A long, winding road to glory for French pairs skaters James and Cipres

A long, winding road to glory for French pairs skaters James and Cipres

Before they retire from competitive figure skating, French pairs team Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres should skate a program either to “The Long and Winding Road” or to “Truckin,” which includes the famous phrase, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Or maybe one program to each. After all, the Beatles’ song title and the words in the Grateful Dead song cover a big part of their story, both individually and together.

Their lives’ itineraries have encompassed significant stops in Scarborough, Ont.; Bermuda; Great Britain; Melun, France; Paris; Moscow; Coral Gables and Wesley, Chapel, Fla. And that doesn’t count all the places where they have competed, a list expanded this week to include their first joint competitive visit to Vancouver, B.C., one of the most significant stops in nine seasons as a team on the ice.

James, 31, and Cipres, 27, made it to Vancouver by qualifying for the Grand Prix Final for the first time by winning both their Grand Prix “regular season” events. Those were their first victories in 14 appearances on the annual circuit.

Not only that, but they also are likely to win just the second medal by a French pair in the final, which takes place Friday and Saturday. And it would be no surprise if they topped the silver earned by compatriots Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis in the 2000 Grand Prix Final.

And, in a season of significant transition on the global pairs scene, a world title seems within the grasp of this team whose world bronze last season was their first medal at a global championship in two Olympics and seven world championships together.

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Bradie Tennell working to hammer home jumps, repeat national champion mentality

Bradie Tennell working to hammer home jumps, repeat national champion mentality

Bradie Tennell had awakened at 4 a.m., as usual, and arrived at the Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion in Chicago’s northwest suburbs by 6 a.m., as usual. Now it was early afternoon, and the 2018 Olympic team event bronze medalist was on her sixth of seven 30-minute training session of the day.

It is a workload that befits her personality on and off the ice: relentless, no-nonsense, a grinder in a sport where the surface glitz often hides the lunch-bucket labor that figure skaters put in daily on rinks like this one.

Not all of her training days are so intense. Her coach of 11 years, Denise Myers, insists that the 20-year-old Tennell cut back at times to make sure she stays healthy after having had her skating career threatened by back problems in both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. So there are days with reduced jumping and days with no jumping at all and days with fewer sessions and fewer full program run-throughs.

“I like to take as long as I need to get everything done,” Tennell said. “I don’t really count the hours.”

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In needed move to prevent federation figure skating heads from judging, ISU still needs to go further

In needed move to prevent federation figure skating heads from judging, ISU still needs to go further

The International Skating Union’s biennial congress early next month will consider a proposal that might have been unnecessary if the top Canadian figure skating federation official had a more accurate ethical compass.

So you can call Urgent Proposal No. 6 the Leanna Caron Rule, since the proposal obviously was spurred largely by the actions of Skate Canada president Caron.

The proposal, submitted by the ISU Council, is a move in the right direction toward eliminating conflicts of interest that can undermine confidence in judging of this highly subjective sport.  Hopefully, it will pass.

But it doesn’t go quite far enough.

And the ISU needs to change another regulation so it can go further.

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In Grand Prix Final, watch the competitions within the singles competition

In Grand Prix Final, watch the competitions within the singles competition

Who knows what to make of the singles competition in the Grand Prix Final?

The women’s event beginning Friday in Nagoya, Japan, is missing the two-time reigning world champion and overwhelming favorite, Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia, sidelined by a broken foot, as well as the 3-4 finishers at last year’s worlds, Gabrielle Daleman of Canada and Karen Chen of the United States.  Both Daleman and Chen wound up miles from Japan after finishing, 16th and 23rd, respectively, in the season standings, with only the top six earning places in the final.

The men’s event beginning Thursday does not have reigning world champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan (injury prevented him from a near certain qualification), Javier Fernandez of Spain (did not qualify) and Patrick Chan of Canada (skipped second Grand Prix event after a poor showing in his first.)

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Jackie Wong: the polymath who is a "life saver" for figure skating

Jackie Wong: the polymath who is a "life saver" for figure skating

On Wednesday night, Jackie Wong plans to go to bed in his Manhattan apartment at 9 p.m. Wong will set his alarm for 1 a.m. Thursday to be up and alert in time for his volunteer labor of love, as he covers the men's short program at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Nagoya, Japan.

He will work on that and other Grand Prix Final events until about 9 a.m. Thursday, then nap for an hour before moving on to the client services job for which he is paid. He will be back to skating, with the senior ladies short program at the Golden Spin of Zagreb, at about 4:30 p.m.

His Friday schedule will be a little less taxing, with the same bedtime but a 3 a.m. wakeup. Saturday will allow him to focus only on figure skating.

Wong's willingness to burn the candle at both ends -- and his technical and historical knowledge of the sport -- have helped make him the most unequivocally appreciated reporter in the world of figure skating.

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