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…)

 

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…)

 

Emotion from the Coliseum – Greensboro 2011 January 27, 2011

I told you I’d write again when I was inspired from something at Nationals this week. Well, that inspiration has come in the form of John Coughlin and Caitlin Yankowskas. First off, a quick recap of the Pairs Short.

Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig had the…um, “opportunity” to be the first on the competition ice. They debuted a new program to “Sing Sing Sing” that really highlighted their personalities brilliantly. They made it through their elements nicely with only a bit of a pitch forward on the throw. They seemed a bit tight at times, possibly due to the newness of this program, but they had a maturity and a confidence that elevated their performance. They held onto the lead for nearly 3 groups. They generally skate well in the long, so they have a good shot at the title.

Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin put out a very respectable performance. Some of their elements are a bit simplified because of the newness of their partnership, but they were clean and strong. Their footwork sequence was very nicely choreographed to the “Pirates of the Caribbean.” I’m happy for Tiffany, and she looked gorgeous, by the way!

Perhaps the surprise moment belonged to Rockne Brubaker and Mary Beth Marley. Now, I’ve had my eyes on them since I heard of their paring, and was expecting great things. They had a bobble on the triple twist element, but otherwise, their pairs skills are very impressive, and their strong singles skills work well in their favor. I’m excited for their long program, for sure.

The defending champs, Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett skated late in the line up. The leaderboard was pretty set, but all expected them to at least be top three. However, a very rare Caydee fall on the side-by-side triple toe cost them in the short, where everything matters. They skated with a maturity and expressiveness that was nice to see, however, I’m not sure this program really highlights their strength. Caydee is such a fireball, full of energy and spunk. While it’s nice to see a more serious, slow, emotional side to them, this just doesn’t blow me away. That, added to the fall, landed them in 4th. But, the’re only out of third by .31 points, so they still have as good a shot as any for a medal. They’re nearly 7 points out of first, so they have lots of work to do in the long, but they’re capable of it.

Okay. Now, for the highlight of the night – John Coughlin and Caitlin Yankowskas.

John’s been through a lot this year, namely dealing with the loss of his mother. He has said skating this season has been healing for him, and this competition, in particular, means more than winning or losing. When he spoke with Figure Skaters Online, he said, “I’m skating for me and for my mom, for the family I still have, and the friends that have helped me along the way.”  (P.S. – you should really read that article. Such a touching story.)

The free skate for John and Caitlin is a tribute to his mother, set to “Ave Maria.” But while the emotion in that moment will be exceptionally strong, their short program brought out more emotion than I’ve felt towards a US pairs team in years.

The program is an emotional masterpiece, set to the eerie, almost haunting music of Astor Piazzolla’s “Tango Oblivion,” and the duo didn’t leave any second, any note, unused. And with the emotion of the year weighing heavy on their hearts, they captivated the Coliseum and the nation with technical excellence, and artistic superiority. They cast a spell on the crowd who felt every moment, every emotion right along with them.

This is a team I’ve fallen in love with over the past few seasons, and I was expecting them to skate well here. What I wasn’t expecting was my own intense reaction to their skate. Chills, tears, the works. They reminded me what is so special about the art of skating. Their training paid off, as Coughlin said, “Good training will never betray you.” But it was their heart, their ability to express all the emotion of that moment, in the way a painter tells a story with a brush or a musician reaches deep with a melody.

The unfortunate reality of the competition is that only two teams will continue on to Worlds, while there are at least three teams who deserve a chance. But if the short is any indication, there will be plenty of drama as that decision unfolds in the long.

By the way, find complete results after the Pairs Short here.

Ladies short starts in just a few minutes! I may post after that as well…

Until then…