Liberty, er, Philadelphia Summer Champs 2014

Hey sk8fans, I just got my summer dose of ice by attending the nearby Philadelphia Summer Championships (PSC), held at IceWorks in Aston, PA from July 15-19. ¬†They may have changed the name, but I will always think of this competition as “Liberty”!

The field of entrants this year was not quite as star-studded as in the past; other fans and I were speculating over the reasons. Obviously it’s a post-Olympic year, which may have led to skaters getting a bit of a late start on their new programs. There was no senior pairs’ event this year, again for obvious reasons: so many US pairs have broken up, switched countries, retired, or are injured that you need a scorecard to keep track ūüė¶ . There was a junior pairs’ event, with one team competing in both the SP and FS and two other teams competing in one event each. However, out of those three teams, two were Canadian. Also, coaches and skaters pick their summer events by choosing those they consider well-run or close by. I can’t speak for the coaches/skaters, but I do know that last year, the extremely warm weather led to difficulties in keeping the ice frozen in some of the rinks at IceWorks, and that played havoc with the schedule….

Ashley Cain was at the PSC. She was on the roster to compete, but decided not to. I heard various reasons: she’s breaking in new boots, she has two GP events (Cup of China and Rostelcom) and Champs Camp coming up and needs a rest. It’s too bad she didn’t compete. Her SP this year is “Mission: Impossible” and FS is “Evita”. For more on Ashley Cain and this year’s PSC, read Lynn Rutherford’s Ice Network article .

There was again a large contingent of Canadian ladies at PSC, and Veronika Mallet won the FS with 94.74, followed by Maria Wang¬† (Washington FSC) and Roxanne Rheault (CAN). Franchesca Chiera (Panthers FSC, FL) won the SP, followed by Mallet and Rheault. Junior lady Rebecca Peng (SC of Boston) bested all female competitors with her winning Junior Ladies’ FS score of 104.78, followed by Brynne McIsaac and Elise Romola (both of Washington FSC).

The men’s field had a few more well-known names than the ladies’ event. Ross Miner, Jimmy Ma, and Alexander Aiken (who returned to competition after 18 months)¬†all skated Senior Men. Miner kept his “The Way We Were” SP from last season; his new FS is to Andrea Boccelli’s “Romanza”, choreographed by Lori Nichol. ¬†His Axels were not quite up to par, but he exhibited great flow, speed and musicality. He placed second in the SP and won the FS. Alexei Bychenko (ISR) won the SP and did not compete in the FS. The big men’s buzz at PSC was the Junior Men’s Champion Andrew Torgashev (Panthers FSC, FL). He won both the SP and FS by wide margins, and is only 13! His speed and flow was, as Unca Dick would say, first-rate. Keep an eye on this kid…

And, by the way, BOO-HISS to the referee at PSC 2014 for scheduling the Senior Men’s FS and Junior Men’s FS in different rinks at the same time! That hasn’t happened in the past several years, and I hope will not happen again.

Great to see some of the usual suspects: Gail, Andi, Margaret, Ann, Lisa, Delle, Carol. Missed you: Tonya, Teri and Elaine!

I will add a link to the Official Results page once IceWorks posts it.

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….

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.

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 fianc√© 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 ūüėČ . 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.