Friday, October 21, 2016

State of the SKAM: Men and Ice Dance Predictions

If you're looking for Ladies and Pairs predictions you'll want to scroll down a bit... otherwise, here come some 2016 Skate America Men and Ice Dance predictions... 


GOLD: Shoma Uno (JPN)
SILVER: Jin Boyang (CHN)
BRONZE: Sergei Voronov (RUS)

DARK HORSE: Jason Brown (USA)

Uno made a huge splash last season… right up until he semi-tanked his Worlds FS. But his Japan Open performance a few weeks ago shows him to be in fine competitive shape. Full disclosure: I predicted Uno to win this LAST year too, and he ended up 2nd behind the then-surging Max Aaron (who I picked as a Dark Horse). I stand by my decision to stand by Uno, and it’s not even because we won’t see Aaron again until Rostelecom Cup...

I’m going with Boyang for silver as more of a “body of work” vote because, frankly, I haven’t seen him skate lately. If he lost his quad lutz/triple toe over the summer, the podium will be a different story. But dang, what a jumper.

Why Voronov over Kovtun? Because they were in the same “B” a few weeks ago and Voronov, as mildly appalled as I am that he’s using “Exogenesis” (yes, the music used by Jeremy Abbott in Sochi and a similar cut to Ashley Wagner’s current FS), must admit that he skated with quads and skated fairly clean. Kovtun, to say the least, did not. It could be an opposite story at SKAM, to be sure—neither one has been consistent of late. But that’s where I’m coming from here.

Brown always gets the component scores, and based on what I’ve seen so far this season, that hasn’t changed. As for his quad—he’s attempting it regularly now and getting closer, but still has yet to land one when it counts. Whether he does so at SKAM could make the difference between “dark horse” and “medalist”.

And for those wondering, I don’t have Adam Rippon in the podium mix for the same reasons he wasn’t in the Worlds podium mix… love his work; wish he could get that quad lutz. (Or any quad. But getting that lutz would be awesome.) Also, believe it or not Rippon is only 3 for 14 in terms of career senior GP medals… and only one of those came within the last five years. Maybe his U.S. title will change things. Can’t wait to see!


GOLD: Shibutani/Shibutani (USA)
SILVER: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
BRONZE: Guignard/Fabbri (ITA)

DARK HORSE: Bobrova/Soloviev (RUS)

Here we have the super-secretive Shib Sibs, one of the few dance teams here (maybe the only one?) that did not compete a “B” event in skating’s pre-season. As I write this, Wikipedia only has the Shibs’ FD program as “Evolution”, with all the music listed as TBD. But not to worry; they seem to be in that “they-could-skate-to-a-reading-of-the-phone-book-and-still-kill-it” phase of their career, so more power to them! Also, I hope it’s awesome because I’m choosing them to win sight unseen.

Hub/Don, on the other hand, have already put some miles on their programs this season. The hip-hop portion of their SD had about 5 more songs within its medley than I thought were necessary, but their “Love” FD medley is one I already prefer to last year’s effort. I’ve got them in second, but heard Zach has been ill this week so I guess it might be a victory for them if they simply avoid scratching the event…

And yes, I went out on a limb with my prediction for bronze… it might be wishful thinking on my part, given that the Italians’ FD music is the ever-uplifting “Pas de Deux” from Nutcracker and Bob/Solo are using the Chopin piece that will always leave me saying you should have used Manilow’s adaptation (aka “Could it Be Magic”) instead! But Guig/Fab DID win Lombardia this year, and were 4th in both their GP assignments last year, so a medal is certainly not out of the question for them…

That’s it for SKAM predictions! Follow me on Twitter (@KLBSt8ofSk8) so we can follow all the Skate America shenanigans together! 

STATE OF THE SKAM (Skate America): Ladies & Pairs

Are you ready?
Are you in Chicago, following Skate America in person?
If not, do you know when and where to follow along?

Here’s a guide (IceNetwork, NBC and Universal HD included) if you need it.

First up, Friday night… Ladies and Pairs SPs! That’s where I start with my predictions:


GOLD: Ashley Wagner (USA)
SILVER: Mai Mihara (JPN)
BRONZE: Gracie Gold (USA)

DARK HORSE: Mao Asada (JPN) or Serafima Sakhanovich (RUS)

Wagner’s senior GP history is pretty impressive, as I've said in the past: she’s made the podium 12 times (with 4 victories)… and that’s not even including 5 appearances (and 3 medals) at the GP Finals! Again, basing my SKAM predictions on what I’ve witnessed so far this season (not to mention that stunning GP pedigree of hers), I think this is Ashley’s to lose. The only thing NOT in her corner may be her own concerns about “peaking” at the wrong time. She alluded to it in her appearance on the premiere Ice Talk podcast (new from IceNetwork! Give it a listen—great content and none of the live streaming issues we’ve grown too accustomed to!)… let’s see if she seems to hold back, and how it affects her placement if she does.

If there’s an upset to be had, keep an eye out for 17 year-old GP newcomer Mai Mihara of Japan. She spent three years in the junior GP ranks, reaching the JGP last year, but it’s her recent win at Nebelhorn Trophy (over 2015 World Champ Liza Tuktamysheva, among others) that got my attention. Her triples and 3/3 combos, including a 3 lutz/3 toe, were spot on… and her artistry appears to be coming along nicely. Like the Russian ladies, the pool of top Japanese women continues to be a deep one… so whether Mihara shines for the long haul remains to be seen. But this GP season could be her breakout time for sure.
Bronze is tough. Gold is 6-for-8 (with 2 wins) on GP podiums; Asada is 17-for-20 (with 11 wins)! I’m rooting for Gold to skate well enough for this particular podium because she looked to still be haunted by the Worlds 2016 ghost at the Japan Open… she’s got to shake that off ASAP (paging Gracie’s friend Taylor Swift). BUT if she can’t get it done, Asada’s back in there. (She might be “back in there” anyway; her programs to “ Ritual Fire Dance” this season are stunners.)


GOLD: Tarasova/Morozov (RUS)
SILVER: Seguin/Bilodeau (CAN)
BRONZE: James/Cipres (FRA)

DARK HORSE: Astakhova/Rogonov (RUS)

Let me start by saying if RockerSkating’s Jackie Wong admits the SKAM pairs event is a toss-up, you know we’re all struggling on this one.

Here’s what I think I know:
+      Tarasova/Morozov finished 5th at Boston Worlds, and are bringing a quad twist into the picture this season  (debuting it at Ondrej Nepela Trophy a few weeks ago)
+      Seguin/Bilodeau were sidelined by injury late last season, but are back now and already won the Autumn Classic.
+      James/Cipres finally took home a GP medal last year, but it was at the abbreviated-due-to-tragedy Trophee Bompard. I’m sure they’re itching to still win one “outright”. Considering they finished right behind Seguin/Bilodeau at the Autumn classic, I’m most definitely rooting for this possibility.
+      Astakhova/Rogonov have yet to really dig into the senior circuit (10th at Worlds in 2014; didn’t qualify last year), but were (a distant) 2nd to Duhamel/Radford at the recent Finlandia Trophy… and probably have an above-average shot at a medal here.
+      Yes, the U.S. has three pairs teams at SKAM: Denney/Frazier (out all last season due to injury)… current national champs Kayne/O’Shea… and Castelli/Tran. All three have been through a “B” event this fall; Castelli/Tran fared best with a bronze at the Autumn Classic.
+      NO, I’m not predicting any of our teams for a medal. So… many… side-by-side… jumps…failed… by…our… pairs. That’s why. All the glorious lifts in the world won’t change this fact! Sorry if that seems harsh, but facts are facts. If one of these teams can rise above the fray (or two! Or three!), I’ll be sure to shout it from this blog next week.  

Stay tuned for Men’s and Dance predictions!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Please Allow Me to (Re)Introduce Myself....

Me and my daughter at the rink in early 2012.
She's a LOT taller now!!
Hellooooo skating fans!

It’s been so long since I completed a post, I almost feel a need to re-introduce myself. So allow me to (almost) do just that…

+      My name is Kelli, and this is my blog… established 2008.

+      I’ve been a fan of figure skating since watching Dorothy Hamill at the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics, and skated competitively myself from 1979-82.

+      I wrote a book about the broadcast history of the sport called Skating on Air, published in 2011. You might see a pic of the cover there on your screen somewhere. It’s pretty good. You should read it if you haven’t already :-)

+      I come from a family that holds sports in high regard: Dad played baseball, basketball, and football (at least 2 of the 3 at the collegiate level)… my oldest brother is a swim coach and has been to multiple Olympics on behalf of USA Swimming… one of my sisters is an official at track & field events all across the country… and my youngest brother played pro baseball for 10 years, including 6 glorious weeks in The Majors (for the Pittsburgh Pirates) in 1998. In fact, he has two teenage sons who are promising baseball players as well… and I have a niece who just a few days ago finished in the top 100 for her age group at the Chicago Marathon and qualified for next spring’s Boston Marathon! Generations of serious athletes there!
+      My husband is one of the biggest open-wheel racing fans you’ll find, and with good reason—he grew up about 10 minutes from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a.k.a. home of the INDY 500. So I consider myself an Indycar-Racing-Fan-By-Marriage. (And a sort of basketball-fan-by-marriage too, as I think it’s a Hoosier rule. Go (Butler Bull) Dawgs!)

+      I’ve got two teenage kids of my own. One is a sophomore who plays second marimba in his high school marching band; the other is a 7th-grader who studies dance (non-competitively) and is about to get fitted for her first-ever pair of pointe shoes. Neither has been bitten by the skating bug, but given what I think I know about the cost of the sport—and what I KNOW I know about the costs of their current activities—I have to say I’m relieved.

+      As for me… I’ve been known to hit a low-level freestyle session at the nearest ice rink from time to time, but those times have wound down to nearly nothing in the past few years, I’m sorry to say. There are lots of reasons, but just about all of them are boring so I won’t spill them here! My fantasy life has me getting back to the rink in the future… getting my double-jumps back AND taking up school figures again (!!), something the 11 year-old me can’t understand… and making my mark on the “adult” competitive circuit. (But don’t hold your breath for any of that—it’s a fantasy for a reason!)

+     In the real world, my time is galvanized by three things: the work I’m paid to do, the work I’m not paid to do (a.k.a. household stuff), and transporting the kids here and there and (some days it feels like) everywhere. It might be very similar to the way your time is galvanized, or used to be galvanized, or will be in the future. The caveat, in my case, is that I seem to be markedly slower at getting it all done than most people… which leaves less time for things like this blog.

+      I DO write for a living, but aside from the aforementioned book and some skating-related articles that were published about a decade ago, you probably aren’t familiar with my work because it’s largely been B2B (business-to-business) magazines the past few years.

+      In an increasingly distant life I was also part of the video industry—not just the scripts, but as a grip, a prompter operator, a director, a producer, and everything in between. No big-time stuff, but enough to give me my share of interesting anecdotes. If I get a memoir written, watch out…

So, that’s some stuff to know.
Now, just a few things to mention about STATE OF THE SKATE before I call this a blog post:

+     Despite appearances to the contrary in recent months, I very much plan to keep this blog going through the 2016-17 season and beyond (God willing).

+      Many aspects of it are outdated at the moment, both in terms of links and of appearance (mostly because, as I say, it’s been around 8 years). I know this, and hope to make improvements in the coming months. I’ll probably even solicit suggestions! Stay tuned.

+      There’s a lot to be said for developments in the figure skating world since I last updated the blog, and I hope to address many of them… but as you probably know, we are just days away now from the start of SENIOR GRAND PRIX SEASON!!!! So all that off-season/pre-season fussing will have to wait a little longer.

That’s it for now. Whether you’re a new reader looking for some wisdom along the lines of skating journalist extraordinaire Jackie Wong (yikes, tall order), or a returning reader hoping I’ll be able to help you keep all the teenage Russian and/or Japanese skating starlets apart (a viewer’s guide to such is on the table for SOTS consideration), I hope you’ll keep coming back as often as I can manage to give you reason to do so! 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Why World Silver Medalist Ashley Wagner is So Much More Than a Drought-Buster

Who does that...? ME! That’s who. Crazy people (like me).

Does that sound like something that reigning World Silver Medalist Ashley Wagner would say? It does to me. But, alas, it’s not her quote.

Let me explain.

I’m what you might call a workout-at-home aficionado, and as I result I know what exercise programs—and trainers—work me into a sweaty, drippy pulp. Currently, that trainer is Jillian Michaels. And dear ol’ Jillian has a DVD that’s been out a few years now called Ripped in 30 that I tend to use when I’m bored with the cardio discs in her Body Revolution series. And during one particularly grueling stretch of floor-based cardio (I HATE most of her floor-based moves, so I know they must be good for me) she pairs up 30 seconds of mountain climbers with 30 seconds of what I think she calls floor-jacks. Then she repeats the sequence. Ugh. UGH!

And in the middle of all this you hear her voice (because you don’t dare look up at the screen if you know the moves by now) saying “Two minutes... of cardio... in plank (position). Who does that? Who...does... that...? 

"ME! That’s who. Crazy people!

"And you bought this DVD, you fool!” she then barks, as she is prone to do. I don't remember much she says after that; I’m usually chuckling a little by this point because I get all my Jillian DVDs from my local library, you see...

But I digress. I’ll get back on track now by explaining what any of this has to do with Wagner. And I’ll start by throwing down a little research I did in the past week:

+  In the post-World War II era (1946 to present), 30 different ladies have held the U.S. National title.

+  Of those 30 ladies, 24 have gone on to win World and/or Olympic medals. (I’m not counting the Olympic team bronze won by USA in 2014... only individual medals.)

+  The six that have not done so: Laurence Owen (1961 winner who perished in the Sabena Flight 548 crash en route to Worlds; she finished 9th at Worlds the previous year)... Lorraine Hanlon (1963 winner and part of the “rebuilding” years; best finish at Worlds was 10th)... Mirai Nagasu (2008 winner; 2010 Olympics 4th, best Worlds finish to-date 7th)... Alissa Czisny (2009 & 2011 winner; best Worlds finish 5th)... Rachael Flatt (2010 winner; 2010 Olympics 7th, best Worlds finish 5th)...and Gracie Gold (2014 Olympics 4th, best Worlds finish to-date 4th).

I hope it’s needless to say this, but I list these names as a statement of history... not blame. Obviously Owen’s story is tragic, and I suspect Hanlon’s might be more interesting than anyone knows (go read her Wiki page to see what I mean). And the modern-day names... the ones who contributed to the infamous “drought”? There’s at least a dozen different things you could point to as explanation, including the rise of Japanese singles skaters, injuries on the part of the U.S. team, “mental toughness” (or lack thereof) on the part of the U.S. team, lack of competitive drive, skating in the shadow of the Kwan Era, skating during Kim Yu-Na and Mao Asada’s dominance... I’m not sure it matters.

Until a couple weeks ago, Wagner’s name was right in there with the rest of them. First she was the “almost girl” because she couldn’t quite claim that National title in her first four attempts (3rd in her ’08 senior debut, then 4th in ’09, 3rd in ’10, and 6th in ’11)... then something similar happened with the Worlds podium: four attempts in four years, with the results being 4th, 5th, 7th, and 5th, respectively.

And then came Boston.

Sometime shortly after the final results were announced (and yes, I do plan to do a more comprehensive review of those results/Worlds itself), I said something on Twitter speculating about Gracie’s FS implosion—admittedly a big exaggeration; I mean, we have seen implosions in this sport and that wasn’t one of them. But I was thinking of Gracie in 1st after the SP, and Ash in 4th... and yes, I can see the outcome being reversed had Ashley been in the lead. (And I bet Mirai Nagasu really can see it; she herself fell from 1st in the SP to 7th overall in her only other Worlds appearance.)  I also thought it worth noting that Gracie’s got a lot less experience from which to draw. When Ashley was Gracie’s age at Worlds—in 2012—she finished 4th, just as Gracie did. But that was after being 8th in the SP and rebounding with the 3rd best FS of the event (with her Black Swan program).

That actually brings me back to my original point (love it when that happens), which is this: Ashley Wagner is in a class by herself now... a true exception to The Rule. I’ll go back to my research to explain:

+  Of those 24 post-WW2 champions who went on to medal on the World and/or Olympic podium, 21 of them did so within 2 years of winning the U.S. title. Many got to the World podium the same year as their initial U.S. win; several actually medaled at Worlds and/or Olympics before nabbing that title (see Carol Heiss, Nancy Kerrigan and Sasha Cohen, to name a few).

+  Exception #1: Gretchen Merrill, who kept the U.S. title from 1943-1948 but didn’t claim her only World medal—a bronze—until 1947. In her case we’ll never know if she’d have medaled sooner... due to the war there were no World Championships between 1940-46.

+  Exception #2: Janet Lynn, who first won the U.S. title in 1969 but didn’t have a podium breakthrough on the world stage until three years later—when she won bronze both at the Olympics and at Worlds. In her case, as you might already know, her struggles with compulsory figures undercut her exceptional free skating. (Example: Lynn was 5th in figures and 1st in the free skate at 1971 Worlds—remember, there was no SP until 1973—so with figures counting 60% of the overall score, Lynn finished behind medalists Trixie Schuba, fellow American Julie Lynn Holmes, and Karen Magnussen.)

 Exception #3: Wagner. And in her case, there was no World War interference and no figures holding her down. Just some powerful determination keeping her together, over and over again.

It could be argued that Wagner is fortunate to be competing at a time in the sport when women single skaters often continue at a world-class level well into their 20s. And I guess she is. But the days of “going professional” after one Olympic cycle (maybe two, depending on the skater) are very seldom seen anymore. The opportunities just aren’t there. So they keep going—maybe longer than their body is willing, maybe longer than they have any real desire to. Are they “crazy people”, to bring back the Jillian quote I used earlier? Not likely. They’re just people, trying to (still) make something happen when the odds stack higher against them all the time.

And that’s what makes Ashley’s accomplishment so much more than simply “ending the medal drought” for the U.S. women. Her victory is, quite literally, EXCEPTIONAL. All on its own.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

When the World(s) Came to Boston: World Championship predictions pt. 2


GOLD: Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS)
SILVER: Satoko Miyahara (JPN)
BRONZE: Elena Radionova (RUS)
Dark Horse: Mao Asada (JPN)

Best U.S. finish: Gracie Gold, 4th

Here is the difference, in my book anyway, between someone I predict to finish 4th and one that I cast as the “Dark Horse”: the latter is a wild card. In this case... if Asada can put things together like she has a hundred times before, she’s a definite threat to the podium. If she skates like she has most of this season... different story.

As for our chances of “ending the drought” in terms of U.S. medals in this discipline? Yes, I think we have a chance. But I went ahead and predicted Wagner for the podium last year, and she ended up 5th. So I’m swinging the opposite way this time... simple as that J

So yes, I’ve got Medvedeva on top like so many others. I DO think there is upset potential via Miyahara, whose skating I admittedly prefer to Med’s. But any potential errors aside, I know Miyahara still has smallish jumps that are starting to (have been??) get tagged for edge calls and underrotations. She’s consistent as can be, but this may not be her year. On the other hand, Med has been on fire all year as if she knows her “moment” will expire in a few short months... and as Russian skating dynamos go, that could prove to be true. (Looking at you, Maria Sotskova.)

GOLD: Volosohzar/Trankov (RUS)
BRONZE: Duhamel/Radford (CAN)
Dark Horse: Stolbova/Klimov (RUS) and Savchenko/Massot (GER)

Top U.S. placement: Kayne/O’Shea, 7th

This is so hard!! I feel a lot more familiar with Du/Rad and Sui/Han currently than Volo/Trank (and especially “newbies” Sav/Mass), so my reasoning on this predictions goes like this:

1) Volo/Trank have about as solid a reputation as can be had in this sport (oh, and an OGM too)
2) Sui/Han looked breathtaking at 4CC a few weeks ago.
3) Du/Rad had had a tumultuous year, sometimes through no fault of their own
4) Sav/Mass fought long and hard to get the right to compete... but above all else, they’re still quite new compared to the other names mentioned here.

And FINALLY... a small wish list of things I’d really like to see in Boston
(Aside from, you know, everyone skating their best followed by fair, honest judging)

1) For Wagner to shred that SP (and Asada with her FS) like they did the first time competing with it.

2) For U.S. pair teams to land their SBS jumps.

3) For U.S. men to Find A Way to three spots again.

4) For at least one of the top 3 men to “skate like we know they can” so we’re not needing to explain the podium to our friends all off-season long

That’s all I’ve got! As usual, look for me on Twitter @ KLBSt8ofSk8!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

When the World(s) Came to Boston: World Figure Skating Predictions Pt. 1



Are you ready?? I’m not. I mean yes, I’m ready for the season-climaxing, wall-to-wall coverage that I’ve heard about both from IceNetwork and NBC Sports (if you have NBC SN, that is—and yeay, I do). But I don’t have the times embedded in my brain yet... I haven’t read a ton of practice notes... I don’t even know what color Adam’s hair is!! (No, that’s a lie. It’s brown. Still brown, pretty much like at Nationals. I think. Whew.)

For better or worse, I haven’t even looked at others’ predictions for the podium. So if these guesses I’m making for DANCE and the MEN (both of whom get started on Wednesday) look eerily like another blogger/writer/fan’s, we’re just going to have to live with it. OK? OK. Let’s get to it...

GOLD: Papadakis/Cizeron (FRA)
SILVER: Weaver/Poje (CAN)
BRONZE: Shibutani/Shibutani (USA)

Dark Horse: Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)

Let me be clear: I would enjoy a Wea/Po victory here very much... especially with the Virtue/Moir comeback looming. But seeing how exceptional the Pap/Ciz work is again makes me think they are destined to be more than one-hit wonders. As for the Shibs in the bronze spot, repeating what they did in their debut season at this event... they are ON FIRE. I want them to medal. Very, very much.

But with Cappellini/Lannote and Chock/Bates at their heels (and yes, I prefer to think of it that way than the other way around!), it won’t be easy!

Assuming I’m somehow right about the podium (the teams if not the order), I will guess Hubbell/Donohue to end up in 8th place (they were 10th last year), and Chock/Bates to take a dip down to 5th. FIFTH?? Yeah, maybe.

But if I’m wrong, remember... I go all on instinct with this discipline. (Translated: I don’t know nuttin’ ‘bout dance.)

GOLD: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
SILVER: Javier Fernandez (ESP)
BRONZE: Patrick Chan (CAN)

Dark Horse: Jin Boyang (CHN), Denis Ten (KAZ)

Best U.S. Finish: Adam Rippon, 6th

This discipline has the biggest ‘can’t wait’ moments as far as I’m concerned. Armed with so much risk/reward... and so much artistic excellence... that I’ve got (arguably) the best jumper in the event with only an outsider’s chance at medaling! But on the “risk” side is a whole mess-o-quads and triple axels (and more!), so you know as well as I do that this could go many different ways. I think I’m choosing this particular way based on the variety and consistency of performances we’ve seen this season. And I say the following to Chan in particular: keep it together, Pat. There are some highly worthy guys who might keep you from ANY spot on that podium if you blow up the SP this time. (I’m including Rippon on that unseen list... especially if he’s able to nail a quad lutz like I’ve seen and heard about in practices! Ooh that would be sweet... Sigh. But I digress.)

By the way, I’m figuring Max Aaron somewhere in the 7th-10th range and Grant Hochstein placing 11th-14th . I hope they prove me wrong and (at least) go all top 10!

More predictions (and maybe a Worlds Wish List) tomorrow!!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Five Observations from 2016 Four Continents

We’re still four weeks away from Worlds, so I’m declaring I have not yet exceeded the statute of limitations for a Four Continents review!! Hooray! Here we go...

Five Observations from Four CC 2016

1)The “Chan-pion” gets the last gloriously skated laugh... for now.
One of the biggest complaints about Patrick Chan is that he typically misses out, at least in part, on that “skating to one’s full potential” thing. Of course that’s what happens when one’s full potential is so freaking HUGE, right? But he delivered at 4CC. Mercy, did he ever. I mentioned he got his competitive groove back at Canadian Nationals, but even then, the 2nd triple-axel-in-the-free-skate thing eluded him—this, after acknowledging he needs additional content to stay competitive among the Hanyus, Jins and Fernandezes (Fernandii?) of the skating world. At 4CC, he nailed EVERYTHING, which was precisely what was necessary to come back from a 5th place SP to squeak a victory over increasingly stunning Boy Jumper Jin Boyang.

And that’s what’s notable as well: completely glorious as Chan’s FS was here, the score he received for it (203.99) still can’t touch Yuzuru Hanyu’s transcendent GPF performance from December. This is where the sport is at right now on its best days—untouchably special.

2) The U.S. guys are at it again. Or not...
The men’s SP wasn’t even over yet and I could see the tweeted headlines before they were even written: THREE SPOTS AT 2017 WORLDS FOR U.S. MEN? NOT LIKELY. And, unfortunately, they’d have a point. Max Aaron looked pained each time he finished a program at 4CC, and somewhat humiliated each time he awaited the bad news in the K&C (ultimately finishing 7th). Not a disaster—that dubious honor was reserved for Ross Miner, particularly his SP—but Aaron’s total of 220.94 would have only been good enough for 13th place at last year’s Worlds. And his score was the best of the U.S. guys in attendance; Grant Hochstein apparently fell victim to one of the strains of illness plaguing a number of competitors (see below) and skated well below his season average to finish just behind Aaron, in 8th.

So all we need by the start of Worlds is for Hochstein to get healthy again... for Aaron to relocate whatever sent him to the top at Skate America earlier in the season... and for Adam Rippon to keep doing what he does and add a consistent quad lutz to the mix.

Easy-peasy, right??

3) The Nagasu Mystique
It’s often a maddening thing to root for Mirai Nagasu. A high-ranking SP will beget a lackluster FS. A “pretty good” program will leave you wondering why it wasn’t a “great” program. And what seems like a showstopper performance will suddenly slam on the brakes when the judges have their say about edge calls and under-rotations. But here—kind of like at Nats, but even moreso, and without the pesky ripped-boot issues(!!)—Nagasu found her groove and skated right on with it to win silver behind Satoko Miyahara (who gave yet another pair of stunning performances). And for those of you wishing Nagasu could somehow find her way to the Worlds team from here, consider this factoid: in her nine years of competing at the senior level at Nats, Nagasu has only made ONE Worlds appearance to date (2010, where she finished 7th).           
4)Falls from Grace(ee).
I know that’s not how you spell her first name, but I guess I drew the short straw this time for having some headline fun with part of her name. Anyway, Gracie Gold’s downright miserable SP (and some subsequent references to her “not feeling fully prepared” for 4CC) leave one to wonder a number of things about this event. Anything from Will the timing of this competition EVER line up well with U.S. Nationals? To timing-schmiming; will Gracie EVER skate well enough long enough to build up any international momentum? I’m glad she rallied as well as she did in the FS, and I don’t really see this affecting what she does at Worlds (after all, she has yet to make it to the 4CC podium in three attempts). All I’m saying is that if the top U.S. ladies could just take a sip or two from the Mirahara (or Medvedeva, for that matter) Well of Consistency, that would be GREAT.    

5) All the highest-ranked U.S. skaters faltered, except...
Now let's see... Gold had a miserable SP, Aaron had a handful of miserable mistakes scattered across his programs, and Kayne/O’Shea were ill-at-ease all event long (or, we learned later, just plain ill in Tarah Kayne’s case). The exception to this year’s 4CC rule? The Shib Sibs, of course. I say “of course” because they appear to be riding a wave unlike any they’ve seen since maybe their first season as seniors. They did more here than hold their own; more than defeat Chock/Bates again... they defeated EVERYONE, giving Canada’s Weaver/Poje (who won bronze, behind Shibs and C/B) a disappointing end to what had to be an unsettling week... you’ve heard that Virtue/Moir plan to return to competition next year, right?

I wouldn’t have said this with much confidence in December, but can Maia and Alex be anything BUT Worlds podium contenders now?