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!

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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…)

 

Skating for Gold – Nationals 2011: the Men January 6, 2011

Every year since 2006, January brings a flood of memories to my mind. Early mornings, cold, rink-side arena seats, and the smell of freshly Zamboni-ed ice (Yes, the smell). But most of all, January makes me remember the anticipation and excitement of being at my first Nationals. Walking in that first night is as fresh in my mind as what I ate for breakfast this morning (a delightful blueberry scone, courtesy of my favorite Starbucks location!).

So the closer we get to the start of the 2011 National Championships in Greensboro, NC, the stronger those excited feelings become. And, thanks to my wonderful Twitter followers, I know I’m not alone!

Nationals seems later this year than normal, but for me that’s a good thing – a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have had time to even think about a preview blog! So, I suppose I should thank US Figure Skating for conveniently fitting Nationals into my 2011 schedule! Now, if only I could figure out a way to actually be in Greensboro for the week…

Daydreaming aside, it’s time for some Nationals chatter! But, oh, where to begin!

Knowing my constant challenge with being concise, I’ve decided to post separate blogs for my thoughts about the Men, Ladies, Ice Dance, and Pairs events, all of which present some pretty intense competition!

I’ve been asked a lot about my thoughts on the Men’s competition, so that is where we will begin.

All season long, I’ve been saying the men’s competition is by far the most competitive internationally, and I have a feeling that may be the case at the Coliseum, too. With the top guys from the last few years (Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir) not skating in NC, the door is wide open for some long-time challengers as well as some “fresh blood” to take a shot at the podium. First off, let’s take a look at the guys I feel are top contenders, and then I’ll tell you why.

  • Jeremy Abbott
  • Adam Rippon
  • Brandon Mroz
  • Armin Mahbanoozadeh
  • Ryan Bradley

Obviously, Jeremy has to be considered the favorite. He’s the two-time and reigning champ, and he’s got all the confidence in the world. Plus, he has great programs, great jumps, great fan support, and great coaches. If he puts it all on the ice like we all know he can, I believe he can leave Greensboro as the three-time champion. However, if the pressure of defending gets to him, or his past consistency issues come back to haunt him, he could be in trouble because there are plenty of other guys hungry for the chance to be American’s #1 man.

Adam Rippon is, also without a doubt, the #2 guy right now. He’s the heir apparent to the American thrown, and for good reason. The guy has a depth of artistry and a level of emotion in his skating that surpasses anyone else on the US scene right now, as far as I’m concerned. He’s matured a lot in this last year, and you can tell that he really wants to not only skate well, but tell a story, and that is what makes figure skating so magical. You can also tell, though, that he wants to be considered among the best in the world, and Nationals is a great chance for him to show how well he can keep up with the Jeremy Abbotts of the skating world. He will need to hit it big technically, especially if others bring the quad (which Adam can do, as well…). I expect him to compete well, but his last competition of the Grand Prix series didn’t go as planned, so hopefully he’s moved past that and is full strength and ready to bring it!

Brandon rounds out the trio of men that, on paper, should make up the top three. Now, we all know what’s “on paper” doesn’t often translate accurately to the ice. That said, Brandon has made some big strides this year that make me really want to see him do well. His artistry is sill no where near that of Adam and Jeremy, but he does seem to be establishing more of a connection between the music and the movements. Technically, he’s got all the big tricks in his arsenal. It’ll be a matter of putting all the pieces together at the right time…and holding it together mid-program if something goes wrong.

Not to be overlooked (and looking to cement his status at the top of the US ranks) is, perhaps, the biggest surprise medalist of the Grand Prix season, Armin Mahbanoozadeh. This kid is something else. He skated to bronze in champion-like fashion, looking completely un-phased by the pressure that comes with opportunity. That, and he has a brilliant long program to music from “Avatar.” I love it. And I truly believe that he has a great chance to play spoiler and earn a spot on the World team.

Finally, the biggest question mark of the event, one of my long-time favorites, Ryan Bradley. If you read the latest blog from Sarah and Drew on icenetwork.com about his decision to compete, you know that he’s in it because YOU asked for it! You’ve got to love a guy who responds that way to his fans. I won’t lie, I was actually surprised when I saw him listed to compete in Greensboro. I hadn’t seen confirmation of his decision for this year, and coming back from foot surgery is hard enough, but to do it on comparatively short preparation time? He’s got guts, that’s for sure. But he’s also skating with a refreshed mindset this season; one in which he’s determined to enjoy skating for all of the simple, pure reasons that made him love it in the first place. And that, my friends, could be just the mindset that propels him to the podium. He has quite the challenge ahead of him, but I know a world of skating fans who would be thrilled to see him get his moment (including me!).

You know, the great thing about US Nationals – and any nationals, for that matter – is that you get a chance to see not only  the best the nation has to offer, but those who will be the best in the future. And this year, the list of guys hoping to make a big splash of their own, medal or no medal, is just as competitive as the competition for gold. Take a look:

  • Ross Miner
  • Josh Farris
  • Jason Brown
  • Douglass Razzano
  • Parker Pennington
  • Grant Hochstein
  • Keegan messing
  • Richard Dornbush
  • Johnathan Cassar

Boy, will this competition be good! I wish NBC would show more than the final group, but thank God for icenetwork’s additional coverage, whatever it actually amounts to, so that we get to see all these guys pull out their best.

I hope the fans in Greensboro pack the Coliseum, and that these men really, really bring it…there is certainly the potential for some “skate of a lifetime” moments that Nationals has the tendency to draw out of people.

And that excited feeling is back. Full force, giving me chills…come on, January 22nd, get here faster!

Who are your picks for the podium? I’d love to know.

Stay tuned; other previews coming soon.

Until then…

 

Sensations of Skating – Top 5 Choreographers September 22, 2010

Two quick things: I miss Evan and Anna, and I’m tired of being sick!

Once again, I apologize for the delayed post. Seriously, this head cold has me up and down and up and down…every time I felt like writing something, just that fast I felt terrible again. I’ve got some medication now, though, so hopefully I’m on the mend. (But I didn’t say that out loud!)

As for Evan and Anna, of course I’m talking Dancing with the Stars. I’ll admit it…I’m one of THOSE people. I Love that show. I think it’s a breath of fresh air, generally speaking. Most of the time, people come on the show and it’s not overly dramatic, it’s not entirely scripted, and it’s not cut-throat and nasty. Besides, it’s ballroom. That adds a touch of class to just about anything, especially reality TV. But this season, I’m just not sure these stars are going to cut it. They certainly won’t live up to previous seasons, and there’s certainly no Evan Lysacek. Or Kristi Yamaguchi.

That said, I’m still somehow interested to see who will pull this off, although the favorites seem to be clearly set already.

What do you think? Are you watching the show? I’ve got to say, watching this show gave me a whole new appreciation and understanding of ice dance, which I’ve come to love over the last several years.

(You like that seamless transition to skating? Anyway…)

So, the Hidden Heroes post won the award for most popular blog post ever! I want to thank everyone for reading it and passing it around – that day was my biggest day at From The Boards thus far! You guys are awesome. 🙂

It’s always hard to follow something that’s so great, but here’s my attempt. We talked coaches, now let’s talk choreographers. This one was a little harder for me in some ways, but easier in other ways – namely, the fact that there are really two choreographers right now who are dominating the world of skating: David Wilson and Lori Nichol.

Time out here, just to say that the new judging system (how long do you think it will be the “new” system?) really put more pressure on coaches and choreographers, because with a more defined points system (a defined at all system!), things had to be more particular within the choreography. Initially, this seemed like a difficult transition, and in my opinion, choreography suffered. However, now that the system has been worked over and skaters, coaches and choreographers are all accustomed to the new demands, artistry is working its way back into elite competition, thanks in part to choreographers like Nichol and Wilson who seem to have it down to a science.

However, they’re not the only magicians on the scene. And this season, we’re seeing some new faces who have made the jump from competitor to choreographer and I’m thrilled to see what they bring to the ice.

So, without further ado, my top 5 choreographers in skating today.

5. Jeff Buttle and Stephane Lambiel

Yes, I’m aware of the fact that #5 is actually two people. But here’s the deal – these two have just recently begun to choreograph for some top tier skaters, and I’m beyond excited about it. Buttle has worked with Yu-Na Kim and Jeremy Ten, among others, and Stephane has choreographed Diasuke Takahashi’s new short program for this season. What’s so exciting to me about these two is that they both understand what makes up a great program – highs and lows, transitions that actually make sense with the music and the story you’re telling. They are truly “Skaters’ skaters” and I think they will translate that into their choreography very well.

4. Nikolai Morosov

I have a feeling this might be a controversial choice because most of what Morosov is known for is simply footwork sequences. And that is true. But, post 2002 he was all the rage. It was like if you weren’t getting choreography from Nikolai, you were simply at a lesser level. Morosov works as a coach as well, but his step sequences put him on the map – as well as putting a few other skaters there as well. He worked with U.S. stars such as Sasha Cohen and Michelle Kwan, the Chinese pairs team of Pang and Tong, and of course his world champion in Miki Ando. I feel like his effectiveness in the system has worn off in recent years, but his impact is still felt by the structure and complexity of step sequences these days.

3. Tom Dickson

Clearly, this man’s choreography skills are worthy of mentioning. He’s been the USFSA’s choreographer of the year four times, most recently in 2006. He’s worked with Jeremy Abbott, Rachael Flatt, Yu-Na Kim, Brandon Mroz, and Caroline Zhang. He’s one who can work the system, but also work with the skater to get the best out of them. And as great as he is, in the last four years, he’s been a tad over shadowed by the top two.

2. David Wilson

This was tough. Splitting these top two is like splitting hairs. In fact, I had it the other way around, but then decided to change it. I’ll do my best to explain why. David Wilson is magic on ice. The way he translates and idea to reality is mind boggling. He gets skaters to take hold of an idea and make it their own. He transforms them every time he gets to work on something new, and he never seems to run out of ideas. The list of athletes he’s worked with is remarkable: Jeremy Abbott, Miki Ando, Jeff Buttle, Sasha Cohen, Alissa Czisny, Denney and Barrett, Dube and Davison, Dubreuil and Lauzon, Christina Gao, Emily Hughes, Midori Ito, Brian Joubert, Yu-Na Kim, Adam Rippon, Joannie Rochette, Johnny Weir…to name a few. He just gets it. How to move, how to perform, how to incorporate technique…he gets it. And the best part is, he makes sure his skaters get it, too.

1. Lori Nichol

Ultimately, my number one spot had to go to Lori Nichol. David Wilson may get there in my book, but for now, so many iconic programs belong to Lori. Think Michelle Kwan (most of her career!) and “Lyra Angelica” or the Rachmaninoff short program from the Olympics (1998 and 2002). Think Shen and Zhao’s “Meditation” from the 2006-2007 season, or their Olympic short to “Who Wants to Live Forever.” Think Patrick Chan’s “Phantom” or Evan Lysacek’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” There are so many moments in skating that have made lasting memories that all start with the imagination of Lori Nichol. She’s now creating similar moments for Yu-Na Kim and Mirai Nagasu, as well as Chan and Abbott, among others. Because she’s had the same longevity as some of the skaters she’s worked with, and she’s still at the top of her game…still at the top of her sport. And I’m not the only one to notice. There was a fabulous article a while back about how she works and how she creates programs for each skater…you should probably check it out.

Now, I know there are so many others – Lea Ann Miller, Sandra Bezic, Kurt Browning, and on and on and on. But as with the coaches, I tried to key in on those who are making the biggest mark right now in skating. That said, feel free to disagree! I’d love to know what you think about the who’s who in choreography today as well.

Don’t forget to follow me on twitter for all kinds of tid bits there: twitter.com/fromtheboards

 

This one’s for the boys… September 6, 2010

Happy Labor Day to those who have so kindly chosen to follow FromTheBoards (the few, the proud…the skating fans!). Labor Day is an interesting holiday, don’t you think? I was curious enough, in fact, to look up the origin of the day. Apparently (correct me if I’m wrong, here!) a kid named Peter McGuire was inspired by a workers strike where employees were demanding a decrease in the hours of their long work days. Ultimately, McGuire helped for a workers union and the Labor Movement began. These workers then decided that they wanted a holiday halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving, thus the first Monday in September. It appears it used to be celebrated more heartily – parades, feasts, etc. Now it’s basically the last day of summer (sad day!) and sometimes a day for picnics.

So there you have it. Your random fact for the day. Now on to the good stuff – the skating!

First things first, I wanted to share a bit of news for you who may  not have heard. It seems Yu-Na Kim has decided to move to Los Angeles and train at the Kwan’s rink, East West Ice Palace, in Artesia. She will temporarily be coached by former ladies and pairs skater, Naomi Nari Nam (love her!) in an arrangement that is suspected to become more permanent if it seems to work. Good for Yu-Na to quickly move on from the train wreck with Brian Orser. I hope she’s happy with Nam (who is fluent in Korean) and that, should she decide to pursue her competitive career for years to come, she is able to find the passion and joy that once brought her to tears as she spoke of fulfilling her dream of skating to Olympic glory. (Check out the story at BlazingBlades.com, direct link here)

Back to business – the men, of course! And let me just say, this may be the most exciting discipline in the sport right now. The ladies long held that crown, but even with the great Yu-Na in the mix, it’s just not the same as it once was. The men’s competition, however…talk about drama! So once again, we look at the top 20, according to the World Rankings posted at icenetwork.com. Let’s dive in!

The American Olympic champ, Evan Lysacek, holds the top spot, which makes perfect sense. I mean, he is the Olympic champ. But with his recent decision to sit out the Grand Prix series and take a “wait-and-see” approach to Nationals, there will be some open space at the top, at least at the beginning of the year. Evan pushed himself to the brink last season, so he certainly deserves some time off. The question will be, can he get back into the kind of shape he’ll demand from himself? Also, will skating competitively remain his passion despite the other offers he’s getting? Even with Sochi 2014 “on his radar,” Evan’s certainly non-committal at this point regarding any future plans.

So, who’s the #2 who gets bumped to #1 by default? That would be World Champ Daisuke Takahashi. The Japanese champion stood up on a quad flip at Worlds in March, so look for him to push the envelope technically this year. But don’t let the technical side throw you – this kid’s a performer. He’s got a Mambo short program in the works, and I’ve seen portions of it. One word? Magic. I’m really looking forward to seeing his progression this year. A lot of people thought he deserved silver in Vancouver, so he may feel he has a little something to prove.

Sneaking into the top three (perhaps thanks to Plushenko’s ban that stripped his ISU eligibility and, therefore, his right to be ranked) is another of Japan’s stars, Nobunari Oda. He’s had an interesting career thus far – National champion in 2008, but that was after sitting out the season before due to a suspension for driving under the influence of alcohol (driving his moped, by the way!). And the road back to glory hasn’t been easy. Yes, he won the Japanese national title in December of 2008, but since then it seems he makes a big statement, then collapses when it really counts. At the Olympics, he fell in his long program, broke a lace, restarted, finished…all to end up 7th. Then, he completely bombed at Worlds, landing only one single jump in his short, and not even qualifying to skate in the free program. I have a feeling he’ll be looking for a strong comeback, but sometimes I think he wants it TOO much. Keep an eye on him, but don’t hold your breath for a stellar, world title kind of year.

Number four in the world is currently the Frenchman, Brian Joubert. He’s an interesting story (far too long to discuss in this particular blog, but if you have thoughts on him, I’m curious to know!) I find myself with a soft spot for Brian…I feel like he’s just never really been able to find himself on the ice. He seems to always be trying to match someone, or skate like someone else. For years he was criticized for trying to be 2002 Olympic Champ Alexei Yagudin’s mini-me, and it’s almost like when he stopped trying to be Alexei, he didn’t know who to be. I think he’s finally getting there, but again, it hasn’t been easy. He’s faced some bizarre injuries (cutting his foot with the opposite blade on the landing of a jump?!?) and some tough competitions, but he keeps climbing back up. You know what they say, champions aren’t the ones winning all the time, but the ones who get back up every time they fall. Brian’s got a short program to “Malaguna” planned – a much more artistic piece of music for him – so maybe he, too, will come back with new focus and passion. I wish him well.

The American national champion Jeremy Abbott closes out the top five. Jeremy is such a talent – his edges cut the ice like butter, his choreography pours out of him as naturally as he breathes – yet there’s something that’s kept him from reaching the top. I think he battles nerves with the best of ’em, and half the time they get the best of him. If he can combine the technical demands with nerves of steel, the rest will be easy as taking candy from a baby (…so they say). He’s another wild card for me.

Patrick Chan from Canada takes the #6 spot. This kid has got “it.” Whatever “it” is…he’s got it. He has some of the softest knees since, I don’t know, Todd Eldridge or Brian Boitano. When he’s on, he’s magic. The problem is, he’s not always on. He needs to step up the consistency in the technical department and, well, that’s about it. He has some of the best footwork in the business, in my opinion, and apparently in the opinion of the judges. He won some competitions last year that even he was surprised (dare I say, embarrassed?) to win because he didn’t complete clean jumps. But his transitions and footwork held him in it. It will be interesting with the new rules about footwork and jumps (supposedly to make jumps more weighted) to see how he fares, and if he can get those HUGE jumps under control.

Takahiko Kozuka is the #7 man heading into the season. Japan’s contingent is so strong. Expect the same from these three this year. Kozuka hasn’t had a “big break,” so to speak, but he’s looking to change that. Will this be the season?

Two Czech men are 8th and 10th (we’ll get to 9 in a minute) – Tomas Verner and Michal Brezina. Tomas had some wins last year. He’s not a polished skater, but he’s got the big tricks. He did have more entertaining programs last year, but when it counted, he faced disaster in Vancouver. It will be interesting to see how he rebounds from that. Brezina skated his “American in Paris” program to a 4th place finish at Worlds in March, so he’s looking to keep the momentum up heading into this season.

Jump back to #9 for a second – American Johnny Weir. He was originally slated to compete in the Grand Prix, but shortly thereafter decided that he needed to sit out this season and determine whether he wanted to continue competing. Johnny’s been through a lot the last few years. He hasn’t quite been able to pull together his own ideas about what skating should be and what the rules say it has become. Within that struggle, he couldn’t quite seem to reach the level of technical difficulty necessary to compete internationally. But at least for this year, he doesn’t have to worry about it!

On to #11. Little Adam Rippon. I say little because he seems like such a youngster compared to many of those at the top of the sport, but boy is he a talent! His movements are so pure, his edges so deep and clean. If he gets a bit more comfortable in the senior ranks with his jumps, he will be right up there with some of the Patrick Chans of the skating world. (He also does a “Tano” jump with a hand over his head as well as his own variation with both hands over his head. Gotta love it!) His future excites me. I can’t wait to see his season. He’s skating to “Romeo and Juliet” and Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto #2″…familiar pieces, but I have no doubt that Adam will bring the intense beauty out of them. He’ll be ready to compete.

Samuel Contesti of Italy is next at #12. This guy has an entertainment factor, for sure. He lacks a bit of content sometimes, and needs to work on fineness. He moved from 18th at the Olympics to 7th at Worlds, so he has the ability to compete. He just needs to put it all together.

Yannick Ponsero from France is the same way. He’s had some bright spots, showing potential, but he’s got to put it all together. He, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, Alban Preaubert of France, and Sergei Voronov of Russia are all ranked for a reason – they’ve got the goods to compete. But this season they’ll all need to keep moving in the right direction. Often some of the potential greats don’t quite make it to great, so we’ll see which of these guys brings it this year.

I have to pause for a second to talk about number 17 – Florent Amodio. This kid from France was one of my highlights last year. He’s the 2010 French National Champ, and as per usual for French skaters, he’s got a personality the size of Europe! He’s adorable. I challenge you to watch him skate without smiling. (Seriously, the video below…watch it. This is my “you will smile” guarantee!)

I can’t wait to see what he comes up with this year.

Wrapping up the top 20, #18 is Kevin Van Der Perren from Belgium. He’s a skater that just keeps on keepin’ on, even without always seeing the results he’d like. He’s got some big tricks, he just doesn’t have the consistency to skate multiple clean programs.

Russian youngster Denis Ten is poised to make his presence known. He skated to an 11th place finish in Vancouver, and I expect more good things as he grows in the sport.

Finishing off today’s list is the Chinese junior champ, Nan Song. He finished 6th at Four Continents as a senior last season, and was second at the Junior World Championships. He’s a young one to watch as he comes on to the seen with the top dogs!

We made it! So, we’re through the men and the ladies. The competition will be fierce, that’s for sure! Some will step up, others will fall down. But that, my friends, is the beauty of sport. On to pairs!!

Until then…

(Find me on twitter @FromTheBoards or email me thoughts, questions, comments: fromtheboards@gmail.com)

 

A whole new world- Don’t you dare close your eyes! August 23, 2010

Now that you know when my skating saga began, I turn next to where my perspective was shaped – St. Louis, 2006.

Based on my newly found passion for figure skating, I was beyond thrilled to realize that by the time the 2006 U.S. National Championships came around, I would have moved from Utah to Iowa, and be a mere five hours from the best skaters in the nation. I determined then and there to be in attendance that week, whatever the cost.

Now, I’m not one to settle for less than the very best, and this was no exception. I didn’t just want tickets to the events. I wanted GOOD tickets. Not only that, but I didn’t just want tickets to the EVENTS, I wanted All-Event tickets, which included passes to every single practice session, too. (Try telling a 16-year-old dreamer something’s impossible…chances are, the kid will prove you wrong!)

So I spent the entire summer before my senior year in high school working almost 40 hours a week to pay for 2 sets of All-Event passes (I’d talked my daddy into going with me, but I had to buy!). Before the summer was through, I’d purchased the tickets that would change my skating experience forever.

Then, it was just a matter of waiting ’til January. Talk about waiting an eternity….I thought it would never come!

The day that I left school early to hit the road for St. Louis, I couldn’t have been more excited. (Okay, I probably could have. I’d been devastated that my hero, Michelle Kwan, was injured and had to withdraw from Nationals, but even still, I was positively giddy!)

That night, as we walked into the arena for the pairs practice, I was floored. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. My mind was racing, but my heart was racing faster. I’d never been to an event so grand, much less an event that meant so much to me. As we walked toward the ice, my dad looked over at me and said, “Breathe, Tara. Breathe!” I guess my jittery excitement was rendering useless even the most involuntary functions…like breathing!

No worries, though. Clearly, I remembered how to breathe, and we headed down to the boards.

I couldn’t believe we were actually allowed to sit that close. I mean, our tickets for the events were good, but front row? Right behind the coaches? I could actually HEAR the conversations between Rena Inoue and John Baldwin as they chatted with their coach? Impossible.

But it was possible. And totally the coolest thing ever.

That week, I had up-close-and-personal interactions with some of my favorite athletes in the world. I had my picture taken with Evan Lysacek, got autographs from Michael Weiss and my boy, Timothy Goebel, along with Sasha Cohen, Emily Hughes, Alissa Czisny, and the legendary coach, Frank Carroll (who said, “You don’t want my autograph!” after I asked for it. Oh yes, Frank, I most certainly did!).

At one particular ice dance practice, I was fascinated by the intensity of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto. Ben is hilarious off the ice, but he turns it on the second he steps out there, whether it’s to compete or to practice. Tanith is truly gorgeous, and she was matching Ben’s intensity, that’s for sure.

Funny story about them – they were practicing in their competition costumes, and Tanith’s dress was decked out with black feathers. Well, those feathers needed some work, because by the time the practice was over, nearly half of them had fallen off. As the couples were coming off the ice at the end of the session, a couple of the guys were talking – one coming off the ice, the other getting set to head out onto it. They were commenting about the quality of the ice and how good it felt out there, and one guy said, “Yeah, the ice is great, but half of Tanith’s dress is all over it!”

Here’s the feather dress: (Note: It was altered…i.e. featherless…by the Olympics!)

Here's Tanith's "Feather" Dress (It was altered - i.e. feather-less - for the Olympics!

While getting the autographs and photos is cool, it was these little moments that made me realize how different things were from the boards.

Another “from the boards” experience came at one of the men’s early morning practices. My dad and I had arrived at the arena a bit early to stake out our spot for the day. We’d decided that the best spot was right in front, just by the tunnel where the skaters come out. Not only for the sake of autographs was this the best, but for the experience of being at such close proximity to the skaters and their coaches as they headed out to the ice.

This particular morning, one skater came through the tunnel 15 minutes or so before they were opening the ice for the session. The skater was Jordan Wilson, a skater from Santa Rosa, CA. For the next 15 or 20 minutes, we chatted it up like we were besties, talking about how he wasn’t used to these early morning practices, what he was most excited about, how the ice was, and what he wanted to do beyond skating.

He may not have been the at the top of the pack competitively, but that morning, he became tops in my book, because I’d met him at the boards and realized how real his life was beyond skating.

From that same place at the boards, I saw Dick Button studying the competitors, I saw Coach Nicks talking Sasha Cohen through a cautious practice, and watched Johnny Weir interact with a, shall we say, “dedicated” fan who’d gotten his name tattooed on her ankle. It was all so different from this spot at the boards. But it wasn’t all smiles there, either.

I saw dance teams leave the ice in a huff after bombing an element three times in a row (literally, “bombing”…it was a lift and he basically dropped her on her face three times in a row. Bad day, anyone?). I saw big name skaters ignore little girls waiting for autographs, and I saw up-and-comers stressing over nailing a triple lutz.

But mostly, I saw a whole new world (Aladdin, anyone?) and I most certainly didn’t dare close my eyes. I wanted to see it all, take it all in, memorize it, remember it, treasure it. This wasn’t just a sport I’d see from a distance anymore. It was a sport filled with real people and real drama that I’d seen from the most real angle of all – from the boards. The same angle a coach sees it, the same way competitors see each other, and the only way to get a real sense of the personalities and the pressure of this beautiful, challenging, technical and magical sport.

When I saw Rena Inoue and John Baldwin land history’s first throw triple axel, the feeling was electric – not just because they’d come back from a frustrating short program to win a national title in record-breaking style. Not just because the entire arena felt the shock wave blast from the ice up into the nose-bleeds. But because I’d been there – I’d seen the doubt, the determination, and the danger all week as Rena soared through the air, working out all the bugs so they’d be ready on game day.

Now, as a new season rushes in, I still take every chance to see things “from the boards.” And while I may not be standing at the boards ever time, I most certainly look to them. Because it’s from there that my perspective changed, and it’s from there that the magic truly begins.

Until next time…

Pictures: follow me on Twitter for links to all my photos from Nationals in St. Louis – twitter.com/FromTheBoards