Figure Skating: From the Boards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How about Sasha Cohen and Rockne?

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

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

 

 

So begins her happily ever after… September 12, 2012

Congratulations to my childhood hero, Michelle Kwan! (Who am I kidding, she’s still my hero!)

After accolades piled on top of other accolades, she now has one more thing to celebrate — she’s engaged. And the skating world couldn’t be happier for her.

The lucky guy (read: luckiest guy on the planet!) is Clay Pell — the grandson of the former Rhode Island senator Claiborne Pell who created the Pell Grants for college students.

Smart, successful, good-looking, and knee-deep in the inner-workings of Washington? It’s a match made in heaven.

Best wishes to Michelle and Clay as they begin this new chapter of their lives together!

Don’t forget to grab the issue of People magazine with details on the ring, and comments from Michelle herself.

But for now, here’s this.

 

 

… Okay, yes. That was an easy way to jump back into the skating scene. But for real, I’m back. And, conveniently, so is skating! Starting this weekend with the inaugural U.S. Skating Classic, to be held in Salt Lake City. For a full Icenetwork streaming schedule, check here.

Good luck to the competitors. Let’s get this thing going!

 

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, Take Two: Ladies Preview March 26, 2012

She had only skated one clean program since the 1998 Olympics. After placing second in qualifying, and third after the short, she was in the “worst case scenario,”meaning she needed the leader — Maria Butyrskya — to finish 3rd or lower, and she needed to win the Free Skate.

Plus, she was skating first.

Then, the haunting vibrations of The Red Violin swept through the Palais des Exposition and Michelle Kwan crafted, perhaps, the most magical moment of the 2000 World Championships.

Every move was assured, from the opening triple loop, to the stunning triple toe-triple toe combination. Her spins were improved, her footwork was quick and sharp, and her presentation was, well, Kwan-esque.

There was nothing she needed to do in that program that she left undone. No extra turnout on a jump, no slippery edge in a transitional step. Not even a finger misplaced. She skated both the most technically difficult program of the night, and the most emotionally complex program of the night to win her third World title.

Michelle Kwan became the first American woman to reach that mark since Peggy Flemming. Michelle had officially reached legend status.

And, as usual, coach Frank Carroll said it best when he said of Kwan’s forward progress: “That’s the way of sport. You have to continue to make progress, or you’ll get left in the dust.”

Now, some 12 years later, a pair of American girls hope to follow in the path the Flemmings and Kwans of the world made. But, it won’t be easy.

The number of ladies who could win this title is a little ridiculous. Between Carolina Kostner, Mao Asada, Ashley Wagner, Akiko Suzuki, Alissa Czisny, and Alena Leonova, things could get a little crazy. But then you throw in Kanako Murakami, Valentina Marchei, Elene Gedevanishvilli, or Viktoria Helgesson, and it gets even more dicey.

Carolina Kostner is, perhaps, the closest thing to a “favorite.” She presents an interesting situation, though. She doesn’t have a triple lutz, and has only recently added a triple flip back into her programs. Some find that terribly unjust, when there are other girls (including Ashley Wagner) using all of the different triple jumps. But, what Carolina has is win-induced confidence. She’s had a stellar season, and she knows it. That could play very nicely into her hands, as she’s the only lady to take the top of the podium consistently all season.

Ma Asada is a former champ. She’s struggled the last few years, dedicating herself to reworking her jump technique. And it shows. She’s back to smiling when she skates, and floating across the ice, and making triple jumps look easy. At least most of the time. She still has a tendency to underrotate jumps, and she gets a little off and pops a jump or two here and there. Asada is talented to the max, but far from consistent.

Alissa Czisny has all the qualities you want in a great champion. All except consistency (yes, I sound like a broken record. There’s an obvious pattern developing here.). To get on the podium, she needs to skate two clean programs. Clean Programs. She can’t miss her jumps, because she doesn’t have the complexity in the choreography to make up for it. As much as her spins wow us, they can’t do all the work. She seems motivated, though, and this could be her time to shine.

Suzuki and Leonova tend to be hit or miss. Akiko has effortlace elegance on the ice. But she can crash and burn on occasion. As can Leonova (who doesn’t share the same elegance in the least).

Despite all of the possibilities, all eyes may be looking towards American champ Ashley Wagner. Not because she’s been there, done that, but because she hasn’t, and yet she notched a score at Four Continents that put the rest of the world notice — she has arrived. And with even more planned difficulty in Nice, could she take her third title in a row?

There is a part of me that wants to go all in, to believe in the improbable. She’s charming me more and more with each competition, and it would do my heart good to see her win. But, there’s too much unpredictability in this event to call it her way just yet.

In fact, calling it at all is almost pointless but, here’s my attempt.

Gold Carolina Kostner
Silver Ashley Wagner
BronzeMao Asada
Fourth –Alissa Czisny

*And yes, America regains the third team spot

Who will take the challenge head-on and who will get left in the dust? However it unfolds, I hope we’re graced with at least one program that sticks in our minds the way Michelle’s The Red Violin has.

 

What’s the magic word? January 26, 2012

The Senior events kick off later today with the Pairs and Ladies Short Programs. If you need a refresher on the contenders and potential surprises, look back here for Pairs and here for Ladies.

What magic words would YOU tell Mirai?

Meanwhile, we’ve all been sounding off on Twitter for weeks about who needs what to win. So, here’s your chance — channel your inner Frank Carroll, and offer up some last minute advice for your favorites, your Fantasy picks, or just someone you think might need a little word of encouragement!

Speaking of Frank Carroll, how ’bout I start with Mirai Nagasu?

She’s the kind of skater you dream of coaching (or at least, I would dream of coaching someone with her natural talent, if I was a coach). And yet, she can’t seem to make everything “click” in competition. The nerves do her in. She panics. Focuses on how bad it is to be nervous. Or now bad she skated last time out. Or how desperately she wants to win.

My advice to her: Don’t think, just do.

She honestly has it all. She has to forget about what that means, forget about how much she hates to lose, and forget the idea that nerves are a bad thing. Change those nerves into energy and the adrenaline into focus, and just do it (Nike was really onto something with that one way back when…)

How ’bout reigning champ Alissa Czisny?

Her focus has been pretty clear. Her reconstruction of a career — and, really, a skater as a whole — is inspiration in and of itself. And yet, she’s struggled to feel “on” this season. Now, she’s set to begin her title defense.

My words of the day for her: Calm and courageous

“Calm” is often how I’d describe her skating style. Sometimes, though, her competition style is anything but calm. She, too, needs to close her eyes, take a deep breath, listen for the first note of her music, then just let it flow. All the while, channeling the courage it takes to put yourself on the line for the sake of a dream. Courage into each jump, calm flowing out of it. That’s a winning combination. (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…)

 

Kwan, her legend, and the Hall of Fame November 30, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tara Wellman @ 3:28 pm
Tags: , ,

We interrupt your regular GP season program for a special announcement…

Michelle Kwan will likely take her rightful spot in the US Figure Skating Hall of Fame this January in San Jose.

Kwan fans like myself knew this was coming, but to see her name officially on the ballot does two things.

  1. It reaffirms all those moments in which she redefined both herself and her sport, becoming one of the rare living legends we ever see. Michelle Kwan in the HOF just feels right. It is right. Her national title mark (9) won’t be touched for a long time … if ever. Her five World titles will likely hold up just fine as well. Her Olympic medals only add to her already impressive resume. And we’re not even going to get into her other medal counts. Michelle Kwan was figure skating for plenty of years, and that is more than enough to deserve this honor.
  2. It closes one final door. Call me an eternal optimist, a hopeless dreamer, or anything else that defines blissful unwillingness to accept the end of a good thing. It’s all true. Yes, somewhere beneath the death-grip of reality, there was a tiny sliver of hope left that we’d get to see Michelle make it an even 10 national titles. Improbable? Um, yes. Unlikely? The most. But have stranger things happened? Does my heart still ache thinking of how close she was to a life-long dream — twice if not three times — without attaining it? Yes and yes. I’ll admit, I haven’t been too haunted by the lack of nomination before now because of the reality the award brought with it. Reality and finality. The legend that is Michelle Kwan and the illustrious career she gifted to us all is over.

I suppose that’s the definition of bittersweet, eh?

Nevertheless, congratulations to Ms. Kwan. She was and will always be the heart and soul of my figure skating obsession. She has moved on to become a sparkling success, just as we knew she would. Her impact on generations of children will be huge. And the memories she left me with will always be some of my most favorite. My only regret is that I never saw her compete live (why, oh why did she have to be injured in 2006?!).

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again — I’ve never been so proud of someone I’ve not met. Her legend is more than her titles and medals. It is the way she won, the way she lost, the way she taught us all to love what we do and do what we love, no matter the consequences of the risks we take in pursuing the dream.

She bore her heart through her skating. If we could only be so lucky to find that passion and display it with the grace and integrity she did — and does still.

I could go on and on (and on … and on…) about this woman, what her career meant to the sport, to her successors, to me. But, once you begin, where do you really stop?

Yes, I’m gushing. No, I’m not maintaining my journalistic neutrality. But sometimes, even we have to step back and remember why we’re fans in the first place.

For me, that reason is Michelle Kwan.

Congratulations, Michelle. The Hall of Fame, just as skating as a whole, is a better place having had you in it.