in defence of carmen at the gpf

the grand prix final was the first head-to-head of the season for carmen and notre dame de paris. though carmen had been receiving lower marks throughout the grand prix circuit, few knew how they would stack up against each other when they were skated in front of the same judging panel. it's widely known that some panels are generous and others, strict ... so technically, comparing marks across competitions isn't useful, though we all still do it.

well, the head-to-head happened and carmen lost. the canadian media and marina seethed in anger, publicly. compared to the media indifference at worlds, this is fascinating.

pj expressed her disbelief in the article entitled grand prix final teaches skaters to be prepared.
"without looking at the marks, i thought that davis and white's performance yesterday in the free dance was the winning one. they were fast, they were precise, and they had great elements performed to perfection so the result made sense to me. what doesn't make sense to me is the careful examination of the program component scores reveals that davis and white outscored virtue and moir in all five areas, albeit minimally. the one that i really don't get is the composition/choreography component score. even when not skated to perfection, there can be no denying the complexity and intricacy of this carmen free dance's choreography."

she actually started by writing, "american ice dancers meryl davis and charlie white took their fourth grand prix final title, by doing what they do best and that is skate well and skate fast. i really like their giselle-inspired short dance as much as i like the one from rivals tessa virtue and scott moir. on a good day with everybody skating their best, i prefer virtue and moir's carmen free dance to notre dame de paris from davis and white. that isn't to say that i don't like the american's free dance, i do. i just don't think of it as memorable in the way that some of their other free dances have been; most notably last season's divine die fledermaus."

i debated whether i should mention how notre dame de paris was received in its debut in the "debut of carmen" article, and i ultimately didn't, but i might as well here since that's quite relevant. notre dame de paris was originally considered a disappointment. few felt like it topped die fledermaus and many felt like we've seen it before ... in phantom of the opera and samson and delilah. there was no artistic growth to speak of and there were many recycled elements. they don't have to struggle with lifts, for example, and jepordize their marks because they've done the same ones for the past how ever many years.

kurt and pj did a podcast post gpf and he harped on this in an uberly bitchy kind of way. tessa and scott actually have new lifts, "new ways to pick up your partner and throw them around dangerously" and "most everyone else" (a polite way of saying meryl and charlie) just recylce their lifts. they already know that they work, are already famous and will get the scores. meryl and charlie recycle more than lifts, but lifts are on his mind because tessa and scott had trouble with one of their dramatic, new lifts and that played a factor in their loss. he mused, knowing that it'd be so easy and rewarding to just recycle, is it even worth it to bother creating something new? it's gutsy but is it smart? pj replied that tessa and scott are smart people. "i think there is a reason they haven't won the gpf. you'd have to peak fairly dramatically early in the middle of the season when they really want to hit their peak at worlds." addressing critics who said that carmen is too complicated for tessa and scott, forcing them to sacrifice certain elements of their skating, pj declared that it will be a tour de force at worlds and it's already one of her all time favourite programs.

tracy wilson also highlights this in her cbc grand prix wrap up (days before the grand prix final). to her, tessa and scott are "pushing the envelope of what's being done". it's not just that they come to each season with new music and costmes. "i talk about them reinventing their look but they recreate their moves. their lifts are original and unique to the music. [and so is] their body movement and line. they're taking all of these risks artistically that are so exciting artistically. [it's] difficult to balance that with the technical side but that for me is what you want. you want to push the sport." brenda said that tessa and scott said that they changed their step sequences to take a bit of risk out for the grand prix final "because they felt like it was possibly hurting them with the judges". tracy explains what this means. "step sequences are like the quad in men's skating and you dont want to two foot them. tessa will throw a body line or an arm movement or a shape that jepordizes her edge, maybe flipping it from an outside to an inside so that you have more simple turns [and get marked down for it]." they'll back that kind of risk down and make sure they're nailing their step sequences. critics will complain that tessa and scott lose levels because they miss their edges (completely choosing to ignore the why's), but tracy is looking them straight in the eye and taking them on: can you not see how absolutely incredible what you're witnessing is?

rosie dimanno had decided to cover this competition. now, rosie has an ... um, interesting way of writing. i've read her articles for years (even presenting on them in a journalism class). she can also be really glib and loose with her writing style but it's also clear that she's no nonsense and direct. her article may be coyly entitled tessa and scott settle for second but she was bold.

"tessa virtue and scott moir have revolutionized ice dancing. their long program this year, an erotic and exceptionally difficult interpretation of carmen, has gone where no routine ventured before: bold, risky, in a league of its own. the outrage is that judges, still bogged down in dancing conventions of old, seem not to have grasped what even the un-tutored eye can see."

making pj sound tame, she continues, "it is blatantly obvious that carmen, as so exquisitely executed by canada’s reigning olympic and world champions, utterly eclipses the notre dame de paris program of training teammates and rivals meryl davis and charlie white. there is nothing memorable about the latter. yet, for the second year in a row, the americans are grand prix champions. in a skating discipline where miniscule fractions of points make all the difference, the result was actually not that close — 108.56 for the silver medallists, 110.19 for gold. while both couples received four level 4s and three level 3s apiece on elements, davis and white scored higher almost top to bottom on grade of execution, the extra marks awarded (or subtracted) for proficiency. there’s no squaring it. frankly, white picks up davis for lifts like she was a piece of luggage. the duo does have remarkable speed, however, though that often renders them a tad sloppy on the edges."

oh yes, we are sooooo in the middle of a journalistic smackdown. "too daring and boundary-pushing perhaps, as some have alleged? too revolutionary, as performed in front of an audience that on saturday included russian president vladimir putin? pshaw, scoffs zueva, who designed a program of never-seen-before transitions and lifts. 'it’s not too risky, no way. they’re olympic champions. if you want to be olympic champion, you have to bring newness to the sport.'"

and the zinger came with the way she highlighted meryl's quote, using it differently than the icenetwork version: "davis acknowledged that the free skate felt like a struggle on the ice. it was one of those skates where nothing came easy. we felt like we had to fight through it, but that’s okay. it’s nice to have performances like this, to know that even when it doesn’t come easily, you can fight through it.'" it's a zinger because, if you remember, at last year's worlds, tessa said something similar about her winning free and people attacked her for it. they actually used her quote to claim that even tessa thought that funny face, their then free dance, was bad and didn't deserve to win. and that became a major part of the reason why meryl and charlie fans disrespect tessa and scott's 2012 world championship win. i'm sure rosie knew this and made sure to add the full quote to her article, not cushioning it at all. if we read into her quote the same way that they read tessa's, here we have meryl saying that their free wasn't all that great and questioning the scores, which reflected a perfection that wasn't there and ignored the struggle that was.

rosie ends by quoting tessa. "'i think it was a risk but, at this point in our careers, that’s why we skate. we have the titles. we feel there’s room to grow and we haven’t reached our full potential yet. that’s what’s exciting. we wouldn’t be competing otherwise. it would have been easy to retire. that’s what gets us to the rink every day—that challenge, working with different movement, different character. we’ve loved it this season. it might be a little bit risky but that’s also what makes it rewarding.'" then rosie responds, "just not, mystifyingly, rewarding enough", setting that remark off by itself and leaving it as the last sentence, the last thought.

marina does one interview that i know of and it's with elena vaitsekhovskaya (yes, this elena). its translated here by quiqie (here is the original russian) and shows how shocked marina is:

marina: i thought that tessa and scott were better in the free dance. powerful, inspired ... i don't understand the score difference.
elena: so you didn't have a feeling at practices that meryl and charlie make quicker progress than their training mates?
marina: i wouldn't say that tessa and scott have slower progress. they are making a good progress. if you look at this season's results, it becomes clear enough. the canadians started later in the season, they have more complex programs. at the same time, here, in sochi, tessa skated great at practices, as well as at the warm-ups. but in the competition something went wrong. it was a little labored.
elena: i thought that tessa was a bit off during the entry in the lift, and the partner had to support her a little too long, to make sure that she doesn't lose balance.
marina: maybe that's why tessa and scott got lower scores.
elena: in general, are you satisfied with your students' skating here?
marina: yes. we significantly improved the compulsory dances. but still there are some technical problems, lack of speed, lack of expression. i, as a coach, see that all four of them still don't live their roles, but play them. but it's the next step of preparation.

of course, tessa and scott fans at the time were disappointed in marina, wanting her to say that yes she knew exactly what was happen and what to do for tessa and scott, but it's interesting to see how helpless she feels and how much she disagrees. compared to her indifference when carmen lost at worlds, this reaction is big.

it's clear to me that the anger that carmen could ever lose to notre dame de paris happened here. the canadian media called a spade a spade and went after everyone and everything that allowed it to happen. they tried to defend tessa and scott's carmen with everything they had. they explained the details that could easily be missed. they compared the top two skates, and at the expense of meryl and charlie, they put tessa and scott's greatness into perspective. but as the season went on, we'd never see that level of anger again. by worlds, no one really said anything when carmen again received low scores and again lost to notre dame de paris. unlike men's, where the controversy over patrick's marks grows over the season and throughout the years, it seems like ice dance anger just disappates when you let enough time go by. does it burn up, dry out or get expended until it just sits there, exhausted and weak in the press box come worlds? or does it just get overwhelmed with the realization of what will come?

notes on the score

last season, the grand prix final was a game-changer when it came to tessa and scott's scores. they'd been scoring low on the circuit (much better than this season, but still low, especially when compared to meryl and charlie's scores). 106's. 105's. then at the 2011 gpf, they shot up to 112.33 and they never looked back for that season. for the rest of the season, they would score 110+. (they only dipped back down during the world team nonsense post worlds.) that 112 is actually their highest score to date for a free dance and it's technically higher because the judges made a mistake. knowing this history, my eyes widened when i saw their gpf results this year, 108.56. it was still a big leap from 104's and 103's, but it was terrible for even their own record and trajectory. something was wrong. if the turn wasn't going to happen here, when would it happen?

notes on scott's reaction

scott was surprizing diplomatic. 112 outraged him at last year's gpf because they lost the pcs marks but he took 108 in stride. rosie wrote about his reaction here: "'we can’t blame anybody else for the technical marks,' notes moir, of the first set of marks as opposed to the component scores, the artistic marks. 'the calls are what they are and we need to execute better if we want to get levels 4s in footwork. so i was not stunned today. i think tessa and i can bring a little more goe in the elements. our program, we really believe, is going to build into the new year and that’s what we have to make sure that we do. there are a couple of elements that could really improve upon, get more speed and power, and that will come. it’s about the goal in march and, as cliché as it sounds, we have to build and peak at the right time.'"

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