Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Way Outta San Jose: Nationals Post-Mortem, Part 1

So what I’ve decided to do this year is put some of my Nationals analysis into a pithy faux awards list. Hope you approve… even if some of the recipients might object!

The Persistence Pays Award: a tie between Ashley Wagner and Caroline Zhang

So we had Wagner in 3rd and Zhang in 4th after the SP. For Wagner to skate a clean short at Nationals was practically unheard of, so when she nailed it I figured she was on to something. Zhang was another story—several times in the past couple of years I’ve watched a solid enough short of hers, only to see her go to pieces (new improved technique be damned) in the free skate. While I was pleased to see her do a fine SP here, presumably giving her hope for the skate yet to come, I admittedly watched her step out of her opening FS jump and thought Oh dear, here we go again. But no! She didn’t go here… she swerved and went there! The place where young skaters go to get vindicated for years of unsatisfying results! And while it wasn’t her best finish ever at Nationals, I hope that little pewter medal they give for fourth place feels good as gold.

And as you might know, I’d only predicted bronze for Wagner… I’m afraid I’d become a member of the camp that thought she was destined to go no higher. In fact I thought bronze would be a victory in itself, considering how far she’s been from the podium at times in the past few years. But, bless her heart, she had other plans. She also had “help” from a faltering Agnes Zawadzki, who did a remarkable impression of Agnes 2010-11; the one who blazes through her SP but burns herself in the FS… and a frustrating Alissa Czisny, who I’m hoping will channel these disappointing performances into best-of-season work at Worlds.

I was also impressed with Wagner’s precise answers to questions about “having what it takes” to do well at Worlds: get the triple/triple back in her SP, fix the edge call on her lutz once and for all, etc. Pulling all that off is another story, but I liked that she pulled no punches about the relatively simple content of this winning free skate.

The Surprise, I’m still on the Podium! Award: Ross Miner
A show of hands, please: who thought both unexpected medalists from last year would be able to repeat in 2012? I thought one of them might, but I didn’t count on it being Miner. Not that he isn’t a fine athlete and competitor, but for me he still lacks a certain spark and identity. (As it happens, I saw a glimpse of him just before taking center ice for his Untouchables FS… with his dark costume and pale hair and complexion…and thought he was Jeremy Abbott.) Would he have a bronze medal this year if Richard Dornbush had not imploded during his SP? I’m not so sure.
But he did… and Miner didn’t. High props to Miner for that. As for “Ricky”…

The Funny-and-Sad-at-the-Same-Time Award:
The Facebook post by Dornbush this past Wednesday night… ‎

… Got back on the ice today, Mucked around a bit, Tried a short w/ no warm-up, clean, coach wants to kill me now, me too, FML.

Sigh. Poor kid. I guess every now and then someone has to
Oda their SP … but he’ll be back.

The What Does a Girl Have to Do to Get a Medal Around Here? Award: Christina Gao.

When you finish 5th at your first senior Nationals, you’re a head-turner. When you repeat that position the following year, you’re “consistent.” But when you remain in 5th place for three years… she seemed happy enough with her performances (which included a lovely triple flip/triple toe, thank you very much), but the head-turner might be a bit of a head-scratcher now, wondering how much farther she can realistically climb in the next two years… especially with an acceptance letter from Harvard awaiting her reply.

The Movin’ on Up Award (Men): Doug Razzano

Some skaters start- and finish- their Senior Nationals career in the Top 10. Some start and finish without getting anywhere near the Top 10. Razzano’s first Senior appearance, in 2008, left him in 16th place. Then up to 14th in ’09. Then down just a bit to 15th in ’10. Then up to 10th last year. And fifth this year. (Not to mention a solid 7th in his GP debut at Skate America a few months back.) At age 23 now, I’m curious to see how much higher he can climb in the next two years.

The Movin’ on Up Award (Ladies): Angela Wang

With so much shuffling among the same five ladies in the past five years—Czisny, Nagasu, Flatt, Wagner, and Zhang— it’s not easy these days for a new name to sneak into the mix. Zawadzki managed to do it last year, though, and the one who succeeded most this year was probably 15 year-old Wang. The fact that she landed a Top 10 finish her first time out (she was 8th) is even more impressive considering she only managed a 7th place finish in Junior Ladies a year ago.

The Happy Just to Be Here Award: Daniel Raad and Aimee Buchanan (tie)

If the names don’t ring a bell, there’s good reason: neither of them were originally scheduled to compete in San Jose last weekend. But when Samantha Cesario was forced to (yet again) withdraw, there was still time to get an alternate, and that alternate was Buchanan—the fifth place finisher at Eastern Sectionals. And likewise, Daniel Raad was tapped to fill a Nationals vacancy when Alexander Zahradnicek had to bow out of the event. Both had little time to prepare—especially mentally—and, perhaps without surprise, both finished the event in dead last. Would you feel good about unexpectedly competing in front of thousands of people at Nationals, even if you weren’t at your best (as I suspect was the case with Buchanan)? For their sake, I hope so.

The Sparkles, Gloves, Hair and Eyebrows Award (men): Johnny Weir

NOTE: I have NOT watched his commentary during the free skating yet; based on what I read in the comments, my opinion might change once I’ve done that. I’ll let you know…

Who else could we possibly be talking about? He made a small appearance on NBC’s coverage, but had a much bigger presence when it came time for him to do IceNetwork commentator duties alongside Tonia Kwiatkowski and Mike Mancuso for the men’s event (the same one he says he’ll be competing in one year from now). I don’t know about you, but I can’t say I was a fan of this setup. Weir did well, I thought, when he sat around the Universal Sports set and dished about Worlds with Peter Carruthers and company back in 2010. But those were small doses compared to this… comments that were 1/3 about the skating, and 2/3 about the amount of costume “sparkle,” the athlete’s hair, or the athlete’s eyebrows. Ay-yi-yi—is that really all he has to offer?

The Sparkles, Gloves, Hair and Eyebrows Award (women): Sarah Hughes

And this is where the “gloves” come in… for during Vanessa Lam’s free skate, out of nowhere Hughes voiced great fascination in the elbow-length gloves that Lam wore as part of her costume. (Apparently she hasn’t watched a lot of Russian skating lately.) But no one else did, and the comment fell flat. It was part of a very mixed bag that came with Hughes’ presence—sometimes she was helpful (e.g. explaining the benefits of selling a jump), and other times she seemed painfully out of place (“Are we (the commentators) allowed to stand up and cheer for a skater? I don’t even know…” she wondered on-air.) And as was also mentioned in the comments, her overall delivery wasn’t quite there yet; she sounded more like she was sitting around casually talking with friends at home, particularly alongside the crisper-sounding Kwiatkowski. (Frankly it kind of sounded like I do when I'm interviewing someone by phone... which sounds nothing like my "voiceover" voice, I can only hope.)

So I guess I can’t really call myself a fan of IceNetwork’s version of stunt casting this time around… I thought Tonia K. was doing fine on her own.

(I reserve the right to strike and/or rewrite that last sentence depending on how I feel after watching ALL the IceNetwork coverage.)

More observations to come… looks like I’ve somehow only covered the singles skating so far.

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