No 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:
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