Hey sports fans!! Thanks for stopping by my blog! I am a self admitted “rink rat” so a lot of this blog will be about figure skating and hockey, however as an ex-figure skater, ex-varsity athlete and a sports fan in general, I usually have thoughts and opinions about alot of different sports I follow, so visit often!
My First Grand Prix Final: Let’s Go Crazy!! Flying half way around the world to watch a competition might be considered crazy by some, but in the end, it was so worth it!! I have been to a number of Grand Prix events but I have never attended a Grand Prix Final. Being motivated by Yuzu and his “Let’s Go Crazy” theme for this season, I booked my tickets right when they went on sale.
I managed to get tickets with no issue although I found the process of having to buy tickets for each event day separately a bit frustrating. Thank goodness for the bit of French I remembered from school. I quickly booked my flights and was ready to go, several months in advance. Now flash forward to 2 weeks before the event. My excitement was building and once Yuzu qualified for the GPF you would think it was time to relax right? Wrong.
Lufthansa had something to say about that. Due to a sudden pilot union strike, my connector flight to Marseilles was now in jeopardy. I watched this story unfold day by day hoping for some resolution but by day 4 of the strike I felt that I needed a back up plan!! So, I booked another backup flight on another airline from Frankfurt to Marseilles just in case. Nothing was going to prevent me from getting to the event on time!!
On my Air Canada flight I searched for movies with subtitles and found Yuzu’s movie!!! I was so excited!! I finally got to watch it!!!!! Yay Air Canada!!
Then during my 4 hour layover in Frankfurt…I decided to go to the boarding gate a bit earlier and took a seat. By the way, no striking pilots on this day. Yay! Because I didn’t have free wifi at the gate I just sat there people watching. Well after about 10 minutes, I looked over to my left and Shoma and his coach were walking by!! I couldn’t believe my luck! I was on the same flight as Shoma headed to Marseilles!! Hmmm, wonder if he had a backup plan/flight as well? His on time attendance in Marseilles was a bit more critical than mine.
They came to the gate and I wanted to ask for a photo but Shoma turned around and left to go to the boys room. The coaches then looked for seats and just my luck, decided to sit right across from me. Then Shoma’s coach went to the washroom and when Shoma came back he couldn’t see where his coaches were so when he turned around and looked back my way I motioned to him that they were in the seats in front of me facing me. Shoma came over and nodded his head to thank me so I asked him for a photo. His coach took the photo and then he sat in across from me and played his game. It looked like Nintendo but I am not sure.
Then we boarded a bus to drive to the plane and played a game of chicken with an Airbus 319!! I can’t say that I like boarding airplanes that I literally have to drive up to. I assume this method of boarding a large plane is a European thing since we do not do this in Canada.
Practice Day 1:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY YUZU!!!!!
Yuzu’s first practice was not great. He kept popping quad loop and quad salchow attempts but on a good note, it did not phase him at all. He did land some very high quality quads too! The ice conditions were not good at all, after each flood, the end where the skaters came out, there was a large patch that did not freeze properly. It was very visible, almost the same size as the puddle in Boston.
Practice Day 2: SP
Yuzu appeared to have changed his warm up strategy. Instead of charging out of the gates and being at top speed after three strokes, he came out calmly and picked up his speed gradually. He took his time with a deep edge warm up. The normal first jump would be the helicopter double loop or triple loop but he did not do it this time. If I recall correctly, the first two run throughs for other skaters were completed before Yuzu even attempted his first jump. His run through was solid as if he was throwing down the gauntlet to say “Take that you guys who think you can beat me.” It was truly a statement in my mind how good his program was. It was awesome. The funny thing is that after the event, he said on Japanese tv news that
“When I perform normally, no one can beat me”
Source: Fuji TV “Mezamashi TV” 5:25-8:00 on Dec. 12, 2016
Normally one might think this is a cocky attitude, but when it’s coming from Yuzu it is simply the truth, and I love how confident he is when saying it. He knows it and has the confidence to believe in it.
Yuzu didn’t practice a ton of quad loops, but seemed fit and ready. Sometimes you can over practice a jump during a single session, so I assume he and Brian had a well prepared strategy for this practice.
During the practice there was a moment when he came to the boards by Pooh and he started playing with Poohs ears. This is killer adorable!!! My heart just melted!! He squeezed Poohs left ear. Will post this photo in my next blog entry.
It took me until end of practices on day 2 to notice what was missing. There was no jumbotron in this rink!!! I am so used to looking up for screens at centre ice and they simply were not there. I guess I am just too used to North American arenas.
Here we go, holding my breath for 2:40! To hold on to the scratchy landing on the quad loop was a pure strength move!! Fantastic save!!
They say after an athlete wins a big championship, they come back and you wonder how hungry someone is when they have already achieved success and won everything there is to win. Well, the save on this quad loop shows how hungry Yuzu is to continue winning. Then came the magnificent quad salchow combination, simply stunning. After the triple axel and spin, he let loose! Holy hell it was electric in the building!!!! I later watched a video playback and unfortunately on the videos you cannot hear the screams and squeals from the fans when Yuzu threw a cheeky smile to the crowd right before he rounded the corner to start his step sequence. Then when he did the finger “come here” move right in front of us to draw us in, we were done! There is no price you can put on this experience. The atmosphere in the building was electric!!
One thing that is very hard to do when you are at a live event is keeping up with the flood of social media updates. I only had a chance to view a couple of videos. One of them was the press conference after the short program. My favourite moment when when he turned to Javi and said “I was confused”.
If you have not yet seen Poohs first interview, here is the link. It is adorable. I love how Yuzu totally didn’t answer the question but instead had a little conversation with Pooh.
One SP footnote here: The cantilever move that Shoma added after his triple axel is such a cool exit!!
Practice Day 3: LP
Extra day of practice for the men. Yuzu came on the ice with a ton of speed! It’s was the speed I was used to seeing but hadn’t seen it the first 2 practices. Pretty solid practice, some popped jumps, some doubles, and some fantastic quads. I didn’t write down his every jump like some fans do because I was busy trying to get some photos. It all happens so fast and when you are engrossed in watching Yuzu live, it is a very concentrated effort. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a perfect quad toe and 3A from Patrick Chan, and a beautiful quad lutz from Nathan. I did manage to notice poor Shoma who was having a rough practice. I felt so bad for him. He kept working so hard and was falling all over the place.
Practice Day 4: LP
The big day!! Yuzu’s last practice for long program went well. It was a normal practice, some missed jumps, some incredibly fabulous jumps. Towards the end you could tell that Yuzu was pretty relaxed about it all. I was still taking pictures of Yuzu and through my viewfinder, I suddenly noticed and said aloud “hey, Seimei!” Yuzu was starting his cool down and had backed to the end boards and suddenly his arms went out as if he was going to do the Seimei footwork. It was very obviously Seimei and very awesome!!
At the end of practice, Yuzu put his guards on and left the entrance area. Kikuchi-San and Brian followed him BUT, they forgot Pooh!!!!! Brian!!!! Pooh just sat on the boards waiting patiently for someone to lovingly pick him up and take him to Yuzu!! The gate lady eventually noticed and tried to pick him up but didn’t realized that he is 2 way taped to the boards. She eventually got him off and by then Kikuchi-San had come back for him. I can only imagine the conversation behind the scenes:
Yuzu: Where’s Pooh?
Kikuchi-San to Brian: I thought you had him?
Brian to Kikuchi-San: No, I thought you had him?
Yuzu: Aaaaahhhhhhh, Pooh! (Kikuchi-San running to go get Pooh)
First off, congrats to Nathan and Shoma for great performances!! When Nathan nailed the quad lutz combo, I said to myself “oh oh” and knew that was around a 19 points start, yikes!!
What a nerve wracking experience. When Yuzu landed the quad loop and then the quad salchow I thought he was off to the races. When Yuzu fell on the quad salchow (combo) the audience made such a loud gasping noise but Yuzu came back and landed his quad toe. For the rest of the program Yuzu didn’t seem to have his normal speed. The mis-fire on the 3A-1Lo-3S was surprising. But at least he got in a double salchow. Then came the popped lutz. I immediately started doing exactly what Yuzu was probably doing while finishing the program, the mental math. I was adding up the points in my head and realizing how wide the door was open for Javi and/or Patrick.
Talk about stressful sitting there watching Javi and Patrick. I have never seen Patrick fall 3 times in a single program. Not sure what was off for him on this night but he had great practices all week. While I was cheering for Yuzu to win, I still felt bad for Patrick. I was hoping that he would still make the podium. I got 2 out of 3 right on my podium wish from my last blog entry. I was very happy for Shoma.
I wish they would leave the lights on for gala practices like they did in Lethbridge instead of making it so dark. Yuzu was doing some crazy crazy jump combinations and he would have stayed on the ice longer if they didn’t kick him off.
I cannot believe the French organizing committee putting so many obstacles along the boards that blocked the fans view, fans who bought and paid for gold tickets. This was horrible!! Even though it affected me a bit I didn’t worry about it too much since I was still enjoying seeing Yuzu.
Team Japans entrance to the gala was choreographed by Yuzu during practice. I am not sure how much input Shoma and Satoko had into the plan as we could clearly hear Yuzu’s voice explaining to them what he wanted them to do. It was so awesome!!
My favourite gala performances were Scott and Tessa and Julian and Charlie’s programs. I like upbeat exhibition numbers.
When Yuzu performed his exhibition, I loved his save on the triple axel. Who else could take a potential stumble out of a triple axel and turn it into a modified sit spin?? Only one skater that I know of!! Honourable mention to Yuzu’s gorgeous single axel. I love that the program only has 2 jumps, both of them axels. Very simple, very elegant.
GPF overall thoughts:
Now that Yuzu has won 4 consecutive wins in the 22 year history of the Grand Prix series, both Yuzu and Evgeny Plushenko, between the 2 of them have won 36% (8 titles) of the total GPF events!! Those are crazy numbers!!
Yuzu did not have his usual security guards which I heard he needed in Munich. I feel so bad that fans swarmed him and wouldn’t give him space on the bus to the airplane and while gathering his luggage. I was not there so I did not see it but the story I heard was horrible. Please respect his personal space.
While Yuzu tied Plushenkos record of 4 Grand Prix titles, he is the only man to ever do it 4 consecutive times. I do not believe this will ever be eclipsed or even matched for that matter. Plus Yuzu is not done yet so who knows, he may make this record so unattainable that it will stand for all time.
So the podium was an interesting one especially since the top three after the short program were Yuzu, Patrick and Javi. The final podium of Yuzu, Nathan, and Shoma was a like a representation of the changing of the guard so to speak. Maybe Patrick and Javi might have something to say about that at Worlds, but Nathan and Shoma have definitely announced their arrival. The one constant here is Yuzu. We have 2 young guns, and 2 other veterans vying to join Yuzu on the podium. So long as Yuzu is always in the top spot, I am happy. But, like I said in my previous post, I would like Patrick and Shoma to be the other two.
So, what on earth was the French Federation thinking?? How can they justify handing out plastic medals for a Grand Prix Final (confirmed by Meghan Duhamel tweet)? Doesn’t the ISU have some sort of standard for medals? Even the medals I have from the days when I was a kid are better than plastic. When you look at pictures of these medals, they look like drink coasters.
Next, I have never been to a Grand Prix event where real flags were not raised during the victory ceremonies. This picture of the waving flags on the screen was very sad for this level of an event. Flags cannot possibly cost that much? As far as I know there was no banquet either?
After watching the LP press conference, I love that during both the SP and LP presss conferences, all of the other skaters, Patrick. Javi, Shoma, Nathan, all used the same answer “what Yuzu said” to different questions. This is priceless.
Back to the flag issue. Normally at these important events, the skaters always have flags to drape the selves with for the official photos. But, due to the horrible 10 foot gap between the boards and row 1, none of the skaters could get flags from fans. Only Tessa and Scott got pictures with the Canadian flag waving thanks to a fan who ran down to the edge and threw it to them across the gap. Way to go Canadian fan!!
Tessa and Scott were on my flight to Brussels leaving. I got to wish them a congratulations them as we boarded. So happy for them!!
Well, that about wraps it up for me. I can go home happy and get some much needed sleep! Next up, Japan Nationals. Hopefully there will be a stream available for that one.
I will be posting another blog entry with photos I took at GPF soon. I just haven’t had a chance to go through them yet. Stay tuned.
Good luck at Nationals Yuzu!!!
Go Yuzu Go!!! Doki Doki!!