Karly: You're In The Loop - we're here to discuss the ups, downs and sideways of the sport of figure skating, and maybe give you +5 GOE along the way. Let’s introduce this week's hosts.
Gina: Hi, I’m Gina, I literally feel like a bear coming out of hibernation for this figure skating season. You can find me on Twitter @4ATwizzles.
Lae: Hi, I’m Lae, I can smell the chaos of this skating season in the air and I’m not sure if I’m ready. I’m on Twitter at @axelsandwich.
Karly: Hi, I'm Karly, and I’m crying over seeing my kids debut their new programs this Challenger Series. You can find me on Twitter @cyberswansp.
Lae: Okay, so the focus of this episode is on several key topics relating to the early season because we are finally starting the Senior season and are already halfway through the Challenger events. So at the time of recording, we've have Autumn Classic [International], Lombardia Trophy, Nepela Memorial, US Classic, and Nebelhorn - which is happening as we're recording at this moment in time.
Karly: That's so many!
Lae: I feel like I'm already drowning under all of the competitions and it's barely started.
Karly: When there were three competitions the weekend of Autumn Classic and I was there and I was just dying!
Lae: Yeah, whoever scheduled these events along with the JGP - I don't think they had a choice but I still disagree with their decisions.
Karly: I'd like to have a talk with you, please.
Lae: So, unfortunately, we won't be able to cover all of the skaters across all the competitions on this one episode, but we will be focusing on key themes coming through at this stage in the season.
Gina: Okay, so a little bit about the Challenger Series. They are Senior B competitions, they are official ISU events. The scores count, any world records, if we have them, count.[Karly: And we do!] Gina: And we do! Generally, it's a good chance for top skaters to get some competition experience before the Grand Prix Series starts and it's a bit of a preview for the season to come.
Karly: It's also, as we mentioned, you can earn World Standing points, and judges can practice judging. Which, did they actually do? We'll get to that!
Gina: Oh boy, they need it!
Lae: Things will be ranted about.
Karly: So Challengers are really exciting because it's the debut of lots of upcoming Juniors and as well as lots of returns. You can see how someone's in shape or you can see their new programs. It's just fun.
Lae: It's like a little reveal.
Karly: Yeah, exactly, it's just like "Oh, let's start the season. How are you doing? Fill out this test!"
Lae: We're back!
Gina: Okay, so let's dig a little deeper into some of these program selections. Since it is the second season post-Olympics, this is generally a good time to either experiment with your image or solidify a reputation with consistency. If you had a breakout season last year, maybe you want to do something similar, or maybe you want to do something wild and crazy and just make everyone really confused.
Karly: Did happen!
Lae: Before we get to that though, let's address a slightly awkward elephant in the room which is that, for some reason, it seems like cultural appropriation is kind of a lowkey theme in a lot of the programs happening this year. We are planning an episode about this and we do think that it's a complicated issue and discourse on Twitter is not necessarily the right medium for nuance, but there is an unusually high number of programs this season that seems to be drawing on elements of foreign cultures to the skaters who are skating them. And so we'd love to talk about that but do hang on because another episode is coming about that.
Karly: We're going to start off with skaters who have picked really different program styles than what they're used to. So are they challenging themselves? Is it a good idea? Are they established and really breaking the mold? We have a couple of Japanese skaters that are going for different or more contemporary programs compared to last year. Starting off with Rika [Kihira], both her Short Program and her Free Skate are pretty out of the box.
Lae: Yeah, I think they're super ambitious and kind of off-beat, her Short Program especially, which I do appreciate in some senses. She does manage to make a range of movements work for her in terms of the choreography, but I do think that they're difficult programs to interpret and do incorporate a lot of elements of chanting and things that seem to be from Middle Eastern, Indian, Hindu influences. So it's an unusual route to take considering last year was her breakout season and how many eyes are on her, but I think it's interesting that she's gone slightly non-traditional in her approach and hasn't just gone for a safe warhorse program or anything along those lines.
Karly: Yeah, I think especially since this is only her second Senior season.
Lae: So we'll have to see how the programs grow and if she can really settle into them.
Gina: Another skater with some very different program choices is Satoko [Miyahara]. Her Short Program has hip hop elements, which is such a drastic departure from her typical programs. As is her unexpected coaching change to focus on her technical elements.
Lae: Yeah, she's just suddenly upped and left to Canada!
Gina: That was so surprising. I woke up one day and Satoko was in Canada.
Lae: I can't say I see the program working for her yet, but I actually really like the hip hop breakdown section. I think Satoko's kind of worked herself into a place where she's sort of hit the GOE ceiling on most of her other elements, other than her jumps, and it feels increasingly like she's getting a PCS tax every year that her elements don't improve. So I do think that she's made some drastically different choices in the reflection of the general way that her scores are going. So I still think it will be a huge challenge to see if she can kind of change her usual super-refined, considered and careful skating style to kind of match the wildness you need to make the hip hop vibe work. I think the Short Program is interesting in that sense. Choreographically, some of the elements we'll be talking about in our cultural appropriation episode. But if we strip all of that conversation and save it for next time, I think it will be an interesting program for her.
Gina: Yeah, the Short Program is a little bit yikes - as is the Free Skate. For the Short Program, I found the hip hop part pretty rad. It's a very different style of movement from what she usually brings and I appreciate that. I don't know if I buy Satoko being aggressive, but I suppose if she thinks about Worlds enough she can.
Lae: [Laughs] She can drop her rap album.
Gina: The choreo elsewhere is a little bit cringe, good God.
Lae: Can we just cancel hands? Egyptian hands, please don't.
Gina: Yeah, hands are canceled this season.
Lae: So Anna Shcherbakova certainly took her Senior debut by storm, she landed a ratified quadruple Lutz. I think Anna has such a lightness to her skating and honestly, to her eternal credit, makes all of her other jumps seem really easy by comparison. I personally don't know if the gravitas of her music suits her particularly because of that lightness that she has. She just seems so delicate that I don't know that she has the pathos of, especially her Short Program with "Perfume," which is a very dark movie. I don't know if she's got that in her performance yet but, obviously, early season and she is 15.
Karly: You know what she does have? A rad costume change.
Lae: That was very good. I thought that was so novel and you just rarely see that at the top echelons of contenders in Senior competitions so I thought it was a great touch - until I saw that they had also [Alexandra] Trusova also do a costume change and I was like "I swear to go if Alyona [Kostornaia] turns into a sparkly bat midway through her program next competition, [Karly: I hope she does!] I will have words with Daniil and Eteri's team." But no, when it happened it was kind of a little gasp moment and I love that it was incorporated into the choreography. So we do, unfortunately, have to talk a little bit about said quad Lutz. This is definitely not Anna's problem alone, but the unfortunate issue plaguing Ladies attempting quad Lutzes is pre-rotation. So if you look at the jump in slow motion, you do see that the toe pick actually leaves the ice almost as their facing forward on the Lutz but since technical controllers are only able to look at the take-off in real-time, they're just not being called at the moment. So this is not unusual with the quad Lutz in all the Ladies who've tried it, but I just feel like it has to be talked about.
Gina: There needs to be some kind of consistent, sensible way for tech panels to determine and correctly call rotations in the air versus on the ice. If your on-ice rotation is more than 180 degrees, you need to get an underrotation call and this is the sort of feedback that would actually benefit the skaters.
Lae: I don't know, I feel like it's hit the stage where this is just the accepted technique now. There's a part of me that just feels that if you're calling rotations, it doesn't make sense to only start counting the circle from someone jumping half of it on the ground and then only counting it from the landing if there's something wrong with the take-off. It's like starting a race on different starting lines. So for me, personally, it's not officially entrenched in the rules but just from a logical perspective, it doesn't make sense to not consider prerotation when it comes to counting rotations. Let's talk about Sasha Trusova, the Junior World Champion, who has finally rewritten Evgenia Medvedeva's Free Skate [historic] world record in her Senior debut - which is actually quite shocking to consider. So yes, Sasha got 163.79 in the Free Skate - with a pop - and 65 PCS, which is on par with her Junior Worlds PCS, actually - which is also bound to rise, if she's consistent. She had a fully ratified quad Lutz and quad toe. This is the current quad age and this is the pioneer for it. I think, undoubtedly, her jumps are amazing. Her triple Lutz-triple loop gets a lot of lift and her quad toe is probably the best of all the quads jumped by Ladies so far.
Gina: How did three landed quads only break the historic world record by like 3 points?
Lae: There was some mad inflation happening [at World Team Trophy 2017]. I do really lowkey adore the excerpt of "In the Hall of the Mountain King" in Sasha's Short Program because it's literally the music that plays in my head whenever she skates - and I think in the mind's of everyone else watching her skate, so it's wonderful and very fitting. I'd love to see her be a bit more playful with her interpretation on this one because, despite the repetition of this segment, I think there's such a build-up of this music, it goes from soft to chaotic and threatening, and I just really think she can make that explode a bit more. So I'd love to see her work on that element of her program. That being said, I just have such so much sadness for the cut that they chose to use for her "Game of Thrones" Free Skate. I just cannot believe that you come to "Game of Thrones," which is just the perfect vibe and program for a tiny girl who's about to burn the entire world down and you pick the two sleepiest, most boring parts of that entire epic soundtrack. There were so many questionable choices made in this for me, I don't understand why you would choose cuts that would make it so unrecognizable as a "Game of Thrones" program.
Karly: I seriously would have taken the theme over this.
Lae: Yeah, like Paul Fentz - justice for Paul Fentz being a groundbreaker! [Hosts laugh] She could have just taken his music, honestly, it was great. But yeah, even choreography choices had me a little bit confused. There was a sort of a Besti squat in the quiet point in the music and I was like "Why is that there? What is it highlighting? I'm not sure." I don't know, I just don't understand why you would choose something that sounded like any other program. There were definitely parts that sounded a bit like Alyona's "Departure" Short Program for me and I'm just sad.
Karly: Honestly, talking about that score, if she goes fully clean, cause she had a pop and if her PCS rise as they probably will with consistency, she could possibly break 170 in the Free - which would be an entire 10 points above the previous highest Ladies score before this season. It would be historic.
Lae: "In the Hall of the Mountain King" is just gonna play right here.
Karly: Threateningly in my head!
Lae: Let's move on quickly to Kazuki Tomono's Short Program. Where do we begin with Kazuki Tomono's Short Program? It's high art, it's impossible to understand and it is amazing - but also, so confusing. It is based on a contemporary adaptation of The White Stripe's song "The Hardest Button to Button," and I believe the ballet is by Wayne McGregor and it's called "Chroma." You can actually find a performance of Chroma on YouTube if you look it up, and I definitely do recommend that because it kind of explains some of the choreography after watching it, but not all of the choreography.
Gina: I'm going to be the Kazuki Tomono defense squad. I actually really like this Short Program. The only thing I don't like is the little bits where he is standing in one spot and just kind of doing weird-ass poses.
Lae: You didn't like the knee wobble?
Gina: You know what the knee wobble can stay if he doesn't move it forwards. I don't like choreography where you just stand in one spot. I would prefer all of that stuff if it was in movement. That's my only thing. The only bit where he did stop and did a pose and then moved again that I liked was in the step sequence because it was part of a directional change and I thought that was rad. But yeah the standing in one space and just posing really doesn't do it for me.
Lae: The thing about this program is that you will never forget the experience of watching it for the first time.
Karly: Yeah so me and Yogeeta were in line for Autumn Classic, lining up outside, and it was 6 am and Evie was like "You've got to watch Kazuki's Short Program" so we turned it on and we were just losing our minds at 6 am. It's such an incredibly strange choice but it's so memorable. And honestly, it's not that he can pull it off but he's charming. You watch it and you're just like "Yeah! Go funky! Go be funky!".
Lae: It's true.
Gina: Yeah he's charming enough to make me like “West Side Story” so...
Lae: Yes but please change your Short Program costume. I beg you, Kazuki.
Gina: He looks like ham that's been dropped in mud...I don't...I don't...[Lae: laughter]
Lae: I don't know, I'm always going to be here for a costume that isn't a freaking dress shirt and some black pants. But I do think that when you have a program that is so chaotic and striking and just there's so much going on in this program, and the music is so aggressive that this is actually a time where I think you probably could have gotten away with just a simple black turtleneck. Or even something like what the Chroma ballet dancers were wearing. Which is just very neutral skin tight clothing. That probably would have helped show off his extensions and his lines a little bit more.
Gina: I thought you said skin tone and I was like oh god no.
Lae: No no no nooo. Don't be one blob of beige on the ice, please.
Lae: Okay and speaking of chaotic sons and Short Programs. We also have Deniss Vasiljevs'. Who after skating at Nepela made a surprise announcement that he is skating two Short Programs this season.
Karly: Which one are you gonna get! You never know!
Lae: I know. It's like the lucky bag of programs.
Karly: He's giving us the excitement this season.
Lae: So I think with Deniss, he's got a solid grasp on performance aspects. But I would love to see that focus now shift to his tech. It's great to see that he's kind of got a solid lock on his spins, and his skating in general, but definitely feels like at this point in time it'd be great to see him focusing on getting that triple Axel, getting the quad, maybe.
Karly: We can only hope.
Gina: Please Deniss, please!
Karly: Me at Deniss and Jason, "Please just get that freaking quad." So as for the two program situation. It's fun, it's chaotic, you don't know what you're going to get. He's just going to perform on a whim but it just concerns me because the season overall is meant to build up your programs and get experience performing them and doing the choreography and refining them. And if he's doing two and that he doesn't really have a set plan for what he's doing when, he's not going to get those chances to refine them and make them better. But I mean you're changing the game, go off, love you.
Gina: Yeah alternating Short Programs, dear Jesus. I would love to see how he chooses which one he's going to do. Like is he going to flip a coin? I guess this is just the season of chaotic men.
Lae: Then finally we have Olivia Smart and Adrian Diaz's Free Dance. Which can only be described as the clown program. It's definitely trying to be memorable and entertaining but I just think perhaps there's such a thing as being a little too literal.
Gina: Because I heard people talking about this program and I watched it and halfway through I was like "Hey this isn't that bad". Then clowns came back and I'm just like "it doesn't even make sense".
Karly: Return of the clowns.
Gina: Why did they need to come back? I'm trying to figure out the story of this program. I feel like I need to take LSD to follow the journey? It's like two programs mish-mashed together. They don't make sense together.
Karly: Yeah I'm not going to lie, it was memorable, but not in a good way. Gina, you're right it's like two different programs. It starts out with clown circus music, which isn't that bad. But then it goes to emotional voiceovers and some rain sounds and then some dramatic music, and then it goes back to the circus. It is memorable but that's because it's jarring.
Gina: Let's move on to skaters who are, instead of giving us something different are picking similar styles to what worked before and solidifying a brand.
Lae: So perhaps the most distinctive example of this is maybe Kevin Aymoz. He had kind of made his mark with a really fierce upbeat Short Program and soft gentle artistic Free Skate that created contrast to showcase his range last season. I think he's kind of more or less stuck to a similar contrast this season. I just think he sells the two styles super well. I love that he's got a JZ slide and that insane layback leggy extension thing that he does at the beginning of the program. Which I think he's just quickly establishing a bunch of elements as his brand and I think that's super admirable, considering he really had a breakout last season and it's already so memorable and distinctive to him. I think his upswing in PCs is interesting. The Euros crown is definitely empty right now so it'll be interesting to see if he can capitalize on it.
Gina: I think his PCS is well earned. Particularly in performance and interpretation. He uses the ice really well and really stands out for being able to use the music. My mum watched ACI Mens out of obligation, because she knows that I love Yuzuru and wanted to see and she loved Kevin. She knows absolutely nothing about figure skating but she liked Kev [laughter]... Kev?
Lae: Casual first name basis.
Gina: [laughter] We're mates now. Even though the Short Program is very on brand I do think it avoids being repetitive from his previous programs. Especially because he does seem to bring in different movements or different tweaks on moves in the field that he's done before.
Lae: I think his PCS definitely has been underrated so far. I probably wouldn't have it be on par with Yuzuru's in skating skills, transitions, or choreography though. I think there's still definitely a difference in the seamlessness of how the jump is incorporated into the transition and definitely a couple of spots, especially after jump exits for Kevin where it feels like he's kind of just transitioning between the elements. But I definitely endorse the existence of transitions in general. He's probably above most of the senior men in that sense and I love his entry into the loop, which is straight out of the Kaori Sakamoto school of loop entries.
Karly: Right on. Everyone learn from Kaori. Both his programs as we mentioned are definitely in a similar vein to last year's. I would say that the Short Program is different enough for me. It's upbeat but “Horns” was more of a rock upbeat and this is more of the Prince pop upbeat but still a change. I just really enjoy this Short Program. As for the free program, it's still a little similar in my opinion. Not that I don't like it, I love it. But I would just like to see him in future seasons branch out a bit more now that he's made a name for himself.
Lae: Speaking of, we have also Fear/Gibson, our Disco Brits from last season. We're definitely seeing that they're trying to live up to that reputation with both their programs this season.
Gina: I rather like their Rhythm Dance, which I think is also pretty on brand for being very upbeat and high energy. It's also got that nice nostalgic feel which, I like. I like their choice of music. The Free Dance, I find the music cuts a little strange. The switch back from “Like a Prayer” to “Vogue” struck out as being as being quite awkward for me, but overall the program is enjoyable. They're clearly wanting to keep up their brand from their disco Free Dance last season but I don't know how sold I am on it yet.
Karly: I like that both of their programs are fun and upbeat and they're definitely trying to solidify that brand that the disco Free Dance gave them of fun and not really quirky but enjoying themselves. Like they really set a theme for themselves with the disco free which was great. I think it would be nice in future seasons to show a bit of different sides in the Free Dance and the Rhythm Dance. Although I do love both programs. The Free Dance...I love Madonna so I think since they just performed it for the first time, it needs a little polish. But I respect that it isn't perfect, but I just enjoy Madonna. With the slow “Like a Prayer” breakdown I also didn't like it that much but I understood why they wanted a slower part. Also the camera shutter noises in the beginning of “Vogue” just threw me off because I thought it was someone taking pictures right next to me in the rink.
Lae: Love it.
Gina: Yeah I don't there's anything about the Free Dance I dislike. I think it will definitely build momentum with it through the season and I look forward to that.
Karly: We're going to talk a bit about recycled programs now, because Yuzuru Hanyu recycled both of them!
Gina: Yay! What a shock!
Karly: Yeah, “Otoñal” and “Origin,” he recycled them to upgrade his tech and because to be fair he only skated them four times last season.
Lae: Yeah I think there was definitely an expectation at the end of last season that there would be a possibility of recycling. I think that in some ways the smaller details that you see in the programs and his performance at Autumn Classic really sort of highlight the advantage of recycling because it does feel like a complete program obviously from the very start of the season. And distinctively different to last year's Autumn Classic he had zero chill going into this entire competition.
Gina: When does he ever?
Lae: Yeah I think there was definitely several news articles that were translated about him trying the quintuple toe loop and quintuple Salchow, freaking in harness, in order to try and land his quad axel.
Gina: Say that fast five times.
Lae: Quintuple toe loop [stutters], what the heck [laughter]. I think my entire mouth and being is just rebelling against the entire concept.
Karly: Yeah exactly! Your mouth is just like "I don't want to say it".
Lae: Yes, not this concept. So yes and obviously another advantage was that Yuzuru landed all four quads in his Free Skate at the start of his season in his first challenger competition. Which is great and I'd like him to keep this no pop energy going. My other question is whether he needs to juggle knives for the judges to give him +5 GOE on his triple Axel because I really didn't understand what they needed from him in his Short Program on that.
Karly: It's like...his triple Axel is a thing of beauty and it's there. Give him 5/5.
Lae: There was a twizzle entry, a twizzle exit, there was good height, good distance, he landed well. He even said I think himself, which Yuzuru rarely does, but he said that that " triple Axel was probably the closest to his ideal". And I'm like if Yuzuru Hanyu is saying that that's his ideal, what else do you need ?
Gina: Does he have to throw glitter at the same time? I don't understand what they need from him.
Lae: I think there is definitely some controversy always when a top skater does recycle but I think something that must be pointed out with a lot of Yuzuru's programs when he recycles, which he is no stranger to, is that he does tend to evolve them over the offseason and also during the course of the season. So I think you can really see that a little more in Origin than Otoñal I think. There are just little touches that he's brought back, the violin playing in the middle of his spread eagle. I think it's just interesting and from a strategic standpoint definitely a good decision considering his state at the end of last season.
Gina: Yeah, I mean people tend to be really snarky about program reuse but it comes down to what's more effective for each skater. Yuzuru does need a little bit more time with his programs, not because he's slow at learning choreography, but because there's more choreography for him to perfect than maybe some other skaters who change their programs every season, partly because Yuzuru is really not very good at filling empty spaces. Some skaters can have those moments where they're just doing the crossovers and they make it look very full, but Yuzuru is not very good at doing that. That's something that I realized last season watching "Origin" in particular, that he's not very good at filling those emptier spaces in the program. He likes to have stuff to do.
Karly: I feel that.
Lae: I think when it's not choreographed as fully and when it's not corresponding to every single bit of the musical notes, there are times, especially the part where he does the layback with his arms spread out, where he's going through a series of really difficult steps and turns but that part still feels a little bit bare to me. I don't know if it's the relaxed way he's using his arms there but it'll be interesting to see if that stays. I'd also add that it does take time to get back your jumps. He is trying for a quad Lutz and a quad Loop after injuring himself on both those jumps, and he does have complex transitions going in and out of his jumps so definitely there's a lot for him to do. And I think it's easy to discount how much work it takes to learn and internalize new choreography while juggling all of those new elements. So despite the fact that you might look at his program repertoire and think "Oh it's the same programs" it really isn't when you actually look at the program layouts and what changes he's actually making to them.
Karly: Yeah and I honestly have grown to appreciate his recycling because it's just because he wants to improve himself and make it up to his standards. I really appreciate that dedication to performing it to what he thinks its full extent is.
Gina: Yeah and I mean he's a perfectionist, and when you look at "Chopin", can you really say he was wrong to use that three times? No.
Lae: I think he's unusual in his attitude to recycling but I definitely think that it's worth noting that recycling is not simply a matter of using the same music. A program can be very different despite being skated to the same music, just like programs skated to different music could actually be the same if you look at it very carefully. Speaking of recycling, Conrad Orzel, who is also a TCC skater, made his debut at Autumn Classic as well and he is also recycling his Short Program from his last Junior season, which is called "In My Blood" by Shawn Mendes.
Karly: Yeah, about that, I thought it was a good program for him, a good choice for him to recycle, I quite like the program despite that he has about one facial expression throughout the whole thing.
Gina: Luckily for Conrad, it's a nice facial expression.
Lae: He's got a nice face, got that going for him.
Karly: It's a good face. It's interesting to me to recycle a program going into his Senior debut because it seems like the perfect time to make a statement with new programs. But then again, he's also more playing it safe and doing something he's comfortable with, that he's already performed and knows the choreography well. So it could go either way.
Lae: Yeah, but I think there's definitely a comfort level associated with staying at least with one program that you know well, so at least you can concentrate on the new one and make that work well.
Gina: It is also quite demanding to go up to Seniors because a lot of Juniors will see that as an opportunity to improve their technical content, but they do also have to get out of the habit of being "Junior-ish" in their presentation. I think that would be a good reason to keep a program, so that you can mature it.
Lae: Like cheese. [Hosts laugh].
Karly: A good program is like cheese.
Lae: Yes, it needs time and loving care.
Karly: Back to Conrad, it was a good performance pre his first Grand Prix which is NHK. His Free Program, it was nice, it wasn't memorable, but it's early in the season.
Gina: Yeah, I think he's got room to mature, like cheese, in his engagement and projection. And those parts of figure skating are different. I'm not personally bothered about facial expressions being kind of static when skaters are skating. It does help your engagement if you are doing the face thing as well as the body thing, but as an audience member it doesn't really bother me that much because if you are in the venue and you're in the seats, you can't see the faces anyway. Or maybe I just have bad eyes.
Karly: No, you have a good point.
Lae: A bit of both, I think the majority of skating audiences still do watch skating on TV and broadcast, so I do place a premium on facial expressions, but it's more a case where a skater that does have a really great, expressive, performative quality in their face, and is truly feeling the program, really elevates it to something more for me. It's not unusual, especially for Junior skaters making their debut into Seniors, for them to struggle a little bit with that, because skating a program it's very easy to forget your face and just be concentrating on elements. For me, I think of it as a final frontier in really making a program shine in its interpretation and performance, so he's definitely not unusual in being someone who probably needs to work on that a little bit, but it's definitely something that I look out for and what really draws me into my favorite skaters.
Karly: Going back to recycling, he's not the only one recycling a program into his Senior debut, Alena Kostornaia of Russia is also, but she hasn't performed it at a Challenger yet, she's only performed it at Russian Test Skates.
Lae: She was an example of a skater being injured, so I wonder if that might be the reason for also keeping and recycling a Short Program. She has a new Free Skate which we will see very soon.
Karly: It's "Twilight!"
Lae: It's "Twilight.” Finally, let's move on to a quick discussion on the importance of results at this point in the season. Naturally something that you sort of wonder is whether these results are a good indication of how this season will pan out. Based on past precedents, it's very difficult to determine form and performance for the skaters based on previous competitions because ice is slippery and anything can happen in between one competition and another. But I do think that it's increasingly possible to note trends in the judging from early season, and that includes the Challengers. It's also super important to keep reminding ourselves–when I joined figure skating fandom I got the immediate impression that people didn't take Challengers that seriously, it was like "It's early season, don't worry, Challenger scoring is fake, it doesn't really matter and it doesn't affect how the GP's pan out". It took me a while to realize how weird that sounded because Challengers are judged by judges who are official ISU judges and you'll see many of them in GP's so I don't understand why it feels like in some corners of the fandom and in the general community that it's regarded differently to any other official competition. But I think it's important to take note of the judging. The first key topic that we have to address in the room is not something new by any means, we've been talking about this all of last season, intermittently throughout the podcast, but it is the tech panel and its consistency. There's a really good video on tech calls and on what tech callers can and can't review on YouTube by a fan that we'll link in the transcript. Essentially they can't review take-offs in slow motion, only at regular speed, and apparently tech panels can count a jump's landing either from the moment the toe pick hits the ground, or as other judges might call it from when the weight fully transfers to the blade, which could potentially explain why there have been so many inconsistencies across the tech panels but it (a) doesn't mean that pre-rotation doesn't exist and (b) doesn't really excuse the fact that inconsistency in tech panels happens not just across competitions but even within competitions between skaters.
Gina: If it's different metrics for counting when it becomes under-rotation or when the rotation is being finished on the ice, maybe clarify that?
Lae: Maybe just have a sentence in your rulebook explaining it? The other trend that I've noticed, which has been an issue for several seasons now but I think is fascinating, is that especially in Ladies, that Lutzes are hardly ever called, but you will see a flip call with a startling degree of regularity and dotted across competitions, what is up with that?
Gina: Yeah I don't get that, especially because I find Lutz edges way easier to spot than flip edges, it's really obvious when a Lutz is wrong.
Lae: I think it is really difficult to see things in real time, as skating fans we have the benefit of multiple broadcast camera angles and I don't know why that's not being made available to the tech panel considering the difference between Olympic medals, as we saw last Olympics, was probably a tech panel call. These margins are not big margins for most competitions. It's so crucial for tech panels to get things right and these are people who have been sitting in a cold rink judging consistently for hours, anything that would help make their lives easier should be worth the investment. But it seems like it's not a big concern and perhaps there are issues with technological capabilities, but it's something that feels strange it's not being made a top priority.
Gina: As someone who has grown up being forced to watch Rugby League my entire life, I do not understand why the tech panel can't use the broadcast footage for reviewing because in Rugby League, they have a video referee for when the on-pitch referee is feeling lazy.
Lae: Tired, perhaps.
Gina: It'll go to the video ref and they will use the broadcast footage from the Sky Sports cameras and review whatever it is that they need to review. Usually you can see on the big screen, and when you're watching on TV you'll see what they are reviewing as they are reviewing it. The video referee still makes some stupid calls but they have a much better look at what is being played on the field and can go backwards, rewind, zoom in, and use different angles because they used the broadcast footage. I don't understand why figure skating doesn't do something like that.
Lae: It's doubly insulting when you see the slow-motion of the jump landing and it's clearly under-rotated and it's not called.
Gina: That's what confused me the first time I watched a competition because they'll do that thing while the skater is in the Kiss and Cry where they'll playback some of the elements, and you'll see a big close-up image of the feet as they're landing a jump, or taking off, and you can go "Ooh, that was a wrong edge," but then that's not what the tech panel is looking at. Because I was thinking of Super League video ref, I thought that that's what they were looking at, and then they'll not make the call. It just really confuses me that they don't utilize the footage that is there in the rink.
Lae: Speaking of, the hardest topic of tech panel judging in this Challenger Series so far is the suspicious as hell under-rotation calls on Yuzuru Hanyu's Free Skate at ACI.
Karly: Where were they? At least in the quad toes.
Lae: On the quad toes I have no idea. The quad Sal and the quad Loop I would have forgiven them having another look at, but if you go on Twitter, there is no shortage of videos breaking down the tech calls with footage from the event, including from various angles because we have hundreds of fancams. I don't see it, I don't get it, and I saw a comparison between Yuzuru's quad toe and Kevin's quad toe, they pretty much land in the same place, one was called and the other wasn't. It's also doubly strange because usually tech panels review elements that were landed dicey, like a step-out or a scratchy landing, but Yuzuru's quad toes were fine. I don't know why they singled those out for review, it's quite unusual.
Gina: The tech panel really should be the easiest part of the judging to keep reasonably even across events, but no, it's not. It's not even in one single competition, never mind across competitions. That just drives me slightly insane. Another thing is when you're looking at tech panels, you can guess what nationality was the tech controller, but what you really shouldn't be able to do is look at protocols and guess where each judge was from. I can spot the American or the Canadian with a ninety percent accuracy rate.
Karly: It's so sad but so true.
Lae: Even beyond that, and if we go straight into the protocols, I get the principle behind the +5/-5 GOE system, but we're getting to the point, as Javier pointed out rightfully during Euros last year, where the range of GOE being awarded on the same elements is getting slightly ridiculous to the point where I don't understand how the judges are watching the same programs. As Yogeeta has said in previous episodes, GOE are meant to be awarded according to how many bullets the skater's element ticks off, from a set list. But the lack of transparency about which bullets are being ticked off to award GOE I think hurts both the audience and the skater, who has no idea what they need to work on. Because if you get GOE ranging from 4 to 1 on the same element - I would be so confused as a skater. I would think, clearly I need to work on something, but one judge is saying I have three things I need to work on and another judge is saying that I'm pretty much perfect. So which is it? So I think that lack of transparency really hurts the judging, the audience, and it's happening with suprizing regularity, especially if you look further down in the protocols to skaters who are ranking slightly lower. There's such a range. Boyang's step sequence ranged from +4 to -3, which I think is currently the record for the biggest fricking range that I have ever seen! It's to the point where I'm sure it was an input error, much like Mikhail's - I think it was 0.50? - in PCS for something last year. But even if it was an error, how is their interface designed that you could mix up a +3 and a -3? And why isn't is possible to fix? These are just questions that keep me up at night...
Karly: Just judging keeps me up at night.
Lae: Yeah, you can tell how I spend my Saturdays...
Karly: Same. Aren't we all the same here?
Lae: And to an extent it also seems to be happening with PCS: like Vincent's Short Program at US Classic, I believe, went from 6.00 to a 9.00. At this point I am just throwing my hands up in the air, and saying, "What is even happening anymore?!"
Gina: If we compare, say, Vincent to Junhwan, as they both came up to Seniors at the same time, I am not really sure how at ACI and at US Classic, Vincent was the one to get the higher PCS. That makes no sense to me, just based on their skating. At ACI Junhwan got 5.25 for Transitions off one judge judging his Free Skate, and he got 6.75 off a judge for Transitions and Interpretation for his Short Program -- while Vincent was scored comfortably in the 7s and 8s in both programs, with him even getting a 9.00 in -- was it Skating Skills? -- off the US judge.
Karly: It's just -- a 5.25 on your third senior season is just a big, "we hate you" from the judges.
Gina: In that Free Skate! That is a really beautiful Free Skate, and it blows my mind that they have the audacity to give him a 5.25! For me, I think Junhwan is mid to high 7s, low to mid 8s -- I think that's about right. He still has stuff to refine, he really does need to work on bringing character to his programs, the Performance & Interpretation side of things does need work. He kind of snapped, for me, at the beginning of his Short Program, but then lost it halfway through. So he needs to work on maintaining energy through his programs.
Karly: Gina, you're just fighting for Junhwan rights right here and I really support you.
Gina: Thank you.
Lae: I think it's definitely a case where you just think: people say you shouldn't compare scores across competitions, you shouldn't compare that across different judging panels... And on one hand I understand that they're different judges with different standards, but on the other hand that should not be an excuse in a judged sport with criteria.
Gina: It is the same sport, it's the same rules.
Lae: The scores count towards the same world standings, the same world records and the same elements that influence qualification for competitions. I heavily disagree with anyone who says you can't compare scores across competitions, because I think that defeats the entire point of there being a scoring system.
START: Shout Out of the Week
Lae: Shoutout of the week this week is on costume choices, because there were some, and because I say so. First shoutout is on Yuzuru Hanyu's new “Origin” costume, which met with quite a lot of acclaim. I love it, he looks like a witch who's about to curse me into oblivion, and I am all up for it.
Karly: Yes! [Laughter] That is what I want!
Lae: Second shoutout for me is Yelim Kim's Shape of Water-esque “Black Swan” costume. It is gorgeous and unusual, it's dark, it's got beautiful iridescent green accents.
Karly: It's got the neck things...
Gina: It's got the arm thing...
Lae: Oh my god. Korean ladies' dresses are always great, but this one was truly unusual, in a dark and dramatic sense, and I love it on her. I said it would look perfect for a Shape of Water-esque program because I think it looks more aquatic than swan[-like] to be very honest, but I hey, I support ladies going for innovation in their costume shape and cut and I love it.
Gina: Also it looks rad when she does a Rippon.
Lae: And I also really love that Kaori's “Matrix” costume references the green computer code line in the beading. I thought that was such a clever touch.
Karly: I didn't notice that until someone pointed it out, and then I was like, "oh my god, that's beautiful."
Lae: Yeah, I just love that. That's one of my favorite aspects of costuming, where someone takes a reference but they don't make it too literal, and it's just beautifully evocative and subtle. Fourth is -- we've mentioned this before, but -- Anna Scherbakova's “Firebird” costume change. I really loved that transition from blue to that striking red, and let's hope she keeps executing that successfully!
Karly: My shoutout goes to Junhwan Cha, for recycling an entire costume...
Lae: Fingers crossed for more costume delights, but yes: great job to the skaters that we've mentioned.
Karly: Overall it was a decent Challenger Series.
Lae: Yes, and we'll see more of it in the coming weeks. But yes, GP season is upon us. So next time you'll be hearing from us it will be [Everyone: Oh my God!!] crisis!
Karly: Thank you guys for listening, and we really hope you come back again for our next episode.
Gina: Thank you to our research team, for their help with this episode. Thank you to our transcription team and our quality control team. You had a hard job! And thank you to Evie for editing -- who also had a hard job! And big thanks to Gabb for her graphic design.
Lae: If you want to get in touch with us, then please feel free to contact us via our website, www.inthelopodcast.com, or on Twitter. You can find our episodes on Youtube, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and Spotify, and look out for new photo galleries on our website.
Karly: If you want to help support the team, please consider making a donation to us on our KoFi page, and we'd love to get a huge thank you to all our listeners who have contributed so far.
Gina: You can find the links to all of our social media pages and our KoFi on the website. If you are listening on iTunes, please consider leaving a rating and a review if you enjoyed the show. Thank you for listening, this has been Gina,
Lae: and Lae. See you soon!