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Thread: My thoughts on Michelle at 2004 Worlds

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    Lightbulb My thoughts on Michelle at 2004 Worlds

    I would love to study the psycology of a champion. In any sport, the top athletes who have the longevity at the top aren't human, so to speak. Their psyche is different. What separates them from the rest is not just talents but mental strength. In fact I have always thought generally, it's 50% mental and 50% talents to be truly great in any sport. Sasha has proven time and time again without the crucial ingredient, mental strength, you can't be a great champion no matter how ridiculously talented you are. This is not a diss at Sasha, I apologize if it sounds offensive.

    For Michelle, it's not how she dealt with the 2 demoralizing incidents (poor qualifying round performance and the low marks for the sp) that struck me, afterall she did that before, think 2000 Worlds (coming from behind) and 2001 Worlds (the boot problem). What made me respect her more is how she dealt with the streaker incident especially when she thought he might have a gun! How many can actually still regroup their thoughts in that kind of incident. One would easily be shaken. I was amazed at how quick she was able to refocus. Well, that says a lot about the mind of a champion. Dissect the minds of those long staying champions like Navratilova, Evert, Graf, Sampras, Lendl, you would find exactly the same composition.

    Ok, enough of the gushing. Now as for the sp, I was shocked. How could that happen? I mean the time deduction. I don't have any problem with her marks, I believe every elite skater has been held up and held down in one way or another. How could Michelle have taken such a risk? Michelle can only blame herself and her coach and no one else. Why didn't they make some allowance of at least 3-4 seconds within the time limit? I don't see any problem with the referee penalizing her, a rule is a rule, a rarely invoked rule notwithstanding. Anyhow it was a great performance and I liked her spins befor the ending pose. Usually I don't get excited by her spins.

    As for the LP, did she make an improptu change in the movement before the footwork after she doubled the lutz? It looked so seamless. It reminded me of John on the latest American Idol country-themed round in which he improvized when he forgot the lyrics and many would have hardly noticed the screw up.

    And finally, the 3/3s have finally arrived. In the past, as Rgirl put it, it was all talk but no action.
    Last edited by apache88; 03-28-2004 at 04:19 AM.

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    Gadfly and Bon Vivant Mafke's Avatar
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    Yeah, Kwan has nerves of steel to pull off a program like that after QR shock, surprize time limit penalty and freak on the ice. Germany will not occupy any special place in her affections I'm sure.

    That said, Cohen has nothing to be ashamed about. I don't think anyone was going to beat Arakawa that night and she held on better than she has in the past, not losing any more ground even if it wasn't picture perfect.

    Different skaters develop at different speeds and I think Cohen's best skating is still ahead of her. The hype around her from the beginning has piled unfair expectations on her as people have expected her to develop according to their expectations.

    I suspect that Wagner is a better 'fit' for her than TT and that Wagner's big sister approach will make it possible for her to address the weaker points in Cohen's technique and give the right kind of boost in competitions.

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    Well said, Mafke. And no, Apache, your description of Sasha doesn't sound like a diss--but it does show your respect for all skaters at this level that you took the time to say you didn't mean it to sound negative. I think the psychology, neurocognitive, and neurokinesthetic factors involved in being a champion are very poorly understood even by those who have devoted their lives to studying it and working as sports psychologists with elite athletes. The field of sports psychology is barely 25 years old, which in any field, but especially one involving the brain, is about a nanosecond. I think it's difficult to know what terminology to use and, as I said on another thread, it's also easy when there's not much research about something to rely on bobbemysehs--old wives' tales--for explanations.

    Anyway, Mafke, your point about different skaters developing at different speeds reminded me of one skater in particular. She started out at 16 or 17 as National champion of a country with a strong history of great ladies figure skating champions. She went to Worlds those first two years IIRC, didn't place very well (I don't recall where exactly, but she was certainly no medal contender), and then another young skater took her place as National champion and the former champion didn't even make it to Worlds for about three years. Then about two years ago, at the rip old age of 20, she started to make significant improvements and was back on the FS radar, though she wasn't shaking anybody up.

    After that first year of renewed whatever it was, she left her country to train with a well-known US coach. This last fall, under the COP, she made even more improvements. In fact by her third event, her spiral sequence, which had previously been one of her weakest elements, was the only one to receive a Level 3 rating. She also started working on and solidifying her 3/3s. At her National championships, however, she didn't skate her best, reflecting a problem she had always had: Lack of consistency. But her efforts were good enough for the bronze.

    Then one month before Worlds, this skater did the unthinkable: She changed coaches again. People on the boards didn't discuss it much since she wasn't considered a real threat to any of the US skaters. She even showed up at Worlds with an injury, a strained thigh muscle. Yet after the Q rounds, she was first in her group; she was second after the SP; and even drawing first to skate in the last flight, she skated a program that started with a 3/3/2 and never let down from there.

    Of course the skater I'm talking about is Shizuka Arakawa. She did not put a foot wrong this entire Worlds competition and had an absolutely unquestioned win. Yet even as recently as her own Japanese Nationals, Shizza was third girl on the team.

    Anyway, I just think Shizuka is a great example of what you were saying Mafke.

    OTOH, like Apache, I'm also fascinated by why among skaters with relatively equal physical gifts and general intelligence that only a rare few are truly consistent since the advent of triple jumps. Brian Boitano, Michelle Kwan, and to a lesser extent Kristi Yamaguchi are the only singles skaters I can think of who were truly consistent over time. I say "Kristi to a lesser extent" because she only competed strictly as a singles skater for a few years and then turned pro, although even as a pro she kept up all her triples and would do five-triple programs at pro comps, including a true Lutz. I'd love to have the technology to research consistent skaters like Michelle doing their programs, somehow be able to read a PET scan of their brains while they're skating (I have no idea how this would be possible since they would have to skate with a two-ton machine on their heads, lol) and compare them to scans of inconsistent skaters. I suppose doing PET scans of the skaters just thinking about doing their programs would be a start, lol.

    One thing I will quibble with though, Apache--and not just you, Phil Hersh too-- is the use of the term *mental toughness* as synonymous with consistency. The only reason I don't like it is that it implies that a skater who is not consistent, meaning primarily with his/her jumps, is *mentally weak.* I just can't see any skater who is regularly in the top five or even top 10 at Worlds as being *mentally weak.* Shizuka has had consistency problems for years and may still have them next season, we don't yet know, but the mere fact that she perservered with her skating despite losing her National title, not even going to Worlds for three years IIRC, and basically being written off by a lot of people makes me see her as someone who has a great deal of *mental strength.* It just didn't manifest itself in jump consistency until these Worlds, although she was second only to Sasha in her GP events until the GPF.

    But like I said, it's difficult to know what terminology to use so in no way do I mean to get on your case. In fact, I'm glad you started this thread since I hope it will encourage people to consider how much we DON'T know about how the brain and body work when it comes to highly specialized, highly difficult skills such as figure skating.

    I'm sure Sasha is extremely disappointed in herself, but as Mafke said, she had a great Q round and a great short, and even her relatively weak free skate was still better than her previous efforts. Obviously it's not the progress she and RW wanted, but sometimes you get what you need, not what you want. Perhaps the same can be said of Michelle's experience at these Worlds. She had some uncharacteristic problems on some of her jumps, but the whole reason she's working with Artunian is to improve them. So maybe these are just some of the eggs she had to break on the way to making her OGM omellette.
    Rgirl

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    Developing at different speeds

    I also think that it is a really good point about skaters developing at different speeds. Interestingly, 5 of the last 6 World Championships were won by a lady 20 or older--

    2004: Shizuka Arakawa (22 yrs. old)
    2003: Michelle Kwan (22 yrs. old)
    2002: Irina Slutskaya (22 yrs. old)
    2001: Michelle Kwan (20 yrs. old)
    2000: Michelle Kwan (19 yrs. old)
    1999: Maria Butyrskaya (26 yrs. old)

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    Random and not necessarily connected thoughts: I believe Robyn has a psych degree. It may not be in sports psych but it's psych. Maybe that gives her the tools to be able to work with her charges minds effectively or maybe she chose psych because she has the predispositon to be interested in that aspect of humanity. Whatever, I did see a freedom and passion in Sasha's skating that I have never seen before. At the very least, I think Robyn found a way to allow Sasha to enjoy the skate. And she had two great rounds.

    At first, I thought that SC's consistancy problem was simply endurance. Then I started to think it was mental endurance. Then I thought it might be focus and that she needed doses of Focus Factor before each skate. But listening to her reaction to missing her jump in the LP, she seemed totally nonplussed as to what went wrong -- that she had it all set up, but that it just didn't happen.

    I play tennis. I have a good forehand but a very inconsistant backhand. I hit the ball well 30% of the time on the BH but poorly the other 70%. I sometimes do not even see the ball and I have no vision problems. My coaches cannot figure out what goes wrong as I have the technique and can do it sometimes.
    I think it might be neurological. Some sort of lapse or disconnect.

    Of course, I'm in way over my head in this discussion but it makes me wonder it this is what Sasha's problem is.

  6. #6
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    This was an interesting week for Michelle, to say the least. I agree with you Apache about the timing problem in her SP. It was very frustrating to me that this happened. I have thought since she first skated this program that the ending was a problem. The music doesn't really come to a distinctive stop. It just sort of fades away to a sort of swooshing sound. All the more reason they should have had a few seconds built into it ... to allow for just such times as these when she is slightly off the music. Hopefully this won't happen again.
    She really lost her way though, in the QR. You just can't make major mistakes like that ... and have any real chance of winning.
    I was very happy with her FS ... I thought she was amazing in handling the streaker incident. Probably noone else could have remained as focused as she did. Even when she makes mistakes, she has such an uncanny ability to draw the audience in. I was happy for her bronze finish and thought it well deserved.

    Shizuka was amazing ... I thought during the GP series that she could be a real threat if she could put clean SP and LP together. Well, she did ... and what a treat it was to see!

    I did not like Sasha's new LP. It did not even resemble the brilliant program she skated at Campbells. While I do think she and Robin seem to make a good pair, I'm not especially impressed with her progress. To me, her program was made much more simple and still she could not skate it clean. What happens next year now, when she tries to incorporate the 3/3's?
    One thing for sure, both she and Michelle will have to work on the 3/3's ... the Japanese ladies are here to stay!

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    Keeper of La Khok's Tutus Doggygirl's Avatar
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    Very interesting thread

    I too find the intricate connections between the physical and the mental interesting in this sport, and in all aspects of life really. It seems that so much goes on up there that is way beyond what we realize in conscious thought. This is a very interesting thread and I enjoy reading about it from those of you who know a lot more about sports psychology than I do.

    I too find it amazing that Michelle was able to collect herself so effectively after the streaker incident. I haven't read / heard all the interviews yet, but it doesn't surprise me that Michelle must have been terrified this whacko could have been armed or something. That would be far more rattling than just a goof ball causing a disruption. Can't imagine the adrenilin surge she must have had. She truly is an amazing competitor.

    Since this was mentioned on the US televised stuff last night, it's probably already been posted about ad nauseum. (so sorry if this is a huge repeat) My jaw nearly hit the floor when they said her SP at US Nationals was 2:43. But there is no doubt Michelle and team knew they had a timing problem back then. In any case, good for Michelle pulling out a great performance and a medal. Whatever happens down the road, I'm sure it won't be another timing deduction ever again.

    Such a great comp! I can't wait to watch the tapes over and over.

    DG

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    Re: Very interesting thread

    Originally posted by Doggygirl
    ... But there is no doubt Michelle and team knew they had a timing problem back then. ...DG
    There is no doubt? How can you say that? I must have missed the part where they told the Kwan camp that she had a timing problem.

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    Yes, she does appear to have gone overtime. But I'd be interested to find how many times...if ever...anyone has been penalized.

    In my opinion the judging was OUTRAGEOUS, and the expected result when one has anonymity. Didn't Kostner get a 5.9 on her LP technical mark??? That conveniently gave her a top 5 finish overall; anyone know if that is somehow significant?

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    Keeper of La Khok's Tutus Doggygirl's Avatar
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    Good point Patti...

    I guess it's not fair to assume that just becuase there are time limits on each leg of the event, there are time keepers at each event, and that Michelle herself mentioned in an interview that times are announced during practice sessions, and that the national media knew her SP at Nationals was timed at 2:43 that Michelle and coaches knew. Michelle mentioned when interviewed that her practices were coming out at 2:40. That's shaving it really close, particularly when the rule has nothing to do with the actual music cut, but the music ending is clearly a marker, and Michelle's music is very soft at the end and with a roaring crowd she may have trouble hearing it. Seems to me that would set up a situation where it would be VERY easy to make a small mistake and go over the line.

    Part of the problem with this judging system is that rules regarding mandatory deductions are NOT always applied consistently. In most situations, the application of deductions or not is in the hands of the judges rather than the skaters. (i.e. if a skater makes an error in the SP, for example, that carries a mandatory .X deduction, and recieves a score which which is mathematically impossible if the deduction were applied, the skater had no control over that.) I get as frustrated as everyone else does with that aspect.

    But the timing rule is a rule which IS under the skaters control and responsibility. I personally haven't a clue how many times deductions SHOULD have been given for time infractions, but were or were not. I would liken this to regularly going 65 MPH in a 55MPH zone. It's not likely you will get a ticket every time you do it. But when you get pulled over "everyone else does it" or "I've done it before and not been ticketed" is not going to get you out of the ticket.

    DG

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    Rgirl:
    One thing I will quibble with though, Apache--and not just you, Phil Hersh too-- is the use of the term *mental toughness* as synonymous with consistency. The only reason I don't like it is that it implies that a skater who is not consistent, meaning primarily with his/her jumps, is *mentally weak.* I just can't see any skater who is regularly in the top five or even top 10 at Worlds as being *mentally weak.* Shizuka has had consistency problems for years and may still have them next season, we don't yet know, but the mere fact that she perservered with her skating despite losing her National title, not even going to Worlds for three years IIRC, and basically being written off by a lot of people makes me see her as someone who has a great deal of *mental strength.* It just didn't manifest itself in jump consistency until these Worlds, although she was second only to Sasha in her GP events until the GPF.
    I understand where you are coming from but mental toughness does have a strong correlation to consistency as I have observed in many sports particularly tennis, the sport I truly love.

    You have cited Shizuka as a case study here. While she has the mental toughness to perservere through the adversity that she has had, she lacks the mental toughness to deliver a great performance except last night. That's how I see it, you may disagree. Now can Shizuka repeat her awesome performance? She definitely has the goods but can she do it again assuming she's healthy and physically competent? This is where mental toughness comes in - the confidence of delivering when it counts. Great champions are known to be able to block out distractions and negativity when it comes to the crucial moments to deliver. Michelle has time and time again demonstrated that. I read Katarina Witt was one hell of a tough cookie in those days. I treasure mental strength so much because of my personal experience which reminds me so much of Sasha. The following response to Yelyoh illustrates that.

    Yelyoh:
    At first, I thought that SC's consistancy problem was simply endurance. Then I started to think it was mental endurance. Then I thought it might be focus and that she needed doses of Focus Factor before each skate. But listening to her reaction to missing her jump in the LP, she seemed totally nonplussed as to what went wrong -- that she had it all set up, but that it just didn't happen.

    I play tennis. I have a good forehand but a very inconsistant backhand. I hit the ball well 30% of the time on the BH but poorly the other 70%. I sometimes do not even see the ball and I have no vision problems. My coaches cannot figure out what goes wrong as I have the technique and can do it sometimes.
    I think it might be neurological. Some sort of lapse or disconnect.

    Of course, I'm in way over my head in this discussion but it makes me wonder it this is what Sasha's problem is.
    I disagree with those who think Sasha's inconsistency is due to mental lapse or lack of focus, as Dick and Peggy would call it. I would think Dick and Peggy, having competed in tough competitions themselves, wouldn't see it that way or is it just a convenient, throwaway, lazy explanation of Sasha's case. I can't believe Sasha being an ambitious and competitive athlete as she has portrayed herself to be, would lose focus in the middle of her performance in a major competition? If anything, it's mental weakness or over-focus. Over-focus becomes her problem when she wants it so bad.

    This brings me to my real life experience as a competitor. Mental strength has so often been taken granted for, from what I have read on many discussion forums. Only those who have competed in competitions would know it's a rare gift as much as raw talents are. I see a Sasha in me in tennis. While I definitely am not as talented as Sasha is in her sport, I do see lots of similarities. I play tennis at club level. I have the skills to beat many of my team members and I have done so quite often. However I am put in the reserved team despite my skills. The reason is simple, I have shown I don't deliver in competitions against other clubs. My captain would rather send other members whom I can beat in our normal in-club matches than me. I can't protest because I haven't proven myself. What's going on? Like Sasha, I'm very competitve and ambitious. In competitions, I never lose focus and I believe Sasha never does too. However, I tend to over-focus and become very conscious and cautious of my performance. The consequence? Disastrous. When I over-focus, my muscles become tense and I suddenly end up trying to remember how to hit the ball. Many a time too, I get nervous in competitions, that's mental weakness. Over-focus and mental weakness make me lose my skills temporarily in competitions. I believe the same thing is happening to Sasha. When she falters, it's either she over-focuses or she gets nervous. Only when she finds the way to "go crazy" and skate as if she's the only one in the arena doing her things like Michelle has many times demonstrated, she will deliver. Well, we saw that in her SP. As for Michelle, the only event that makes her nervous or over-focus is the big O.
    Last edited by apache88; 03-28-2004 at 10:10 AM.

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    TriGirl Rinkside
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    Broken record here ... last time (I hope). Timing rule. Yup, it's a rule. According to Terry G. (who knows how accurate he is), it's not a MANDATORY deduction (why, I don't know), and it's rarely enforced. A rule that isn't enforced will be ingored. To the speed limit comparison, how many people would drive the speed limit if they knew that there was going to be no cop around to enforce it? I'd say very few.

    I doubt Michelle was purposely trying to disobey the rules, rather, she didn't feel the need to worry about a few seconds, because it isn't usually a problem. Anyway, I doubt she ever have a cut of music that is exactly 2:40 long again!

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    Lightbulb

    Unfortunately, she was not very sportsmanlike about the penalty, calling it "silly". She complained that she had been timed at 2:40 on a regular basis; but, as others have already pointed out, WHY skate at 2:40, leaving ZERO margin for error? With the clock on display for the entire world to see, what choice did the referee have but to call out the infraction? She should have known better, period. As Terry Gannon said, however, there is no way to know whether or not the judges actually invoked the penalty--unfortunately.

    The streaker incident may have actually worked in her favor. He looked so ridiculous in that yellow tutu that he may have actually helped break some of the tension for her. At any rate, a solid program was delivered, definitely podium worthy.

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    I was reading a USFSA article on this penalty and according to them, the referee informed the judges that she went over on her music and recommended that the judges deduct .1 from each of her marks. Again, this is why this old scoring system has got to go but from the sounds of that, some judges might have taken more of a deduction and others might not have taken a deduction at all. It might not have even affected her ordinals b/c if the judges wanted her 4th (and 4th was right after seeing the top 3 ladies in the SP skate), she would have wound up 4th. Considering her spins aren't of the same difficulty and quality as SC and she didn't have the jumps that the two Japanese skaters had (they might have been cheated but not by much), her placement was accurate.

    Interesting that in an interview, MK said that it was probably b/c she didn't compete this season that she wasn't aware of her music timing. I guess she will be doing at least one Grand Prix event next year.

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    Custom Title Jhar55's Avatar
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    how do we know that the clock wasn't started before it shoyld have been :\
    and know Michelle can say she has a full set of world medals.

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