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).

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’.

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.