Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Kerrigans: A Family Shadowed

And so it began again this past week for Nancy Kerrigan.

A violent attack. Acute pain and suffering. Questions—so many questions, at least to the rest of the world. Maybe this time, the family itself already knows the answers. Maybe, in a way, they’ve known for a long time.

Daniel Kerrigan, Nancy’s father, was laid to rest this week at age 70 under circumstances still under investigation. We know this because it made headlines—about 500-600 of them, according to my last Google check. Had he simply passed away without incident, it likely still would have made headlines, particularly in the Boston area. But there’s much more to this story—things that aren’t really anyone’s business, but have become our business because of Nancy, a lady who once upon a time just wanted to do her best at the 1994 Olympics.

She did just that, but surely never anticipated the media feeding frenzy that followed… not then, not now… over things way beyond her control; things that are hard enough to deal with as is without the public eye staring her down, sensing a family tragedy too “well-timed” (because of the Olympics, and Nancy’s association with them) to be overlooked.

What do you do in a situation like that? Well, if you’re the Kerrigan Family, you issue a thoughtful statement
like this one, highlighting some of the most memorable things about their beloved patriarch, and hope it will overshadow some of the other things being reported.

We already know how strong Nancy can be in times of stunning pressure and adversity… let’s all pray that the lessons she’s been forced to learn in the past will somehow help her family in the present.

4CC’s UPDATE: This year’s Four Continents Championship is now in the books; big props to those that brought home medals…

MEN: Gold- Adam Rippon, USA
Silver- Tatsuki Machida, JPN
Bronze- Kevin Reynolds, CAN

LADIES: Gold- Mao Asada, JPN*
Silver- Akiko Suzuki, JPN*
Bronze- Caroline Zhang, USA

PAIRS: Gold- Zhang/Zhang, CHN*
Silver- McLaughlin/Brubaker, USA
Bronze- Duhamel/Buntin, CAN

DANCE: Gold- Weaver/Poje, CAN
Silver- Hann-McCurdy/Coreno, CAN
Bronze- Hubbell/Hubbell, USA

*= Also scheduled to compete in Vancouver.

I’ll be trying to watch some of these performances in the next couple days and provide more details; to my knowledge IceNetwork has no plans to add this to its archives.

For now, here’s Rippon’s EX to Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” as the
Clip of the Day.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

In an Insensitive Media World... Turn 'em Down, Flatt

Here’s the little moment that’s sticking with me from this past Saturday night; and yes, it’s as subject to interpretation as any free skate:

They were doing the post-ladies FS press conference (streaming it live on Ice Network), and as is often the case, the majority of the questions were being posed to Our New Champion (Rachael Flatt). But the tone of some of the questions concerned me, and Flatt’s attempts to answer them left me downright troubled on at least one occasion. I cannot remember the exact exchange—if requested, I’ll try to find it in the archives and transcribe it—but the vibe I got came down to this: why don’t you think people like your skating the best?

I’m not Rachael, and I won’t presume to know exactly what she must’ve been thinking. But as she answered, I thought I saw at least a glimmer of someone who at the heart of it all is a 17 year old girl who may have heard “the vibe” in even harsher tones: Why don’t people like YOU as much as they should?

Suddenly she sounded like someone on the defense as she gamely tried to explain that she, too, was disappointed that she hadn’t really put herself out there the way she wanted to just yet.

Disappointed?! On the defense??! She just WON! And it was miles from the who-can-fall-the-least mess we’ve so often seen of late. It was seven clean triple jumps, two in combination, with NO downgrades or two-foot landings. It was level 3’s and level 4’s on all the spins, spirals and footwork. It was someone who delivered the goods, and delivered them marvelously, over 11 points above all others.

Yet I got the distinct impression she felt a need to apologize for the way she is, and that upsets me. Explaining yourself when you’ve made technical errors is one thing… explaining why you didn’t bring down the house with your top-ranked performance is something else entirely.

For what it’s worth, I’ve studied the protocols for the top four ladies’ free skates (yes, checked out Cohen’s too before I realized even her PCS numbers were well below the other three)… and here’s how it breaks out by the numbers:
Jumps: Best 2axel- Nagasu (4.99)
Best 3Lutz- Flatt (6.71)
Best jump combos (total)- 27.52 (Flatt)
Top 3 triple jumps: 6.64 (Flatt’s Loop), 6.36 (Nagasu’s Flip), 5.81 (Flatt’s Salchow)…
Best spins- Nagasu: 3.43, 3.63, 4.57
Best spirals—Nagasu 4.97
Best footwork—Both Flatt and Wagner got 4.09

By the components: Best Skating Skills: Nagasu 7.86
Best Transitions: Flatt 7.50
Performance/Execution: Flatt 7.96
Best Choreography: Nagasu 7.82
Best Interpretation: Flatt 7.79

So what we’ve got, on paper at least, is a case of two skaters being pretty closely matched except for some bonus points in Rachael’s column for the triple/triple, and some debits in Mirai’s column for three different downgrades.

But since this is a sport that relies so much on the beauty/art/emotion buttons it presses in each of us… which often leads to drama…which often reaches stratospheric heights by the time of the final free skate, particularly in an Olympic year… we bask in the grace, and sometimes overlook the flaws. Even NBC’s Scott and Sandra did it this time (Hamilton admitting to the press that “he blew it”, no less).

That’s okay; but what if the draw between Flatt and Nagasu was reversed… and both ladies still skated as they did? Isn’t it a strong possibility that Flatt would have, indeed, brought down the proverbial house?

I’m not saying Nagasu simply benefited from good skating and a great draw… she earned her spot, and earned it extremely well. But in a sport where one’s performance is often directly correlated to their personality, methinks Flatt has also earned something, beyond the National title: the right for people to stop using her last name as a negative metaphor for her skating.

For the
Clip of the Day I found Rachael’s 2005 Nationals Exhibition as Novice Champion, complete with Button/Fleming/Gannon commentary. She was all of age 12 in this performance. Wonder if she was already dreaming of where she might be in five years?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Skate-By-Numbers: Nielsen Ratings for Nats, Then and Now

The all-important Nielsens are in for last Saturday’s prime time broadcast of U.S. Nationals on NBC… and here’s the scoop, according to TV By The Numbers:

9-9:30PM: 3.85 million; 0.7 rating/2 share among adults 18-49
9:30-10PM: 4.60 million; 0.9 rating/3 share
10PM-10:30: 5.89 million; 1.2 rating/4 share
10:30-11PM: 6.99 million; 1.5 rating/4 share

AVERAGE: 5.4 million; 1.1 rating/3 share

The good news: These numbers are up 38% on last year’s rating (0.8 average), and up 32% on total viewers (4.1 million average).

The not-so-good news: here are some numbers from past pre-Olympic Nationals, to put things in perspective:

1998: 11.5 rating (on ABC)
2002: 3.4 rating (on ABC Family)
2006: 4.7 rating (on ABC)

It’s a sport-wide trend, yes, and a lousy one at that—gotta wonder (and wince at) what this year’s numbers might have been like had Cohen not been there, poised to make the team.

But there are boatloads of reasons for it… some less obvious than others… and I do think steps are being taken to turn the tides, at least in some regards. Definitely a topic to explore in the off-season!

By the way, a quick mention should be made that Four Continents, which remains in my mind the N.I.T. to figure skating’s NCAA “big dance” (AKA Winter Olympics), is already underway over in South Korea. No, Yu-Na Kim isn’t there (whew)… but in a move that should still please Mr. Cinquanta, Mao Asada IS present. Except she’s in third place after the SP, close behind teammate Akiko Suzuki (in 1st) and… Amanda Dobbs? Yup, the up-and-coming American who just finished a surprise 6th at Nationals is in the medal hunt. So is Caroline Zhang (in 4th)… Alexe Gilles, down in 9th? Not so much.

I’ll get a more thorough update about 4CC later in the week.

Apropos of nearly nothing, the
Clip of the Day is JeremEEEE Abbott’s FS from 2007… I took a look because I wanted to see the differences between then and now, especially since he’s had such a relatively quick breakout to the top. His style was certainly evident back then (coming into the FS in 9th place), if not so much on his triple axel. Any thoughts?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

U.S. Nationals: Spokane Finals Frenzy!

Talk about spoiled… we get NBC covering skating for three hours yesterday afternoon, 2 more hours in prime time last night… AND 2 more hours for the exhibition this afternoon… AND a prime-time recap (I presume??)/Vancouver preview this evening? Dare I say NBC Sports has tons more on the ball currently than does its entertainment counterpart?! (Freebird, Conan! FREEBIRD!!!!) But I digress…

I haven’t watched the early groups much yet, but here are the notes I made on what I did see yesterday:


+ Belbin/Agosto: twizzles were nice. HATE the new costumes, and I’m kind of irritated by Tanith’s toss-off comment about them (“Well, this IS figure skating”). As I recall, Virtue and Moir did quite well for themselves last year in a very basic black ensemble. Come to think of it, so did Belgosto (the Chopin number, which I continue to miss)! Anyway, they seemed slow to me, but Tracy (Wilson) said they had “excellent delivery”, so what do I know. Oh, wait, here’s what I know: my interest in this number has waned since the early part of the season. Didn’t mind them getting 2nd at all.

+ Navarro/Bommentre: Poor Kim… when she lost her grip on that blade for the twizzles I wonder if she was able to process through all that spinning that they were likely NOT going to stand a chance now for Vancouver. Not that it was that close… at least I’m not sure it made the difference. I liked the story about choosing “One” because it related to their story to stay together for one more year… do wish the choreography had played into the “carry each other” line more. Ah well.

+ Chock/Zuerlin: Not too big of an impression yet; kind of struck me as Davis/White Lite. Senior debut though, so I look forward to more from them.

+ Davis/White: Okay, it’s official—I’m on board the Phantom train now. Very happy they won; it was well-deserved!

+ Samuelson/Bates: I even liked this one better than I did earlier in the season, and they weren’t my pick to make the team originally. Still, Tracy said what I’m still thinking in that this music just doesn’t have the highs and lows to really make it, um… SING.

(Disclaimer: I haven’t yet studied the protocols on any of these yet; if I’m able to find time for it this coming week, I’ll do so. Could be especially interesting this time!)

Caroline Zhang (finishing 11th): I seriously wonder if she’ll quit now; she just looks miserable out there. All. The. TIME.

Alissa Czisny (finishing 10th): Sad that she seemed to give up the program early; it was one of the weakest I’ve seen from her in a while (and if you follow her throughout the year, I’m afraid that’s saying something). Gotta wonder what it would be like if she and Ashley Wagner were roommates; they seem like polar opposites at this point…

Emily Hughes (finishing 9th): Aw, good try, grasshopper. You know… the Hughes seem like a very healthy, strong family, but nonetheless, I don’t envy her place in skating history. Seems like it would be rough to try to make your way in a sport where your sibling happens to have already snagged the most coveted prize… (unless you’re David Jenkins, that is…)
Alexe Gilles (finishing 8th): I was surprised by her lack of steam near the end … doesn’t she train at altitude in Colorado Springs? Still, hope she can overcome that in future years.

Bebe Liang (finishing 7th): Better than I’ve seen her lately; I wonder if she was simply glad not to fall this time? Nice improvement on last year (when she finished 14th). At age 21, is she done? Gotta wonder.

Amanda Dobbs (finishing 6th): Seemed very tired, but I suspect we should stay tuned… between pairs and singles this was a very impressive debut.

Christina “rhymes with WOW” Gao (finishing 5th): Oh dear, she’s getting branded with that FUTURE label already. Don’t let it get to you, Christine! The last one to carry the weight of that on her delicate back was Kimmie Meissner. Nice job, though. Will Brian Orser be a shoo-in for the PSA’s Coach of the Year honor or what??

And then the main attraction (drum roll!!!)

Sasha Cohen (finishing 4th): uh, can we re-rack that drum roll; this couldn’t have been the main attraction…

But all snarkiness aside, I agree with all those that said she showed amazing gumption and fortitude just to show up. Hat’s off to you, La Cohen, but I also agree with Sandra (Bezic)’s comment about not expecting it to be a fairy tale… you can’t just sweep in after four years and expect to slide right on up the road from Spokane to Vancouver (my words, not Sandra’s). Not that Sasha did that intentionally, but without any pesky GP events under her belt, all we (and she) had to draw on was a long-but-not-that-faded history of FS slip-ups. (By the way, did anyone last night mention the injuries that she’d cited earlier in the year? Even with all the mistakes, they seemed long forgotten.

In any event, I was willing to give her the spot if she’d held her own last night among the more challenging programs… thinking (maybe over-thinking again) maybe USFS will want to send a message to the younger girls about their inconsistencies. But I was stunned at how easy Sasha made it for viewers. And her seemingly good attitude about it all. Oh, and did you catch this irony: even if the U.S. had qualified 3 women for Vancouver, she STILL wouldn’t have made the team. My longtime concern was that she’d drum a deserving skater out of a spot, but it wasn’t even close… for her…

Which brings me to Ashley Wagner (finishing 3rd). When you might have missed out on the Olympic team because of an SP fall on a jump you haven’t fallen on in a week’s worth of practices… aaaaugh, what can I say? I loved her spirit, and how excited she was with her performance, and worried that her two-foot landings might be her undoing…
But around 4 points is what separated her final score from Nagasu’s, and about 4 points is what she lost when she took the SP tumble (OK, I DID check the protocols here… base level score on 3Lz is 6 points; she did get 3 points for rotating it but then of course lost the other 3 (plus one more) for the fall). I guess it just isn’t her time yet. *SIGH*

As for Mirai Nagasu and Rachael Flatt: looks like one of the ongoing debates about the New Judging System is already rearing its ugly head, as you can see here. That’s another issue for another post, so I’m not going to dig deep into that mess yet. Maybe later in the week… but for now, I was so happy for both girls. The order in which they should have/DID finish might be debated for a long while, but I think the most important thing is that the two best ladies at this event are going to Vancouver, and I think everyone can probably agree on that.

Can I just say how exciting it was for Nationals, in general, to rise well above the splatfest it has been all to too recently? Suddenly it wasn’t as much about “who made the least mistakes” as it was “who skated lights out”. A pretty nice thing to have happen just a month before the Olympics.

Friday, January 22, 2010

As The Calendar Turns (Towards Vancouver), Pt. 4

So much to recap…

+ Sasha breaks into the Top 10…. News items online , that is. Yes, she’s back, she practiced well, and she threw down a stunning SP Thursday night. NBC is surely relieved to at least know they’ve got a humdinger of a showdown for prime time this Saturday night… it’ll be interesting to see the numbers it brings.

+ So does the Abominableorigine dance of Domnina/Shabalin. It’s official—they’ve offended the very ones they’re paying tribute to. YahooSports is running a story with awesome quotes from a well-regarded indigenous group that appears to be a little displeased with their Original Dance…
the body paint looked like a three-year-old child had drawn it on... Probably the elders in the bush would be laughing because they would be saying, 'Look how stupid these fellas are,' he said. (Yahoo, indeed!)

+ But they still won Euros. Yeah, I know. This despite actually being outskated by the Italian team of Faiella/Scali in the OD and FD. Which means I probably haven’t been this irritated by the word “compulsories” since Trixie Schuba. (OK, I was just a toddler in ’72, but you know what I mean.)

+ So did Plushy. Yeah, I know. By 17 points. Let’s focus on something less depressing… like Spain’s Javier Fernandez, who pulled up to 8th from 13th place after getting the 6th best FS score of the night. In fact, let’s make that FS a Clip of the Day. Ah… that’s better.

+ Oh, is there a U.S. Championship still in progress? I hope all the attention heaped on La Cohen makes it easier for the other three still in the running (Nagasu, Flatt, Wagner) to focus tomorrow night. With Euros continuing across the pond this weekend , 4CCs coming up next weekend, and Canadians just ending last weekend… not to mention something coming up in Vancouver… dang, the name of it just escapes me right now…anyway, I don’t know how any one of them finds the ability to focus on a piece of gum, let alone a 4 minute minefield of a program. Sheesh.

See you sometime after Saturday night Skate Night!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Vancouver Calling: Ladies Predictions

Here’s what I know: 23 ladies were on the roster last time I looked… Yes, Sasha is among them… the week started with 24 ladies, but Angela Maxwell (who finished 8th last year) has scratched with a back injury, according to Ice Network…Alissa Czisny is the defending champion…we can only send two ladies to Olympics this year; last time that happened was 1994. Last time the U.S. won an Olympic ladies medal: 2006… last time the U.S. won a World medal: 2006.

Here’s what I don’t know: Just what sort of a factor Cohen will be. The press was reportedly there in full force today, covering her first practice, and word on the street is that she looks remarkably similar to the last time we saw her at this event: in shape, jumping solid, spinning gorgeously. She even fell on a triple flip in her SP run-through, perhaps to let us know she’s consistently inconsistent.
But especially when we haven’t seen her compete since March 2006, I’m admittedly skeptical.

Oh, and I’m also unsure of the “seniorest” lady competing this time… unless it’s finally Cohen herself (at age 25). Anyone know off-hand? How about the youngest/least senior/juniorest?

OK, pretend there’s a drum roll… Here’s how I see it:

GOLD: Rachael Flatt
SILVER: Ashley Wagner
BRONZE: Sasha Cohen

Why Flatt (age 17)? I guess because she’s had the consistency, and this season she’s shown increasing signs of having the rest of the package. Maybe it’s all the work she’s been doing with mentor Dorothy Hamill…

I picked Wagner (age 18) next because I’m fondest of her overall skating; didn’t pick her to win because of too many tech errors on the jumps of late (downgrades, 2-foot landings, etc.).

As for Cohen— I’m still not happy about her presence. I know NBC loves it, USFS loves it, Phil Hersh, Procter & Gamble…but it just rubs me the wrong way. It’ll rub all the harder if she ends up taking an Olympic spot away from another American who might be of the age where she’s considering retirement for real. But I’m just going to lean on history a little when I say I don’t believe Sasha will have what it takes, technically, to make the team. She’ll have the PCS for sure, in spades, and rightfully so. But between the maturing of some of our current “girls” (Flatt and Wagner for sure, plus Mirai Nagasu and Caroline Zhang, both age 16), and the fact that two clean skates are a miracle for dang near anyone these days, least of all Cohen… and… sorry, but that’s how I see it. (Now watch me be dead wrong.)

DARK HORSES: They. Are. EVERYWHERE. The aforementioned Zhang and Nagasu could easily be in the mix, though Zhang was looking increasingly discouraged during GP season, and the flaws in her jumping technique (not to mention stunning lack of speed) seem unlikely to be corrected since we saw her last. Emily Hughes (age 20) may be the darkest of dark horses, considering she hasn’t medaled nationally or internationally in three years. But it would be rather satisfying to see her year off of Harvard reward her in that fashion. Alexe Gilles (age 18) is another one that could sneak into the mix.

And no, didn’t forget Alissa Czisny (age 22)… just saving the proverbial best for last. Such a splendid skater, such an agonizing thing to watch her compete most of the time.Would love to see her go to Vancouver, but I picture her finishing somewhere around fourth or fifth this time.

Czisny’s Swan SP from last year’s Nationals is the
Clip of the Day

By the way, here is the Davis/White
Free Dance From 2009 since I forgot to post it yesterday. Senior CDs and Ladies’ SPs Thursday!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dance, Dance, Dance Predictions...

Remember the days when no one seemed to shift from the top spot in ice dance for at least four years?

Be it nationally (Lang/Tchernyshev, Blumberg/Seibert, Punsalan/Swallow… well, if you don’t count 1995, I mean…)

Or internationally (Torvill/Dean, B & B, Grischuk/Platov…)?

Ah, so old school. Nowadays they try to make it more competition and less coronation… or so they say. No phoning it in. No resting on laurels.

Having said all that, what will come of this year’s big dance-off? Or should I say, dance-offs??

In this corner we have B & A, Belbin/Agosto, 5-time Nationals champs looking for #6… in THAT corner we have D/W, Davis & White, reigning National champs looking to defend their title and defeat Belgosto for the first time EVER on this stage.

And… over in a separate corner… we have Navarro/Bommentre, 2-time national bronze medalists… and in THAT corner we have Samuelson/Bates, the youngest pair of the four mentioned, who happened to leapfrog N/B last year and claim national silver.

Here’s where I put my annual disclaimer: I’m no expert on ice dance. Yes, I’ve trained in dance, but it was all off-ice. The sum of what I know I can put into 3 bullet points:

+ Like jazz or classical music, I’m uneducated in this stuff… but I know what I like.
+ And I think, overall, I’ve liked previous seasons of dances better for both B/A and D/W.
+ Oh, and in interviewing a coach once, I was informed that Belbin skates with “coarse edges”. Do with that what you will.

As far as predicting this thing goes…

Gold: Davis/White
Silver: Belbin/Agosto

Bronze: Navarro/Bommentre

I’m going out on a huge limb here, but don’t hate me for it: suppose you’re a judge. You’re very fond of BOTH top teams, but when it comes time to make a choice about who’s to come out on top, you think about Vancouver.

Where the top of the dance podium is likely to be VERY crowded…

Where Belgosto could most definitely find a place. Maybe no better than silver again, but a place just the same.

But where D/W could NOT find a place… perhaps they were sent a message last year with the close shave at Worlds, and that message was Not you two… not yet.

Then you, as a judge, think If Belgosto is our best medal chance, we’d better send them a message too. That message being you’re not ready yet… you’ve got a few more weeks… clean it up. Even if it’s not necessarily true. Light a fire under them. Whatever cliché you want… but you give the National title to D/W.

And now that I’ve laid out that scenario, you know it will never unfold that way!

As for bronze, I’m not really wild about either of the contenders I mentioned… but Navarro/Bommentre will surely be retiring after this. And I prefer their choice of music (as I recall, it’s the U2/Mary J. Blige duet of “One”); we need more Bono in ice dancing anyway, don’t we? So there you go.

Again, please remember: I’m not an expert in ice dance. And heaven knows, judging in ice dancing is entirely about expertise…


Monday, January 18, 2010

Last Notes for Week 1, Then We Move On...

So we keep on running from here, don’t we? The lower-level events simmer along at U.S. Nationals for a few days before the elites return to action on Thursday… meanwhile up north, the entire Canadian Olympic FS Team has been decided (which I’ll try to talk about in some detail soon)… and according to my notes, Euros start Tuesday… yee-ha!

I’d better make my remaining comments short and sweet then…

About PAIRS:

+ I saw waaay too many ugly catch-foot (?) death spirals over the weekend, reflecting a grumble I’ve had with pairs ‘additional point’ elements all season. Can we all pray the ISU sees the error of its ways and eliminates this option soon? As it stands, I look forward to Dick Button having a field day with this at the Olympics. (I’ve heard he’ll be Bob Costas’ “special guest”, as he has been previously.)

+ About Inoue/Baldwin’s performance Saturday: as Scotty would say (and may have anyway), “Nicely done.” As I indicated Saturday, her landing the throw triple axel was a fitting way to go out. Were they robbed by those who preferred Evora/Ladwig? I tend to think not, though admittedly I haven’t studied either’s free skate (or their scores) since Saturday. All I can say with any certainty is that if a guy can’t even bother to TRY the SBS triple toe after 20+ years of competition… let alone land it… I just can’t muster up a whole lotta sympathy.

+ As for all the headlines shouting
This Might Be It for Inoue & Baldwin, and their reported declining to be named to 4CC’s (or to be the pairs’ alternate for Worlds)…I think that’s the right call. They’ve done both those events umpteen times; why not go out on the relatively high note they struck in Spokane? I just hope the bitterness I’ve read about on Baldwin’s part is exaggerated. I know he’s had a long (and probably, at times, exasperating) relationship with U.S. Figure Skating, but that’s no way to go out the door. (Or if it can’t be helped, at least don’t go airing dirty skating costumes with the media.)

+ Man, do I wish Castile/Okolski could get back to their 2007 glory. What a lovely pair to watch. I’ll be curious to hear if they remain “eligible” after this season.

+ Pairs to watch next season: Castelli/Shnapir, Dobbs/Jacobsen, Aaron/Cohen, and Tanovich/Chau (the tiny ones).

About THE MEN:

+ If it isn’t enough to be excited about our top guys right now, how about getting excited about The Next Generation? Rippon is the most noticeable (and successful) of them this year, but I look forward to checking out the free skates of Grant Hochstein, Keegan Messing, and Jonathan Cassar. And to think Ross Miner (last year’s Junior champ) wasn’t even there!

+ Oh, and I think I’m going to follow his own lead and nickname Armin Mahbanoozadeh “Armin Hammer” (apparently that’s what he goes by on Twitter). Cuuute. By the way, don’t be fooled by his subpar free skate yesterday… sounds like he was skating in quite a bit of pain.

+ With Bradley as the top U.S. guy going to 4CC’s… apparently now seen by the U.S. (if not others) as the N.I.T. to the NCAA “March Madness”… I actually have a reason to watch, and cheer. He hasn’t always had my full support (and I’m sure he’s all broken up about it), but I hope he does splendidly.

+ One more thing, and I swear I’m not as old as I’m about to sound: Have half these guys forgotten how to get a haircut?? Adam Rippon, and Charlie White… you know I’m not talking to you guys. Never ever. You’re lovely. You may go now. The rest of you… those who seem to think the tousled, overgrown look is Da Bomb… bzzzzzz (that’s the sound of me firing up some electric scissors)

Dance predictions tomorrow!!!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Nats Free Skate-- Random Thoughts...

Just a few things to say tonight before I hit the hay…

+ JeremEEEEEEEEEE!!! Can you kindly bottle up both of your performances in Spokane and send them up over the border in a few weeks? Absolutely stunning. (BTW, didn’t he change his shirt yet again?? I wonder why he didn’t go with one of the suggestions I posted
here last month…

+ Ditto for Denney/Barrett, who skated even better than I anticipated (and I picked them to win!). Though I doubt they’ll get the scores in Vancouver they deserve, even if they skate clean, I’m more excited about them than I’ve been for any U.S. pairs team in a mighty long while.

+ My kids were rather crushed that Ryan Bradley didn’t make the cut… the current clown prince of figure skating has two new fans after that pretty splendid free skate. What a shame… and with an impressive 3-for-3 on those quads, he’s proof positive that you need MORE. Of course in his case, “more” simply meant turning some doubles into triples…oy.

+ I must say that between Lysacek’s feathers in the SP and Weir’s fur in the FS, I’m liking Abbot’s costume changes more and more.

That’s it for now. Great show everyone!!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Short Program Notes from U.S. Nats: Week 1

Some notes I took while watching the SPs yesterday:

+ Castile/Okolski blew their SBS 3Salchow completely. Currently in 5th… actually not too bad for them.

+ Denney/Barrett—that death spiral’s gotta go, but otherwise—NICE! Currently in 1st.

+ Inoue/Baldwin—irony alert: their SBS jump (a 2ax, not 3T) was one of their best elements with a very nice exit. Who’d of known their SBS spin would be such a hot mess? And, sigh, another fall on the throw 3 ax. I actually hope they land it in the finals… it would be a nice way to go out. (Shhh… I didn’t say that.) Currently in 4th.

+ McLaughlin/Brubaker—over on Laura’s splendid Required Elements blog, I saw a Tweet from McLaughlin prior to the event that said “Let’s do this.” If THAT was “this”, guys, please don’t do that again. EVER. Currently in 7th.

+ Yankow/Coughlin—Really nice effort for them. They did well in the short last year but then couldn’t follow-up in the free skate, so I hope things are different for them this time. Currently in 2nd.

+ Evora/Ladwig—Not clean by any stretch, but not a disaster either… and that was good enough yesterday. Currently in 3rd.

As for the men…

+ Weir—clean jumps by and large, good job, vogue, vogue, strike a pose… (hey, I’m just typing up what I wrote.) Currently 3rd.

+ Abbott—BEAUTY!!!! Currently 1st. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make some errors today. Sounds like neither he nor Lysacek really want to win this event so much as make the team… I think they fear peaking too soon (still). Maybe that means Weir will get his title back?

+ Bradley— too bad going for the quad combo apparently meant sacrificing his other two jumps. (Has he been hanging with Tomas Verner lately?) Oh, and, um, Ryan… your points called, and said they’d like to be taken off the table now. Currently 6th.

+ Lysacek—the FireCondor routine was essentially par for the course (ca-CAW!), and that flipout on the 3Ax was bound to happen sooner or later. Currently 2nd.

+ Mroz—not much to say here, except that, um, Brandon… Ryan Bradley’s double axel pop called, and said thanks for making him look good. Currently 10th.

+ Mahbanoozadeh—Was that clean? It WAS clean! I may have to start working on his nickname again… BahhhNOOOZ… Currently 5th.

+ Rippon—Yay… YAY!!... (gasp) Oh nooooo… please don’t cry… at least you didn’t crash into the wall, go over it, and land in the camera pit…Currently 4th.

Do the top three guys have it locked up already, with so many points between Weir and Rippon? Will we be sending two young pairs to Vancouver, or just one? Stay tuned…!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Vancouver Calling... U.S. Men's Edition

Showtimes... we've got showtimes...

UNIVERSAL SPORTS THIS WEEKEND (Not including repeats):

Sat. Jan. 16 12:30a-2:30a (Mens & Pairs Short)

NBC This Weekend:

Sat. Jan. 16 4:30-6 LIVE (Pairs Long)

Sun. Jan. 17 4:30-6 LIVE (Mens Long)

Here’s what I know: 15 guys from last year’s Seniors have returned… 5 guys were in Juniors last year (and have moved up), though 2009's Junior Champion (Ross Miner) has already withdrawn with a sprained ankle…Jeremy Abbott is the defending champion… we can send three men to the Olympics, as we did in 2006. Last time the U.S. won an Olympic men’s medal: 2002… last time the U.S. won a World men’s medal: 2009.

Bonus trivia I just discovered:
Jeremy Abbott and Evan Lysacek are only one DAY apart in age… Lysacek born 6/4/85; Abbott born 6/5/85.

Here’s what I don’t know:
What became of Eliot Halverson? I see that he’s not here because he finished 5th at Sectionals, but don’t know details beyond that.

Here’s how I see it:

GOLD: Evan Lysacek
SILVER: Jeremy Abbott
BRONZE: Ryan Bradley

Lysacek (now age 24) isn’t my favorite, to be blunt, if only because I don’t care for his style of skating the way I do others. But he’s the reigning world champion for a reason, and so far he seems to be handling the responsibility of that title with conviction and pleasure. Who IS my favorite, as far as those that seem most likely to go to Vancouver? That would be JeremEEE, (also age 24) who I shall continue to say with the extra EEEs even though he hasn’t been quite as “on fire” this season as he was last. Then again, he’s more obsessed with the don’t-peak-too-early adage than most (probably with good reason), so a successful defense of his title isn’t out of the question. As for Bradley (age 26), well, I’ve got a little confession to make. When I wrote this post earlier in the day I had Bradley at “dark horse” status. But then I decided my predictions were too, well, predictable. If Bradley’s set to stuff his program with quads, I’ll take that risky ride with him… as only a skating blogger can.

DARK HORSES: Johnny Weir (age 25)? Dark horse? Well…I think he’s learned from last year and will put up a decent enough fight… but as I’ve said before, I don’t think his skating has grown over the past couple of years the way Abbott’s and Lysacek’s has. Consistency has returned somewhat, and that’s a very important thing, but in looking at this
Clip of the Day from his win in St. Louis in ’06… I guess I think he was better then than he is now. Can’t necessarily say that for my top three.. (By the way, Abbott didn’t even get out of Senior Sectionals in ’06!) Adam Rippon has progressed very nicely this year, but at age 20 he’s got more work to do, and more time in which to do it. Brandon Mroz (age 19), he of last year’s surprise silver medal at this event, hasn’t had a great year so far. He could still be a spoiler this year, especially if he hits his quad, but I have my doubts. Stephen Carriere (age 20) has been even less impressive than Mroz this season. I don’t rule him out for a future return to the podium, but I don’t think this will be his year. Parker Pennington (now age 25) is a veteran and a sentimental favorite to perhaps turn in his best finish ever… to date, his best was 6th place, all the way back in 2003… but I don’t see him challenging much beyond that.

So those are my thoughts… what are yours?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Vancouver Calling: Who's In? (U.S. Pairs Predictions)

U.S. Nationals prediction time is upon us again… so let’s start with the PAIRS!

Here’s what I know: Ten teams from last year have returned… one is a pair-up from two ex-teams (one-half of which is Tiffany Vise; her partner Derek Trent has now retired)… one guy is back with someone who didn’t compete here last year…McLaughlin/Brubaker are the defending champions…we can only send two teams to Olympics this year, same as in 2006. Last time the U.S. won an Olympic pairs medal: 1988… last time the U.S. won a World medal: 2002.

Here’s what I don’t know: Why there are only 16 teams competing this year when 19 came to this event last year. Please comment if you know… I’m curious.

Here’s how I see it:

GOLD: Caydee Denney & Jeremy Barrett
SILVER: Keauna McLaughlin & Rockne Brubaker
BRONZE: Rena Inoue & John Baldwin

I’m still fond of McBru; don’t get me wrong. But to me, Denney/Barrett are not only our team of the future, but the best team RIGHT NOW. They were a surprise last year, but have been extremely impressive since then at Worlds as well as both GP assignments this past Fall. The biggest surprise from them would be if they blow it. I’m sure their PCS’s aren’t as high yet as some of the more experienced teams, but I think they are coming along fine in that regard… and certainly have the content and consistency that no other U.S. team has right now. McBru will likely beat them if they skate clean, trouble is, I haven’t seen much of that lately from them. And as for John “my God he’s almost as old as my husband” Baldwin and his lovely bride-to-be… as always, if they can nail the throw triple axel they could well bank 2 more Olympic tickets. But then there’s the SBS triple toes, and SBS double axels, and, um…

DARK HORSES: Brooke Castile & Benjamin Okolski have done some lovely skating in the past, including win this crazy thing in 2007, but their one GP outing a couple months back was not a good one. Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig have been knocking on the podium’s door for a few years now. And Caitlin Yankowskas & John Coughlin were a great SP surprise last year that imploded in the free skate. If they can get it together a little better this year, who knows?

For the
Clip of the Day we’ll hit the Wayback Machine (was it really FOUR years ago?) to show Inoue/Baldwin’s victorious free skate that got them to Torino.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Something Old, Something New, Something Sent By Ryan Jahnke Too

This may well be the last roundup-type post I make for a couple of weeks, as Nationals are about to take over any idle space left in the always-percolating brains of bloggers like me for the next couple of weeks. So I might as use this opportunity to tell you that I’m not likely to get any predictions out this year for Euros (which start a week from now). Craziness continues over here as I continue to get my aforementioned “big project” wrapped up, so frankly I’ll be doing well to make predictions for the action in Spokane!

What else shall we talk about?

+ It's fairly old news by now, but speaking of Spokane… it looks to be a sort of Homecoming celebration as well, with ALL U.S. Olympic Gold Medalists—from Dick Button to Sarah Hughes, that amounts to a mere dozen men and women—showing up for an “on-ice presentation” followed by a fundraising dinner. What a sight that’s bound to be! You can read more about it in the
International Figure Skating article found here.

+ And this may be even older news: according to numerous announcements such as
this one , ABC will be broadcasting a two-night, live pro event in March with the moniker Thin Ice. The good news: reportedly signed to the show are Shizuka Arakawa (competing), Kurt Browning (announcing), and Dick Button and Kristi Yamaguchi (judging). The bad: one of the producers (Terry O’Neil) is the same guy who announced a big pro event back in the Fall of ’08 that failed to materialize. Will this one meet the same fate? Well, at least the timing seems better…fresh after an Olympic Games and all. And they appear to already have a network lined up, and a major one at that…

But on the other hand, WHO is “lined up” talent-wise, aside from Arakawa and Shae-Lynn Bourne (who continues to skate single)? Judging from the recent little interview Brian Boitano gave to
Entertainment Weekly , he’s wondering the same thing. An excerpt:

Last question: Is there any chance you’re going to be on
ABC’s Thin Ice this March? That’s the two-night competition that promises to pair up 12 of ”the world’s greatest pro figure skaters.”

BRIAN: I did see the list of “greatest professional skaters” that they had, and it was really a lame cast.

So that would be a no.

BRIAN: [Laughs] Yeah.

That was my reaction, too, when I read the press release.

BRIAN: They were hardly-even-heard-of professional skaters.

All-righty then!

+ Last but not least...and this is an important one for current skaters, coaches, and families… 2003 U.S. men’s bronze medalist Ryan Jahnke, AKA one of the only bright spots in the so-called “Disaster in Dallas”, is launching a new website called

“The site will be a marketplace for new and gently used figure skating items and 5% of every purchase will be given to either the skating club or team of the people involved in the transaction,” Jahnke says. “The site will act as a perpetual fundraiser for skating clubs and teams. Also, every skater will be able to open up her or his own web store to sell the closet full of skating outfits that we all have:-) That's in addition to being able to purchase new items through partner stores linked to Myskatingmall.

“I hope to reduce some expenses for skating families by giving everyone access to the gently used outfits in closets of skaters all over the world.”

The official launch is planned for March, but you can check it out
now for more details, videos, and blog entries. Sounds like one more thing I wish had existed back when I used to compete!

For the
Clip of the Day, a must-see montage put together by Jahnke himself of his “greatest falls” in competition. Enjoy it!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Chan's Decision That Makes You Go "Hmmm"... and Others That Make Me See Red

So who woulda thunk there’d be one more twist left in that big dance we all watched last summer known as the coaches’ shuffle?

But yes, sure enough, it appears Patrick Chan and his coach Don Laws have parted ways as the clock ticks both towards Vancouver AND London (where Canadian Nationals begin next week). I say “appears” because it hardly came down like the traditional I-felt-like-I-had-to-make-a-big-change switcheroo…

The basic announcement can be found
here, but the more interesting side can be found over at You can’t miss it; it’s the article bearing the headline Laws Ran, Not Walked, Away From Coaching Chan. In short, here’s what we’ve got:

+ Chan giving a wish-nothing-but-the-best statement with regards to Laws’ accepting a permanent position in Florida, rather than an actual announcement that they’ve split.
+ Laws having to write Skate Canada to inform them he’s no longer coaching Chan.
+ Prior to this, we’re now told (by Laws) that Chan headed to Colorado Springs recently for his training, for reasons that included “altitude training”—though as Laws was quick to point out, Vancouver is at sea level.
+ And wouldn’t you know, all this shuffling started right after Chan’s disappointing 6th place finish at Skate Canada.

It’s not like what Kwan did four months before 2002’s Winter Games, when she parted ways with Frank Carroll and went coach-less into Salt Lake City. Chan has choreographer Lori Nichol and coach Christy Krall (who won the Pieter Kollen Sport Science Coaching award in 2008), and he’s worked with both for a while.

Still, isn’t it all just one of those Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm…?

And one more thing…(this is my last chance to gripe about this before Nationals, so hang on to something as I grab my soapbox)

From maternity leaves to chronic injuries to just plain not-gonna-do-its, this Olympic season has had more than it’s fair share of, shall we say, competitive procrastinators. And frankly, that’s not fair at all.

I know, I know… they’ve all paid their dues in seasons past; we’re talking former and/or current world champions, Olympic medalists who don’t deserve their various adversities any more than other athletes. Can’t we cut them some slack—a “bye” for Euros here (as will likely be granted Delobel/Schoenfelder), a super-generous PCS score there…? After all, if they want to “save their best” for the Olympics, what’s the harm in that?

No harm, I suppose—if it were 1972, when the season didn’t have early and late competitive circuits… and the majority of competitors hadn’t spent their fall globetrotting their way through Grand Prix events. But most don’t have the luxury of staying home for fear of aggravating an injury, or of catching the flu on a long plane ride. They can’t “save their best” for the Olympics because many of them knew there was no guarantee they’d BE at the Olympics. So instead, they competed for all the old-school reasons: face time with the judges… thrill of victory, agony of defeat… the possibility of a paycheck… (OK, so that last one isn’t really old-school as far as ISU events go.)

Put it this way: the only “comeback” I’m happy to support this time around is that of Shen/Zhao, and I think that’s due at least in part to the fact that they’ve actually been competing. Ironically, with Zhao’s ruptured Achilles tendon from 2005, this was the team that bypassed the entire season and just barely returned to training in time for the 2006 Games…

So maybe, deep down, all the competitive procrastinators have been aching to compete with the others all season. Or not. My biggest question is this: of all the competitors Cinquanta could grumble to about pulling out of an event (or never getting assigned in the first place), why did he have to pick Yu-Na Kim-- one of the hardest-working players in the whole ISU game?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Time Most Wonderful... (Sing along, won't you?)

Please sing along with me… I’m sure this Andy Williams classic is still lodged in your head somewhere! (If not this particular variation)

It's the most wonderful time of the year
With the young athletes skating
And everyone waiting
To see who to cheer
It’s the most wonderful time of the year

It's the hap-happiest season of all
With the news and attention
Need I even mention
Olympics that call
It's the hap-happiest season of all

There'll be toe-loops and twizzles
And rockers and swizzles
And too many Biellmann spins
There'll be scary free dances
And tales of romances
Of rivals, all trying to win

It's the most wonderful time of the year
There be more old wisdom
‘Bout the current system
Than Ciquanta can hear
It's the most wonderful time of the year

There'll be Evan and Johnny
And Wagner and Czisny
And names that nobody will know
There'll be Tanith and Ben
And John Baldwin… AGAIN
Perhaps Cohen will finally show

It's the most wonderful time of the year
Scott and Sandra are set
They won’t let us forget
Those that land on their rear
At the most wonderful time
Check for highlights and blogs online
It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Here are Ice Network’s streaming times for U.S. Nationals, which start (!) next Friday 1/15. If you’re not a subscriber, don’t despair… NBC will air all the senior-level finals LIVE. Just remember, they’ve broken it up differently this year: pairs and men skate the first weekend; dance and ladies the second.

Have you made your Wish List for the season yet?

I’ll put mine up online, starting next week.

The Clip of the Day is Alissa Czisny’s exhibition from last year’s Nationals… always nice when a skater picks contemporary music that’s older than SHE is.

Monday, January 4, 2010

As the Calendar Turns (Towards Vancouver)... Roundup #3

If Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert can come back with new stuff on this first Monday of the New Year, gosh darn it, so can I. (Just don’t look for me to be as hilarious or entertaining, and you’ll be fine.)

Here are a few of the newer developments of the past several days:

+ WILL SHE OR WON’T SHE? Here comes that pesky Four Continents event again… just after Euros this year, and much too close to the Olympics, as usual… and there goes even peskier Ottavio Cinquanta, making a “formal request” to South Korea that Yu-Na Kim show up at the event, along with alluding to possible rule-based sanctions from the ISU if they don’t get her to show. If you read
this article of Phil Hersh’s—which includes Cinquanta’s answers to questions Hersh himself asked—be sure to pay extra heed to the part where Cinquanta tries to defend the ridiculous timing of 4CC’s by pointing out there’s a full 25 DAYS between 4CC’s and the Ladies’ event in Vancouver. Ah, yes! How stupid of Yu-Na and Brian Orser to want to bypass an event that would serve NO DISCERNIBLE PURPOSE other than to make the ISU a bunch of money and make an Olympic favorite a little nuts…not to mention exhausted and vulnerable.

+ WILL THEY OR WON’T THEY? Call it mononucleosis, or call it “glandular fever” as they do
in this article from CTV, but it sounds like Aliona Savchenko’s got it bad, and in this case that ain’t good. Ugh! Europeans sounds doubtful, doesn’t it.

interview at Golden Skate has Russia’s Domnina and Shabalin talking about their “season” thus far (not much of a season when you can’t compete, eh?), the knee, the training, and the important role Domnina’s dog played in choosing their Aboriginal OD music. Yep, I said DOG.

Here’s their OD as performed recently at Russian Nationals. Will it be the monster hit in Australia that Davis/White’s Bollywood number is India (see below)? You tell me…