Proposal to raise minimum age for senior events brings figure skating back to the future

Proposal to raise minimum age for senior events brings figure skating back to the future

Jeroen Prins long has been deeply involved in figure skating, with a wide range of expertise.

Prins, 54, was a national-level skater in the Netherlands who now is an international referee and technical controller in singles, a technical controller in pairs and a judge in ice dance.  He holds several positions in the figure skating section of the Dutch Skating Federation and is a candidate for membership on the International Skating Union’s singles and pairs technical committee.  He is a figure skating commentator for Eurosport Netherlands.

And Prins had been thinking long, hard and deeply about the issue of minimum age in senior figure skating before writing the urgent proposal to raise it to 17 that the Dutch federation submitted to the ISU Congress that begins June 4 in Seville, Spain.

“I has this idea in mind already at the start of this past Olympic season, but I wanted to see how everything unfolded,” Prins said in an email.

What unfolded was the second youngest women’s Olympic champion in history, 15-year-old Alina Zagitova of Russia.  And the top two women (girls?) at the World Junior Championships, also both Russians, were 13 and 14.  And the top three women at the Junior Grand Prix Final, all Russians (the top two were the same as at junior worlds), were 13, 14, 13.

One of those three, world junior champion Alexandra Trusova, did two quadruple jumps in her winning free skate at the world juniors.  Since then, video has been posted of another Russian – Anna Shcherbakova, 14, who did not compete in the 2017 world juniors or the 2017 Junior Grand Prix series – doing a clean quad lutz-triple toe-triple loop combination in practice.

So Prins decided the time was right to ask that the ISU raise the minimum age for seniors in all disciplines from 15 to 17 as of the 2020-21 season, with the two-year wait designed to prevent any 15- or 16-year-olds already in seniors from being forced back to the junior level.

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With time on her side, Alina Zagitova, a young woman vibrant in red, catches' judges fancy

With time on her side, Alina Zagitova, a young woman vibrant in red, catches' judges fancy

As the Olympic figure skating season moves into the national championship phase, a few more observations about the Grand Prix season and Grand Prix Final:

1.  All you Alina Zagitova detractors (that includes you, CBC) aren’t going to like this: the new Grand Prix Final winner, age 15, looks better every time I see her.

Part of it owes to the costuming and free skate program pattern that emphasize her strengths, which are jumps.

The vibrant red in the tutu-qua-dress and long gloves Zagitova wears grabs the eye, says she is portraying a ballerina and limns her movement so beautifully it is easy to forget she does no jumps in the first half of the four-minute free skate to the Russian ballet classic, “Don Quixote.”  And while I hope the rules are changed to eliminate such 100 percent back loading, who can fault her coaches for taking advantage of the point bonus that comes with those jumps?

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Asada's legacy of grace and grit will last forever.

Asada's legacy of grace and grit will last forever.

Whenever I saw Mao Asada skate well, which she did often, I was reminded of the second line in one of the most famous arias in the operatic canon, "La Donna è Mobile," from Verdi's Rigoletto.

When you get past the trope of the aria's title and opening verse, which scoffs at women for being flighty, you come to the nature of the flight: "qual piuma al vento" -- like a feather in the wind.

That is the best description for the way Asada moved on the ice, even in the later years of her career, when she added the mature elegance of a woman in her mid-20s to the jump that had separated her from nearly every other woman in the sport over the length of that career.

She became lighter than air.

That is how I will remember Asada, who announced her retirement Monday at the age of 26. The timing was a surprise, even if her struggling performances and knee problems over the past two seasons made it clear the time had come.

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