Figure Skating: From the Boards

Omaha or Bust: Just another day in “Pair”adise January 22, 2013

It’s no secret that I am often frustrated by the U.S. pairs landscape. Not because we don’t have talented pairs to choose from, but because more Printoften than not, the game of “musical partners” is more intriguing than their actual competition results!

This year, there were the usual swaps. Caitlin Yankowskas finally found herself a partner in Joshua Reagan (who skated at last year’s Nationals with Ashley Cain).

Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim paired up, and surprised everyone with exceptional scores in Nice and at NHK — they’re senior Grand Prix debut.

Meanwhile, Mark Ladwig, who skated for so many years with Amanda Evora, found a new partner in Lindsay Davis (who formerly skated with Themi Leftheris and Alex Merritt). They started the season at the Senior B in Salt Lake and … well, they had a lot of work to do. To their credit, they were much improved by their second GP event.

At least Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff and Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin are still together … though neither team has had the kind of success this season they’d hoped for. Both teams are, though, in the running for a medal in Omaha.

And if all the new partnerships aren’t enough for you, let’s make absolutely sure that there’s no chance for a repeat National Champ — John Coughlin? Done for the season after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. For him and Caydee Denney to not be able to finish the season is such a shame; they were having a fabulous year.

But, what that does mean is, the pairs competition is the one event in Omaha that will not feature a reigning champ. In fact, there isn’t a national champion in the field.

But, despite all the turnover among U.S. teams, the new headliners of the event seem to stand alone.

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir have been skating together since 2006. That’s ancient history in pairs years! And, to top it all off, they’ve been having a career year. A strong start at Skate America led to a convincing Ice Challenge Graz victory, which they followed up with bronze at the NHK Trophy.

The only team to post scores anywhere close to Castelli/Shnapir’s (except Denney/Coughlin, mind you) is that of Scimeca and Knierim.

This is Marissa and Simon’s year, it seems. The question is, will they live up to the moment?

Here’s how I see it.

Gold: Castelli/Shnapir
Silver: Scimeca/Knierim
Bronze: Vise/Baldwin
Pewter: Davis/Ladwig

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…)

 

Skating for Gold – Nationals 2011, the Pairs January 7, 2011

The great thing about National championships is that you get a chance to see not only the best the country has to offer, but all of those who will some day be the best. For many skaters, just competing at Nationals is the best the season will get. Qualifying is a victory. Skating well, a testament to hard work. And when they have sensational results to go with it, we get to see the purest, most fulfilling joy skating can bring – not based on expectations or lofty goals, but simply in a dream achieved.

With that in mind, let us take time for round two of my Nationals preview, the pairs competition.

Pairs is a discipline that hasn’t been the strongest point in American skating for, well, quite some time. That said, there have been some highlights, and I have a feeling this year’s field could be one of them. First of all, as before, we’ll look at the skaters I feel are top contenders.

  • Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett
  • Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig
  • Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin

I think, for the most part, the podium should be between these three teams. Don’t get me wrong, there are others who could break up the party, such as Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, Felicia Zhang and Taylor Toth, and Brittany Simpson and Nathan Miller. But the fact is, the top three teams are the top three for a reason – they have the most to offer.

Caydee and Jeremy are obviously coming in with the biggest target on their backs, being the reigning Champs. They’ve made some changes in their skating this year, most noticeably by moving to train with John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana, but I’ve got to say, I have yet to see the complete package from them. Perhaps they’ve timed it perfectly, and they’ll peak in Greensboro. If they do, I have a feeling their programs will bring the house down. Caydee’s energy is electric, and while their programs have a more muted tone to them this year, the emotional value is still just as strong. They have a way of reaching the audience, and that’s not something you can teach. If they hit their elements, they have a good chance at gold, once again.

Nipping at their heals, though, are two teams hungry to prove their own national worth. Amanda Evora (who is recently engaged to Jeremy Barrett – congrats to them!) and Mark Ladwig have been the tortoise in the national rankings – slow and steady, but poised to win the race. They, two, have made some changes this season. Most noticeable to me is their newfound confidence, and renewed determination. They want to represent the country internationally, and they’re out to do whatever they can to give themselves that chance. What they have that is stronger than anyone else is belief in themselves. It got them on the Olympic team, and this year, the programs they’ve put together have the potential to claim top honors.

Not to be overlooked, however, is the dark horse team of Caitlin and John. I’m personally a big fan of the previous two teams, but I have to say, Caitlin and John have captivated me this season. They bring a spark to the ice – a calm under pressure, an elegance and poise – and they have charming personalities to boot. They make you want them to succeed…and that I do! They actually had pretty impressive success on the Grand Prix series this year, finishing 3rd and 4th at their two events, and I truly believe they’ll give Caydee/Jeremy and Amanda/Mark a run for their money.

It’s anyone’s game and it will all come down to which team puts out two programs, back to back.

Don’t eliminate the possibility of one of the other three teams I mentioned breaking things up a bit, however.

And even with the tight competition that is sure to come for the podium, I may be even more excited by the return to competition by two skaters I’ve loved for a while now – Rockne Brubaker and Themi Leftheris.

Both guys are returning with different partners than they last skated with. Themi, having skated with Naomi Nari Nam in her attempted return to competition, has just never quite found the right pieces. He’s skating this year with Lindsay Davis, and while I don’t expect a gold medal performance out of them, I’m excited to see what they have to offer. I wish them the best.

The same can be said for Rockne and his new partner, Mary Beth Marley. Rockne most notably skated with Keauna McLaughlin in a bid for the Olympic team. After an extreme disappointment at Nationals last year, Keauna took a break from skating, leaving Rockne in a starting-over position. And he’s done just that, with Mary Beth, who is new to pairs skating all together. But don’t let that fool you – they want to bring their A-game in Greensboro, and they want to compete for a medal. For them, just making it to the Coliseum isn’t quite enough.

Pulling a team together so quickly isn’t entirely new for Rockne – he and Keauna weren’t together long before their first National title. Rockne and Mary Beth competed today for the first time internationally, and put up a respectable 56.51 in their short. Comparatively, Caydee and Jeremy have the highest SP score for the American’s this season with a 58.49. Rockne and Mary Beth’s score puts them 3rd on the list of SP scores by American teams this season. Not bad, eh? So if we’re looking for a team to play spoiler, don’t count out these two. They’re hungry. And they’re talented. And it’s Nationals – anything can happen!

As with the men, I’d love to know your picks for the Pairs event. Who will it be for gold, silver and bronze?

Until then…