Friday, January 5, 2018

2018 U.S. Nationals Preview/Predictions: Ice Dance

I’m somehow always surprised by the low number of dance entrants at U.S. Nationals. Interest in the sport has surely taken flight here in the past 10 years, but only six (of a possible 12) slots were claimed this year by way of the three Sectional championships to be held across the country. “Byes” account for the other seven entrants, which include the top 5 finishers from 2017 and two of last year’s junior medalists.

That adds up to 13 dance teams… two more than last year, but still even less than eligible pairs teams (16). Maybe we’ll see more little teenage Meryl-and-Charlies by 2022?

In any case, here’s my prediction for the Top Six:

GOLD—Shibutanis. I’ve already said a time or two that “Paradise” would not be my personal choice for a Coldplay Shib Sequel—not enough highs and lows; no real “excitement” a la “Fix You”—but this is one team that has NOT gone back to an old program this year, so I guess it’s here to stay. And of course they’ve been delivering it cleanly all year long, save for an oddly “off” GP Final performance. I think they’re still set for gold here.

SILVER—Hubbell/Donohue. Last Nats they bungled their FD; last Worlds they bungled their FD again when they sat with a legit chance to medal after the SP. This year’s programs by H/D are the first ones I’ve greatly enjoyed since their “I Put a Spell on You” debut. I pray the ghosts that tripped them up late last season don’t get the best of them this time. Would not mind AT ALL if they won the whole event.

BRONZE—Chock/Bates. The tough thing about these teams… I enjoy all three of them. And I definitely like the statement C/B is making with its ever-more-timely “Imagine” FD. But of the top three, I guess I just enjoy H/D and the Shibs a little bit more.

4th (PEWTER)—Hawayek/Baker. As I recall, a number of small, noticeable errors is what swung Haw/Bake down to 5th last year. But I love them. And it’s payback time.

5th Pogrebinsky/Benoit. Just flippy-floppy with the Haw/Bake placement please. Thanks.

6th McNamara/Carpenter. Because among last year’s juniors, I like their work (read: music choice) my better than the Parsons.

Be sure to check out my polls about Nationals—the newest one will be pinned to the top of my Twitter feed (@KLBSt8ofSk8).

Thursday, January 4, 2018

2018 U.S. Nationals Preview/Predictions: Men

We’ve been hearing about this event more than any other this season… three spots, countless contenders. Well, not exactly…

There are 21 men scheduled to compete; here are the names I expect to make the top ten by competition’s end:

Max Aaron
Jason Brown
Nathan Chen
Timothy Dolensky
Grant Hochstein
Alexander Johnson
Alexei Krasnozhon
Ross Miner
Adam Rippon
Vincent Zhou

And my “short list” (Top 6, AKA actual medal contenders)?

Aaron—former Nats champ who has struggled ever since, but still “brings it” at times
Brown—former Nats champ known for every skating skill under the sun EXCEPT a quad
Chen—Current champ, guy on skateboard in NBC ads, quad machine, boot-and-blade wearer-outer
Hochstein—two-time pewter medalist, struggles with consistency, engaged to Caroline Zhang aka “Bunny”
Rippon—former Nats champ, out with broken foot last year, veteran of veterans here
Zhou—Silver medalist last year, potential quad machine but overdid it in the GP season (translation- he wiped out a lot and didn’t medal)

Which leaves me with these predictions:

GOLD: Nathan Chen
SILVER: Adam Rippon
BRONZE: Vincent Zhou

DARK HORSE: Jason Brown or Max Aaron

What I hope and pray everyone has learned from earlier in the season (by “everyone” I mean coaches too) is that it’s too costly to go wild wild west with the quads. Throwing caution to the wind could, quite literally, mean throwing out your shoulder… your hip… ankle, big toe, bellybutton, WHATEVER. It’s not worth it, right? Can we all agree?

Yeah, I know… probably not. But if we could: Chen would rein it in enough to get the triple axels AND three or four quads (Ok, probably four +) and carry the rest on the strength of two very well-designed and skated programs.

Rippon would do exactly what he’s been doing all season, along with the gorgeous quad lutz we know he can do. (BTW if he misses out on the team this time I may assume the fetal position and primal scream it out for a week.)

Zhou would take it down to maybe 2 or 3 quads in the FS and let his talent shine.

And if any of the above aren’t able to deliver, Brown and Aaron better be RIGHT behind them ready to get it done. I’d love to see either of them make it too. We shall see.

Be sure to check out my polls about Nationals—the newest one will be pinned to the top of my Twitter feed (@KLBSt8ofSk8).

2018 U.S. Nationals Preview & Predictions: PAIRS

As most U.S. skating fans know already (and Olympic-year fans will soon find out), there will only be ONE pair team representing our country in South Korea. That’s because last year’s U.S. champs (Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier) did not qualify for the free skate at 2017 Worlds, leaving a very low “placement” number to add to the placement of Scimeca-Knierim/Knierim, and consequently no minimum ordinal reached to qualify two teams.

Unfortunately it’s high symbolism for the state of U.S. pair skating these days, which likely hasn’t put a team in the Worlds top 5 (let alone medal) in over a decade. I say “likely” because I haven’t the time to verify that statement via research—gotta get these pairs predictions up, then go get my teenage daughter fitted for another pair of pointe shoes, then back to at least follow Twitter as the next event shakes out (may save watching until later… so much to get done!)

All I’ll really say about the pairs as a whole is this: PLEASE hit those side-by-side jumps. The most gorgeous lifts in the world can’t really overcome a botched staple element of the discipline.

GOLD: Scimeca-Knierim/Knierim (out last year due to health issues)
SILVER: Denney/Frazier (last year’s gold medalists)
BRONZE: Stellato-Dudek/Bartholomay


NOTE: As I understand it, ONE team will be chosen for Olympics but TWO teams will be chosen for the World Championships in March.

MEN’s predictions up later today!

Also check out my polls about Nationals—the newest one will be pinned to the top of my Twitter feed (@KLBSt8ofSk8).

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018 U.S. Nationals Preview & Predictions: LADIES

Well here we are again at the crossroads of U.S. figure skating… where all-the-other-factors determining the makeup of this year’s Olympic team meet up against NATIONALS. The mother of competitions, at least in this country. (And Canada, and Japan, and Russia, and maybe a few others.)

First up this time are the LADIES… 22 in all this year, vying for three spots on the team. Who’s up to the task? I didn’t have time in this abbreviated, just-after-holidays season to do a full preview of all the skaters as I’ve done in the past. But based on what I know… also based a little on what I’ve heard about (thanks Twitter, especially Jackie Wong!)… here’s my “long list” of who’s likely to finish in the top half of the standings (alphabetical order):

Starr Andrews
Mariah Bell
Karen Chen
Polina Edmunds
Amber Glenn
Courtney Hicks
Mirai Nagasu
Bradie Tennell
Ashley Wagner
Angela Wang
Caroline Zhang

Then comes my “short list”—Top six, aka best medal contenders:

Bell—last year’s bronze medalist; struggling so far this season
Chen—last year’s gold medalist; also struggling
Nagasu—2008 U.S. Champ, 4th last year, triple axels loaded and ready
Tennell— Top 10 finish last 2 years, (surprise) Bronze at Skate America this year
Wagner—former U.S. champ and multiple medal-winner; 2016 World Silver Medalist
Zhang—three-time national medalist, 5th last year

Here’s what I’ve ended up with, and let me preface this by saying I had one set of predictions earlier in the day and then changed my mind:

GOLD: Mirai Nagasu
SILVER: Ashley Wagner
BRONZE: Bradie Tennell

DARK HORSE (for making the top 6, not to necessarily medal): Starr Andrews

I’ve been torn between these two veterans for the top spot, but not all for good reasons…

Both have been inconsistent of late.
Nagasu historically underdelivers if she manages a strong short program.
Wagner may be a couple years past her best work.
Nagasu now has a triple axel, but still struggles to get full credit for it (to say nothing for her other jumps).
Wagner is debuting a new skate at Nationals—not sure she’s ever done that before.

BUT, all things being equal, I think Nagasu’s got the edge. Yeah, it would be an extra-sweet thing to happen 10 years after her first U.S. title. Yes, it’d also be a nice “answer” to the controversy that surrounded the 2014 Olympic selections. But sentiment aside, I’m sticking with my story. Also because I don't know that any of the other ladies can defeat them this year. There hasn't been a lot of guns-ablazin' skating among the U.S. ladies lately, I'm sorry to say...

Having said that: I think bronze goes to Tennell because I don’t think she’s had time yet to feel any pressure of expectations. Unfortunately, it’s hard to say the same about Bell and Chen right now. (Zhang, by the way, is a sentimental favorite of mine who has logged nearly as much time at Nats as Nagasu and Wagner… I don’t think she can medal, but it would be very exciting if she did!)

One more important note: IF Tennell wins bronze and Chen gets, say, pewter (4th), I wouldn’t be shocked if Chen was chosen for the team over Tennell. She is, after all, last year’s champ who finished the highest of the U.S. ladies at Worlds last year (4th).

Watch this space tomorrow for pairs and men’s predictions!

Also check out my polls about Nationals—the newest one will be pinned to the top of my Twitter feed (@KLBSt8ofSk8).

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

2017 GP Final Predictions

The rapid-fire timing of these competitive events is definitely getting to me.

Skate America ended over Thanksgiving weekend, and my plans for posting about that sometimes bizarre event fell to the wayside when all the writing I postponed over Thanksgiving weekend snapped its fingers at me (if writing had fingers, that is… don’t take it too literally… I’ll move on now).

Then last week there was continued catching up to do (spoiler alert: I’m a slow writer). So still… no SkAM recap. There was some pretty big news about Russia and the upcoming Olympics, but no SkAM recap.

As I turned something in today I thought Hey, now I can finally get that SkAM recap done just before I do predictions for the GP Final! Until I was flipping through my list of upcoming recordings and found that the GP Final starts at 4:30 AM (Eastern Time) on THURSDAY, not FRIDAY. Whoopsie.

So now we launch into Plan B, or maybe Plan C: No SkAM recap for now… jump straight to GPF predictions… AND, because time is tight, no explanations on why I’ve set my predictions as I have. At least not yet.

1st: Sui/Han (CHN)
2nd Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)
3rd Savchenko/Massot (GER)
4th Duhamel/Radford (CAN)
5th Stolbova/Klimov (RUS)
6th Yu/Zhang (CHN)

1st Nathan Chen (USA)
2nd Shoma Uno (JPN)
3rd Sergei Voronov (RUS)
4th Mikhail Kolyada (RUS)
5th Adam Rippon (USA)
6th Jason Brown (USA)

1st Papdakis/Cizeron (FRA)
2nd Virtue/Moir (CAN)
3rd Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
4th Shibutanis (USA)
5th Chock/Bates (USA)
6th Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)

1st Wakaba Higuchi (JPN)
2nd Alina Zagitova (RUS)
3rd Maria Sotskova (RUS)
4th Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN)
5th Satoko Miyahara (JPN)

6th Carolina Kostner (ITA)

Friday, November 24, 2017

2017 ISU Grand Prix Round 6: Skate America Preview & Predictions

The ISU 2017-18 Grand Prix season boils down to Skate America, taking place in Lake Placid today (Friday) through Sunday. Here are my predictions:

GOLD: Nathan Chen (USA)
SILVER: Jin Boyang (CHN)
BRONZE: Adam Rippon (USA)
DARK HORSE: Sergei Voronov (RUS)
WILD CARD: Maxim Kovtun (RUS)

Depending on how many Americans tune in to NBC, Olympic Channel or IceNetwork for this year’s Skate America, this event could be a sort of “introduction” to The Kid in the Commercials. Even if Nathan doesn’t deliver every jump exactly as planned, I think he’ll prove as formidable as advertised at this event.
The only newbie to my collection of names here is Kovtun, who withdrew from events earlier in the season with a back injury, so…. Given his recent competitive history… better make that a DOUBLE wild card. (If such a thing exists.)

GOLD: Savchenko/Massot (GER)
SILVER: Duhamel/Radford (CAN)
BRONZE: Yu/Zhang (CHN)
DARK HORSE: Zabiiako/Enbert (RUS)
WILD CARD: Any U.S. pairs team at this event

News went out earlier today that Bruno Massot has finally passed all the requirements for German citizenship after several attempts, so I think it would be especially cool if that feeling of relief was demonstrated in his and Alina’s skating this weekend. But something I look to do with ALL the teams at SkAM… monitor how the side-by-side jumps are going, and how it relates to overall placement. Just a little experiment which should be particularly worthwhile given that 3 of the 8 teams in contention are Americans.

GOLD: Polina Tsurskaya (RUS)
SILVER: Ashley Wagner (USA)
BRONZE: Gabrielle Daleman (CAN)
DARK HORSE: Satoko Miyahara/ Kaori Sakomoto (both JPN)
WILD CARD: Bradie Tinnell (USA)

I’m as much of a homer as anyone, so I’d really like to see Ashley win her final time at SkAM. But Tsurskaya has the jump passes and the track record to get the win, so rather than jinx Ash’s chances… ;)
Daleman’s something of a longshot, given how she handled her SP lead at Cup of China a few weeks ago, but I still think she’s got a better shot at bronze than the Japanese women at this event. Tinnell—whose best finish at U.S.Senior Nats is 6th, in 2016—is  making her GP debut at SkAM and isn’t really “in the conversation” for PyeongChang at this point (as Ryan Bradley and others like to say ad nauseum on The Olympic Channel). But we all know stars have been born here under stranger circumstances, so…

GOLD: Shibutanis (USA)
SILVER: Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)
BRONZE: Gilles/Poirier (CAN)
DARK HORSE: Sinitsina/Katsalapov (RUS)
WILD CARD: Hawayek/Baker & Parsons/Parsons (both USA)

This seems pretty self-explanatory so I’ll just leave it there. I was going to try and explain who still had a shot at making the GPF, but I’m certain I’m not the best one for that gig. I CAN tell you that Virtue/Moir, Papdakis/Cizeron, and Chock/Bates have made the cut thus far…

FYI: NBC is scheduled to air the Men’s Free Skate LIVE on Saturday and the Ladies’ Free Skate LIVE on Sunday, both at 4PM ET. Terry Gannon, Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir—who will be the “A” team covering figure skating in February—are on hand this weekend as well.

2017 Internationaux de France Roundup

Internationaux de France was yet another stop on the 2017-18 GP circuit that brought as many head-scratching moments as it did awe-inducing performances. In fact… since there isn’t much time left until Skate America (GP stop #6) gets started, I’m ditching the discipline-by-discipline approach this time. Instead:


*  Misha Ge (UZB). “One more year,” he said. No quads, just a re-dedication to his love of the sport, we were told. What was underestimated: how much the sport would benefit from this decision. At an event where more men than ever seemed to come unglued at free skate time, Ge was serene, skated clean, and came away with something he never had before: a Grand Prix medal.

*  Yuna Shiraiwa (JPN). NHK left her in 8th place, and IFP didn’t SEEM to demonstrate that much improvement if you go by her placement (6th). But in a field of ladies’ short programs so troubled that some of us were left wondering if a curse had descended upon Grenoble, Shiraiwa’s rose enough above the fray for 3rd place. Then she also managed to hang in with the powerhouses that emerged on day 2, only faltering a bit in the final minute of her FS. In a sea of incredible 200+ total scores, Shiraiwa sat just outside the pack with 193.18. Is she considered a serious contender for those 2 Japanese Olympic spots? She should be.

*  James/Cipres (FRA). Every time I see them take the ice this season I get a little more excited about their skating, and their PyeongChang prospects. This time the GP medal they won was silver, and the place they came in on the FS portion was 1st (outskating the reigning World Bronze Medalists in the process).  Momentum much?

* Weaver/Poje (CAN). True, Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA) were nothing short of breathtaking yet again. But watching Wea/Po at this event felt a little bit like watching their career compressed into 2 days: a twizzle falter takes the otherwise-on-track-for-the-podium team down to 5th, leaving them little option but to throw themselves into their Je Suis Malade FD and hope for the best…. And in the end, they still finish off the podium. But it must feel like the world is on their side for all the love they’ve been shown. Hopefully that’ll help.


*  Many, if not most, of the quad-attempters. The early strategy talked about so frequently this season for USA’s Vincent Zhou seems to have spread to other camps, and that strategy is GO FOR ALL THE QUADS… and like spaghetti thrown against a wall, see what sticks. One little problem I have with this: skaters aren’t spaghetti. If they aren’t able to land the jump clean, I’m finding myself more eager to see their keister hit the ice than an awkward, pained attempt to keep on their feet that could very well result in an ankle injury similar to what Yuzuru Hanyu is recovering from right now. And this from the likes of Olympic medal contenders like Uno and Fernandez! Yikes! We get it, guys. Why try just one quad when you can try four? Eh, I can think of a couple reasons…

*  Meanwhile, over in the ladies side of things I see Elizaveta Tuktumysheva in a high-stakes battle of her own, not unlike the one being waged this season by USA’s Mirai Nagasu. Each is struggling to get back on their national podium after several years away from it. Each is potentially dealing with a deep pool of talented competition (though at times this GP season has tried to prove otherwise. Each has a “secret weapon” (commonly known as a triple axel) that could, if properly executed, get them the higher points they seek. But mar the jump, and the rest of the program runs the risk of having the life sucked out of it. Tukta suffered this fate in France. While she didn’t seem gutted by her performance (or lack thereof)—it’s not like she had a chance of making the Final—the wheels of Russian Nats outcomes had to be churning in her head.

* Nagasu might not have the fight for an Olympic spot that you might expect, however. Polina Edmunds received praise in Grenoble for “moving in the right direction” points-wise (finishing 16 points higher than at Finlandia Trophy), but still finished in the double digits placement wise (10th).

*  The good news for Chock/Bates part 1: they were able to profit from Wea/Po’s mistake and finish 2nd in France. Good news part 2: They’ve made the GPF for the fourth year in a row. The bad news: they are still Chock/Bates, and as Charlie White opined during Olympic Channel coverage last weekend… they just don’t seem to possess the je ne sai quoi to take them to the world podium. At least, not anymore. 

Finally, I’ll close with this note about 37 year-old British pairs skater Zoe Jones. I pointed her out in my preview post for one very obvious reason (her age). But even though she and partner Chris Boyadji struggled mightily in their GP debut, her efforts should be celebrated for a number of reasons:

1) Being a singles skater in the first act of her career, she took on a whole new, elite-level discipline of the sport incredibly late in the game. Most of the 30-something women we see competing pairs have been doing it for EONS. Not in this case.

2) Unlike 34 year-old Deanna Stellato of the U.S., she’s a mother of three—nine year-old twins and a four year old. I cannot even BEGIN to fathom competing at this level when you’re on to a whole other part of your existence (motherhood).

3) Something I learned from my FB/Twitter friend Linda Tannock McChlery (a former ladies champion for Scotland) was that Jones had the additional burden of competing in Grenoble while suffering from the flu! She and Boyadji got the GP assignment only a few weeks before it happened, and since (unfortunately) they weren’t able to secure a spot for the Olympics due to a subpar showing earlier in the season, one would reason there was little reason to knock themselves out trying to make the most of what might prove to be their only GP assignment ever. Yet that’s exactly what they—and especially SHE—did. What a story.