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!

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US Pairs: Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make me a Match! January 10, 2013

Just tossing it out there: any chance we can convince Michelle Kwan and Evan Lysacek to come back to skating as pairs skaters? That would be a great buzz-story, right? And it’s evident the US Pairs world needs a little more drama. (And consistency, but we’ll get to that.)

Seriously, keeping up with the world of pairs skating is like trying to keep up with the road runner and Wylie Coyote. No? Just me? Hmm. Okay. How about this: Keeping up with the world of pairs skating is harder than keeping up with the Kardashians! (Still terrible, I know. Moving on …)

If a team isn’t splitting up, their changing coaches. And if they’re not changing coaches or splitting up, they’re probably injured. And if they’re a national champion one year, chances are pretty good they won’t be around to defend that title the following year.

I know, this year there are some extenuating circumstances there, this time around. John Coughlin’s injury and surgery made his National Title defense with partner Caydee Denney impossible. And with a goal of making the 2014 Olympic team, it’s better to miss this Nationals than the next one.

But with Denney/Coughlin out with injury, Mary Beth Marley/Rockne Brubaker no longer skating together, Amanda Evora retired, Caitlin Yankowskas/Josh Reagan a recent withdrawl … we’ll be lucky if there are enough skaters left to fill the medal stand in Omaha, at this rate!

Yes, I’m being a bit dramatic. But, there seems to be a bit of a black hole in US Pairs skating these days that makes it tough to gain ground internationally. It does, though, open the door for skaters like Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir and Gretchen Donlan/Andrew Speroff to stake their claim the season before the Olympic year. Without a defending (or even former) US Champ in the field, these two teams (who finished in the top five last year at Nationals) have a golden opportunity.

We’ll get to what to expect at Nationals later, but for now, with the current landscape of US Pairs skating, I want to play matchmaker, and I want your help!

Let’s assume we have any US figure skater at our disposal. Who would you pair up in an attempt to create the new super-team? (It worked out pretty well for Caydee and John … pre-injury … so why not give it another shot?)

And, while we’re at it, if we can please find a partner for Rockne Brubaker, that would be fabulous. The skating world misses him. … I miss him. (At this rate, I’ll be your partner, Rockne!)

So, who would you pair up? Current skaters? Past skaters? Singles skaters?

How about Sasha Cohen and Rockne?

Or Mirai Nagasu and Adam Rippon? (Maybe not … but you get the idea!)

Who would you pick as the next great American pairs team??

 

 

Halfway Home: Grand Prix 2012 Update November 5, 2012

With three events wrapped up all nice and tidy, I figured it was time for a quick look back.

Hopefully you caught my video updates from Skate America, but I admittedly didn’t get as much content up here as I’d hoped.

Then, Skate Canada happened; it came and went before I knew it. So it goes, some times, when “real life” doesn’t align with skating life!

of course, sketchy, middle-of-the-night streams from China were hard to find, but thanks to a few speedy YouTubers, I was caught up before I knew it.

And that was that. Three events down.

So, what did these three events tell us?

Here’s my take.

Just dance

Davis/White have brilliant programs this year. And, they weren’t perfect. There was visibly work that can be done.
Virtue/Moir? Okay, I guess if you’re a hard-core Tessa and Scott fan, you probably loved their Free Dance to Carmen-gone-“modern.” I, on the other hand, well … how do I say this? I thought it was a hot mess.

It was awkward, uncomfortable, out of their element, and definitely not this year’s best Carmen. 

Go ahead, say what you want now. The beautiful thing about ice dance is the subjectivity allowed!

I was also not floored by the concept and execution of Nathalie and Fabian’s Free Dance. The disco theme is interesting. Very “them.” But it felt a bit disjointed to me. It may smooth out over the season, and if it does, they could be pushing the top two teams. In fact, they make no bones about the fact that they want the top spot by the Sochi games. And, credit where credit is due, they amaze me with their continued improvement and creative (albeit occasionally awkward) lifts and choreography.

Bobrova/Soloviev, Weaver/Poje, Chock/Bates, and Kriengkrairutl/Giulietti-Schmitt were impressive early, too.

Men, men, men

(Also read, “Japan, Japan, Japan.”)

Holy toledo, Batman. The Japanese men came to play! A sweep at Skate America, Yuzuru Hanyu with a world record score, and Tatsuki Machida — the guy on the outside of the buzz last season — with a gold, a silver, and a ticket to the Grand Prix final.

Your move, Patrick Chan.

For the first time in two years, the Canadian champ has his work cut out for him. Nothing’s a guarantee, especially considering the early struggles he’s had.

The American men, too, have their work cut out for them. Jeremy Abbott had a bizarre physical breakdown in his Free Skate in Kent. Ross Miner and Adam Rippon fell short of the podium in Canada and China respectively, while Javier Fernandez finally broke through.

Beyond Skate America, though, we haven’t seen exceptionally clean skating, either. So that could shake up the standings eventually.

This one’s for the girls

…who’ve ever had a golden dream.

Ashley Wagner. ‘nough said.

Okay, not really. She debuted programs this year that exceeded last year’s works of art. Plus, she looked as trained as I’ve ever seen her, as confident, and as calm as she’s ever skated. This girl knows what she wants, and after last year, she knows if she puts in the work, she can get it.

Her competition is stiff — young Russians, veteran Japanese, and the return of Yuna Kim.

Speaking of competition, how about Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond? She certainly forced herself onto the radar (and gave Canadian fans a spark of hope!) with her win at home over Akiko Suzuki.

I can’t not mention the other two Americans making noise: Christina Gao. She was, in a word, stunning at Skate America. I’ve been a fan for a long time, claiming I see Kwan-like moments in her skating. Whatever mix she’s found with her studies at Harvard and skating when she’s not in class is working wonders. She looks mature, fit, and trained.

Mirai Nagasu is in that awkward position of being the US girl nearly falling off the edge. If she doesn’t get things together this season, she’ll have a tough road ahead making an Olympic team next year. She had jump after jump under-rotated or downgraded in China. And while it was a step in the right direction (she stayed upright!) her programs aren’t built to compensate for the points lost on the jumps.

As usual, the ladies are keeping it interesting!

Two is better than one

You know, the pairs event has been the least exciting thus far, at least in my mind.

Savchenko/Szolkowy have strange but difficult programs, and enough fire power to win. Volosozhar/Trankov have huge elements, but still have trouble putting out clean programs back-to-back. And a Chinese team is pushing everyone. The only shock is who that Chinese team is — Pang and Tong are back. And still skating. STILL. I can’t believe they’re still here after all these years. And, skating well enough to claim a Grand Prix Final berth. Kudos to them.

Americans Denny/Coughlin are well on their way. In fact, they may be more technically consistent than some other top teams. But, it’s those other things — the components points, for example — that are holding them back.

So…

…all that means is, we’ve only just begun!
What about you? Whose programs have you all worked up? And which skater has you most excited for the rest of their season?

 

 

 

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…)

 

So you may have heard (Or, news ’round the skating world) April 6, 2012

The Post-Worlds-Syndrom is probably setting in right about now. After the high of Nationals, the build up from Four Continents, to the climax in Nice, all the highest hopes of the 2012 season have reached a near end. A month from now, skating fans will be grasping at the slightest bit of news, hoping for tid bits on new music or costumes, and counting down the days until the season begins again.

A break is nice, so long as it’s not too long.

But, in contrast to other years, the season doesn’t quite end with the World Championships. We still have the World Team Trophy to look forward to!

Fan of this style event or not, it’s skating. And with the announcement of the teams, we can see that it will be star-studded in and of itself.

Based on qualifications from the 2012 World and Junior World Championships, six countries made the cut and will send a team of eight skaters to Tokyo, Japan for the team-style competition to be held April 19-22.

If you’re unfamiliar with the way this game is played, here’s the rundown from U.S. Figure Skating:

Gold's season isn't over yet. She'll have her chance against some of the world's best later this month in Tokyo.

World Team Trophy features the six best figure skating teams of the 2011-12 season, including Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States. Each team consists of two ladies, two men, one pair and one ice dancing couple. The scores of each team’s skaters in the short programs/dance and free skates/dance will be added together and the highest point total will win.

The American team will be made up of National Champs Meryl Davis & Charlie White, Caydee Denney & John Coughlin, Ashley Wagner, and Jeremy Abbott, along with silver medalist Adam Rippon and Junior Champion Gracie Gold (who will be making her Senior-level international debut).

Remember, a version of this event will be present at the 2014 Sochi games. So, it’s important for this competition to go well!

Anyone up for making early predictions on who will win that event? Or on how the adorable and talented Gracie Gold will hold up against elite senior competition?

We’ll find out soon enough!

And, in other, completely unrelated news, Evan Lysacek has earned a prestigious, new position: a Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Sports Envoy.

Sounds fancy, right?

So what exactly will the Olympic Champ be doing? Following in long-time friend Michelle Kwan’s footsteps, it seems!

 On his inaugural trip done in partnership with U.S. Figure Skating, Lysacek will travel to Stockholm, Sweden and Minsk, Belarus April 6 – 13.

While in Sweden, Lysacek will hold ice skating clinics with youth from the Stockholm area, organized in cooperation with the non-governmental organization Sports Without Borders. In Minsk, from April 11 – 13, Lysacek will conduct clinics with the Skating Union of Belarus and speak with students of the University of Physical Culture about the importance of sports in society. He will also attend a competition for wheelchair fencers and wheelchair dancers.

[snip]

Sports Envoys are current and retired professional athletes and coaches from a range of sports that travel overseas to conduct clinics and team building activities, as well as engage youth in a dialogue on the importance of education, positive health practices and respect for diversity. The U.S. Department of State’s sports diplomacy division, SportsUnited, works in close partnership with professional sports leagues, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and respective National Governing Bodies so that American athletes may engage overseas youth in positive dialogue.

Interesting, for someone on a comeback trail of his own to add Envoy trips to his soon-to-be-full training schedule. But, if you’ve followed Lysacek through the years, he does like to be busy! And this is certainly a worth-while addition to his plans.

I don’t know about you, but a lesson or clinic with an Olympic Champion would certainly inspire me!

Congrats to Evan on his new gig!

 

Nice — Two Stars, One Champion April 1, 2012

 

Nice, Day 3 — It’s Raining Men March 30, 2012

Okay, maybe the music choice at the arena during yesterday’s Zamboni breaks was a premonition of sorts?

The Men’s Short Programs today seemed to follow the trend of the Pairs Short programs — sloppy and in some cases, quite shocking. For an event with so much depth and potential firepower, we sure saw a lot of mistake-filled mayhem today.

In a field with so many medal contenders, hope reigned supreme as the Short Programs began. But alas, it was not meant to be. Some long-shot medal hopefuls like Nan Song and Tomas Verner fell out of the top ten. Some not-so-long-shot contenders like Takahiko Kozuka and Artur Gachinski did the same. And that was only a taste of what we’d see.

It just wasn’t their day …

There were great hopes for the American men in Nice. Both seemingly skating well enough that a top-five finish was well within reach.

Adam Rippon was the first of the two to skate and his triple flip-triple toe combination set things off just right. But the pesky triple axel and a completely uncharacteristic mistake on the Rippon-triple Lutz resulted in technical scores some nine points off the lead. He did his best to keep up the performance, but the component scores (too low, in my opinion) didn’t do him any favors today.

After others had faltered, there was room at the top for Jeremy Abbott. But when he landed a little loose on the first jump in his triple flip-triple toe combo, he tried to muscle the second jump anyway … unfortunately, his efforts were in vain and he went down. A superb triple axel seemed to have him back on track, but a wobbly double lutz did him in. A level 1 call on his upright spin didn’t help gain back any points, either.

The good news is, he had the third-highest component scores of the day — less than two points behind Patrick Chan! Jeremy has long been undermarked on his PCS, so that was delightful to see. And just think: a clean program would likely have resulted in those marks going even higher!

As I mentioned, it was also not Takahiko Kozuka’s day. He fell on his opening quad toe, then caught an edge on the ride out of his triple axel and went down again.

His countryman and co-favorite Daisuke Takahashi had some troubles, too, as he tried — unsuccessfully — to tack a triple toe onto the end of his quad toe at the start of the program. Fortunately for him, though, the rest of his program was superb. Not a single negative grade of execution mark was given, outside of the botched combination. He also had the second-highest component scores — also well deserved.

Even Patrick Chan bumbled around a bit today. He was wild on the landing of his quad toe, so he had to add the combination back in later on (which he did beautifully, on the end of a lovely triple flip). And in his trademark footwork, he didn’t look quite over his feet a few times. He managed to stay vertical throughout, but there were a few close calls. And, appropriately, the scores mirrored that. Nothing untouchable about an 89.41. Well … normally.

Today, maybe it would hold.

It’s go time!

At least SOMEONE had a day!

So there were a few bright spots today. A few guys lived up to the moment the World Championships can provide and while not all of them have spectacular placements, they have skates to be proud of.

Javier Fernandez is a bit of a wild card here. He is more than capable of matching up with the best in the world, but he doesn’t have the “big game” experience that tells you how he might perform. Well, he came in after a hot mess of sloppy programs, and threw down a quad toe, triple lutz-triple toe combo, and a scratchy-but-rotated triple axel. Oh, and a whole heap of charm and personality! His coach, Brian Orser, expected higher scores for his young protege, but nevertheless, this was a skate to be proud of.

Brian Joubert came out, all guns blazing and tried to steal the show, too. He had a quad toe-triple toe combination, a triple axel, and a triple lutz that reminded us how he’d been at the top in the not-too-distant past. Sure, his choreography is a little lacking compared to the very best. But with the boost of the French crowd, he squeezed every ounce out of that performance. I was happy for him.

The biggest surprise, though, was Michal Brezina. Yes, he’s had some success this season. But normally against unimpressive fields. Don’t get me wrong, he deserves the praise. He has this Short Program so ingrained that I’m positive he could do it blindfolded. And it’s no slouch of a program, either. A triple axel, triple flip-triple toe combo and a quad salchow late in the program? That’ll do! His PCS aren’t quite Abbot/Takahashi/Chan-esque, but when you deliver those goods (and no one else does), it works just fine.

Standings after the Short

So here’s how it stands:

1. Patrick Chan (89.41)
2. Michal Brezina (87.67)
3. Daisuke Takahashi (85.72)
4. Brian Joubert (83.47)
5. Javier Fernandez (81.87)

9. Jeremy Abbott (74.85)
10. Adam Rippon (73.55)

Theoretically, it’s certainly still possible for the Americans to move up and snag that magic number 13 (to gain a third team spot for next year). Sixth and Seventh place would do it (or fifth and eight, fourth and ninth … you get the idea), but that means making up 5+ points over the three ahead of them. So that’s the task at hand. Now if it was only so simple!

(See complete SP results here: http://www.isuresults.com/results/wc2012/SEG005.HTM)

 

Here’s to a more inspiring free skate for the men on Saturday!