US team event lineup

According to Christine Brennan at USA Today (article), the lineup for the USA in the Team Event is as follows:

Men: Jeremy Abbott SP, Jason Brown FS
Pairs: Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir
Dance: Meryl Davis/Charlie White
Ladies: Ashley Wagner SP, Gracie Gold FS

A team is only allowed to “split duties” in two of the four disciplines. I have to admit to being a bit surprised that the US is not splitting the pairs team event, since the pairs’ short program is the first of the non-team events on February 11th.

How much do you want to bet that Russia will somehow say Plushy is “injured” in the team event, and then substitute Kovtun or Voronov into the Men’s event? (A team cannot substitute due to injury during the Team event).

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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’.

Random thoughts about the Olympic skating season so far….

Apologies for not posting for a while; health issues (sigh). Let’s just say I won’t be sorry to see 2013 in the rear view mirror!! Lots has happened in the skating world, as I’m sure most of you know.

The 2013 Grand Prix season is in the books. I love that there is a competition each week from a spectator standpoint, but that has to be so hard on the skaters to do all of that travel and competition in such a short time. Also, sometimes the competitors’ list from one GP event to the next can be very inconsistent; you can have several top skaters facing off one week, and a relatively weak field the next…

Mao Asada has come back with a vengeance this season. She struggled through some rough times while tearing down and rebuilding her jump technique, and she is now reaping the benefits. The fact that she is the only woman to be doing the triple Axel right now doesn’t hurt either. She is clearly the favorite going into Sochi. Yes, I know, Yu-Na Kim will be competing too, but Zagreb aside, she’s hardly competed in the last few seasons. Asada and Kim will in all likelihood be competing for gold and silver, but there are several contenders for the bronze medal: a bevy of Baby Russians (Lipnitskaya, Sotnikova, et.al.), Kostner, Wagner, Suzuki….

Speaking of the Baby Russians, some of the early candidates are getting older now (of course, “older” is a relative term!!) Elizaveta Tuktamysheva just turned 17, and we’ve seen her struggle this year with the hormonal highway; she’s grown a lot and her jumps have suffered. She is certainly young enough to make a run at 2018 if she adjusts to her body changes, but she is going to have a rough time even making the Russian Olympic team with all of the young talent behind her.

Russian Ladies’ Nationals are going to be tough, but the world’s toughest ticket is probably a spot on the Japanese men’s team. It’s no accident that half of the competitors at the GP Final were Japanese, and Nobunari Oda replaced Daisuke Takahashi, who withdrew due to a right knee bone bruise. The fact that Yuzuru Hanyubeat Patrick Chan at the GP Final was very interesting. We all know about Chan’s sometimes “untouchable-ness” in the eyes of the judges; despite talking a good game, I’m sure Chan was a little shaken by the GP Final result. It certainly makes the Sochi men’s competition more intriguing!!

Max Aaron is obviously trying to show his artistic growth by choosing to skate to Carmen this year, a skating chestnut if ever there was one. Am I the only one thinking that this choice shows a real lack of originality?

At least NBC at least mentioned pairs in some of their Grand Prix broadcasts, but showed virtually none–BOO. Just because it’s the weakest of the American disciplines doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching in the USA.

Other tidbits:

    Evan Lysacek will not be competing at US Nationals, which is not a huge surprise given his injury problems in the last few seasons.

    NBCSN will be broadcasting many Olympic events live, which means (a) set your DVRs or (b) get up in the middle of the night to watch ūüôā !!

    Brian Boitano has come out publicly.

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….

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.

 

Looking ahead to Omaha

US Nationals start tomorrow in Omaha. I wish I were there!

Pairs:

What a mess. Let’s look at last year’s podium. Caydee Denney and John Coughlin will not be defending their title due to John’s having hip surgery in December. Both the silver and bronze medal teams from 2012 have split. Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker’s split happened so late that Brubaker did not have time to get a new partner and compete this season (Marley has retired). Amanda Evora also retired; Mark Ladwig is competing with Lindsay Davis this season. They were seventh at Skate Canada and sixth at NHK.

This could be a big opportunity for Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir and Gretchen Donlan/Andrew Speroff (2012 pewter medalists).  Former National Champion Caitlin Yankowskas will be competing with Joshua Reagan, who skated pairs last season with Ashley Cain. My goodness, is it possible for a US team to be together more than a few seasons?!

Men:

If only Jeremy Abbott could skate internationally like he skates at US Nationals. I have seen two of his three championship free skates live, and when he is on, he is mesmerizing–and can compete with the best in the world. With the exception of winning the 2008 Grand Prix Final, his international results have been fairly disappointing. Nevertheless, he is the favorite to win in Omaha. Neither Johnny Weir nor Evan Lysacek will be competing, even though that was their plan earlier in the season. Both of them have suffered injuries this year. Ross Miner landed his first quad in competition this season, so he could factor in to the medals as well.

Dance:

Obviously, Meryl Davis and Charlie White are the prohibitive favorites to take their fifth national crown. Maia and Alex Shibutani will probably take silver, although the gap between them and Davis/White is enormous.

Ladies:

When was the last time that the US had a real favorite to win Nationals? That probably has not happened since Michelle Kwan took her last national championship in 2006. Ashley Wagner won her first national title last year, and followed that with a stellar season, winning her two Grand Prix events and taking the silver at the Grand Prix Final. Two-time champion Alyssa Czisny will not skate in Omaha; she had hip surgery in June and recently dislocated that same hip. One wonders if, at age 25, her competitive career is over. Mirai Nagasu has been quite inconsistent (and has grown quite a lot physically) since winning the national title in 2008.

TV Coverage:

There is good news and bad news on the TV front for US fans: NBC will be broadcasting some of Nationals, but no short programs (I would so much rather see shorts than the exhibition!!):

2013 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships 
NBC Broadcast Schedule (all times Eastern, subject to change, check local listing)

BROADCAST DATE

EVENT

TIME (ET)

Saturday, Jan. 26

LIVE pairs free skate and free dance

3-6 p.m.

Saturday, Jan. 26

LIVE Ladies free skate

8-11 p.m.

Sunday, Jan. 27

LIVE Men’s free skate

3-5 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 2

Smucker’s Skating Spectacular

1-3 p.m.

Four Continents results

Still stewing over Comcast dropping Universal Sports, on which I could have watched Four Continents…there are several YouTube video clips here, so you can see some of the top performances.

PAIRS

FP Name Country Points SP FS
1 Wenjing SUI / Cong HAN CHN 201.83 1 1
2 Caydee DENNEY / John COUGHLIN USA 185.42 2 2
3 Mary Beth MARLEY / Rockne BRUBAKER USA 178.89 3 3
4 Meagan DUHAMEL / Eric RADFORD CAN 171.76 8 4
5 Narumi TAKAHASHI / Mervin TRAN JPN 171.11 4 5
6 Amanda EVORA / Mark LADWIG USA 167.99 5 6
7 Paige LAWRENCE / Rudi SWIEGERS CAN 158.66 6 7
8 Jessica DUBE / Sebastien WOLFE CAN 154.79 7 8
9 Yue ZHANG / Lei WANG CHN 140.24 10 9
10 Huibo DONG / Yiming WU CHN 137.91 9 10

Sui and Han are scary good for their age. They have a huge throw quad Sal (two-footed) and a quad twist! They still skate kind of “young”, but she sells the program well, and how good are they going to be with more maturity??

MEN

FPl. Name Nation Points SP FS
1 Patrick CHAN CAN 273.94 1 1
2 Daisuke TAKAHASHI JPN 244.33 3 2
3 Ross MINER USA 223.23 6 4
4 Adam RIPPON USA 221.55 7 3
5 Takahito MURA JPN 217.16 2 6
6 Denis TEN KAZ 210.03 5 7
7 Tatsuki MACHIDA JPN 208.04 4 10
8 Kevin REYNOLDS CAN 203.26 9 5
9 Misha GE UZB 196.53 11 8
10 Jinlin GUAN CHN 196.53 10 9
11 Nan SONG CHN 190.51 8 11
12 Christopher CALUZA PHI 172.60 14 12
13 Richard DORNBUSH USA 164.29 13 14
14 Jeremy TEN CAN 159.22 12 18
15 Min-Seok KIM KOR 157.14 21 13
16 Jialiang WU CHN 156.62 15 17
17 Alex Kang Chan KAM KOR 154.07 16 15
18 Abzal RAKIMGALIEV KAZ 153.63 17 16
19 Brendan KERRY AUS 144.26 23 19
20 Mark WEBSTER AUS 138.87 18 20
21 Jordan JU TPE 134.97 20 22
22 Luiz MANELLA BRA 133.07 19 24
23 Kevin ALVES BRA 132.94 22 23
24 Nicholas FERNANDEZ AUS 131.76 24 21
25 Harry Hau Yin LEE HKG FNR 25
26 Maverick EGUIA PHI FNR 26
27 Wun-Chang SHIH TPE FNR 27
28 Hwan-Jin KIM KOR FNR 28

Here’s a video of Chan’s winning free; he skated really well. To me, however, Chan’s skating lacks something. He is obviously a terrific skater, with wonderful edges, and knows the judging system inside and out (or at least his choreographer does). In my mind, though, he lacks a true feeling for the music, and he is not the natural dancer that, say, Takahashi is. Remember Michelle Kwan, how when she skated it was often like the music was flowing through her? I’ve never had that feeling watching Chan.

And here’s Takahashi’s free as well, to “Blues for Klook”. I love the way that this program builds. Let’s face it, I’ve loved watching Daisuke since I first saw him at Skate America in 2005. In this skate, he popped his first triple Axel, and he two-footed his quad, but I love his movement on the ice so much that the jumps are secondary….


DANCE

FPl. Name Nation Points SD FD
1 Tessa VIRTUE / Scott MOIR CAN 182.84 2 1
2 Meryl DAVIS / Charlie WHITE USA 179.40 1 2
3 Kaitlyn WEAVER / Andrew POJE CAN 163.26 3 3
4 Maia SHIBUTANI / Alex SHIBUTANI USA 158.29 4 4
5 Madison HUBBELL / Zachary DONOHUE USA 129.20 5 5
6 Alexandra PAUL / Mitchell ISLAM CAN 117.97 6 7
7 Xiaoyang YU / Chen WANG CHN 115.05 7 6
8 Anna NAGORNYUK / Viktor KOVALENKO UZB 107.61 9 8
9 Danielle OBRIEN / Gregory MERRIMAN AUS 105.91 8 9
10 Corenne BRUHNS / Ryan VAN NATTEN MEX 91.57 10 10
11 Cortney MANSOUR / Daryn ZHUNUSSOV KAZ 78.66 11 11

Virtue and Moir beat Davis and White. It’s all about levels here; V/M received level 4’s for six of their seven leveled elements, while D/W had level 4’s on only four of their eight leveled elements. With the two teams so close in ability, D/W need to up their levels for Nice if they hope to defend their World Championship.


LADIES

FPl. Name Nation Points SP FS
1 Ashley WAGNER USA 192.41 2 1
2 Mao ASADA JPN 188.62 1 2
3 Caroline ZHANG USA 176.18 4 3
4 Kanako MURAKAMI JPN 169.32 3 5
5 Kexin ZHANG CHN 162.59 5 4
6 Agnes ZAWADZKI USA 157.23 6 6
7 Amelie LACOSTE CAN 147.65 7 8
8 Cynthia PHANEUF CAN 147.47 8 7
9 Haruka IMAI JPN 134.49 11 9
10 Min-Jeong KWAK KOR 130.52 9 10
11 Bingwa GENG CHN 127.89 10 11
12 Victoria MUNIZ PUR 117.83 12 13
13 Alexandra NAJARRO CAN 117.11 14 12
14 Melinda WANG TPE 103.69 18 15
15 Sandra KHOPON THA 103.15 17 16
16 Qiuying ZHU CHN 102.77 16 17
17 Chantelle KERRY AUS 102.49 20 14
18 Mimi Tanasorn CHINDASOOK THA 97.19 13 22
19 Yea-Ji YUN KOR 96.85 19 19
20 Melanie SWANG THA 96.16 22 18
21 Chae-Yeon SUHR KOR 94.95 15 23
22 Lejeanne MARAIS RSA 94.34 21 21
23 Crystal KIANG TPE 93.79 23 20
24 Zhaira COSTINIANO PHI 87.26 24 24
25 Reyna HAMUI MEX FNR 25
26 Chaochih LIU TPE FNR 26
27 Mericien VENZON PHI FNR 27
28 Brittany LAU SIN FNR 28
29 Zara PASFIELD AUS FNR 29
30 Jaimee NOBBS AUS FNR 30

What a nice result for Ashley Wagner. She seems to have taken her new National Championship and run with it. This really positions her nicely for Worlds. What an uptick for Caroline Zhang as well…she skates better at Nationals than she has in years, and tops off her year with a clean skate and a bronze at FC!

Skate Canada has to send Lacoste to Worlds now, don’t they? She beat Phaneuf at Nationals, and now Four Continents (although it was hardly a resounding victory, with Lacoste 7th and Phaneuf 8th).

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 ūüėČ ), 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.