Good news: Japan’s Mao Asada need not be defined by the triple axel any more. The final 45 seconds of her NHK Trophy free skate Saturday, with no jumps but a striking footwork sequence and a beautiful spiral you wish she would hold longer, show just how much Asada has matured since winning Olympic silver in 2010. Given the remaining uncertainty about how well South Korea’s Kim Yuna comes back from her foot injury, Asada, 23, is the favorite – as of now – for Olympic gold after comfortable wins in both her Grand Prix events.
Bad news: Asada may find herself undone by the triple axel. She has yet to land a clean one in four tries on the Grand Prix circuit (one fall) this season. Opening both her short and long programs with it is risky business, even with the ridiculous rules allowing full base value for a fall or a two-footed landing.
Good news: Elena Radionova, a sprite who looks no older than nine, got the highest technical score in the NHK free skate and finished second overall to Asada. She has a good shot at becoming the second 14-year-old Russian in three years to make the Grand Prix Final, following Elizaveta Tukhtamysheva.
Bad news: Radionova, like Asada in 2006, misses the minimum eligibility age for the Olympics. But unlike Asada, then the reigning Grand Prix Final winner whom Japan undoubtedly would have picked for the Turin Winter Games, it seems unlikely Radionova would have earned one of Russia’s two women’s spots for Sochi, given the depth of talent in her country.
Good news: After finishing fourth at NHK, Gracie Gold is about to have a much-needed uninterrupted stretch of practice with her new coach, Frank Carroll.
Bad news: Gold gets the extra practice because she almost certainly will not qualify for the Grand Prix Final and another trip to Japan in early December. Her jumps, once the strongest part of Gold’s skating package, have gone south, as evidenced by the fall on the triple lutz and just two clean triples in the NHK free skate.
Good news: Evgeny Plushenko’s battered body (knees, back) is healthy enough for the three-time Olympic medalist (gold, 2 silver) to have delivered a jumping tour de force in Friday’s free skate while winning the Volvo Open, a minor international competition in Latvia. It is good news for the sport if the Russian, who just turned 31, comes to Sochi in peak form.
Bad news: Plushenko’s free skate music may be the worst hodgepodge in history, with unrelated snippets of pieces by at least four composers. It deserves a 10-point deduction for general awfulness.
Good news: Three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott and his U.S. teammate, Adam Rippon, both models of inconsistency, delivered respectable free skates at NHK. Abbott wound up third, Rippon fourth.
Bad news: Abbott will not make the Grand Prix Final, and Rippon has only a slight chance. So it is highly probable there will be no U.S. man in the event for the third time in four years. And neither Abbott nor Rippon was remotely close to the top two finishers at NHK, Daisuke Takahashi and Nobunari Oda of Japan. Meanwhile, reigning U.S. champion Max Aaron was hopelessly out of his league in finishing seventh.
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