Figure Skating: From the Boards

Omaha or bust: Let’s go, ladies January 22, 2013

PrintNo lady has defended her U.S. title since Michelle Kwan last did it … in 2005. There were a few who could have. But, pressure, injuries, and rising young stars have kept the roller coaster going strong.

Once again, though, the current ladies champion is in prime position to be the first back-to-back champion in seven years. But, we’ll get to Ms. Wagner in a moment.

The rest of the field provides some seriously interesting possibilities.

With Alissa Czisny forced to withdraw after dislocating her hip in her late-season debut, Mirai Nagasu becomes one of the most notable “veterans” in the field. And yet, her own personal roller coaster has been no secret. After parting ways with Frank Carroll after last season’s disappointing end, she has taken on more responsibility in her skating, it seems. And, she’s happy again.

But, happy and mature are only part of the equation — she still has to prove she can put down back-to-back clean (read: no underrotations!) programs that are filled with elite-level transitions and in-betweens. Her average scores on spins this season top the field of U.S. ladies, and her program component scores keep her in the hunt.

Technically, Christina Gao can put up a good fight. We saw it at Skate America, where she took home silver behind Ashley Wagner. As Gao’s season progressed, she struggled more and more. But, she is averaging the highest free skate base value of the American girls … even if only by less than a point over Wagner.

For Gao, her program components go as the technical elements do — when she’s on, she’s glorious. But when she’s not, things fall apart across the board.

Then there’s the battle between the girl still trying to claim her elite spot and the girl with the potential to snatch it all away.

That would be Agnes Zawadzki — last year’s bronze medalist — and newcomer Gracie Gold, the future of American ladies skating.

Zawadzki is another skater with all the talent in the world. She has jumps that are larger than life, but all too often she misses in just enough ways to take herself out of the running. Meanwhile, Gold has no doubts about where she sees herself in the national mix. Despite missing the Grand Prix podium in her first senior season, she believes, according to her comments to reporters last week, that she’ll “fit right in” with the country’s best senior ladies.

It may not be quite that easy, though. She’s struggled mightily in her long programs this season, changing the content as she goes sometimes in order to make up for a miss earlier in the skate. The one thing that hasn’t changed? Her triple lutz-triple toe combination. She’s raking in more than 11 points on average for that element alone in the free skate.

But, then there’s Wagner.

Gold at Skate America. Gold at Trophee Eric Bompard. Silver — despite a nasty fall in the free skate — at the Grand Prix Final.

In a world of inconsistencies, she’s been as consistent as anyone. In fact, her short program scores actually went up by roughly three points each event. Her free skate totals have been within a few points of each other (except for the Final …).

Despite the fact that she’s only doing a triple-double combination in the short, she still has the highest average score on that element in the short, compared to the other top U.S. ladies who are doing triple-triple combinations. Her grade of execution scores, coupled with much improved program components, make everything she does, even if it’s not as technically difficult, extremely valuable.

The reality is, this title is hers for the taking.

Now, she has to go out and do her job. That hasn’t changed. But if she does, one of the World Team spots is as good as hers. A more interesting story, perhaps, is the other spot.

Is this the year Mirai makes her comeback? Does Agnes avoid the little bobbles? Can Christina regain her early-season form? Or will Gracie prove she belongs on the world stage?

What do you think?

Here’s my prediction:

Gold: Wagner
Silver: Zawadzki
Bronze: Nagasu
Pewter: Gold

Be sure to follow me on twitter (@FromTheBoards) for updates from Omaha. And, if you’re an instagramer, give me a follow at tarabethw for photos from the week.

 

And So It Begins: 2012 US International Classic September 28, 2012

I’ve decided that life has a way of spiraling  out of control most when I’d rather be watching skating!

Okay, so it hasn’t been totally out of control. But a move and a new project at work have kept me from the US International Classic videos until, well, right now. But with Neblhorn happening now and Skate America right around the corner (can you believe it?) I’ve definitely been itching to sneak a look at some of the performances from Salt Lake City. 

This event welcomed several skaters I, for one, was anxious to see.

Lindsay Davis & Mark Ladwig, for example.

Their pairing is interesting to me. There isn’t an automatic, “this is going to catch on like wild fire” vibe from them. But, it’s still so new, there is a little bit of push and pull. They just need time. I like some of the artistic elements — a little more drama, perhaps! The technique will come along. I just hope they don’t get frustrated with the results until then.

Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch — I love this duo. She is a little dynamo. And it’s nice to see so much emotion in their skating again this year! And those throws? GORGEOUS. As soon as their short program started, I realized we’d just jumped up a level. The speed, the strength, the confidence, it was all there. A few stumbles here and there, but they have a lot to work with this season … and some pretty grand expectations of themselves.

Tiffany Vise & Don Baldwin — First comeback free skate of the season? They recovered from a disappointing 5th-place short program to leapfrog country mates Felicia Zhang & Nathan Bartholomay for the bronze. They always do something interesting and unique. It’s nice to see them skate well to go with their great programs!

How about the ladies?

Gracie Gold is precious. At such a young age, and with so little senior experience, she always looks so polished, so poised. She really takes her time with the choreography — something that often gets lost in the shuffle of point counting. She had some trouble in the second half of her free skate (which she was not happy about) but this gives her room to build. I worry, sometimes, that the expectations already on her shoulders are too much to live up to. But, she has the talent, no doubt.

Agnes Zawadski — her jumps are ridiculously gigantic. Yes, ridiculously gigantic. She skates with so much power! Sometimes it’s too much, but this early in the year? She looks in complete control. A few bobbles here and there, but nothing to be terribly concerned with. Her struggles will likely come if she has a tough competition. In the past, that has gotten to her in a big way. But this was a great victory — mentally, even more than physically — to get her on track for the year.

I have a feeling the battle in the ladies’ competitions this year is going to be something else. And at US Nationals? It could be anyone’s game! (more…)

 

A Look Ahead: The Ladies of the GP Series May 24, 2012

Let’s hear it for the ladies!

Last year, the women made this event ever-unpredictable and, as always, a premiere event to watch. Looking at the lineup this season, I expect to see much of the same! Here’s how it breaks down.

Skate America: 

Mae Bernice Meite (FRA)
Sarah Hecken (GER)
Valentine Marchei (ITA)
Haruka Imai (JPN)
Alena Leonova (RUS)
Adelina Sotnikova (RUS)
Viktoria Helgesson (SWE)
Rachael Flatt (USA)
Christina Gao (USA)
Ashley Wagner (USA)

Okay, lots of goodies here. First, we see US and Four Continents champ Ashley Wagner’s Skate America debut. We all know the season she put together last year, but this will be an even bigger test — living up to these new expectations.

Speaking of expectations, Rachael Flatt will be interesting to watch this year. There’s no doubt she adores the sport and the challenge of training to compete. But, will she be able to shake off last season’s disappointments and the weight of college academics to be competitive again?

Personally, I adore Christina Gao. Her carriage over the ice is almost regal. If she can stay healthy, look for a much better GP season from her in 2012.

The Russian return to the top in ladies skating has been coming on for some time now. Many think Adelina Sotnikova is the strongest hope for the podium in Sochi. If that’s the case, she needs to make great use of the next two years in order to build her stamina and consistency to compete with the best of the best.

Don’t overlook Alena Leonova, though. She’s not quite ready to give in to the budding youngsters — and you don’t have to look further than her World medal for proof of that! (more…)

 

So you may have heard (Or, news ’round the skating world) April 6, 2012

The Post-Worlds-Syndrom is probably setting in right about now. After the high of Nationals, the build up from Four Continents, to the climax in Nice, all the highest hopes of the 2012 season have reached a near end. A month from now, skating fans will be grasping at the slightest bit of news, hoping for tid bits on new music or costumes, and counting down the days until the season begins again.

A break is nice, so long as it’s not too long.

But, in contrast to other years, the season doesn’t quite end with the World Championships. We still have the World Team Trophy to look forward to!

Fan of this style event or not, it’s skating. And with the announcement of the teams, we can see that it will be star-studded in and of itself.

Based on qualifications from the 2012 World and Junior World Championships, six countries made the cut and will send a team of eight skaters to Tokyo, Japan for the team-style competition to be held April 19-22.

If you’re unfamiliar with the way this game is played, here’s the rundown from U.S. Figure Skating:

Gold's season isn't over yet. She'll have her chance against some of the world's best later this month in Tokyo.

World Team Trophy features the six best figure skating teams of the 2011-12 season, including Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States. Each team consists of two ladies, two men, one pair and one ice dancing couple. The scores of each team’s skaters in the short programs/dance and free skates/dance will be added together and the highest point total will win.

The American team will be made up of National Champs Meryl Davis & Charlie White, Caydee Denney & John Coughlin, Ashley Wagner, and Jeremy Abbott, along with silver medalist Adam Rippon and Junior Champion Gracie Gold (who will be making her Senior-level international debut).

Remember, a version of this event will be present at the 2014 Sochi games. So, it’s important for this competition to go well!

Anyone up for making early predictions on who will win that event? Or on how the adorable and talented Gracie Gold will hold up against elite senior competition?

We’ll find out soon enough!

And, in other, completely unrelated news, Evan Lysacek has earned a prestigious, new position: a Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Sports Envoy.

Sounds fancy, right?

So what exactly will the Olympic Champ be doing? Following in long-time friend Michelle Kwan’s footsteps, it seems!

 On his inaugural trip done in partnership with U.S. Figure Skating, Lysacek will travel to Stockholm, Sweden and Minsk, Belarus April 6 – 13.

While in Sweden, Lysacek will hold ice skating clinics with youth from the Stockholm area, organized in cooperation with the non-governmental organization Sports Without Borders. In Minsk, from April 11 – 13, Lysacek will conduct clinics with the Skating Union of Belarus and speak with students of the University of Physical Culture about the importance of sports in society. He will also attend a competition for wheelchair fencers and wheelchair dancers.

[snip]

Sports Envoys are current and retired professional athletes and coaches from a range of sports that travel overseas to conduct clinics and team building activities, as well as engage youth in a dialogue on the importance of education, positive health practices and respect for diversity. The U.S. Department of State’s sports diplomacy division, SportsUnited, works in close partnership with professional sports leagues, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and respective National Governing Bodies so that American athletes may engage overseas youth in positive dialogue.

Interesting, for someone on a comeback trail of his own to add Envoy trips to his soon-to-be-full training schedule. But, if you’ve followed Lysacek through the years, he does like to be busy! And this is certainly a worth-while addition to his plans.

I don’t know about you, but a lesson or clinic with an Olympic Champion would certainly inspire me!

Congrats to Evan on his new gig!

 

 
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