Figure Skating: From the Boards

Omaha or Bust: Just another day in “Pair”adise January 22, 2013

It’s no secret that I am often frustrated by the U.S. pairs landscape. Not because we don’t have talented pairs to choose from, but because more Printoften than not, the game of “musical partners” is more intriguing than their actual competition results!

This year, there were the usual swaps. Caitlin Yankowskas finally found herself a partner in Joshua Reagan (who skated at last year’s Nationals with Ashley Cain).

Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim paired up, and surprised everyone with exceptional scores in Nice and at NHK — they’re senior Grand Prix debut.

Meanwhile, Mark Ladwig, who skated for so many years with Amanda Evora, found a new partner in Lindsay Davis (who formerly skated with Themi Leftheris and Alex Merritt). They started the season at the Senior B in Salt Lake and … well, they had a lot of work to do. To their credit, they were much improved by their second GP event.

At least Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff and Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin are still together … though neither team has had the kind of success this season they’d hoped for. Both teams are, though, in the running for a medal in Omaha.

And if all the new partnerships aren’t enough for you, let’s make absolutely sure that there’s no chance for a repeat National Champ — John Coughlin? Done for the season after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. For him and Caydee Denney to not be able to finish the season is such a shame; they were having a fabulous year.

But, what that does mean is, the pairs competition is the one event in Omaha that will not feature a reigning champ. In fact, there isn’t a national champion in the field.

But, despite all the turnover among U.S. teams, the new headliners of the event seem to stand alone.

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir have been skating together since 2006. That’s ancient history in pairs years! And, to top it all off, they’ve been having a career year. A strong start at Skate America led to a convincing Ice Challenge Graz victory, which they followed up with bronze at the NHK Trophy.

The only team to post scores anywhere close to Castelli/Shnapir’s (except Denney/Coughlin, mind you) is that of Scimeca and Knierim.

This is Marissa and Simon’s year, it seems. The question is, will they live up to the moment?

Here’s how I see it.

Gold: Castelli/Shnapir
Silver: Scimeca/Knierim
Bronze: Vise/Baldwin
Pewter: Davis/Ladwig

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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A Walk To Remember: Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig April 10, 2012

I can’t say it was unexpected. But, seeing the official announcement that 2010 Olympians Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig have ended their 10-year-long partnership is bound to make you stop and reminisce.

These two have been through the ultimate gamut of emotions in an elite athletic career. From 12th in the US at their first Nationals together in 2003, to fourth in 2007, to the climax of claiming one of the two spots on the 2010 Olympic team, to the disappointment of missing the World team this past March … they’ve had high highs and low lows. But, through it all, they’ve maintained a level of class and integrity that make them true champions.

Since making the Olympic team in 2010, they became one of America’s best, putting their “veteran” status to good use and presenting themselves as medal threats throughout the Grand Prix series.

And, like any roller coaster, there were elements of surprise and momentary panic! Who could forget the 2011 Four Continents episode where Mark’s boot came apart mid-skate and the boot-swap from Rudi Swiegers that followed? That incident was just one of many that showed off Evora and Ladwig’s composure and complete faith in one another.

There were plenty of beautiful moments, too. Like sharing the Olympic experience with training mates (and for Evora, with her fiance) Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett. Or skating to a 10th place finish there in Vancouver.

There was this: their first Grand Prix medal-winning performance in Moscow, Russia.

Add to that their elegant style, unique music choices, creative choreography, and first-rate lifts, and they gave skating fans something special every time.

According to the official announcement, Amanda will retire from competitive skating, while Mark intends to continue his career.

“Thank you to Amanda, my fellow Olympian, for partnering with me and for sharing in so many amazing experiences over the last decade,” Ladwig said. “Thank you to our coaches, fans and U.S. Figure Skating for their constant support and belief in Amanda and me.”

[snip]

“I’d like to thank Mark for living our skating dreams together. With a steady rise, we enjoyed a decorated career. As Mark furthers his skating career, I am supportive of his endeavors,” Evora said. “I’d like to thank our coaches for continual guidance and direction, U.S. Figure Skating for giving us the opportunity to represent Team USA for past 10 years and, last but not least, I’d like to thank God, my family, friends and the skating community for their overwhelming support. If not for them, my career would be meaningless.”

Thank  YOU, Amanda and Mark for representing yourselves, your sport, and your country with grace and integrity throughout your world-class career. Your path was a pleasure to follow, and I’m sure your next steps will be filled with the same quality and passion.

All the best as you continue on to the next phases of your lives.

 

On To The Springs! Four Continents — Pairs Preview February 6, 2012

Without the likes of Savchenko/Szolkowy, Volosozhar/Trankov, or Kavaguti/Smirnov, the Pairs event in Colorado Springs will showcase a new tier of talent, led by the young Chinese pair of Wenjing Sui & Cong Han and Canada’s sweethearts Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford.

But it’s not just that simple. There are also three talented American teams, and two more Canadian duos.

It gets a little convoluted when you rank them on paper — the young Chinese team has the highest GP score. The American and Canadian champs are coming off of their best competitions yet. Nationals scores don’t really count in international comparisons, but Marley and Brubaker clearly showed they have the talent to compete here. Evora and Ladwig have the experience and, now, the motivation to prove themselves. Dube and Wolfe showed themselves a new team at Canadian nationals — one with skill, elegance, poise and determination.

But, we really don’t know how any of those “intangibles” translate into scores. So, when the numbers settle, who will head to Worlds with a 4 Continents medal?

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford win their first national title

They're on a roll, and as motivated as ever. Look out, world!

Gold: Duhamel and Radford

Sure, they have had their moments of weakness this season. But, beyond the elements, the throws, the side-by-side triple lutzes, and the majestic choreography, they have something above any other team — grit.

All season I’ve been impressed with their goal development (and achievement!) from competition to competition. You can hear them in the Kiss and Cry saying ” Oh, good. We got (fill in the blank) for PCS this time. That’s much better,” or — like at Nationals — “Nope, we didn’t get the lift. Not with that score, because we got (fill in the blank) for TES at the Final.”

They’re knowledgeable, but they’re also entirely capable of translating that knowledge into goals, and thus, into results. They want to win this title to check one more thing off their season’s list, and I fully believe they can do that here.

Silver: Denney and Coughlin

A stretch here? Maybe. Sure, Sui and Han are the anointed heirs to the Chinese pairs thrown. But, Caydee and John improve every time they get out on competition ice. Plus, being at home will add to their comfort and growing confidence. These two may have been criticized at the start of their partnership, but even the toughest critics can’t ignore their immense talent and fast-developing bond. They make a great team, and obviously have the talent to make a splash on the internationals stage.

Call it a “gut feeling,” but I think their Nationals performance is just the start of what they have to offer. While their choreography isn’t particularly detailed or challenging, their elements are big enough to compete with the best.

Two clean skates will earn them a medal here, for sure.

My only request? That Caydee loses the barbie doll blue eye shadow. Pronto.  (more…)

 

Vlog: Pairs and Men Make A World-Class Case January 31, 2012

 

Do You Know The Way To San Jose: Pairs Preview January 19, 2012

“What do you say to taking chances? What do you say to jumping off the edge?” Chances are, this title will be won by the team willing to simply take the chance. Between new partners and retired skaters, this event does not have a defending champion. Yes, John Coughlin is there, but in a very knew partnership. Veterans Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig have come awfully close, but never to the very top. Will experience trump chemistry? It’s an interesting battle, for sure.

The Break Down

Caydee Denney & John Coughlin — The closest thing to a returning National champ, both Caydee and John have been there, done that. But, not together. It’s been interesting watching these two compete this year. They seem to have a natural fit in their technique, and more importantly in their connection. They both seem to be skating with an enormous amount of determination, and the talent to back it up. Still, their partnership is new. Their choreography isn’t complex. Their elements are huge, but it takes more than that to win a title.

Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig — I think it’s safe to say these two have more experience together than the top four teams combined! That certainly plays to their advantage here. Not only does their time together have them at a comfort level unheard of by the other teams, but it allows them to add difficulty to every element. Their lifts, their in betweens, their footwork, their choreography — all things they have improved this year. The trick for them is hitting the side-by-side jumps. The called in some backup from Christy Krall (yes, Patrick Chan’s coach) to help solidify the jumps. If they hit them, the may be looking at their first National title in 10 trips to the championships.

Mary Beth Marley & Rockne Brubaker — This is a team that, in a way, confuses me a bit. Let me explain. Of course, I expected Rockne Brubaker to be competitive, with whatever partner he chose. And they were at last year’s Nationals. However, trying to keep up with internationally experienced teams with Mary Beth learning pairs skating on the fly … it’s a challenge that seems to widen the gap, not lessen it. I adore them both, don’t get me wrong. But they have to be flawless to keep up. The expectations on Rockne may have people anticipating more from them sooner than they are capable of it. That said, the bronze medal position is very open. They have a chance at claiming it. (more…)

 

A quick look back: Trophee Eric Bompard November 21, 2011

Before you say it, I know. I missed NHK Trophy all together here at From the Boards. I hate that it happened that way, but last week was simply one of those weeks. Too many things on my white boards “to-do list,” and not enough hours in the day to get them all done. Something had to give. I’m sorry that it was here, but hopefully you caught my Fantasy preview at icenetwork.com or usfigureskating.org.

I promise to always at least have that updated before events! 

Since I can’t go back to NHK now, we’ll just take a glance back and this weekend’s even in Paris — Trophee Eric Bompard.

I always loved this event (especially when it was Lalique) because of the fancy Kiss and Cry designs. Nothing too extraordinary this year, though. However, the trophy given to the winners was pretty spectacular!

But I digress…

The Pairs and Dance events went off mostly as predicted.

Russian stars Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov proved themselves human with errors in both the short and the long, but the overall quality of their skating and the non-jump elements pulled them through. They’re going to need to regain the element of perfection, though, in the Final and as they head on to Worlds.

Their teammates Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov snagged the silver after the cleanest of the free skates. There seems to be something missing from them, though. The spark from the other top couples is greater, despite B/L’s strong, classic lines. Most times I just don’t feel, well, anything from them as they skate through well choreographed programs (albeit, to overused music!).

Duhamel/Radford skated another strong short program in Paris.

One of the highlights of the entire event was Meagan Duhamel’s reaction to their scores after a well presented but poorly performed free skate. See, Duhamel and Radford are on that Grand Prix Final bubble. They needed to finish no lower than third with a score of 113.58 to give themselves a chance. She had her fingers crossed, watching the scores go up.

“Is it enough? Is it enough? I’m not getting too excited yet…”

But she knew it was enough. Despite three falls.

“115 with three falls, Eric?” she added.

These two improve with every event. I’m looking forward to seeing how they stack up at Worlds.

Again, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig were haunted by the side-by-side jumps. Their programs are stunning, but she just can’t seem to stand up on those jumps. Another fourth place finish isn’t what they were looking for, but here’s hoping we see these programs skated cleanly at Nationals. (more…)

 

A look ahead: Cup of China’s hottest couples November 3, 2011

The dance and pairs disciplines bring us another dose of fresh faces, but also a few couples looking to claim one one of the first spots in the Grand Prix Final. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

Dancers spicing it up

The sambas and rumbas of this year’s short dance will bring an element all their own to the ice in China — heat. The ice dance event in has, in a handful of seasons, become one of the most popular among skating fans. The increased difficulty brought on by the Code of Points system, coupled with the intense competition spurred by the Shpilband/Zoueva camp has made it a highlight of every competition.

This weeks event features largely inexperienced teams, save the top two.

Maia and Alex Shibutani are fresh off of a second place finish at Finlandia Trophy earlier this season, as well as a surprise bronze medal at Worlds to end last season. The are good. Simple as that. And with their youth, they’ll continue to improve. The short dance is a stretch for them (brother/sister teams always have a challenge with the more sultry dances!), but if they manage that, they soar in the free dance.

Their biggest competition will come from the Russians, Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev. These two had success on the Grand Prix circuit last season, but struggled at the end of the year. They tend to score well on some big elements, and they may have polished things up a bit since last year. They’ll need that to face the young Americans.

Pernelle Carron and Lloyd Jones will be pushing for a place on the medal stand. They finished in those “bubble” spots last season — 4th or 5th in the Grand Prix. But here, in a field without much experience, they should be pushing the top three.

Trying to be the next junior-to-senior phenoms, American’s Charlotte Lichtman and Dean Copely make their senior debut with a chance to impress. Also making their debut as a couple are Emily Samuelson and Todd Gilles. Of course, Emily made the 2010 Olympic team with Evan Bates (who debuted with his new partner last week). They will ahve work to do, but this is a good place to get their feet wet and see what they have going for them.

Podium predictions (no particular order):

Shibutani/Shibutani
Carron/Jones
Bobrova/Soloviev (more…)