Figure Skating: From the Boards

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…)

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Men’s Short Program Recap April 27, 2011

One short program event down, three to go. While waking up at 4 a.m. wasn’t the ideal situation, the men’s short program competition was worth it, I must say. Even from the first group, there were highlights. Of course, the real fireworks came later on when the favorites hit the ice and they did not disappoint!

Not much was expected of the inexperienced American team in Moscow. Richard Dornbush and Ross Miner are at their first Worlds, and Ryan Bradley, who has been there twice before — unsuccessfully — has said this is the first time he feels like he belongs.

Dornbush and Miner both skated in the first group and were more than clean — they were quite lovely to watch! I felt Miner’s PCS scores were a bit low, but they both hit the 70+ mark and had a lot to be proud of.

Bradley skated first in the third group, and from the get go, I could tell he was nervous. He hit two quad toe-triple toe combinations in the warm up, but in the program, it was a quad-double. Still, he hit a HUGE triple axel and a nice triple flip. The crowd wasn’t eating him up like normal, so it felt a little flatter than it should have. But it was a good, strong, clean skate. He was underscored, in my ever so humble opinion.

Denis Ten was quite a pleasant surprise. He led the field from the first group up until the second-to-last group with a solid 71+ score. He’s made some dramatic improvements with Frank Carroll. I wonder, though, if he can hold it together for a long program.

The Frenchmen Florent Amodio and Brian Joubert skated back to back.

Amodio was cool, calm, controlled…and explosive. He laid down a great skate. No quad, but he easily took the lead.

Joubert was good…not great. And while he had a quad (that he turned out of), he had no combination. This should have been a serious deduction. His technical elements score was lower than Bradley, but his components score was higher by about 5 points. As much as I love Brian, that was not right. I would have Brian/Ryan’s programs about equal. Brian with perhaps a slight edge in PCS — but slight. That is, if Brian has all the elements. Without a combo, he shouldn’t have led. I feel the international judges don’t take Bradley seriously, probably partly due to his comedic routines. But that doesn’t make his skills any less significant.

But I digress.

Takahiko Kozuka skated after winning the Qualifying Round and proved that he’s quite a contender. I still cringe at this short program, but he skated it well with only a minor error on his triple axel.

Daisuke Takahashi and Patrick Chan stole the night, though. These two have been the co-favorites all along, and they proved why.

Chan skated first, and he laid down the gauntlet with a textbook quad toe-triple toe, triple axel, and a triple lutz. Add that to his impeccable basic skating, creative transitions and best-in-the-world footwork, and we have a winner! He set the new world record short program score, taking down that of previous record-holder Plushenko (who was in the building to see it go down!).  It was truly something special. And one of the few programs I felt deserved the scores it received!

Takahashi was wonderful as well. He didn’t have a quad, but what he had was heart. People were moved by his performance, and not just because he skated it well. To come through the trials his country is coming through and to skate with that much focus and skill…just brilliant. His scores didn’t reflect the quality of his skate, and he finds himself some 13 points behind Chan (who is rightfully in first, but Dai was incredible as well).

Michal Brezina’s scores baffled me a bit, as did Artur Gachinski’s…and even Tomas Verner’s. It almost appeared like the old 6.0 system that because these three skated later in the event, the judges scored them higher. Now, in the old system, they had to save scores for the later groups. Not so anymore. Or so it is supposed to be.

These three compared to the three Americans (and Denis Ten) weren’t all that impressive. Certainly not 7 points more impressive. Brezina struggled on his combo and lacked some polish and quality throughout. Gachinski’s quad-triple combo was impressive, but the rest was just average. Verner’s short program is to die for, but even “Singing in the Rain” couldn’t mask the fall on his quad attempt or the struggle with his combination. And yet, there they are, all at least 6 points higher than those with comparable skates early on. *sigh* Maybe the judges will never learn.

Nobunari Oda was the last to skate, and he had some demons to fight. Last year at worlds he had a disastrous  short program and ended up 28th overall in the event. He certainly made up for that here. But yet again, the scores baffled me. His program shouldn’t have compared to Takahashi’s, and yet he found himself between Patrick and Daisuke and in second place headed to the free skate.

I must say, this was a very entertaining event thanks to the athletes. It was quite frustrating and even confounding thanks to the judges. I’m obviously  not a judge. But I think I know good skating when I see it, and the placements after the shorts don’t reflect the best skates of the night (err, early morning here!).

Regardless, the stage is set. Chan looks to have a comfortable enough lead that he should skate with less pressure. Takahashi, Oda and Kozuka will be battling it out for medals, but they won’t be alone. Less than 5 points separate 2nd-6th. Plus, there are just over 5.5 points difference from 8th-13th.

Oh, the games are just beginning!

Here are your complete results after the Short Programs.

  1. Patrick Chan (CAN)    93.02
  2. Nobunari Oda (JPN)    81.81
  3. Daisuke Takahashi (JPN)    80.25
  4. Artur Gachinski (RUS)    78.34
  5. Florent Amodio (FRA)    77.64
  6. Takahiko Kozuka (JPN)    77.62
  7. Michal Brezina (CZE)    77.50
  8. Tomas Verner (CZE)    75.94
  9. Brian Joubert (FRA)    71.29
  10. Denis Ten (KAZ)    71.00
  11. Richard Dornbush (USA)    70.54
  12. Ryan Bradley (USA)    70.45
  13. Ross Miner (USA)    70.40
  14. Javier Fernandez (ESP)    69.16
  15. Kevin Van Der Perren (BEL)    68.34
  16. Peter Liebers (GER)    67.73
  17. Anton Kovalevski (UKR)    65.16
  18. Samuel Contesti (ITA)    64.59
  19. Kevin Reynolds (CAN)    64.36
  20. Nan Song (CHN)    64.78
  21. Joey Russell (CAN)    61.69
  22. Jorik Hendrickx (BEL)    60.74
  23. Paolo Bacchini (ITA)    58.96
  24. Kim Lucine (MON)    58.81
  25. Adrian Schultheiss (SWE)    58.41*
  26. Viktor Pfeifer (AUT)    56.68*
  27. Min-Seok Kim (KOR)    56.19*
  28. Alexander Majorov (SWE)    54.24*
  29. Maxim Shipov (ISR)    50.10*
  30. Misha Ge (UZB)    49.61*
*Only the top 24 move on to the long programs.
Pairs up next today!
 

Taking on the World: Men’s Preview April 14, 2011

All season long, I’ve been talking up the men’s event. With good reason, mind you! There have not been quite as many twists and turns as the ladies, but there has been  every bit as much competition, if not more.

Making the World Team this year was, perhaps, the biggest challenge for several countries, due to the competition from within. The US Nationals were brutal. The Japanese team could have gone any which way. But all of that sets up one of the best on-paper World events in a while. And that’s saying a lot because the last few have all been stellar.

This year, team Japan has quite the podium potential, featuring the reigning World and 4 Continents Champ Daisuke Takahashi, Grand Prix Final silver medalists Nobunari Oda, and two-time Grand Prix champion (Paris, China) Takahiko Kozuka. These three hold the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th highest international scores this season, and the combination of the three could be very strong in holding off the competition.

Now that they’re competing with the weight of the tragedy in Japan on their shoulders, they will, along with their teammates, be the story of the event.

I believe that this could go one of two ways — either they will put so much pressure on themselves to live up to the expectations of a nation in dire need of hope that they will falter. Or, they will skate, bearing the support and hope of their countrymen, and truly be a story of tragedy becoming triumph — the human spirit prevailing in the face of defeat — to take at least two of the three podium spots, including the top step.

With the strength these guys bring to the table, I think the second option is most likely.

Chan said of his Nationals performance that it wasn't just lucky -- he was trained to skate that well, and prepared to do it again at Worlds.

They’ll have to find some way, however, to take over the guy in the #1 spot at the moment – Canada’s darling, Patrick Chan. He posted a leading total score of 259.75 in his Grand Prix Final win earlier in the season, and he topped that skate at Nationals with his best skate of the season by far. Now, I know there is quite the debate about how he rakes in such astronomical scores even when he falls all over the ice, and in some ways, I feel those concerns are justified. But the fact remains: Patrick knows how to work the system, and he takes full advantage of that. I wish the system rewarded perfection in a higher way, but it doesn’t. That’s the reality. So, when Patrick does what he’s capable of — including the quads, the triple axels, the unmatched footwork sequences —  I’m not sure there’s a man this season with a program that can beat him. The question then becomes, can he deliver under pressure? If not, there are plenty of others who will, and his chance at the title could disappear quickly.

Interestingly, the 5th highest score in my “top 12” list (those that I’m considering contenders of some kind) had to be drawn from Nationals: Ryan Bradley‘s 231.90 from Greensboro squeaks into the top five. Now, before you jump me with the “Nationals scores are inflated! You can’t use that!” comments, let me just say, I know. But, because there’s no international score to judge from this season, I had to take what I could get. Do I really think Ryan will get such high scores on the world stage? Probably not. He needs to work on the lack of transitions in his programs. But if he skates his short program like he did in North Carolina, he will likely put himself in a position to place very well, even if a medal is out of reach.

Tomas Verner is not to be overlooked here, either. Despite having some rough patches in his season, he did win in Russia earlier in the season, and after placing third in China, surprised even himself by qualifying for the Final. However, he struggled there, and only placed 3rd at Europeans behind a developing Amodio and a rebuilding Joubert. I adore his short program this season, but his long is, in my opinion, one of the worst in the entire event. I feel for him, because I think he’s far better than this program allows him to be. Not good when you’re competing against the likes of Chan’s “Phantom” or Takahashi’s tango.

Speaking of Florent Amodio, he comes in with the 7th highest score – a 229.38 from his silver medal skate in Paris. He is coming off of a win at Europeans, but he’s been a bit inconsistent at times late in the season. I’m concerned that he may have peaked too early and that he simply won’t have enough to give come Worlds.

Brian Joubert is a curious case. Way back in 2003, I was a big fan. Then I lost a little interest as he tried to make himself into Yagudin 2.0. Then I felt a twinge of compassion for him as he got caught in a strange, complex battle trying to find himself and a system that worked for his skating. I watched him rise back tot he top, looking like the guy to beat heading into the Olympics, only to be crushed by a melt down when it mattered most. Finally, I find myself quite interested in his skating again. Many people have given his new “artistry” a big thumbs down this year for seeming a little awkward, but I’m quite certain anyone trying to transform themselves from The Matrix into Swan Lake is going to needs some time to break in the new moves! He’s making progress, and, more importantly, seems to be in a good place mentally. I hope he gets back to the top some day. I don’t, however, expect it to be here.

Also a surprising addition to the top group here is the surprise US silver medalist, Ricky Dornbush. Despite not competing on the senior level, he’s still posted a strong 219.56 total score in his Junior Grand Prix Final win. He was brilliant at Nationals, and if it wasn’t for Bradley’s equally-brilliant short program, he would likely be headed to Japan as the US Champ. Now, the senior international stage is completely different, but he’s something special, and certainly one to watch in the years to come. This is a great opportunity for Ricky to make a statement as he launches his senior career.

Rounding out the most likely top 12 are Samuel Contesti, Michal Brezina, and Ross Miner. None have a realistic shot at the podium, but all have a very strong opportunity to make their presence known. They’ve all had brilliant skates at one point or another, but this is a chance to lay in all on the line when nothing really significant is at stake.

As for the podium, I say gold likely comes down to Chan and Takahashi, although Kozuka could make a push for it, too. Let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised to see two Japanese flags and one Canadian flag raised at the medal ceremony. But, you know what they say — the ice is slippery! Anything can happen.

Until then…

 

Redemption at the Coliseum – Greensboro 2011 January 30, 2011

For some, this season was about defending. For others, it was about improving. Yet for so many, it seemed, there was only one thing that would satisfy – redemption.

Alissa Czisny came to Nationals with potentially the most pressure of any skater in the line up, including defending champ Jeremy Abbott. Why, you ask? Because there were people round the world, despite her Grand Prix Final win or her series medals, who were still saying she’d never pull it off; people who had watched her win in 2009, only to see her crumble under the pressure of life-long dreams in 2010.

They said she didn’t have the stuff champions are made of. They didn’t know how different this year had made her.

She hit the ice in Greensboro, not as a once-champion bound by the pressure of living up to expectations, but as an athlete, solid in her technique, and an artist, passionately in love with the craft she’d perfected. And with the weight of all the demons of the past threatening to paralyze her, she skated to center ice with a calmness, an ease, that defied the odds and signified only one thing – the old Czisny was gone. The new Czisny was here, ready and determined to bring the house down…and to get her title back.

Facing similar demons, Ryan Bradley, convinced by his most loyal fans, took his place in Greensboro as the wildcard. He was the guy no one knew what to expect out of. He didn’t train like normal this year. He didn’t compete a single time. He hadn’t received the federation-sponsored evaluations, and he sometimes struggled to bring it when it really mattered. But for Ryan, none of that mattered. His goal was two fold:

1.) Entertain the audience that had talked him into this return in the first place,
2.) Win.

Both Alissa and Ryan came to Greensboro with a focus that was contagious, and a new-found belief in themselves that was inspiring. While Ryan’s competition may not have gone exactly as planned, what he did was fight. He never forgot his goal, and he never gave in to the fears of the past that could have derailed him after the first two missed jumps.

Alissa, too, fought. She carefully executed each jump, one, two, three, four, getting stronger as the program progressed. When she spun into her step sequence, the look on her face said it all.

She knew.

We knew.

And now the world knew – she was a champion after all.

Two skaters, “old” by skating’s terms, decided early on to make this Nationals count. Two skaters, so far removed from their old selves, walked away as Champions.

Redemption, meet destiny.

 

Enjoy.

 

 

 

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…

 

Hidden Heroes – top 5 skating coaches September 18, 2010

Just pretend today’s Thursday…okay?

Okay. So, I know this is a terribly belated blog post, but as I mentioned on Twitter, I got hit pretty hard with a cold that has kept me pretty out of it since Wednesday. Thank you to those who expressed their concern. I’m getting there…it’s just taking me a while. But I finally feel like I can think clearly enough to write something intelligent, so I’m back. A few days late…but think of it this way – now you don’t have to wait so many days till the next post!

Oh, and I know I said I’d have a vlog with this post, but…this being sick thing has me all out of whack, so I promise, a video blog wouldn’t be my best idea tonight! So we’ll keep working on that for another post.

I have plenty of skating news to chat about, but before I get to that, I wanted to make a quick comment on an issue entirely unrelated to skating but directly related to my own sports broadcasting aspirations.

You may have heard this week about a situation with the New York Jets where a female reporter claimed she was treated poorly both on the field and in the locker room. This prompted an investigation that questioned the professionalism of the Jets players as well as of the reporter, Inez Sainz. If you’re not familiar with the story, the idea is, Sainz was treated inappropriately because she’s an attractive female who wasn’t taken seriously by the players.

Why am I talking about this reporter and a football team in a blog all about skating? Good question. I guess it matters to me, so I figure I’ll share it with you.

See, I have my own goals in the sports broadcasting world, and I’ve seen first hand how challenging it is to be taken seriously as a woman in the sports world – a “man’s world.” So when I started seeing the various reports and responses to this story with Sainz, naturally I formed my own opinion. I have to say, I was a little surprised by the reaction from some other female sports journalists/reporters, some claiming, essentially, that Sainz asked for it. Don’t get me wrong, the pictures on her website and the image she’s chosen to create for herself send a very different message than anything I’d choose for myself. However, she is still a media professional, and in a work situation, it’s unfortunate that she had to deal with inappropriate reactions to her presence.

That said, I also understand those who feel the story was blown out of proportion. I actually agree. I’m very much aware of the challenges I face as a woman in this industry, challenges that include occasionally uncomfortable situations. The fact is, it’s part of my job to figure out how to deal with those challenges, and to gain the respect of those I work with and for.

I won’t make a judgment about Sainz’s decision making as far as how she presents herself. I won’t make a judgment about what was done or said to her by the players (I wasn’t there…so that isn’t something I can decide). What I will say is, as females in this business, we have enough of a hill to climb that we don’t need to make it more difficult by establishing an image that contradicts the credibility we are trying to achieve. But we also should be afforded the respect any professional deserves, in the locker room, on the sideline or in the studio. Ladies – we can be more than a pretty face. Don’t let the stereotype keep you from pushing the boundary and respecting your self enough to demand the same respect from our peers.

No worries…that’s the end of my non-skating rant! Now on to the good stuff.

Since I finished my analysis of the skaters ranked on icenetwork.com, I figured I’d change it up a bit and talk about the sometimes unsung heroes – the coaches. There are some amazing coaches in this business. Coaches in general are so inspirational to me. These are the people who take raw talent and turn it into greatness. They take physical skill and add mental strength.  They learn just the right thing to say to give their athletes confidence to succeed. And yet, when things go wrong, the coach is the first to go. They take on all that responsibility to help someone else win. So, here’s to all the great coaches out there, and here’s to a few specific coaches in skating. These are basically my top 5 – the coaches I think are making a big difference in skating right now. (This is in no way an exclusive list or the only top 5 there could be. It just happens to be my top 5.)

5. Tom Zakrajsek

The Broadmoor Skating Club coach in Colorado may not have reigning world or Olympic champs just yet, but he’s got quite the program going there in CO. He seems to have built up a great relationship not only between himself and his skaters, but between the skaters themselves. A lot of good things have come from the club in CO, and Zakrajsek has had a hand in several top U.S. skaters – formerly coaching Jeremy Abbott, now training Rachael Flatt, Ryan Bradley, Alexe Gilles, and Brandon Mroz…to name a few. He’s certainly got a good thing on his hands as those skaters move up the ranks.

4. Brian Orser

Despite the off-season drama surrounding Orser and Yu-Na Kim, there’s no denying he was the perfect coach for her leading up to her Olympic victory. His ability to communicate with his athletes and inspire confidence in them is such a powerful quality. Now that Kim has moved to LA, Orser still has some top prospects that can continue his growing legacy – Adam Rippon and Christina Gao (who just won the silver medal at the Junior Grand Prix in Austria this weekend!). I think Orser will rebound from the recent drama and I know I’m looking forward to what his skaters bring to the ice under his guidance.

3. Igor Shpilband

I believe it is thanks to Shpilband’s coaching team and the American duo of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto that ice dance is what it is in N. American today. He has taken the new scoring system and run with it, taking his top skaters with him. Belbin and Agosto left him a few seasons back, but he still had the top two teams in the world in Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and Meryl Davis and Charlie White. There’s no denying that Shpilband made those two teams into the magnificent competitors they are. He’s pushed ice dance to the next level, and is creating something of a dynasty that’s looking to live on for a while to come.

2. Yao Bin

If we want to talk about single-handedly altering the course of a nations figure skating future, this is the man to talk about. His story is one for the history books – literally. From finishing dead last as a competitor to his determination to never let another Chinese pairs team feel that same embarrassment, he is the stuff of legends. Now, not only is his most beloved team the reigning Olympic champs, but his pairs program has pushed the discipline to whole new heights…literally. The technical elements are superior among all international teams, and now we’re starting to see new emotional and lyrical improvements as well. His teams may not win every event, but they’ll always be challenging for the top spot. And when they win, he wins. And it’s wonderful.

1. Frank Carroll

I suppose there is a slight chance this pick is a little bit biased. So many of my own personal favorite skaters have been coached by Carroll, but even without that fact in play, I think Frank is one of the greatest coaches of all time. He only has 1 Olympic champion, but the legacy he leaves with his athletes is far greater than even that 1 notorious win. Whether he was settling Michelle Kwan with words like “Undaunted courage” or teaching Mirai Nagasu by telling her she’s not allowed to cry at a competition, he, as Evan Lysacek has said, always knows the perfect thing to say to give his athletes the courage and the confidence to succeed. But not only does he teach them to succeed, he teaches them to do it right. He teaches sportsmanship, he teaches class. He makes sure his skaters understand the value of their fans, and the value of hard work. He love the sport and inspires the same love in his athletes. Mirai Nagasu has said she thinks he’s the best coach in the world…Mirai, I completely agree.

So, what do you think? Who’s your pick for best coach in the world? Comment here or tweet your response @fromtheboards. I’d love to know!

Maybe next time we’ll talk choreographers.

Until then…