Sunday, April 8, 2012

The U.S. Team: Looking Back at Worlds/Forward to World Team Trophy

It’s been a week… and already in that week it seems a case of no rest for the weary (meaning the top skaters of the world, although those of us who followed it live surely came away with a certain degree of mental exhaustion). Why? Well mostly because it ain’t over yet… the 2011-12 figure skating season, that is. At least, it ain’t over for a very notable handful of competitors.

The World Team Trophy didn’t debut until 2009, and it hasn’t been held since then—but that’s because it was due to happen last year, in Japan, only 6 weeks or so after the devastating earthquake & tsunami. It wasn’t cancelled so much as it was postponed until 2012… April 19-22, 2012 to be exact.

Seeing as it’s coming up in less than two weeks now, the “teams” for WTT started getting named this past week… so let me try to pull double duty here and share some thoughts—as they relate to last week’s Worlds-- about the U.S. entrants. (Japan, Canada, Russia, etc… I’ll address those competitors soon as well.)

NOTE: I haven’t yet studied any Worlds protocols; I hope to do so soon.

Dance representative for WTT: Davis/White

"We don't need things like this (coming in 2nd) to motivate us more," (Meryl) Davis said. "We really want to make sure we're putting out the best we possibly can, and I think that every year we're happy with our progress, happy with our improvement. I think we'll come out even better next season." – From Lynn Rutherford’s
IceNetwork article this past week

When it comes to the U.S. and ice dancing, let’s be honest: especially when compared to the other disciplines, we don’t have a whole lot to complain about right now. Sure, last year’s Worlds yielded better results, but those results would’ve been extraordinary for almost any country. When the strongest (or ONLY) negative visual that springs to mind is one of the Shib Sibs becoming unhinged during their FD twizzles, all signs point to a pretty good event overall: three teams in the top ten, including one that’s barely been together a year… and one team on the podium for the third year straight, still putting stunningly good performances together as they sustain an active battle for gold.

Pairs rep: Denney/Coughlin

"We are looking forward to having more time together," (John) Coughlin said. "This season, we had to put together programs that were achievable in such a short amount of time. For the next season, we are going to push ourselves."

It's a long push to the top. And, for U.S. pairs, a Sisyphean one.
– From Phil Hersh’s
3/30/12 article

Admittedly I had to look up “Sisyphean”—it means endless and unavailing, as labor or a task. What can be said to that when the U.S. hasn’t medaled in pairs in at least a decade? Considering both our entrants this year were new and almost-new teams, I guess the initial wish is for them to simply stick together next season. They both held their own in Nice, and for that we should be proud (especially Marley/Brubaker; I wasn’t sure they could break the top 10 this time out). But… it would be lovely to expect and receive a little more next time.

Men’s reps: Abbott and Rippon

“I've always worked with a sports psychologist, but the past year and a half it’s been much more in depth. I think that's been helping and I've been gaining confidence. I think it will happen for me; I will make it happen." --Jeremy Abbott, from Lynn Rutherford’s
IceNetwork article this past week

As exhilarating as it was to see Yuzuru Hanyu skate great, blast past the competition and grab that bronze medal, I couldn’t help but look at his scores and think That should’ve been Jeremy. That COULD’VE been Jeremy.

I think I was comparing the jump content between the two when that thought tumbled out of me. Maybe it’s the two stages of a career that make the difference: Hanyu is 17 and likely only wanted to make a great impression at his first-ever Senior Worlds… Abbott is 26, is known (unfortunately) for failing to deliver to potential at the biggest events of his sport, and is likely playing it year by year as to whether or not he even continues competing. Two different places; two different mindsets.

By the way, in that Rutherford article Abbott also mentions that he plans to keep one of his two programs for next season. Feel free to speculate on which one it’ll be—my fingers are crossed for the FS—but the between-the-lines news there is that he’s apparently already renewed his competitive lease for another year. In a season that once again threatens a return by reigning OGM Evan Lysacek, I think we might need to stock up on popcorn in the off-season… could get really interesting.

“I lost a lot of points in the short program making the two jumping errors, and it hurt me that I didn't land a clean quad in the long. I know what I really need to work on and not lose points on the little downgrades here and there." --Adam Rippon, from Lynn Rutherford’s
IceNetwork article this past week

To me, Rippon came apart in much the same way he’s come apart at previous U.S. Nationals—an uncharacteristically bad SP (including a rare botch on the Rippon Lutz). Yes, he finished in 6th two years ago, when he had a just-happy-to-be-here mentality as a last-minute replacement for Johnny Weir. But now he’s 22 and seems aware of his incredible potential… it’s probably a tough thing when one’s world shifts like that.

By the way—there was a little dust-up on Twitter when Phil Hersh called out Rippon’s coach Yuka Sato for telling Rippon “That was good” as he exited the ice after his sub-par free skate. (I think, specifically, Hersh called for a “reality check” and suggested Rippon was a big boy now and could/should be told the truth.) The dust-up came when a couple of others indicated Sato had NOT said those words, and that a little truth in journalism once in a while would be appreciated (I’m paraphrasing). If anyone has watched the performance recently and can account for what was actually said, please let me know.

Ladies Reps: Wagner and Gold

"It was the short program that did me in, but at the same time, it wasn't a disaster; it was just that I didn't get that triple [flip]-triple [toe] in there, and that was when I really needed it. It gives me something to build on." -- Ashley Wagner, from Lynn Rutherford’s
IceNetwork article this past week

"It's hard for me to say, but I think I can probably hold my own." --Gracie Gold, from Phil Hersh’s
4/6/12 article

Wagner, arguably the only bright spot for the U.S. after the dance final was over, pretty much did as she’s done in previous Nationals-- nearly took herself out of the running on the toughest jump pass of her SP, then skated up a storm the rest of the time… only to come thisclose to a medal, or a Worlds berth. This year she wrote a new page for herself with her National title, and all but proved it wasn’t a fluke when she emerged as the 4CC champ a couple weeks later. Yes, she resorted to some old patterns here (the two-foot on her 2ax/3Toe being another one), but considering her previous best Worlds finish was 16th… four long years ago, when she last qualified for it… I prefer to think that Wagner is well on her way to even better things.

And then there’s Gracie Gold, another U.S. competitor who has had a pretty awesome season on the Junior circuit. So awesome, in fact, that she’s been tapped to skate at WTT in a spot that was probably reserved for Alissa Czisny until her free skate came and went last Saturday. From her headline-ready name to her current ability to “hold her own” with the top triple-triplists of Russia, there’s already a certain savior feel to the articles written about her… like a decade of disappointment could be erased if only Gold keeps doing as she’s doing. I worry about that, especially for the sake of a 16 year old who may or may not be able to work that sort of pressure to her advantage. But for now, at least it gives WTT an unexpected—and hopefully, happy-- sense of purpose.

As for the aforementioned Czisny, well, by now everyone with a lingering interest in the sport is probably aware of her 22nd-place efforts in Nice. As for the WHY behind those efforts? When the only thing she’s really said publicly is that she was physically fine, and “doesn’t know” what happened, the speculation could’ve run rampant by now.

There weren’t any quotes from Czisny in Rutherford’s IceNetwork article. And any lingering talk about her may fade quickly, now that the season’s officially crossing into overtime without her. The bruises left behind, both on Czisny herself and elsewhere? That’s a different story.

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