The First Showdown - Men's Short Program
Trip Start Feb 14, 2010
12Trip End Feb 21, 2010
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Not for very long, though. Had to take a bus early enough to meet my friend Helene for lunch. We went to a nice pub in Yaletown and watched some speed skating. I remember we're trying to avoid discussing the Men's SP that was to follow to allow ourselves some last minutes or relaxation... and sanity!
Once we got on the bus though I stated feeling very anxious. I don't think I'd every been that nervous in my entire life and at that point we're still about 2 hours away from the start of the competition! It's such an awful feeling when you want something to happen for somebody so badly and yet you have no influence on the turn of events...
What really kept me sane was the arrival of a huge contingent of my friends including Diane, Judy, Carley, Meredith and Mary who were coming to the arena basically straight from the airport. Unfortunately, as it turned out Mary had missed one of her connecting flights and wouldn't be arriving until about half way through the event that night.
As the panel of judges was being introduced we had to part ways and head to our seats as we got the tickets from various sources and ended up having to sit separately. Oh well, one can't have everything.
This is probably the right moment to mention I didn't take any action photos of the skating that evening as a) I was sitting way too high up b) didn't want to watch the event through the thumbnail-sized screen on my camera. Sorry!
Now back to the business. Seconds after I had climbed to my seat somewhere in the rafters (it really did feel like that but the view was still very good) the first group of skaters started the warm up! The atmosphere in the building was fantastic from the beginning and the skaters seemed to feed off that energy in the building. So many of the men in the first flight did as well as they possibly could and scored their personal best.
I will spare you all the details, as many of you have probably watch it all at some point, and just post some general impressions and special memories I have of that night.
One of the first skaters of the night was Przemek Domanski of Poland. I really wanted him to do well after the difficult season he's having. To open his SP to 'Tango de Roxanne' (the same arrangement Patrick Chan has been using for two seasons now) with a 3z that was clean but not stable enough to add that planned 3l and make it a combination. Trying to save some points he added a 2t to the next jump, 3f. 2A was small but clean as well. I was disappointed for Przemek as I knew that performance was not he planned and hoped for but he should be proud of what he did out there as not so long before he'd not even know whether he'd be able to skate in Vancouver at all. Well done, Sir!
It was a bizarre coincidence that Paolo Bacchini (ITA) and Zoltan Kelemen (ROM) skated back to back and used the same soundtrack - 'Amelie' in two different arrangements, however. I must say I was really impressed with Kelemen, especially since I'd never seen him skate live before. He has such a beautiful and effortless 3A that I'm sure some of the higher ranked men wouldn't mind borrowing from him.
Ri Song Chol (KOR), Stefan Lindemann (GER), Anton Kovalevski (UKR) Artem Borodulin (RUS) and Florent Amodio all skated clean with a 3A. And then came the defending Olympic Champion, Evgeni Plushenko (RUS). He went out there with his confidence flowing out his ears. His self belief is so incredible... It almost felt as if he'd never retired in first place. But that feeling vanished when he started skating his program to Edvin Marton's version of 'Concerto d'Aranjuez'. Yes, he did land all his jumps, including his trademark 4t-3t combo, 3A and 3z but the quality of them was not as brilliant as it used to. The jumps had very little flow on the landing and didn't cover too much ice. And other than the jumps, there was not much going on in that program, it seemed to me as it was still stuck in the previous Olympic cycle with no to little transition, choreography and attention to detail. I was expecting much more than, to be perfectly honest with you. And judging by the score, 90.85 pts., the judges somehow agreed with me which does not happen all that often. That point total for Plushenko's short was barely a point over what Evan Lysacek and Daisuke Takahashi scored at the GPF in December. So, it wasn't over just yet, there was hope!
And Daisuke Takahashi (JPN) was the next big gun to skate and he totally NAILED his performance. It has everything you'd ask for: the jumps (but the quad, but I don't think anybody really cared), power, choreography that was perfect for that piece of music and Daisuke's style, transitions, power and amazing interpretation. I was on my feet for the first time that evening. The score, 90.25 pts. was barely below Plushenko's. Incredible and so well deserved!
Stephane Lambiel (SUI) was also in that group. As lovely as his skating is and as much as I love his "Wilhelm Tell" SP, his lack of 3a and bad landing on 4t should keep him at sizable distance from Plushenko and Takahashi. And it did.
Following Stephane was Nobunari Oda of Japan. He also landed all his jumps with his usual soft knees and amazing running edge and had strong spin elements and step sequence. Compared to Lambiel and Takahashi, his program was nowhere near as sophisticated and refined but slotted exactly between the two with Plushenko still in the lead with two groups still to come.
There were so many good performances in the first four flights I started fearing that all the big cats who were still to skate would crash and burn. I mean, the odds were that at least a few of them would.
The first one to fulfill my prediction was Brian Joubert of France who had a nightmare of a performance with two jump mistakes: step-out on the 4t and a scary fall on an under-rotated 3z attempt. After that, there was nothing left in Brian and the program felt flat sending Brian way down the standings and shattering his Olympic dream. :( I'm not the biggest fan of his but I was totally gutted for him.
Next to skate was Takahiko Kozuka of Japan. He delivered a steady performance with no visible mistakes. Just like in practice, I really liked the choreography of his program. But I wish he's stop looking down to the ice as it makes his skating look 'small'.
Right before Samuel Contesti (ITA) took the ice I'd received a text message from Diane letting me know there were so open around her and invited me to come over. And I did, hence no comments on Samuel's performance.
I got there just in time to see Patrick Chan (CAN) skate. Unfortunately, it was not his night. He stepped out of his 3A and had a stumble in the straight line step sequence. The flow and glide were not as effortless as they used to. It's clear Patrick was missing mileage after having done only two other events prior to Vancouver. And also, there's just so much pressure on the man's shoulders. Who said skating at the Olympics in your home country was an advantage? ;)
Patrick was followed by Johnny Weir of the US. I'm really liking me some Johnny this season. He seems to have his confidence and seamless quality back, he nailed all his jumps in that SP and really got into the performance. I was on my feet again, only for the 2nd time that night. How un-Canadian of me, eh? But it needs to be said, there's not much going on in that program in between the elements and the scores did reflect that perfectly.
Finally, we had arrived at the final group of the event! The crowd going crazy during warm up more than I've ever seen. It was insane!
Joining Brian Joubert on the list of contenders who'd take themselves out of competition in the SP was Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic. With two serious jump errors he ended up even below Joubert in the final standings.
Skating next was somebody who know everything about loosing a competition in the SP as this is exactly what happened to him four years ago in Torino, Evan Lysacek of the US. I was really nervous for him as I knew that failed SP was still creeping somewhere in his mind all day, no matter how hard he'd been trying to block it out. One deep breath, and the music, Stravinsky's "Firebird" started playing. I remember telling myself to stay in the moment and just enjoy it. Somehow, it did work on my end while Evan did his jump and landed his opening 3A better than ever before! Woo hoo! After that, the 3z--3t combo (out of spread eagle) and 3f were just a formality. A formality of exquisite quality. The rest of the program was just as great, sharp, precise and free. He hid not hold back for even a second. I felt he not only skated to that music but totally lived it as every movement as spot on with the musical accents and all the bizarre, angular movements worked so well for his body type and lines. Perfection! People in the crowd were on their feet a while before the final spin ended. No standing ovation from me though as my reaction could only qualify as 'jumping and hugging' ovation as we celebrated that fantastic performance in our little 5 person family. And Evan, OMG! I've never seen him so overcome with emotion and crying to no end. Although I'm sure he'll always be insisting he's just wiping sweat off his cheeks... Aww! It must have been such a relief to get that Olympic SP monkey off his back and open the Vancouver title bid in such style. I knew it would be out there with Plushenko and Takahashi as far as the score was concerned. 90.30 points it was! 2nd place right in front of Daisuke and behind Evgeni. Amazing to see the top 3 virtually tied.
But the event was not over yet, Jeremy Abbott, also from the States, was next to skate. Jeremy beat Evan at the US Nationals just a month before and I can't imagine how he muct have felt listening to Evan's marks being announced. Being the reigning US Champion he must have felt a tremendous amount of pressure. And it showed in a big way, unfortunately but not surprisingly to anybody who's been following Jeremy's career. He opened the program landinga a beauriful 3-3 combination followed by singling the planned 3A and then turning thr the 3z to double, both very costly mistake that sent him down the standing in the Joubert and Verner territory.
It was quite a night and I'm still shocked I survived it in one piece. Once again let me tell you how thrilled I was to see Evan skate that well. When I think of Evan and the skater he has become over the years, the following quote from Tom Flores comes to my mind: "A total commitment is paramount to reaching the ultimate in performance." Normally, when I'm nervous I tend not to remember much of what I'm watching, but this time I remember every single second of that skate and that's something that will be a cherished memory for a long time.
We wrapped up the evening at the CoSport hospitality house having a fantastic dinner feast that featured dishes from the previous (Torino), current (Vancouver) and future (Sochi) Winter Olympic Games hosts. Thanks to the Russian table I had all the seafood I'd ever dream of. The lounge was private and very quiet, just a perfect place to relax and unwind after the total craziness of that evening.