Last day at 2012 US Nationals

Unbelievable that this is the last day of competition; I guess time flies when you’re having fun!

The USFSA did something very strange with this year’s schedule. The first two (lowest) flights of the senior pairs’ free skate skated Saturday night, while the top two skated Sunday between two similarly-divided segments of the men’s free skate. When I asked why via Skate Radio, the technical specialist said it was “strictly because of TV”. I guess it’s not all that different to have the two middle flights of men separated by a few hours, but having the two segments of pairs on different days somehow doesn’t quite seem fair. I know the same judging panel judged both days, but it seemed very odd.

Pairs’ Free Skate

I would bet that Caydee Denney and John Coughlin were probably tired of being referred to as “national champions with their previous partners”. Now they can just be called “national champions”! They had a very strong free skate to “Nessun Dorma” that included their spectacular triple twist, a throw triple loop and a throw triple flip, and a terrific carry lift near the end of the program. They received a standing ovation and 128.82 points to win the free and make up for their third-place finish in the short, when Caydee fell on the throw 3F. Their total score of 189.70 gave them the gold medal by 3+ points, which was obviously a thrill for the pair, since they have been together less than a year.

Mary Beth Marley would easily win “most improved pairs athlete” at these championships. Last year at Nationals, she and Rockne Brubaker had only been together a few months, she had not skated pairs before, and it showed. This year, she was strong and confident (but really tiny–even smaller than her coach Jenni Meno, even when Marley is in skates!!) In fact, Mary Beth was rock-solid in the free skate; Rockne had problems on both of the SBS jump elements, falling on the 3T and turning out of the 2A. They also had a slight problem on the throw triple Sal. He was previously National Champion twice with Keauna McLaughlin, so you would not think leading after the short would put additional pressure on him. With Denney and Coughlin going clean, they were unable to hang on to their first place position after the short, but their total score of 186.07 was good enough for silver.

Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig had a rough skate. Evora’s well-documented jump problems continued; she fell on the triple toe of their planned SBS combination, turned out of the double Axel, and also stepped out of the landing of their throw triple Lutz. Both of her SBS jumps were downgraded for underrotation as well. Their total score of 178.98 was enough to take the bronze, but not enough to claim one of the US’ two World Team pairs slots. Amanda is 27, Mark is 31. One has to wonder whether they are willing to compete two more seasons to try to make the Olympic team in 2014 given that they did not make the World team this year, or whether Amanda is ready to move on with her fiancé Jeremy Barrett and Mark would like to spend more time with his wife and young son. Stay tuned. (Hot off the press: one of my friends just told me that Amanda and Jeremy’s engagement is off, and his Facebook status is single. She must have had a lot on her mind at Nats…)

The young pair of Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff have spectacular throws. The distance and height she flies is amazing. Her lift positions are clean and sharp. If they can avoid the curse of the rotating pairs partners, I think they show a lot of promise. They finished fourth.

The pair that came in sixth this week is also one to watch, if they manage to stay together. Ashley Cain also competed in junior ladies and took the silver medal behind Gracie Gold. She is quite striking on the ice, blonde and statuesque. With her partner Joshua Reagan, who is so physically well-matched with Ashley that they could be siblings, the pair stands out. It’s evident that, if she continues to improve, she will soon have to choose between singles and pairs. She’s good at both, but we have more ladies in the pipeline than pairs, so I think I would like to see her choose pairs.

Men’s Free Skate

I was quite impressed with the men’s event overall. No, we do not have a lot of men in this country that can consistently land quads, and that is a problem on the international stage, but there were so many clean skates and so much nice presentation that both the short and the long were pleasures to watch.

I am actually going to go through the last two groups of men, because there’s something to say about almost all of them. Grant Hochtein skated first in the second segment of the competition (which is to say first in the third of four flights) and was quite pleased with his skate. He had some relatively minor jump problems, but finished twelfth overall.

Jonathan Cassar was up next. If you love spread eagles, he’s your man. They are stunning. I confess that I do not recall much about his jumps (I think he had some minor difficulties) because I was waiting for the SE’s! He finished eleventh.

Scott Dyer skated in the earlier segment (“Championship Men’s Free Skate 1”) because he was 13th after the short. He skated a pretty good free to pull him up to tenth place overall. I’m sure that spectators in the arena who don’t know much about skating were puzzled when the first couple of skaters skated, yet ended up behind a skater who just appeared up on the leaderboard like magic…

I really, really like Jason Brown’s skating. He is extremely smooth and quiet on the blade, is very musical, and by all accounts is a nice kid. He’s 17 years old, the 2011 Junior Grand Prix final champion, and the 2010 US junior champion. The only “problem”? He does not yet have the triple Axel. I don’t know how close he is to getting it in practice at home. I cannot claim to have gone to every practice in San Jose, but he didn’t try a 3A in any practice that I saw. If he gets the 3A and even a quad, he will be formidable because he has good component scores for his age. I hope he continues to mature because his skating is lovely. Not really crazy about the ponytail, though….

Douglas Razzano had a good skate to tango music, which in my opinion should be banned for (1) overuse and (2) the fact that no one should have to tango alone 😉 . He popped his planned quad toe into a double, but otherwise received positive GOEs on all of his elements to finish fifth overall.

Stephen Carriere has been looking to repeat past glory without success ever since he won the bronze medal in 2008. His free skate went fine in the beginning, but a fall on the triple Axel and some other jump issues were a problem. He finished sixth.

The final flight of these championships was led off by 2011 US Junior Champion Max Aaron. He landed a beauty of a quad Sal in the short, but fell on it in the long. He had difficulties with his triple Axel and triple Lutz as well, and the lack of positive GOEs made him fall to eighth place overall, but I think he, like Jason Brown, is one to watch.

Ross Miner came out of nowhere last year to claim the bronze, but he defended the position well to win the bronze again this year. He does not have a quad, and he fell on his second triple Axel, but he is a clean, sharp skater who is pleasant to watch.

Ah, Keegan Messing. His skating always looks like he’s just on the edge of wildness (and, as someone sitting near me pointed out, he “always skates to music that involves fighting someone or something” ;)). If I look at his planned elements, I am puzzled. He has two 3 Lz combos planned. Now, I am not exactly sure of the rule: if you repeat a triple, do you have to do one of them as a stand-alone jump? It would seem from looking at the protocol sheets that you do, because Messing’s second 3Lz combo is tagged +SEQ, which is the technical specialist’s way of flagging a repeated jump for deduction (I would think it is also the designation for a true jump sequence too, so that’s why I’m not sure). If planning two Lutz combos does indeed only get you 80% of what the jump or combo is normally worth, one would think the Messing camp would have realized this well before Nationals, no? At any rate, he did not do his second triple Axel in combination, so he definitely received the repeated jumps deduction there (again, it’s hard to tell with him since he doesn’t always follow his planned elements, but his first triple Axel was, I think, a substitute for a planned quad combo, and that may have led to the repeated jump?)  Minor problems on the loop and flip and doubling the Sal did not help his score. He is an entertaining skater to watch, but is not at all graceful or lyrical. He finished 12th in the free, and 7th overall.

Armin Mahbanoozadeh had a terrific short. His free wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t enough to maintain his third place after the short. He underrotated and fell on his quad toe attempt, stepped out of his second triple Axel, and had a minor problem on the Lutz, but he did land a three-jump combo and several other good-quality jumps. However, he received no credit for the required choreographed step sequence; I’m not sure why. He had a pretty good competition and finished fourth.

Adam Rippon had a fine Nationals. I have always liked his skating, and seeing him finally land decent triple Axels was great. Interesting how program strategy works; Rippon and/or his coaches Jason Dungjen and Yuka Sato must have decided not to go for the quad Lutz, so he did a double Salchow (!?). Why would he not just do a triple Lutz instead? Well, as my friend pointed out, the Lutz is his best jump, and he does the Rippon variation with both arms over his head on his solo triple Lutz, so he didn’t want to “waste” the solo Lutz.  He had a few downgrades and underrotations that he needs to fix, but two of his three spins were level 4, and his lyrical, musical style to Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue” earned good component marks. He finished second in both the short and free to take the silver handily and make the world team.

We definitely saved the best for last. Jeremy Abbott was sublime in San Jose. If he is finally able to translate his usually great skating at Nationals to the World stage, he will medal. With the exception of underrotation on his triple loop and doubling the Sal, which truthfully did not mar his mesmerizing skate, his free program to “Exogenesis” by Muze was awesome. All of his elements with the exception of the loop received positive GOEs, and some of them were big GOEs–his innovative step sequences, his gorgeous quad toe, and his second triple Axel all had 2+ GOEs. During his skate, there was a commotion in the stands close to where we were sitting.  It turns out that Jeremy’s stepfather Allen Scott had blacked out in the stands, and he was rushed to a nearby hospital (he had lots of tests, which were negative, and last I heard was doing fine).  Jeremy rightly received huge component scores, and his total competition score of  273.58 set a new American record. Chan received over 300 points at Canadians, but Plushenko only got 261.23 in winning Euros, which shows how big Jeremy’s score was. He obviously was not told about his stepfather until after the medal ceremony, because he was joking, laughing, and smiling throughout.

News from Euros

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat won the Ice Dancing gold over Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev. Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia took the bronze.

Carolina Kostner of Italy took the Ladies’ gold medal by almost twenty points over Finn Kiira Korpi. Georgia’s Elene Gedevanishvili won the bronze.