Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kwong: Grand Prix figure skating season a head-scratcher

I have to be honest, the Grand Prix season left me scratching my head on more than a couple of occasions. My biggest issue is the fact that the fields are so small now that if there is a withdrawal during the event, it can compromise the quality of the competition for the viewers.

The Grand Prix season is over.  

The skaters who ranked in the top six over the course of the six-event campaign are on their way to Sochi for the Grand Prix Final in early December.

I have to be honest, the series left me scratching my head on more than a couple of occasions. 

My biggest issue is the fact that the fields are so small now that if there is a withdrawal during the event, it can compromise the quality of the competition for the viewers. 

The most glaring example that comes to mind is the field at the Cup of China where there were only nine men to hit the ice initially instead of 10. Two more then withdrew before skating their free programs, leaving seven men in total and not much of a competition.

My other issue is how the substitutes are chosen. It would have been a no-brainer for me to have Skate Canada champion Kaetlyn Osmond be the first person to be offered a place if one became available in the ensuing four events after her victory. There were spots that came up because athletes withdrew and yet none came Osmond's way. It is the hosting federation of each of the six events which gets to extend the invitation to the athlete for their competition. 

Re-examining the process

I believe that this process needs to be re-examined in favour of the athletes, the competition and not just the federations. However, since it is the hosting federations that vote on the rules, I am not sure it will happen. The federations after all foot the bill for the event, while the ISU's obligations are only for the Grand Prix Final and the prize money, making this beyond their control.

Let's start with the ladies. I am not worried that Japan's Mao Asada took the title over teammate Akiko Suzuki.  What was surprising was that she did it while 'popping' four of her jump elements. There was a lot of chat on Twitter commenting that it didn't seem fair given the superb performance turned in by Suzuki on her way to winning the free program. 

In checking things out for myself, what I discovered was that what Asada did, she did very well and was appropriately rewarded. The same could be said for Suzuki. The issue came down to the math and the fact that for the second time in a row, Suzuki placed fifth in the short program and was unable to close the gap in the free.

The final and very small .05 margin separating the gold and silver medallists should serve as a cautionary tale for these two at the Grand Prix Final.

Yuzuru Hanyu is turning out to be the man to beat this season. He set another mark in the short program, besting his own world record from Skate Canada by .25. Hanyu also won the free program to give him the title ahead of Daisuke Takahashi. 

Earning Grand Prix Final spots

Both men have now earned spots for the Grand Prix Final, giving Japan an unprecedented four out of six entries in the men's event.

American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White were going to walk away with the NHK title unchallenged in my opinion, which is exactly what happened. Paying closer attention to their free dance, I am still unmoved. Set to the music and story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Esmerelda and his unrequited love, I am still waiting for the passion and the suffering to become apparent. 

For me it's just not there.  

Davis and White have hit so many home runs in the past with their free dances that I guess I just want more. Regardless, I am really looking forward to their head-to-head match-up in a couple of weeks against Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in Sochi.

The Russian pair of Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov came to Sendai in order to clinch the title and their spot for the Grand Prix Final. Mission accomplished. 

Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch had a much stronger showing in Sendai in winning the silver medal and qualifying as the last entry for the Grand Prix Final.

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Jeri Ryan Carla Bonner

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