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!

 

Grand Prix Rewind: The Guys November 28, 2012

With all six “regular season” Grand Prix events nicely tucked in the past, and a week before the Final in Sochi, I thought it was as good a time as any to reflect on the season thus far. Each GP season creates new buzz for the up-and-comers or the comeback-kids; it provides some disappointments for long-time favorites; we see just who came into the year most prepared; and, if we’re lucky, there are a few magical moments along the way to make it all worth while.

Today, let’s talk about the guys of the GP series.

Boy, were there a lot of them to choose from this time around. So many guys, so few medals to go around. But, that’s kind of become the status quo of the men’s event in the last Olympic cycle. There’s just too much talent to choose favorites.

This year, though, it became strikingly obvious: the Japanese men have done what the Japanese women did a few years back. They’ve completely taken over.

Six of the top ten men after all six events are from Japan. The only man to compete for Japan and not finish in the top 10? Daisuke Murakami who withdrew from his only event after an injury in the short program. That’s some pretty good odds, if you’re betting on a Japanese man landing on the podium, no?

At least one Japanese man was on the podium in every event; four of the six events were won by a Japanese man, with no repeat winners; three of the six events had multiple Japanese medalists, including Skate America where Takahiko Kozuka, Yuzuru Hanyu, and Tatsuki Machida swept the medal stand.

Continuing the trend, six of the top ten international scores this season belong to those Japanese men, with Hanyu, of course, setting — then breaking — the world record short program score. Yes, those two skates are definitely two of those magical moments I referred to earlier. So, too, was Kozuka’s free skate at Skate America.

Holy dominance, Batman!

That just blows my mind. Oh, to be in the arena for Japanese Nationals to see these guys duke it out!

The only other men to make the GPF are Patrick Chan (no surprise there) and Javier Fernandez (who bested Chan at Skate Canada for his first GP gold).

A bit surprising was Chan’s start to the season. Four falls at the Japan Open, followed by a less-than-perfect Skate Canada had the skating world buzzing, wondering if the coaching shake up or the pressure of being the top-ranked man entering the season had gotten to his confidence. Rostelecom Cup, though, proved that he still has what it takes, as he posted the season’s highest total score (262.35, just over 1 point better than Hanyu’s best).

Considered Chan’s biggest competition last season, Daisuke Takahashi didn’t have the smashing success I, for one, was expecting after his stellar skate at the Japan Open. He changed some elements of his free skate that, from my perspective anyway, fail to do him justice and hurt the program overall. He didn’t win either of his GP events.

If I was to make a prediction now, based on GP results, of who would make the US World Team, it would have to be Jeremy Abbott and Ross Miner. Both had their share of rough spots so far as they tried to insert the quad into both programs. Miner landed his first quad salchow in competition en route to a bronze medal behind Hanyu and Takahashi at the NHK Trophy — not bad company, I’d say! He also tallied the top US men’s score of the season (235.37). Abbott, once again, has sensational programs, showcasing two very different sides to his skating. However, the free skate remains a bit of a bugaboo for him … especially when he’s locked in on the quad attempt.

I watched him in the practices at Skate America miss the quad time and time again. I had to wonder if the risk was worth it, seeing how little confidence there seemed to be in that jump. Without it, he has to be flawless and depend on his polished program components. With it, though, he risks falling — literally — out of contention before he ever has a chance. It will be interesting to see what he chooses to do with it the rest of the season.

Jeremy is the first alternate for the Final. Should anyone not be able to compete, he may have another shot yet.

That accounts for the most shocking and impressive results of the men’s season. Except, of course, for Johnny Weir’s comeback attempt.

There’s not much to say about it, really, except that this comeback is going to be harder than perhaps even he realized. I applaud him for the effort. But, if he really wants to be competitive, he has oodles of work to do.

The Final will be a preview of what the Japanese Championships could look like. But, the real question will be, can Chan or Fernandez throw a wrench in the sweep potential?

What was your favorite men’s moment of the series? Biggest surprise? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Halfway Home: Grand Prix 2012 Update November 5, 2012

With three events wrapped up all nice and tidy, I figured it was time for a quick look back.

Hopefully you caught my video updates from Skate America, but I admittedly didn’t get as much content up here as I’d hoped.

Then, Skate Canada happened; it came and went before I knew it. So it goes, some times, when “real life” doesn’t align with skating life!

of course, sketchy, middle-of-the-night streams from China were hard to find, but thanks to a few speedy YouTubers, I was caught up before I knew it.

And that was that. Three events down.

So, what did these three events tell us?

Here’s my take.

Just dance

Davis/White have brilliant programs this year. And, they weren’t perfect. There was visibly work that can be done.
Virtue/Moir? Okay, I guess if you’re a hard-core Tessa and Scott fan, you probably loved their Free Dance to Carmen-gone-“modern.” I, on the other hand, well … how do I say this? I thought it was a hot mess.

It was awkward, uncomfortable, out of their element, and definitely not this year’s best Carmen. 

Go ahead, say what you want now. The beautiful thing about ice dance is the subjectivity allowed!

I was also not floored by the concept and execution of Nathalie and Fabian’s Free Dance. The disco theme is interesting. Very “them.” But it felt a bit disjointed to me. It may smooth out over the season, and if it does, they could be pushing the top two teams. In fact, they make no bones about the fact that they want the top spot by the Sochi games. And, credit where credit is due, they amaze me with their continued improvement and creative (albeit occasionally awkward) lifts and choreography.

Bobrova/Soloviev, Weaver/Poje, Chock/Bates, and Kriengkrairutl/Giulietti-Schmitt were impressive early, too.

Men, men, men

(Also read, “Japan, Japan, Japan.”)

Holy toledo, Batman. The Japanese men came to play! A sweep at Skate America, Yuzuru Hanyu with a world record score, and Tatsuki Machida — the guy on the outside of the buzz last season — with a gold, a silver, and a ticket to the Grand Prix final.

Your move, Patrick Chan.

For the first time in two years, the Canadian champ has his work cut out for him. Nothing’s a guarantee, especially considering the early struggles he’s had.

The American men, too, have their work cut out for them. Jeremy Abbott had a bizarre physical breakdown in his Free Skate in Kent. Ross Miner and Adam Rippon fell short of the podium in Canada and China respectively, while Javier Fernandez finally broke through.

Beyond Skate America, though, we haven’t seen exceptionally clean skating, either. So that could shake up the standings eventually.

This one’s for the girls

…who’ve ever had a golden dream.

Ashley Wagner. ‘nough said.

Okay, not really. She debuted programs this year that exceeded last year’s works of art. Plus, she looked as trained as I’ve ever seen her, as confident, and as calm as she’s ever skated. This girl knows what she wants, and after last year, she knows if she puts in the work, she can get it.

Her competition is stiff — young Russians, veteran Japanese, and the return of Yuna Kim.

Speaking of competition, how about Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond? She certainly forced herself onto the radar (and gave Canadian fans a spark of hope!) with her win at home over Akiko Suzuki.

I can’t not mention the other two Americans making noise: Christina Gao. She was, in a word, stunning at Skate America. I’ve been a fan for a long time, claiming I see Kwan-like moments in her skating. Whatever mix she’s found with her studies at Harvard and skating when she’s not in class is working wonders. She looks mature, fit, and trained.

Mirai Nagasu is in that awkward position of being the US girl nearly falling off the edge. If she doesn’t get things together this season, she’ll have a tough road ahead making an Olympic team next year. She had jump after jump under-rotated or downgraded in China. And while it was a step in the right direction (she stayed upright!) her programs aren’t built to compensate for the points lost on the jumps.

As usual, the ladies are keeping it interesting!

Two is better than one

You know, the pairs event has been the least exciting thus far, at least in my mind.

Savchenko/Szolkowy have strange but difficult programs, and enough fire power to win. Volosozhar/Trankov have huge elements, but still have trouble putting out clean programs back-to-back. And a Chinese team is pushing everyone. The only shock is who that Chinese team is — Pang and Tong are back. And still skating. STILL. I can’t believe they’re still here after all these years. And, skating well enough to claim a Grand Prix Final berth. Kudos to them.

Americans Denny/Coughlin are well on their way. In fact, they may be more technically consistent than some other top teams. But, it’s those other things — the components points, for example — that are holding them back.

So…

…all that means is, we’ve only just begun!
What about you? Whose programs have you all worked up? And which skater has you most excited for the rest of their season?

 

 

 

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!

 

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…)

 

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!

 

Nice — Two Stars, One Champion April 1, 2012