Last night I had the pleasure of watching some of the world’s best skaters compete at Skate America, the North American component of the international Grand Prix of Figure Skating. Saturday was the free program competition for the men and for ice dance. Serendipitously, it was also my mother’s birthday and I bought tickets for her and for my oldest son. My mom and my son hinted beforehand that they weren’t sure how much they would enjoy the competition, but they both did, much more than they expected. I had bet that they would find it compelling in person, especially from the second row seats I’d splurged on.
The skaters were right there during their five minute warmups, their speed blowing a cool breeze over us, their jumps huge and close. Occasionally one would look out at the audience and we’d exchange a glance: I tried to send encouragement with my eyes. Unlike television, there were no annoying announcers and we could watch the competition evolve uninterrupted from start to finish.
We cheered as each skater was announced and my son and I rang our silly but fun little cowbells. In the first group of men my son especially liked Alexander Majorov of Sweden for his rave-style techno theme and his evident good cheer as he skated his routine.
Max Aaron, in plain black and with his characteristic speed, roughed it through three quads, landing two. Daisuke Takahashi’s skating quality was evocative as always but he looked a bit shellshocked and many of his technical elements like his triple axel and even his camel spin were iffy. His sizable contingent of Japanese fans showed him much love, filling the arena with Japanese flags and Daisuke banners and raining flowers on the ice after his skate.
Takahiko Kozuka started off the second group with big, smoothly executed triple axels and jump combinations but seemed emotionally self-contained, so his program didn’t really move me. Adam Rippon moved with grace and soulfulness to ‘Afternoon of a Faun.’ His lutz while warming up just before his name was announced was spot-on, but he fell hard and hit the boards attempting a quad lutz at the beginning of his program. Luckily he seemed to be able to brush that off and skated the rest of his program well, including two of his trademark triple lutzes with both arms overhead.
Jason Brown, a last-minute replacement for the injured Evan Lysacek, seemed un-pressured and so pleased to be in the top group of men. He got his triple axels out of the way, falling on one, double-footing the other, and then showboated happily through his routine. He highlighted his outstanding flexibility with Y-spirals and inventive spins, including a Biellmann position in which a foot is grabbed and brought overhead. It’s very rare for a man to be able to perform a Biellmann spin. (His skate here.)
Tatsuki Machida, the least well-known of the Japanese contingent, laid down a performance with unbeatable jumps, including a quad toe with great speed and flow out of it and a flawless triple axel/triple toe combination. Near the end of his program he skated a triple-flip/double toe/double loop combination near our seats and broke out into a “Yes, did it! Winning!” look of triumph. He received a standing ovation and took first place. You’ve got to admire the ambition and grit it takes to compete and win against the two much-decorated Japanese stars, Kozuka and Takahashi. He’s certainly fighting hard for one of the three Japanese spots for the Sochi Olympics.
My report on the ice dance competition here!