, it was clear that it was going to have to be 'do or die' time. Fernandez stepped up and won the free. He was impressive performing three different quads, the first time that has happened in competition since Brian Joubert did in 2006. It wasn't enough for a medal, and Fernandez finished fourth overall.
The short program leader was 2010 world champion Daisuke Takahashi. He capitalized on a clean short program and followed it up with a strong free. Takahashi finally won the Grand Prix Final title that had eluded him in six previous attempts.
Japanese dynamo and the holder of the current world record in the short program, Yuzuru Hanyu was methodical in his approach to his free and moved from third to second overall.
The story of the event in my mind was bronze medallist Chan. Finishing fourth in the free program can mean different things in different seasons.
The last time he had a fourth place free program at an event where the results are officially documented, was at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. It was considered a triumph given that Chan at the time was rebounding from injury and illness.
Back to the drawing board?
This season, Chan was already struggling coming out of the gate. He was defeated at Skate Canada. He rebounded with a title at the Grand Prix of Russia.
In Sochi, he was unable to secure his third consecutive Grand Prix Final title.
Does this mean that he needs to go back to the drawing board? Some might say that the change in coaching to Kathy Johnson and choreographers to Jeffrey Buttle and David Wilson might be the problem.
Could it not simply be that the rest of the field is catching up to Chan?
When skating is at its best in my mind, it's because skaters are not as focused on the results as they are on the joy of their own skating. That is the beauty of Chan. He decided that win or lose; this was the path he wanted to pursue.
In that way, I think Chan and Takahashi have a lot in common. Both men seem to be looking for a way to succeed at skating. At this competition, it was Takahashi's turn. The next question is will it be that way at the worlds?
Americans play to their strengths
American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White took their fourth Grand Prix Final title, by doing what they do best and that is skate well and skate fast. I really like their Giselle-inspired short dance as much as I like the one from rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.
On a good day with everybody skating their best, I prefer Virtue and Moir's Carmen free dance to Notre Dame de Paris from Davis and White. That isn't to say that I don't like the American's free dance, I do.
I just don't think of it as memorable in the way that some of their other free dances have been; most notably last season's divine Die Fledermaus.
Without looking at the marks, I thought that Davis and White's performance yesterday in the free dance was the winning one. They were fast, they were precise, and they had great elements performed to perfection so the result made sense to me.
What doesn't make sense to me is the careful examination of the program component scores reveals that Davis and White outscored Virtue and Moir in all five areas, albeit minimally.
The one that I really don't get is the composition/choreography component score. Even when not skated to perfection, there can be no denying the complexity and intricacy of this Carmen free dance's choreography.
Asada back where she belongs
It was only a year ago that Mao Asada rushed back home to Japan and away from the Grand Prix Final when her mother passed away. It somehow seems fitting that she was able to win the title back for the first time since she last competed at this event in the 2008-09 season. I know I am not the only one who has been hoping that Asada is on track to return to her former glory as two-time world champion and 2010 Olympic silver medallist.
American champion Ashley Wagner should not feel anything other than pride at her silver medal in her second Grand Prix Final outing. This is a young woman on the rise with two Grand Prix titles under her belt this season and her sights set on a podium finish at the world championships in London in March 2013.
How did they do it?
I have been fielding questions since the end of the pairs' event asking how the Russian team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov were able to hang on to their lead after the short program to take the title. Closer to the end of their free program, two things went horribly wrong: the first was Maxim taking a tumble on side by side jumps. The second was Maxim catching an edge and falling on the set up for a throw causing them to lose any points for the element.
Fortunately, Tatiana had not really been propelled that far into the air so when she came down she had enough control to not land blade first on him.
It took a very long time for the team to recover. I guess the thing is that this team's basic pair ability, unison and body line meant that they were able to cover off their mistakes with enough points gained in other ways to stay in first place overall, despite their second place free program.
The surprise for me was silver medallists Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov winning the free program. There is nothing wrong with this team as far as pair skating goes; I just find them to be so much weaker as far as unison and performance ability than their team mates.
On a sentimental note, I wish that Chinese veterans Qing Pang and Jian Tong had been stronger in the short program to have been able to take the silver instead of bronze overall. I am impressed by their willingness to continue to compete when it is clear that Jian is still on the mend physically from earlier and chronic injuries. As Kurt Browning said to me: "It would be faster to say where Jian doesn't hurt!"
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