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…)

 

Men’s Short Program Recap April 27, 2011

One short program event down, three to go. While waking up at 4 a.m. wasn’t the ideal situation, the men’s short program competition was worth it, I must say. Even from the first group, there were highlights. Of course, the real fireworks came later on when the favorites hit the ice and they did not disappoint!

Not much was expected of the inexperienced American team in Moscow. Richard Dornbush and Ross Miner are at their first Worlds, and Ryan Bradley, who has been there twice before – unsuccessfully – has said this is the first time he feels like he belongs.

Dornbush and Miner both skated in the first group and were more than clean — they were quite lovely to watch! I felt Miner’s PCS scores were a bit low, but they both hit the 70+ mark and had a lot to be proud of.

Bradley skated first in the third group, and from the get go, I could tell he was nervous. He hit two quad toe-triple toe combinations in the warm up, but in the program, it was a quad-double. Still, he hit a HUGE triple axel and a nice triple flip. The crowd wasn’t eating him up like normal, so it felt a little flatter than it should have. But it was a good, strong, clean skate. He was underscored, in my ever so humble opinion.

Denis Ten was quite a pleasant surprise. He led the field from the first group up until the second-to-last group with a solid 71+ score. He’s made some dramatic improvements with Frank Carroll. I wonder, though, if he can hold it together for a long program.

The Frenchmen Florent Amodio and Brian Joubert skated back to back.

Amodio was cool, calm, controlled…and explosive. He laid down a great skate. No quad, but he easily took the lead.

Joubert was good…not great. And while he had a quad (that he turned out of), he had no combination. This should have been a serious deduction. His technical elements score was lower than Bradley, but his components score was higher by about 5 points. As much as I love Brian, that was not right. I would have Brian/Ryan’s programs about equal. Brian with perhaps a slight edge in PCS — but slight. That is, if Brian has all the elements. Without a combo, he shouldn’t have led. I feel the international judges don’t take Bradley seriously, probably partly due to his comedic routines. But that doesn’t make his skills any less significant.

But I digress.

Takahiko Kozuka skated after winning the Qualifying Round and proved that he’s quite a contender. I still cringe at this short program, but he skated it well with only a minor error on his triple axel.

Daisuke Takahashi and Patrick Chan stole the night, though. These two have been the co-favorites all along, and they proved why.

Chan skated first, and he laid down the gauntlet with a textbook quad toe-triple toe, triple axel, and a triple lutz. Add that to his impeccable basic skating, creative transitions and best-in-the-world footwork, and we have a winner! He set the new world record short program score, taking down that of previous record-holder Plushenko (who was in the building to see it go down!).  It was truly something special. And one of the few programs I felt deserved the scores it received!

Takahashi was wonderful as well. He didn’t have a quad, but what he had was heart. People were moved by his performance, and not just because he skated it well. To come through the trials his country is coming through and to skate with that much focus and skill…just brilliant. His scores didn’t reflect the quality of his skate, and he finds himself some 13 points behind Chan (who is rightfully in first, but Dai was incredible as well).

Michal Brezina’s scores baffled me a bit, as did Artur Gachinski’s…and even Tomas Verner’s. It almost appeared like the old 6.0 system that because these three skated later in the event, the judges scored them higher. Now, in the old system, they had to save scores for the later groups. Not so anymore. Or so it is supposed to be.

These three compared to the three Americans (and Denis Ten) weren’t all that impressive. Certainly not 7 points more impressive. Brezina struggled on his combo and lacked some polish and quality throughout. Gachinski’s quad-triple combo was impressive, but the rest was just average. Verner’s short program is to die for, but even “Singing in the Rain” couldn’t mask the fall on his quad attempt or the struggle with his combination. And yet, there they are, all at least 6 points higher than those with comparable skates early on. *sigh* Maybe the judges will never learn.

Nobunari Oda was the last to skate, and he had some demons to fight. Last year at worlds he had a disastrous  short program and ended up 28th overall in the event. He certainly made up for that here. But yet again, the scores baffled me. His program shouldn’t have compared to Takahashi’s, and yet he found himself between Patrick and Daisuke and in second place headed to the free skate.

I must say, this was a very entertaining event thanks to the athletes. It was quite frustrating and even confounding thanks to the judges. I’m obviously  not a judge. But I think I know good skating when I see it, and the placements after the shorts don’t reflect the best skates of the night (err, early morning here!).

Regardless, the stage is set. Chan looks to have a comfortable enough lead that he should skate with less pressure. Takahashi, Oda and Kozuka will be battling it out for medals, but they won’t be alone. Less than 5 points separate 2nd-6th. Plus, there are just over 5.5 points difference from 8th-13th.

Oh, the games are just beginning!

Here are your complete results after the Short Programs.

  1. Patrick Chan (CAN)    93.02
  2. Nobunari Oda (JPN)    81.81
  3. Daisuke Takahashi (JPN)    80.25
  4. Artur Gachinski (RUS)    78.34
  5. Florent Amodio (FRA)    77.64
  6. Takahiko Kozuka (JPN)    77.62
  7. Michal Brezina (CZE)    77.50
  8. Tomas Verner (CZE)    75.94
  9. Brian Joubert (FRA)    71.29
  10. Denis Ten (KAZ)    71.00
  11. Richard Dornbush (USA)    70.54
  12. Ryan Bradley (USA)    70.45
  13. Ross Miner (USA)    70.40
  14. Javier Fernandez (ESP)    69.16
  15. Kevin Van Der Perren (BEL)    68.34
  16. Peter Liebers (GER)    67.73
  17. Anton Kovalevski (UKR)    65.16
  18. Samuel Contesti (ITA)    64.59
  19. Kevin Reynolds (CAN)    64.36
  20. Nan Song (CHN)    64.78
  21. Joey Russell (CAN)    61.69
  22. Jorik Hendrickx (BEL)    60.74
  23. Paolo Bacchini (ITA)    58.96
  24. Kim Lucine (MON)    58.81
  25. Adrian Schultheiss (SWE)    58.41*
  26. Viktor Pfeifer (AUT)    56.68*
  27. Min-Seok Kim (KOR)    56.19*
  28. Alexander Majorov (SWE)    54.24*
  29. Maxim Shipov (ISR)    50.10*
  30. Misha Ge (UZB)    49.61*
*Only the top 24 move on to the long programs.
Pairs up next today!
 

Taking on the World: Men’s Preview April 14, 2011

All season long, I’ve been talking up the men’s event. With good reason, mind you! There have not been quite as many twists and turns as the ladies, but there has been  every bit as much competition, if not more.

Making the World Team this year was, perhaps, the biggest challenge for several countries, due to the competition from within. The US Nationals were brutal. The Japanese team could have gone any which way. But all of that sets up one of the best on-paper World events in a while. And that’s saying a lot because the last few have all been stellar.

This year, team Japan has quite the podium potential, featuring the reigning World and 4 Continents Champ Daisuke Takahashi, Grand Prix Final silver medalists Nobunari Oda, and two-time Grand Prix champion (Paris, China) Takahiko Kozuka. These three hold the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th highest international scores this season, and the combination of the three could be very strong in holding off the competition.

Now that they’re competing with the weight of the tragedy in Japan on their shoulders, they will, along with their teammates, be the story of the event.

I believe that this could go one of two ways — either they will put so much pressure on themselves to live up to the expectations of a nation in dire need of hope that they will falter. Or, they will skate, bearing the support and hope of their countrymen, and truly be a story of tragedy becoming triumph — the human spirit prevailing in the face of defeat — to take at least two of the three podium spots, including the top step.

With the strength these guys bring to the table, I think the second option is most likely.

Chan said of his Nationals performance that it wasn't just lucky -- he was trained to skate that well, and prepared to do it again at Worlds.

They’ll have to find some way, however, to take over the guy in the #1 spot at the moment – Canada’s darling, Patrick Chan. He posted a leading total score of 259.75 in his Grand Prix Final win earlier in the season, and he topped that skate at Nationals with his best skate of the season by far. Now, I know there is quite the debate about how he rakes in such astronomical scores even when he falls all over the ice, and in some ways, I feel those concerns are justified. But the fact remains: Patrick knows how to work the system, and he takes full advantage of that. I wish the system rewarded perfection in a higher way, but it doesn’t. That’s the reality. So, when Patrick does what he’s capable of — including the quads, the triple axels, the unmatched footwork sequences —  I’m not sure there’s a man this season with a program that can beat him. The question then becomes, can he deliver under pressure? If not, there are plenty of others who will, and his chance at the title could disappear quickly.

Interestingly, the 5th highest score in my “top 12″ list (those that I’m considering contenders of some kind) had to be drawn from Nationals: Ryan Bradley‘s 231.90 from Greensboro squeaks into the top five. Now, before you jump me with the “Nationals scores are inflated! You can’t use that!” comments, let me just say, I know. But, because there’s no international score to judge from this season, I had to take what I could get. Do I really think Ryan will get such high scores on the world stage? Probably not. He needs to work on the lack of transitions in his programs. But if he skates his short program like he did in North Carolina, he will likely put himself in a position to place very well, even if a medal is out of reach.

Tomas Verner is not to be overlooked here, either. Despite having some rough patches in his season, he did win in Russia earlier in the season, and after placing third in China, surprised even himself by qualifying for the Final. However, he struggled there, and only placed 3rd at Europeans behind a developing Amodio and a rebuilding Joubert. I adore his short program this season, but his long is, in my opinion, one of the worst in the entire event. I feel for him, because I think he’s far better than this program allows him to be. Not good when you’re competing against the likes of Chan’s “Phantom” or Takahashi’s tango.

Speaking of Florent Amodio, he comes in with the 7th highest score – a 229.38 from his silver medal skate in Paris. He is coming off of a win at Europeans, but he’s been a bit inconsistent at times late in the season. I’m concerned that he may have peaked too early and that he simply won’t have enough to give come Worlds.

Brian Joubert is a curious case. Way back in 2003, I was a big fan. Then I lost a little interest as he tried to make himself into Yagudin 2.0. Then I felt a twinge of compassion for him as he got caught in a strange, complex battle trying to find himself and a system that worked for his skating. I watched him rise back tot he top, looking like the guy to beat heading into the Olympics, only to be crushed by a melt down when it mattered most. Finally, I find myself quite interested in his skating again. Many people have given his new “artistry” a big thumbs down this year for seeming a little awkward, but I’m quite certain anyone trying to transform themselves from The Matrix into Swan Lake is going to needs some time to break in the new moves! He’s making progress, and, more importantly, seems to be in a good place mentally. I hope he gets back to the top some day. I don’t, however, expect it to be here.

Also a surprising addition to the top group here is the surprise US silver medalist, Ricky Dornbush. Despite not competing on the senior level, he’s still posted a strong 219.56 total score in his Junior Grand Prix Final win. He was brilliant at Nationals, and if it wasn’t for Bradley’s equally-brilliant short program, he would likely be headed to Japan as the US Champ. Now, the senior international stage is completely different, but he’s something special, and certainly one to watch in the years to come. This is a great opportunity for Ricky to make a statement as he launches his senior career.

Rounding out the most likely top 12 are Samuel Contesti, Michal Brezina, and Ross Miner. None have a realistic shot at the podium, but all have a very strong opportunity to make their presence known. They’ve all had brilliant skates at one point or another, but this is a chance to lay in all on the line when nothing really significant is at stake.

As for the podium, I say gold likely comes down to Chan and Takahashi, although Kozuka could make a push for it, too. Let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised to see two Japanese flags and one Canadian flag raised at the medal ceremony. But, you know what they say — the ice is slippery! Anything can happen.

Until then…

 

News, news and more news! October 16, 2010

Oh boy, so much news to discuss, people to thank, and interesting issues to chatter about! Where do I begin? We’ve got Junior Grand Prix standings set for the final, NHK Trophy less than a week away, a new Dancing with the Stars spin off show, loads of new season programs to discuss, and one interesting bit of news that’s less about skating and more about something I tend to give “soapbox” speeches about – women and sports. I can’t possibly get it all in one post. *sigh*

I suppose, to get it off my chest, I’ll start by stepping up on my soapbox and sharing, so bear with me. Growing up with a sports fanatic father and a basketball-star mother, it would have been nearly impossible to somehow end up NOT being a sports fan. Some of my earliest baby pictures show me in a far-too-large baseball cap bearing the logo of the best team in baseball – the St. Louis Cardinals! (Okay, okay, I may be a little biased. But every good sports fan is!) Thanksgiving has always been more of an excuse to watch loads of football than even to eat tons of food, and “playoffs” have always meant non-stop ESPN, along with the endless conversations about who would step up, or who I liked even if my team didn’t make it.

I say all of that to say, I’m as much of a sports fan as the next guy. Yes, the next guy. Why am I jumping on this age-old battle again? And why here? Well, here because I can. Here, I can say what I mean and be taken at face value for what I say. The anonymity of the internet gives me the opportunity to be taken for my knowledge, my intelligence, my capabilities, rather than my appearance, my interests, or the simple fact that, yes, I am a female, and yes, I am a crazed sports fan. And why now? Because the “world-wide leader in sports” decided that they had a brilliant idea for all of us female sports nuts – an ESPN “sub-station” that’s just for women! Sounds great, right? Like ESPN is finally recognizing that there are multitudes of woman’s sports that aren’t being covered (or at least that’s their claim) and that woman watch sports differently enough that they need their own version – both online and potentially on air.

There’s the back story. Now for the soapbox. …ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?! How is this not supposed to feel like a slap in the face to those of us who have worked our entire lives to “keep up” with the boys in the business? How are we supposed to feel when ESPN – the “it” network in sports media – decides that, instead of working to achieve more equality at the parent network, let’s make it easier on ourselves by separating women all together? And if that’s not enough, let’s make it REALLY obvious (not to mention lame) and call it “espnW,” because that’s original, and certainly not limiting. Nothing like slapping a bandaid on the problem instead of actually fixing it, eh?

Well, ESPN, here’s a newsflash for you – not all of us girls want our sports to be girlie-fied. We kind of like them rough and tough, or fast and sharp, or competitive and edgy, just the way they are.

In a recent post by a fellow female sports blogger (@ALeagueofHerOwn on twitter), Julie DiCaro explains perfectly why I think this is a terrible idea:

“The idea that sports need to somehow be feminized to attract women is completely off-base. Like the Jennie Finches, Julie Foudys, and Lindsay Vonns of the world, women today are the daughters of Title IX. We grew up playing sports, just like the guys, and we still love sports, just like the guys. We don’t need pink jerseys to buy sports merchandise and we don’t need espnW to cajole us into watching sports programming.”

I  may write a blog about figure skating which tends to fall in line with the “women-sanctioned sports” idea, but don’t let the music and the sparkles fool you – I can spend a Saturday watching college football with the best of ‘em. I love skating for the competitiveness and the athleticism as much as the artistry and performance. I have sports apps on my phone. I talk football with the guys more easily than I talk fashion with the girls. I would choose a basketball game over a day at the spa.  And I most certainly don’t need a special network to “girl down” my October baseball. I like it just the way it is, thank you very much. It’s about time the “powers that be” recognized it.

*Deep breath*

Okay. Moving on. Let’s get back to skating, shall we?

Let’s begin with the recent announcement of a new skating show, produced by the same crew that’s made Dancing with the Stars the #1 show in America. “Skating with the Stars” will follow the course of the popular ballroom dancing show, only with, well, skaters. Skating professionals will be paired with a celebrity and the team will compete live in front of judges and the television viewer. Judging will work the same way as well – the judges give a score, and the viewers cast their own vote. Each week, a couple will be voted off, until ultimately, we have a winner!

If you’re thinking this sounds frighteningly familiar, you’re not losing your mind. FOX tried to do something similar a while back and…well, yeah. “Tried” is probably the best thing that can be said about that show. However, this kind of thing is becoming extremely popular in other countries, so it can be done.

At first, I reacted like many did – Oh boy. Here comes another reason for people to see skating as less than it really is. However, I remembered something I said in a blog a few weeks ago about US skating becoming popular prior to the Civil War dance craze, thanks to Jackson Haines (Father of Modern Figure Skating, anyone? Check the quiz from a few posts back for more!). Haines was inspired by the dance trend and incorporated what he saw into skating. At the same time, skating grew in popularity along with dance. I noted that perhaps the current dance craze would lead to another increase in skating popularity in American, and the next thing I know, SWTS is announced! Not only that, but it’s being produced by ABC and some of the executive producers and directors from DWTS, which, to me, is the best thing about this announcement. This team took ballroom dancing – something NOT popular in the US – and turned it into the biggest show on television. They know how to make it work. While I think it’s harder to get celebrities to look good on ice, I think the production value will at least be something to look forward to.

The line ups will be announced during the November 2 DWTS results show. Needless to say, I’ll be checking in on that for sure!

Since this post is getting long, I’ll keep my JGP comments brief for now. But never fear, I’ll be back soon with the extended version!

In short, congratulations to the 10 US competitors who will compete at the Final in Bejing!

The four men who made the top eight are Joshua Farris, Keegan Messing, Richard Dornbush, and Max Aaron. Four ladies will be joining them: Christina Gao, Yasmin Siraj, Kristiene Gong, and Kiri Baga. One pairs team – Ashley Cain and Josh Reagan – and one dance team – Charlotte Lichtman and Dean Copely – will make the trip as well.

Great work by the US juniors this season. I would, however, like to say one thing about pairs and dance: one team?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that Cain/Reagan and Lichtman/Copely will be representing the US in China, but only one other dance team in the top 8 is NOT Russian. North American ice dance has been on the rise in recent years, but from the looks of this, that dominance is about to end. I’m not sure what it is, exactly, about European dancers and Japanese and Chinese pairs (well, maybe I do know what it is about Chinese pairs, but that’s a post in and of itself!), but the American teams better watch their backs or we’ll really be in trouble in those disciplines. Maybe it’s time for the USFS to invest a little bit into their athletes and their futures.

Lastly, I want to say a huge THANK YOU to the Korean skating fans who made my blog a popular visit in the past week or so. They love their skating, and they love their girl, Yu-Na Kim! You all are fabulous, and thank you for including me in your many posts and reposts of reports from All That Skate LA. You’re the best!

Next time, I’ll take a look at some of the skaters who are heading to Japan for the NHK Trophy, and break down some of the early season program debuts that have made their way to YouTube.

Skating season is upon us, friends!

P.S. – heard this week that the wonderful Terry Gannon will be joining the NBC team for TV coverage of the Grand Prix series! I always loved his insight into the sport, not to mention his quality and class as a sports broadcaster. He never intended to be a figure skating announcer, but once he was there, he took full advantage of it, and made the viewers at home – as well as the skaters themselves – know that he was the real deal. He’s actually one of my own sportscasting inspirations, so I am thrilled to welcome him back to the skating world! Welcome back, Terry – we’ve missed you!

Until then…

 

 
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