Elvis Stojko

Figures skaters use Olympics as regular reunion

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SOCHI, Russia – Olympic sports are different compared to their counterparts that gather on a yearly basis: Every four years the Games act as a certain kind of class reunion. This is the time that they’re sport – and themselves – are back in the spotlight for a short amount of time.

Figure skating is no different. In fact, it may the standout of the bunch.

There’s Katarina Witt, sitting in the TV booth doing commentary and watching if Yuna Kim can match her back-to-back Olympic gold mark. She somehow looks better than when she did in 1988 in Calgary, some 24 years ago.

There’s Tara Lipinski, 16 years after being a 15-year-old champion, calling the action for NBC Sports alongside fellow former Olympian Johnny Weir. The duo might win new golds for commentary glamor. Which somehow is a new event.

VIDEO: Watch the complete free skate replay

Scott Hamilton is also in the booth, as he has been for almost every Games since his memorable win in 1984 in Sarajevo. Paul Wylie runs back and forth to the media mixed zone, the 1992 silver medalist grabbing quotes and doing radio spots, his petite frame holding a microphone over the interview barrier.

“I was a long-program skater, too,” he tells Gracie Gold one night, reassuring her. On another he’s greeted warmly American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, themselves new gold-medal winners.

At the practice rink, too, a close look in the crowd means several recognizable – and historic – faces: 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek chats with two-time medalist Michelle Kwan while Jeremy Abbott works on his short program. Two-time silver medalist Elvis Stojko of Canada watches too, his brow furrowed as he studies the skaters on the ice.

VIDEO: Compare routines of Adelina Sotnikova and Yuna Kim

Russia’s Irina Slutskaya and Joannie Rochette of Canada, three medals between them, watch from the broadcasters’ booth as Adelina Sotnikova delivers a gold on Thursday night. Afterwards Slutskaya gets a picture with Lipinski, a then-and-now side-by-side.

Viktor Petrenko is at the boards, coaching both the Czech Republic’s Michal Brezina in the men’s event. Tanith Belbin, the U.S. ice dancer who won silver in 2006, interviews Maia Shibutani at one point in the seats of the Iceberg Skating Palace, talking about Maia’s free skate costume as it glitters under the TV lights.

Nancy Kerrigan happens through practice one day, the 1994 silver medalist watching 15-year-old American Polina Edmunds with curiosity, eventually making her way down to the mixed zone to observe the teen in press.

VIDEO: Sneak peek of Sunday’s Kerrigan-Harding documentary

Two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser coaches Yuzuru Hanyu to gold, Japan’s first-ever men’s singles winner. It’s four years after Orser led Yuna Kim to gold in the ladies’ event. But here, he has to console another skater, Javier Fernandez of Spain, who finishes fourth in the men’s event.

And Kristi Yamaguchi, winner of gold in 1992, does spots around the grounds for different TV engagements, just over 20 years after her victory – at the age of 20.

“Every four years it’s amazing to be able to come back and be able to be a part of the Olympic movement,” Yamaguchi says. “We share similar experiences – there’s a bond. Whether you’ve won a medal or not, you’ve been to battle together. It’s something very special.”

U.S. men’s figure skaters mired in quad quandary

Max Aaron
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DETROIT — Down went Max Aaron. Down went Adam Rippon.

It’s the hardest puzzle piece to snap into place in men’s figure skating leading up to the Sochi Olympics: the quadruple jump. And after the season’s first Grand Prix event, it continues to be an elusive element for the top U.S. men.

Only Skate America’s winner, Tatsuki Machida of Japan, made it through the weekend without any trouble with four-revolution jumps, landing two in his free skate to win over Rippon and Aaron, who took silver and bronze, respectively.

Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, barely caught his quadruple toe loop and struggled Saturday to finish fourth.

Can the American men find their quad form come Sochi?

Evan Lysacek was criticized in 2010 for winning gold in Vancouver without a quad. While Lysacek remains out with injury, two-time Olympic silver medalist Elvis Stojko, who helped usher in the jump to men’s skating in the 1990s, is a fan of the bigger-is-better movement.

“Guys are trying two quads in a program, which is awesome,” Stojko said last week. “I feel that they’re really pushing the envelope. Now they’re back to what we were doing in 2002 in the quads. There’s more guys doing it and more consistently, which is great. So, having at least one quad in the program is a must, if you want to be in the hunt. If you really want to take down the competition, doing two with a combination.”

The toe loop has been a struggle for Aaron, who landed two quad salchows Saturday night.

“Right now we’re committed to keeping that quad toe loop in there; we’re not going to take it out,” Aaron said. “Maybe by Boston (U.S. Championships in January) it will be perfect, maybe it will not.”

Aaron has a whopping three quads in his free skate, compared to just one in Rippon’s. The silver medalist made light of his fall Saturday night, in which he hit the boards.

“I’m lucky that the Joe Louis is an old, sturdy arena,” Rippon said, drawing laughs. “The boards held up and didn’t break.”

But Rippon, who was second at Nationals in 2012, got serious a few minutes later, saying that he planned to add one, if not two quad jumps to his program this season.

“My priority for each competition is to go out and put out a good quad lutz,” he said. “By the end of the season I hopefully will add another quad lutz and also a quad toe to the program. The quad toe has been good at home in practice.”

Other Americans in contention to make the Sochi Olympic team, including Ross Miner and three-time national champion Jeremy Abbott, have quads but have not been able to execute them on a consistent basis.

For many skaters it is a numbers game. Figure skating’s “new” scoring system, which has now been around for nearly 10 years, awards higher totals for the bigger jumps, even if they aren’t executed perfectly.

“I left a lot of points on the table,” said Aaron, referring to the fall and subsequent mistakes around his quads. “It was unacceptable for me to fall. I’m not very happy about that.

“I’m going to go back home and continue to work. We want the components a lot higher, we want the technical score a lot higher and we want the overall score a lot higher. We’re not looking for falls or step outs; we’re looking for a clean skate every time. We will get it right. We picked that program for a reason and there’s no backing down.”

Plushenko updates on his training

Elvis Stojko not a fan of new Olympic figure skating team event

Elvis Stojko
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Elvis Stojko, the two-time Olympic silver medalist, is known for expressing strong opinions on the state of figure skating.

At the 2010 Games, Stojko wrote that Evan Lysacek‘s performance was not “Olympic champion material” in a column titled, “The night they killed figure skating.” The retired Canadian lamented the absence of a quadruple jump in Lysacek’s arsenal.

The quad is now more prevalent in men’s skating, but all is still not right. Stojko is unimpressed with the new figure skating event for the Sochi Olympics — the team competition.

The team event will begin the night before the opening ceremony (Thursday, Feb. 6) and wrap up two nights after the cauldron is lit (Sunday, Feb. 9).

Each nation entered will have men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance skaters perform one short program and one free skate each (total of eight). The event will include 10 nations with a cut down to five after the short programs. The highest cumulative scores will determine the medals.

Two skaters (or two couples or one skater and one couple) may be subbed out after the short program. For example, the U.S. could enter Ashley Wagner in the women’s short and Gracie Gold in the women’s free skate, granted Wagner and Gold make the Olympic team in singles.

Stojko wasn’t fully familiar with the particulars of the event but, upon being told details, didn’t like the premise.

“I don’t know if that’s such a great thing,” he said at the opening The Rink at Rockefeller Center in New York on Monday. “It makes for audience, one way it can work. But for skaters, to be able to do another competition right before the Olympics, if they’re trying to get trained, it’s great. If they’re at their peak, it might be tough. The ones that will be able to balance it out, they might not push very hard because they’re going to save it for the next week because that takes a lot out of you, for sure, to be able to be at that level, and then have to do it right before the Olympics, right before their actual competition.

“It’ll be tough. I don’t know if it’s such a great choice if they want to have good skating for the actual (individual) events.”

Stojko, 41, said he probably wouldn’t have done the team event if it was part of the Olympic program when he competed in 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2002.

“Because I would be so focused on my individual stuff,” he said. “It’d be really tough. If I was not in medal contention for Olympics in solo, then maybe I would consider it, but still then it would be really tough. It’s really hard for us to do the technical stuff we’re doing to do it once and then do it again like a week later.

“Year after year, we know our schedule, and then, all of a sudden, they’re like, ‘OK, we’re doing a team event this year.’ It’s kind of tough. I’d still probably veer away from it.”

The coach for Germany’s top pairs team agrees with Stojko. Ingo Steuer said four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy will not take part in the team event.

The pairs short program is three nights after the pairs free skate in the team event.

“It is too close to our own competition,” Steuer said, according to icenetwork.com. “The gold medal in our individual event is more important to us. It is why we have been working so hard since 2010.”

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