Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Denis Ten: Witnessing the Extraordinary

I know this is an author blog, but I am going to have to add another entry about figure skating. I think, as an author, you need to recognize the extraordinary in real life. I first saw Denis Ten skate at the 2009 World Championships. Live. He was an itty bitty fifteen-year-old from a country that had never produced an elite figure skater, and he was in seventeenth place after the short program.

To tell you the truth, I have no memory of that short program. According to the British television commentators, he deserved better marks and I believe them; but you have to understand that during the World Championships that year there were fifty men competing. That is a LOT of gladiators and matrixes.

As an audience member, by the time the free AKA long programs roll around, you’re fairly numb from sitting so many hours and you’re prepared to stand for anyone who doesn’t fall down.

Denis Ten was better than that. He skated clean. He landed two triple axles in a year in which neither the World gold nor silver medalists attempted a harder jump. He did not pop a jump. He did not squat really low and put his hands down in what figure skating rules generously do not call a fall. He did not two-foot a single jump.

He hit.

But what was even more incredible to those of us in the audience was that this fifteen-year-old could skate to the music. And spin a la Evgeny Plushenko. And do footwork.

And we were out of our seats and gave Denis Ten the loudest standing ovation for any man in the competition outside the gold medal winning American, Evan Lysacek.

Denis placed sixth in the free skate, and probably did not make the U.S. television broadcast; but he was amazing.

And young. Training in Russia with the choreography of plausibly the most famous skating choreographer on earth, Tatiana Tarasova. (Coach of three Olympic gold medal dance teams as well as two Olympic gold men’s medalists).

We—the skating fans—knew Denis was good. Anyone at that Worlds in L.A. knew he was better than good.

But he was from Kazakhstan, and something else figure skating fans know is that there is no money, little support, and practically no political pull for skaters from most non-Russian, post-Soviet countries. In fact, there’s precious little of the latter for skaters from any country that does not host one of the six senior Grand Prix events.

It’s very, very easy for a skater from a non-Russian post-Soviet country to get lost, especially in the search to find and afford an international level coach.

Denis had a different problem. Inconsistency. He placed eleventh at the 2010 Olympics and thirteenth at the following Worlds. But what was far more frustrating for those of us watching was that he couldn’t seem to hit a program early in the Grand Prix season to save his life. These are the smaller events, and there was no question Denis had the qualities to compete for a spot on these podiums, but . . .

Disaster. After disaster after disaster.

He had changed coaches by now to Frank Carroll, who—along with coaching Olympian Michelle Kwan among many others—may have the strongest reputation in the world for helping young skaters build consistency.

Wasn’t working for Denis. Probably, in part, because he was growing up.

Then there were health problems.

And, yes, a lot of us likely were starting to think this was one of those kids who was never going to hit.

He did. Big time at the biggest skating event of 2013, the World Championships. Second overall and first in the free skate with a score FORTY-SIX points above his highest A-list mark all season. (Previously, he had not medaled in a single one of the yearly ten, A-level figure skating events—that season or in his entire senior career).

For most athletes, a silver at Worlds would have instantly made them a prime contender for Olympic gold in 2014.

But this is Denis.

Once again the beginning of the season was awful. He had to withdraw from his opening Grand Prix event due to health issues. Then he missed the podium twice, placing fourth in the two A-list events he entered.

The Olympics were billed as a two-man race, between Patrick Chan—the three-time world champion that Denis had defeated in the free skate the previous year—and Yuzuru Hanyu—the up and coming teen phenom who had finished behind Denis in fifth at the Worlds BUT had broken the world record in a Grand Prix event early in the Olympic season.

The 2014 Olympic men’s competition was in many ways a nightmare, though Patrick and Yuzuru both skated up to expectations in the short and took what most people viewed as an insurmountable lead. This left eleven—yes, eleven—men fighting for the bronze. In days gone by, such a battle would have been impossible since placements determined an athlete’s ability to move up. Today, that ability is technically based only on the score, though generally-speaking, a placement in the final competitive group—top six—is considered vital, since judges’ scores tend to rise as a competition goes on.

Denis was in ninth. He had missed on his quad in the short, but due to mutual devastation among the field, he was still within three points from third place.

Among skating enthusiasts, this battle became known as the Olympic Bronze Medal Hunger Games.

The man in third after the short program, Javier Fernandez, was the reigning European champion and the most recent athlete to have landed three clean quads in a single program.

Denis skated well in the long program. He hit his quad. Hit all the hard jumps. Fudged a couple of the easier jumps at the end, but skated with wonderful musicality and maturity and easily earned his season’s best score. He did not remain in the arena.

There is no camera footage of Denis’s reaction when he learned that he had won the bronze medal. In the end, he had one of maybe three clean (without falls) long programs among the top 13 male skaters. Denis had become the first man from Kazhakstan to win an Olympic skating medal.

Which, again, one would think would make him an automatic favorite for this year’s World Championships. Especially with the Olympic silver medalist sitting out the season and the gold medalist suffering a bad accident, as well as many falls in his early events of the season.

But this is Denis.

Fourth place at his first Grand Prix event. (Yep, behind—well, three people who did not win a medal at the Olympic games). He did not make the U.S. television broadcast (grumble, grumble).

Then a GORGEOUS short program at his second Grand Prix event in France. Only to have a wretched fifth-place skate in the long program and finish third overall. His first Grand Prix medal. Mini-hop.

This is an Olympic bronze and World silver medalist who has never WON an A-level event. Going into this year’s Four Continents Championships, essentially one of the two largest international events leading into Worlds, Denis was not on top of many skating fans’ prediction lists. Not because of his skating. As skaters go, Denis has an astounding—almost universal—respect among skating fans for the quality of his jumps, his basic skating skills, his musicality, his spins, his speed. Essentially, when Denis is great, we ADORE him.

But in five previous attempts, he had never medaled at Four Continents. This despite a huge chunk of the international field skipping the event last year due to its proximity to the Olympics. Denis competed at last year’s Four Continents. He placed fourth.

No one wanted to see him place fourth again. But to be honest it was probably the highest result most people expected from him.

He skated another GORGEOUS short program. This one even more spectacular than the one in France. People were beginning to hope. But we had been here before.

In the long program, Denis Ten landed two quads—one in a quad triple combination; two triple axles—one turned out but fully rotated; the full gambit of other jumps, including a triple singleloop triple sequence; and of course skated with spectacular spins and footwork and musicality.

He won.

He did not only win. He earned the third highest score in figure skating history.

There’s something incredible about winning an Olympic bronze medal. There’s something even more extraordinary about an athlete who—after six years on the senior circuit—knuckles down in the year after said Olympic medal, creates two fabulous original programs (neither of which is to Carmen, Swan Lake, or Phantom of the Opera), and competes. To win his FIRST senior A-level championship.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

REDEMPTION: Aurelia's Announcement and Confessions about Book 3.

“Shall we dance, da dum dum dum . . .” Aurelia is dancing around the room and performing acrobatics while singing songs from The King and I.

“Shall you tell them or should I?” asks yours truly.

“Hmm?” She steps onto a footstool and attempts an arabesque.

“Whose fault is it that I haven’t blogged in so long?” I prompt.

“Mine,” she answers.

No ducking the truth today. “And why is that?

She hops over toward the back of a chair and does a chimneysweep move from Mary Poppins. “Because Robert and I needed you to finish writing our trilogy!”

“And has it been easy?”

“Umm, no.” She twirls her way toward another chair. “Not exactly.”

Not at all. “And why is that?

“Because we may have made you take out every sentence in the book just to make certain the ones you put back in were really important.”

“And . . .” I prod.

She points at me. “And because it’s the conclusion of our series and you’ve never written one before.”

True. “And . . .”

The pointing finger begins swishing like a conductor leading an orchestra in song. “And because we wanted to get it right.”

I have to give her credit: she’s being totally honest today. “All right,” I say, “Go ahead and tell them our huge tremendous news.”

Aurelia performs another chimneysweep move, then leaps onto the table and raises her hands skyward. “Angelle Pilkington is editing Redemption, Robert’s and my third and final book!”

“And why is this so incredible?” I say because, of course, she assumes you all know.

“Because she was our editor for the first two books in the series, and despite battles in canyons and washed-out crossings through the mountains and dreadful tragedies we can’t even share, she is going to make sure you do our conclusion justice.”

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Graveyard Butterfly: Salvation Teaser Tour Stop 8

To read the Prologue, go to Pure Imagination.
To read Chapter 1--Scene 1, go to Always YA at Heart.
To read Chapter 1--Scene 2, go to Books that Bite. 
To read Chapter 1--Scene 3, go to Live to Read.
To read Chapter 1--Scene 4 pt. 1, go to The Bookish Babe. 
To read Chapter 1--Scene 4 pt. 2, go to Confessions of a Vi3tBabe.
To read Chapter 2--Scene 1 pt. 1, go to The Reading Date.

Chapter 2: A Graveyard Butterfly--Scene 2
Beth smiled as she reached the graveyard. “Morbid,” her mother would have said about her daughter’s desire to visit the cemetery, but Beth kicked off her sandals and waded through the fresh-cut grass. The cool strands tickled her ankles and the sweet scent of late roses clung to the air. Pale yellow, blue, and pink tombstones scattered the green in a pastel palate.

A squirrel rushed across the grass and scurried up an old oak tree, the fluffy gray tail disappearing among the branches. Beth approached, watching to see if it would emerge again, but when it did not, she swung off her backpack and slid to the ground beneath the tree’s outstretched shadow. And beside the slender pink stone with the name Gloria May Courant etched in the center.

“Hello, Grandma,” said Beth. “I’m sorry I’m late.” She explained about Nalani’s meeting. “You know she always has something happening. I’m sure you aren’t surprised.” It felt right to be here. Grandma had always expected Beth to share about the first day of school, a ritual that Beth hadn’t wanted to stop now.

“It was a pretty good day,” Beth went on, “for the first, you know. I’m not sure I’ll survive trigonometry; but I thought the same thing about algebra II, and it turned out all right. All the answers are still in the back of the book, so I’ll know when to ask Nalani for help.” She knew Grandma would remind her that Beth’s final math scores had outpaced Ni’s all the way through school. But grades, and confidence in math, were two different things.

A robin hopped down onto the grass about twenty feet from the pink tombstone. Beth stopped talking so that she wouldn’t frighten him. He pecked his way closer, hopping four or five inches at a time and up onto the mound of turned earth. The grass there had not quite grown in yet. The robin preened, raising his chest and showing off, then disappeared in a sudden rush of wings.

Beth’s head swam with the questions her grandmother had always asked. Do you like your teachers? Did you make any new friends? Were you on time for everything?

Obediently, Beth answered the questions, though she skimmed through her problems with being late. She told herself the aversion had nothing to do with crashing into Salva Resendez . . .

To  read the rest, join Salva, Beth, and I at I am a Reader, Not a Writer. And after that, my fabulous tourists, I'm afraid you shall simply have to splurge and read the book! Thank you so much for joining us on our tour! Salva, Beth, and I have read every comment at each and every tour stop. We genuinely appreciate the support:)

Copyright @ 2013 by Anne Osterlund. Used by permission of Speak, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved.