In talking with some twitter friends, we determined this may be the most wide-open ladies fields in years, without a clear-cut, untouchable favorite. That will reflect in the competition in Colorado Springs, as well as the World Championships in Nice, France.
The openness provides exciting and intense competition, but it also makes predictions even harder than usual! That said, without a dramatic shake up, the top three seem fairly clear here.
Gold: Mao Asada
No, she still isn’t back to 2009-2010 form. But, she’s making great strides, and perhaps more importantly, she’s happy. When Mao is happy, she is relaxed. When she is relaxed, everything comes more easily. After retooling her technique, the majority of her jumps are secure and smooth. Her footwork is better than ever. And her program composition is among the best in the world. If she skates anywhere close to her potential, she’ll win handily.
Silver: Ashley Wagner
Wagner would like to consider herself a gold-medal contender here. And, if Asada struggles, it’s possible. But, even Ashley herself was realistic in knowing she has to up the ante to compete on the world stage. Losing the proverbial “monkey on her back” by winning a national title just over a week ago will help her skate confidently. But, as the National Champ, the pressure is on.
Fortunately for Ashley, it’s a position I expect her to handle well. Even in her Nationals exhibition, she was already skating with a new heir — one that says she is ready for the next challenge.
If she can match or exceed her Nationals performances, she will easily take the silver.
Bronze: Kanako Murakami
This could be an interesting battle. Because none of the rest of the field competes consistently, it’s anyone’s game. However, Murakami has the advantage of skating in the ever-powerful Japanese ladies system. Last year, she was a phenom. This year, she’s struggled to live up to her own expectations. Finishing sixth and fourth in her GPs wasn’t ideal. But, she still has the scores to make her the bronze medal favorite.
That said, it will be a battle, namely with Agnes Zawadzki.
Young Agnes — who contemplated leaving the sport after last season — shocked the skating world with a stunning US Nationals Short Program that vaulted her into the lead. However, we all know what happened next. Skating last, with all the pressure, trying to live up to expectations and seize the moment … it was all simply too much.
But, that unfortunate free skate that dropped her to third overall made her angry. And anger, often times, translates to great rebound performances. That, coupled with the fact that she’s skating at home, might give her an edge, should Murakami leave the door open.
The best of the rest
Who knows, at this point, what Caroline Zhang could do here. After her brilliant short program at US Nationals, she reminded us all why she was the heir-apparent to the Michelle Kwan thrown. Now, her appalling jump technique that she’s spent two full season reworking showed itself ever so slightly in her free skate. But, she’s made steady progress throughout the year and — much like Asada — is happy again. When she is on, there are few young skaters with more grace or better line. But, it’s always going to be a matter of hitting the jumps (and getting full credit on the rotation.)
Another interesting story line here is the head-to-head between Amelie Lacoste and Cynthina Phaneuf. Lacoste is coming off Nationals with her first title. Phaneuf is coming off of Nationals angry. It was supposed to be her title to win, and she isn’t ready to let someone else earn the lone Worlds spot for Canada. Both girls will have to skate the best programs of their season (neither has been clean all year) to leave the best impression possible in the eyes of the Canadian federation. It will be intense, even if they’re not in the medal mix.
The ladies always bring the drama, and I expect nothing less this weekend. For the top ladies, this is an absolutely necessary tune up on the way to Worlds (which leads to a discussion on why Alissa Czisny isn’t there, but that’s for another time!). A strong event here could be just the right boost for a peak performance in Nice.
Who has the most to gain (or lose!) in Colorado Springs?