The men’s event at 2014 Skate Canada International: redemption, revelations and golden performances

Here it is, a short recap of the men’s event at Skate Canada International in Kelowna: the highs, the lows and the stories behind them, at the second Grand Prix of the season.

by Florentina Tone

Stephen Carriere: 0.10 of a point to the bronze medal. To me, the 25-year-old American skater was truly the revelation of this second Grand Prix, with a wonderful set of programs performed in Kelowna: the short one, skated to “La vie en rose”, and the long, to an intriguing blend of classical music (“Clair de Lune”, Debussy) and modern one (“Turning Page”, by Sleeping At Last).

World Junior champion in 2007, winning a bronze medal at 2007 NHK Trophy, the same medal at the Nationals and a silver at 2008 Cup of China, Stephen Carriere was a promising young skater, a rising star, actually – but then he almost vanished for a couple of years, to come back in Kelowna this weekend, being that close to winning the bronze. He was fourth after the short program – smiling, flirting with the audience, very much in the character of the French piece of music he skated to – and he remained fourth after the free, just 0.10 of a point keeping him of the podium; he scored 231.67 points overall, while the bronze medalist, Max Aaron, received 231.77. The audience in Prospera Place showed its disappointment when the scores were showed – but Stephen kept his smile; after all, this was a great comeback for Carriere, after such a long hiatus in his (international) career. His next competition is Rostelecom Cup, in Moscow, November 14-16.

Florent Amodio: time for redemption has come. Looking back at Florent in the Olympic season, I only see his tears and disappointment in Sochi, after his long program. The entire season was a struggle for this talented French skater – his second Olympics was a complete failure, Florent finishing on the 18th place – and it was definitely a joy to see him coming back to his old (winning) self in Kelowna, this weekend. Sure, Florent hasn’t won a medal at Skate Canada, but he won something much more important than that: the battle with himself, skating his first good, convincing set of programs in a while.

His short program, to “Le Concert” by Armand Amar, was a wonderful surprise: a peaceful, lyric performance, which reminded me of Florent skating to Yann Tiersen and Chopin at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver-2010; I wish he would skate more often to this particular kind of music. He did miss the triple Lutz, jumping a double in the short, and this definitely was a shock – but the triple Axel and all the other triple jumps were definitely there during the free and the free program was itself a surprise: Florent skated to music from “The Lion King”. And if you thought this was a music only suited for galas, well, you were wrong: the French skater decided to exhibit his showman face in competition too and I say hats off for the courage; the program suits him like a glove – a yellow glove to match his costume. A bearded Fabian Bourzat sat next to Florent in the Kiss and Cry, listed as his coach – and this was a reason for additional joy. This new team of advisers/technicians, Bernard Glesser and Fabian Bourzat, seems to very well match Florent’s needs right now.

Florent Amodio, during practice at 2014 Europeans in Budapest, in January

Florent Amodio, during practice at 2014 Europeans in Budapest, in January

Adam Rippon: the talent is all there. This edition of Skate Canada must have been terribly hard for this truly gifted skater – Adam finished the event on an almost inconceivable 10th place; inconceivable given its talent and charisma – and watching him skate I was caught in a circle of paradoxical feelings: utter amazement for his classy skating (he does look great on the ice, his arms in the air punctuating every nuance of the music) and profound sorrow for his failure (Adam’s got all the aces to be a winner – but he’s lacking confidence).

Artistically brilliant on the ice of Kelowna, Adam seems to be rather lost when a first mistake interferes with his performance; he then falls into pieces and he completely abandons the program, way before it’s finished. Shoulders down, completely helpless, he heads to the boards – and, both after the short and free, he looked like a statue of sadness in the Kiss and Cry. His coach, Rafael Arutunian, must look for solutions – because I would really like to see Adam’s face glowing with enthusiasm at the end of a flawless routine on Liszt’ Piano Concerto no. 1.

Takahito Mura: a glowing presence at Skate Canada – and a gold medal to match his stunning costume. To me, the 23-year-old skater from Nagoya was the star of this edition of Skate Canada. Literally. My eyes glued to his costume, his glorious costume, during the warm up – and the short program was as glorious as the suit. The public responded to Takahito’s version of Carmen – and he scored no less than 82.57 points, finishing the short program on the second place. One things is sure: Carmen is a magnet for the skaters, they all want to skate to it at a certain point; a piece of music that both the skaters and the audience seem to adore.

And if someone had questioned Takahito’s ability to do more than that in the free, well, I invite you to watch again his particular program skated to The Phantom of the Opera. The Japanese skater was imperial, foot-perfect during those 4 minutes and 30 seconds, a program that kept growing and growing, turning into a masterpiece and raising everyone in the arena to their feet. In the Kiss and Cry, the father, Takashi Mura, smiled with satisfaction; while the son, Takahito, burst into tears. Now that’s what I call an image that is worth a thousand words… Of course, at that point, with those 255.81 points, a season best for him, Takahito didn’t know he’d just won the trophy; five minutes later, he’d have the confirmation. A gold medal for him – and a second gold for Japan, given Tatsuki Machida’s victory at Skate America a week ago.

Javier Fernandez: Oh my, that short program was something else! Well, you all know the result in the men’s event by now: the 23-year-old Spaniard won the silver in Kelowna, finishing behind the consistent Takahito Mura. But Javier’s routines are loaded with difficult elements – and his short program, to “Black Betty” by Ram Jam, is to die for; with or without the triple Axel. The choreography is amazing, Javier sold it beautifully – and I loved every second of this energetic routine, matching completely his personality and style of skating. With this particular program, Javi rocked the event, receiving standing ovations not only from the audience in Prospera Place; a chorus of praises and enthusiasm followed his routine on twitter and facebook, lots of people thanking him for those intriguing, innovative 2 minutes and 50 seconds; something you could watch anytime as the “Play of the day”. There were flowers and gifts for the Spaniard, girls screaming “Javi!” and, all in all, a great program to close the event.

A day after, it was a completely different story: skating to The Barber of Seville, Javier wanted to create on ice the image of a playful, joyful barber – but his feet wouldn’t help. The previous performance – Takahito Mura at his very best – might have slowed him down to the point Javier had to fight for every single element. A struggle that program was from the beginning to the end – and not even an “I love you, Javi!” from the audience could bring a smile on the Spaniard’s face; that much he wants to be in Barcelona, for the Grand Prix Final…

This January, in Budapest, Javier Fernandez won his second European title (phpto taken during practice)

This January, in Budapest, Javier Fernandez won his second European title (phpto taken during practice)

A final reverence to the following: Takahiko Kozuka (hats off for his constant efforts to land the quad jump, two-footed as it is, it still looks great. And I definitely love his choice of music for the free program: some extra-emotions from Mr. Bocelli cant’t hurt. Quite the contrary), Konstantin Menshov (what a wonderful effort from this hard-working Russian skater, who jumps – and lands – the quad as if it were a double; that effortless it seems. Technically, he’s out of this world. And I do admire Konstantin’s taste for unusual, rarely visited pieces of music…), Max Aaron (I do applaud his decision to skate to musical pieces matching his energetic style of skating; that itself, along with his valuable technical content brought him the bronze at this year’s edition of Skate Canada), Michal Brezina (I was definitely intrigued – and in a good way – by the music chosen for the short program and I did love his costume for the free one; Michal looks great as Figaro at his wedding – but the Czech skater is not there yet in terms of shape and consistency…)

The final rankings at 2014 Skate Canada

1. Takahito Mura, Japan, 255.81 pts
2. Javier Fernandez, Spain, 244.87 pts
3. Max Aaron, United States, 231.77 pts

4. Stephen Carriere, United States, 231.67 pts
5. Konstantin Menshov, Russia, 225.03 pts
6. Florent Amodio, France, 215.71 pts
7. Michal Brezina, Czech Republic, 208.24
8. Takahiko Kozuka, Japan, 203.17 pts
9. Andrei Rogozine, Canada, 202.40 pts
10. Adam Rippon, United States, 201.92 pts
11. Liam Firus, Canada, 198.91 pts