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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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.

Shpilband fired; Boston to host 2014 US Nationals

Shocking news out of Canton, Michigan; Igor Shpilband has been fired by the Arctic Figure Skating Club. The Detroit Free Press has had several articles about the firing. According to the articles, Shpilband and his coaching partner Marina Zoueva have not always seen eye-to-eye.

The June 3rd article also quoted Arctic Edge Ice Rink GM Craig O’Neill as saying, “There was (sic) a lot of issues. This has been going on for a couple of months. He’s not focused with the kids. What it came down to was  the kids didn’t want to skate there (in Canton) anymore with Igor. Either they were leaving or Igor was leaving.”

There was a comment on this same June 3rd article by Jacqui White (presumably Charlie’s mother), essentially saying that the skaters had nothing to do with the firing, but that comment appears to have been taken down as of today. The Freep had an article today stating that Davis/White and Shibutani/Shibutani will stay in Canton under Zoueva’s tutelage; no word yet from Virtue/Moir. Despite overtures from Russian figure skating, Shpilband has said that he wants to remain in Michigan, and will presumably look for another rink. I suspect news about this firing will continue to come out over the next several weeks.

Detroit Free Press links to articles about Igor Shpilband

 

Boston, Massachusetts will be the site of the 2014 US Figure Skating Championships, to be held January 5-12, 2014. Boston was chosen over St. Paul, MN and Greensboro, NC.  2014 is, of course, an Olympic year.

Ice Network press release

(Late) comments on Worlds, and post-Worlds news

I guess I was isolated from the marginalization of figure skating on American television, since up until January 1st of this year, my cable company carried Universal Sports. Comcast no longer carries that channel, so I had to pony up to watch coverage of Worlds on Ice Network. Call me old-fashioned, but I much prefer watching TV to watching my computer screen. At any rate, here are some rather late comments on the World podiums:

PAIRS
Gold – Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy, GER
Silver – Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov, RUS
Bronze – Narumi Takahashi/Mervin Tran, JPN

The gold and silver medalists come as no great shock, although V/T had to pull up from eighth place after the short after a failed death spiral. (Did anyone else think that Maxim Trankov looked a little deranged??) I can’t say I loved either of S/S’ programs this year; their free to music from “Pina” had way too many music cuts for my taste, but you can never argue with their technical prowess and commitment to their material. The bronze medalists T/T are a total shock, with such other teams in the field as Kavaguti/Smirnov, Pang/Tong, and Bazarova/Larionov. I find Takahashi/Tran kind of generic, with the exception of their quasi-Detroiter-split lift, but consistency and going mostly clean paid off when other teams made mistakes, and their reaction in the kiss & cry when they found out they had medalled was priceless!

Pang/Tong were disappointed in their finish off of the podium, although this was their first major competition of the season. Here is an article that talks about them going forward: One more dance (at least), from Chinadaily.com

I was disappointed that Kavaguti/Smirnov did not skate better, because their lovely free skate to “Clare de Lune” was my favorite pairs free program of the season. It seems that the training time missed with Smirnov’s leg injury was too much to overcome.

Good on the two American teams, Denney/Coughlin (8) and Marley/Brubaker (10), for having top-ten finishes in their first trip to Worlds (as teams, anyway; of the four skaters, only Marley has not been to Worlds before with a former partner. And that, my friends, is American pairs skating in a nutshell…sigh).

I was not sure why Duhamel/Radford were as high as they were after the short?? Dube/Wolfe continue to struggle as a partnership.

MEN
Gold – Patrick Chan, CAN
Silver – Daisuke Takahashi, JPN
Bronze – Yuzuru Hanyu, JPN

As much as I think Chan has been overmarked many times in the past several years, he did deserve to win Worlds. When you combine high PCSs (which someone on FSUniverse called “Points for Canuck Skaters”; I laugh ruefully) with two quads, you are going to distance yourself from the field even with a Waxel and a splat. Looking at the judges’ protocols for the free skate, Takahashi actually got higher component scores than Chan, which I think is correct. As I’ve said before, there’s no question that Chan is a wonderful skater: deep edges, difficult footwork, smooth and polished, usually nice runout on his jump landings (an area where Takahashi could improve). However, in my opinion, Takahashi is Chan’s equal or better in footwork, and he draws the audience into his performances like few skaters can. Also, Takahashi’s free program this year is to “Blues for Klook”, which is a difficult piece to skate to given its lack of tempo changes. It’s not easy to sustain interest with this piece, but Daisuke pulls it off as usual. I don’t know how accurate the NBC commentary was, but Tracy Wilson and Tom Hammond (don’t get me started on TH, who seems to have learned nothing about skating after commentating on it for a million years) said that Takahashi wanted to end his competitive career after Japan’s Worlds last year, but of course Worlds were not held there due to the earthquake and tsunami. Will Daisuke stay in and push to Sochi, especially given his bad knee?

Chan has parted ways with coach Christy Krall; interesting that she resigned. He will continue to train in Colorado Springs with his other coach, Kathy Johnson: Chan says split with Krall part of an “evolution”, from the Washington Post

Yuzuru Hanyu is 17, Nice Worlds were his first senior Worlds, and he is the bronze medalist. His free skate to “Romeo + Juliet” was a bit rough around the edges, but this kid has huge potential. A great jumper and far from artistically hopeless. Another superstar coming out of Japan…Takahashi and Hanru both on the podium marks the first time two Japanese men have been on the Worlds podium. Remember the days when Japan would have one decent men’s skater and one decent ladies’ skater at any given time? Those days are long gone!

I was sad to see Jeremy Abbott once again fail to carry over a brilliant performance at Nationals to Worlds. Both of his programs this year were wonderfully choreographed and positively mesmerizing, but jump mistakes cost him once again, especially in the short.

In addition to wondering if Takahashi will stay until Sochi, will Joubert? His skating hasn’t advanced at all in years–he skates on two feet way too much–but he just missed the podium in Nice.

DANCE
Gold – Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, CAN
Silver – Meryl Davis/Charlie White, USA
Bronze – Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat, FRA

I don’t know why, but I felt like the handwriting was on the wall for Davis/White after Virtue/Moir defeated them at the Four Continents Championship. Personally, I much preferred D/W’s “Der Fliedermaus” to V/M’s “Funny Face”; I felt like “Fliedermaus” was the ideal combination of technical prowess and exuberance/showmanship. I don’t know the intricacies of dance judging, but D/W received Level 3’s on a few of their elements while V/M had all Level 4’s, and V/M got higher component marks as well. Hmm. No denying that V/M’s unison is scarily good, but if there’s any dance judging experts out there, can they explain?

Disappointing finish for the Shibutanis (8) after medalling last year; great finish for Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who finish in the top ten in their first trip to Worlds.

I loved Weaver/Poje’s free dance this year, and did not flip for the mummy thing of Pechalat/Bourzat, but perhaps it’s somewhat of a lifetime achievement award for P/B, who have flirted with the podium on more than one occasion.

LADIES
Gold – Carolina Kostner, ITA
Silver – Alena Leonova, RUS
Bronze – Akiko Suzuki, JPN

First of all, Kostner absolutely deserved to win these Worlds. But what does it say about the ladies’ field that the World Champion can win without a triple Lutz? I would be curious to know when was the last time that the ladies’ champion didn’t do the Lutz, like sometime in the 1980’s?? At any rate, Kostner has had a roller coaster of a career, and I was happy for her even so. Her musical interpretation is heartfelt and genuine.

The silver must be a vindication of sorts for Leonova, who is being beseiged by all sorts of teenage wunderkinds at home. And how wonderful for Akiko Suzuki, to win a world medal at the age of 27 after her career was derailed by anorexia? I think this Worlds has one of the happiest cohorts of bronze medalists of any Worlds in recent memory.

Thank goodness that Ashley Wagner rallied from her eighth-place short program to pull up to fourth overall with a strong free skate (had it not been for that doubled loop in the short, she may have won the bronze, as Suzuki’s free beat Wagner’s by less than a point). Given Czisny’s complete disaster and 22nd-place finish, if Wagner had finished lower than sixth, the US would have had only one ladies’ spot for next year’s Worlds. Yikes. Czisny claims she is not deterred by her poor Worlds performance: Alissa Czisny on rebound, has no plans to retire…from Detroit Free Press

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 😉 ), 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.

Grand Prix Final–December 8-11, 2011–Quebec City, Quebec, Canada–Ice dancing

ICE DANCING

Pl Name Nation Points SD FD
1 Meryl DAVIS / Charlie WHITE USA 188.55 1 1
2 Tessa VIRTUE / Scott MOIR CAN 183.34 2 2
3 Nathalie PECHALAT / Fabian BOURZAT FRA 169.69 3 3
4 Kaitlyn WEAVER / Andrew POJE CAN 166.07 4 4
5 Maia SHIBUTANI / Alex SHIBUTANI USA 160.55 5 5
6 Ekaterina BOBROVA / Dmitri SOLOVIEV RUS 157.30 6 6

Well, this final was billed as the Battle of the Titans, with the current world champs Davis/White going head-to-head with the reigning Olympic champions Virtue/Moir for the first time this season. I really wanted to see who the judges would put on top if both teams skated well. Both teams did skate pretty well, but Scott Moir’s fall in the short dance meant that we will have to wait for Worlds to see who comes out on top if both teams go clean. The commentators on Universal Sports here in the US (Terry Gannon and Tanith Belbin) said it over and over, and it’s true–comparing Davis/White’s free dance to “Die Fliedermaus” and Virtue/Moir’s Audrey Hepburn/Fred Astaire number really is like comparing apples and oranges. Both free dances show off the best characteristics of their skaters. Davis and White’s free is technically packed and builds to a fast pace that they have the strong technique to handle seemingly with ease (although we all know it’s not as easy as they make it look). The Mozart also shows off Charlie’s natural exuberance. While I appreciated the technical difficulty of their tango free last year, I find this year’s free dance much more accessible. Virtue/Moir’s free shows off their great unison and chemistry, as well as Scott Moir’s wonderful back posture, which I think is the best in all of skating. I have a slight personal preference for Davis/White’s free, because it always leaves me smiling (how’s that for a scientific reason ;)?) Can’t wait to see them go at it again at Worlds. I know Marina Anissina was recently quoted as lamenting the “Americanization” of ice dance (see http://www.championat.com/other/_skating/news-977455.html for a Russian version), but if that means clean costume lines, lack of sturm and drang, and not needing pamphlets to explain the deep meaning of your programs, I’m all for it. Four of the six teams in the GPF this year were North American; it still seems unbelievable to me after so many years of Russian/former Soviet dominance. I found Nathalie Pechelat’s free dance costume mildly distracting and Ekaterina Bobrova’s extremely distracting, but in Bobrova’s case, it may be trying to distract observers from noticing how much she and her partner break at the waist when they skate (watch them; it’s unbelievable how much they both do it. Thank you for pointing that out, Tanith). I think Weaver/Poje’s free shows a great connection between them, and the Shibutanis are scary good for their age (and SO smooth).