Figure Skating: From the Boards

Omaha or Bust: Bring on the boys! January 23, 2013

PrintBased on name recognition and resume, the mens title would seem to be easily in the hands of reigning champ, Jeremy Abbott. He has the pedigree. He has the experience. He’s won the title not once, not even just twice, but three times already. He comes to Omaha armed with extraordinarily complex choreography, emotionally engaging music, and the jumps, steps, and spins to rank him one of the world’s best.

But, he’s battled some physical setbacks this year that made those technical things quite difficult.

Meanwhile, Ross Miner made good strides on the international circuit, scoring the highest totals of any U.S. man in a Grand Prix event when he took bronze at NHK Trophy.

There’s also Richard Dornbush and Adam Rippon. Both have had their struggles. Both have had their moments to shine. Both would love to be on the World Team again. But, their path to a world spot isn’t simple.

Not only do they have to get past Abbott or Miner, but they have to hold off challengers like Armin Mahbanoozadeh, Brandon Mroz, Douglas Razzano, and young stars like Joshua Farris, Jason Brown, and perhaps the stiffest competition, Max Aaron.

Max presents a potentially large road block. His score of 231.27 at the Senior B event in Salt Lake City to start the year is higher than Abbott’s best Grand Prix score. That carries some weight.

Understand, though — that was a very well executed competition for Aaron. It was not Abbott’s best competition. Not by a long shot.

All that means is, Max Aaron is in play for a medal. But, he’ll have to be GREAT, while others have room for error.

Likewise, Mahbanoozadeh has a chance to make a splash. He was dealing with an ankle injury at Skate America (where he was a last minute replacement for Evan Lysacek), but is always a potential spoiler.

Razzano was 5th at Nationals last season after pulling up from 8th in the short to 4th in the long. Could he be this year’s upset?

Not that it means anything now, but, just for kicks, how different would this competition be if Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir had, indeed, come back and been able to compete?

Johnny attempted the comeback. His Grand Prix experiment didn’t go so well. Not that he didn’t make a valiant effort, but it appeared that he sorely underestimated how far he was from being a contender.

If he’d stuck it out, trained as hard as ever, and been scheduled to skate in Omaha, how would he have fared? It’s hard to say, of course, but based on what we saw out of him earlier this fall, he would have been a long shot.

And Evan? He couldn’t have been counted out, that’s for certain. If he’d been healthy enough to compete internationally earlier in the year, and if he was truly back in “fighting shape,” you’d be hard pressed to deny his chances.

Lysacek provided consistency for the American men for many years. Many hoped he’d be able to come back and help earn back that third World Team spot. Instead, he stares down a potential comeback during the Olympic season, instead of before it. That’s no easy task, to say the least.

Meanwhile, though, we have a handful of contenders who will be in Omaha. And I have a feeling they’re going to put on quite a show!

Who do you think makes the World Team? Who will fare the best against Evgeyni Plushenko, Patrick Chan, and the Japanese superstars?

Here are my predictions.

Gold: Abbott
Silver: Miner
Bronze: Aaron
Pewter: Dornbush

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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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!

 

Find a penny, pick it up … hope that it will change your luck. January 15, 2013

Last week, I was elated with word straight from the source: Alissa Czisny would be back in action in Omaha.

This week, I was heartbroken from more news, first, this time, from US Figure Skating. Then, confirmed by Jason Dungjen. Alissa’s Nationals hopes were dashed, yet again.

Czisny headline

Come on, now. Can a girl get a break?!

This poor woman has dealt with more ups and downs in her career than anyone should have to. After the years of struggling with confidence that caused her to miss the Olympic team, to a comeback season that led to one of the most magical Nationals moments of my time with the sport, to a crushing and frustrating battle with an unknown enemy — an injury that had the potential to cost her career — to, once again, build all the way back to the top of the mountain, just close enough to see sweet victory on the other side, only to be faced with another, potentially career-ending injury.

I can’t even imagine the emotional wreck I’d be if I was in her shoes (…or skates).

It makes you think, no? How much more can she, or will she, face before she decides life away from the drama of the ice is enticing enough to pursue?

Of course, selfishly I want her back on the ice as soon as possible. Somehow, that would make me feel better about her situation. I want her on the next Olympic team. I want her to have her moment at Worlds. I want one of the most gracious champions of our time to experience the reward for her patience and diligence and never-say-die attitude.

I want that for her. I think we all do.

But, who knows what she’ll do. In the meanwhile, though, here’s a little reminder of Alissa at full-strength. The grace, the passion, the charm … she’s the total package. And a champion of character, too.

Remember your successes, sweet Alissa. You’ve battled back before. Follow the desires of your heart; know the skating world will be anxiously awaiting your return! Rest up … you got this!

 

Do You Know The Way To San Jose: Dance Preview January 20, 2012

“I can’t keep up with your turning tables …” Or at least that’s how it’s felt, trying to keep track of the head-spinning game of musical partners! But, all the switcheroos are complete, and we’re left with a field full of promise. With ice dance becoming such a hotly contested international event, it’s a little odd to feel so confident in the gold medal hopefuls. But, when those hopefuls are *this close* to their second consecutive undefeated season, it’s understandable. That’s not to say we won’t have a strong event on our hands, though.

The Break Down

Meryl Davis & Charlie White — What else can you say about these two that hasn’t already been said? They are phenomenal. They are, however, coming off of a controversial win at the Grand Prix Final over training mates Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Well, the win wasn’t controversial, I suppose. The difference after the Short Dance portion more than made up for the scoring error, courtesy of the ever-changing ISU code of points system. What that does say, though, is that their brilliant waltz Free Dance isn’t untouchable. They’ve determined to stay the course, though, and focus on quality (which is code for “Grades of Execution”). Here, though, their biggest competition is their own expectations.

Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani — These two are undoubtedly the second-best American team this season. That said, there may be some unfair pressure on them, after their meteoric rise. They still need time to develop. They need polish. They need an “edge” that goes beyond elegance and good posture. I adore watching them skate, and they continue to improve, this season winning their first Grand Prix gold. They should be a lock for the podium (and likely one of the three World Team spots). *Knock on wood*

Madison Chock & Evan Bates
— This is, perhaps, the couple that benefited most from Pass-The-Partner. Evan came into this season after being sidelined with an achilles injury last year. He has the experience — and the required skills — of being an Olympian with former partner Emily Samuelson. Those two looked to be the anointed ones, coming up through the shadow of Tanith Belbin/Ben Agosto and David/White. But, when they split and Maddie’s partner Greg retired, there was uncertainty for a while. But only until Maddie and Evan stepped on the ice together. They are magical. They engage each other so deeply that you can’t help but be drawn in. They understand choreography (just go back and look at Chock/Zuerlein’s FD last year!), they pay attention to detail, and, oh yeah, they have pretty solid technique. They’ve picked up the partnering thing as quick as anyone, and blown me away all season long. Their FD is one of my favorites of the year. I fully expect them to push for the podium. (more…)