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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