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’.

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 🙂 !!

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.