Figure Skating: From the Boards

Omaha or bust: Let’s go, ladies January 22, 2013

PrintNo lady has defended her U.S. title since Michelle Kwan last did it … in 2005. There were a few who could have. But, pressure, injuries, and rising young stars have kept the roller coaster going strong.

Once again, though, the current ladies champion is in prime position to be the first back-to-back champion in seven years. But, we’ll get to Ms. Wagner in a moment.

The rest of the field provides some seriously interesting possibilities.

With Alissa Czisny forced to withdraw after dislocating her hip in her late-season debut, Mirai Nagasu becomes one of the most notable “veterans” in the field. And yet, her own personal roller coaster has been no secret. After parting ways with Frank Carroll after last season’s disappointing end, she has taken on more responsibility in her skating, it seems. And, she’s happy again.

But, happy and mature are only part of the equation — she still has to prove she can put down back-to-back clean (read: no underrotations!) programs that are filled with elite-level transitions and in-betweens. Her average scores on spins this season top the field of U.S. ladies, and her program component scores keep her in the hunt.

Technically, Christina Gao can put up a good fight. We saw it at Skate America, where she took home silver behind Ashley Wagner. As Gao’s season progressed, she struggled more and more. But, she is averaging the highest free skate base value of the American girls … even if only by less than a point over Wagner.

For Gao, her program components go as the technical elements do — when she’s on, she’s glorious. But when she’s not, things fall apart across the board.

Then there’s the battle between the girl still trying to claim her elite spot and the girl with the potential to snatch it all away.

That would be Agnes Zawadzki — last year’s bronze medalist — and newcomer Gracie Gold, the future of American ladies skating.

Zawadzki is another skater with all the talent in the world. She has jumps that are larger than life, but all too often she misses in just enough ways to take herself out of the running. Meanwhile, Gold has no doubts about where she sees herself in the national mix. Despite missing the Grand Prix podium in her first senior season, she believes, according to her comments to reporters last week, that she’ll “fit right in” with the country’s best senior ladies.

It may not be quite that easy, though. She’s struggled mightily in her long programs this season, changing the content as she goes sometimes in order to make up for a miss earlier in the skate. The one thing that hasn’t changed? Her triple lutz-triple toe combination. She’s raking in more than 11 points on average for that element alone in the free skate.

But, then there’s Wagner.

Gold at Skate America. Gold at Trophee Eric Bompard. Silver — despite a nasty fall in the free skate — at the Grand Prix Final.

In a world of inconsistencies, she’s been as consistent as anyone. In fact, her short program scores actually went up by roughly three points each event. Her free skate totals have been within a few points of each other (except for the Final …).

Despite the fact that she’s only doing a triple-double combination in the short, she still has the highest average score on that element in the short, compared to the other top U.S. ladies who are doing triple-triple combinations. Her grade of execution scores, coupled with much improved program components, make everything she does, even if it’s not as technically difficult, extremely valuable.

The reality is, this title is hers for the taking.

Now, she has to go out and do her job. That hasn’t changed. But if she does, one of the World Team spots is as good as hers. A more interesting story, perhaps, is the other spot.

Is this the year Mirai makes her comeback? Does Agnes avoid the little bobbles? Can Christina regain her early-season form? Or will Gracie prove she belongs on the world stage?

What do you think?

Here’s my prediction:

Gold: Wagner
Silver: Zawadzki
Bronze: Nagasu
Pewter: Gold

Be sure to follow me on twitter (@FromTheBoards) for updates from Omaha. And, if you’re an instagramer, give me a follow at tarabethw for photos from the week.


A Look Ahead: The Ladies of the GP Series May 24, 2012

Let’s hear it for the ladies!

Last year, the women made this event ever-unpredictable and, as always, a premiere event to watch. Looking at the lineup this season, I expect to see much of the same! Here’s how it breaks down.

Skate America: 

Mae Bernice Meite (FRA)
Sarah Hecken (GER)
Valentine Marchei (ITA)
Haruka Imai (JPN)
Alena Leonova (RUS)
Adelina Sotnikova (RUS)
Viktoria Helgesson (SWE)
Rachael Flatt (USA)
Christina Gao (USA)
Ashley Wagner (USA)

Okay, lots of goodies here. First, we see US and Four Continents champ Ashley Wagner’s Skate America debut. We all know the season she put together last year, but this will be an even bigger test — living up to these new expectations.

Speaking of expectations, Rachael Flatt will be interesting to watch this year. There’s no doubt she adores the sport and the challenge of training to compete. But, will she be able to shake off last season’s disappointments and the weight of college academics to be competitive again?

Personally, I adore Christina Gao. Her carriage over the ice is almost regal. If she can stay healthy, look for a much better GP season from her in 2012.

The Russian return to the top in ladies skating has been coming on for some time now. Many think Adelina Sotnikova is the strongest hope for the podium in Sochi. If that’s the case, she needs to make great use of the next two years in order to build her stamina and consistency to compete with the best of the best.

Don’t overlook Alena Leonova, though. She’s not quite ready to give in to the budding youngsters — and you don’t have to look further than her World medal for proof of that! (more…)


On To The Springs! Four Continents — Ladies Preview February 7, 2012

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.

Japanese sensation Mao Asada skates to a National Title in 2012

If Asada skates as "free" as she has all season, she'll head to Nice the 4CC champ.

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.  (more…)


Vlog: Dancers and Ladies Strike Gold … & Silver & Bronze & Pewter! January 29, 2012

Recorded this just after the events ended last night. Knew I wouldn’t have time to get the recap done before today’s events got underway!

Congrats to the medalists!

Find COMPLETE results here:


Tweet all about it, San Jose style! January 24, 2012

With titles already being decided in San Jose, senior competitors are getting their Nationals on, twitter style. Keeping up with all the buzz is tricky, but here are some of the latest and greatest!

Some of the crew has already arrived.

Others have just arrived, giving us visuals to confirm.

And others can’t wait to join in the action!

Can you feel the buzz?! I sure can. Ahh, Nationals!!


Breaking it down: Rostelecom Cup November 28, 2011

It seems impossible, but the Grand Prix series for 2011 is over, save the Final in a few weeks. We’ve seen a little bit of everything this year, so I continue to expect the unexpected as we go forward through the GPF, Nationals, Europeans, Worlds, Four Continents … they’re really not as far off as they seem! In fact, the US Nationals competitors list was just released, if you’re interested.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s take one last look back at the sixth and final GP event of the season.

Meryl and Charlie … and everyone else

One of the more tender moments of their FD.

To be fair, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were fantastic. But there’s just no comparison to what the World Champs are doing.

Their free dance this year is, in its purest form, exactly what ice dance should be. It’s a waltz. And while there are times it could have a more waltz-y feel, what they do in this program is brilliant. I’ve said I don’t believe Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s FD shows off their strengths, but the opposite is true of Davis and White. Their polish is evident despite the complexity of this skate. And the crazy thing? There’s still room for improvement. I expect come Worlds, this program will be stunning. I’m excited to watch it develop. (And that’s not even mentioning their sizzling short dance! Charlie stumbled in this event, but they have the samba mood down pat.)

Weaver and Poje have one of my favorite free dances of the year. Yes, the falling strap can be a tad distracting, but you’d be hard pressed to find any dance team who pours as much emotion into a dance as these two. You almost feel like your heart is breaking along with Kaitlyn’s by the end! That’s powerful stuff. Plus, they skated it really well. They have always seemed to struggle to get the high marks from the judges, but they’re coming into their own and their confidence shows.

Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev were quite the home crowd pleasers, but finished a distant third.

Nix the triple axel, take the gold

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy got me again. In their first match up with Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov (at NHK Trophy), I figured they had the upper hand. Problem was, they were determined to try their latest trick — that

Every element is sharp and clean and, well, perfect.

throw triple axel. It cost them when they couldn’t hit it cleanly.

I assumed they would continue that daring here, thus I picked Kavaguti and Smirnov. But no. The reigning World Champs went the “safe” route and stuck to more manageable throws. (You know, like the lutz and loop. “Easy” stuff!) The result?


Good for them. They skated a fantastic free skate that gave them the top international score of the season from the other Russian stars, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov.

When these three end up at the same event (like the GPF), watch out. There will be fireworks! (more…)


It’s a wrap! Junior Worlds Results March 5, 2011

Well, the Junior World Championships from Korea are complete. Due to the time difference and lack of available coverage, I saw all of 3 skates thus far. More are making their way to Youtube, I’m sure, but here’s a quick look at how things shaped up.


The Pairs title was the first one handed out, and, as expected, Wenjing Sui/Cong Han took it easily. Their 7.41 victory, though, doesn’t show off the kind of success they had on the senior circuit this season. Some wondered if they would be distracted by their involvement in the Chinese age controversy, but they managed just fine.

Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov topped Narumi Takahashi/Mervin Tran in the free skate to take the silver. Takahashi/Tran, then, took bronze.

Americans Ashley Cain/Joshua Reagan finished a distant fourth, scoring a 135.40 overall, but have put themselves in good position for next season. I like this team, from their long, elegant look on the ice, to their positive-but-always-competitive attitudes. I hope the off season is good to them and they come back strong next year, as the teams ahead of them are already on their way to strong senior careers as well.

Find complete Pairs results here.

The Russians continued their resurgence in Ice Dance, taking the top two spots.

Ksenia Monko/Kirill Khaliavin won the title by nearly 10 points over their fellow Russians Ekaterina Pushkash/Jonathan Guerreiro.

Charlotte Lichtman/Dean Copely of the US pulled up from fourth in the Short Dance to a bronze medal overall, while the other Americans, Anastassia Cannuscio/Colin McManus finished in 7th.

Find compete Ice Dance results here.

The biggest shake up between the short and long programs came courtesy of the Junior men.

American Keegan Messing led after the short program by 5.31 points over the eventual winner from Canada, Andrei Rogozine.

Japan’s Keiji Tanaka pulled from sixth in the short to second overall, and Alexander Majorov from Sweden moved up a spot to land on the podium.

Messing fell to fourth, followed by teammates Max Aaron and Jason Brown in fifth and seventh respectively.

Find complete Men’s results here.

Continuing to push to the top, the Russians took gold and silver for the ladies, as well.

Adelina Sotnikova won the title, as expected. This girl is one to watch. She has some incredible jumps that remind me of the height and strength of Irina Slutskya’s jumps at times. But she has an artistic edge that Slutskya didn’t. Adelina will give some big names a run for their money if she keeps it up.

Elizaveta Tuktamisheva took home the silver.

Americans Agnes Zawadzki and Christina Gao flip-flopped places after the short. Agnes landed on the podium after a strong free skate, and taking bronze over Gao by 5.8 points. The third American, Courtney Hicks, had the fourth-best free skate of the event, however, and pulled up from 10th to 6th overall.

Find complete Ladies results here.

With all the buzz lately between Junior Worlds and Senior Worlds, I was curious…how much does Junior world success translate to Senior world success? I’ve been researching/studying this for the last few days, so look for a post early next week with all the details! Some interesting stuff came up…and, as I always do with research, I had trouble finding a place to stop! But I think I’m done compiling, now I just have to put it all together for you to see! So stay tuned.


Until then…