What I took away from Boston Nationals

I had an awesome time at 2014 US Nationals in Boston. However, I could not blog from the arena; I am old-fashioned in that I do not have a smart phone. I do have an iPad, but the TD Garden wifi was impossible if there were more than 250 people in the arena. Perhaps I need to move into the 21st century ūüôā !!

Here are some of the things that I took away from the competition:

1) Jason Brown is my new favorite skater.
Jason Brown SP

I have been following skating for many years now, and I have not been this excited about seeing a skater develop since seeing a young Michelle Kwan at US Nationals in 1994. Jason is only 19, but has a fully mature artistic and musical sensibility. He only began competing the triple Axel last year, and it is looking more and more solid (although I am looking forward to his speeding up the Axel entrance, since its slowness now gives me a heart attack every time). If he gets a quad, he is going to put up monstrous scores. His components are already very high, and deservedly so. Every movement of the feet, hands, head is timed to the music, and he has a lovely back and wonderful upper-body carriage. As humble and unprepossessing as he is off of the ice, he commands the arena from the moment he takes the ice. A truly extraordinary talent, and I can’t wait to see his new programs each year.

2) Watching the greatness of Meryl Davis and Charlie White in person is a privilege.

I will be the first to admit that ice dance is my least favorite of the four disciplines, but to watch Davis and White is to truly be in the presence of greatness. Watching them on television is great, but seeing them up close is astonishing. Their power, precision, edging and speed are breathtaking. American ice dancing used to be the also-ran of the ice dance world, but years of expat coaching and talented young skaters have led to the emergence of not just the great Davis and White, but an amazing last flight of dance at US Nationals that would have been unthinkable fifteen years ago.

3) I think American singles skating will become more relevant in the coming years.

When Michelle Kwan stopped competing, US Ladies skating was without a rudder. Last year was the first year that someone successfully defended the US title since Kwan, and we had a new champion this year again. Is Gracie Gold someone that can make the American ladies a force on the world stage once more? She is only 18, and already jumps like a pro. Her artistry is not yet fully formed, but she made good strides this year. If she’s got the artistry in her, who better to bring it out than Frank Carroll? Gold is only two years removed from being the US Junior Champion, and my jaw hit the floor when this year’s junior champion, Amber Glenn, landed two triple-triple combos and a Rippon Lutz on the way to her junior title. And Polina Edmunds, 2014 Ladies’ silver medalist, is only 15 (but still has to successfully navigate the Hormonal Highway).

On the men’s side, we’ve got the aforementioned Jason Brown, Joshua Farris, Max Aaron, and two-time junior champ Nathan Chen coming up behind them. The future looks pretty bright to me.

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.