Recap: Internationaux de France 2017: Ladies

It’s so weird not typing “Trophee Eric Bompard” or even “Trophee Lalique” when referring to the annual Grand Prix of figure skating event in France . . .

Anyways, the top ladies at the Internationaux de France generally faltered in the short program, but came back with guns blazing in the long, with multiple perfect seven-triple performances repeatedly thrown down like gauntlets.

Alina Zagitova placed first in the long program and overall, rising from an ignominious fifth-place finish in the short program which undoubtedly had Eteri Tutberidze gritting her teeth from the sidelines.  Ms. Zagitova’s clean seven-triple long program, on the other hand, probably had Evgenia Medvedeva rushing to the ice to drill her triple-triple combinations back at Sambo 70 in Moscow.  The choreography of Ms. Zagitova’s Don Quixote long program has inspired plenty of weeping and gnashing of teeth from more over-sensitive figure skating fans for the past couple of seasons, as these delicate souls seem to be convinced that Ms. Zagitova’s Don Quixote augurs something tantamount to a figure skating apocalypse (i.e. all skaters using the 100% backloading strategy), but these fears are, in my opinion, ridiculously overblown. Backloading, at least on the level Ms. Zagitova does it with all her jumps in the second half of the program, is extremely difficult, and most skaters lack the stamina to be capable of landing all of their jumps in the second half of the program on tired legs. Anyway, I’d even argue that the backloading of Ms. Zagitova’s Don Quixote actually works on a choreographic level, given how the program builds from a lyrical, adagio first half (with no jumps interrupting the flow of the skating) to a rollicking second half with a much faster tempo and most of the jumping passes timed to the highlights in the musical phrasing. It’s not easy to time and land jumps so precisely to the music, and Ms. Zagitova is rightly rewarded for this. And–I realize that this sentence is going to be a devastating blow to my cred among the more rarefied skating circles–it is so exciting to watch Ms. Zagitova do split jumps and triples with great flourish right on beat at a furious pace. The second half of Ms. Zagitova’s Don Quixote is a total bravura performance, and one that is easily underestimated given Ms. Zagitova’s remarkable consistency in the long program.

That said, Ms. Zagitova–as befits someone on their debut senior season–retains vestiges of junior-level skating, such as rushing through her movements, sloppy line and posture, and choppy crossovers. There are certainly times when Ms. Zagitova’s choreography feels like choreography, as opposed to an organic extension of the music–of course, it would be great if Ms. Zagitova’s less stellar qualities are reflected in her Program Components Scores, but varying the five components of PCS appears to be beyond the abilities of the ISU judges.

Maria Sotskova, no doubt upsetting quite a few predictions, won silver overall with strong second-place finishes in both the short and long programs. With her silver medals in both Regina and Grenoble, Ms. Sotskova’s place in the Grand Prix Final has been sealed, and Ms. Sotskova also is setting herself up nicely for grabbing a coveted Olympics spot at the Russian Ladies Hunger Games National Championships later this season. Ms. Sotskova has great toe jumps, which were displayed to great effect at this competition–but ironically, her only mistake across both programs was on her 3F in the short program. Ms. Sotskova’s seven-triple long program was her highest-scoring ever, but Ms. Sotskova admittedly benefited from a somewhat lenient technical panel here at Grenoble–well, she’s not the only one.

Ms. Sotskova has a reputation for being a “boring” skater–undoubtedly due to the rather generic female ballade style she effects across both her programs this season–but there’s something appealing about her stately, uncluttered skating in this age of Eteri Tutberidze skater dominance. It would be better, however, if Ms. Sotskova did away with at least some of those excessive ugly bent tano arms on her jumps . . . but don’t hate the player, hate the game.*

Kaetlyn Osmond, despite a first place short program, skated a fourth-place long program to take the bronze medal overall to the chagrin of everyone who was hoping to see Wakaba Higuchi’s superb James Bond long program at the Grand Prix Final. Ms. Osmond’s performance across both the short and long programs were actually decent for her given Ms. Osmond’s history of inconsistency, but when she’s up against the Russian ladies skaters and their perfect seven-triple programs, there’s only so much PCS can do.

Ms. Osmond’s skating has so many attributes that make the judges lunge for top range of scores–her jumps, despite being a bit off axis at times (*cough*flutz*cough*), are big with lots of spring, making it easy for the judges to fork over those GOE. Ms. Osmond is also a fast, powerful skater over the ice, which makes everything she does all the more impressive. Moreover, Ms. Osmond’s Edith Piaf SP, a repeat from last season, is a fine program and it fits Ms. Osmond like a glove. Ms. Osmond’s Black Swan LP, however, is a whole other story. The choreography is generic and uninspired, and apart from some half-hearted pseudo ballet moves that Ms. Osmond occasionally deigns to do in between the jumps (note, for example, how sad the swan arms are after the 3Lo), there’s little in the LP that says Swan Lake, Black Swan or even musical interpretation aside from the presence of music (which features some annoyingly disjointed music cuts, for that matter). Well, let’s just say that Ms. Osmond is certainly no Oksana Baiul . . .  or even a 2012 Ashley Wagner . . .

Mai Mihara placed fourth overall with a strong (albeit fifth-place) long program after running into the boards during her 3Lz-3T combination in the short program. Ms. Mihara’s inconsistency in the short program is costing her, given that she tends to have to dig herself out of a hole of own creation in the long program. Ms. Mihara is also not quite ready to skate her Libertango short program–I’m not speaking about the technical elements, but that the sharp, sensual music and choreography requires more maturity and aggression that what Ms. Mihara is currently capable of.  It’s unfortunate, because I feel that Ms. Mihara’s interpretative shortcomings in the short program overshadow the strength of the choreography as well as Ms. Mihara’s great skating skills.

Ms. Mihara, as usual, skated an extremely strong long program, set this year to Ennio Morricone’s The Mission soundtrack.  Despite missing out on the back-end of her planned 2A-3T, Ms. Mihara made up for the points by whipping out an impressive 3Lz-3T in the second half of the program. Bravo! In terms of choreography and interpretation, however, Ms. Mihara’s The Mission program, though lyrical and skated with great flow, feels rather generic and similar to the 190149139518 other The Mission programs we’ve seen from other figure skaters. Anyways, I get that The Mission is meant to be Ms. Mihara’s Big Girl Serious Senior Figure Skating Program, but a much better approach would have been to capitalize on an upbeat, exciting program that capitalizes on Ms. Mihara’s strong skating skills and big jumps. Despite my misgivings about Ms. Mihara’s choreography, however, I generally find her undermarked in PCS. It’s bizarre that Ms. Mihara scored lower in PCS than Maria Sotskova or even Elizabet Tursynbaeva . . .

Elizabet Tursynbaeva placed fifth overall, undoubtedly delighting certain segments of the figure skating faithful by performing the skate of her young life so far to the dulcet warbles of Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli. The music and choreography of Ms. Tursynbaeva’s long program is cheesier than a quarto formaggi pizza with extra Parmesan sprinkled on top, but take a well-deserved vacation from good taste.  Let the dulcet tones of Ms. Dion and Mr. Bocelli wash over you as you watch Ms. Tursynbaeva’s beaming smile between the seven prettily-landed triple jumps, and realize that life is too short to not enjoy a well-skated, unabashedly sappy Celine Dion figure skating program.

*getting rid of the tano arms may also help with her rotations too