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.

Four Continents news: Abbott withdraws

Jeremy Abbott has withdrawn from Four Continents, which starts February 9th. His place in the US contingent will be taken by Richard Dornbush. There is a lot of discussion on FS Universe about Armin Mahbahnoozadeh not getting the spot after finishing so far ahead of Dornbush at US Nationals.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Abbott has had back spasms which have affected his right hip. His coach, Yuka Sato, says he should be fine for Worlds (but what else would she say)? He will be undergoing treatment in Colorado Springs while Four Continents is going on there.

Detroit Free Press article

An article about the field expected for Four Continents:

USFSA article

Here’s hoping that Jeremy’s injury is minor. He has had a long season, and has also had to deal with his stepfather’s health issues since Nationals. I was in San Jose watching Jeremy skate live and only recently returned home. I watched his skate on TV today and could see the spectators turning around to see what the commotion was in the stands when Jeremy’s stepfather collapsed. It’s a good thing Jeremy was in the zone and not distracted by the spectators turning around, because it certainly was noticeable on television. As far as I can determine via the Internet, Mr. Scott is okay.

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.