Mirai’s reply…..

Mirai Nagasu posted this on her Facebook page yesterday (January 30th):

“I want to take this moment to thank everyone, fellow skaters and fans of the sport, who have reached out to me to offer support after the US championships. Not being chosen to represent the United States at the Olympic Games in Sochi and at the 2014 World Championships in Japan has been extremely disappointing to me, and it has been very difficult for me to process.
I know that I performed my best at the US Championships in Boston. I am proud of the way I skated and of being awarded the Bronze Medal.
The 2010 Olympics in Vancouver was one of the best experiences of my life and I am proud that I finished in 4th place. For the past four years my goal had been to make the Olympic Team again and pick up where I left off.
Not being selected to this year’s team was devastating and I remain confused by US Figure Skating’s decision to not select me for the 2014 Olympic or World teams. Once I have time to fully process the impact of these decisions, I do know it will renew a fire inside of me. My Olympic journey does not end here. I will continue to work hard, to train and grow and improve as a skater and realize my dream of once again representing the United States at an Olympic Games. In the immediate, I will jump back into my training in the event that I should be needed in my role as alternate for the Olympics or World Championships.
Most importantly, I want to wish Gracie, Polina, Ashley and the rest of the US Team the best of luck at the 2014 Olympic Games. Representing your country at the Olympics is one of the biggest honors and best experiences in an athlete’s life, and I hope they all do well and have a great time. I will be watching and cheering them on.”

I think this is a classy response to a devastating experience. Good on her.

Russia makes it official: Plushy is their man

The Russian Skating Federation has made it official: After skating in a closed-door test skate, Evgeny Plushenko will be the man representing them in the men’s event at the Sochi Olympics. As my friend T has said, “If he can walk, they will send him”. The also-rans didn’t help their cases any at Euros. Maxim Kovtun, fresh off of his besting Plushy at Russian Nationals, could only manage fifth place. Sergei Voronov took the silver at Euros, but was a long shot anyway. Konstantin Menshov had a great free skate to take the bronze after being in 11th place after the short (!), but he was never really under consideration. I for one have seen enough Mishin-inspired arm flailing for two lifetimes, but certainly think that Plushy is the Russians’ best shot if his injury-wracked self holds up. Since Russia only qualified one man to the Olympics, this means that Plushenko would have to skate the entire team event plus the men’s event. Countries are allowed to have different skaters skate the short and free in the team event, but the skater has to have qualified to the Olympic team in his/her/their individual event first. I think this may preclude Plushenko’s competing in the team event and then pulling out with an “injury”, with one of the alternates (Kovtun or Voronov) replacing him in the men’s event. However, if there is a way to do it, Russia may find it….

And while on the topic of Euros, I have to say that the artistry (lack of artistry would be a better term) exhibited in the top flight of the men’s event was alarming after seeing Jeremy Abbott, Jason Brown, and Joshua Farris in Boston. IJS programs all the way at Euros (sigh).

The rest of the Russian Olympic team is no surprise. 2014 European Champion Julia Lipnitskaya and European silver medalist Adelina Sotnikova will skate in the ladies’ event (Alena Leonova is the alternate). Volosozhar/Trankov, Baranova/Larionov and Stolbova/Klimov (who won gold, bronze, and silver, respectively, at Euros) will be the pairs, and Bobrova/Soloviyev, Ilinykh/Katsalapov, and Sinitsina/Zhiganshin the dance teams.

Liberty Summer Competition changes its name….

The Liberty Summer Competition, a lovely dose of live skating in the off-season, is changing its name to the Philadelphia Summer Championships, and will be held at the IceWorks in Aston, PA from July 15-19, 2014. Here is a link to its page so you can keep abreast of developments: 2014 Philadelphia Summer Championships. Hope to see you there; please say hello!

My opinion of the US Ladies’ Olympic Team selection

People who know that I follow skating have asked me my opinion of the USFSA’s decision to send fourth-place finisher Ashley Wagner to the Olympics instead of the 2014 US bronze medalist, Mirai Nagasu. Of course, my opinion counts for nothing in the selection process, but had I been on the committee, I would have advocated to send the podium as it was (Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds, Mirai Nagasu). As heartbreaking as that would have been for Ashley Wagner, I feel like she didn’t skate well at Nationals when she needed to, and Mirai Nagasu did. The USFSA has never tampered with the order of finish at Nationals for the Olympics, except in cases where a skater could not compete due to injury and received a medical bye. They have done it for the World Team many times, though, and the rules are quite clear that they are justified in naming whatever team the USFSA deems best.

Even though I would not have made the same decision the USFSA did, I understand why they did it. Ashley Wagner had by far the strongest international competition season of any US woman this season and last. She is a two-time national champion, and her strong finish at last year’s World Championships, along with Gracie Gold’s, regained the third spot for the US women for these Olympics and Worlds. In other words, had Ashley not skated as well as she did at least year’s World Championships, we wouldn’t even be talking about a third ladies’ spot now. But at Nationals, Ashley skated poorly. When her long program scores came up, she could be seen on camera saying “too high”: she knew that the judges had given her a bit of a gift.

Mirai Nagasu did not get the same international competition opportunities as Wagner this season due to Mirai’s 7th-place finish at 2013 US Nationals; she has been 5th, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 7th and 3rd at Nationals since winning the US title at age 15 in 2008. She is currently without a coach, and has a reputation (deserved or not) of not always training to her full potential. The national judges were fairly kind to her this time, but she also has a history of having her triple jumps marked down for underrotation.

I am sure all of these things came into consideration, but I am more an advocate of “put up or shut up”, and Mirai put it all out there at Nationals to claim the bronze, while Ashley had major mistakes in both her short and long and was somewhat held up by the judges in the long to claim fourth place (she did finish about ten points ahead of the fifth-place finisher; I don’t know if the judges held her up by more than ten points or not).

Had 15-year-old Polina Edmunds finished third instead of second, they probably would have bumped her from the team. I would have had no problem with that, since the Olympics will be Edmunds’ very first senior-level international competition (gulp). But Edmunds finished in the silver-medal position, and as I thought, the committee was loathe to replace the 2nd-place finisher with the 4th-place finisher.

It was pretty disappointing to read some of the dreck in the “general press”, the Wall Street Journal especially. Jeff Yang’s editorial alleged that the selection process might have been racist, choosing the blond white girl over the Japanese-American. GET A GRIP, WSJ. For a supposedly reputable publication, you really missed on this one. You need to look no further than the rest of the Olympic skating team: Felicia Zhang is Chinese-American, and the Shibutanis are Japanese-American. Sheesh. (Here is a link to the editorial.)

One other thing: I’m sure there’s an issue that had nothing to do with the selection, and shouldn’t have, but bugs me nevertheless. Figure skating has suffered from a lack of credibility with the general public, especially since the Salt Lake City judging scandal. The USFSA passing over one athlete who competed well and replacing her with one who clearly skated poorly isn’t going to help matters any. Just sayin’.

What I took away from Boston Nationals

I had an awesome time at 2014 US Nationals in Boston. However, I could not blog from the arena; I am old-fashioned in that I do not have a smart phone. I do have an iPad, but the TD Garden wifi was impossible if there were more than 250 people in the arena. Perhaps I need to move into the 21st century 🙂 !!

Here are some of the things that I took away from the competition:

1) Jason Brown is my new favorite skater.
Jason Brown SP

I have been following skating for many years now, and I have not been this excited about seeing a skater develop since seeing a young Michelle Kwan at US Nationals in 1994. Jason is only 19, but has a fully mature artistic and musical sensibility. He only began competing the triple Axel last year, and it is looking more and more solid (although I am looking forward to his speeding up the Axel entrance, since its slowness now gives me a heart attack every time). If he gets a quad, he is going to put up monstrous scores. His components are already very high, and deservedly so. Every movement of the feet, hands, head is timed to the music, and he has a lovely back and wonderful upper-body carriage. As humble and unprepossessing as he is off of the ice, he commands the arena from the moment he takes the ice. A truly extraordinary talent, and I can’t wait to see his new programs each year.

2) Watching the greatness of Meryl Davis and Charlie White in person is a privilege.

I will be the first to admit that ice dance is my least favorite of the four disciplines, but to watch Davis and White is to truly be in the presence of greatness. Watching them on television is great, but seeing them up close is astonishing. Their power, precision, edging and speed are breathtaking. American ice dancing used to be the also-ran of the ice dance world, but years of expat coaching and talented young skaters have led to the emergence of not just the great Davis and White, but an amazing last flight of dance at US Nationals that would have been unthinkable fifteen years ago.

3) I think American singles skating will become more relevant in the coming years.

When Michelle Kwan stopped competing, US Ladies skating was without a rudder. Last year was the first year that someone successfully defended the US title since Kwan, and we had a new champion this year again. Is Gracie Gold someone that can make the American ladies a force on the world stage once more? She is only 18, and already jumps like a pro. Her artistry is not yet fully formed, but she made good strides this year. If she’s got the artistry in her, who better to bring it out than Frank Carroll? Gold is only two years removed from being the US Junior Champion, and my jaw hit the floor when this year’s junior champion, Amber Glenn, landed two triple-triple combos and a Rippon Lutz on the way to her junior title. And Polina Edmunds, 2014 Ladies’ silver medalist, is only 15 (but still has to successfully navigate the Hormonal Highway).

On the men’s side, we’ve got the aforementioned Jason Brown, Joshua Farris, Max Aaron, and two-time junior champ Nathan Chen coming up behind them. The future looks pretty bright to me.

Japanese and Russian Nats; off to Boston!!

I’m off to US Nationals tomorrow for the 20th reunion of my skating fan group–can’t wait!

Japanese Nationals took place in Saitama from Dec. 20-23. The huge thing to come out of these championships was the selection of the men’s team for Sochi. Yuzuru Hanyu, Tatsuki Machida, and Takahiko Kozuka won the medals, but Kozuka was not named to the Olympic or World teams. The third men’s spot will be filled by Daisuke Takahashi, who finished fifth. This is no doubt a nod to Takahashi’s great career, but it’s got to be heartbreaking for both Kozuka and Nobunari Oda, who was fourth. Kozuka had a really rough Grand Prix season, and Oda can’t keep track of his jumping passes, but it’s a rough go nevertheless. Oda has since announced his retirement. I personally love Takahashi’s skating, and am happy for him (I can’t forget seeing him live for the first time at 2005 Skate America in Atlantic City and being so excited). But I am sad for Kozuka who has such wonderful knees. Kozuka was named to the Four Continents team, and is the alternate for both Olympics and Worlds.

The ladies’ competition held surprises as well: after a hugely successful season in which she seemed to set herself apart from the pack, Mao Asada only managed a bronze at Nationals. Akiko Suzuki and Kanako Murakami won the gold and silver. However, unlike the men, all three ladies’ medalists will be on the Olympic team. Asada was named in the second spot, and Murakami in the third spot.

Narumi Takahashi and her new partner Ryuichi Kihara will represent Japan in pairs, and Cathy Reed and Chris Reed in Ice Dance.

Russian Nationals took place from Dec. 24-27 in Sochi. Unlike Japanese Nationals (and US and Canadian Nationals, for that matter), Russian Nationals are not the primary selection competition; Russia’s team will not be selected until after Europeans. The European Championships will be in Budapest from January 15-19.

Russia only has one men’s spot in Sochi. Maxim Kovtun took the gold at Nationals over Evgeny Plushenko and Sergei Voronov. Plushenko has since said that he would skate in the team competition and not the men’s, but it’s unclear if the rules allow this. It would shock no one if Plushenko skated in the team event and then withdrew due to injury, leaving Kovtun to skate in the men’s; after all, this is the Russians (if I knew how to say “Rules were meant to be broken” in Russian, I would insert it here 😉 )!! However, the team won’t be named until after Euros.
Kovtun, Voronov, and 4th-place finisher Konstantin Menshov were named to the European team.

Russia’s baby ballerinas dominated the ladies’ podium, with Adelina Sotnikova, Julia Lipnitskaia, and Elena Radionova winning the medals. All three were named to the European squad.Other notables: Alena Leonova was fifth, Anna Pogorilaya was eighth, and defending champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva was 10th. The fourth-place finisher, Alexandra Proklova, is 13 years old.

Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov did not defend their title at Russian Nationals, but they were named to the European team. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov won gold, Vera Bazarova/Yuri Larionov silver, Maria Vigalova/Egor Zakroev bronze. Volosozhar/Trankov, Stolbova/Klimov and Bazarova/Larionov will represent Russia at Euros.

Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev took gold in Ice Dance, followed by Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov and Victoria Sinitsina/Ruslan Zhiganshin. Bobrova/Soloviev are not scheduled to skate at Euros, but will certainly be on the Olympic team. Ekaterina Riazanova/Ilia Tkachenko round out Russia’s ice dancing team for Euros.