I've been fairly busy this weekend and have thus not been able to watch all of the individual competitions from the Rostelecom Cup. However, I did watch several performances from the ladies free skate, and I wanted to comment on them because there is much to be said for several of the competitors.
Mao Asada (Japan)
Within a couple of hours of this video being posted there were already a good 60 comments on it. The Japanese view Mao as their star and pride, and for her to have finished off the podium at a Grand Prix event for the first time in her career is a devastating result. Now, Asada will most likely not be able to qualify to the Grand Prix Final. This is of especially sad irony to her because the 2009 Grand Prix Final is being held in the very same arena where she won the gold medal in 2005, when she was not age eligible to compete in the Olympics. The fans have been nearly unanimous with the thought that Asada should leave coach Tatiana Tarasova, and her assistant, Shanetta Folle. If the Japanese Skating Federation had the gall to pull Asada from her former coach, Rafael Artunian, while she was having a good season and leave her without a coach entering into a World Championships, the likelihood that the federation would pull off similar actions in this far more dire situation is high. I will do a post later on analyzing what Asada needs to do to get back to the top, if she can get back to the top, and who she will be attempting to get back to the top with.
Ashley Wagner (USA)
Very nice performance! The program is a bit rough around the edges, and she could stand to soften her arms and hold out her positions longer, but her program has quite a bit of potential. I saw even further improvement with expression from last season, which she particularly demonstrated in the opening part of the program and the part after her double axel in the middle. However, her jump layout is a bit puzzling. She put in a second double axel in place of her triple toe after the halfway point of the program, and I'm guessing that's because she wants to make her opening combination a triple flip+triple toe? Wagner appears to slightly toe-axel her double toes in combination, and I'm skeptical as to whether she could pull off a triple toe as the second jump of a combination. Ashley would be better off sticking to a triple+double combination in the beginning of the program as she has been doing, putting the triple toe back as a solo jump, and replacing her triple lutz with either a triple loop or triple salchow. Her salchow is slightly more consistent than the more valuable loop jump, but either way that would be a better substitute for her lutz, which basically gets -2 GOE before she even takes off. With all that said, this was a great showing here from Wagner and she has put herself in a position to make the Grand Prix Final. She will face a relatively deep field at NHK Trophy, which includes Miki Ando, Alena Leonova, Sarah Meier, and Yukari Nakano.
Alena Leonova (Russia)
I don't particularly like the music cuts, but this is a fun program with good energy and the typical spunk we have come to expect from Leonova. She has put effort into improving her extension over the summer and, while it has improved, it does have a ways to go. Her intended triple toe+triple toe combination at the beginning has failed her now at three successive competitions, and she would perhaps be wise to go back to her triple toe+double axel sequence that she was doing last year. Similar to Ashley Wagner, Leonova also has to be mindful about fixing her flutz, who also received an "e" edge call. Leonova's short program is superior to her long; it is better put together and showcases her speed much more. Leonova, a model of consistency, had a slightly rough long program here, and also at Finlandia Trophy, but perhaps those slightly weaker skates are merely indicative of her desire to not peak now. If Leonova has realistic aspirations of competing at the Grand Prix Final she must not finish lower than 2nd at her next event, NHK Trophy.
Miki Ando (Japan)
Ando looks quite trim and fit this early in the season, having only one mistake in this program to "Cleopatra." I saw this program from a video taken at the recent "Stars, Stripes, and Skates" show and I actually much preferred her performance there than at this competition. Ando didn't seem all that committed to her choreography (not really a surprise), and her slow step sequence was even further marred by her intense usage of arm flailing. I much preferred Cynthia Phaneuf's interpretation (which she will supposedly be reprising this season) of Cleopatra in her long program from last season. I would advise Miki to leave her aspirations of landing the quad (if she has not already) and instead put her triple salchow in place of her double axel after the halfway point. Her triple salchow is always extremely solid, and she could switch the double loops that she does after her triple toe and put them after her triple salchow for more credit. As I said initially, Ando looks very trim but could stand to do more conditioning to get her stamina in check, as her footwork sequence at the end was quite lethargic. She has added more transitions into the beginning of her program, but the musicality is just not there. Ando looks good overall, however, and she, with Asada's slump, has the ideal opportunity to establish herself as Japan's top female skater.
Alissa Czisny (USA)
First off, I must commend Czisny for her short program, which has so far been consistent for her while choreographically appealing. She could demonstrate a little more fire in her short, particularly in her step sequence, but the program is coming along nicely. I cannot say the same for her long program, which I wished she hadn't chosen to keep for another season. The program doesn't really go anywhere, and the score, although beautiful, doesn't evoke any passion from Czisny and it causes her to look tense and nervous while she is skating. She really needs to focus on rotating her jumps, something which has been a longtime issue for her, but it's good to see that she is standing them up much more consistently so far this season. Her lutz jump technique actually looks improved; she still takes a while with the entrance, but the actual jump is getting more spring. She had both of her loops downgraded, but considering that her double axels are fairly problematic, she should try to do them both again at Skate Canada and work on getting more height on them so that they are rotated. Finishing behind Ashley Wagner didn't exactly help Czisny's Olympic chances, but she did score higher than Caroline Zhang and Alexe Gilles did last week in Paris. Czisny will face Laura Lepisto, Mirai Nagasu, Joannie Rochette, Akiko Suzuki, and Caroline Zhang at Skate Canada in November.