Figure Skating: From the Boards

Three Blind Mice to ABC… September 2, 2010

Today, I figured I’d dive in a bit to my expectations or predictions for some of the top ladies skaters heading into this season. We’ll start with my ideas about the current world rankings for the ladies and how their seasons might play out, based on what’s gone on with them this off season.

But first!

When I began this blog, I said there would be stories. Well, this is a story day. And I’m super excited about this one.

I recently had the intense privilege of seeing a young skater recognized on national television. But this was not just any young skater. This young boy is a star…that much I knew from the very first time I saw him skate, back when he was 4 years old.

The current Novice Men’s national champion, Nathan Chen, skates out of Salt Lake City, Utah.

When I was living there, I also skated in Salt Lake City, Utah. (See where this is going…?)

Basically, I skated with Nathan Chen when he was 4 years old.

This January, he blew away the skating world with his performances in Spokane to win the Novice title.

This summer, he was named the ABC News person of the week (check out the video below…).

Okay, so it’s not like I can take credit for anything. But I do want to say, I called it!

I remember being at the rink trying to work on my own skills, but getting caught up watching this little tiny kid who was already better than I was! My mom would be at the rink with me, and one day we were leaving and noticed a newspaper article on the bulletin board – it was all about the 4 year old and his early success. I remember like it was yesterday, turning to my mom and saying, “Mom, remember his name. Because he’s gonna be a star one day, and when he is, I want to be able to say I skated with him before he was famous!”

Flash forward a few years…talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy, eh? The kid’s incredible.

But he wasn’t always the 10-year-old whiz kid who could throw a triple jump at the drop of a hat. Don’t get me wrong, he always had “it,” but I watch him in the days where he was learning how to do a proper scratch spin.

Now, explaining anything to a 4 year old is complicated, but trying to explain the proper technique – specifically, how pulling your arms in slowly throughout the spin will increase the speed – takes patience and skill.

That’s exactly what was happening the day I remember most clearly.

Nathan was working on a program to “Three Blind Mice,” but his coach was trying to get him to be more precise with his scratch spin.

(Time out: for those of you who may not be familiar with the technical terms, the “scratch spin” is usually one you’ll see at the very end of a program. The skater is standing straight up, arms out to either side, and as they spin, they slowly pull the arms in…or up…to increase the speed.)

Nathan’s coach stopped him and said, “Imagine you’re hugging a giant marshmallow as you spin, and squeeze it to your chest.”

Let me tell you, the kid’s quick. Because just that much of a visual made all the difference.

And clearly, he’s just as quick today. He’s also determined. And charming. And quickly becoming the one to watch. Now, he won’t be old enough for the Olympics in Sochi 2014, but I bet he’ll be a force to be reckoned with by then!

Anyway, All of this to essentially say, I’m so proud of my little skating friend from so many years ago that I couldn’t help but share. I can’t wait to watch him through the years. He’s definitely got a forever-fan in me!

Now, check out the video (and poke around the related videos too, because they’re all great!)

All right. Back to business. The ladies of 2010, shall we?

According to the world rankings on icenetwork.com, Queen Yu-Na is, of course, #1. The question for this season is, while she wont’ be competing in the GP series, will she compete at Worlds, and will she be able to put aside the coaching drama as well as the expectations of being the Olympic champ, to perform up to her own very high standards?

Always seeming to be tied together in one way or another, #2 on the list is Kim’s long-time rival, Mao Asada. Amidst the rumors surrounding the Kim/Orser split was one in particular that was potentially the cause for the tension – Mao’s camp wanted on board the Orser Express. Who knows what was actually said, who was approached, what was being considered, but there’s no doubt that Asada has been living in the shadow of Yu-Na for the last several seasons, and she’s none too happy about it. The question for Mao this season will be, have the new rule changes (specifically regarding the 3 axel points footwork levels) done enough to even her up with those, like Kim, who rack up the points in areas of footwork and spin difficulty? For me, personally, I need her to actually connect to her performances for her to ever match the magic of a Yu-Na Kim or Mirai Nagasu, who we’ll get to later on.

#3 on the world list is Asada’s Japanese compatriot, Mikki Ando. She’s a strange one to me. She always seems to do just enough to win a few titles every year, but she never has it all together at once. Sure, she won the World Titles in ’07, but her technique hasn’t improved since then, and if I had to comment on last year’s programs, I’d say they were terrible for her style, well, whatever style she may have. I think she’s a sweetheart, but if she doesn’t change some things this season, I’m not sure she’ll be able to keep up.

Canadian sweetheart, Joannie Rochette, is 4th on this list. She’s a champion through and through. I adore her maturity on the ice and thought last year’s programs were brilliant. She’s not competing in the GP series, either, so that opens up another spot for someone – perhaps one of the young American stars (Nagasu finished just behind Rochette in Vancouver). That said, I’d love to see Joannie come back to competition. I think she really hit her stride last season and her determination to compete with the young guns was evident, and it paid off. She created such a lasting memory at the Olympics, skating despite the tragic loss of her mother, that I can’t help but pull for her in whatever she decides.

Laura Lepisto of Finland and Akkiko Suzuki of Japan come next in the rankings, and these are two skaters who performed well last season, but will really have to step up their game in order to really compete for the top spots. Laura is a beautiful, classic skater, but her jumps occasionally fail her. However, with two of the top five out of the GP, she may have a chance at a break through year. She’s just gotta make sure those triples are consistent and that her footwork/spins aren’t too simplistic.

Carolina Kostner comes in at #7. She’s quite a story, herself. Working with Frank Carroll last season did her some good, but I worry that she’s too much of a head case to ever make it to the top. I hate to say that about anyone, but the girl just can’t get things back together. This season could be a make-it-or-break-it year for her.

Russian Alena Leonova is another pretty girl who needs to step up her game. I haven’t seen too much out of her that makes me lean one way or another, but post-Olympic years always seem to be the time for skaters like Alena to be the surprise. Russia’s about ready for a new world power, so I’m sure she’ll be working hard to climb her way up the world ladder.

American Rachel Flatt makes the top ten, ranking at #9. Rachel is a doll. She’s smart, funny, dedicated, and consistent. But she sometimes (well, most of the time) lacks the spark…maybe the sparkle…to pull off a standing-O type performance. She may skate very well this season. I just hope she finds a way to shine beyond the consistency and really let the programs sing. That said, she should be right up there through the Grand Prix season, in my opinion.

Filling out the top 10 is Kiira Korpi, followed by Kanako Murakami. I’m not hugely familiar with these two, so I’ll reserve judgment until I see them in their first Grand Prixs.

Mirai Nagasu is ranked #12, and for me, she’s one of the top candidates for a break-through year. All right, I know I’m more than a little biased because I adore her, but I really do believe she had the goods. With Frank Carroll on her side, she could be dynamite if she can get the technique down pat, and stop doubting herself. I am expecting big things from her, but only because I truly believe she’s World Champion material.

Two other Americans fall in behind Mirai: Ashley Wagner and Alissa Czisny. Wagner has potential to move up in the rankings. She had a good season, but unfortunately missed the Olympic team. She’ll be looking to make amends for that. Alissa….well, I love her. But I’m not sure she’s ever going to break through anymore than she did a few years back. She just doesn’t compete well under pressure, no matter how badly I want her to. We’ll see. Maybe she’ll prove me wrong.

Cynthia Phaneuf, Polina Shelepen, Elena Gedevanishvilli, and Ksenia Makarova, are next, and again are skaters who’ve had some success, but are looking for some consistency. Ksenia is a new Russian hope and I believe she has a great chance at having a good season.

Caroline Zhang and Fumie Suguri wrap up the top 20. These two skaters are on completely opposite ends of their careers, but strangely are facing similar mountains to climb this season. Caroline is to Mirai what Mao Asada is to Yu-Na Kim. Sort of, at least. They both came up about the same time, are good friends, but their careers have separated dramatically in the last season or so. Last year was a disaster for Caroline. I never felt like she was really enjoying skating. Now, with a new coach, she’ll try to redeem herself and gain back the momentum she had that lead everyone to believe she was the biggest hope for a return of American dominance in ladies skating.

Fumie on the other hand, has had her day in the sun. She’s been the warrior that paved the way for the multitude of Japanese stars, yet, along the way, she’s kind of been left behind. Every year people expect her to retire, but every year she decides she wants to train a little more, compete a little longer. She just loves it. And, like Caroline, she’s going to want to prove she’s still got it. Last I heard she was having trouble getting the funding she needed to continue to skate, so we’ll see if she ends up on the world scene for another season or not.

Phew! That was a lot of analyzing. But it’s got me all worked up for the Grand Prix to start. Did you notice it’s September? That means less than 2 months till the first Senior Grand Prix gets underway!

Next time we’ll talk about the top 20 men…which could be very interesting.

Until then…

(Follow me on Twitter…twitter.com/fromtheboards)

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4 Responses to “Three Blind Mice to ABC…”

  1. Y Says:

    I have been totally impressed by Nathan since he was featured, I think, at the US National. All he needs is more strength and speed. Luckily for boys those come with physical growth, unlike girls who have to overcome puberty.

    Watch him and little Nam Nguyen of Canada battle it out in 2018!

    • Isn’t he fabulous? It’s hard to think he won’t be old enough for the Olympics until 2018, but when he is…look out, world! It will be exciting to see how he and the other young ones progress as we look to the future.

  2. Y Says:

    What amuses me is that, while both are supremely talented, Nathan is so shy and Nam is a ham.

    It’s hilarious to see the second and third placers towering over little Nam while standing on the lower steps of the podium! I imagine Nathan’s podium picture may be similar.

    Yes, he’s fabulous. Jumps, skating skills, artistry and sophistication beyond his years, with power and speed to come with growing, he has it all.

    What a great future for the skating world.

    • It’s so fun for me to see these young ones coming up through the ranks, loving skating as much as they do, and using their talent even at such a young age. It makes me feel great about the future of skating, as you said!


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