Figure Skating: From the Boards

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…)

 

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…)
 

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: usfigureskating.org

 

Do You Know The Way To San Jose: Ladies Preview January 17, 2012

“This one’s for the girl …” who’s always dreamed of a National title! And the reality is, San Jose’s podium order is wide open. The way I see it, there are three girls fighting for gold, and at least four others battling for a medal. That means the pressure will be enormous — and could cause some stumbles. Or, it could result in “one of those moments athletes dream about” kind of programs. That, in turn, means we have another great event on our hands.

The Break Down

Alissa Czisny — She is, of course, the defending champion. That makes her, by default, the one to beat. However, she’s had anything but a smooth season. Yes, she won a pair of medals (one gold) on the Grand Prix series. But she battled a painful injury at the Grand Prix Final that kept her from skating anywhere near her best. Add to that the fact that she admittedly hasn’t quite felt right all season, and she has a challenge ahead of her. That said, her short program is to die for. Her long has potential. And her artistry is second to none. If she can put the pieces back together, she has a good shot at repeating.

Ashley Wagner — It takes a confident skater come out and say, “This is my Nationals to lose.” But that is exactly what Ms. Wagner has done. And, while the really “talking” will happen on the ice, she may not be wrong. In a season filled with former champions stumbling along, Ashley shined. She’s in the best shape of her career, and she has the best programs she’s ever had. She has the extra motivation of not wanting to be the “almost girl” again. If anyone wants this title more, I’ve yet to find them.

Mirai Nagasu  — The former National champ is quite the curious case. Like so many young talents, she has all the goods, all the potential to be one of the world’s best. And yet, just when she seems closest to getting there, she derails herself by collapsing under the fear of falling short. Recently, she told icenetwork.com that she’s drawing a new kind of inspiration from an unlikely source — The Food Network’s “Chopped.” Apparently, Madison Cowan, a recent contestant on the show, spoke of cooking for the love of it, not purely to win. The un-pressured approach seemed to strike a chord with Nagasu. Perhaps the “skate for the love of it and let the chips fall where they may” perspective is just what Mirai needed to skate free and easy.

Rachael Flatt — Another former champ trying to regain her mojo, Flatt has had a rough go of it as she tries to adjust to the life of a Stanford student, as well as a new coaching situation. Her Grand Prix skates were sub-par, and it suddenly left her out of the National title discussion. Her focus is split these days, and her skating has suffered. However, she’s a competitor. She knows what it takes to win at Nationals, and she’s had plenty of time to sort things out. (more…)

 

Skating for Gold – Nationals 2011, the Ladies January 12, 2011

January 12, 2006.

7:30 p.m.

Section 102.

Row U.

Seat 8.

Never was there a more bittersweet moment than sitting Plaza Level at the Savvis Center for the Olympic Qualifying Ladies Short Program, knowing that the person I was there for – the person who is to blame (or praise!)  for my figure skating fascination – was in the program, but not on the ice. I figured that was my one and only last chance to see the legendary Michelle Kwan compete live, and it was over before it ever began.

The loud speakers started booming, ‘Let’s get it started…in here…”

The emcee called the first group of ladies to the ice, and I cried a little inside.

Then, I was witness to a beautiful night of skating, fueled by the same Olympic spirit that inspired so many of my own dreams. Despite the less-than-happy Michelle Kwan fan in me, I made memories that will last a lifetime, and I got to share those memories with my dad. I couldn’t really complain.

This year, January 12 just another day in the journey to Greensboro…thanks to an unusually late start to the 2011 edition of the event. Still, 10 days out, I can only imagine what the attendees will be able to admire for this year’s short programs.

So, without further ado, the ladies.

Here are my contenders.

  • Alissa Czisny
  • Mirai Nagasu
  • Rachael Flatt
  • Ashley Wagner
  • Agnes Zawadzki
  • Caroline Zhang

If you’ve read my other preview blogs, you may have noticed that this is my longest “Contender list.” You also may have seen in my last post that I think this season’s ladies event may be the most exciting since 2005. As promised, here’s why.

This field has it all – the maturity and elegance of a renewed Alissa Czisny, the youthful exuberance and potential brilliance of Mirai Nagasu, the consistency and personal expectations of Rachael Flatt, the determination and improved technique of Ashley Wagner, the technical abilities and the untapped artistic potential of Agnes Zawadzki, and finally the emotional roller coaster and hopeful return of Caroline Zhang.

See? Everything, I tell you.

Alissa Czisny is, in my opinion, the class of the field this season, thanks in part to her valiant return to the international scene. Now, I know there are many out there who continue to say, “I want to root for her, but she’s just too inconsistent.” And you may be right. But there’s just something about her that I believe in, now more than ever. Maybe it’s the fact that I feel like she believes in herself more than ever before. Maybe it’s because she believes in her training and her coaches. Maybe it’s because she really is a natural competitor after all, and the criticism after last season gave her the fire she needed to succeed. And maybe she won’t reclaim her title. But I believe she can. And if she can complete the jumps, the rest of her skating is by far the best of the American girls. She’s got all the pieces. It’s just a matter of putting it all together at the same time. I believe she can do it.

Mirai Nagasu has been an emotional favorite of mine since 2008 (when, I’d like to point out, I accurately predicted her Nationals win…just sayin’). I was crushed by her breakdown the following year, and thrilled with her brilliance at the Olympics last February. I’m afraid her programs this season aren’t as special as last year’s, but she still has the technical content in her footwork and spins, and the emotional connection to her music to bring the audience in…she, like Alissa, has all the pieces. If both skate perfectly, I feel Alissa’s programs give her the edge. But if one or the other falters, it’s anyone’s game.

Speaking of anyone’s game, it would be simply ignorant to exclude Rachael Flatt from the list of potential winners. She has been the most technically consistent of the American girls for the past few seasons, but this year she’s battled. Before you jump me for calling her out, I know she was fighting an injury in the Final. But even before that, things just looked a bit off for her this year. With Alissa, Mirai and the others stepping it up, she’s going to have to pull it all together in Greensboro if she wants to repeat as National Champ.

Ashley Wagner is a skater that has been dealt a few hard blows in her Nationals career. She’s more than once been the girl just outside the spotlight, just off the podium, just off the World/Olympic team. She’s made herself known for coming back in the long program with strength and determination, but she will need a spectacular short program to not fall too far behind. She doesn’t seem to get the levels on some of the footwork and spins, and her program components can’t compare to Alissa’s, but if she brings her A-game, she’s certainly got a shot. And let me tell you, she wants it.

Agnes Zawadski is the new fascination with skating fans this season. She came into her Grand Prix assignments as the ultimate unknown, then skated brilliant short programs that made the world sit up and pay attention. She lacks consistency in the long, and that could be a problem for her if she puts herself in contention with the short. But she’s definitely one to watch, especially if the favorites falter.

The question mark in this event could be Caroline Zhang. This girl was touted as the second coming of Michelle Kwan, combined with the flexibility of Sasha Cohen…and then she collapsed. She struggled more than anyone would have ever predicted. She came back this season hoping to reclaim some of that glory (and more importantly that joy), but she’s still struggled. She has just recently changed coaches yet again, and is now training along side Yuna Kim under the guidance of Peter Oppegard. This could be interesting, but I fear it’s a bit too late. She ran into some serious technique problems that she just hasn’t been able to correct while continuing to compete. And yet, she’s the story that tugs at your heartstrings because you hate to see someone with so much potential so sad about her career at such a young age. My head is telling me she’s out of the running for this season, but my heart would love to see her come out and skate two programs she can be proud of, no matter the result.

Now, those are my “contenders” for the ladies. However, there are plenty of other girls more than willing to break up the party: Christina Gao, Alexi Gilles, Amanda Dobbs, Melissa Bulanhagui, Kiri Baga…the battle will be tight all the way down the list, which will make for some spectacular moments for those lucky enough to be in attendance!

With so many girls with the potential to win it all, who are your choices for the podium? And, since the US only has two World spots, who do you think finishes top two?

There are still 10 days before anything gets started, but that’s the perfect amount of time to get all set to go. Looking forward to hearing what you think!

Thanks, as always, for reading. Follow me on twitter for more (@FromTheBoards).

Until then…

 

SA shorts – ladies, dance November 13, 2010

The last two portions of short programs are complete, and it’s no surprise who’s at the top, at least in on discipline!

The ladies competition didn’t play out quite like I expected. There were mistakes by some who are typically consistent, and clean skates by some who tend to struggle. But I suppose that’s why there are to portions of the competition…the free skates will be very telling!

Once again, Carolina Kostner ended up surprising me with a clean program. No triple-triple, but this girl somehow racks up the points no matter what, so I should have known that, should she skate clean, she’d lead. I know she has the talent, but to me there’s always something missing…something that shouldn’t allow her to have the highest PCS scores of the night! Still, kudos to her for pulling herself together after the past few dismal years. We’ll see how “clean” her long is…

Kanako Murakami is just an absolute joy. Personality galore is putting it mildly for this little firecracker! Her triple toe-triple toe combo was stunning, and her speed was very impressive! She still has some “juniorish” qualities, but the technical elements were there (minus a singled axel). Her musicality is wonderful, and you can tell she just loves being out there in front of the crowd! From the live feed I was watching, the crowd ate it up, too! Typically, skaters transitioning to the senior level don’t skate as well in the long, so we’ll see how her jumps hold up tomorrow.

Sneaking into third was Joshi Helgesson who skated a very clean, very complete short. It wasn’t a “wow” program, or a skate-of-her-life moment, but it was good. She doesn’t have the natural artistry of some of the other ladies, but in a competition riddled with mistakes, she was clean, and that was enough.

Rachael Flatt may be feeling the pressures of expectation. She doubled her lutz (although, good work to tack on the triple toe for the combo!) and you could tell she was really upset with herself for it. That said, her triple flip looked great, as did the double axel. And this may be the most I’ve ever seen her enjoy a program before. To me, there are a few too many stop-and-dance moments, but she certainly has fun with it and it may be her most engaging program yet. She needs to upgrade some technical elements (spins, in particular) to compete with some of the top international ladies, but here she is likely competing against Kostner in the long (now that I say that, Murakami/Helgesson will skate lights out and surprise me!). For Rachael, though, she just needs to keep that determination from the missed lutz in the short and just go after it, no holds barred in the long. She needs to make up 9 points on Kostner, but she is less than a point out of 3rd. She can do it.

Also notable, Caroline Zhang skated to a solid 5th place in the short. She’s going to have to work on some areas other than jump, spin, spiral, spin if she wants to compete with the best in the world, but I was happy to see her skate clean, and with some improvements. Now if she can put out a clean long, maybe this girl could get some confidence back!

Oh, also wanted to congratulate Alexe Gilles on her first triple-triple in competition! Not her best short overall, but still, an accomplishment nonetheless.

Overall results:

1. Carolina Kostner ITA (60.28)
2. Kanako Murakami JPN (54.75)
3. Joshi Helgesson SWE (51.17)
4. Rachael Flatt USA (51.02)
5.  Caroline Zhang USA (50.66)
6. Amelie Lacost CAN (50.55)
7. Mae Bernice Meite FRA (48.27)
8. Elene Gedevanishvili GEO (45.27)
9. Alexe Gilles USA (44.86)
10. Min-Jeong Kwak KOR (44.41)
11. Jenna McCorkell GBR (42.87)
12. Viktoria Helgesson SWE (41.91)

The ice dance competition was all about the second group, really. The final four short dances of the night were just wonderful! I’m not entirely sold on this short dance format, but these four teams made me think that it is possible to blend the compulsory and the choreographed sections seamlessly.

Davis and White were clearly the class of the field. A rare mistake on the twizzles from Charlie had the scores closer than they would have been, but each of their elements is just taken to the next level compared to, well, the rest of the world right now (with Virtue/Moir out, it’s all Davis and White!). Their speed and lines are impeccable, the surety of their lifts is stunning. And they have the maturity to pull of a grown up, elegant Golden Waltz. Beautiful.

Crone and Poirier of Canada have some fabulous elements, like their terrifying upside-down rotational lift right at the start of the program. It’s the first move, and it’s breathtaking! They skated with very nice control, but not the same speed on the twizzles as Davis/White or the Shibutanis. Still, very strong program.

Weaver and Poje, also from Canada, were very comparable to their teammates. In fact, less than a point separates the two. W/P had the technical edge, while C/P outdid them with the program components. But I have no doubt that these two will be battling it out for a long time for Canada (the ice dance event at Canadian Nationals could be the best competition of the entire year!).

Can’t end without some love for the Shibutanis. They may not have the experience or the maturity of the top 3 teams, but the have a spark that is contagious. They skated a bit cautiously, I felt, but that was likely due to some silly mistakes in the SD the last time out. While they avoided those same mistakes, they still had a bobble in the Golden Waltz section that clearly had Maia bothered in the Kiss and Cry. Still, their speed and posture impresses me, and they have an easy about their skating that makes them so watchable. They have a GREAT free dance, so if there are mistakes above them, look out for these two…they want a spot on that podium!

Overall results:

1. Davis/White USA (63.62)
2. Crone/Poirier CAN (60.41)
3. Weaver/Poje CAN (59.48)
4. Shibutani/Shibutani USA (56.46)
5. Riazanova/Tkachenco RUS (55.52)
6. Kriengrairut/ Giulietti-Schmitt USA (52.13) *bonus points for longest combined name ever?!?
7. Coomes/Buckland GBR (49.43)
8. Reed/Reed JPN (44.40)
9. Frohberg/Giesen GER (44.03)

And that’s just the beginning for tonight…Men’s and Pair’s free skates coming up soon!

Follow me on Twitter for live play-by-play and results. And of course, check back here for my complete thoughts (read: more than 140 characters!) after the event ends.

Until then…