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??

 

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Grand Prix Rewind: The Girls November 30, 2012

Ahh, the ladies of the Grand Prix. They sure have a way of keeping things interesting, don’t they? As we’ve seen in the past several seasons, consistency is not at the top of the “most seen” list. And yet, I felt this season was one of the stronger in recent history.

The USA sends two ladies to Sochi for the Olympic preview, a.k.a the Grand Prix Final.

That said, we only saw two repeat champions — Mao Asada, who has made a solid return back to the top of the rankings, and Ashley Wagner, who is in no way the “Almost Girl.” In fact, Wagner is the top ranked skater heading to the Final, as she holds the season’s best total score by roughly 5 points over Asada.

Wagner started strong, and has gotten stronger. However, she doesn’t have a triple-triple At least, she hasn’t had one. At Skate America, she cited it as a priority going forward, and she has recently discussed again the work going into a triple-triple combination for the biggest competitions on the international stage. I won’t lie, that makes me a bit nervous. She has a good thing going, and a mistake on a triple-triple will be costly. That said, that triple-triple has kept her from the top of the podium before … but because she didn’t have it at all.

Asada, on the other hand, showed herself far from unbeatable. In fact, her win at NHK Trophy was under strong scrutiny, because she missed more jumps than she hit. Yet, one thing remains teh same: her basic skating creates such a strong foundation that even with mistakes she is a strong competitor.

Akiko Suzuki got the short end of the stick at NHK … which seems to be an unfortunate norm for her. The same could be said for Mirai Nagasu (who presents an interesting set of “what ifs” herself).

The talent pool this year was more or less divided between the vets and the newbies — the talented little ballerina’s trying to take down the battle tested warriors … all while looking stunningly beautiful and completely put together, of course!

Even with the likes of Gracie Gold (who didn’t quite make the stellar splash we all expected) coming up in the US, it was the Russian dolls who made the biggest imprint on the GP series, as evidenced by two such ladies making the Final with relative ease.

Julia Lipnitskaia made an instant impression with her agility and flexibility. And yet, I just don’t get the hype. She can jump. (Sort of … there are some serious technique issues that she’ll have to fix if she wants to last on the senior scene.) She’s bendy. She skates fast. She’s tiny and doesn’t hardly look big enough to pull of the tricks she does. But there’s SO much more to skating than that. And at this point, she doesn’t have “it.”

Nevertheless, she did enough to make the final, although news broke today that she’s withdrawn due to injury. She’ll be replaced by Christina Gao who has looked unbelievably comfortable with the transition to Harvard life in consort with elite-level training. It helps that she has two sensational programs to work with, and added maturity to throw in the mix. She is fabulous.

Then, of course, there’s Elizaveta Tuktamisheva. Last year’s obsession proved that she still has it. No, she didn’t come away with two GP golds this time around, but she proved — to me at least — the most complete package of the young Russian hopefuls. She’s grown into the senior choreography a bit, and she’s better for it.

You know who’s not even an alternate for the Final? Adelina Sotnikova. Anyone else surprised by that? Needless to say, she has some work to do. She’s adorable, but not quite as good as she seems to think she is. There’s plenty of potential, don’t get me wrong. But it needs polishing, for sure.

Speaking of potential, how about Canada’s next great hope, Kaetlyn Osmond who pulled off the improbable win at Skate Canada? She’s a spunky little thing, isn’t she? No, she won’t rank quite that high outside of Canada. And she’s entirely unproved on the senior stage. But, for the first time since Joannie Rochette stepped away from the competition scene, Canadian skating fans have a lady to believe in.

And I can’t not mention the lovely Kiira Korpi. Back on the GP circuit after last year’s injuries, she made her presence known in a lucrative way … in the form of back-to-back GP medals, the second being gold. She, too, is working with gorgeous programs. In fact, she may have the most complete package of the season — the music, the choreo, the costumes. Everything works together beautifully, and gives her an added polish and quality that pays off in those ever-coveted PCS marks!

It’s a whirlwind, that ladies event, eh? And it’s sure to continue that way as we speed toward the Final next weekend!

 

Play to win, but remember your successes November 24, 2012

Confession: I hate to lose. I am fiercely competitive. It’s even a bit of a running joke with some of my friends, because I can be competitive about almost anything.

It’s my grandpa’s fault, really. He always said, “If you’re not going to play to win, why play?” He taught my mom well … and she, in turn, taught me.

But you know what else they both taught me?

There’s value in the journey.

I can’t tell you the number of times I left a piano recital or a speech competition in tears because I didn’t think I’d played well or because I didn’t win. And you know what one — or both — of them did? Took me for ice cream. Every time. Win, lose, or draw.

I can hear it still: “Did you do your best?” one of them would ask. “Well … yeah, I guess.” I’d respond, through the tears. (I’ve always been my own worst enemy.) “Well, then, that is all you can ever ask.”

“There’s a difference between THE best and YOUR best,” they would remind me. “And as long as you always do YOUR best, we couldn’t be more proud!”

See, there’s value in more than just winning. Sure, you play to win. But, all is not lost if you don’t.

Sometimes, it’s about the moment of accomplishment, not the final tally.

I was reminded of this today.

This weekend in Japan, there were a few moments that deserve to be celebrated. Not because of the result, necessarily, but because of the moment. Because these skaters did their best, no matter what else. And I, for one, am proud of their efforts!

We can get into the nitty-gritty technical mumbo-jumbo later. Tonight, as we await the final results of the pairs event, just enjoy the moments these athletes created for us. As a fan of the sport, I loved every second.

 

A Look Ahead: The Ladies of the GP Series May 24, 2012

Let’s hear it for the ladies!

Last year, the women made this event ever-unpredictable and, as always, a premiere event to watch. Looking at the lineup this season, I expect to see much of the same! Here’s how it breaks down.

Skate America: 

Mae Bernice Meite (FRA)
Sarah Hecken (GER)
Valentine Marchei (ITA)
Haruka Imai (JPN)
Alena Leonova (RUS)
Adelina Sotnikova (RUS)
Viktoria Helgesson (SWE)
Rachael Flatt (USA)
Christina Gao (USA)
Ashley Wagner (USA)

Okay, lots of goodies here. First, we see US and Four Continents champ Ashley Wagner’s Skate America debut. We all know the season she put together last year, but this will be an even bigger test — living up to these new expectations.

Speaking of expectations, Rachael Flatt will be interesting to watch this year. There’s no doubt she adores the sport and the challenge of training to compete. But, will she be able to shake off last season’s disappointments and the weight of college academics to be competitive again?

Personally, I adore Christina Gao. Her carriage over the ice is almost regal. If she can stay healthy, look for a much better GP season from her in 2012.

The Russian return to the top in ladies skating has been coming on for some time now. Many think Adelina Sotnikova is the strongest hope for the podium in Sochi. If that’s the case, she needs to make great use of the next two years in order to build her stamina and consistency to compete with the best of the best.

Don’t overlook Alena Leonova, though. She’s not quite ready to give in to the budding youngsters — and you don’t have to look further than her World medal for proof of that! (more…)

 

Vlog: Dancers and Ladies Strike Gold … & Silver & Bronze & Pewter! January 29, 2012

Recorded this just after the events ended last night. Knew I wouldn’t have time to get the recap done before today’s events got underway!

Congrats to the medalists!

Find COMPLETE results here: usfigureskating.org

 

Do You Know The Way To San Jose: Ladies Preview January 17, 2012

“This one’s for the girl …” who’s always dreamed of a National title! And the reality is, San Jose’s podium order is wide open. The way I see it, there are three girls fighting for gold, and at least four others battling for a medal. That means the pressure will be enormous — and could cause some stumbles. Or, it could result in “one of those moments athletes dream about” kind of programs. That, in turn, means we have another great event on our hands.

The Break Down

Alissa Czisny — She is, of course, the defending champion. That makes her, by default, the one to beat. However, she’s had anything but a smooth season. Yes, she won a pair of medals (one gold) on the Grand Prix series. But she battled a painful injury at the Grand Prix Final that kept her from skating anywhere near her best. Add to that the fact that she admittedly hasn’t quite felt right all season, and she has a challenge ahead of her. That said, her short program is to die for. Her long has potential. And her artistry is second to none. If she can put the pieces back together, she has a good shot at repeating.

Ashley Wagner — It takes a confident skater come out and say, “This is my Nationals to lose.” But that is exactly what Ms. Wagner has done. And, while the really “talking” will happen on the ice, she may not be wrong. In a season filled with former champions stumbling along, Ashley shined. She’s in the best shape of her career, and she has the best programs she’s ever had. She has the extra motivation of not wanting to be the “almost girl” again. If anyone wants this title more, I’ve yet to find them.

Mirai Nagasu  — The former National champ is quite the curious case. Like so many young talents, she has all the goods, all the potential to be one of the world’s best. And yet, just when she seems closest to getting there, she derails herself by collapsing under the fear of falling short. Recently, she told icenetwork.com that she’s drawing a new kind of inspiration from an unlikely source — The Food Network’s “Chopped.” Apparently, Madison Cowan, a recent contestant on the show, spoke of cooking for the love of it, not purely to win. The un-pressured approach seemed to strike a chord with Nagasu. Perhaps the “skate for the love of it and let the chips fall where they may” perspective is just what Mirai needed to skate free and easy.

Rachael Flatt — Another former champ trying to regain her mojo, Flatt has had a rough go of it as she tries to adjust to the life of a Stanford student, as well as a new coaching situation. Her Grand Prix skates were sub-par, and it suddenly left her out of the National title discussion. Her focus is split these days, and her skating has suffered. However, she’s a competitor. She knows what it takes to win at Nationals, and she’s had plenty of time to sort things out. (more…)

 

A look ahead: Cup of China’s ladies and gentlemen November 2, 2011

You know, we spend the entire summer counting the days until the Grand Prix season begins. Then, just like that, we’re headed into week three! It always goes so quickly once it starts.

But enough of that. On to China!

As I was working on my icenetwork.com column this week, I realized — this is the least “elite” event thus far, and yet, it could be the most competitive! So many skaters have the chance to improve on their past senior performances or, in some cases, stun the world with their senior debuts. Add in a handful of veterans who would like to regain their top spots, and I have quite the headache. Oh, and yes, we also have quite the competition on our hands!

Today we’ll talk ladies and gents. Tomorrow, the couples.

It’s any man’s game

When you pit the young Artur Gachinski against the talented Nobunari Oda and the determined Jeremy Abbott, it’s enough to make your head spin. Then throw in Yuzuru Hanyu, Kevin Reynolds and Ricky Dornbush and it essentially becomes a shoot out — the three  men who skate cleanest will likely find the podium.

Jeremy Abbott missed Worlds last year, and wasn’t too happy about it. He is a strong competitor, and can match his technical excellence with his artistic superiority. This is his first event since Four Continents, and he’ll want to make a statement. Much like Ashley Wagner last weekend, he may skate with a chip on his shoulder.

If Nobunari Oda could ever put together back-to-back programs, he would be in the discussions with the Chans and Takahashi’s of the world. But more often than not, silly mistakes cost him titles. Still, I don’t know anyone who has deeper knees and softer edges. He’s a joy to watch, and will compete for gold.

Ricky Dornbush is the only one man skating in his second event. He struggled a bit at Skate America, and will likely make some adjustments for China. However, Yuzuru Hanyu is the wild card with the potential to upstage them all. He’s young and a bit volatile, so he’s not a sure thing. However, I’m willing to bet on him this year. (more…)