The Nebelhorn Trophy concluded last September 30, 2017 – and despite his bravado, Michael did not make the cut. A lot of people wondered how he didn’t make the cut; he didn’t fall in either of his programs, and he seemed very confident coming into the competition. How and why didn’t he qualify, if that’s the case?
Since figure skating in the SEA Games had no official livestream, I got by with watching recordings on YouTube – and what I saw was underwhelming. Michael relied on the required elements and his signature Biellmann spin instead of filling his program with transitions between elements to raise his component scores. Carmina Burana (his short program) required intense, powerful moves while Tango de Roxanne/Tango de los Exilados (his free skate) needed sass and sensuality; he did not show much of those. I hoped that since SEA Games was his so-called test run, he would gradually improve his program in preparation for Nebelhorn. And while he skated cleaner routines compared to the SEA Games, they were still lightyears away from his best. As it stands, his programs during the 2015-16 season had a much better chance to earn the Philippines a spot for the 2018 Olympics.
No Quads + A Less-Than-Clean skate
Michael needed to compensate for his empty programs by adding at least one quadruple jump to remain competitive. Michael has two quads that he can land in practice, the toe loop and loop. Unfortunately, neither of those were used in his Nebelhorn Trophy programs. Negative GOEs and a popped lutz in his free skate also greatly hurt his chances to qualify.
His fiercest competitors all brought their A-game both in the short program and free skate. With quad jumpers and/or excellent skaters to contend with, multiple people had to fall or pop their jumps for Michael to qualify. Unfortunately for Michael, almost none of them did. Not all of them had quad jumps in their programs, but those without them (such as Malaysian skater Julian Yee) made sure that their skating skills and other components would raise their score enough to earn that coveted spot.
Shift in Priorities
Perhaps the most telling sign that Michael was not 100% committed to qualifying for the Olympics? His shift in priorities. He launched a YouTube channel last year – a time-consuming endeavor – and became even more popular after his shirtless Instagram photos made waves on social media. He also launched his clothing line, which is no small feat. While other skaters also have activities outside skating (the Shibutani siblings, for example, also have their own YouTube channel), those did not seem to negatively affect their training the way it did to Michael.
So What Now?
The Olympics isn’t the end-all-be-all of figure skating, as there are still major competitions such as Four Continents and the World Championships. Moreover, the Philippines is named as the first substitute for Men’s discipline. Should one country withdraw from the Olympics, the Philippines will be the first in line for substitution.
Other Philippine skaters are also making waves in the Southeast Asian region, and they’ll be able to represent the country in bigger competitions provided they get sufficient training. Philippine skater Jules Alpe, especially, is on his last year as a junior skater and will debut as a senior next year. Moreover, Julian Yee of Malaysia qualified for the Olympics, so tropical Southeast Asia still has a representative! Don’t you worry, figure skating in our region is far from dead.