Championship weekend at US Nationals-Day 1

It’s Saturday at the 2012 US Championships already! The week has just flown by.

First of all, we were very happy to be here for the 2012 US Figure Skating Hall of Fame induction ceremony. There was one inductee: the incomparable Michelle Kwan. She is a nine-time US Champion, five-time World Champion, and a two-time Olympic medalist. My friends and I have had the privilege of seeing her entire career, and witnessing many of her once-in-a-lifetime performances (well, most skaters would be lucky to have one extraordinary performance in his or her career, but Michelle has probably had eight or nine by our count). Not only is Michelle one of the greatest skaters in history, she is also unfailingly kind to her fans. She received her Masters’ Degree in International Relations from Tufts University in 2011, and has been active in international diplomacy.

There is an article in the San Francisco Chronicle today (Monday) about Rudy Galindo’s disappointment in not being elected to the Hall of Fame:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/01/29/SP381MVRGK.DTL

Free Dance

I’m sure it comes as no shock that Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their fourth national championship today. Every time I see their free dance I smile. The choreography to “Die Fliedermaus” is superb. The dance is light and airy, yet packed with technical difficulty. Meryl and Charlie have been partners since they were young, and it really shows in their unison and the closeness of their holds. Charlie was a bit wild on the first twizzle of their twizzle sequence, but otherwise it was stellar. They received a free dance score of 114.65, for a total competition score of 191.54. (For the execution and timing component mark, they received a
perfect 10!)

I have so enjoyed seeing the Shibutanis skate in person. Their skating is the definition of smooth, their blades are whisper-quiet, and they float over the ice with seeming ease. Once again, Marina Zoueva’s choreography was outstanding. The next time you see the Shib’s free dance, watch the way that their steps between the sets of twizzles go exactly with the music  (of course, this isn’t just the choreography, it’s also two very skilled skaters that can execute the precise timing well). They looked kind of puzzled when their score came up, and we found out later that they had received a 1-point deduction for an extended lift. Their free dance to Glenn Miller selections was lovely, but the crowd’s reaction toit he music was a bit tepid. Their free dance score was 106.23, for a total score of 178.84 and the silver medal.

The top two placements were never really in doubt, but there were several teams vying for the bronze, all within a few points of each other after the short dance. The new partnership of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were able to grab the bronze with a steamy free dance that Madison never could have done with her previous sibling partner. They were closely followed by Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt (who along with Armin Mahbanoozadeh and most of the Russians are a typist’s nightmare 😉 ), with the new pairing of Madison Chock and Evan Bates finishing fifth.

The free dance was a well-skated event overall, which unfortunately did not hold true for the ladies’ free skate…

Ladies’ Free Skate

All right, we American figure skating fans were spoiled for many years. Not only did we have the best ladies’ skater in the world, we had one of the premiere skaters in history at the top of our podium in Michelle Kwan. Since Kwan won her final national title in Portland in 2005, no woman has been able to successfully defend her championship. 2012 was no exception to that trend.

Christina Gao was first up in the final flight. She still looks like she needs to grow into her height a bit; she still looks somewhat gawky, although not so much as last year. Her program was okay, but she turned a planned three-jump combo into a double Salchow. She finished fifth.

Next up was Mirai Nagasu. Her long program suffered from the same problem as her short. It has always seemed to me that Mirai’s skating is fueled by passion and enthusiasm. That passion seemed lacking at these championships. She looked as if competing here was a chore. Her free, like her short, lacked even the least bit of the fire that we have seen from her in the past. This seems to have been a problem throughout this season. Perhaps she just had an off year; she is clearly on the “hormonal highway” and dealing with her growing body. Her free skate to “Spartacus” earned her 104.97 points, which was only good enough for eighth in the free skate and seventh overall.

Caroline Zhang was next to skate. She has skated better at this Nationals than she has skated in years. The painful modifications that she has had to make in her jump technique are finally starting to pay dividends. Her triple flip in the free was not as clean as the one she landed in the short, and she continues to flutz and get edge violations, but the high leg kick on her pick-in for the flip and flutz is gone. Her score also suffered in the long because her flying sit spin only received a level 1, but overall, she is definitely moving in the right direction. She had a free skate score of 113.01 and a total score of 173.19 to take fourth place.

Ashley Wagner made a coaching change this year, from Priscilla Hill to John Nicks. She certainly must be happy with the results. I feel that Ashley has suffered in the past from pressing too hard. It seemed as if she wanted it so badly that she was unable to just let things “flow”. Perhaps Mr. Nicks has taught her to do that, because she looked pretty good in San Jose. Despite a clean short, she was third going into the free. With the exception of singling the Salchow, her program to “Black Swan” was polished and well-skated. She won the free, and her total score of 187.02 won her the national championship. (It was pretty amusing when Mr. Nicks gave Ashley some last words before she took her position for the free and then calmly went and sat in the kiss and cry. I guess it’s just another day at the office for him!)

It would seem that the rough competition that Alissa Czisny had at the Grand Prix Final has caused her to lose the confidence she had built up over the last year. I was hoping that she could put the GPF behind her, because she was skating injured there. Before both the short and the free, she looked extremely nervous. Both skates were tentative as well. In the free, she touched a hand down on her first triple Lutz and fell on her second, receiving a downgrade and losing points for not having a combination with the second Lutz. Her total score of 180.00 was good enough for the silver, but I am worried going forward about the fact that she seems to have lost her confidence yet again.

Agnes Zawadzki found herself in first place after the short, but she was unable to capitalize on it. She actually ended up seventh in the free, on a night where there were a lot of mistakes made by other skaters. She fell on both the triple Lutz and the triple Salchow, doubled the loop, and generally did not have a great skate. Her good skate in the short enabled her to hang on for the bronze.

Not the best-skated event I’ve ever seen.

Tidbits

Rudy Galindo was interviewed live and commentated on his 1996 championship performance at San Jose as it ran on the jumbotron. He was last to skate in the competition, and so was backstage for about an hour between the warmup and his skate. He said that he fell asleep backstage!!

Rumor is that 2014 US Nationals will be in Boston.

Todd Eldredge is engaged to be married for the second time, and he and his fiancée are expecting a baby.

My friend Ardyce and I got to briefly meet Caydee Denney and John Coughlin. She is, of course, much tinier close up than she looks on the ice, and he is huge (he’s 6’2″). They could not have been nicer. I complimented them on their split triple twist, and John said that was his favorite element.

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US Nationals-Short Dance & Men’s Short

Today we had the short dance and the men’s short. Both events were well-skated.

Short Dance (rhumba)

We are fortunate to have two of the world’s best dance teams right here in the USA. Meryl Davis and Charlie White skated their short dance well, not quite as well as they are capable of, but enough to lead the competition with a score of 76.89. Most of their elements received a level 4, except for one of their rhumba sequences that received a 3 due to one of the skaters not achieving a feature on the Choctaw (we have the benefit in the arena of the earbud radios, where we can listen to technical specialists as the competition progresses. 5-time national dance champion Judy Blumberg and judge Charlie Cyr were our “callers” for the short dance, and they were very informative). Davis and White’s positions are crisp, and their unison is beautiful.

This was my first time seeing Maia and Alex Shibutani skate live, and they impressed me so much. Smooth like buttah! Her positions, like Meryl’s, are absolute precision; no oozing into position changes like some skaters you see. You can really appreciate Davis and White’s technical excellence, but emotionally, I prefer the Shibutani’s short dance. The reigning world bronze medalists received a high score of 72.61. The rest of the field did not break 60 points.

Madison Hubbell and her new partner Zachary Donohue are third, followed closely by Lynn Kriengkrairut/Logan Giulietti- Schmitt and Madison Chock/Evan Bates. Bates’ previous partner, Emily Samuelson, and her new partner Todd Gilles were in the same warm-up group. I’m thinking that must have been a little awkward. The musical chairs that is US pairs and dance continues on.

Men’s Short

Overall, this event was really well- skated and a pleasure to watch. It didn’t start out well, however. Last year’s silver medalist Ricky Dornbush had a disastrous short, falling on his 3 Lz combo, singling the Axel, and singling the flip. He is totally buried in 17th place. You couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. 

The next skater up was Adam Rippon, and unlike Dornbush, Rippon skated wonderfully. Lovely 3F/3T, no problem with the 3A (although I was surprised he landed it, because he really slows down as he approaches the Axel), gorgeous 3Lz with both arms over the head, and of course artistry is not a problem for him. He is in second place with a big score of 82.94.

The next contender to skate was Ross Miner. He skated a clean program and is in fourth place.

Last year’s junior champion, Max Aaron, did a perfect quad Salchow and 3A, but touched a hand down on the triple Lutz combo and turned out of the toe. He’s in sixth.

Speaking of quads, there were three quad attempts in the men’s short. Max Aaron’s was stellar; Douglas Razzano and Brandon Mroz tried quad toes but fell (Razzano’s was also downgraded to a triple). Razzano is in 8th place. Mroz  has had a rough season. He is in 12th place.

Keegan Messing went clean (although his footwork always looks a bit on the wild side and there’s nothing graceful about him). He is in fifth.

I really like Jason Brown. He is the 2010 junior champion and the 2011 junior world champion. He’s got a lovely back and really nice skating skills, but does not yet have a triple Axel (I would love to know if he’s anywhere near to getting it in practice; we’ve seen some practices and I haven’t seen him try one). He is in 7th place.

Next up was Jeremy Abbott, and he was brilliant. His program to swing music has a huge amount of flair and personality,  and his 3F/3T, 3A and 3Lz were all great. We had really good technical specialists on Skate Radio, David Kirby and David Santee. Kirby said that Jeremy’s footwork is on par with Patrick Chan’s. Jeremy’s score of 90.23 is a new US record, and he has almost an eight-point lead over Adam Rippon.

Armin Mahbahnoozadeh laid down another clean program (there were quite a few in this event), and along with his lyrical style, it was good enough to claim third place with a score of 80.66.

All in all, a great event!

News from Euros

Carolina Kostner leads after the ladies’ short. Kiira Korpi is second, Ksenia Makarova third.

Evgeny Plushenko landed a quad toe and seven triples en route to winning his seventh European title. He will not compete at Worlds because he will be having knee surgery shortly. Artur Gachinski won the silver, finishing about fifteen points behind Plushenko. Florent Amodio took the bronze. Brian Joubert failed to medal for the first time in eleven trips to Euros, finishing eighth.

Skating ticket prices

What is going on with the soaring prices for skating events? I didn’t go to 2009 Worlds in LA because I thought the ticket prices were outrageous (seats about 10 rows back mid-ice were about $900 or so). How quaint that price seems now. Tickets for next year’s worlds in London, Ontario are about $1400. Canadian, and the ticket prices for next year’s Nationals in Omaha are $915., $665., and $525. for the cheap seats.

I can’t pretend to know all the expenses involved in running a competition, but it seems like it would be in the best interests of the USFSA and the ISU to try and keep prices down, given the falling attendance at competitions, less tv exposure, and the like. When a die-hard skating fan like me, who has now been to nine Nationals, begins questioning whether or not she wants to go to events because the ticket prices are exorbitant, that is a problem.

Other musings

I have been attending live skating events long enough now that many skaters whom I have seen compete live are now at the boards coaching the next generation of skaters. This week, I’ve seen Paul Wylie, Todd Eldredge, Jason Dungjen, Liz (Punsalan) Swallow, Damon Allen, Derrick Delmore, Evgenia Shiskova and Vadim Naumov, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, Rudy Galindo, Ryan Jahnke, Rocky Marval, and there are probably more. Time passes quickly!

Watching the free dance now, with the ladies’ free later.

Thursday at US Nationals

The Championship-level events got under way today with the pairs’ short and the ladies’ short. There was also a nice opening ceremony, with Rudy Galindo skating and other Bay Area notables appearing: Brian Boitano, Peggy Fleming, Charlie Tickner, Debi Thomas, and Kristi Yamaguchi’s daughter Emma standing in for her mom.

Pairs’ short

There’s a bit of a surprise at the top of the leader board. Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker lead after the short program.
I have always felt that Brubaker was a very strong partner, but Marley had not skated pairs prior to teaming up with Brubaker. She is tiny, and he tosses her with ease; her pairs skills have improved markedly since last year. They skated a mostly clean short with a big throw triple Lutz, and I think surprised a lot of people by having the high score of the night (65.80). Their score would have been even higher had Rockne not lost his balance and touched a hand and foot down on their death spiral.
Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig continue to be plagued by Evora’s jumping problems. She fell on their side by side triple toes, and hers was determined by review to be short of rotation, so they were downgraded to doubles. Their lifts were spectacular as always. They are in second place after the short (61.27).
Caydee Denney and John Coughlin’s Nationals debut as a partnership was eagerly anticipated. Their short to “East of Eden” had a spectacular throw triple twist, good side by side triple toes, and good connection between the partners, but Caydee fell on their throw triple flip. They looked to be having issues in practice with her being the proper distance from Coughlin and in proper position to be thrown, and even though they did land the throw a number of times in practice, they did not land it in the competition.
Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir had the skate of their career to take fourth in the short, with Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff fifth.

Ladies’ Short

There is a surprise at the top of the ladies’ leaderboard as well. Agnes Zawadzki landed a nice 3T/3T combo and a huge 3Lz to lead the short with 66.24 points. Her artistry has improved as well.

Reigning US Champ Alyssa Czisny looked nervous and a bit tentative. She landed her 3Lz/2T combo and a 3Lo, but singled the Axel. She is in second with 63.14.

Ashley Wagner went clean to finish third with 63.06. Caroline Zhang skated better than I’ve seen her skate in years to finish fourth. Her triple flip was quite sound, without that high leg kick that has given her problems in the past. Mirai Nagasu skated without a lot of fire. She had an edge violation on her 3Lz/2T, and possibly a downgrade on her 3Lo as well. She has filled out quite a bit, and I would imagine she is having some issues adjusting. Christine Gao was sixth.

Practices

We saw men’s and pairs’ practices. Love, love, love Jeremy Abbott’s short program to swing music. It has great expression and personality. Jeremy made several attempts at the quad toe and landed one. Adam Rippon was trying a quad Salchow but didn’t really come close. His triple Axel, which is often a problem for him, didn’t look too bad. Brandon Mroz did not practice well, and a reliable Colorado Springs source says he has not been practicing well at home either. Keegan Messing needs to learn proper practice etiquette (and shame on his coaches for letting him get away with this). He seems to think the practice ice is his private ice time, and does not yield right of way to the skater whose music is playing. He had numerous close brushes, and one skater even had to interrupt his footwork sequence during his runthrough to avoid Messing spinning.

News from Euros

Artur Gachinski holds a minuscule lead over Evgeny Plushenko after the men’s short. Gachinski landed his quad, while Plushy didn’t do one. Tomas Verner is third.

Volosozhar and Trankov won their first European pairs championship, with Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov second and Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov third to complete the Russian sweep.

It’s “Junior Day” at US Nationals!

Junior titles in three of the four disciplines were decided today (Nathan Chen won Junior Men’s yesterday). We also saw the first scheduled practice session for the Senior Men, and caught some Senior Pairs practice as well.

Junior Dance

Yes, I watched Junior Dance on purpose (well, the last flight anyway), and I liked it!! Perhaps it’s the evolution in recent years of a more technical, less strum-and -drang style of program, but it’s definitely more to my taste.

Gold: Alexandra Aldridge/Daniel Eaton

Silver: Lauri Bonacorsi/Travis Mager

Bronze: Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter (she’s only 12, but has a big ice presence)


Junior Pairs

Watching junior pairs is so interesting. The skaters who are just barely doing junior-level skills remind you of just how very difficult this sport is, while the top-level teams illustrate how beautiful pairs is when two skaters “gel”. Hmm…if Caydee Denney and John Coughlin win Senior Pairs, both of the Denney sisters will be 2012 Champions!

Dalilah Sappenfeld had all three of the winning pairs!

Gold: Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier

Silver: Britney Simpson/Matthew Blackmer

Bronze: Kylie Duarte/Colin Grafton

Junior Ladies

I was eager to see Gracie Gold after reading Phil Hersch’s column about her several weeks ago (I would paste the link, but can’t figure out how to do that on my iPad at the moment 😦 ) People, this girl’s Lutz is MASSIVE. She actually has a delay! Even with a fall on her  second triple Axel, Gold scored 178.92 to win by over 20 points. This is the highest score ever recorded by a junior lady since the new scoring system debuted. I know being US Junior Ladies’ Champion is no great guarantee of future success, but Gold is a real jumping talent, the likes of which we haven’t seen in US ladies in a long,long time.

Gold: Gracie Gold

Silver: Ashley Cain

Bronze: Hannah Miller

Practices

The senior men had their first scheduled practice this morning, and evidently some of them aren’t in San Jose yet, as there were many no-shows. Ross Miner and Ricky Dornbush had pretty good sessions. No Abbott, Mroz,  Carriere, Mahbanoozadeh, or Rippon.

We saw the senior pairs practice twice. The race for the gold seems pretty clearly between Evora/Ladwig and Denney/Coughlin. Amanda Evora landed one triple toe all day, and she two-footed it. That has been a problem for them in the past and unfortunately seems to be continuing.

News from across the pond (Euros)

–Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy have withdrawn prior to the short program due to  Savchenko’s leg injury. The three Russian pairs competing (Volosozhar/Trankov, Bazarova/Larionov, and Stolbova/Klimov) are in the top three spots after the short.

–Bobrova/Sovloviev have a slight lead after the short dance.

12-year-old phenom wins US Junior Men’s crown

This will come as no surprise to those of us who saw 10- year-old Nathan Chen win Novice Men in Spokane, but the two- time Novice Champion has won Juniors on his first try. Skating to “The Godfather”, Chen was pretty much flawless. He started off with a beautiful 3Lz3T and never looked back, landing seven triples altogether and receiving level 4’s for two spins. His footwork seemed to cover two lengths of the rink. It has to be frustrating for his 16-year-old competitors, some of whom are more than a foot taller than Chen, to be so technically outgunned. Yes, he still needs to expand artistically, and will inevitably have to deal with a growth spurt , but the future’s looking awfully bright.

Chen is the youngest US Junior Men’s champion in recent history. I’m still trying to determine if he is the youngest ever. He’s too young to compete at Junior Worlds.

Timothy Dolensky was second, and Philip Warren was third.

A fun first day for us in San Jose, even if it is now 1:01 AM EST with me having gotten up at 5:30 AM!!

2012 Canadian Nationals results

2012 Canadian Nationals have just finished in Moncton, New Brunswick. Patrick Chan won his fifth national title and set an all-time scoring record in the process, with a combined score for the short program and free skate of 302.14 points. He has become the first skater to break 300 points, and defeated silver medalist Kevin Reynolds by almost 63 points. Jeremy Ten took the bronze.

I did not see any Canadian coverage, but according to Canada’s National Post, Chan’s long program was “flawless”.

As expected, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won their fourth national ice dance title. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje took the silver, with the new team of Piper Gilles and Paul Poirer taking the bronze.

In pairs, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won their first national title. The new partnership of Jessica Dube and Sebastien Wolfe won silver, while Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers took the bronze. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch had three fall deductions (two for Moore-Towers and one for Moscovitch) that left them off of the podium in fourth place.

A new champion was crowned in the ladies’ event as well.  23-year-old Amelie Lacoste finished second in the free skate and first overall. Cynthia Phaneuf was second, and Kaetlyn Osmond was third. Canada has only one ladies’ slot at the upcoming World Championships, and Skate Canada has said their entry will be chosen after seeing the results of the Four Continents Championships in Colorado Springs in February.

According to the National Post, there have been hundreds of empty seats at the 3,000-seat Moncton arena this week, rather uncharacteristic for Canadian figure skating.

 

Kavaguti/Smirnov will miss Europeans

According to Ice Network, Russian pair Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov will not skate at the European Championships in Sheffield, which begin on January 23rd. Smirnov recently had an appendectomy, and coach Tamara Moskvina did not want to take any unnecessary risks. They will be replaced by this year’s Russian silver medalists, Ksenia Stolbova/Fyodor Klimov.

Kavaguti/Smirnov did not skate at Russian nationals due to Smirnov’s leg injury. They are expected to compete at the World Championships in France in late March.

ISU admits scoring error

The ISU has admitted  that Virtue and Moir’s free dance combination lift has been mistakenly underscored all season. The GOE calculation for the lift was upgraded by ISU rule before the current season, but evidently Swiss Timing, the firm that maintains the ISU’s scoring program, did not update the program to reflect the change. (The change raises the points added for the lift done with a +3 GOE from 2.5 to 3 points).

Had their free dance been properly scored, Virtue and Moir would have won the free dance portion of the Grand Prix Final recently held in Quebec City. However, Davis and White would still have won the overall competition.

2011-2012 International National Championships results

Happy New Year!

Here are some results from some National Championships abroad:

RUSSIA
Pairs:
(1) Vera BARAZOVA/Yuri LARIONOV
(2) Ksenia STOLBOVA/Fedor KLIMOV
(3) Anastasia MARTIUSHEVA/Sergei ROGONOV

(Volosozhar/Trankov and Kavaguti/Smirnov both received byes to Europeans due to injury.)

Men:
(1) Evgeny PLUSHENKO (he’s baaack…)
(2) Artur GACHINSKI
(3) Sergei VORONOV

There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not Plushy can compete at Euros, since there is now a requirement for skaters to earn a certain number of points by participating in international competitions. Russian Nationals was Plushenko’s first competition of the season. An appeal to the ISU was resolved in Plushenko’s favor.

Dance:
(1) Ekaterina BOBROVA/Dmitri SOLOVIEV
(2) Elena ILINYKH/Nikita KATSALAPOV
(3) Ekaterina RIAZANOVA/Ilia TKACHENKO

Ladies:
(1) Adelina SOTNIKOVA
(2) Julia LIPNITSKAIA
(3) Alena LEONOVA

(Ksenia Makarova finished fourth; Elizaveta Tuktamisheva finished sixth. The fifth and eighth place finishers are only 12 years old!!)

Due to age restrictions, the ladies’ skaters going to Europeans in Sheffield, UK will be Leonova, Ksenia Makarova, and either Polina Korobeynikova (7th) or Sofia Biryukova (9th), depending on visa requirements for Britain.

JAPAN

Men
(1) Daisuke TAKAHASHI
(2) Takahika KOZUKA
(3) Yuzuru HANYU

Ladies
(1) Mao ASADA
(2) Akiko SUZUKI
(3) Kanako MURAKAMI

Pairs
(1) Narumi TAKAHASHI/Mervin TRAN (they were the only competitors)

Dance
(1) Burina OI/Tayo MIZUTANI
(2) Emi HARAI/Marien DE LA ASUNCION
(3) Anna TAKEI/Yuya YAMADA

(The only other competitors, Reed/Reed, withdrew).

In other international news, Brian Joubert won his 8th French National title, followed by Florent Amodio. Pechelat/Bourzat won dance.

The 2012 European Figure Skating Championships will be held in Sheffield, England from January 23-29. The 2012 US Nationals are at the same time in San Jose, California. 2012 Canadians are January 16-22 in Moncton, New Brunswick. 2012 Four Continents will be February 7-12 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA. 2012 Worlds will be in Nice, France from March 26-April 1.