Okay, it’s early in the season. We get that. The Olympics took the starch out of a lot of athletes last season and it’s so hard to pull up the bootstraps after that. But the men’s short program at Skate Canada International Grand Prix was….a learning experience for most.
It was hard. Really hard.
For the second consecutive week, Kao Miura of Japan finished in first place, but the surprise was that he defeated his world champion countryman Shoma Uno.
Matteo Rizzo of Italy finished third, just 1.49 points ahead of Keegan Messing, on his farewell tour. The Canadian champ says this will be his last competitive season. Rizzo has some big ideas. He would like to be European champion this season. After all, he says, Javier Fernandez isn’t around, winning all of them any more. And why not? Rizzo has always been the little engine that could.
Miura, only 17, ripped off a quad Salchow-triple toe loop, that didn’t get nearly as many bonus points as it did last week at Skate America, (where he ended up winning the silver medal.) He did a triple Axel, and a quad toe, too. Good for 94.06 points, just short of the 94.96 he got last week.
Uno landed the most beautiful quad flip, good for 3.46 bonus points but he put a hand down on a quad toe loop, which he struggled to put into combination with a single toe loop, and then he unleashed dazzling footwork, level four, with 5.46 bonus points. We don’t know how he landed his triple Axel, but he did, like a cat.
Uno skated to a languid, stretchy piece called Gravity by John Mayer, and it suited him to a T. He earned 89.98 points, far behind his best (109.63) and 4.08 points behind Miura.
Rizzo never quits. He attempted a quad loop and held onto it with a three-turn, and lost a couple of points. It was a statement. He’d been trying unsuccessfully to land the thing in practice this week and was having troubles with the takeoff. Somehow, he made it happen on competition day. He lost a few levels and had a turn in the midst of his quad toe loop – double toe loop. But it was an impressive start to his season.
Messing is coming from a different place. This season is his own personal journey. He has a brilliant program to music by MIKA, and wearing a new costume, fell really, really hard on his opening quad toe loop, which was supposed to be in combination with a triple toe loop. He landed it in the warmup, but that counts for nothing.
“What do you think happened?” he was asked.
“Just skating happens,” he said.
“In practice we pop a lot to save our bodies but in competition we kind of have to take the fall sometimes,” he said. “I was just holding position going oh no-no-no-no-no-no.
“I stepped on the foot, it just didn’t feel right. I really tried to make the most out of it and for the best. Sadly that didn’t happen.” Judges deemed that he was a bit short on rotation.
And then he wasn’t able to turn his triple Lutz into a combination. “I had the thought going in to do it but then my blade slipped a little bit on the landing. [Judges counted the quad toe as the combo jump].
“So, jumps weren’t really there tonight.”
But after that disappointment, Messing reminded himself that he’s not skating for a placement this year, or for spots on a team, or anything else. “This year, being a non-Olympic year, the first year on the quad, this is my year. This year is for me.”
So he went out to have fun, and it showed. “Yeah, the jumps weren’t there, but you know? I gave it my all. I had fun with my footwork. (level four, +1.43). I was playing with the crowd,” Messing said.
“And gosh, you know, the crowd was right there behind me, home ice, and it’s my last Skate Canada International.”
He admitted he got a little emotional before he started. His wife, Lane, and toddler son Wyatt were in the crowd, watching, too. In the kiss and cry, Messing unfolded an accordian pleat of photos, ultrasound photos of his second-child-to-come.
“Yeah, it could have been better,” he said of his effort. “But honestly I’m going to be leaving here with a smile on my face.”
Conrad Orzel started the event, with perfect music for his physical strength (Carmina Burana) and a stunning red costume, and launched a quad toe loop – double toe loop combination from not the greatest pick plant. His quad Salchow attempt turned into a triple Salchow upon which he fell. His triple Axel wasn’t pretty, but his score of 69.69 held up for much of the competition, in which he finished sixth. He’s working with a new coach, Ravi Walia. That won’t hurt him.
The long-awaited return of Stephen Gogolev came to naught. Everything went wrong for the 17-year-old skater: he doubled his quad toe loop (no score), and he two-footed a triple Salchow, that should have been a quad (tiny score). When he rallied to do a triple Axel, to loud cheers from the crowd, he looked to salvage things, but Gogolev wasn’t himself.
He finished 11th. He didn’t speak to reporters afterwards, although he asked to do it later. He felt ill, and he looked ill. He seemed on the verge of tears while doing his interview with CBC, then politely bailed.
As for Miura, skating on a tight turnaround, he said it helped that he had to compete against Ilia Malinin, who landed an enormous quad Axel before him at Skate America. “It was a lot of pressure,” he said. However, at Skate Canada, Uno skated after him, so there was no pressure. Skate America turned into good practice for Skate Canada.
He said he rushed a few elements.
Uno said he had given up trying to master the quad Lutz, but at the Japan Open, he saw Malinin “doing all these quads” and he realized I might need another one in the future. He probably won’t try it this season, but if he gets time, he’ll work on that quad Lutz agtain.
“But who knows what quad jumps there will be in four years?” he said. He said he’s not focussing on the next Olympics yet. He says he just wants to keep building to his next level.
And Rizzo? “All the podium is open for everyone [at Europeans],” he said. “I would not say at the same level, but kind of depends how it goes. I want to be there and compete for the first [place.]”
The European men’s event was won last year by Russian Mark Kondratiuk. In fact, Russians placed three men in the top five, but they will not be at this next European event. Rizzo will have to fight against his own countryman, Daniel Grassl, who won the silver medal last year. Deniss Vasiljevs of Latvia, who won the bronze, finished seventh on Friday, after trying a quad (Salchow) for the first time in the short program (he doubled it) and falling on his triple Axel. His consistency last season was remarkable. Like Uno, he trains with Stephane Lambiel.