January 12, 2006.
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).