Thursday, May 31, 2012

Kwan's Media "Hat Trick" of the Past Two Weeks

Here’s one of the (many, many) nice things about having Michelle Kwan in figure skating: her presence in pop culture is pretty close to effortless. Meaning... there are those that really seem to work to stay in the headlines, and those whose accomplishments (both on the ice and off) are mighty enough to have the headlines come looking for them. Kwan is definitely of the latter camp.

For the most recent Exhibit A, check out this interview Kwan did with Chris Wallace for Fox News Sunday last weekend (once they realized she’s been living “virtually under the radar” in D.C. for almost a year)... it gives coverage to some of the many non-profit causes she’s now involved in, as well as her current brushes with government organizations. And yes, in case you were wondering, she apparently IS considering a deeper government involvement in the future (e.g. running for office).

For Exhibit B, note Kwan’s presence on the released-this-week ESPNW Top 40 Female Athletes list (celebrating the best of the past 40 years in honor of the 40th anniversary of Title IX. You’ll find her name (and accompanying article) sandwiched between Venus Williams and Lindsey Vonn... not bad company to keep.

And finally, for Exhibit C, there’s this press release from Coca-Cola confirming that Kwan is one of 22 “inspiring” Americans chosen to carry the Olympic flame in the upcoming torch relay for the London 2012 Summer Games. While there’s unlikely to be an argument that Kwan is an inspiration to America and beyond, check out the way this is worded (excerpt from the press release; italics are my own):

Coca-Cola proudly invited two Olympic gold medalists to carry the Flame in the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay.

-- Summer Sanders, (Park City, UT): Summer won four medals at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona -- two gold, one silver and one bronze. Since retiring from swimming, she's appeared as a commentator, analyst and host on all four major networks. She is also an ambassador for UNICEF and Right to Play.

-- Michelle Kwan, (Washington, DC): Michelle is the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history, winning five World Championships, nine U.S. National Championships and two Olympic medals. She is currently a U.S. Public Diplomacy Envoy, meeting with young people worldwide to discuss social and educational issues, and is a member of President Obama's President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition.

So her bio is technically correct—as I assume Summer Sanders’ is as well—but the leading sentence? It reminds me of an instance on So You Think You Can Dance (from last season I think) where judge Mary Murphy referred to Kwan as “an Olympic Gold Medalist.”

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, just how many folks have unwittingly upgraded Kwan’s silver and bronze medals over the past 10-14 years since she won them?

Makes ME wonder how she feels about that. Not to mention Tara Lipinski... or Sarah Hughes.

(For the record... the interview on FOX recalled her Olympic medals accurately.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Mahbanoozadeh M.I.A. for the 2012 GP?

I’ve been studying the GP assignments since they came out on Monday. Made some highlight marks, some stars in the margins, and felt some pity that Alexander Marjorov (of Sweden) is apparently now known to the ISU as “Alexandra.” But oh, if only that was the sole oversight...

Yes, I heard about Alissa Czisny’s hip injury and looming surgery, but I’ll save that focus for an upcoming day... except to say that at least we all know now why she’s been given a lone GP assignment, at the very end of the season.

So the following question looms in my noggin instead: What on earth has Armin Mahbanoozadeh done to tick off The Skating Powers That Be??

Probably nothing, I know... and that’s my point. First, U.S. Figure Skating passes him by in favor of Richard Dornbush for a 4CC assignment, just a mere 2 weeks after Mahbanoozadeh earned 4th place (his highest to date) at U.S. Nationals. Now we have the ISU snubbing Armin M. in similar fashion, giving two assignments apiece to Dornbush and the returning Johnny Weir while leaving Armin M. with zippo.

Granted, his appearances in last year’s GP weren’t much to write home about—10th at Skate America (after winning bronze there a year earlier), and 8th at NHK. Dornbush was 4th at SKAM and 6th at Cup of China, both of which say a lot more about his return to the circuit than his paltry 13th place at Nationals. And Weir, I’m sure, is nearly as appealing to have back in the race as Plushenko (to some, at least).

But one, if not two, of those coveted U.S. spots could have—and should have—gone to Armin M. There IS a TBA spot at Skate America, and IF Evan Lysacek’s name isn’t already penciled in (assuming his management and U.S. Figure Skating are still trying to work a deal), Armin M. should be a shoo-in. He could also be brought in at any GP event to replace another U.S. man sidelined with illness or injury. But as one of several up-and-comers with a shot at making the 2014 Olympic team... and one who has steadily improved his placement to boot, first finishing 8th, then 6th at Nationals before moving all the way up to 4th this time...

C’mon, folks. This guy deserves better. Or does he need to drop back down to 7th for Ths Skating Powers That Be to realize it?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

For The ISU's Consideration: New Faces for the Grand Prix

Word on the street is that the ISU Grand Prix assignments for the 2012-13 season will be announced this coming Monday, May 21. Will they include Plushenko? Lysacek? Weir? Other names we haven’t seen on the circuit in over a year?

Welllll... I’m interested in those possibilities, but not ONLY those. Because there are plenty of relatively new faces I’d like to see in there; faces of rising stars—for their respective countries, if not for the world—that I think have earned an assignment or two.

Such as:

MEN—Kevin VDP is no longer competing, so it seems to me at least one other “minor” skating nation should find their way to the assignments. My top two suggestions include...

Misha Ge (UZB), who made his presence known late in the season with back-to-back solid showings at 4CCs (9th) and Worlds (up from 30th last year to19th). I tend to think of Ge as Johnny Weir with even more energy.

Christopher Caluza (PHI), who used to represent the U.S... but this year made it to the finals for the Phillippines and finished 21st. Probably a longshot, but I hope he can nab an assignment, and get a triple axel going this summer so he can be more competitive.

From the U.S.: Douglas Razzano, who finished 5th at Nationals and a very respectable 7th when he filled in for Evan Lysacek at Skate America last season.

LADIES—With Laura Lepisto the only recognizable name from last year’s roster that’s now “retired” (though her injuries kept her from competing last season too), it’s a little tricky saying what will be given and what’ll be taken away. But I’d like to see them make room for...

Kexin Zhang, the 16 year-old who came in 4th at last season’s Cup of China, 5th at 4CC’s, and 7th at Worlds—which qualifies two Chinese ladies for next year’s event; a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in that country since Lu Chen skated her magic in the mid 90s). MORE ASSIGNMENTS, STAT!

Yretha Siliete (FRA) and Elena Glebova (EST), who finished 12th and 13th, respectively, at Worlds. Siliete is still fairly new to the GP scene; Glebova is already a two-time Olympian (Did you know that?? I didn’t) who has been on the GP scene since 2007—but received no assignments last year. I think both ladies deserve a shot this season.

From the U.S.: Vanessa Lam, who made it to the Junior GP Final last year and has finished in the top 10 at Senior Nationals the past 2 years.

PAIRS—Sui/Han. Yes, they’ve already competed senior GP... but not without simultaneously competing junior GP. Perhaps they’ll have more time to work on their artistry and overall skating now that they’re finally leaving junior GP behind.

From the U.S.: Gretchen Donlan/Andrew Speroff, who finished 4th at Nationals and are the heir apparent to GP assignments since bronze medalists Evora/Ladwig are no longer competing together.

DANCE—At least two teams that made last year’s GP assignments failed to make it to the final round at Worlds this year—Carron/Jones (FRA), and Reed/Reed (JPN). In their places I’d love to see more of:

Ralph/Hill (#3 on the Canadian team; finished 13th) who typically get only North American GP assignments...

Huang/Zheng (China’s world rep this year who finished 12th)...

And it’s a longshot I guess, but wouldn’t it be nice to see Australia’s O’Brien/Merriman prior to 4 Continents?? Come on, ISU, they made it to finals! Shoot ‘em an assignment.

From the U.S.: Anastasia Cannuscio/Colin McManus, who finished 6th in their senior debut this past year.

Come back next week, as we compare notes and see just how interesting this upcoming GP season might be!

Friday, May 4, 2012

So Many Changes, So Little Time to Blog About 'Em

So... nothing much has happened in the skating world since the season officially ended a couple weeks ago, right? Hmm, let’s see...

+ There have been articles about reigning Skate America champ Michal Brezina changing coaches, leaving behind Karol Divin and Karel Fajfr (one of whom is the guy who raided Elton John’s eyeglass wardrobe) for Viktor Petrenko...

+ And there was also news that reigning World Bronze Medalist Yuzuru Hanyu was changing coaches, coming at least part-time to Canada to train with Brian Orser.

Which story got more of your attention? I’m guessing Hanyu in most cases, and with good reason—he seems to be violating a major if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it rule, and ironically, he’s doing it in the position that Brezina surely felt was his to lose after the Worlds SP. But Hanyu clearly has a vision for his future. Or maybe he took a look at what happened to two of last year’s medalists (Takahiko Kozuka, finishing in 11th, and Artur Gachinski, ending up in 18th) and felt a need to bring in reinforcements.

+ There was an end of partnership announcement from Charlotte Lichtman/Dean Copely, 2011 U.S. Junior Dance Champs who finished 10th at the senior level this year...

+ Kind of like there was an end of partnership announcement on the website of seniors ice dancers Isabella Cannuscio/Ian Lorello, who finished 9th...

+ And Anastasia Olsen/Jordan Cowan, who finished 7th and are also no longer skating together. (Um, no word on whether or not 8th place finishers Emily Samuelson/Todd Gilles will jump on this bandwagon or not.)

Lichtman/Copely had an Austin Powers theme for their FD this past season, while the Cannuscio/Lorello FD was Les Miserables. All were young teams; all are presumably looking for new partners. Except for...

+ Olsen, who we learned this week is partnering with Keifer Hubbell (he who formerly partnered with his sister Madison).

+ And on a related note, Mark Ladwig went on a search after his decade-long pairs partner Amanda Evora headed to retirement (and, presumably, a lovely married life with Jeremy Barrett). As of today, his search is over— he is now skating with Lindsay Davis, best known for a national 8th place finish with Themistocles Leftheris in 2011.

So while you sit there and think up your respective answers to “Who’s breaking up and teaming up next?” (And yes, I’d love for you to post a comment about it), enjoy this one about Kurt Browning and the vision he’s currently carrying out as the director of this season’s Stars on Ice. Jeremy Abbott and Ashley Wagner have both joined SOI on the Canadian leg of their tour, with Davis/White performing in select cities as well.