The dance story took a very dramatic turn during Worlds, with stories both big and small getting new twists to make the ending interesting. Be prepared for some diffuse rambling....
The Fluke Bronze Medalist
One idea that I had after last season was that fluke first time medalists tend not to repeat themselves. While a semantics debate erupted around the use of the word fluke (and the judgement contained therein), ultimately I meant that in a situation where the results were close enough that a slightly different judging panel could come to a different conclusion, the beneficiaries of said decision would be unlikely to repeat. Chait/Sahknovski and Khoklova/Novitski were the two that came to mind. I used this to question what we’d see with the Shibutanis and much like the earlier two skaters, they suffered a little this season. Now, it’s not clear to what extent they suffered as a consequence– they were hindered by the perception of more-of-the-same with the FD, an SD that didn’t cater to their strengths (I liked it, though), but their PCS weren’t harmed profoundly (they had lower PCS this year at Worlds, but it was a lesser skate). I do think that the Shibs will likely bounce back from this (unlike the two earlier teams), but think it’s worthy of a note.
Random sidebar: In the modern history (read: since the introduction of ice dance to the Olympics) the one-time medalist is actually increasing in frequency. Of the eight teams, only two occurred in 24 years (1976-1999) – one of those teams was Krylova/Federov, and she obviously had success after that. From 2000-2010, it’s happened six times (Drobiazko/Vanagas, C/S, Winkler/Lhose, Grushina/Goncharov, Khoklova/Novitski, Faella/Scali – P/B and the Shibs could win more, of course). Just a sign of the times regarding the fluidity of the standings.
Bobrova/Soloviev vs Ilynikh/Katsalpov
One team won a GP gold medal, earned a trip to the GPF, won their second consecutive National title and followed that up with their second consecutive Euro silver. The other merely beat their compatriots at the biggest event in the world by more than 10 points, to go along with their first Euros medal and their GP bronze (along with the highest worlds ranking since Domnina/Shabalin). Who do you choose? I/K? They’re younger, with the more connected coach and have demonstrated more improvement this year. But they’re also tempestuous and very new (three years old). Kustorova is nothing if not feisty. She will fight. And even when they had two flawed skates, Bobrova/Soloviev actually outPCSed I/K (cumulatively) suggesting that the judges still aren’t quite sure they want to buy what I/K are selling. The problem (aka, the awesome thing for us) with the ice dance standings being so fluid is that without a clear separation in talent, it’s actually rather hard for one team to gain momentum, and given that both have one similar points-losing flaw (the levels), I wouldn’t wager.
Don’t even think about it, Skate Canada
You know what I’m talking about.
The Sun setting on the Canton quartet
Okay, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the results, negotiating both the on-ice dancing, the shift in the off-ice judging paradigm, and potential narratives that result. It’s a little weird in my head right now, so I’ll try to be cogent.
None of the Canton trio scored a level four on the Rhumba
Canton knows levels. B/A’s success was in part of their ability to score levels (they actually had a higher base value than Navka/Kostamorov at Worlds 05 and the Olympics). Davis/White were the first team to score an all level four free dance (NHK 2006). Virtue/Moir were the first team to score straight level fours on both dances (Worlds 2007). Canton had the extraordinary luck of having not one but two long-lasting teams that also were quite young, a recipe for COP magic. But the world has caught up. The top three Krylova/Camerlengo teams had level fours (two had for both segments, W/P only one). Ilynikh/Katsalpov were able to. That these six weren’t able to, despite their technical ability, is something worth remarking on. What did they do wrong (both Charlie and Scott have mentioned that they dislike the Rhumba, though that was five years ago for the former, curiously)?
No real trend. You’d expect PCS to increase as skaters get more comfortable with the program – a jump from the GP season to the ISU championship season is expected. Given how closely the last three cluster, it’s fair to say that’s pretty much on one level together. Now, I don’t recall all their SDs, except my recollection matches the aforementioned – they skated it the best they had at the GPF.
Now, I’m not sure what the margin of error is, but you see a very early peak, followed by a steady decline. I’m not sure what conclusions to draw, but I wanted the numbers posted because....
How would you politick against Canton?
Honestly, think about it.
The Shibs? Easy. Emphasize how junior they skate (they don’t, but they’re young, so the criticism will stick). Play up their presumed lack of range (truer). Root for a style of SD that hurts them (Latin? Ouch. Yankee Polka? Finnstep? Every single European federation dropped the ball on that one)
D/W? Less easy, but still doable. Talk about their athleticism, but do so in the passive-aggressive terms (it’s more like pairs skating! They’re so fast you can hardly take in the choreography). When they talk about how they would rather not fake a relationship off the ice in order to get publicity, snark that they can barely fake one ON the ice. Talk about their lack of performance. Ignore the improvements Meryl’s made to posture, Charlie’s made to emoting, etc. It’s harder because.... well, they HAVE improved a great deal (I recommend comparing their final rotational lift in Samson and Delilah to their rotational lift in DF), but it’s certainly plausible (and everything’s relative. They have improved their performing, but they aren’t comparable to any number of teams there).
V/M? Probably be the hardest, as they have the mantle of Olympic Champion. Tarnish them too much and you tarnish the trophy (and you want that trophy). But it’s possible, definitely very possible. Mention their lack of range (sure, they actually haven’t skated to a strictly romantic piece since Mahler, but whatever). Discuss how good they were when they came on, and how injuries have limited their actual improvement to the point where it’s like they haven’t improved since they came on the senior stage(again, anyone who doesn’t see improvement between the Worlds performance of Valse Triste/Assassination Tango and the Worlds performance of Dark Eyes/Umbrellas of Cherbourg doesn’t
want to see the improvement. But in politicking, a willfully blind eye is necessary).
Remember that politicking is most effective when there’s some truth in it – and I’ve heard all these ideas postulated on forums (here and FSU, mainly); when the judges are capable of doing something about it. Now, there is bad politicking. It was bad of Mishin et al to politick against Lysacek on the basis of the quad, as the judges couldn’t deduct base value points from his flip or lutz to make up for that. The quad has a base value. You don’t do one, you don’t get the base value. It was smart of Carroll et al to play up the simplicity of Plushenko’s choreography and lack of transitions. The judges can say – hey, those aren’t transitions, and he loses points!
So it’s certainly not impossible to politick against Canton, but....
I mean, more specifically than everyone. Backstage Barbie posted a series of questions at the beginning of the season, and on the situation in dance, my post was as follows....
I’ve said elsewhere that the goal for everyone but the Canton quartet would be to get within ten points of Canton. The ground moved so little between Worlds 2010 and 2011 that it was striking. Well, this year one team did it: Pechalat/Bourzat. They were 9.47 points behind V/M. On paper, they would be the ones most likely to snare the group. But how realistic are their scores? There was a lot of inflation going on for the hometown skaters, and they were the most egregious beneficiaries. But more than that – it’s not like the European nations work in a vacuum. Russia wants a spot on the Sochi podium as well, and it’ll be a lot easier to tackle the team that has peaked than the dominant quartet of this time. And, frankly, P/B aren’t THAT good that they’ll be held up as exemplars over the next two seasons. Expect a minor, K/N-like drop next season (at worlds. At Euros, they should still be fine).10) How critical is the 2011-2012 in the grand scheme of things, specifically looking toward Sochi?
Dance: Super critical. If one of the newer teams don’t make a huge leap forward to close the gap between them and the Canton quartet, it’ll be like being down by four runs at the bottom of the ninth. Simply speaking, they need to make their move and do it now. But not just that. If they’re the third team in their country, they need to make an argument they should be second (Riazanova/Tkachenko, Paul/Islam), otherwise by Sochi they’ll be like Weaver/Poje in 2010. If they’re second, they NEED to make that move on first. And if they’re first, they damn well better cement that. If they don’t..... well, see Belbin/Agosto. It’ll also give us a hint just how hungry V/M are to continue competing. I’ve read people doubting their presence in Sochi, whereas I sorta feel the opposite.
But the other teams: W/P, B/S, I/K, C/L.... none were in the ten points or less range. That is not good. V/M were 11.5 points within bronze in 2007. D/W were twelve points within bronze by 2008. I mention bronze and not gold/silver because the gold/silver teams retired (and the injuries that blocked the D/S’s are well known) and that’s partly what allowed the rise of the Canton quartet. When you’re still ceding 16-20+ points to these guys, you’ve got a lot of ground to make up. Now, I feel the Sochi podium will be made of three of the seven aforementioned teams, but there’s some talk about the scoring being the wake-up call to both the top two that they’re gonna be roped in.
Breaking Records vs Overscoring
The ISU believes, rightly or wrongly, that the sport benefits from those who can break records. Chan wants to start the 300 club (Nationals doesn’t count, obviously). During the Olympic season, we saw the first tens handed out. The rules have been redefined to use the upper GOE limits more freely. During the Olympic season, we saw records in the OD, ladies (sp/lp/both) and pairs (sp/lp/both). One of the proposals on the table at the next ISU conference would be to give a base value to the transition lift, which would have the effect of raising the possible score in the FD even further.
But on the other hand... there is a clearly defined ceiling. This year, the ceiling was 81 points for the SD, 118 points for the FD. It was literally impossible to score higher than that. The number will change. The Golden Waltz and the Rhumba had different point values at corresponding levels, for example. The number of elements will change. But the fact remains – these guys are pushing the limits of scoring. Meanwhile.... people are complaining about it. It started at the GPF, but I’d speculate that the rumblings actually started after CoR, with D/W scoring the highest PCS ever for a FD (at least we saw that debate explode here) and scoring two 10s from one judge for SD despite Charlie having a significant flaw and the consequent “offness” of the skate. But we know that Zhulin complained loudly about the way the judges were handing out tens after the GPF. We know Kustorova complained that “yesterday’s” skaters were being overscored based on reputation. At Euros and 4CC, the tech panels came down hard (likely in response to the level fours like candy at the GPF). At Worlds, none of the Canton quartet scored season’s bests in overall or the FD. V/M did score a SB in the short, but that’s been a disappointing dance all year for them. I/K, C/L, W/P and P/B did score season’s bests in both portions (and overall) at Worlds.
So the Canton trio have, almost, become victims of their own success. I doubt that the complaints would have been so vociferous if V/M weren’t 70+ skaters with a fall (SD), nor if D/W weren’t scoring 76+ for a Latin dance that didn’t conform to a popular conception of that dance (or 10s for a passionless tango). The higher you get, the harder it gets to score better (it’s gonna have to be a massively special skate to get all +3s or all 10s). Their competitors can still, theoretically, score higher. If D/W and V/M are still looking at the 180 territory and the rest are gazing at 170 longingly, I doubt all the politicking i the world with remove them from the top two steps, regardless.