Figure Skating: From the Boards

Omaha or Bust: Bring on the boys! January 23, 2013

PrintBased on name recognition and resume, the mens title would seem to be easily in the hands of reigning champ, Jeremy Abbott. He has the pedigree. He has the experience. He’s won the title not once, not even just twice, but three times already. He comes to Omaha armed with extraordinarily complex choreography, emotionally engaging music, and the jumps, steps, and spins to rank him one of the world’s best.

But, he’s battled some physical setbacks this year that made those technical things quite difficult.

Meanwhile, Ross Miner made good strides on the international circuit, scoring the highest totals of any U.S. man in a Grand Prix event when he took bronze at NHK Trophy.

There’s also Richard Dornbush and Adam Rippon. Both have had their struggles. Both have had their moments to shine. Both would love to be on the World Team again. But, their path to a world spot isn’t simple.

Not only do they have to get past Abbott or Miner, but they have to hold off challengers like Armin Mahbanoozadeh, Brandon Mroz, Douglas Razzano, and young stars like Joshua Farris, Jason Brown, and perhaps the stiffest competition, Max Aaron.

Max presents a potentially large road block. His score of 231.27 at the Senior B event in Salt Lake City to start the year is higher than Abbott’s best Grand Prix score. That carries some weight.

Understand, though — that was a very well executed competition for Aaron. It was not Abbott’s best competition. Not by a long shot.

All that means is, Max Aaron is in play for a medal. But, he’ll have to be GREAT, while others have room for error.

Likewise, Mahbanoozadeh has a chance to make a splash. He was dealing with an ankle injury at Skate America (where he was a last minute replacement for Evan Lysacek), but is always a potential spoiler.

Razzano was 5th at Nationals last season after pulling up from 8th in the short to 4th in the long. Could he be this year’s upset?

Not that it means anything now, but, just for kicks, how different would this competition be if Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir had, indeed, come back and been able to compete?

Johnny attempted the comeback. His Grand Prix experiment didn’t go so well. Not that he didn’t make a valiant effort, but it appeared that he sorely underestimated how far he was from being a contender.

If he’d stuck it out, trained as hard as ever, and been scheduled to skate in Omaha, how would he have fared? It’s hard to say, of course, but based on what we saw out of him earlier this fall, he would have been a long shot.

And Evan? He couldn’t have been counted out, that’s for certain. If he’d been healthy enough to compete internationally earlier in the year, and if he was truly back in “fighting shape,” you’d be hard pressed to deny his chances.

Lysacek provided consistency for the American men for many years. Many hoped he’d be able to come back and help earn back that third World Team spot. Instead, he stares down a potential comeback during the Olympic season, instead of before it. That’s no easy task, to say the least.

Meanwhile, though, we have a handful of contenders who will be in Omaha. And I have a feeling they’re going to put on quite a show!

Who do you think makes the World Team? Who will fare the best against Evgeyni Plushenko, Patrick Chan, and the Japanese superstars?

Here are my predictions.

Gold: Abbott
Silver: Miner
Bronze: Aaron
Pewter: Dornbush

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!

 

US Pairs: Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make me a Match! January 10, 2013

Just tossing it out there: any chance we can convince Michelle Kwan and Evan Lysacek to come back to skating as pairs skaters? That would be a great buzz-story, right? And it’s evident the US Pairs world needs a little more drama. (And consistency, but we’ll get to that.)

Seriously, keeping up with the world of pairs skating is like trying to keep up with the road runner and Wylie Coyote. No? Just me? Hmm. Okay. How about this: Keeping up with the world of pairs skating is harder than keeping up with the Kardashians! (Still terrible, I know. Moving on …)

If a team isn’t splitting up, their changing coaches. And if they’re not changing coaches or splitting up, they’re probably injured. And if they’re a national champion one year, chances are pretty good they won’t be around to defend that title the following year.

I know, this year there are some extenuating circumstances there, this time around. John Coughlin’s injury and surgery made his National Title defense with partner Caydee Denney impossible. And with a goal of making the 2014 Olympic team, it’s better to miss this Nationals than the next one.

But with Denney/Coughlin out with injury, Mary Beth Marley/Rockne Brubaker no longer skating together, Amanda Evora retired, Caitlin Yankowskas/Josh Reagan a recent withdrawl … we’ll be lucky if there are enough skaters left to fill the medal stand in Omaha, at this rate!

Yes, I’m being a bit dramatic. But, there seems to be a bit of a black hole in US Pairs skating these days that makes it tough to gain ground internationally. It does, though, open the door for skaters like Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir and Gretchen Donlan/Andrew Speroff to stake their claim the season before the Olympic year. Without a defending (or even former) US Champ in the field, these two teams (who finished in the top five last year at Nationals) have a golden opportunity.

We’ll get to what to expect at Nationals later, but for now, with the current landscape of US Pairs skating, I want to play matchmaker, and I want your help!

Let’s assume we have any US figure skater at our disposal. Who would you pair up in an attempt to create the new super-team? (It worked out pretty well for Caydee and John … pre-injury … so why not give it another shot?)

And, while we’re at it, if we can please find a partner for Rockne Brubaker, that would be fabulous. The skating world misses him. … I miss him. (At this rate, I’ll be your partner, Rockne!)

So, who would you pair up? Current skaters? Past skaters? Singles skaters?

How about Sasha Cohen and Rockne?

Or Mirai Nagasu and Adam Rippon? (Maybe not … but you get the idea!)

Who would you pick as the next great American pairs team??

 

 

Skate America: Ladies and Gents October 16, 2012

Let’s get right down to it — another skating season has arrived.

We’re past the Senior B events. We’ve seen the Japan Open. Some of the top skaters have had the chance to put their programs on competition ice for the first time, others will soon have that chance. But the time for planning and preparation is nearly over; it’s time to get this party started!

So, here we go.

There are always significant storylines in the season opener … this year is no different.

Ladies First

There is little doubt that Ashley Wagner comes into this event as the favorite. And after what she showed at the Japan Open, there’s good reason for that.

I recently compared the debut of her new Free Skate to a Michelle Kwan season debut — it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a skater put out a program for the first time and look so ready, so confident … and rightfully so.

Last season did this girl good in more ways than one. Last year, she proved something to herself. Now, she’s out to prove it to the rest of the world.

Her biggest competition will likely come from the Russians — World Silver Medalist Alena Leonova and 2011 World Junior Champion Adelina Sotnikova.

Leonova, too, competed at the Japan Open. She was not nearly as “big stage” ready as Wagner. Granted, both girls competed Free Skates only, but Leonova’s 107+ was no match for Wagner’s 123+.  Still, we saw last year that she is capable of taking advantage of the mistakes of others, as well as hitting big, beautiful jumps that rack up those points.

Sotnikova, on the other hand, is already a three-time Russian champion … and yet, is in her first season where she is age-eligible for Worlds. Last year — her first on the Senior Grand Prix circuit — she took home two medals.

She, too, opened her season early — at Nebelhorn Trophy — where she finished a somewhat disappointing second.

Haruka Imai has already had one magical moment this season — rebounding from 9th in the Short Program at Nebelhorn to 3rd overall. I’ve been waiting for Imai to have a breakout season. She has some truly beautiful moments in her programs, and when she lands the jumps, they, too, area beautiful. Perhaps this is the year.

Viktoria Helgesson took third in this event last season. She followed that with a fifth-place finish at Trophee Eric Bompard. There’s just something about her that makes me close my eyes and imagine that she’s skating inside a snowglobe. She’s stunning. Sometimes, though, stunning doesn’t come with clean triple jumps.

Don’t forget about the other American girls in this event!

Both Christina Gao and Rachael Flatt have the fire power to make a move here.

Gao is in her second season as a senior — this time, making the decision to juggle a Harvard education and skating all at once.

Flatt understands that struggle, as a sophomore at Stanford. But, both have committed to continue training. And both are looking to rebound from disappointing — and at times injury riddled — seasons last year.

Prediction time!

Gold: Ashley Wagner
Silver: Adelina Sotnikova
Bronze: Alena Leonova

Spoiler Alert: Haruka Imai

The Boys of Fall

Now, here’s where it gets really interesting.

In the last few Olympic cycles, I have to say the men’s competition has been even more drama-filled than the ladies’. Story after story, comeback after catastrophe, dual top-billings throughout the year … I love it!

Last year, Skate America was, for lack of a gentler term, kind of a splat fest.

Often, that’s what we see in the first event out. However, the names this week are enough to keep me hoping for some fireworks, even in the opening event.

With Evan Lysacek pulling out with an injury (he’s been replaced by Armin Mahbanoozadeh),  Jeremy Abbott stands alone as the top US man in Washington.

I have to say, I am very much looking forward to his programs this season … but, I’m also curious to see how he comes back from a disappointing World Championships.

And, if he has the quad ready to go.

You know who does have a quad ready to go? Michal Brezina. And Yuzuru Hanyu. Um, and Takahiko Kozuka.

Brezina is the reigning Champion at this event after shocking most everyone but himself by holding on to the win last year. But, he struggled to hold onto that consistency, falling to 6th by Worlds. At Nebelhorn, he was fifth with a score that didn’t seem to hint at a return trip to the top of the Skate America podium.

Hanyu started his season at Finlandia Trophy where he overcame a rough Short Program to overtake Javier Fernandez in the Free Skate for gold. He was helped by a pair of quads and a pair of triple axels.

Takahiko Kozuka finished third at Skate America last season. He is a skater who seems to have all the pieces, but not all at once. There could be an interesting battle beginning between Kozuka and Hanyu — not just at SA, but for the remainder of the season.

Don’t forget Tomas Verner, though his more recent skates haven’t been quite up to his best. He has a beautiful quad toe that could put him in contention.

Gold: Yuzuru Hanyu
Silver: Takahiko Kozuka
Bronze: Jeremy Abbott

Spoiler alert: Michal Brezina

 

More on the Pairs and Dance teams tomorrow! And, a little bit of special news on Thursday.

We’re almost there!

 

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…)

 

A Look Ahead: Men of the GP Series May 22, 2012

Yesterday was the day. Where you surprised by the Grand Prix assignments? If you’re an Evan Lysacek fan, you were likely disappointed. Conversely, if you’ve been anticipating a Johnny Weir comeback, you may have squealed to see his name on the list twice.

Over the next few days, we’ll take a look at each discipline separately and how the assignments line up for each event.

Since the men have been the talk of the town (my “town,” anyway!) we’ll give them the first shake.

Here’s the Skate America lineup:

Michal Brezina (CZE)
Tomas Verner (CZE)
Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
Takahiko Kozuka (JPN)
Tatsuki Machida (JPN)
Konstantin Menshov (RUS)
Alexandra Majorov (SWE)
Jeremy Abbott (USA)
Douglas Razzano (USA)
TBA (USA)

Not too shabby, eh?

As has become the norm, the biggest competition will come from the Japanese contingent, although it’ll be the Abbot — competing at Skate America for the first time in his career — who will have the support of the hometown crowd.

Last season proved we can’t count out quad-master Michael Brezina, and when he’s at his best, Tomas Verner is a force to be reckoned with as well.

Personally, I’m thrilled to see Douglas Razzano along side Abbott for Team USA. He’s a real “skater’s skater” with the elegance and musicality that can bring an entire arena to its feet. If he can match that artistry with technical difficulty, he’ll be well on his way!

Then there’s that haunting “TBA.”

What — or should I say who — is that spot for? Naturally, the rumor mill would lean naturally toward that spot being for reigning Olympic Champ Evan Lysacek who has made no secret about his wish to compete in Sochi. However, there have been more than a couple roadblocks along the way.

Last season, there was the “contractual issues” with the USFS that kept him from returning to competition. While the details of that conflict were not made public, it has been reported that it wasn’t simply “Evan wanting more money” like it came across the first time, but far more complicated than that.

With that assumed to be resolved, it was a bit surprising to NOT see Evan’s name on the assignment list. However, there are plenty of explanations (read: “assumptions!”) that don’t involve him not staging a comeback.

Perhaps he didn’t want the GP spot. He’s made mention of wanting to compete at Senior B events to ease back onto the international scene. He’s a proven champion, so maybe he simply feels it a better option to start small and work his way back up towards Nationals and Worlds, sans the fall series. Or maybe, he’s scheduled to compete on the Dancing With The Stars All-Star season this fall. Who knows, save Frank Carroll and Lysacek. But, perhaps that TBA spot is reserved should he choose to accept it after all.

How’s that for drama surrounding the first event of the season, eh?! (more…)

 

The early signs of the season! May 18, 2012

Filed under: Off season News — Tara Wellman @ 2:44 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The off season can get really long. But it always makes things a little more bearable when things like schedules, team envelopes, and even Grand Prix assignments make their way through the interwebs!

Fortunately for us, that’s where we are!

First, the schedule. For a complete international schedule, check out usfigureskating.com. The page will be updated with assignments as they are announced.

As for the ISU Grand Prix series, the schedule looks like this: 

SKATE AMERICA — October 19-21, 2012 (Seattle/Kent, Washington)

SKATE CANADA INTERNATIONAL — October 26-28, 2012 (Windsor, Ontario)

CUP OF CHINA November 2-4, 2012 (Shanghai, China)

ROSTELECOM CUP — November 9-12, 2012 (Moscow, Russia)

TROPHEE BOMPARD — November 16-18, 2012 (Paris, France)

NHK TROPHY — November 23-25, 2012 (Sendai, Japan)

GRAND PRIX FINAL — December 5-9, 2012 (Sochi, Russia)

Following the GP Series, we’ll get a whole host of national championships, including Canadian Nationals (Missisagua, ON, Jan. 13-20, 2013) and US Nationals (Omaha, NE, Jan. 20-27, 2013).

Then, the attention shifts to Osaka, Japan for the Four Continents Championships (Feb. 6-11, 2013) before heading to the World Championships March 10-17 in London, Ontario.

But, before we get to all that, there’s the Junior Grand Prix circuit to focus on! That kicks off the season with the JGP in Courchevel, France on August 22, 2012.

So, who might we see once the whirlwind begins? Well, for the US, the team envelopes are a good place to start! Here’s where we stand.

TEAM A

Ladies: Ashley Wagner

Men: Jeremy Abbott

Pairs: Mary Beth Marley & Rockne Brubaker, Caydee Denney & John Coughlin

Dance: Meryl Davis & Charlie White, Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani, and Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue

TEAM B

Ladies: Alissa Czisny, Mirai Nagasu, Agnes Zawadzki, Caroline Zhang, Christina Gao, Gracie Gold

Men: Douglass Razzano, Adam Rippon, Armin Mahbanoozadeh, Ross Miner, Jason Brown, Nathan Chen, Josh Farris

Pairs: Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir, Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier, Gretchen Dolan & Andrew Speroff, Britney Simpson & Matthew Blackmer

Dance: Lynn Kriengkraiut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, Madison Chock & Evan Bates, Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton

TEAM C

Ladies: Rachael Flatt, Samantha Cesario, Vanessa Lam, Mariah Bell, Hannah Miller, Amanda Gleb, Ashley Wang, Ashley Cain, Courtney Hicks, Barbie Long, Karen Chen, Amber Glenn

Men: Richard Dornbush, Stephen Carriere, Keegan Messing, Max Aaron, Timothy Dolensky, Harrison Choate, Philip Warren, Spencer Howe, Lukas Kaugar, James Schetelich, Vincent Zhou

Pairs: Kylie Duarte & Colin Grafton, Madeline Aaron & Max Settlage, Caitlin Fields & Jason Pacini, Jessica Pfund & AJ Reiss, Jessica Noelle Calalang & Zack Sidhu, Chelsea Liu & Devin Perini, Alexandria Shaughnessy & James Morgan

Dance: Emily Samuelson & Todd Gilles, Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus, Rachael Parsons & Michael Parsons, Madeline Heritage & Nathaniel Fast, Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter, Holly Moore & Daniel Klaber, Hannah Rosinski & Jacob Jaffe, Whitney Miller & Kyle MacMillan

Click HERE for the full breakdown, including the reserve teams.

Also, check the list of the complete US International Selection Pool, including skaters like Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir who are attempting comebacks this season to prepare for the Olympics in Sochi. These athletes are also eligible to be selected for international events.

The Grand Prix assignments are announced Monday, so keep your eyes peeled!

But until then, who are YOU most looking forward to seeing compete this year?

 

So you may have heard (Or, news ’round the skating world) April 6, 2012

The Post-Worlds-Syndrom is probably setting in right about now. After the high of Nationals, the build up from Four Continents, to the climax in Nice, all the highest hopes of the 2012 season have reached a near end. A month from now, skating fans will be grasping at the slightest bit of news, hoping for tid bits on new music or costumes, and counting down the days until the season begins again.

A break is nice, so long as it’s not too long.

But, in contrast to other years, the season doesn’t quite end with the World Championships. We still have the World Team Trophy to look forward to!

Fan of this style event or not, it’s skating. And with the announcement of the teams, we can see that it will be star-studded in and of itself.

Based on qualifications from the 2012 World and Junior World Championships, six countries made the cut and will send a team of eight skaters to Tokyo, Japan for the team-style competition to be held April 19-22.

If you’re unfamiliar with the way this game is played, here’s the rundown from U.S. Figure Skating:

Gold's season isn't over yet. She'll have her chance against some of the world's best later this month in Tokyo.

World Team Trophy features the six best figure skating teams of the 2011-12 season, including Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States. Each team consists of two ladies, two men, one pair and one ice dancing couple. The scores of each team’s skaters in the short programs/dance and free skates/dance will be added together and the highest point total will win.

The American team will be made up of National Champs Meryl Davis & Charlie White, Caydee Denney & John Coughlin, Ashley Wagner, and Jeremy Abbott, along with silver medalist Adam Rippon and Junior Champion Gracie Gold (who will be making her Senior-level international debut).

Remember, a version of this event will be present at the 2014 Sochi games. So, it’s important for this competition to go well!

Anyone up for making early predictions on who will win that event? Or on how the adorable and talented Gracie Gold will hold up against elite senior competition?

We’ll find out soon enough!

And, in other, completely unrelated news, Evan Lysacek has earned a prestigious, new position: a Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Sports Envoy.

Sounds fancy, right?

So what exactly will the Olympic Champ be doing? Following in long-time friend Michelle Kwan’s footsteps, it seems!

 On his inaugural trip done in partnership with U.S. Figure Skating, Lysacek will travel to Stockholm, Sweden and Minsk, Belarus April 6 – 13.

While in Sweden, Lysacek will hold ice skating clinics with youth from the Stockholm area, organized in cooperation with the non-governmental organization Sports Without Borders. In Minsk, from April 11 – 13, Lysacek will conduct clinics with the Skating Union of Belarus and speak with students of the University of Physical Culture about the importance of sports in society. He will also attend a competition for wheelchair fencers and wheelchair dancers.

[snip]

Sports Envoys are current and retired professional athletes and coaches from a range of sports that travel overseas to conduct clinics and team building activities, as well as engage youth in a dialogue on the importance of education, positive health practices and respect for diversity. The U.S. Department of State’s sports diplomacy division, SportsUnited, works in close partnership with professional sports leagues, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and respective National Governing Bodies so that American athletes may engage overseas youth in positive dialogue.

Interesting, for someone on a comeback trail of his own to add Envoy trips to his soon-to-be-full training schedule. But, if you’ve followed Lysacek through the years, he does like to be busy! And this is certainly a worth-while addition to his plans.

I don’t know about you, but a lesson or clinic with an Olympic Champion would certainly inspire me!

Congrats to Evan on his new gig!