I am usually just a reader of certain threads, as I am not as excited about the overall skating scene as in the 90's, and I no longer have skaters I get nervous over because I am so hopeful that they'll do well. Nevertheless, I still watch the sport and find its blend of music, athleticism, dance, and art to encapsulate some of my biggest interests.
Since I am from the Chicago area, my eyebrows went up when I saw that Skate America would be in Detroit this year. I have been to three skating exhibitions (a Tom Collins tour, a Disson event, and a small event featuring Emanuel Sandhu) but never a competition, so I decided to get tickets and attend.
[This is being written today, so I apologize for not having from-the-moment, sharp observations. A lot has been lost to time.]
The practices on Thursday were a lot of fun. I loved seeing some of the best in the world show off their speed and skills. Not too many people were in the arena, and that fits in with my view of the skating community as very small. Though I no longer seek autographs from nor pictures with known sportsmen, I had easy access to coaches, parents, skaters, judges, and probably just about anyone else involved. I had to smile at how easy it was to spot the participants: "Oh, there's Tracy Wilson! Tara Lipinski has nice hair. Morozov has a collected presence today." Not all of the big names came out (Volosozhar/Trankov, Asada, and more were missing), but I decided that a full day's worth of practices would be enough and I would skip the other days' practice sessions in favor of doing other things in and around Detroit.
The competition hours went by fast, probably because there were so few skaters competing.
Men's short: Gachinski kept holding his back during Thursday's session, but he eked out some tough jumps in the short program. Rippon seems to have grown up for this year; nice confidence, attack, and overall package. I think that Aaron is the one I watched in the short and thought, "Good speed and jump potential, but near-zero connection with the music. I can't see any improvement." I really liked Brown's music and interpretation in the short, much more than in his long. There is something weird about his jump rotations- is it a delayed head turn? I fully stamp any notice indicating that he is gregarious and kind to fans. He seems to be so happy with his "job" as a skater. I like Kozuka a great deal but didn't find his short to be the best vehicle for him. Machida hit his jumps in both phases but did not do much to bring out the music in an appealing way. Takahashi is my favorite male skater from the last four years, and I found his presentation skills untouched. Sadly, his jumps have been off a lot in the past two years' worth of competitions I've watched. Still, I loved his short (his long was not as compelling, if my memory serves me well).
Short dance: my least favorite of the four disciplines in the event's short program section. I liked Tobias/Stagniunas and Carron/Jones, both for their looks (no, I would not give them higher marks for that were I to judge!) and their programs. No comments on the other short programs!
Pairs short: Zhang and Bartholomay interested me more than most American pairs teams of the past ten years. Good on them for doing nice work. Stolbova/Klimov had a nice intensity to their program. Moore-Towers/Moscovitch disappointed me. They were the most pleasant surprise for me at worlds in 2013, but I found their short here to be lacking compared to some of the other top pairs, and I never got into their long. Berton/Hotarek... I remember the first half as being more well-executed than the second half, but the program overall was interesting. Volosozhar/Trankov: the way they hit their two programs here and their connection to the music made me enjoy them more than at any event in the past. Tatiana is incredible and Max is okay, but he doesn't seem to have the "it" factor she has.
Ladies' short: Zhang's two programs were mouth-dropping. I hope she is okay. Cesario was my favorite person in the whole event. She sold her choreo in both programs and was fairly clean. Some of the other shorts had good interpretation, but she was tops in the long in my book. Radionova has lots of talent, but it's almost as if there's a small part of her that won't fully project because she isn't tall/meaty/seasoned enough to project senior emotions. That might not make sense to you! Anyway, I respect that because she's not throwing out a silly, girlish skating vibe but she's also not pretending she is in her 20s. Gedevanishvili was strong technically and had fair projection, but it was not her best display of feeling music. Meite is the one skater who I liked more on TV than live as far as my amateur judging brain. On TV, I sometimes thought she was gypped out of a few placements but live, I could see some defects like slow skating, gaps in solid interpretation, and other things I can't think of right now. I still like her, and her exhibition was lots of fun, but her competitive stuff was not outstanding. I liked Marchei's short than a lot of her recent stuff- she was on. Tuk definitely seems like a fighter and someone with the ability to put everything together: spins, footwork, jumps, and putting on a character. Helgesson was often in the stands near me, and she seems like a grounded, happy woman. She continued the trend of having the singles skaters do cleaner work in the short than in the long. I think Wagner put out her best ever short. She really surprised me with how fast and artistic she was! She skated a rock performance better than Asada skated a classical performance, and I did not expect that. Being in the arena, I "felt" Wagner's attack and powerful matching of the music. Asada is very light and fluid, but her skating in the short program was almost the same as her skating in the long even though the music changed from Chopin to Rachmaninoff! I felt almost dismissive of her long program for that reason. Rachmaninoff is my favorite composer and even in most pianissimo parts of his second piano concerto (including those in Asada's excerpts), there is PASSION and fire. Asada put out an almost angelic demeanor for most of the long, and it jarred with the strength of the music. I was not taken in by the performance, as Bezic and some fans were.
Men's long: Gachinski does not change much from performance to performance. He is truly as close to a Plushenko clone as you are going to get from a choreographic standpoint. The Japanese fans near me gasped when they saw Takahashi placed behind Aaron; at least, that's my interpretation of their thinking! Rippon's program was more special than a lot of CoP longs.
Dance long: Carron/Jones had a much more creative program than most, and I thought they performed well enough to deserve higher PCS scores. The last four teams were a cut above the rest. I thought the Italians were amazing in paying attention to seemingly every detail, every note, every finger position. Davis and White left me with my usual thoughts: they are fast, they have excellent lifts, and Davis throws drama onto her face, but I don't buy their interpretation (though their Indian dance did "do it for me"). As some have written here, Charlie's face does not really vary, and his dancing is not good enough for me to think of him as a world champion. Yes, I admit to liking Virtue/Moir the most, so I inevitably compare the world's top two current teams, but even compared to the Italians, I found Davis/White faster but less compelling.
Pairs long: Nothing to add.
Ladies' long: Nothing to add, either.
Gala: I found the Disson show two years ago to be unfulfilling, but the gala had me smiling and even laughing sometimes. Is anyone with money out there reading? I THINK WE NEED PRO EVENTS TO COME BACK! The gala was nice in showcasing more popular music (listening to so many warhorses live during the competition made me shake my head for the first time in twenty-two years as a skating fan because I was not happy with the musical selections. The skaters want to do their own program to that piece, skating is ruled by conservative forces, blah, blah, blah. Get some different music burned onto those CDs, skaters.). I also liked the more relaxed feeling throughout the arena and within the skaters. It was indeed a case of the hair being let down and new feelings to arise from the skating. Adam Rippon and Anna Cappellini impressed me a lot with their dance abilities, and Takahashi was as captivating as ever.
All in all, I am pleased to have had the chance to attend. Thank you, people of Detroit and environs. My time in the area was exceptionally positive and productive. I was aided by many and enchanted by various facets of the city.
Sorry for being late to post this. If you have any comments, please share. I have had the pleasure of reading so many comments that I wanted to type my own. Perhaps you thought some of the same things as me or differ greatly in your views. I would love to learn and read any replies.