24 Good Things That Happened in Figure Skating in 2019

2019 was a rough year for the world of figure skating. John Coughlin’s sudden death and the revelations of assault that followed sent the sport into a near crisis. Dozens of skaters came under fire for their reactions to the situation, and this year’s World Championships was overcast by accusations that Mariah Bell had intentionally collided with Eunsoo Lim in an attempt to injure her. Not to mention, the regular causes of displeasure were still in full force: fans continue to argue about scores, ticket prices for competitions are climbing higher and higher, and thousands of skating videos have been deleted from YouTube over copyright issues. It was by far the hardest year as a skating fan for me. I had never seen so much hatred, bitterness, and ugliness—even though some of the people had very legitimate points. In all this darkness, it’s easy to forget all the good things that happened this year, so I’m recapping:

1. Karina Manta and Joseph Johnson became the first openly LGBTQ+ couple to compete at U.S. Nationals.

As a queer girl who grew up watching skating, I waited my whole life for a female role model in my favorite sport. I’ve already talked about the personal impact Karina and Joe had on me, but this wasn’t just an achievement for them, it was an achievement for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. In a sport where all athletes, especially women, are under constant scrutiny for appearance and image, it was so refreshing to see two people just being themselves out there and having a blast. And even if you’re straight, watch them anyways, because they’re amazing and fun.

2. Alysa Liu became a breakout star.

I want to temporarily ignore all the debates about letting young girls compete in seniors and just appreciate everything this tiny spitfire has done. A 13-year-old walked into Nationals, competed against women who had gone to the Olympics, and won. And you know what? I really enjoyed watching her skate. No matter where her career will take her in the future, it was awesome to see a talented girl deliver a set of great performances.

3. Gabby Daleman made a comeback at Canadian Nationals.

I have so much respect for Gabby Daleman. After she withdrew from the Grand Prix series to focus on her mental health, I wasn’t sure if she was going to be ready for competition at Nationals. But she laid down a dynamic short program and made me wish I had never doubted her. Although the free skate didn’t go quite as planned, she still earned a spot on the World team and delivered two respectable performances there. It’s hard enough competing that well at an elite level without mental health issues, but Gabby is a true mother of dragons. It was so good to see her getting back on the right track, one day at a time.

4. Javier Fernandez had a great farewell at Euros.

It was hard saying adios to our Spanish icon, but Javi went out with a bang. He skated two good performances and secured his final European title in style. It’s easy to forget what a remarkable journey Javi has made on his way to the top. Born in Spain at a time when figure skating was barely recognized as a sport, Javi worked his way up through determination, sacrifices, and a little dose of his special Javi charm. He is the first world champion in figure skating from Spain, and in 2018, he became the first Spaniard to win an Olympic medal in figure skating. And although his days of competitive skating are now over, his legacy will not be forgotten.

5. Sofia Samodurova became the surprise European champion.

At the beginning of the season, Sofia Samodurova was considered little more than a dark horse for one of Russia’s three coveted spots for Europeans and Worlds. But after delivering nearly perfect performances at both her Grand Prix events and punching a ticket to the Grand Prix Final ahead of formidable rivals like Evgenia Medvedeva, Sofia became known as a serious contender. Heading into Europeans, all eyes were on Alina Zagitova, but when Alina unfortunately faltered, Sofia stepped up and claimed the title. With her charming Burlesque program and rock-solid jumps, she secured first place and guaranteed herself a trip to Worlds, where she finished in the top 10 of a brilliant field.

6. Mikhail Kolyada skated a killer short program at Europeans.

I firmly believe that Mikhail Kolyada is one of the finest male skaters of this generation. While his inconsistent jumps have left him off several podiums, he has a beautiful jumping technique, exquisite skating skills, and a unique musicality that draws the audience into the world he creates on the ice. When he lands his jumps, he creates a breathtaking moment, and the short program at Europeans was one of those moments. There is such a stunning ease and power to his movements; he has the grace of a ballet dancer but the intensity of a theater actor. Regardless of his final placement, that short program was the most memorable performance of the season for me.

7. Della Monica/Guarise skated a hilarious “Rocky Balboa” gala program.

I’ve been a fan of Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise since my bestie begged me to watch them in 2016. But this exhibition performance made me completely fall in love with them. With the playful flirting, slapstick boxing, and hilarious acting, the whole thing is a hoot. Not to mention, they actually have very good technical elements in the middle of it all.

8. James/Cipres were stunning at Europeans.

Overall, this was a great year for Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres. After winning both their Grand Prix events and the Final, they kept the momentum going at Europeans and claimed their first title. Their programs, particularly the free skate to “Wicked Game”, were nearly flawless. They have such incredible athleticism and creativity on the ice; they’ve unstitched the concept of traditional pair skating and turned it into something modern and acrobatic. As a pair skating fan, it’s always a joy to see couples who push the boundaries of the sport in a new and innovative way, and these two check the box.

9. Chock/Bates killed it at Four Continents and had an unexpected win.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates missed the first half of the season because of Madison’s ankle surgery, but they came back looking better than ever. Their sizzling programs to “Assassin’s Tango” and “Fever” lit up the ice with charisma while being equally brilliant on the technical side. They—especially Madison—have such a magnetic quality on the ice, and their programs were my favorite ice dance programs of the year. Hubbell/Donohue, who had been favored to win, lost points for a mistake on a lift, and Chock/Bates were unexpectedly (but deservingly) crowned Four Continents champions.

10. Yuzuru Hanyu had a great comeback and got silver at Worlds.

After an injury at Rostelecom Cup kept the great Hanyu out of competition for several months, many were skeptical if he could perform to his usual high standards at Worlds. But he did. Despite a few mistakes, he performed with his usual poise and elegance and finished second in an event where many cracked under the pressure. While it would’ve been great to see him stand on the top step, I think he can be proud of his comeback. Yuzu didn’t lose gold, he won silver.

11. Jason Brown was second in the short program at Worlds.

This year, Jason took a huge risk moving to Canada to train with the legendary coach Brian Orser. At the beginning of the year, he hit some stumbling blocks as he adjusted to his new coaching team, but at Worlds, everything came to fruition. His short program was perfection: silky skating skills, flawless jumps, and a sensual edginess that gave the program a new maturity. While the quad jump, which Jason has not yet landed cleanly in competition, has long kept him out of the top group, he skated clean and calm while other top contenders botched their quads. At the end of the short program, Jason was in second place and received a small silver medal for his performance. Although some mistakes in his free skate kept him off the overall podium, I think Jason made a huge step forward with this event, and I hope to see his success continue next year.

12. After a tough season, Alina Zagitova delivered a great performance at Worlds and won.

While Alina won both her Grand Prix events and finished second at the Grand Prix Final, her usually consistent jumps were starting to waver. After a shaky Europeans, critics started to question if she could win the world championship against strong rivals like Rika Kihira. But Alina put two clean performances together when it counted—under huge pressure—and I was really proud of her.

13. Elizabet Tursynbaeva won the first World medal for Kazakhstan in ladies’ figure skating.

Confession: I’ve been a fan of Elizabet Tursynbaeva—fondly known in the skating fandom as “Lillbet”—since I saw her live at her first Grand Prix event. I had my doubts when she announced she was going back to Eteri Tutberidze’s camp at the beginning of the year, but when she showed up at Worlds, I was speechless. I had hoped to see her land a quad salchow in competition since she posted clips of it on Instagram years ago, but I had started giving up on that hope. She came in as a dark horse at Worlds, but she attacked the jumps with a new level of confidence and steadiness I had never seen from her. It was a sweet underdog victory, and I hope to see Elizabet continue competing at a high level and growing as a performer.

14. Evgenia Medvedeva won bronze at Worlds.

While Elizabet’s story began with leaving Brian Orser to train with Eteri Tutberidze, Evgenia Medvedeva’s was the exact opposite. After barely missing the Olympic gold medal in PyeongChang, Evgenia made a game-changing decision to train with Orser in Canada. At first, the results were shaky, and critics were quick to write her off and declare that the change had been a mistake. Some Russian skating fans even treated her like a traitor for leaving Russia, although she still competed under their flag. At Nationals, a rough debut of her new short program left Evgenia off the team for Europeans, and going to Worlds was considered a long shot. However, she had one last chance to qualify, and she did. When Worlds came around, it was as if all the uncertainty had left her skating, and she delivered two clean programs to win the bronze medal. Many would say that the old Evgenia, who won two world championships and silver at the Olympics, was back. But to be honest, it felt like a completely new Evgenia—not a perfect jumper who never failed, but a gritty athlete who had fought her way back to the top against all odds.

15. Sui/Han made an epic comeback from injury.

Being a fan of Wenjing Sui and Cong Han means you get to appreciate some of the finest pair skating of this era. However, it also means you have to watch them suffer some nasty injuries and hope that they can come back at their usual godly level. After missing the Grand Prix series due to Wenjing’s latest injury, they showed up to Four Continents with beautiful programs but some uneasy-looking jumps. Pairs is a highly competitive field, and with insanely talented pairs like James/Cipres and Tarasova/Morozov, I wasn’t sure if Sui/Han were ready to win the World title. But when they took the ice for their programs, they looked stronger, sharper, and more stunning than ever. I’ve witnessed many emotional moments in figure skating—particularly pairs, which will always be my favorite discipline—but this was a lovely, magical victory I won’t forget soon.

16. Peng/Jin blessed us with their “Ophelia” short program.

If I had to list my five favorite pairs programs of all time, Cheng Peng and Yang Jin’s “Ophelia” short program would be one of them. If you know me, you know I tend to get VERY stressed out during the pairs events of competitions. For me, the pairs’ free skate at Worlds is like the Super Bowl for football fans. But no matter how much craziness was going on at the competition, Peng/Jin’s short program made me feel calm and happy. It was flirty, it was fun, and it showcased just how brilliant they are. Cheng Peng transformed from a fragile little flower to a sassy, confident boss, while never losing her natural elegance. If the apocalypse ever comes, just let me watch “Ophelia” while the universe burns and I’ll be happy.

17. Cain/LeDuc got two spots for US pairs at Worlds.

For the past three years, I’ve hated being a fan of U.S. pairs because I’ve hated falling in love with five different pairs only to remember there is only one spot for Worlds. I’ve hated watching one lonely little couple go to Worlds against pair skating royalty, skate their hearts out, and finish just below the magic number that would win us two spots for next year and get us off this hamster wheel. (Or worse, when we did get to send two pairs, one ends up missing the cut for the free skate and the other is left trying to do it on their own). But this year, Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc went in and got the job done, finishing ninth in a very difficult field. I’ve personally really enjoyed seeing their journey to this level, and I’m so excited to see two American pairs at Worlds next year. When they started out, they lacked some of the finesse of the top pairs, but what they had was heart and grit, and the longer they skate together, the more polished they get. Plus, they have a really cute friendship.

18. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva finished her season with a bang.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who was rooting for Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, aka the Empress, to come back strong. For the past few years, she had slipped down in the ranks as new Russian juniors came through, but this season she looked fierce, confident, and ready to fight for a spot on the World team. Although she won bronze at the Grand Prix Final, a bout of pneumonia kept her out of Russian Nationals, and at the final competition of the season, she lost the Worlds spot to Evgenia Medvedeva by a hair. But at World Team Trophy, she came back in her usual form and won the ladies’ segment by a mile. And to top it off, she gave her iconic Britney Spears exhibition program a proper sendoff.

19. Lubov Ilyushechkina came back to competition.

Fun fact #1: I’m a huge fan of Lubov Ilyushechkina. I think she is one of the most talented female pair skaters of her generation—she combines the classic beauty of Russian pair skating with the modern innovation of North American pair skating, all built on a huge amount of natural talent and insane flexibility. Oh, the tears I cried when I heard she was retiring last year to join Cirque du Soleil. And then I cried more tears when I found out that Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau, one of my favorite up-and-coming pairs, had split up. But some miracle came out of the chaos, and the partnership of Ilyushechkina/Bilodeau emerged from the ashes. I’m so excited to see what they can produce next year, and I hope in 2022, I can finally call Lubov an Olympian.

20. Andrei Novoselov was released to skate for Russia.

Fun fact #2: I’m also a huge fan of Ksenia Stolbova. I’ve already blathered on about how much I loved her and Fedor Klimov in another post, and I’ll even admit I have a massive crush on her. 2018 was by far the worst year to be a Stolbova/Klimov fan: they were banned from the Olympics without any real explanation why, Ksenia injured her leg and had to withdraw from Worlds, and Fedor decided to retire and become a coach. Ksenia quickly started a new partnership with Andrei Novoselov of France, but one major doubt stood out in everyone’s heads: would France release Andrei to skate for Russia? Many pairs fans recall the nightmare when Aliona Savchenko tried to get Bruno Massot released; it took well over a year and a large sum of money to gain permission from the French federation. But recently, Andrei was granted his release form, which means the new pairing of Stolbova/Novoselov will debut this season. I wish them all the best!

21. Aliona Savchenko and Meagan Duhamel both announced their pregnancies.

One of my favorite moments of the 2018 Olympics was when Aliona and Meagan were congratulating each other on their medals. As competitors, they had a great respect for each other. So it was even more awesome—and freaky!—when they announced their pregnancies two days apart. Their Instagram pages are now full of adorable baby updates, and what’s more, both of them are having girls! It’s fun to joke about seeing their future kids skating pairs at the Olympics, but in all seriousness, I’m just truly happy that they’re going to embark on this new step of their lives.

22. Eric Radford and Luis Fenero got married.

When I was 13, Eric was the person who taught me that being gay was normal and cool, which helped me immensely when I discovered that I was bi a few years later. I had been so excited to find out that he had proposed to his boyfriend Luis in the summer of 2017, but I could never have imagined such a fairytale wedding. The entire day was like a movie set in paradise: the location was stunning, many other skaters came, and everyone looked breathtakingly gorgeous. It felt like a retreat from the drama of the sport where skaters could just have fun, and skating fans could enjoy it all. Seeing my first gay idol get married to his true love meant so much to me personally, but this isn’t about me—this is about the start of what I hope will be a long and happy marriage.

23. Kaori Sakamoto picked some great music for her programs next year.

So far this season, there haven’t been too many program announcements that have gotten me on the edge of my seat. But Kaori Sakamoto broke the mold with her music choices this year. The short program is “No Roots” by Alice Merton, an edgy and alternative new pop song that I think will highlight her speed and flow on the ice. For years, I have been begging the universe for a skating program to “The Matrix”. I love the movie, I love the characters, and I would literally die to see someone recreate Trinity’s iconic black bodysuit on the ice. But the last person I would’ve imagined doing it is sweet, sunny Kaori! To say I was shocked would be an understatement, but she’s never let me down before, so I’m very excited to see her interpretation. (Also, on the note of good music choices: Wakaba Higuchi is going to slay).

24. Skaters did a tribute show for Denis Ten a year after his death.

A year ago, the skating community—both skaters and fans—was shaken by the sudden death of Denis Ten in a car robbery. Everyone who knew him remembered him as a kind, sweet soul, and social media was flooded with tribute posts remembering all the goodness he spread in his short life. For several years, he had organized a skating show called “Denis Ten and Friends”, where skaters from all over the world would perform in his home country of Kazakhstan. After his passing, other skaters organized a special show in Kazakhstan titled “Friends of Denis Ten” in his honor. Dozens of skaters took part to show support and love for Denis. While nothing can ever replace Denis and the light he brought to this world, it felt good knowing that the skaters haven’t forgotten the impact he made on them.

Of course, I understand that we shouldn’t ignore the many problems in this sport. We need to hold organizations responsible when they don’t serve the people counting on them. Things need to change, not only in figure skating but in the world in general. If we don’t speak up, we are all responsible for a tiny piece of the problem, and if we don’t speak up in a way that’s beneficial to the people who really need the support, we’re only adding to the fire. However, I hope this post was a reminder that while we must keep fighting against injustice, we need to remember the good moments as well. If we think only of the wrongdoing in the world, we will lose faith in humanity and stop hoping for a better future. To quote the wisdom of Star Wars, it’s not about fighting what we hate, it’s about saving what we love. We are fans of figure skating because we love the sport, and that’s why we fight to make it better, fairer, and safer.

I listed 24 good things about this season, but I’m sure I missed some, so I’d like to hear from you. Please share this post and comment below with your favorite moments so we can continue spreading positivity in the sport. I’m planning to post more as the skating season approaches, but let me know if there are any topics you would like me to cover. Love you all.

2 thoughts on “24 Good Things That Happened in Figure Skating in 2019

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