Lyrics in Singles and Pairs….

So by now skate fans know that lyrics are now allowed in the singles and pairs disciplines (they’ve been allowed in Ice Dance since the 1997-98 season). What is YOUR opinion of the use of lyrics in all of the disciplines?

I was originally against the use of lyrics in singles and pairs, and two competitions into the Grand Prix skating season, I can’t say that my opinion has changed very much. Watching skating for many years I have heard all kinds of music butchery, as well as skating warhorses being beaten to death (“Carmen”, anyone?) I wasn’t afraid of lyrics per se, but of lyrics being done poorly. Also, it is going to take a long time for me to stop thinking “exhibition” when I hear lyrics. Since I much prefer competition skating to exhibition skating, this is not a good portent for me.

Using lyrics can have its advantages if done well, though. Javier Fernandez‘s SP this year is “Black Betty”, and he’s now able to use the version that most of us are familiar with. However, during Skate America, I heard yet another musak version of the Beatles, and thought “Why would you not have Sir Paul singing instead of the elevator version of “Eleanor Rigby??”

I’ve seen a few cases so far when lyrics have been used to good effect. This season, Madeline Aaron/Max Settlage (USA) are skating their free to “The King and I”, and making sparing but effective use of lyrics:

In Aaron/Settlage’s case, the lyrics are not overwhelming nor terribly distracting.

But let’s look at Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford‘s SP. “C’est bon”? Someone caterwauling in French is not my idea of good!!

Their skating is quite wonderful, but it was really hard  to pay attention to it with my hands over my ears. In this case, the lyrics totally overwhelm the skating.

With lyrics allowed, one would think that skaters would be choosing a greater variety of music, but we’ve certainly seen our share of Carmens (thankfully sans lyrics), Malaguena (with lyrics, ick, ick), and Argentine tangos. I like Samantha Cesario‘s “Carmen”, but she has the fierceness to pull it off. Skaters, when your coach suggests one of the tired old nuggets, unless you are a skater with the chops to bring something new to a piece that’s been beaten within an inch of its life,  JUST…SAY….NO.

 

 

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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.

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.

2013 Liberty Summer Competition

I have the good fortune to live about twenty miles from IceWorks, the beautiful 4-rink complex owned by Uschi Keszler. IceWorks hosts the Liberty Summer Competition each year. There’s nowhere better to be in 100-degree weather than an ice rink!! The East Coast heat wave caused some problems at Liberty, though–it was so hot that it was a full-time job keeping the ice sheets frozen. Some events were moved from their originally assigned rink to other rinks in the complex because the ice was too wet. This caused some scheduling difficulties, especially early in the competition when all of the different event levels were going on.

I met some really nice people and enjoyed seeing some early-season skating…

I’m not going to rehash all of the results. The full protocols for the event can be found at the IceWorks site.

THE LADIES

The Senior Ladies’ field was HUGE. There were 41 competitors registered, and most of them competed. I’m still chuckling over a comment that a woman behind me made; when the door opened yet again to let yet another warmup group of ladies on the ice, she said “It’s like a clown car!” Now, any of you who know me know how much I love skating, but sitting through almost 40 short programs can be numbing to both the mind and the behind (even though both the short and long were split into two segments bracketing the senior men). Since Liberty competes the short program and long program as separate events, that meant that virtually all of the girls/women that competed in the short competed the long as well. I must confess, I wasn’t feeling great on Saturday, so I left after the senior men’s long program and missed the second half of the ladies’.

Samantha Cesario was the star of the ladies’ short. She did a 3Lo+3Lo in both her short and long; according to the protocols, she was short of rotation on the second loop in the SP and both jumps in the FS.  In her short, she also had a 3F and a 2A. She gave a mature, sexy performance to “Fever”.

Skate Canada sent a large contingent of pretty good ladies to this event. Remember the days when Canadian ladies couldn’t buy a triple? Well, there were lots of ladies at Liberty who had plenty of them–there weren’t a lot of Lutzes in the event, but I was impressed by the overall quality of the Canadian skaters. Canadian Veronik Mallet was second in both the short and free, and American Yasmin Siraj was third in both segments as well.

Ashley Cain had a rough go in the short program and finished fourth, but she skated a strong early-season free skate to win the event with 102.78. She landed a 3Lz+2T, turned out between jumps in her 3F+2T combo, and landed solo 3F and 3Lo among other elements. She skated in white to “Ave Maria”. She is tall for a female skater and quite statuesque, and takes advantage of her height with good positions and stretch.

Samantha Cesario and Ashley Cain swapped first and fourth places from the short to the free. Cesario’s opening combo in the free was good (although the protocol shows she was docked for underrotation on both jumps), but she had trouble from there. Her music was “Titanic”, which I have always thought is beautiful music. But I wonder if it’s a good choice for a figure skating program, since it involves a large object colliding with  ice and sinking 🙂 . My new friend A., who has been attending skating competitions for a long time, said she thought that Cesario was laying it all out there in an effort to snag one of the at-large Grand Prix assignments still out there.

THE MEN

There were ten men in the senior men’s event. Keegan Messing and Stephen Carriere were the US National competitors scheduled to compete, but Carriere withdrew. Messing is keeping last year’s short program to “Sing, Sing, Sing”, and has a new free skate to “Mask of Zorro”. Boy, does he bomb around the ice faster than almost any other skater I’ve seen. He finished second in both the short and free to Luiz Manela, who skates for Brazil. In the short program, Manela landed his 3A, while Messing popped his into a single (which meant no credit for the Axel element, since the requirement is for at least a double). Evidently Keegan was having boot problems last season, which are hopefully now resolved but may have led to a loss of confidence in that forward outside edge takeoff. Messing’s spins are also noteworthy–really fast and well-centered, a pleasure to watch for this fan of spins!

Manela skated his free skate to “Gladiator”. He fell on his 3A, and the rest of his skate was far from perfect, but Messing doubled too many of his jumps to overtake the Brazilian skater. Keegan did land a 4T+2T, but popped the Axel and doubled the toe, loop, and Lutz. Alex Zahradnicek (who skates for France) was third in both the SP and FS. Emmanuel Savery skated well in the FP to take fourth in that segment (he has no 3A, though).

THE PAIRS

Disappointingly, there were only two pairs in the field; I believe both may be new pairings? Natalja Zabijako / Aleksandr Zaboev of Estonia won both segments of the competition, with Israel’s (well, skating for Israel anyway 🙂 )
Anya Davidovich / Evgeni Krasnopolsky taking second. I love pairs, and it was disappointing that this year’s and last year’s fields were so small. In 2011, Dalilah Sappenfield brought several of her pairs to compete as Caydee Denney / John Coughlin made their debut. Rumor has it that a lot of the pairs are competing at Skate Detroit.

There were a number of skaters at Liberty who were skating for the Israeli Skating Federation, which I hear tell is run by Galit Chait (she who collided with Renee Roca at a 1994 US Nationals practice, resulting in Roca’s breaking her arm) and her father. Clearly these skaters had not flown all the way from Israel for Liberty! My quote of the week, from David Lease of The Skating Lesson, who by the way was very nice when I spoke with him: (About the Israeli Skating Federation) “I believe that the headquarters are somewhere between North Jersey, DC, and Philadelphia. And if you are a skater who is Jewish with an overly ambitious parent… and you have a cheated double Axel and a
double Lutz, you will one day skate for Israel.” (from Jennifer Kirk and David Lease’s “This and That 7/21”)

IJS makes me sad. The PCS rules need to change.

After piecing together pieces of Worlds from YouTube in several different languages (including an Italian feed with a biscotti advertisement in the lower-left corner), I am left with such a feeling of sadness. Once again, the IJS has resulted in suspect results. I have to admit, I was one of the people who had been saying that the Performance/Execution component of the Patrick Chan System, er, the Program Component Scores should be docked for a skater who has a hot mess of a program like Patrick Chan did in his long at this year’s Worlds after the quads. Well, here is what the rules say the judges should take into account when judging Performance/Execution:

Performance is the involvement of the skater/couple/teams physically, emotionally and intellectually as they translate the intent of the music and choreography. Execution is the quality of movement and precision in delivery. This includes harmony of movement in pairs, ice dancing and synchronized skating.

  • Physical, emotional and intellectual involvement
  • Carriage (and body alignment – synchronized)
  • Style and individuality/personality
  • Clarity of movement
  • Variety and contrast
  • Projection
  • Unison and “oneness” (pairs, ice dancing and synchronized skating)
  • Balance in performance (pairs, ice dancing and synchronized skating)
  • Spatial awareness between partners – management of the distance between partners and management of changes of hold (pairs, ice dancing and synchronized skating)”

Basically, there is nothing concrete there that states that a judge should penalize a mistake-ridden program. Essentially, the five parts of the PCS (the other four are Skating Skills, Transitions, Choreography, and Interpretation) are not going to change that much from competition to competition, unless (a) a skater chucks his/her program and goes with a different one or (b) a skater is like Surya Bonaly or Christopher Bowman and does choreography on the fly.

I think the PCS rules need to change. Yes, I understand that falls, step-outs, stumbles, etc. are already assessed lower marks in the TES (Technical Element Scores), but I don’t have to tell any of you who are reading this that multiple mistakes effect the flow and emotion of a program. That’s just the way it is. The PCS rules as written now theoretically provide a given skater with a relatively fixed mark from performance to performance, which I think is a mistake. (We won’t talk about the US National judges giving Max Aaron vastly different PCS’s at Nationals than at any other competition he skated this season).

On the technical side, I am no math guru like Tony Wheeler, but I agree with his contention about rewarding/penalizing wrong-edge jumps. (It’s rather math-heavy, but his contention is that skaters who flutz or flitz essentially are rewarded for doing the same jump too many times. I agree.):

http://www.flutzingaround.com/2013/03/edge-calls-and-points-skaters-earn.html

Also, as long as we’re talking math, why not have some kind of score standardization between disciplines? One of the audience-killing aspects of the IJS is that the score a skater receives has no context for the spectators.  Everyone knew under the old system that the closer you got to a 6.0, the better. Now the numbers are different from discipline to discipline. Why not have benchmark scores for the short program/short dance and free skate/free dance? Either take the average of every skater in a given discipline at Worlds since the IJS came into effect, or take the highest score, and make that, say, a 50 in the short program/short dance and a 100 in the free skate/free dance. That way, when the score is posted, everyone would quickly know if that performance was great, good, or poor, regardless of whether it’s men’s, ladies, pairs, or ice dancing. I don’t think we should go back to having a “perfect score” like 6.0, because that to my mind was one of the most egregious flaws of the old system, resulting in judges getting boxed in, scores having to be reserved for later skaters, etc. (Ordinals were the other egregious flaw in the old system, in my opinion. I think it’s much better now that a skater can be rewarded for skating a much better short than his/her competitors vs. being virtually tied going into the long if the short programs were close).

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this whole thing. Jennifer Kirk and David Lease said in their Worlds Men’s review podcast that they hoped that skating has now hit bottom. I unfortunately fear that is not the case.

PS> The version of Bolero that Savchenko/Szolkowy used for their free skate was hideous and should be banned. What was that vocal caterwauling about midway through the program????

The US team heading to Worlds, and a US TV coverage rant…

The World Figure Skating Championships are underway this week in London, Ontario, and I am a bit concerned about how the US team will fare there. Of course, our ice dance team is world-class and the envy of any country, but it is hard for me to remember another World Team that has as many question marks as this year’s team aside from ice dance.

Both of our pairs, Castelli/Shnapir and Scimeca/Knierim, are making their very first Worlds appearances. Castelli/Shnapir have a fair amount of international experience, but going into your first Worlds as a first-time national champion is a lot of pressure. Scimeca/Knierim do not have much international experience at all, and have been together less than a year.

New national champion Max Aaron has the quads to compete technically with the world contenders, but the judges overinflating his component scores at Nationals did not do him any favors. His PCSs at Four Continents were more in line with where his skating is at the present time, and he will have to land everything and hope for some mistakes by the more artistic skaters to finish highly. I don’t think that Ross Miner has the technical arsenal to compete with the top guys. It’s not totally impossible that we could regain three men’s spots, but unfortunately it’s probably not going to happen. And let’s not forget what happened to Alissa Czisny last year; hopefully none of our skaters will finish so low that there is a chance of losing the second spot in pairs, men’s, or ladies.

Ashley Wagner had a great fall season, but mounted a less-than-stellar defense of her national title in Omaha. She also does not consistently compete or land a triple-triple–with Queen Yu-Na back, and a resurgent Mao Asada, you’ve got to have it. Gracie Gold is already getting a reputation for inconsistency in the skating world, which I think is a bit premature; after all, she just moved up to seniors this year. Let’s give her a chance. Again, I think our chances are slim to get back three spots, although I would love nothing more than being proven wrong on this point.

Silly me. I thought that since NBC broadcast some of the Grand Prix, and US Nationals, that they surely would broadcast Worlds less than a year out from Sochi. How naive. (I don’t consider a recap show broadcasting the event). Yes, I know, I should have just ponied up for IceNetwork in the fall, but I’m one of the last three people in the United States who does not like watching things that should be on TV on my computer. And our cable system has not had Universal Sports for over a year now. I am grumpy that Worlds are in Canada and (a) I’m not there and (b) I can’t really watch them on TV. As my daughter would say, first-world problems….

USFSA announces World and 4CC teams

For a full list of the USFSA World Assignments: USFSA Press Release

WORLD TEAM

The USFSA announced its selections for the 2013 World Team today. The only variation from the podium placements at Nationals was in pairs, where 2012 National Champions Caydee Denney/John Coughlin received a medical bye to the upcoming World Championships. Coughlin underwent hip surgery in early December, and he is now back on the ice based on his recovery being ahead of schedule. I assume the USFSA will have some kind of observation/tryout to verify he’s in competitive shape, but given the weak state of the US Pairs, D/C can only be a positive addition to the team. Denney/Coughlin’s being on the team will help take some of the pressure off of Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir, who are going to Worlds for the first time. It’s a huge amount of pressure to be going to your first Worlds as US Champions.

Worlds will take place in London, Ontario from March 10-17.

FOUR CONTINENTS (Osaka, Japan, February 6-11)

Pairs:

Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir
Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim
Felicia Zhang/Nathan Bartholomay

Alternate 1 – Lindsay Davis/Mark Ladwig
Alternate 2 – Gretchen Donlan/Andrew Speroff
Alternate 3 – Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier

Men:

Max Aaron
Ross Miner
Adam Rippon

Alternate 1 – Richard Dornbush
Alternate 2 – Brandon Mroz
Alternate 3 – Stephen Carriere

Dance:

Madison Chock/Evan Bates
Meryl Davis/Charlie White
Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani

Alternate 1 – Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue
Alternate 2 – Lynn Kriengkrairut/Logan Giulietti-Schmitt
Alternate 3 – Anastasia Cannuscio/Colin McManus

Ladies:

Christina Gao
Gracie Gold
Agnes Zawadzki

Alternate 1 – Mirai Nagasu
Alternate 2 – Caroline Zhang
Alternate 3 – Ashley Cain

IN OTHER NEWS: Two-time US Champion Alissa Czisny underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in her left hip on January 25th. This is the same hip that she had operated on last June. Given her age (25) and her physical problems, one wonders if this might be the end of her competitive career.

2013 US Nationals

This year’s nationals are in the books, and some young skaters with big jumps made news. 17-year-old Gracie Gold, who blew away the field to win last year’s Junior title, skated a technically-packed free skate and stormed to the silver medal. She was in ninth place after the short program, having fallen on her combo and singled her Axel. Had she finished higher in the short, she would have relegated defending champion Ashley Wagner to the silver medal position. Many female American skaters have trouble with their jumps getting downgraded due to underrotation; not Gracie. She finishes her rotation well above the ice and lands straight backwards. This girl makes her triple Lutz/triple toe combination look like a walk in the park. She needs better choreography and more maturity in her presentation, but hopefully she’ll get there.

On the men’s side, 20-year-0ld Max Aaron landed two beautiful quad Salchows (one with a double toe) on the way to winning his first national title. His only error was a turn-out between the jumps of his triple Axel combination, but even with that small error, he scored a whopping 96.39 for his executed elements score, getting positive GOEs for all of his elements besides the 3A combo. I remember seeing him live last year in San Jose, and the height on his jumps had the crowd oohing and aahing in practice. He needs more work on interpretation, musicality, and presentation, but boy, this kid can JUMP (and he’s certainly far from artistically hopeless, thankfully).

I’m sure that Ashley Wagner was not thrilled with her free skate, but it was enough to retain her title. She is the first American woman to defend successfully since Michelle Kwan did it in 2005. Wagner fell on both her 3Lz and 3Lo in the free, and did not have a triple-triple combo, but to be fair, she had food poisoning the week before Nationals and was probably not back to full strength. She’s going to need a triple-triple to contend at Worlds.

The women’s event overall (at least the part that they televised on NBC, more on that later) was actually quite a well-skated event until we got to the top three skaters, who were the last three to compete. Agnes Zawadzki had several mistakes including a fall on her 3Lz, Ashley Wagner had two falls, and Mirai Nagasu was not fully recovered from a respiratory virus and suffered many jump downgrades. Given the fact that downgrades are a problem for her at the best of times, the fact that she was slower than usual and probably got less pop off of the ice did not help here. The thing about Gracie Gold vs. earlier wunderkinds like Nagasu and Caroline Zhang is that Gold is 17 and already has had at least some of her growth spurt. Nagasu and Zhang had success on the national stage at such young ages that they had not yet hit the hormonal highway. Now they are beautiful young women, but neither has been able to reproduce the success they had at a young age, at least not so far.

Three-time national champion Jeremy Abbott had too many errors in his free skate to retain his title. Of more significance was the fact that by finishing third he will not even get to go to Worlds. Abbott was short of rotation and fell on his 4T attempt, and he doubled the loop in one of his combos and doubled the Salchow as well. Ross Miner took the silver this year after being bronze medalist twice. His free skate to Captain Blood was well-skated, with a successful quad Salchow, but he singled his second Axel. With the huge technical scores put up by Aaron, Miner had no room for mistakes.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White, to no one’s surprise, won their fifth consecutive national title in Omaha with a marvelous free dance to Notre Dame de Paris. The American judges gave them level 4s for all of their elements, and they received perfect 10s for four of the five component categories. World judges tend to not be as generous, but we’ll see how it goes. Madison Chock and Evan Bates won the silver; Maia and Alex Shibutani won the bronze. All three teams will compete at Worlds.

The pairs event was a chance for lesser-known teams to shine, given the fact that defending champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin were unable to compete due to Coughlin’s hip surgery. Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir won their first title with a flawed free skate; Castelli turned out of the SBS 3T, and Shnapir missed their side-by-side spins altogether. Their almost ten-point lead in the short program stood them in good stead. Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim have been together less than a year, but they skated well enough in their first Nationals together to take the silver. Their split triple twist was huge (they have the same coach as  Denney/Coughlin, who also have a fab twist). Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, coached by Jim Peterson and former US pairs medalist Amanda Evora, took the bronze.

I understand that a color commentator may not know as much about a given sport as the so-called play-by-play commentators, but NBC seems to specialize in finding color commentators for figure skating that know little or nothing about the sport (yeah, Tom Hammond, I’m talking about you). This latest iteration, Mike Emrick, is a well-known hockey announcer, and has the additional trait of sounding a bit like newscaster Brian Williams (I kept waiting to hear, “This is his first year at the senior rank, and in other news, Washington is still deadlocked over the budget.”) I miss the days of Unca Dick and, yes, Terry Gannon–who is a basketball player but at least tried to do his homework regarding figure skating.

I saw my first commercial for Sochi during the skating broadcasts!! Can’t wait…

The attendance in Omaha did not look great. Someone I know that was there said attendance was pretty abysmal during the week, okay on Saturday. It looked like there were a lot of empty seats for the men’s final. Oh, the State of the Skate is not too good, unfortunately.

Next up: Four Continents, February 6-11, Osaka, Japan.