Figure Skating: From the Boards

Omaha or Bust: Bring on the boys! January 23, 2013

PrintBased on name recognition and resume, the mens title would seem to be easily in the hands of reigning champ, Jeremy Abbott. He has the pedigree. He has the experience. He’s won the title not once, not even just twice, but three times already. He comes to Omaha armed with extraordinarily complex choreography, emotionally engaging music, and the jumps, steps, and spins to rank him one of the world’s best.

But, he’s battled some physical setbacks this year that made those technical things quite difficult.

Meanwhile, Ross Miner made good strides on the international circuit, scoring the highest totals of any U.S. man in a Grand Prix event when he took bronze at NHK Trophy.

There’s also Richard Dornbush and Adam Rippon. Both have had their struggles. Both have had their moments to shine. Both would love to be on the World Team again. But, their path to a world spot isn’t simple.

Not only do they have to get past Abbott or Miner, but they have to hold off challengers like Armin Mahbanoozadeh, Brandon Mroz, Douglas Razzano, and young stars like Joshua Farris, Jason Brown, and perhaps the stiffest competition, Max Aaron.

Max presents a potentially large road block. His score of 231.27 at the Senior B event in Salt Lake City to start the year is higher than Abbott’s best Grand Prix score. That carries some weight.

Understand, though — that was a very well executed competition for Aaron. It was not Abbott’s best competition. Not by a long shot.

All that means is, Max Aaron is in play for a medal. But, he’ll have to be GREAT, while others have room for error.

Likewise, Mahbanoozadeh has a chance to make a splash. He was dealing with an ankle injury at Skate America (where he was a last minute replacement for Evan Lysacek), but is always a potential spoiler.

Razzano was 5th at Nationals last season after pulling up from 8th in the short to 4th in the long. Could he be this year’s upset?

Not that it means anything now, but, just for kicks, how different would this competition be if Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir had, indeed, come back and been able to compete?

Johnny attempted the comeback. His Grand Prix experiment didn’t go so well. Not that he didn’t make a valiant effort, but it appeared that he sorely underestimated how far he was from being a contender.

If he’d stuck it out, trained as hard as ever, and been scheduled to skate in Omaha, how would he have fared? It’s hard to say, of course, but based on what we saw out of him earlier this fall, he would have been a long shot.

And Evan? He couldn’t have been counted out, that’s for certain. If he’d been healthy enough to compete internationally earlier in the year, and if he was truly back in “fighting shape,” you’d be hard pressed to deny his chances.

Lysacek provided consistency for the American men for many years. Many hoped he’d be able to come back and help earn back that third World Team spot. Instead, he stares down a potential comeback during the Olympic season, instead of before it. That’s no easy task, to say the least.

Meanwhile, though, we have a handful of contenders who will be in Omaha. And I have a feeling they’re going to put on quite a show!

Who do you think makes the World Team? Who will fare the best against Evgeyni Plushenko, Patrick Chan, and the Japanese superstars?

Here are my predictions.

Gold: Abbott
Silver: Miner
Bronze: Aaron
Pewter: Dornbush

Don’t forget to follow me on twitter (@FromTheBoards) for updates from Omaha. And, if you’re an instagramer, follow me @TaraBethW for pictures throughout the week!

 

A Look Ahead: Men of the GP Series May 22, 2012

Yesterday was the day. Where you surprised by the Grand Prix assignments? If you’re an Evan Lysacek fan, you were likely disappointed. Conversely, if you’ve been anticipating a Johnny Weir comeback, you may have squealed to see his name on the list twice.

Over the next few days, we’ll take a look at each discipline separately and how the assignments line up for each event.

Since the men have been the talk of the town (my “town,” anyway!) we’ll give them the first shake.

Here’s the Skate America lineup:

Michal Brezina (CZE)
Tomas Verner (CZE)
Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
Takahiko Kozuka (JPN)
Tatsuki Machida (JPN)
Konstantin Menshov (RUS)
Alexandra Majorov (SWE)
Jeremy Abbott (USA)
Douglas Razzano (USA)
TBA (USA)

Not too shabby, eh?

As has become the norm, the biggest competition will come from the Japanese contingent, although it’ll be the Abbot — competing at Skate America for the first time in his career — who will have the support of the hometown crowd.

Last season proved we can’t count out quad-master Michael Brezina, and when he’s at his best, Tomas Verner is a force to be reckoned with as well.

Personally, I’m thrilled to see Douglas Razzano along side Abbott for Team USA. He’s a real “skater’s skater” with the elegance and musicality that can bring an entire arena to its feet. If he can match that artistry with technical difficulty, he’ll be well on his way!

Then there’s that haunting “TBA.”

What — or should I say who — is that spot for? Naturally, the rumor mill would lean naturally toward that spot being for reigning Olympic Champ Evan Lysacek who has made no secret about his wish to compete in Sochi. However, there have been more than a couple roadblocks along the way.

Last season, there was the “contractual issues” with the USFS that kept him from returning to competition. While the details of that conflict were not made public, it has been reported that it wasn’t simply “Evan wanting more money” like it came across the first time, but far more complicated than that.

With that assumed to be resolved, it was a bit surprising to NOT see Evan’s name on the assignment list. However, there are plenty of explanations (read: “assumptions!”) that don’t involve him not staging a comeback.

Perhaps he didn’t want the GP spot. He’s made mention of wanting to compete at Senior B events to ease back onto the international scene. He’s a proven champion, so maybe he simply feels it a better option to start small and work his way back up towards Nationals and Worlds, sans the fall series. Or maybe, he’s scheduled to compete on the Dancing With The Stars All-Star season this fall. Who knows, save Frank Carroll and Lysacek. But, perhaps that TBA spot is reserved should he choose to accept it after all.

How’s that for drama surrounding the first event of the season, eh?! (more…)

 

On To The Springs! Four Continents — Men’s Preview February 9, 2012

I’ve fallen in love with the  men’s event all over again this season. Between Chan’s all-around brilliance, Takahashi’s choreography creativity, Abbott’s emotional edge, and Fernandez’s unexpected rise, I look forward to the guys as much as any other event.

Despite not having the chance to see a pre-Worlds Chan/Takahashi/Abbott showdown, the event in Colorado Springs is no exception. White the top two appear evident, we’ve seen stranger things happen. And with a field stacked with skaters ready to have the skate of their season, we’re bound to have some fireworks somewhere along the line.

The question is, whose “fireworks” turn into medals?

Patrick Chan wins his fifth straight Canadian National title

At this point, it's Chan's title to lose ... much like every title he's vying for!

Gold: Patrick Chan

Much like Meryl Davis and Charlie White, I just can’t bet against Chan, especially skating where he trains every day.

After all the flack for his GP performances (falls equaling medals) I would love to see him repeat his Nationals performances in front of an international panel, just so we have a realistic idea of the kind of scores he’s likely to receive, should he go clean at Worlds.

Of course, having three quads in your back pocket helps when your top competitor could have two. It’s a nice advantage to have, especially considering the PCS scores he’s accustom to receiving.

While no one is unbeatable, betting against this kid at this stage of the game simply isn’t wise.

Silver: Daisuke Takahashi

If medals were awarded for program composition, Takahashi would be unbeaten this year. I’m in love with the details throughout both of his programs, as well as the way he presents it. While Chan takes the audience on a larger-than-life, sweeping adventure, Takahashi brings you in to his world and shares his intimate connection to every last note of music. It’s marvelous.

But, he has to back it up with the technical content a Chan or even a Fernandez is capable of throwing down.

Here, though, I don’t see that being a problem. (more…)

 

Vlog: Dancers and Men Spice Up The Pavilion On day 2 January 28, 2012

 

What’s the magic word? January 26, 2012

The Senior events kick off later today with the Pairs and Ladies Short Programs. If you need a refresher on the contenders and potential surprises, look back here for Pairs and here for Ladies.

What magic words would YOU tell Mirai?

Meanwhile, we’ve all been sounding off on Twitter for weeks about who needs what to win. So, here’s your chance — channel your inner Frank Carroll, and offer up some last minute advice for your favorites, your Fantasy picks, or just someone you think might need a little word of encouragement!

Speaking of Frank Carroll, how ’bout I start with Mirai Nagasu?

She’s the kind of skater you dream of coaching (or at least, I would dream of coaching someone with her natural talent, if I was a coach). And yet, she can’t seem to make everything “click” in competition. The nerves do her in. She panics. Focuses on how bad it is to be nervous. Or now bad she skated last time out. Or how desperately she wants to win.

My advice to her: Don’t think, just do.

She honestly has it all. She has to forget about what that means, forget about how much she hates to lose, and forget the idea that nerves are a bad thing. Change those nerves into energy and the adrenaline into focus, and just do it (Nike was really onto something with that one way back when…)

How ’bout reigning champ Alissa Czisny?

Her focus has been pretty clear. Her reconstruction of a career — and, really, a skater as a whole — is inspiration in and of itself. And yet, she’s struggled to feel “on” this season. Now, she’s set to begin her title defense.

My words of the day for her: Calm and courageous

“Calm” is often how I’d describe her skating style. Sometimes, though, her competition style is anything but calm. She, too, needs to close her eyes, take a deep breath, listen for the first note of her music, then just let it flow. All the while, channeling the courage it takes to put yourself on the line for the sake of a dream. Courage into each jump, calm flowing out of it. That’s a winning combination. (more…)

 

Do You Know The Way To San Jose: Men’s Preview January 18, 2012

“Boys, boys, boys …” are going to be front and center this week. As has been the case all season, the tense competition makes this one of the hottest events. There is also an interesting battle brewing — last year’s surprise medalists vs. last year’s predicted medalists. While they all have international experience this year, they want a little more … namely, a spot on the World team. But, that’s no easy task, especially with only two spots available.

The Break Down

Richard Dornbush – He made his name known last season when he nearly upstaged Ryan Bradley’s swan song. His personality is charming, and he carries that through every program. He has to hit the jumps, though, from start to finish. He doesn’t necessarily have the levels to keep up with the world’s best, but if he’s on and someone else is the slightest bit off, he’ll hold his own.

Adam Rippon – Sometimes — actually, far more often than we like to admit — we see a skater with the all the right pieces who can’t seem to put them together all at once. Just last year, Rippon started the season strong, but failed to bring it at Nationals. This season, he once again has challenged himself artistically with choreography and music, as well as technically with a quad lutz. No, he hasn’t hit it. And yes, he still struggles with the triple axels sometimes. But he’s had some time to gel with both the programs and the jumps. After missing Worlds last year, he’ll be hungry for a spot.

Jeremy Abbott – Talk about hungry for some redemption. Jeremy is, undoubtedly, the best skater in America. However, there are times where he lets the nerves, the pressure, the expectations, or whatever else it may be, get in his head and he struggles. This season, his programs are nothing short of brilliant. The challenge of balancing creative choreography, emotional depth, and technical prowess is massive. Through the Grand Prix, he was almost there. If he gets all the way there, this could even top his first National title performance. Yes, they’re that good.

Ross Miner — Not willing to easily give up his own chance at a repeat medal, Miner will be an interesting piece of this puzzle. Like so many inexperienced young skaters, when he’s on, he’s great. But the consistency isn’t quite there. He has a great long program this year that, I think, highlights his strengths. There’s not a lot of wiggle room at the top, but he’ll be vying for one of those spots.

Brandon Mroz  and Armin Mahbanoozadeh stand an outside chance at breaking up the top-four party. Mroz, of course, started the season with a ratified quad lutz. Mahbanoozadeh had as good a chance as any last year at Nationals. These are two skaters who have good moments, but tend to not have good skates. That’s a problem when the stakes are high all around.

Don’t forget about some of the younger guys who have impressed — Joshua Farris, Keegan Messing, Douglas Razzano, Stephen Carriere, Johnathan Cassar, Max Aaron … the list goes on!

The fact is, the US men have depth. They may not all be able to compete against the Chans and Plushenkos of the world, but they’ll compete in San Jose. They’ll make memorable moments, and they’ll put themselves in position to make a move next year. That’s what I love about Nationals. You not only get the chance to see the country’s best, but the country’s future. With that list of names, the future is bright, for certain.

For now, though, the “future” entails a handful of minutes to determine who moves on and who goes home. Those top four guys? You better believe they all want their shot at Nice.

The Prediction

We’ve seen how the predictable can fall through entirely. However, I don’t expect that to happen again. I’m going to go with the likeliest scenario for this one.

1. Jeremy Abbott
2. Adam Rippon
3. Richard Dornbush

For my “bold” prediction, I’m going to say Max Aaron surprises some people and finishes well.

Feel free to let me know what you think! Who is your pick for an upset?


 

A look ahead: Cup of China’s ladies and gentlemen November 2, 2011

You know, we spend the entire summer counting the days until the Grand Prix season begins. Then, just like that, we’re headed into week three! It always goes so quickly once it starts.

But enough of that. On to China!

As I was working on my icenetwork.com column this week, I realized — this is the least “elite” event thus far, and yet, it could be the most competitive! So many skaters have the chance to improve on their past senior performances or, in some cases, stun the world with their senior debuts. Add in a handful of veterans who would like to regain their top spots, and I have quite the headache. Oh, and yes, we also have quite the competition on our hands!

Today we’ll talk ladies and gents. Tomorrow, the couples.

It’s any man’s game

When you pit the young Artur Gachinski against the talented Nobunari Oda and the determined Jeremy Abbott, it’s enough to make your head spin. Then throw in Yuzuru Hanyu, Kevin Reynolds and Ricky Dornbush and it essentially becomes a shoot out — the three  men who skate cleanest will likely find the podium.

Jeremy Abbott missed Worlds last year, and wasn’t too happy about it. He is a strong competitor, and can match his technical excellence with his artistic superiority. This is his first event since Four Continents, and he’ll want to make a statement. Much like Ashley Wagner last weekend, he may skate with a chip on his shoulder.

If Nobunari Oda could ever put together back-to-back programs, he would be in the discussions with the Chans and Takahashi’s of the world. But more often than not, silly mistakes cost him titles. Still, I don’t know anyone who has deeper knees and softer edges. He’s a joy to watch, and will compete for gold.

Ricky Dornbush is the only one man skating in his second event. He struggled a bit at Skate America, and will likely make some adjustments for China. However, Yuzuru Hanyu is the wild card with the potential to upstage them all. He’s young and a bit volatile, so he’s not a sure thing. However, I’m willing to bet on him this year. (more…)

 

 
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