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.

Advertisements
 

Find a penny, pick it up … hope that it will change your luck. January 15, 2013

Last week, I was elated with word straight from the source: Alissa Czisny would be back in action in Omaha.

This week, I was heartbroken from more news, first, this time, from US Figure Skating. Then, confirmed by Jason Dungjen. Alissa’s Nationals hopes were dashed, yet again.

Czisny headline

Come on, now. Can a girl get a break?!

This poor woman has dealt with more ups and downs in her career than anyone should have to. After the years of struggling with confidence that caused her to miss the Olympic team, to a comeback season that led to one of the most magical Nationals moments of my time with the sport, to a crushing and frustrating battle with an unknown enemy — an injury that had the potential to cost her career — to, once again, build all the way back to the top of the mountain, just close enough to see sweet victory on the other side, only to be faced with another, potentially career-ending injury.

I can’t even imagine the emotional wreck I’d be if I was in her shoes (…or skates).

It makes you think, no? How much more can she, or will she, face before she decides life away from the drama of the ice is enticing enough to pursue?

Of course, selfishly I want her back on the ice as soon as possible. Somehow, that would make me feel better about her situation. I want her on the next Olympic team. I want her to have her moment at Worlds. I want one of the most gracious champions of our time to experience the reward for her patience and diligence and never-say-die attitude.

I want that for her. I think we all do.

But, who knows what she’ll do. In the meanwhile, though, here’s a little reminder of Alissa at full-strength. The grace, the passion, the charm … she’s the total package. And a champion of character, too.

Remember your successes, sweet Alissa. You’ve battled back before. Follow the desires of your heart; know the skating world will be anxiously awaiting your return! Rest up … you got this!

 

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…)

 

Nice — Ladies’ Night Out April 2, 2012

 

Nice Day 2 — Maybe It’s The Ice… March 29, 2012

Yesterday after the Russians struggled so mightily in the Short Program, they brought to our attention that the ice in Nice is, well, not quite right. It cracks and crumbles right out from underneath the blades, they said.

Now, you would think that if the ice was really all that terrible, we’ve had heard a whole lot more about it since then.

Before you start to protest, simmer down! I’m not trying to stir any proverbial pot or cry “conspiracy” or even call out any particular pair for comments on ice that I have not had the privilege of skating on! In fact, after this morning’s Ladies’ Short Programs, I’m beginning to think maybe their right!

Bad ice makes for a much easier explanation than a gremlin that caused even more favorites to fall from grace (and, more importantly, a spot on the podium.)

As an American skating fan, I can’t deny my vested interest in the success of Team USA. So … let’s start there.

Ashley Wagner, since winning her National title, has been determined to lead the team that regains a third spot for the American team. And after her Four Continents performances, I was pretty well convinced she had the firepower to do it. And with Alissa Czisny — who can stumble a bit and still rake in scores on the spins and components — certainly in a position to peak, that third spot was not only within reach, but anything short would be a serious disappointment.

… today was a serious disappointment.

Wagner was the first of the American’s to skate, and she had high hopes of starting things off with a triple flip-triple toe combination. That vanished with the landing on the first jump. The extra turns could be costly in and of themselves in the GOE department, but now the combo had to be tacked onto the triple loop.

She managed to do that and complete the elements, but she had to have the technical edge in order to keep up with the skaters at the top (who, might I add, were not the skaters we’d all predicted, either! But I’ll get to that.).

By the time Czisny took the ice, there was a cavern at the top of the standings, as favorites continued to fall. Trouble is, so did she. Twice. And she barely hung on to the double axel.

My heart was breaking for her — you see the effort, the potential, the desire to finally live up to her own vast expectations, only to see everything that could go wrong, go terribly, terribly wrong.

The two sit in 8th and 16th place, and are almost certainly out of reach of the magic number 13 to get that 3rd spot.

(To look at it half full, Wagner is roughly four points out of bronze medal position, and Czisny is just over five points out of 10th. That combination — 3rd and 10th — would do the trick! “Impossible … things are happening every day!”)

At least a couple of skaters left the Short Program happy after strong skates!

As for the rest of the field…

It was Russia’s Alena Leonova who was the surprise leader. She skated her best short program all year, complete with 3-3 and quirky, complicated footwork.

Also a surprise was Japan’s Kanako Murakami who nearly matched Leonova element for element on her way to a second place finish, just two points off the lead.

It was a disappointing night for both Carolina Kostner and Mao Asada — perhaps considered co-favorites here. Asada skated first, and crumbled on her opening triple axel (a move she’s remained committed to, despite a lack of success). The result? 1.8 points out of a possible 8.5+. Ouch.

Kostner started much better, hitting her own triple toe-triple toe. But, as so often happens, she followed that with a mistake — a double loop, in stead of a triple. And that was enough to cost her, despite having the highest PCS marks of the night (she was the only one to break the 30-point mark).

In my world, I would have had Akiko Suzuki over Kostner in the short. But, she doubled a lutz that also got an edge call, resulting in a negative GOE on that element.

Ksenia Makarova had the skate of her season, and it was good enough to land her in 6th, just ahead of Elene Gedevanishvile, who was well on her way to a fantastic skate … until she singled the axel.

So, the battle lines are drawn for the Free Skate.

Realistically, the top ten could shift dramatically. There’s not a lot of consistency to speak of among the ladies currently in those spots. That might bode well for Wagner, who as been a stronger Long Program skater than others. It also means, everyone is going to have to shake the demons and shoot for the stars, holding nothing back. There can be no fear. No mind games. Just muscle memory and confidence.

They have a day to rest. And, hopefully, the gremlins are gone for good.

 

Nice, Take Two: Ladies Preview March 26, 2012

She had only skated one clean program since the 1998 Olympics. After placing second in qualifying, and third after the short, she was in the “worst case scenario,”meaning she needed the leader — Maria Butyrskya — to finish 3rd or lower, and she needed to win the Free Skate.

Plus, she was skating first.

Then, the haunting vibrations of The Red Violin swept through the Palais des Exposition and Michelle Kwan crafted, perhaps, the most magical moment of the 2000 World Championships.

Every move was assured, from the opening triple loop, to the stunning triple toe-triple toe combination. Her spins were improved, her footwork was quick and sharp, and her presentation was, well, Kwan-esque.

There was nothing she needed to do in that program that she left undone. No extra turnout on a jump, no slippery edge in a transitional step. Not even a finger misplaced. She skated both the most technically difficult program of the night, and the most emotionally complex program of the night to win her third World title.

Michelle Kwan became the first American woman to reach that mark since Peggy Flemming. Michelle had officially reached legend status.

And, as usual, coach Frank Carroll said it best when he said of Kwan’s forward progress: “That’s the way of sport. You have to continue to make progress, or you’ll get left in the dust.”

Now, some 12 years later, a pair of American girls hope to follow in the path the Flemmings and Kwans of the world made. But, it won’t be easy.

The number of ladies who could win this title is a little ridiculous. Between Carolina Kostner, Mao Asada, Ashley Wagner, Akiko Suzuki, Alissa Czisny, and Alena Leonova, things could get a little crazy. But then you throw in Kanako Murakami, Valentina Marchei, Elene Gedevanishvilli, or Viktoria Helgesson, and it gets even more dicey.

Carolina Kostner is, perhaps, the closest thing to a “favorite.” She presents an interesting situation, though. She doesn’t have a triple lutz, and has only recently added a triple flip back into her programs. Some find that terribly unjust, when there are other girls (including Ashley Wagner) using all of the different triple jumps. But, what Carolina has is win-induced confidence. She’s had a stellar season, and she knows it. That could play very nicely into her hands, as she’s the only lady to take the top of the podium consistently all season.

Ma Asada is a former champ. She’s struggled the last few years, dedicating herself to reworking her jump technique. And it shows. She’s back to smiling when she skates, and floating across the ice, and making triple jumps look easy. At least most of the time. She still has a tendency to underrotate jumps, and she gets a little off and pops a jump or two here and there. Asada is talented to the max, but far from consistent.

Alissa Czisny has all the qualities you want in a great champion. All except consistency (yes, I sound like a broken record. There’s an obvious pattern developing here.). To get on the podium, she needs to skate two clean programs. Clean Programs. She can’t miss her jumps, because she doesn’t have the complexity in the choreography to make up for it. As much as her spins wow us, they can’t do all the work. She seems motivated, though, and this could be her time to shine.

Suzuki and Leonova tend to be hit or miss. Akiko has effortlace elegance on the ice. But she can crash and burn on occasion. As can Leonova (who doesn’t share the same elegance in the least).

Despite all of the possibilities, all eyes may be looking towards American champ Ashley Wagner. Not because she’s been there, done that, but because she hasn’t, and yet she notched a score at Four Continents that put the rest of the world notice — she has arrived. And with even more planned difficulty in Nice, could she take her third title in a row?

There is a part of me that wants to go all in, to believe in the improbable. She’s charming me more and more with each competition, and it would do my heart good to see her win. But, there’s too much unpredictability in this event to call it her way just yet.

In fact, calling it at all is almost pointless but, here’s my attempt.

Gold Carolina Kostner
Silver Ashley Wagner
BronzeMao Asada
Fourth –Alissa Czisny

*And yes, America regains the third team spot

Who will take the challenge head-on and who will get left in the dust? However it unfolds, I hope we’re graced with at least one program that sticks in our minds the way Michelle’s The Red Violin has.

 

You Can Take My Breath Away February 14, 2012

I may not have been in Colorado Springs this week, but with all the running in circles I did trying to keep up with “real life” and Four Continents, I might have had as much trouble breathing as anyone!

Okay, maybe not quite that much (my sympathies to Nan Song and the entire Chinese team who seemed completely overwhelmed by the altitude!). Still, after being available for nearly every minute of the US Nationals, it felt oh-so-wrong to miss so much of the Four Continents action.

Thankfully, Icenetwork had my back with on-demand coverage, so I caught up in no time!

I’ll have a set of vlog recaps up this week breaking down each event further. But for now, before we get too far removed and focused on Worlds, I’ll leave you with my greatest impressions — and boy, were there some big ones! I can quite honestly say, there were moments that left me “breathless.” (Betcha haven’t heard that one yet, right?!)

Okay. Where to begin …

The men’s event was relatively predictable. And yet, it filled in several empty blanks. How is that possible? Just go with it, I’m not sure myself.

What We Learned

  • Patrick Chan may make mistakes more often than we’d like, but when he’s good, he’s really good. That said, he’s no where near the 300+ scores he pulled in at Canadian Nationals. Not that that’s a ton of comfort, because he still beat Daisuke Takahashi by nearly 30 points.
  • Speaking of Daisuke … he is, perhaps, the most introspective, organic artist in all of the skating world. It’s hard to compare the styles between Chan and Takahashi because they’re so different. One is big and bold, the other is intricate and riveting. Both are beautiful. Both are worthy of praise. (And World medals …)
  • Ross Miner is the future of men’s skating in the US. Bold statement? Sure. But what I saw in Colorado Springs was rock-solid technique, backed by a clear understanding of his place and his path in the sport. And his triple axel is to die for.
  • Misha Ge is immune to altitude! What a joy he was to watch, no? The energy, passion and expression in his skating, while reminiscent of on Johnny Weir, sets him apart in a diverse field. I found him quite refreshing.

What I Felt

  • Heartbroken for Richard Dornbush. You’ll get ’em next season, kid.
  • Thrilled for Ross Miner. That’s how you end a season, regardless of the event!
  • Hopeful for Adam Rippon. He’s improving. Perhaps his peak will be perfectly in time for Worlds.
  • Impressed beyond words by the top two. Simply put, they are phenominal. (more…)