Figure Skating: From the Boards

Skating for Gold – Nationals 2011: the Men January 6, 2011

Every year since 2006, January brings a flood of memories to my mind. Early mornings, cold, rink-side arena seats, and the smell of freshly Zamboni-ed ice (Yes, the smell). But most of all, January makes me remember the anticipation and excitement of being at my first Nationals. Walking in that first night is as fresh in my mind as what I ate for breakfast this morning (a delightful blueberry scone, courtesy of my favorite Starbucks location!).

So the closer we get to the start of the 2011 National Championships in Greensboro, NC, the stronger those excited feelings become. And, thanks to my wonderful Twitter followers, I know I’m not alone!

Nationals seems later this year than normal, but for me that’s a good thing – a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have had time to even think about a preview blog! So, I suppose I should thank US Figure Skating for conveniently fitting Nationals into my 2011 schedule! Now, if only I could figure out a way to actually be in Greensboro for the week…

Daydreaming aside, it’s time for some Nationals chatter! But, oh, where to begin!

Knowing my constant challenge with being concise, I’ve decided to post separate blogs for my thoughts about the Men, Ladies, Ice Dance, and Pairs events, all of which present some pretty intense competition!

I’ve been asked a lot about my thoughts on the Men’s competition, so that is where we will begin.

All season long, I’ve been saying the men’s competition is by far the most competitive internationally, and I have a feeling that may be the case at the Coliseum, too. With the top guys from the last few years (Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir) not skating in NC, the door is wide open for some long-time challengers as well as some “fresh blood” to take a shot at the podium. First off, let’s take a look at the guys I feel are top contenders, and then I’ll tell you why.

  • Jeremy Abbott
  • Adam Rippon
  • Brandon Mroz
  • Armin Mahbanoozadeh
  • Ryan Bradley

Obviously, Jeremy has to be considered the favorite. He’s the two-time and reigning champ, and he’s got all the confidence in the world. Plus, he has great programs, great jumps, great fan support, and great coaches. If he puts it all on the ice like we all know he can, I believe he can leave Greensboro as the three-time champion. However, if the pressure of defending gets to him, or his past consistency issues come back to haunt him, he could be in trouble because there are plenty of other guys hungry for the chance to be American’s #1 man.

Adam Rippon is, also without a doubt, the #2 guy right now. He’s the heir apparent to the American thrown, and for good reason. The guy has a depth of artistry and a level of emotion in his skating that surpasses anyone else on the US scene right now, as far as I’m concerned. He’s matured a lot in this last year, and you can tell that he really wants to not only skate well, but tell a story, and that is what makes figure skating so magical. You can also tell, though, that he wants to be considered among the best in the world, and Nationals is a great chance for him to show how well he can keep up with the Jeremy Abbotts of the skating world. He will need to hit it big technically, especially if others bring the quad (which Adam can do, as well…). I expect him to compete well, but his last competition of the Grand Prix series didn’t go as planned, so hopefully he’s moved past that and is full strength and ready to bring it!

Brandon rounds out the trio of men that, on paper, should make up the top three. Now, we all know what’s “on paper” doesn’t often translate accurately to the ice. That said, Brandon has made some big strides this year that make me really want to see him do well. His artistry is sill no where near that of Adam and Jeremy, but he does seem to be establishing more of a connection between the music and the movements. Technically, he’s got all the big tricks in his arsenal. It’ll be a matter of putting all the pieces together at the right time…and holding it together mid-program if something goes wrong.

Not to be overlooked (and looking to cement his status at the top of the US ranks) is, perhaps, the biggest surprise medalist of the Grand Prix season, Armin Mahbanoozadeh. This kid is something else. He skated to bronze in champion-like fashion, looking completely un-phased by the pressure that comes with opportunity. That, and he has a brilliant long program to music from “Avatar.” I love it. And I truly believe that he has a great chance to play spoiler and earn a spot on the World team.

Finally, the biggest question mark of the event, one of my long-time favorites, Ryan Bradley. If you read the latest blog from Sarah and Drew on icenetwork.com about his decision to compete, you know that he’s in it because YOU asked for it! You’ve got to love a guy who responds that way to his fans. I won’t lie, I was actually surprised when I saw him listed to compete in Greensboro. I hadn’t seen confirmation of his decision for this year, and coming back from foot surgery is hard enough, but to do it on comparatively short preparation time? He’s got guts, that’s for sure. But he’s also skating with a refreshed mindset this season; one in which he’s determined to enjoy skating for all of the simple, pure reasons that made him love it in the first place. And that, my friends, could be just the mindset that propels him to the podium. He has quite the challenge ahead of him, but I know a world of skating fans who would be thrilled to see him get his moment (including me!).

You know, the great thing about US Nationals – and any nationals, for that matter – is that you get a chance to see not only  the best the nation has to offer, but those who will be the best in the future. And this year, the list of guys hoping to make a big splash of their own, medal or no medal, is just as competitive as the competition for gold. Take a look:

  • Ross Miner
  • Josh Farris
  • Jason Brown
  • Douglass Razzano
  • Parker Pennington
  • Grant Hochstein
  • Keegan messing
  • Richard Dornbush
  • Johnathan Cassar

Boy, will this competition be good! I wish NBC would show more than the final group, but thank God for icenetwork’s additional coverage, whatever it actually amounts to, so that we get to see all these guys pull out their best.

I hope the fans in Greensboro pack the Coliseum, and that these men really, really bring it…there is certainly the potential for some “skate of a lifetime” moments that Nationals has the tendency to draw out of people.

And that excited feeling is back. Full force, giving me chills…come on, January 22nd, get here faster!

Who are your picks for the podium? I’d love to know.

Stay tuned; other previews coming soon.

Until then…

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