13 times the 2021 world figure skating championships proved how special this sport is.
Also: 'Superstore,' Chet Hanks, Diana Ross, Japanese Breakfast and more.
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The world of figure skating just descended on Stockholm last week, and…. well, it was something.
To provide some context for those of you who aren’t complete nerds, these World Figure Skating Championships took on added significance for a number of reasons. Typically held each March, last year’s event was canceled due to the pandemic. This meant that this year’s Worlds marked the first time all the world’s top skaters were going head to head in over two years. And because these were the final Worlds that will take place prior to the next Olympic Games (set for next February in Beijing), Olympic qualification spots for all participating nations and an Olympic-season pecking order for all participating individuals were also on the line.
These Worlds were also unique in that there was no audience besides the athletes themselves, all of whom were part of the “bubble” created by the event organizers. The skaters (except for the Russian contingent, it seemed) were required to follow strict protocols when it came to COVID-19 testing, wearing masks, social distancing and not leaving the arena complex. Additionally, many participating skaters saw their training time and competitive opportunities pre-Worlds affected by the pandemic.
All that said, the number of unknowns heading into the event were many, and the result was a bit of a chaotic mix of record-setting highs, totally messy lows and at least three pre-event athlete withdrawals due to COVID-19 infections.
Through it all, many skaters managed to make the most of Aries season and create a ~moment~. For those of you who don’t have an extra 30+ hours sitting around to watch all the action (available for replays on Peacock Premium) but are still curious about what elite-level figure skating is looking like in 2021, I’ve put together 13 of my personal favorite moments, ranked from least to most worth your time) from the week below.
(Some video links are bound to be taken down due to music copyright issues, but I’ll try to replace them if they do. Hope you enjoy the mix of Japanese, Russian and other international commentary!)
13. Perhaps due to world events(?), this event was a big one for goth representation. In the short program of the pairs, in particular, many of the musical choices and costumes were on the darker side. We had covers of songs from Linkin Park, Tears for Fears and Metallica. But none were darker than the Italian pair Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini’s short program to Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life.”
12. Japanese women’s skater Kaori Sakamoto is one of my personal favorite skaters. She has huge, gorgeous jumps, skates with beautifully bent knees, and she’s not afraid of an unusual music or costume choice. Here, she skated to the soundtrack of The Matrix in a black dress with vinyl bondage straps. At one point (4:14 in the video below), she holds her leg in a spiral as though she’ll slice the judges’ eyebrows off their faces. Honestly, iconic. She placed sixth here.
11. Chinese pair Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are an incredible team with talents that exceed their resumes. Though they’ve only won two world titles so far, the overall quality and style of their skating is truly legend status. Additionally, Sui has some of the sassiest hair in figure skating — which deserves some points in my book. They placed second with an intense and gorgeous skate here.
10. In a sport dominated by teenagers, 24-year-old Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva managed to pull off a literally historic feat by rattling off triple axels and winning the silver medal here. This win comes six years after she was last on the worlds podium — the biggest gap in world podium finishes for any skater since 1947 (also in Stockholm), when Brit Daphne Walker won silver. Eight years later, she had won a bronze medal, and there was merely a literal world war in between those two podium finishes.
Here is Tuktamysheva, one of modern skating’s sassiest gals, skating to Billie Eilish in the short program:
9. British ice dancers Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson performed a Madonna medley in their free dance and earned their best Worlds placement yet — seventh place. These two did a disco medley last year and will forever be known as the Disco Brits as a result. Honestly, they are capital-F fabulous.
8. Shoma Uno of Japan competed at this Worlds with former World champion Stephane Lambiel joining him as his official coach for the first time. And the two share one of the most charming bonds I’ve ever seen between a coach and student (as evidenced by this slow-motion slap at the end of this clip). He placed fourth here.
7. Belgian skater Loena Hendrickx loves a diva singer, and it showed in her music choices here: Her short program was to Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” (a.k.a. the song I used to play when I DJed dive bars in Chicago and wanted to troll the post-rock-ambient musician-bartender), and her free skate was to Beyoncé. I would have liked a few riskier cuts than “Fever” and “Naughty Girl” but our queen of the waffles skated gorgeously and placed fifth overall — her best worlds placement ever.
6. Russian pair Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov almost didn’t make it to this event after placing fourth at their nationals in December (each nation can only send up to three entries per division). But they were chosen for the team and came from behind to win the pairs championship with their brilliant lifts, choreography and the brave choice to use Queen’s “We Are the Champions” for part of their free skate.
5. Japanese skater Yuma Kagiyama took second place at the Junior World Championships last year, but rocketed to second place at the senior World Championships in Stockholm this year, even defeating his rival Yuzuru Hanyu (the two-time and reigning Olympic champion who is a huge celebrity in Japan). This guy is totally exuberant, fast and fearless. Here is his short program with two clean quads:
4. Canadian ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier earned their first ever world medal by placing second in the free dance and third overall with their gorgeously detailed program to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” The Canadian excellence on display here is real. This team has always had an unusual style — they once did a program to the Psycho soundtrack, and another to “Disco Inferno” — and has been fighting for recognition for years, so seeing them succeed at such a critical moment was incredibly touching.
3. Skating in front of a hometown audience, Swedish champion Josefin Taljegard’s “The Joker” free skate included a step sequence to Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll Part 2” that mirrored the post-homicidal scene in the movie and that I will never forget. Similar to Sakamoto, here we saw an example of a women’s skater who was pushing back against the conventional image of a feminine ice princess, and honestly, the sport needs a lot more of this kind of energy. She placed fifteenth.
2. U.S. champion Nathan Chen went into the men’s final in third place after a costly fall in the short program. Then, he turned around and landed a baffling five clean quad jumps in his free skate to Philip Glass. He came out with his third world title, and is now the favorite — and the top U.S. hope for a figure skating medal — heading into next year’s Olympics.
1. If you only have time to watch one performance from the World Championships, make it this one: Jason Brown of the U.S. skated his short program to the epic song (one of my personal favorites) “Sinnerman” by Nina Simone. The choreography (by former nationals competitor Rohene Ward) is fresh, modern and gorgeous, and the execution is just as good — clean, crisp and fast. Brown (who, unfortunately, has yet to land a clean quad jump in international competition and is hampered by this) placed seventh. Enjoy.
I’m going to be recovering from the amount of figure skating I watched over the past five days for some time now, so here are some odds and ends to cap off this entry:
I was grateful to receive my first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine last week, qualifying for 1B+ eligibility because I am medically obese because of my BMI. (The experience was, honestly, wonderful — I had more to say about it on Instagram, if you’re curious.) It felt hopeful to see the biased treatment of fat people like me in medical settings be acknowledged. That same day, yet another representative of the medical establishment made it very clear in a series of tweets, in response to news that Krispy Kreme will offer free donuts to anyone who presents a vaccination card, that they hate fat people. The more things change, etc. etc.
The series finale of NBC’s brilliant sitcom Superstore just aired, and I’m really going to miss this show. As this Vulture essay explores, the show did a great job both getting representation right and exploring the realities of life for the working class. Case in point: A major plot point of the final season was a new corporate parent company taking over the “Cloud 9” brand following a unionization push. The new corporate owner (Zephyr) then decided to shut down 95 percent of the stores, turning them to online order fulfillment centers — and laying off the majority of employees — instead. OK, given the amount of media layoffs lately, maybe this hits a bit close to home, but I promise it’s still a great show.
Chet Hanks, the rapper son of Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, is always a walking cringe magnet. I remember covering his exploits when he was still a student at Northwestern University and, because his mom was friends with the person whom that particular publication was named after, we were told not to cover him anymore because he kept embarrassing the family. So, folks, the nonsense is nothing new. But he’s at it again: This time around Hanks proclaimed in an Instagram video filmed inside a car that this summer will be “a white boy summer” (but not “Trump-NASCAR-type-white,” he added). He later clarified he was “not having any ill will or prejudice” to anybody who’s different from you.“The real vibes is just having nothing but good vibes toward everybody, everybody,” he added. Got it.
Last week, music icon Diana Ross marked her 77th birthday, and amongst the birthday tributes, I read a tweet that urged folks to revisit the star’s performance at the half-time show of the Super Bowl in 1996. I am a bit embarrassed to admit this was a first for me, but this performance has everything and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s wholesome, joyful and also seems dangerous for the performer in a way that I don’t think 2021 industry best practices would permit? Anyway, Ross ends her show by literally helicoptering out of the arena while singing her cover of “I Will Survive.”
Japanese Breakfast is back with new music, and just dropped the first single off her upcoming, third album. This new track, “Be Sweet,” has more of a synth-pop flavor than her previous output but the vibes are suiting her well. This is windows-down, cruising-on-the-weekend energy. Her last album, Soft Sounds from Another Planet, is one I find myself constantly coming back to, so I’m delighted to have this fresh ear worm from her.