Smooth’s Podium Picks – Four Continents Championships 2020

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Despite problem regarding the spread Coronavirus from nearby China, the Four Continents Championships (4CC) will continue to be held in Seoul, South Korea.  Although a number of skaters and teams won’t compete in this competition, most notably, Russian skaters.  The competition will feature skaters from the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Oceania and is a precursor to next month’s World Championships,.

180219015913-cnni-japan-figure-skating-megastar-wire-pkg-00020330-large-169Men: The big story of this competition isn’t who is here, it’s who isn’t. Japanese champ, Shoma Uno has declined the invitation to the 4CC in Korea to work with new coach, Torino 2006 Olympic medallist Stéphane Lambiel and prepare for Worlds next month in Montreal. Teammate and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Yuzuru Hanyu is skating this week, and without American Nathan Chen to compete against, he’s clearly the favorite in this competition and could plan a quadruple axel in his program this week. Hanyu has never won gold in three tries at 4CC, and this is his best chance to do it. He’ll have competition in American Jason Brown, who had his best performance at US Nationals two weeks ago. The fight for the third podium spot will be between Chinese skaters Han Yan and Boyang Jin and Canadians Keegan Messing and Nam Nguyen.

Skaters to Watch: Keep your eye out on Korea’s Junhwan Cha. He finished 6th at last year’s 4CC and had Grand Prix success in 2018. But 2019 wasn’t as kind to him, as his best finish was 6th at Cup of China. American Tomoki Hiwatashi is another, as he was 3rd at US Nationals last month.

Smooth’s Picks: Hanyu will add another gold to his collection, with a fight for 2nd and 3rd.
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
2. Jason Brown (USA)
3. Boyang Jin (CHN)

FULL MEN’S LINEUP

rika-kihiraLadies: For once, we won’t have to hear about a Russian sweep of the podium. But there is a quad queen looking for gold this weekend. Japan’s Rika Kihira won her first national championship and will look to add more hardware to her trophy cabinet. She’s a slight favorite this weekend, but it depends on if she hits one of her quads or triple axels in her programs. She’s been a bit inconsistent, having finished 2nd twice (Skate Canada and NHK) and placing 4th at the Grand Prix final. Her competition comes from American Bradie Tennell, who missed out on re-gaining her US title, finishing 3rd. No quads or triple axels in her programs, but does have the artistry to win over the judges. Japan has two other skaters that could do well this week. Wakaba Higuchi was 2nd at nationals and looks to improve on her 7th place finish at 4CC in 2017. Kaori Sakamoto didn’t have the performance at nationals she wanted, finishing 6th, but has lots of experience, having won the competition in 2018.

Skaters to Watch: Korea has three skaters that have been making inroads in international competition this season. Young You won her third straight national title, and is coming off a gold medal performance at the Winter Youth Olympic Games two weeks ago. Eunsoo Lim was 7th at last year’s 4CC and is coming off a disappointing 7th place finish at nationals. Yelim Kim also has 4CC experience (8th last year) and was 3rd at nationals.

Smooth’s Picks: It’s hit or miss, and if Kihira hits, it’s gold. If she doesn’t, she may find her way off the podium.
1. Rika Kihira (JPN)
2. Bradie Tennell (USA)
3. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN)

FULL LADIES LINEUP

2203941-45979139-640-360Pairs : Two of the top three pairs teams will skate it out for gold. Both teams come from China. Wenjing Sui & Cong Han have been unbeatable since coming back from injury this season, winning all of their Grand Prix events, including the Final. Their main rivals are Cheng Peng & Yang Jin, who won their third national title in four years. They finished 2nd to Sui & Han twice this season, at Cup of China and in the Grand Prix Final. While those two teams will fight it out at the top of the podium, the rest of the 11-team field will fight it out for the 3rd spot. Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Maranaro have the inside track. They just grabbed their 2nd straight national title and were 2nd at last year’s 4CC. They also finished 5th in their first Grand Prix Final. Americans Alexia and Chris Knierim completed a comeback of their own, winning their 2nd national title and first since 2018.

Teams to Watch: Americans Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson made a big leap in their careers as pairs skaters, going from 5th in 2019 to 2nd at nationals. Unfortunately, they won’t be going to Worlds, so they’ll have a chip on their shoulder this weekend. Their best international finish this season was at the Warsaw Cup in the Challenger Series, winning gold. Canadians Lubov Ilyushechkina and Charlie Bilodeau continue to get better in their first full season, placing 3rd at nationals.

Smooth’s Picks: Sui & Han and Peng & Jin will be the performances to watch this week. Look for a battle between Canadians and Americans for the final spot.
1. Weijing Sui & Cong Han (CHN)
2. Cheng Peng & Yang Jin (CHN)
3. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro (CAN)

FULL PAIRS LINEUP

gettyimages-1125209356-e1552244653736Ice Dance: Americans and Canadians will duke it out for podium positions this week, with Madison Chock and Evan Bates at the favorites to win. Their long journey to the top included hardships and injuries of the last two seasons, but it finally came together as they won their first national title since 2015. They look for their 2nd 4CC title, but they’ll have to fight off two top contenders. Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier have been waiting to get into the spotlight for years, and they finally shined by winning their first national championship last month. Their best 4CC finish was 2nd in 2014. Gilles and Poirier have an edge on Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue after beating them at Skate Canada in October. Despite losing to Chock & Bates at this year’s nationals, Hubbell & Donohue’s season has been successful, winning at Skate America and placing 3rd in the Grand Prix Final. Teammates Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker won 4CC in 2018, but since then have taken a step back with a 5th place finish last season. They were 3rd at nationals last month.

Skaters to Watch: A few teams could get a boost going into Worlds. One is China’s Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu, who won their fourth straight national title. Their best finish at 4CC was 5th in 2018. Another is Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha of Canada. They took home gold at last year’s World Juniors and finished 2nd at nationals.

Smooth’s Picks: It will be a battle between the four top teams, but look for Chock & Bates to continue their win streak.
1. Madison Chock and Evan Bates (USA)
2. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (CAN)
3. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (USA)

FULL ICE DANCE LINEUP

How did we do the last few weeks?

Junior Grand Prix

Men 0/1 – Japan’s Shun Sato wins, while our pick Andrei Mozalev of Russia finished 2nd.
Ladies 0/1 – Russia’s Kamila Valieva leaps from 4th to 1st, upsetting our pick, American Alysa Liu, who finished 2nd.
Pairs 1/1 – Russia’s Apollinarlia Panfilova and Dmitry Rylov were our correct pick.
Ice Dance 0/1 – Georgia’s Maria Kazakova and Georgy Reviya gets a history win, while our pick, Avonley Nguyen and Vadym Kolesnik (USA) finished 2nd.

Senior Grand Prix

Men 2/3 – Nathan Chen (USA) easily beat Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN), while Kevin Aymoz (FRA) finished an unlikely 3rd.
Ladies 3/3 – CALLED IT 1-2-3 with a Russian sweep!
Pairs 1/3 – Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (CHN) were our only correct winners.
Ice Dance 2/3 – Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) 1st & Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (USA) 3rd were our predicted winners.

JR & SR GP FINAL RESULTS 

Canadians

Men 0/3 – A surprise showing leads to a new champion.
Ladies 0/3 – A poor showing by established skaters leads to an inexperienced international field for Worlds.
Pairs 1/3 – The defending champs lead the way.
Ice Dance 1/3 – The new champs dominated the field.

CANADIAN RESULTS

Europeans

Men 0/3 – Shocking turn of events has the favorite not even making the free skate.
Ladies 3/3 – CALLED IT!
Pairs 3/3 – CALLED IT!
Ice Dance 1/3 – Huge upset prevents a 5th title for G&G, Stepanova and Bukin was the only correct pick.

EUROPEAN RESULTS

US Championships

Men 2/3 – Chen completely dominated the field, while Brown put up his best numbers of the season.
Ladies 1/3 – America’s quad queen goes back to back, while Bell upstages Tennell for 2nd.
Pairs 2/3 – The comeback couple wins their 2nd championship, while Kayne and O’Shea fall to our predicted position.
Ice Dance 2/3 – Correct on the top two picks, but our upset special falters to pewter.

US NATIONAL RESULTS

Season to Date

Men – 10/31
Ladies – 17/31
Pairs – 12/31
Ice Dance – 18/31

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Kobe Bryant and the Media’s Thirst for a Greek Tragedy

As word spread of the death of NBA great Kobe Bryant, an enormous sense of loss was released on social media world. Within 30 minutes of TMZ’s report, there were feelings that ranged from denial, to shock to devastation.

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But one newspaper columnist decided to make waves, calling into Bryant’s past. Washington Post writer Felicia Sonmez was suspended after she tweeted an article on Kobe Bryant’s sexual assault case, not even an hour after confirmation of his death and not even 90 minutes after the crash took place.

At that moment, she was guilty of one thing…never speak ill of the dead, especially a someone with Kobe Bryant’s stature.

Even if it weren’t true, the timing of the article being published was bad and insensitive.  This is also another example of the media’s quest to demonize black men to the mainstream public.

Yes, Kobe Bryant was an icon to the NBA. He was a 20 year veteran, spending his whole career with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was a 5-time NBA Champion, a 2-time NBA Finals MVP, an 18-time all-star and won the Most Valuable Player in the league in 2008.

Yes, he was involved in the sexual assault of a young woman over 15 years ago.  Bryant was remorseful, paid a settlement out of court to the woman and got on with his life.

Yes, there’s a time and place for it to happen, not an hour after the man died and not while his widow and surviving children watching.

Yes, talk about Kobe Bryant’s transgressions, if you may.  But don’t be upset at the response you get from his fans and loved ones.

Make sure your hands are without sin before you throw stones at a flawed person.

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Another Birthday, Another Year!

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Every year I write a birthday blog and see how things have been since last year.  Well, not that great.  I lost my dad, and the world lost Kobe Bryant. Not a great way to start the year.  I’ve lost count of how old I am.  I stopped counting after I turned 39, homage to the late great comedian, Jack Benny who also stopped counting after his 39th birthday.  I’ve learned that life isn’t supposed to be fair.  Just get your butt up and keep walking.

Thanks, everyone for your continued birthday blessings!

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Here are some folks who were also born on this day!

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Actress Ariel Winter in 1998.

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Memphis Grizzlies Point Guard Andre Iguodala in 1984.

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Actor Elijah Wood, of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy in 1981.

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Singer Nick Carter, formerly of the Backstreet Boys in 1980.


WWE Superstar, Sheamus in 1978.

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Singer Joey Fatone of the group, NSYNC in 1977.

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Rapper Rick Ross in 1977.

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Singer Sarah McLachlan in 1968


Rapper Rahim in 1968.

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Figure Skater Denise Biellmann in 1963.

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Liberal Radio Talk Show Host Randi Rhodes in 1959.

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Movie Director Frank Darabont (The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption.) in 1959.

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Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 1955.


Playboy Model Barbi Benton in 1950

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Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs Head Coach in 1949

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Actress Susan Howard from the TV show, Dallas in 1944

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Businessman Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world in 1940.

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Actor Alan Alda, who played “Hawkeye” in the TV series, M*A*S*H in 1936.

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And former baseball player and NY Yankees announcer, Bill White in 1934.  He announced this famous home run call in 1978.

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Space Shuttle Challenger
On This Day In History: The space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after lift-off from the Kennedy Space Center in 1986. The images to this day still haunt me.

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Seven crew members perished, including Christa McAuliffe, who was trying to become the first school teacher in space.

On this day in 1956, Elvis Presley made his first TV appearance.

After this performance, censors would televise Elvis’ next performance from the neck up.

Also born on this day were,

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Painter, Jackson Pollock in 1912

Arthur Rubinstein
Pianist & Composer, Arthur Rubinstein in 1887

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and Henry VII who would rule England during the “House of Tudors”, in 1457.  His son, Henry VIII would succeed him.

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My Top 11 Favorite Pre-Code Films

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Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in a promotional photo from a Pre-Code film called “Red Dust” in 1932.

I’ve taken a shining to watching Pre-Code Hollywood Films over the last few months. Many of these films are approaching 90 years old. All of the participants are long dead and buried. But it’s an interesting look at a time when Hollywood wasn’t bound by questionable behavior.

To know what a Pre-Code film was, you have to look at the times. Hollywood studios in the late 1920’s were beginning to release movies with sound, and they’ve been eager to explore the new technology.  Many film producers began pushing the envelope with provocative subjects, including sexual innuendo, prostitution, infidelity, abortion, intense violence, and homosexuality.

In 1933, Roman Catholics in the United States launched a campaign against what they deemed to be the immorality of American cinema. Like their previous concerns regarding alcohol that led to prohibition, they believed that films being produced were seen to be immoral and could promote bad behavior. They also advocated for a potential government takeover of Hollywood production companies. This led to the implication to uniform standards within films being produced.

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Will Hays, then president of the MPPDA

Will H. Hays, who was the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America oversaw the new Motion Picture Production Code, or as it was called, the Hays Code. The Production Code spelled out what was acceptable and what was unacceptable content for motion pictures produced for a public audience in the United States.   Among other things that were forbidden, the use of profanity,  nudity or silhouetted nudity, illegal drug use, any inference of sexual perversion, white slavery, miscegenation (or sexual relationships between white and black races), sex hygiene and venereal diseases, scenes of actual childbirth – in fact or in silhouette, children’s sex organs, ridicule of the clergy, and willful offense to any nation, race or creed.

A good example of film being under the production code was this before and after photo from the movie “Tarzan”.  To the left is prior to its enforcement.  Notice a two piece outfit with legs showing and only a string holding the skirt.  The photo on the right is after code enforcement.  “Jane” is fully clothed.

The Hays Code was adapted in 1934 and continued until 1968, when the modern MPPA rating system was implemented.

I’ve listed my current favorite Pre-Code films. Many of these film are very much in circulation.

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All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) – After being persuaded by a nationalist school teacher, a young soldier faces profound disillusionment in the soul-destroying horror of World War I. 90+ years since its release, this film still packs an emotional punch with its anti-war message. In fact, Adolf Hitler banned the film in Germany to prevent subversive views among the rank and file. There were two versions of the film, one silent, the other a talkie. One of my favorite war movies that explains once and for all that “war is hell.”

Little Caesar (1931) – A small-time criminal moves to the big city to seek bigger fortune. This was one of the first gangster films in Hollywood and it made Edward G. Robinson a major star for 40 years until his death in 1973. A few film critics noted a possible LGBT subtext of the main character, Rico. One interpretation of the film’s title character is that he is a repressed or closeted gay man. Whether it were true or not, the Hays Code would strictly forbid such characters in the future.

The Public Enemy (1931) – A young hoodlum rises up through the ranks of the Chicago underworld, even as a gangster’s accidental death threatens to spark a bloody mob war. Based on a novel that described the murderous reign of mob boss Al Capone, this movie introduced us to James Cagney smashing a grapefruit into his co-star’s face (played by Mae Clarke). In fact, the scene wasn’t scripted. But the scene was kept in the movie for the purpose of emotion.

Dracula (1931) – Based on the Bram Stoker horror novel, an ancient vampire arrives in England and begins to prey upon the blood of his victims. One of Universal’s first horror successes, it made Bela Lugosi performance as the Count, a cultural icon. When the movie premiered, newspapers reported that members of the audiences fainted in shock at the horror on screen. The studio was forced to edit a number of scenes to comply with the Hays Code in 1936.

Frankenstein (1931) – Based on Mary Shelley’s gothic horror novel, an obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses. Coming off the success of Dracula, Universal boss Carl Laemmle announced more horror films. Boris Karloff’s portrayal of the monster was iconic and spawned more than 20 different remakes. The scene in which the Monster throws the little girl into the lake and accidentally drowns her has long been controversial. That scene was cut, per the Hays Code, and was thought to be lost. But in 1980, it was found by the British National Archives and re-introduced to existing copies.

Scarface (1932) – An ambitious and nearly insane violent gangster climbs the ladder of success in the mob, but his weaknesses prove to be his downfall. This is one of Paul Muni’s two films on my list. Director Howard Hawks had his hands full when this film was released. Municipalities, including Chicago, Seattle and Detroit pushed to have the film banned. The excessive violence in the film was a major contributor to the Hays Code being implemented later on in Hollywood. Of course, the film was remade with Al Pacino in the title role in 1983.

I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) – Based on a real life incident, a wrongly convicted veteran serves in intolerable conditions on a southern chain gang, which later comes back to haunt him after his escape. Paul Muni personally met with the real life prison escapee, Robert Elliot Burns for guidance on how it was like to be on the run. Director Mervyn LeRoy later claimed that the idea for Muni’ retreat into darkness came to him when a fuse blew on the set. The film’s activism led to the elimination of the chain gang system in the southern United States.

King Kong (1933) – A film crew goes to a tropical island for an exotic location shoot and discovers a colossal ape who takes a shine to their female blonde star. He is then captured and brought back to New York City for public exhibition, where all hell breaks loose. This film was a major money maker for RKO Radio Pictures. When the film was re-released in 1938, a number of edits were required to comply, they included Kong mistaking a sleeping woman and dropping her to her death after realizing his mistake. Racism was also alleged when many film scholars argued that the film was a cautionary tale about interracial romance, in which the film’s “carrier of blackness is not a human being, but an ape”.

It Happened One Night (1934) – A spoiled heiress running away from her family is helped by a man who is actually a reporter in need of a story. The film made history by sweeping all five major Academy Award categories, including Best Picture, Best Director for Frank Capra, Best Actor for Clark Gable, Best Actress for Claudette Colbert and Best Adapted Screenplay. The infamous hitchhiking scene almost didn’t happen. Colbert initially balked at pulling up her skirt to entice a passing driver to provide a ride, complaining that it was unladylike. Upon seeing the chorus girl who was brought in as her body double, an outraged Colbert told the director, “Get her out of here. I’ll do it. That’s not my leg!”

Of Human Bondage (1934) – A young man finds himself attracted to a cold and unfeeling waitress who may ultimately destroy them both. This was the film that made Bette Davis a star. Her powerful performance as Mildred, the vulgar, unsympathetic waitress was considered a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination, but the Academy ignored it. The Hays Code began rigorous enforcement only three days after the movie’s release. Much of the changes had to do with the character having Tuberculosis instead of Syphilis.

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Smooth’s Podium Picks – 2020 US Figure Skating Championships

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US Nationals makes its third appearance in Greensboro, North Carolina; where disciplines in junior and senior will vie for championship medals, which will include pewter for 4th place finishers.

FULL LIST OF COMPETITORS HERE

downloadMen: At the top of the list is three time US champ, Nathan Chen. When he’s not studying at Yale, he’s winning competitions left and right. He dominated the Grand Prix circuit, winning at Skate America, at Grenoble and finished 2019 with his third Grand Prix Final title. He comes in as the favorite this week. But there are a number of skaters looking to take him on. One is Vincent Zhou, who is coming off a hiatus because of school work at Brown University. The time off prevented him from this year’s Grand Prix season, but he’s still a contender. Another is Jason Brown, who had a strong performance at Skate America, finishing 2nd, but he finished a disappointing 5th at NHK Trophy in Japan taking him out of the Final. Camden Pulkinen used his first senior Grand Prix season to more experience, and it helped. His best finish was 4th at Skate Canada. Other skaters to watch are last year’s junior champ Ryan Dunk, Former JGP Final champ, Alexei Krasnozhon, Jimmy Ma and Sean Rabbitt.

Smooth’s Pick: Chen has been on a roll all season. But barring a bad short, I can’t see him losing this weekend.
1. Nathan Chen
2. Jason Brown
3. Camden Pulkinen

em5a2wjnxmscxgljbsumLadies: Last summer, Alysa Liu put the skating world on notice that she’s a “quad-queen” too. She became the first ladies skater to perform a quad lutz, as well as a quadruple jump and a triple axel in the same program. Did I mention she’s still skating on junior level? This season, she was given a piece of “humble pie”, as she was unable to win the Junior Grand Prix Final. But with all those jumps in her arsenal, she’s considered the favorite to repeat. Former champ Bradie Tennell may not have a quad in her possession, but she still has the grace and style to put together a strong program. She’s guaranteed a spot on the podium. The dark horse in this field is Mariah Bell, who had her best International season in 2018. She placed 3rd twice in her Grand Prix assignments. Don’t count out former champ Karen Chen. Even though this year’s Grand Prix season wasn’t great, she’s still capable of full program. Other skaters to watch are Amber Glenn, Starr Andrews, Courtney Hicks and Gracie Gold, who qualified for this year’s Nationals the hard way, placing at Regionals and Sectionals.

Smooth’s Picks: Liu’s abilities are endless, but she’s also susceptible to mistakes, as was the case in the JGP Final this season. Still, she’s the skater to beat.
1. Alysa Liu
2. Bradie Tennell
3. Mariah Bell

09192019_2019usint_sr_p_sp_080_cain_gribble_timothy_leduc_16x9Pairs: Last season, Ashley Cain-Gribble suffered a fall that nearly ended her season. Not only did she and her partner Tim LeDuc finished their program, they used it as a springboard to bigger and better things, including their first US pairs title. Their best finish this season was 4th place in Grenoble. There are a number of strong pairs teams looking to knock them off their perch. Former champs Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea poses to be the biggest threat to their repeat title hopes. However, their Grand Prix season was not stellar, finishing with two 6th place finishes at Cup of China and NHK Trophy. Alexa and Chris Knierim are the healthiest they’ve been since winning their 2nd US pairs title in 2018. They’re certain to improve on their 7th place showing from last season. If there’s any team that could pose an upset this weekend, it could be Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier. They just missed qualifying for the Grand Prix Final with two 3rd place finishes at Skate America and at Grenoble. Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson is another team that could make a breakthrough. This season, they missed the podium in 4th place at Skate America and continue to improve their international standing. Junior national champions Laiken Lockley & Keenan Prochnow make their senior debut.

Smooth’s Picks: This will be a tough competition for all 12 teams. But I’m putting my money on the comeback couple in an upset.
1. Alexa and Chris Knierim
2. Ashley Cain-Gribble and Tim LeDuc
3. Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea

gettyimages_1178401652Ice Dance: Only nine teams will compete for three spots at Worlds this week, four of those teams are expected to battle it out. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue started the season strong with a Skate America victory, but then ran into trouble, losing to Piper Giles and Paul Poirier at Skate Canada, then faltered to third in the Grand Prix Final. They’re still the favorites this weekend. Madison Chock and Evan Bates makes their 9th appearance at nationals, and believe it or not, they’ve only won at nationals once (2015). This season was strong, finishing 2nd three times in Grand Prix competition (Grenoble, Cup of China and the Final). Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker were hoping for a repeat performance after reaching the Grand Prix Final in 2018. But this season, they finished 4th at Skate Canada and 4th at Cup of China. They’re looking to stay on the podium at nationals, where they finished 3rd last year. Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko are looking to improve on their 5th place finish from last year. They finished 6th in each of their Grand Prix appearances, a drop off from last year when they had a 3rd place finish at Rostelecom Cup.

Smooth’s Picks: This will be the competition of the weekend and there’s no telling who will come out on top. But the way they’re skating, Chock and Bates have the slight edge.
1. Madison Chock and Evan Bates
2. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue
3. Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko

Posted in Figure Skating, Figures skating, Ice Skating, International Skating Union, Predictions, Skating, USFSA | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Smooth’s Podium Picks – 2020 European Figure Skating Championships

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The UNESCO World Heritage city of Graz, Austria is the site of where this year’s Euro’s will take place. Located south of the nation’s capital city of Vienna, Graz has a long tradition of being the home of higher education within the country. It has four colleges and four universities with more than 60,000 students in attendance. This week will determine who will reign as European champion. There will be new champions in three of the four categories.

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final Senior & JuniorMen: Spain’s Javier Fernandez ended his career last season with a seventh straight European Championship.   This year’s men’s event is up for grabs.  France’s Kevin Aymoz burst onto the scene this season in Grand Prix competition, taking home his first medals, including a third place finish in the Final. Last season, he just missed the podium in 4th and is considered the favorite this week. Last year’s silver medalist, Alexander Samarin of Russia, Won his first Grand Prix title at Rostelecom Cup, but fell off the podium in the final in fourth place. Teammate Dmitri Aliev missed last year’s Euro’s due to injury, but returned with strong performances at Skate America (3rd) and Rostelecom Cup (2nd) to make the Final (6th). He finished 2nd at Euro’s in 2018. Italy’s Matteo Rizzo finished 3rd last year, but this season only had success at Cup of China in Grand Prix events. Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic makes his 13th appearance at Euros. His best finish was in 2013, where he finished third. Other contenders include Moris Kvitelashvili of Georgia, Deniss Vasiljevs of Latvia, Artur Danielian of Russia and Daniel Grassl of Italy.

Smooth’s Picks: Aymoz’s season continues to shine and he should be able to hold off the competition and win.
1. Kevin Aymoz (FRA)
2. Alexander Samarin (RUS)
3. Dmitri Aliev (RUS)

FULL ENTRIES: Men

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1077516449Ladies: Russian ladies look to continue their dominance this week. Alena Kostornaia, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova have completely obliterated the Grand Prix field, winning all of their respective events. Kostornaia held off Shcherbakova and Trusova to win the Final, however, Shcherbakova beat Kostornaia and Trusova for the Russian National title. The question now is, which one of the three will win? The rest of the field really isn’t on the radar. The closest skater that could have fought the three was Loena Hendrickx of Belgium. However, she’s unable to compete for the second year in a row due to injury. Switzerland’s Alexia Paganini has an outside chance for the podium, however her best Grand Prix finish was in 2018 where she finished 4th at Rostelecom Cup. Other skaters to watch are Nicole Schott of Germany, Ekaterina Kurakova of Poland, Viktoriia Safonova Belarus and Ekaterina Ryabova of Azerbaijan.

Smooth’s Picks: With all three quad queens looking to show each other off, it will all come down to mistakes, or lack there of.
1. Alena Kostornaia (RUS)
2. Anna Shcherbakova (RUS)
3. Alexandra Trusova (RUS)

FULL ENTRIES: Ladies

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ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Rostelecom CupPairs: Two-time ISU European Figure Skating Champions Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov are looking to recapture the title they lost last year to Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres of France. The French team are not competing this year, but the competition will be tough. The biggest obstacle will be from teammates, Aleksandra Boikova & Dmitri Kozlovskii. They made their second season in senior pairs a successful one, winning at Skate Canada, Rostelecom Cup, and winning their first Russian National title, surprising Tarasova & Morozov each time. A third Russian team, Daria Pavliuchenko & Denis Khodykin also found success with two straight 2nd place finishes in the Grand Prix circuit (Skate America and Grenoble), while finishing in 6th in the Final. Minerva Fabienne Hase & Nolan Seegert of Germany had their best Grand Prix season, finding the podium at Rostelecom Cup in 3rd place. Austria’s medal hopes will rest on Miriam Ziegler & Severin Kiefer. The five-time national champions were 4th at Rostelecom Cup. Italy’s Nicole Della Monica & Matteo Guarise missed the podium at Euros last year in 4th place, but hope to return to form in time for Graz after recovering from injury.

Smooth’s Picks: Will there be a 2nd Russian sweep this weekend. All indications are “yes”, with a battle between the veterans and the two upstart teams.
1. Aleksandra Boikova & Dmitri Kozlovskii (RUS)
2. Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov (RUS)
3. Daria Pavliuchenko & Denis Khodykin (RUS)

FULL ENTRIES: Pairs

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FSKATE-PRIX-ITA-FINAL-ISUIce Dance: Olympic silver medalists Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France are gunning for a sixth consecutive European Ice Dance title. They’ve made easy work this Grand Prix season, winning their 2nd Grand Prix Final title. Their challenge will be from a familiar duo, Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov of Russia. The team won at Rostelecom Cup for the very first time and coupled that with a victory at Cup of China. However, they finished a disappointing 6th in the Grand Prix Final. Teammates Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin were a bit off their game this Grand Prix season, with 2nd place finishes at Skate America, NHK Trophy and a 4th place showing in the Final. Italy’s Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri picked up a bronze medal at last year’s Euros and look to repeat. They finished 3rd in Grenoble and at NHK Trophy. Other teams to watch include Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson of Great Britain), Tiffani Zagorski & Jonathan Guerreiro of Russia, Sara Hurtado & Kirill Khaliavin and Olivia Smart & Adrian Diaz both of Spain, and Natalia Kaliszek & Maksym Spodyriev of Poland. Maria Kazakova & Georgy Reviya of Georgia made history, winning the country’s first ever gold medal in figure skating at the Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final. They make their senior debut this week.

Smooth’s Picks: Barring injury or mistakes, this title is Papadakis & Cizeron’s to lose.
1. Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron(FRA)
2. Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov (RUS)
3. Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin (RUS)

FULL ENTRIES: Ice Dance

Posted in European Championships, Figure Skating, Figures skating, Ice Skating, International Skating Union, Predictions, Skating | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Smooth’s Podium Picks – Canadian National Skating Championships 2020

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Canadian skating is going thru a major revamp within its ranks, with well-established medalists either retiring or taking the year off to recover. This year’s event in Mississauga, Ontario will most certainly see a breakthrough from a young skater or team looking to make an impression.

maxresdefaultMen – The major story of this week is the withdrawal of gold medal contender, Stephen Gogolev. The 15 year old was expected to make the podium at the event, but won’t contend. There hasn’t been a reason for the pull-out. That leaves the top spot to two veterans, defending champion Nam Nguyen and Keegan Messing. Nguyen started the season strong, placing 2nd at Skate Canada in the Grand Prix series, but fell out of contention with a 5th place finish at Rostelecom Cup. Messing has been solid this season with 4th place finishes at Skate America and Cup of China. The third spot will be a battle between three up and coming skaters. Conrad Orzel struggled in his first season as a senior Grand Prix competitor, finishing way off the podium at Cup of China and NHK Trophy. Nicolas Nadeau has a couple 7th place finishes in Grand Prix action this season and was 6th at nationals last year. Roman Sadovsky made a major climb this season when he made the podium at NHK Trophy in 2nd place.

Smooth’s Picks: The title is Nguyen’s to lose, but Messing will make him fight for it. Luckily they’re very good friends!

1. Nam Nguyen
2. Keegan Messing
3. Roman Sadovsky

Full Entries – Men

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gabrielle-daleman-1040x572-1Ladies: This is the division with the most drop-off in International competition. World Champion Kaetlyn Osmond has retired, as did Olympian Larkyn Austman and Alaine Chartrand is taking a much needed break after winning her second national championship last year. That leaves former champion Gabby Daleman as the favorite to take the crown this weekend. But she’s had some major issues since coming back, including time off for mental health and physical problems that prevented her from achieving her full potential. Most recently, she’s been fighting off a bout of pneumonia, but she should be ready by the beginning of the contest.  She only skated at Skate Canada, where she finished 10th. Two skaters could potentially beat Daleman this weekend. One is Veronik Mallet. Coming off major surgery in 2018, Mallet made a nice comeback to finish 3rd at nationals last season. She returned to Grand Prix action after a four year layoff. The other skater is Aurora Cotop, who surprised everyone last season, finishing in 2nd place at nationals in 2019. A few skaters to look out for are Alicia Pineaut, who was 8th last season at nationals and 11th at Skate Canada this season and Michelle Long, who was 6th at nationals in 2019.

Smooth’s Picks: I honestly believe this will be a toss-up. The winner will have lots of work to do to bring back an extra spot to Canada at Worlds in Montreal this spring.

1. Veronik Mallet
2. Aurora Cotop
3. Gabby Daleman

Full Entries – Ladies

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mms2Pairs: Ten teams will fight it out to win what has been a model of consistency. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro are looking for two in a row this weekend. They’ve put together two 2nd place finishes in Grand Prix competition this season (at Skate Canada and NHK Trophy), qualifying for their first Grand Prix Final, where they finished 5th. Two teams look to knock the champs off their perch. One is Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michard, who finished 2nd at nationals last season. Their best Grand Prix season consisted of a 6th place finish at Rostelecom Cup. Lubov Ilyushechkina returns to pairs with a new partner, Charlie Bilodeau. In their three international competitions, their best has been a third place finish at Cup of China. The rest of the field is very strong and will jockey for position. Top teams are Lori-Ann Matte and Thierry Ferland, Justine Brasseur and Mark Bardei, & Deanna Stellato and Maxime Deschamps.

Smooth’s Picks: Unless there is a major ‘faux pas’, the champs should be able to re-gain their title, with 2nd and 3rd destined to be a battle.

1. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro
2. Lubov Ilyushechkina and Charlie Bilodeau
3. Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michard

Full Entries – Pairs

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imageIce Dance: Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier have been waiting patiently for the moment when they can dominate Canadian ice dance. The retirement of Virtue and Moir coupled with Weaver and Poje’s hiatus gives Gilles and Poirier the inside track to gold this weekend. They won their first Grand Prix event this season at Skate Canada, and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final, where they finished 5th. The path to the top of the podium was made easier this week with the withdrawal of Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen due to injury. That leaves at least four teams who will fight it out for the last two spots on the podium. At the top of the list is Carolane Soucisse and Shane Firus, who were fifth at last year’s nationals. Their best Grand Prix finish was at Internationaux de France in Grenoble, where they finished 7th. Haley Sales and Nikolas Wamsteeker make their third try at the podium. They were 4th at last year’s nationals and were 10th at this season’s Skate Canada. Alicia Fabbri and Paul Ayer will be making their senior debut at nationals. They finished 2nd at junior nationals last year.

Smooth’s Picks: Barring injury, Gilles and Poirier should be able to dominate the nine team field. The rest of the podium spots will be a dog fight.

1. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier
2. Carolane Soucisse and Shane Firus
3. Alicia Fabbri and Paul Ayer

Full Entries – Ice Dance

Posted in Canada, Figure Skating, Figures skating, Ice Skating, International Skating Union, Skating | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment