Figure Skating: From the Boards

Omaha or Bust: Dance party, anyone? January 23, 2013

PrintLet’s just go ahead and start here: Meryl Davis and Charlie White should leave Omaha with yet another National title.

As good as U.S. ice dance has become, as deep as this field is, as many ways as the rest of the podium could shape up, there is still no one near Davis and White, technically or artistically. It’s as simple as that.

That’s not to say the rest of the field isn’t improving, too. In fact, some of the U.S. teams are in the running for “most improved,” even internationally speaking. It’s just that Davis and White keep pushing the envelope, not for anyone else, but just to push themselves one step closer to a shot at Olympic gold.

They’ve done it this season, going undefeated so far. In fact, they haven’t stood anywhere but the top of the podium since losing the World Title to training mates Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir last March.

I could talk about Meryl and Charlie all day, but the fact remains: they’re the class of the field. I can’t wait to see them throw down two more electrifying skates.

But, I’m equally as excited to see what the rest of the field does.

Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt are one of those teams in the “most improved” category. They’ve been on the brink of breaking through before, and last year’s Nationals gave them a chance to do just that.

Everyone loved them at Skate America, and they took gold at the Ice Challenge Graz. They don’t quite have the speed and the flow of the world’s top teams, but there’s one thing they do as well as anyone else: entertain. Audiences buy what they’re selling from the moment they step on the ice. That makes for great fun, and combined with challenging technical elements, great scores.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue would love to repeat their Nationals performances from a year ago. Those performances validated their new partnership, and gave them a spot on the World Team. But, their path to the podium won’t be easy. Not with Madison Chock and Evan Bates hungry for a shot of their own.

Chock and Bates have an ethereal quality to their skating. Plus, they are so committed to the characters of their programs that it’s nearly impossible not to get sucked into the story they create! They built slowly as the season progressed, starting with an unsatisfying performance at the US International Classic in Salt Lake, but finishing with a much better Cup of China competition. They’re scores put them right in the medal hunt, and in fact, only one team not named Davis/White has a higher season’s best than they do: Maia and Alex Shibutani.

The Shibs have had to deal with some significant physical limitations this season. Alex, dealing with a left leg injury, struggled through the competition in Russia. After treating that, though, their NHK Trophy performance was much stronger. They finished third with a 154+.

Since then, they’ve made improvements to the overall polish of their programs, and especially to the Short Dance. Technically, they’re right up there. Still young, they don’t always pull in the component marks. But, they are still, at least on paper, the second-best team in America.

They just have to prove it.

The battle for the podium will be fierce, no doubt. With five teams capable of earning a trip to Worlds, and only three spots available, there will be fireworks. And it’s going to be awesome.

Who would you like to see on the podium?

Here are my picks.

Gold: Davis/White
Silver: Shibutani/Shibutani
Bronze: Chock/Bates
Pewter: Kriengkrairut/Giulietti-Schmitt

 

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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First Impressions: Nebelhorn Trophy October 5, 2012

You know what they say about first impressions — they’re lasting. With the Grand Prix season just around the corner, every opportunity for skaters to take to the competition ice and provide a positive first impression is a good one.

Last week, several top skaters did just that at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany.

Early season skates are hardly indicative of what we may see later on, but they do provide glimpses of progress. And they leave impressions … that last.

Here are mine.

 

Men

Nobunari Oda … he’s baaaack! He has such perfect programs for his style and character. Sure, there were some bobbles here and there. But I can’t be the only one distracted by his flawless, soft knees to the extent that the flaws become less visible, right? Love him.

Konstantine Menshov still has the jumps. So does Keegan Messing. But, big and powerful isn’t always going to work. Both guys need to take a big step up in the components department. (Plus, all I can think of with Messing’s “Matrix” program is “Brian Joubert 2.0!”)

On the flip side, both Stephen Carriere and Denis Ten have lovely programs, beautiful expression, and dynamic highs and lows. Now for some consistency in the jump department … (more…)

 

And So It Begins: 2012 US International Classic September 28, 2012

I’ve decided that life has a way of spiraling  out of control most when I’d rather be watching skating!

Okay, so it hasn’t been totally out of control. But a move and a new project at work have kept me from the US International Classic videos until, well, right now. But with Neblhorn happening now and Skate America right around the corner (can you believe it?) I’ve definitely been itching to sneak a look at some of the performances from Salt Lake City. 

This event welcomed several skaters I, for one, was anxious to see.

Lindsay Davis & Mark Ladwig, for example.

Their pairing is interesting to me. There isn’t an automatic, “this is going to catch on like wild fire” vibe from them. But, it’s still so new, there is a little bit of push and pull. They just need time. I like some of the artistic elements — a little more drama, perhaps! The technique will come along. I just hope they don’t get frustrated with the results until then.

Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch — I love this duo. She is a little dynamo. And it’s nice to see so much emotion in their skating again this year! And those throws? GORGEOUS. As soon as their short program started, I realized we’d just jumped up a level. The speed, the strength, the confidence, it was all there. A few stumbles here and there, but they have a lot to work with this season … and some pretty grand expectations of themselves.

Tiffany Vise & Don Baldwin — First comeback free skate of the season? They recovered from a disappointing 5th-place short program to leapfrog country mates Felicia Zhang & Nathan Bartholomay for the bronze. They always do something interesting and unique. It’s nice to see them skate well to go with their great programs!

How about the ladies?

Gracie Gold is precious. At such a young age, and with so little senior experience, she always looks so polished, so poised. She really takes her time with the choreography — something that often gets lost in the shuffle of point counting. She had some trouble in the second half of her free skate (which she was not happy about) but this gives her room to build. I worry, sometimes, that the expectations already on her shoulders are too much to live up to. But, she has the talent, no doubt.

Agnes Zawadski — her jumps are ridiculously gigantic. Yes, ridiculously gigantic. She skates with so much power! Sometimes it’s too much, but this early in the year? She looks in complete control. A few bobbles here and there, but nothing to be terribly concerned with. Her struggles will likely come if she has a tough competition. In the past, that has gotten to her in a big way. But this was a great victory — mentally, even more than physically — to get her on track for the year.

I have a feeling the battle in the ladies’ competitions this year is going to be something else. And at US Nationals? It could be anyone’s game! (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

 

Vlog: Dancers and Men Spice Up The Pavilion On day 2 January 28, 2012

 

What’s the magic word? January 26, 2012

The Senior events kick off later today with the Pairs and Ladies Short Programs. If you need a refresher on the contenders and potential surprises, look back here for Pairs and here for Ladies.

What magic words would YOU tell Mirai?

Meanwhile, we’ve all been sounding off on Twitter for weeks about who needs what to win. So, here’s your chance — channel your inner Frank Carroll, and offer up some last minute advice for your favorites, your Fantasy picks, or just someone you think might need a little word of encouragement!

Speaking of Frank Carroll, how ’bout I start with Mirai Nagasu?

She’s the kind of skater you dream of coaching (or at least, I would dream of coaching someone with her natural talent, if I was a coach). And yet, she can’t seem to make everything “click” in competition. The nerves do her in. She panics. Focuses on how bad it is to be nervous. Or now bad she skated last time out. Or how desperately she wants to win.

My advice to her: Don’t think, just do.

She honestly has it all. She has to forget about what that means, forget about how much she hates to lose, and forget the idea that nerves are a bad thing. Change those nerves into energy and the adrenaline into focus, and just do it (Nike was really onto something with that one way back when…)

How ’bout reigning champ Alissa Czisny?

Her focus has been pretty clear. Her reconstruction of a career — and, really, a skater as a whole — is inspiration in and of itself. And yet, she’s struggled to feel “on” this season. Now, she’s set to begin her title defense.

My words of the day for her: Calm and courageous

“Calm” is often how I’d describe her skating style. Sometimes, though, her competition style is anything but calm. She, too, needs to close her eyes, take a deep breath, listen for the first note of her music, then just let it flow. All the while, channeling the courage it takes to put yourself on the line for the sake of a dream. Courage into each jump, calm flowing out of it. That’s a winning combination. (more…)

 

Do You Know The Way To San Jose: Dance Preview January 20, 2012

“I can’t keep up with your turning tables …” Or at least that’s how it’s felt, trying to keep track of the head-spinning game of musical partners! But, all the switcheroos are complete, and we’re left with a field full of promise. With ice dance becoming such a hotly contested international event, it’s a little odd to feel so confident in the gold medal hopefuls. But, when those hopefuls are *this close* to their second consecutive undefeated season, it’s understandable. That’s not to say we won’t have a strong event on our hands, though.

The Break Down

Meryl Davis & Charlie White — What else can you say about these two that hasn’t already been said? They are phenomenal. They are, however, coming off of a controversial win at the Grand Prix Final over training mates Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Well, the win wasn’t controversial, I suppose. The difference after the Short Dance portion more than made up for the scoring error, courtesy of the ever-changing ISU code of points system. What that does say, though, is that their brilliant waltz Free Dance isn’t untouchable. They’ve determined to stay the course, though, and focus on quality (which is code for “Grades of Execution”). Here, though, their biggest competition is their own expectations.

Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani — These two are undoubtedly the second-best American team this season. That said, there may be some unfair pressure on them, after their meteoric rise. They still need time to develop. They need polish. They need an “edge” that goes beyond elegance and good posture. I adore watching them skate, and they continue to improve, this season winning their first Grand Prix gold. They should be a lock for the podium (and likely one of the three World Team spots). *Knock on wood*

Madison Chock & Evan Bates
— This is, perhaps, the couple that benefited most from Pass-The-Partner. Evan came into this season after being sidelined with an achilles injury last year. He has the experience — and the required skills — of being an Olympian with former partner Emily Samuelson. Those two looked to be the anointed ones, coming up through the shadow of Tanith Belbin/Ben Agosto and David/White. But, when they split and Maddie’s partner Greg retired, there was uncertainty for a while. But only until Maddie and Evan stepped on the ice together. They are magical. They engage each other so deeply that you can’t help but be drawn in. They understand choreography (just go back and look at Chock/Zuerlein’s FD last year!), they pay attention to detail, and, oh yeah, they have pretty solid technique. They’ve picked up the partnering thing as quick as anyone, and blown me away all season long. Their FD is one of my favorites of the year. I fully expect them to push for the podium. (more…)