Opining on 2016 Skate Canada: Early season missteps

It's only the end of October. And though it seems like the season has been going for a while now because of the Challengers events, Skate Canada this past weekend was still only the second Grand Prix of the season. And guess what? It's still very early. To expect all skaters to be at their best right now is unrealistic, but so when even the best in the world make mistakes, you start wondering what's wrong. This is the part of the season where mistakes happen and programs get fixed. And there were a couple of very notable instances of both at Skate Canada.

Miyahara Step Sequence.jpg

Miyahara's invalid step sequence
There was a bit of confusion during the free skate about Satoko Miyahara's step sequence and why it got invalidated. The official ISU description of a step sequence in the free skate states that it has to utilize almost the full surface either 1) in one length of the rink or 2) in twice the width of the rink. A review of Miyahara's step sequence reveals why it was deemed invalid by the panel. The steps start from about 1/3 of the length in and ends at the other end of the rink (does not fulfill the requirement to go the full length), and it goes from long barrier to long barrier once (does not fulfill the other requirement to go twice the width).

There is no longer a required pattern, but a step sequence must fully utilize the ice
surface. It must be visible and identifiable and should be performed by using almost
the full ice surface either in it length from short barrier to short barrier (e.g. straight
line, serpentine or similar shape) or twice in its width from long barrier to long barrier
(e.g. circle, oval or similar shape). Failure to achieve the above description will result
in no value.
— ISU Technical Panel Handbook (Single Skating)

So why was it not invalidated at either Japan Open or US Classic? I can't purport to know what the panels were thinking, but it could be any one or combination of a few things. Step sequences are so common and deregulated (i.e., they don't have to be straight-line or circular or serpentine) that the panel could have just not paid attention to the actual pattern of it, since the steps are already there. Or else, the panels could have taken the actual distance traveled as the length of the rink. Whatever the interpretation, you better believe that Miyahara will come back in her next competition with a revised step sequence just to check all her boxes.

Difficulty begets mistakes
Both Patrick Chan and Yuzuru Hanyu were attempting jumps at Skate Canada that they had not put in their programs prior to this season - Chan with the quad sal and Hanyu with the quad loop. Sometimes, we expect our best skaters to be superhuman, because we've seen them be superhuman. But those are expectations that they aren't going to meet on a regular basis.

With yet another increase in quads this season in the men's event, it's easy to understand why mistakes can be more commonplace this season. We saw it at Skate America last week, where errors on big elements early in the free skates from Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov and Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres completely took the wind out of their programs and led to more mistakes later on.

During the men's event at Skate Canada, Hanyu's errors on his opening quad loop in both programs led to more issues later on. And as a result, we didn't see the spark in Hanyu that we usually see in his programs. For Chan, his fall on the quad salchow in the free skate detracted from the rest of his program after a superb opening - and he subsequently tripled his second quad toe and doubled his last two triples to let Hanyu back in the game.

Every program is its own microcosm of elements - that's precisely why you always hear that skaters can be affected by the success or failure of the early elements in their programs. For both Chan and Hanyu, that was precisely what happened over the weekend. 

But for skating fans, don't fret too much. It's still early in the season. Your superheroes will definitely be back in a few months (or sooner).