Wednesday, January 28, 2015

2015 U.S. Nationals Post-Mortem: Most-Improved Roll Call!

I’ve got a few statistic-ish things to tide you over until I get a longer post written about 2015 U.S. Nationals:

Number of senior men who broke 200 with their total score THIS YEAR: 13. LAST YEAR: only 10. Take that, quad-hungry media!! (she says somewhat facetiously)
But we'll get to that another time.

Most notable points-gainers among the MEN between last year’s and this year’s Nats:
Silver medalist Adam Rippon (from 222.19 to 272.48)
9th place Grant Hochstein (from 198.50 to 230.28)
12th place Sean Rabbitt (from 183.34 to 211.24)

Most notable points-gainers among the LADIES:
Gold medalist Ashley Wagner (from 182.74 to 221.02)
6th place Mariah Bell (from 149.44 to 180.25)

Most notable points-gainers among the PAIRS:
5th place Calalang/Sidhu (from 151.65 to 174.32)
Gold medalists Scimeca/Knierim (from 189.67 to 210.49)
Silver medalists H.Denney/Fraizer (from 181.59 to 199.92)
Bronze medalists Kayne/O’Shea (from 173.89 to 185.31)

On this one, it’s worth mentioning that none of the 2014 podium pairs—Castelli/Shnapir, Zhang/Bartholomay, and C. Denney/Coughlin—were competing this time, and those that finished 1-2-3 this year were 4-5-6 (in the same order) last year. But also worth mentioning is that Calalang/Sidhu were all the way down in 11th a year ago.

As for the remains of those 2014 top teams? Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran finished 6th... Nate Bartholomay and his new partner, Gretchen Donlan, were 7th... and Simon Shnapir landed in 8th with new partner Dee Dee Leng.

Finally, the most notable points-gainers among the DANCE teams (sorry, I rounded these points rather than left them intact):

12th place Ponomaryova/Altukhov (from 74 to 98)
7th place Gamelin/Gamelin (from 113 to 131)
5th place Cannuscio/McManus (from 141 to 156)

As for our Top 4? Interesting story there too:

Gold medalists Chock/Bates went from 181 in ’14 to 185 this year—gain of 4 points 
Silver medalists Shibutani/Shibutani went from 170 to 181— a gain of 11 points
Bronze medalists Hubbell/Donohue went from 168 to 165— a LOSS of 3 points
Pewter medalists Hawayek/Baker went from 152 (at the Junior level) to 162—a gain of 10 points

And by the way, a special thank you to Jason Brown for making at least ONE of my podium predictions, aside from all the Dance guesses, accurate! (Only 5 for 16-- yikes!!)

How about you? Did your dream podium turn up somewhere over the weekend? Comments are welcome! As for me—whew. Still sorting all that excitement out in my head and repeated viewings of stuff, let alone via blog post! But I’ll be back with something else to say about it all in a few days.


In the meantime, European Championships have already started! Go hunt down a feed and see who’s winning!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

More 2015 U.S. Nationals Predictions: Men and Dance

Ready for some more Nationals predictions? I’ll get right to them...

MEN

GOLD: Jason Brown
SILVER: Max Aaron
BRONZE: Nathan Chen
PEWTER: Jeremy Abbott

Dark Horse: Richard Dornbush or Adam Rippon
“Nowhere” Man:  Stephen Carriere

You know which top-ranked American man has had a great season so far? NONE of them. Sure, the GP guys each had a very good program here and there, and a couple (Brown and Dornbush) even picked up a medal along the way. But I don’t look at any names on the “Bye” list of Senior male qualifiers and say Yep, he’s really on a roll.

That makes it a little tough to predict a winner in this event, so I’m playing a game of “what-do we know” instead: We know Abbott has been known to shine at Nationals like he does at no other event... but we also know he’s missed the World team completely a couple of times in the past 6 years. We know Brown doesn’t have a quad, but has finished on the podium even when missing a triple or two... his component scores are that good. We know Aaron DOES have a quad—or quads—and can light up the arena when he nails them (which isn’t a guarantee like it was a few years ago, but still...). And if you’ve followed the Nationals up-and-comers at all over the past several years, you know that 15 year-old Chen has been winning and waiting (and winning again, and waiting some more) for this, his senior Nats debut. And yes, he’s got 2 quad toes in his free skate. He was 1 for 2 with them at Pacific Sectionals.

So there’s my top four; what about the rest of the hardworking young men deserving of greatness? Both Dornbush (who may, this season, have the best pair of programs I’ve ever seen from him) and Rippon (who reportedly is debuting a new SP in Greensboro) have enjoyed the Nats podium exactly once, so we know they are at least capable of back-to-back great skates. Yes, the same can be said of Ross Miner—and Josh Farris, if you count pewter as “the podium”—but so far this year I haven’t seen either one of them come close to their best form.

Carriere was on the U.S. podium once as well—with bronze, way back in 2008—but has lingered mostly around 9th and 10th place ever since. This is why he counts as my “Nowhere” man, as I think that kind of placement counts as Nowhere when you’ve previously made it to the mountaintop. Also because no one other than the aforementioned Chen stood out for me at any of the Sectional competitions. And Chen’s been too uniformly successful to come from anywhere close to Nowhere.

DANCE
GOLD: Madison Chock/Evan Bates
SILVER: Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani
BRONZE: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
PEWTER: Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker

Dark Horse: Hawayek/Baker

This isn’t the free-for-all event you might think it to be in a year missing Davis & White, for Chock/Bates have far and away been the most successful U.S. team on the international front. As for the battle for bronze, I’m going with senior veterans Hubbell/Donohue despite being unmoved by their Gatsby free dance. But last year’s Junior Champs Hawayek/Baker already captured a GP bronze in their first season on the circuit, and have a chemistry and flow that easily sets them apart from the rest of the pack—perhaps enough to overtake Hubbell/Donohue already. That’s why they also have my Dark Horse vote.


Whether you’re following everything on Ice Network, or just the marquee groups/events on NBC this weekend, chances are good that I’ll be on Twitter at the same time... look for me @KLBSt8ofSk8, using #NC2015 on all Nats-related Tweets!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2015 U.S. Nationals Predictions: Pairs and Ladies


It’s Nationals week here in The States! Which means it’s time to break out the guesswork if you’re a skating blogger like me. And I’m changing it up a little bit this time, so pay attention:

1) For the first time, I’m making a stab at the 4th place Pewter Medalist as well as the Top 3. Because if USFS cares enough about 4th place to give it a medal, then I should care enough to predict it... am I right?? It’s also one more chance to be dead wrong about some aspect of this competition. So, there’s that.

2) Introducing... my inaugural picks for “Nowhere” skaters. Inspired by what Johnny Weir said during the NBC preview shows about there always being a skater at Nationals who “comes out of nowhere” to finish at or near the top... I’m casting a vote as to who this year’s “Nowhere” skaters might be among the men and ladies. But unlike the Dark Horse picks—who are generally longshots to win or medal, but have more “ice cred”—I’m only allowing myself ONE choice per singles discipline.

The two areas I’m guessing on today get started Thursday afternoon and evening! Are you ready? Let’s go...

PAIRS

GOLD: Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier
SILVER: Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim
BRONZE: Madeline Aaron/Max Settlage
PEWTER: Dee Dee Leng/Simon Shnapir

Dark Horse: Tarah Kayne/Daniel O’Shea

I’m going with the ones we know the most about for the podium. Denney/Frazier performed well in the GP series, earning silver at one and getting hosed out of a bronze at the other. They have better side-by-side landing consistency that most U.S. pairs teams, including Scimeca/Knierim; this is why I’m thinking silver for them (despite the promised unleashing of a quad twist in Greensboro). Reigning junior champs Aaron/Settlage had a pretty good start to their senior career (5th and 4th in the GP), so a bronze for them wouldn’t surprise me at all.

As for the “who’ll be better?” wonderings about Leng/Shnapir and Castelli/Tran... this is a tough call. What we saw of the former (on the GP circuit) was the pairs equivalent of a moderately underbaked cake, but it’s more than we saw of the latter. (For the record I watched C/T’s free skate at Eastern Sectionals -- they did mostly doubles, and had trouble on the few occasions they went to triples.) I’m picking Leng/Shnapir because they’ve already had more competitive experience, but it’s quite possible that another team will leapfrog both these teams... I’m looking at you, Tarah Kayne and Daniel O’Shea...


LADIES

GOLD: Gracie Gold
SILVER: Ashley Wagner
BRONZE: Polina Edmunds
PEWTER: Samantha Cesario

Dark Horse: Courtney Hicks or Mirai Nagasu
“Nowhere” Lady: Hannah Miller

Gracie or Ashley? It’s as tough a call as we’ll have to make at this Nationals. Gold has that never-enviable task of defending a title, plus it’s her first event back since a foot injury kept her out of the GP Final. Wagner has it even worse, I think, because it’s not about “simply” wanting a title back—it’s about redemption from last year’s Nats. She’s told the press she intends more than ever to treat this like any other competition, but try as she might, I think her history at this event (not just last year) will make that nearly impossible. If both women skate to their full potential, I’d say Wagner for the win. But I’m not convinced that will happen.

As for the bronze battle? It could be a spirited fight with a lot of contenders, but Edmunds really left her mark on this event last year. Even if she has trouble with her SP (as she did on both GP assignments this season), I think she’ll rally (also as she did on her GP assignments) and find herself on the podium after all. To me, her closest likely competitor will be Cesario... but Edmunds generally has her beat in terms of speed and jump difficulty.

My dark horse vote goes to Hicks and Nagasu, for two entirely different reasons. With Hicks you’ve got speed, powerhouse jumps (when landed), and twizzles within her footwork that put many world-class ice dancers to shame. With Nagasu you get a complete package if she fully rotates her jumps, if she skates with heart, if she’s well-trained, etc. etc. But the biggest thing about Nagasu this year is what happened with her last year. Does she come to this event with more quiet determination than ever to prove she should’ve gone to Sochi? If so, will we get yet another Lights Out performance from the 2008 champion... just to find out underrotations and edge calls did her in yet again?? Talk about a wild card...

And my out-of-“nowhere” choice Hannah Miller was tenth in ’13, ninth last year, and boasts a really strong season so far in this, her first full year at the senior level (gold and silver at two Challenger Series events). I say this is her year to make a move.

What do YOU say? (Leave a comment!)


Dance and Men’s predictions coming soon!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Blogkeeping 101: Old Commentary, New Links, and Everything In Between

Hello! Happy New Year! How are you? Is it wickedly cold where you are in the world? As I start writing this we have 11 degrees (Fahrenheit), wind, and snow showers. I like the snow showers part...

I took another inadvertently long pause with the posting, so there’s plenty to talk about. And then, of course, U.S. Nationals are almost upon us. Two senior titles defending, and two senior titles up for grabs! Who’s excited? Who’s planning on being there in Asheville? Me? No, afraid not. But I’ll be stepping up the posts (that shouldn’t be hard, huh) and following the Championship, aka Senior, division of developments both here and on Twitter. And word on the street is that commentators /fashion soulmates Tara (Lipinski) and Johnny (Weir) will be hosting a Nationals “preview” show on NBC this coming Saturday afternoon.

But before we get to all that, gotta do some blog-keeping (housekeeping for the blog). Pardon me while I go get my broom, some sponges and a whole lot of dust rags:

CONTEST WINNERS: Congratulations to Jessica of Ohio and Jean of Oregon, both of whom won a signed copy of Skating on Air in last month’s holiday giveaway! They will soon be enchanting their friends with stories of what the ABC producers did to keep Peggy Fleming afloat during her early days in the broadcast booth, or the little white lie CBS representatives told in order to start bringing video cameras backstage at the World Championships! (As always, you can get your own copy right here.) 

Grand Prix Final: I know it happened over a month ago, but here are 10 quick observations/notes I’ve gotta put out there before moving on...

1) Not that it’s worth noting, but if you were wondering how I did on those GPF predications that have been up near the top of the blog for weeks on end: Four-for-twelve, or .333 if you prefer it batting average-style. That put my GPF predictions somewhere in the middle of my best/worst event predictions (Best was 8-for-12 at Trophee Eric Bompard; worst was 2-for-12 at NHK and Cup of China)

2) Taking the good with the bad: just as Yuzuru Hanyu got his groove back with a justified GPF victory (and then again with another Japanese National title), we learned he’d be out of commission for several weeks due to necessary bladder surgery. I’m still trying to find a way to blame this on his rockem sockem collision at Cup of China. Anyway, here’s a little article about the surgery (in English) if you’re interested. 

3) Painfully predictable, but still... one of my correct GPF guesses was silver for Javier Fernandez, and indeed he flopped all over his prized “Black Betty” SP and ruined his chances for home-court victory (I think I quipped Black Betty, ram-a-DAMN on Twitter shortly thereafter). Nice comeback in the free skate, though. Wonder how glad he is that Worlds will be nowhere near Barcelona this year...

4) On the other hand, who would have guessed 27 year-old Sergei Voronov to outskate not just Maxim Kovtun, but two highly regarded Japanese men for bronze? We’re talking about a Russian man who is now in his ninth season of elite international competition; who’s only broken into the top ten at Worlds ONE TIME so far (and that was way back in 2008)! How surprising is his season?!

5) Answer: at least as surprising (if not more so) as reigning World Silver Medalist Tatsuki Machida’s retirement announcement at the conclusion of Japanese Nationals. I don’t want to dive into that one on this post, but I do want to share this commentary by Jack Gallagher in The Japan Times, declaring Machida’s decision (or at least the timing and announcement of it) to be “selfish and untimely”. What’s your take on this, or on his retirement in general? Please post it in the Comments!

6) On the other end of the spectrum was a surprise of a different kind: a highly entertaining battle between a Russian teen too young for last year’s Olympics (Elena Radionova), and a Russian teen who had too “off” a year last season to make the Olympic team (Liza Tuktamysheva). I hope both ladies, especially the seemingly overbooked Tuktamysheva, are able to keep bringing it through Euros and Worlds. I’m hard-pressed to come up with any competitors who can match their consistency this season.

7) Fun fact: Ashley Wagner’s bronze medal-winning FS earned her a score of 129.26-- which rivals, but doesn’t quite top, her personal best in international competition (a 129.52 at Worlds 2014). Do with that what you will; she had a higher overall score at Worlds and it was only good enough for 7th place. But the more important thing, perhaps, is the mental boost it surely gave her going into Nats. After last year, there’s no doubt she could use it.

8) Which in a roundabout way, brings me to Julia Lipnitskaia. What a year she’s had... and damn, she’s gotta be glad it’s over. And by “it” I mean both the year 2014 and her 2014-15 skating season. From winning an Olympic (team) Gold Medal to failing to qualify for Euros—with more than enough media keeping track of every road shift—I have three wishes for our favorite Rubberband Girl: to go home, pull the covers over her head, and sleep until next July. Hey, I think that might've been Tuktamysheva's remedy...

But before that happens, the press eked out one more update. Here it is.

I'll be back BEFORE U.S. Nationals, talking ABOUT U.S. Nationals. Good concept, eh?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Time for the 2014 "Skating on Air" Book Giveaway!!

Who wants to win a book??

‘Tis the season of giving, and I’ve still got some copies of Skating on Air: The Broadcast History of an Olympic Marquee Sport up for grabs. If you want a copy for a friend/family member, or still need one for yourself... this could be your time!


Here's how this works: 

1) This year I’m giving away two paperback copies (no Ebooks, though you can certainly find those for sale right here.)

2) If you've previously won a copy from my giveaway or someone else's, please refrain from entering this time.

3) If you win, I'll make every effort to ship it to you before Christmas (No promises on when it arrives though). And, of course, I'll sign it for you-- or for someone else if it's a gift!

4) To enter, please shoot me an email at KLawrence997-at-gmail-dot-com. Put Skating on Air 2014 Giveaway in the subject head. I'll send you back a confirmation email when I see it.

5) I plan to do the drawing NEXT FRIDAY EVENING (12/19).

Questions? Please leave 'em in the Comments.

Good luck! 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Best go to Barcelona! 2014 Grand Prix Final Preview/Predictions

What fun must it be to have made the GPF this year! I mean, how often does the competitive circuit envelop a whole new country? And such a breathtaking city?

By the time I get this finished and posted, the Junior GP events will already have started. But the Pairs SP kicks things off for the senior crew at 2:15 (Eastern Time) this afternoon. Check out this schedule... and if you want to keep score on my predictions to tease me about them in the comments later, here they are:

GPF Predictions

PAIRS:
GOLD: Stolbova/Klimov (RUS)
SILVER: Duhamel/Radford (CAN)
BRONZE: Kavaguti/Smirnov (RUS)
Dark Horse: Sui/Han (CHN)

Because... while the Canadians have the most challenging elements of the field in their arsenal (including a throw quad salchow that has yet to be landed at a GP event), I think Stol/Klim are seen as the more polished, complete package.

MEN:
GOLD: Tatsuki Machida (JPN)
SILVER: Javier Fernandez (ESP)
BRONZE: Takahito Mura (JPN)
Dark Horse: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)

Because... Javi’s dealing with a lot, competing in such a major event at home for the first time after having almost single-handedly brought this sport to Spain’s masses. Much as I’d love to think it’ll roll off his back, his semi-sloppy free skates thus far indicate he’ll be a gamble for gold here. (I still hope he wins, though. That would be beyond cool.)

DANCE:
GOLD: Weaver/Poje (CAN)
SILVER: Chock/Bates (USA)
BRONZE: Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA)
Dark Horse: Shibutani/Shibutani (USA)

Because... while Wea/Po and C/B are pretty compatible when you look at their scores from their winning GP events, I can’t see the reigning World Silver Medalists losing to anyone in this field... so long as they don’t collapse a lift or spin out of orbit on a twizzle, that is.

LADIES:
GOLD: Elena Radionova (RUS)
SILVER: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS)
BRONZE: Julia Lipnitskaia (RUS)
Dark Horse: Anna Pogorilaya (RUS)

Because... it’s a preview of Russian Nationals for a reason. And much as I’d love to see Ashley Wagner crash this particular podium party, I don’t think she can amass the kind of points needed to do so.


As always, you can follow me on Twitter @KLBSt8ofSk8... I’ll be tagging my comments with #GPF14.Enjoy the happenings as Act I of the 2014-15 skating season draws to a close!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Other Things-We-Didn't-See-Coming in Osaka: 2014 NHK Trophy in Review


I’ve decided that this year’s NHK was about surprises.

(OK, MOST of this season’s GPs were about surprises, as is often the case in a post-Olympic season, but go with me on this.)

In fact, I’ve boiled it down to TEN NHK surprises. Here they are:

1) Daisuke won!! I thought he retired?! (Oh wait, not THAT Daisuke..) OK—Murakami won!! Wow! When’s the last time she did this well?? (Oh wait, not THAT Murakami...)

The moral of this story is: if Daisuke Murakami continues to skate as solidly as he did at NHK, he might need to change his name. Poor guy. By the way, in case you were wondering (I certainly was)... his best GP finish prior to this event was 5th, at Skate America... four years ago!

2) Yuzuru Hanyu competed, only 3 weeks after slamming into a fellow human at high speed. And, while holding his own better than some might have expected, didn’t skate anywhere close to his best and finished 4th. And (thanks in part to Murakami’s unexpected victory) managed to squeak in as a qualifier for the GP Final.

Actually, only one of those three statements came as a surprise to me.

3) Eighth-place finisher Jeremy Ten (Canada), at age 25, landed his quad toe for the first time in competition—with an immediate step or three turn-out, as I recall, but landed just the same—and to follow his Twitter feed right after NHK was to know that he couldn’t care less about anything else. It was a fun thing to see.

4) Josh Farris returned to the circuit after missing his previous GP assignment due to injury, but his jumps didn’t return with him.  The look of “Oh NO, what just happened?!” On Farris’ face after the FS was pretty painful to witness. All I could think was better this happen at NHK than Nationals... I know he’s using last season’s Schindler’s List FS, but the quality of movement in his new short program (to Ed Sheeran’s “Give Me Love”) was really stunning. There’s a new maturity to his look, too. Made me really want to see him do great things at Nats.

5) On the ladies’ end of things, the door was wide open for a non-Russian teenager to (for ONCE this Fall) grab the spotlight, as well as a victory. Except they didn’t.  I know Gracie Gold won, but it was mostly on the strength of her short program. Same thing for Alena Leonova—and yes, I give her big props for proving everyone wrong yet again (including me) and delivering just when she’d been counted out of the running. But neither one skated “lights out” in the free... and those nipping at their heels after the SP either skated a little subpar (Satako Miyahara) or a little more subpar (Kanako Murakami) in the free skate.

6) Edmunds stumbles again! Just as she did at Cup of China, Polina Edmunds had a great free skate—but it was the follow-up to a meager SP, and this time she ended up nowhere near the podium. When she gets to Nats, she needs to remember her short program from a year ago rather than a couple months back...

7) Li Zijun is using “my” music for her SP! I missed watching her at Cup of China, so it was truly a surprise to hear “Waltz of the Flowers” from Nutcracker (a.k.a. the music I used for my first-ever competitive program) when she took the ice. Can that really be the first time I’ve heard someone else use it?

8) Not much of a pairs showdown, was it? Sixteen points separating the winners (Duhamel/Radford) and second place (Kavaguti/Smirnov)? And Kav/Smir actually finished behind the Chinese team of Yu/Jin in the free skate?  Guess the real showdown will be in Barcelona...

9) Penny! Nick! Noooo! Or so I wailed when Nick Buckland went down (and even had a slippery time getting back up) in the final minute of their free dance. They were in second—second!!—heading into that, with a chance to make the final. GAH. And I like this FD SO MUCH for them...

10) Nikita & new partner, Nooooo! But also a little bit of KarmaHee. Or so I gasped (and then giggled) when Sinitsina/Katsalapov collapsed and crashed on one lift in that way we always fear and seldom see... then aborted another lift altogether. I haven’t followed the Ilinikh/Katsalapov breakup as some of y’all have, but from what I gathered at Rostelecom Cup, sympathy is heavily on Ilinikh’s side. Good thing Katsalapov’s FD flop didn’t happen in the home country, huh?

So there’s NHK in a 10-point list for you.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some GPF predictions to cobble together...