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…)

 

A Walk To Remember: Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig April 10, 2012

I can’t say it was unexpected. But, seeing the official announcement that 2010 Olympians Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig have ended their 10-year-long partnership is bound to make you stop and reminisce.

These two have been through the ultimate gamut of emotions in an elite athletic career. From 12th in the US at their first Nationals together in 2003, to fourth in 2007, to the climax of claiming one of the two spots on the 2010 Olympic team, to the disappointment of missing the World team this past March … they’ve had high highs and low lows. But, through it all, they’ve maintained a level of class and integrity that make them true champions.

Since making the Olympic team in 2010, they became one of America’s best, putting their “veteran” status to good use and presenting themselves as medal threats throughout the Grand Prix series.

And, like any roller coaster, there were elements of surprise and momentary panic! Who could forget the 2011 Four Continents episode where Mark’s boot came apart mid-skate and the boot-swap from Rudi Swiegers that followed? That incident was just one of many that showed off Evora and Ladwig’s composure and complete faith in one another.

There were plenty of beautiful moments, too. Like sharing the Olympic experience with training mates (and for Evora, with her fiance) Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett. Or skating to a 10th place finish there in Vancouver.

There was this: their first Grand Prix medal-winning performance in Moscow, Russia.

Add to that their elegant style, unique music choices, creative choreography, and first-rate lifts, and they gave skating fans something special every time.

According to the official announcement, Amanda will retire from competitive skating, while Mark intends to continue his career.

“Thank you to Amanda, my fellow Olympian, for partnering with me and for sharing in so many amazing experiences over the last decade,” Ladwig said. “Thank you to our coaches, fans and U.S. Figure Skating for their constant support and belief in Amanda and me.”

[snip]

“I’d like to thank Mark for living our skating dreams together. With a steady rise, we enjoyed a decorated career. As Mark furthers his skating career, I am supportive of his endeavors,” Evora said. “I’d like to thank our coaches for continual guidance and direction, U.S. Figure Skating for giving us the opportunity to represent Team USA for past 10 years and, last but not least, I’d like to thank God, my family, friends and the skating community for their overwhelming support. If not for them, my career would be meaningless.”

Thank  YOU, Amanda and Mark for representing yourselves, your sport, and your country with grace and integrity throughout your world-class career. Your path was a pleasure to follow, and I’m sure your next steps will be filled with the same quality and passion.

All the best as you continue on to the next phases of your lives.

 

On To The Springs! Four Continents — Pairs Preview February 6, 2012

Without the likes of Savchenko/Szolkowy, Volosozhar/Trankov, or Kavaguti/Smirnov, the Pairs event in Colorado Springs will showcase a new tier of talent, led by the young Chinese pair of Wenjing Sui & Cong Han and Canada’s sweethearts Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford.

But it’s not just that simple. There are also three talented American teams, and two more Canadian duos.

It gets a little convoluted when you rank them on paper — the young Chinese team has the highest GP score. The American and Canadian champs are coming off of their best competitions yet. Nationals scores don’t really count in international comparisons, but Marley and Brubaker clearly showed they have the talent to compete here. Evora and Ladwig have the experience and, now, the motivation to prove themselves. Dube and Wolfe showed themselves a new team at Canadian nationals — one with skill, elegance, poise and determination.

But, we really don’t know how any of those “intangibles” translate into scores. So, when the numbers settle, who will head to Worlds with a 4 Continents medal?

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford win their first national title

They're on a roll, and as motivated as ever. Look out, world!

Gold: Duhamel and Radford

Sure, they have had their moments of weakness this season. But, beyond the elements, the throws, the side-by-side triple lutzes, and the majestic choreography, they have something above any other team — grit.

All season I’ve been impressed with their goal development (and achievement!) from competition to competition. You can hear them in the Kiss and Cry saying ” Oh, good. We got (fill in the blank) for PCS this time. That’s much better,” or — like at Nationals — “Nope, we didn’t get the lift. Not with that score, because we got (fill in the blank) for TES at the Final.”

They’re knowledgeable, but they’re also entirely capable of translating that knowledge into goals, and thus, into results. They want to win this title to check one more thing off their season’s list, and I fully believe they can do that here.

Silver: Denney and Coughlin

A stretch here? Maybe. Sure, Sui and Han are the anointed heirs to the Chinese pairs thrown. But, Caydee and John improve every time they get out on competition ice. Plus, being at home will add to their comfort and growing confidence. These two may have been criticized at the start of their partnership, but even the toughest critics can’t ignore their immense talent and fast-developing bond. They make a great team, and obviously have the talent to make a splash on the internationals stage.

Call it a “gut feeling,” but I think their Nationals performance is just the start of what they have to offer. While their choreography isn’t particularly detailed or challenging, their elements are big enough to compete with the best.

Two clean skates will earn them a medal here, for sure.

My only request? That Caydee loses the barbie doll blue eye shadow. Pronto.  (more…)

 

Vlog: Pairs and Men Make A World-Class Case January 31, 2012

 

Do You Know The Way To San Jose: Pairs Preview January 19, 2012

“What do you say to taking chances? What do you say to jumping off the edge?” Chances are, this title will be won by the team willing to simply take the chance. Between new partners and retired skaters, this event does not have a defending champion. Yes, John Coughlin is there, but in a very knew partnership. Veterans Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig have come awfully close, but never to the very top. Will experience trump chemistry? It’s an interesting battle, for sure.

The Break Down

Caydee Denney & John Coughlin — The closest thing to a returning National champ, both Caydee and John have been there, done that. But, not together. It’s been interesting watching these two compete this year. They seem to have a natural fit in their technique, and more importantly in their connection. They both seem to be skating with an enormous amount of determination, and the talent to back it up. Still, their partnership is new. Their choreography isn’t complex. Their elements are huge, but it takes more than that to win a title.

Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig — I think it’s safe to say these two have more experience together than the top four teams combined! That certainly plays to their advantage here. Not only does their time together have them at a comfort level unheard of by the other teams, but it allows them to add difficulty to every element. Their lifts, their in betweens, their footwork, their choreography — all things they have improved this year. The trick for them is hitting the side-by-side jumps. The called in some backup from Christy Krall (yes, Patrick Chan’s coach) to help solidify the jumps. If they hit them, the may be looking at their first National title in 10 trips to the championships.

Mary Beth Marley & Rockne Brubaker — This is a team that, in a way, confuses me a bit. Let me explain. Of course, I expected Rockne Brubaker to be competitive, with whatever partner he chose. And they were at last year’s Nationals. However, trying to keep up with internationally experienced teams with Mary Beth learning pairs skating on the fly … it’s a challenge that seems to widen the gap, not lessen it. I adore them both, don’t get me wrong. But they have to be flawless to keep up. The expectations on Rockne may have people anticipating more from them sooner than they are capable of it. That said, the bronze medal position is very open. They have a chance at claiming it. (more…)

 

Moments that made memories — 2011 Year In Review December 31, 2011

Most years on December 31 I sit and wonder, “How is the year over already?!” This year, however, when I started to look back, I found myself thinking, “That was really all this year?”

Maybe I kept myself busy enough that the accomplishments seem too great for one year. Or, maybe, I just have a terrible memory and forgot half the things that really happened! (The latter is not entirely unlikely, I assure you…)

Regardless, I was looking back. And in looking back, I tried to come up with the top 10 skating stories or moments of the year. Again, there were a lot to choose from. Narrowing it down seemed daunting. But, I’ve come up with a lists that, to me, defines this year in skating.

From technical wonders to emotional triumphs and all the little moments in between, 2011 was quite the year for the world of figure skating.

Here’s my list.

10. Brandon Mroz  and the first ever ratified quad lutz.
I know many US skating fans want to see guys focusing on consistency and artistry before adding new elements, but that move is impressive. I have to give the kid props for even trying the trick!

9. Meagan Duhamel’s “Is it enough?!” moment at TEB ’11 & Rudi Swiegers saves Mark Ladwig at 4CC.
Every season has its off-ice moments that melt your heart. These two stand out for me, although there are plenty of others I could pull up and recall. These are the moments you see the person, not just the competitor. I love those moments.

8. Exciting rivalries
This year has had its share of exciting rivalries, and that’s what makes competitions so much fun. This year featured three big ones, starting with the obvious: Meryl Davis and Charlie White vs. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Training mates make the fiercest competitors. Then there is the former champ chasing the current champ, Daisuke Takahashi vs. Patrick Chan. (I know, I know. Everyone thinks it won’t matter what Dai does because of Patrick’s “two-fall cushion.” I happen to think it’s made Takahashi better, and the rivalry fascinating to watch.) Last but not least, the dynamic pack of pairs who have battled through this year’s Grand Prix Series — Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy vs. Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov vs. Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov.

Can I just say, I can’t wait for Worlds?! (more…)