Saturday, March 23, 2013

London Called... About the Press, "Defiant" Champions, and My Original Worlds Predictions

First, wading into the slightly shallower waters... here are some of the shorter articles to surface during/after Worlds last weekend:

This one from Yahoo! Sports is relatively mild; the headline “Unconvincing Chan Completes World Hat Trick” is about as rough as it gets... 

This from ESPN focuses on the Davis/White and Virtue/Moir rivalry and is actually quite nice to read (it seems to be written in an effort for laypeople to get interested in ice dance)...

And these two—one from Reuters, the other from The Chronicle Herald—are among those capturing a “Defiant Chan” trying to defend the successful defense of his World title, if you follow me—all against a backdrop of critiques and tweets from frustrated journalists and past champions alike. Here’s the thing: I don’t AT ALL envy the position Patrick Chan is in... he’s clearly a marvelous athlete having to explain himself through no fault of his own (with regards to the judging at least). But two things keep me from sympathizing much in this most recent situation.

*  His defense that they (the journalists/analysts) should come try this... it’s hard!!! in the Chronicle Herald article comes across as nothing but a giant glass of WHINE. It’s the equivalent of a petulant American Idol wannabe saying “I’d like to see how well Simon Cowell would do up here” once they’re off the stage and stomping out the door. C’mon, Pat. Blame the IJS if you feel the need to point the finger anywhere, but you've been dealing with the media for a while now. If you can't figure out a way to improve your jumping consistency, at least figure out a way to handle your press conferences better.

*  His reference to his short program as “beautiful” (at the post-event interview right after last week’s competition) and his gold medal win as “deserved, and I’d love to explain why” (in the Reuters article)... maybe I’m more hypersensitive to certain word choices than most, but—how about “well done” rather than “beautiful”? How about “I skated more to my potential with the short”? How about calling your win “fortunate” instead? It all just serves to remind that a little humility goes a long, long way. Especially in a sport where at least a little subjectivity comes into play.

Enough with the articles! Now it’s time to face the music with my original predictions for each discipline... (scroll down to posts from about 10 days ago to see 'em)

Pairs Predictions: I did my best guesswork here; got the top 5 spot-on with 90% of the top 10 teams on my list (though not necessarily in right order). My only miss involved the U.S. teams—I called Castelli/Shnapir to make the top 10 and it was Scimeca/Knierim that got it done. (Does this mean I “know” the rest of the world’s top pair teams better than my own country’s? It figures!)

Men’s Predictions: I got gold and bronze spot-on (Chan and Javier Fernandez), with 80% of the top 10 teams on my own list. Misses included Americans (again); I didn’t think Max Aaron would make top 10, and I thought Ross Miner would do much better than he actually did. How unfortunate that Worlds was probably his weakest outing of the whole year. My other miss was an egregious one—not only did I fail to guess Denis Ten among the medalists (didn’t everyone??), but I failed to put him anywhere in the top 10! But it’s so lovely to be wrong like that.

Dance Predictions: Thanks to my being wrong about the hometown heroes Virtue & Moir, I only hit three of these spot-on: Bobrova/Soloviev for bronze, Weaver/Poje for 5th, and the Shib Sibs for 8th (though my guess that they’d get back “above” Chock/Bates was erroneous). I had 90% of the top 10 teams on my own list—the miss was Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi of Germany (with their “zombie dance”), as I thought Riazanova/Tkachenko would finish higher.

Ladies Predictions: My worst one! Only prediction I got spot-on was Ashley Wagner for 5th... I got the podium right, but in the wrong order (it was Kim/Kostner/Asada, not Asada/Kim/Kostner). As for the top 10, I got 8-for-10 accurately with my misses including Zijun Li of China and Adelina Sotnikova of Russia... interestingly enough, the two I predicted that DIDN’T make it in were the silver and bronze medalists from last year (Alena Leonova and Akiko Suzuki), both of whom finished 10 spots down from their respective high points last year. It was an up and down season for Suzuki; a downright dismal one for Leonova... so it'll be interesting to see how they rebound with Sochi approaching (or if Suzuki, who turns 28 next week, will even stick around one more year).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

London Called, Regarding the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships

Sometimes this love/hate relationship I have with figure skating wears me out. Make no mistake; what I love is the sport itself, while what I hate is the way the ISU seems determined to govern it into oblivion. In other words... I’m guessing I feel the same thing as just about every avid follower.

But when you get in deep these days—as a commentator, a “skundit” (skating pundit) or the like—you blog about it, read other’s blogs about it, Facebook about it, Tweet about it, read countless other Tweets about it, “click-through” to read countless articles about it, listen to podcasts about it...

And if only for your own sanity, you watch skating. You watch as much as time will allow because you love it at its artistic finest... and, at times, its athletic rawest. You love the athletic artists as well as the artistic athletes... watching them grow, feeling like you know something about them as human beings by way of their performances.

You do all this, painfully aware that when you step out of your frozen reverie, the writing on the wall of Twitter/FB/Blogs/Articles remain... and you know what they say has a lot of merit, and needs to be read and (most likely) shared... but because you’re a little “worn out,” as previously mentioned, you start your own Worlds wrap-up with just a few lines about each discipline. Like this:

PAIRS: how weird and ironic that Savchenko/Szolkowy landed that always elusive THROW TRIPLE AXEL at the very end of an otherwise meh program... but nobody seemed that impressed... well, other than the judges, who must’ve been thankful they had a “legit” reason to keep S/S on the podium after being outskated by not one, but TWO Canadian teams.

MEN... if just a fraction of the judging panel had brought Patrick Chan’s PCS scores down a point (as penalization for a seriously flawed program)... and if just a fraction had brought Denis Ten’s PCS up a point (as reward for a cleanly executed program)... many of the negative articles that have surfaced about figure skating in the past 5 days might have been written very, very differently.

DANCE... OK, here’s the deal. Every time I predict a world title for Virtue/Moir, they get silver... and vice versa for Davis/White. So when you see me predict silver for D/W in Sochi, remember this strategy!

In any case, I’m always happy to be wrong when it results in U.S. gold... so big congratulations to our two-time world champions!

LADIES... thank goodness this one was easy to call once everyone had skated! Kim Yu-Na is back, and skating to near perfection again just in time for the next Olympic season. Carolina Kostner’s SP score (with a fall) seemed higher than necessary, but by the time she got through her free skate—with a big nasty nosebleed, no less— her silver medal seemed well-earned. And while my prediction for gold (Mao Asada) didn’t get the job done, her bronze medal marks the first time back to the World podium since she won it all in 2010... so that’s definitely something to be proud of!

Speaking of proud, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give big huge props to Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold for “getting it done”... 5th and 6th places might not meet their long-term personal goals, but they’ve nudged U.S. Figure Skating a crucial step forward by way of a third Olympic spot for Sochi.

The night it happened, Phil Hersh of Chicago Tribune was quick to remind us (via Twitter) that the U.S. ladies were World Podium-free for the seventh straight year. But Michael Buckley (of What the Buck and numerous other Internet outlets) Tweeted right back “Oh shut up, Phil. It’s a great night. Have a drink.”

And on that sentiment, I’m going to leave the comments and critique right there, ready to pick up all those articles and dive in tomorrow. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

London Calling: Thoughts from the Stands at the Men's Final

I was there last night, watching all but the first 3 competitors of the Men's Final... that in itself was, of course, an amazing and unforgettable experience. But an extremely unique one too.

I'm heading back into London right after I post this, so it's going to be brief, but just a few things to note right now (and I'm assuming you know the results of the event at this point so I'm not going to recap anything here)...

-- When Chan took the ice, I figured he had this one in the bag. Not because he was on home ice; not because he's PATRICK CHAN, but because the ones that had fared best (namely Hanyu and Fernandez) had been too far back in the SP to catch the likes of gold, even if they did exceedingly well (which they did, especially Hanyu).

-- When Chan's scores went up, and the (largely Canadian) crowd still went wild despite the hot mess of jumps that followed his two brilliant 4Toe passes... I saw the difference between his score and Fernandez and thought "yep, he'll win... I don't think either (Denis) Ten or (Kevin) Reynolds will be able to pull back-to-back awesome skates to even come close." FOOL that I was!

-- When Ten's FS score went up, I thought of his 91 in the SP and tried to do the mental math (but I'm not very fast in that, especially in the heat of the Worlds) because it seemed quite possible that he had, indeed, pulled the upset of the (admittedly early) century.

-- But when he showed up in 2nd overall-- a lousy 1.3 points behind Chan-- the crowd still went wild. Happy because Ten will get a medal? Happy because Chan held onto the lead? I wondered.

Maybe both, as it turns out. Last year, when Worlds was held in France and Chan won (in similar, heavily flawed fashion) over Dice-K, the reaction was quite different. Here, the crowd had his back no matter what. As I suppose they should have. But I couldn't help but wonder what the most thoroughly engaged were really thinking, especially when a look at the protocols reveals that Chan's PCS was STILL around 2 points higher than everyone else's-- despite two falls and a few other errors. 

The recaps on CBC news up here are up-front about the imperfections of Chan, but made no mention of the young Kazakhstan (hope I spelled that right) fellow who won it all.

The "skundits" (skating pundits; a new word I just made up... you like??) have been ranting on Twitter for the past 15 hours, as you might guess. Except that by "skundits" I mean not only members of the press, or humble bloggers like myself... I mean Todd Eldredge. I mean Christina Gao (who suggested, though jokingly I'm sure, wanted to re-hashtag the event "BSWorlds13"). Lots of outrage. Lots of anger at the ISU and IJS. Lots of suggestions on what needs to be done.

But won't it all fall on deaf ears? Of course we need to keep making the noise... but the ISU seems to harbor the delusion that controversy breeds interest... is there any other explanation for it? (Yeah, probably there is, but this is what I'm going with right now. You can post your own theory in the comments... I know you've got 'em!)

Oh, and I have not yet watched the Pairs Final... I know the top 4 (hey, I think I got it right in my predictions), but I was on the road as it was happening. I think I heard there was some debate there too... lemme guess,  between Sav/Szol's silver and a killer performance by Moore-Towers/Moscovitch? 

Controversy the year before Sochi... ooh, THAT'LL get them watching the team event next year, thinks Cinquanta from parts unknown (for he didn't even bother to show up at the rink last night).

Meanwhile, I'm thinking of the fact that wrestling's place in the Olympics is currently in jeopardy. If a founding sport of the modern Olympics isn't safe, then what is? And can the ISU possibly pay attention to such a question with its collective head in the sand? Or ice, if you prefer?

Me... I prefer results that fit the actions. 

Having said that... I take my ironic thoughts and soapbox and head to where two more "results" will be decided within the next 12 hours. Because great skating still gets me every time.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

London Calling: 2013 Worlds Predictions: Dance and Ladies

OK, here’s what I’ve got for DANCE and LADIES—again, agonizing over who goes where...

Dance predictions:

GOLD: Virtue/Moir (CAN)
SILVER: Davis/White (USA)
BRONZE: Bobrova/Soloviev (RUS)

4th Pechalat/Bourzat (FRA)
5th Weaver/Poje (CAN)
6th Cappellini/Lanotte (ITA)
7th Ilinykh/Katsalapov (RUS)
8th Shibutani/Shibutani (USA)
9th Riazanova/Tkachenko (RUS)
10th Chock/Bates (USA)

BECAUSE... I’m afraid I don’t see V/M losing to D/W in Tessa’s hometown. And if the judges are willing to cut them as much slack for a “2-part” free dance as they did at 4CC (a.k.a. Carmenus Interruptus ), I have a hard time believing they won’t somehow be rewarded for a continuous, normal FD effort. Because in what seems like a three-way race for bronze (between Bobrova/Soloviev, Pechalat/Bourzat, and Weaver/Poje), only Bob/Solo have been injury-free in recent memory... and, perhaps, better prepared. Because the Ghost of an FD from I/K seems much better received from judges than from the likes of me. Because I think Marina Zoueva is capable of “fixing” the Shib Sibs programs in a manner that at least returns them ahead of Chock/Bates (if not yet restoring them to Top Five splendor).

Ladies predictions:

GOLD: Mao Asada (JPN)
BRONZE: Carolina Kostner (ITA)

4th Akiko Suzuki (JPN)
5th Ashley Wagner (USA)
6th Liza Tutkamysheva (RUS)
7th Kanako Murakami (JPN)
8th Gracie Gold (USA)
9th Kaitlyn Osmond (CAN)
10th Alena Leonova (RUS)

BECAUSE... Kim’s return to competition this year means everyone behind her takes one placement step back just to break even... so this explains my philosophy behind Suzuki in 4th and Wagner in 5th. (Because, much as I’d love to see them both higher, I don’t have quite the same confidence in their jumps and/or technical difficulty as the top three on my list.) Because I’m choosing a more seasoned-this-season Asada to a relatively green Kim (though I think she’ll come back better than most in that position). Because everyone I have in 6th through 9th has technical power, but still needs a lot of refining... save for Murakami, who just hasn’t been as consistent as her teammates. Because even if Gold nails her 3/3 combos, it’s no guarantee she’ll nail the rest of the program (her triple loop and second triple lutz have been particularly vulnerable this season). And because I had to put Leonova over teammate Adelina Sotnikova, if only because her Aguilara’d free skate makes my ears think about bleeding.

That’s it!!! Let the championships BEGIN!!

London Calling: Worlds 2013 Predictions (Pairs & Men)

If you take a look at the final “comment” on my 3/8 post below, you’ll see Universal Sports has posted its entire lineup of Worlds coverage for your convenience. Of course, it’s only convenient if you are blessed to have Uni Sports in your home (which I believe is also the only way for you to be able to see Uni Sports streaming video from your computer). The rest of us will wait oh-so-patiently for Ice Network to get the rights back next year...

But I digress... and must get back on track, for the whole event gets off the ground tomorrow (Wednesday) with the Pairs SP!

This year I’m trying my hand at predicting the entire Top 10 in each discipline. Not that I stand any better chance with this than with podium predictions—obviously there’s much more room for error this way! But I’m a glutton for punishment when it comes to matters of the boot & blade. Soooooo... here we go.

Pairs predictions:

GOLD: Volosohzar/Trankov (RUS)
SILVER: Savchenko/Szolkowy (GER)
BRONZE: Duhamel/Radford (CAN)

4th: Moore-Towers/Moscovitch (CAN)
5th: Pang/Tong (CHN)
6th: Bazarova/Larionov (RUS)
7th Berton/Hotarek (ITA)
8th Kavaguti/Smirnov (RUS)
9th Castelli/Shnapir (USA)
10th James/Cipres (FRA)

BECAUSE... I’m feeling the momentum for Volo/Trank. Because I’m REALLY feeling it for the Canadian teams (especially on home ice). Because whatever Pang/Tong still have left in the tank after all these years, I think they’ll save it for Sochi. Because Baza/Lario can’t convince me they’re for real, mostly due to her weak jumps. Because both the Italians and the French teams have made big strides this season (they were 11th and 15th last Worlds, respectively, so jumps to 7th and 10th would be substantial for both). Because Kava/Smir have been fading for the past couple of years.

And yes, only one U.S. pair on this list... near the bottom of the top 10... I’m hoping they’ll surprise me!

Here’s what I’ve got for the men... and I am not ashamed to say that I have changed my mind with this list at least three or four times...

Men’s Predictions:

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

4th Florent Amodio (FRA)
5th Daisuke Takahashi (JPN)
6th Michal Brezina (CZE)
7th Ross Miner (USA)
8th Brian Joubert (FRA)
9th Kevin Reynolds (CAN)
10th Takahito Mura (JPN)

BECAUSE... While I’m not convinced Chan will do any better at Worlds this year in terms of quality, I’m guessing none of the others will be spot-on enough to catch him. Because Hanyu sounds like he’s putting a crazy amount of pressure on himself to repeat with a podium finish (so I'm guessing he'll make it, but it won't be his best)... because Fernandez has the goods for sure, but I’m not sure he can deliver them at Worlds well enough to do better than bronze. Because Amodio has been improving in the back half of this season, whereas Dice-K (sorry to say) has been struggling in that same amount of time. Because Miner is a more proven elite world competitor than Max Aaron (who I think would do well to finish 11th or 12th here). Because Reynolds is now reportedly dealing with a ruptured cyst in the back of his knee—something that happened after his 4CC victory—and I would think he’s unable to challenge for the top spots as he’d hoped to do.

And, because every guy on this list (and several that didn’t even make it into my top 10!) has at least one quad in his arsenal... the stakes are CRAZY vulnerable. I believe any of my top 5 could win it, and any on the whole list could medal. Seriously.

One more thing before I go work on my dance & ladies predictions: I got my ticket in the mail just yesterday... so it’s official I guess... I plan to be in attendance for the Men’s Final in London! Unfortunately that’s the ONLY event I can formally attend, prices being what they are. Will any of you be there?

More on my travel plans (and especially how they’ll relate to any posting I do during Worlds!) as we progress through the week.

Friday, March 8, 2013

2013 U.S. Nationals Scrapes and Scraps, Vol. 2

Let’s start this roundup of the Nationals ladies by looking over the results from last weekend’s Junior Worlds in Milan.

The best news (for U.S. fans): all 3 nationals entrants—Josh Farris, Jason Brown, and Shotaro Omori-- made it to the podium in the men’s division, resulting in a full-U.S. sweep. It was the first sweep of junior worlds medals since Rachael Flatt, Caroline Zhang, and Mirai Nagasu did the sweep in 2008. (And Zhang, Nagasu and Ashley Wagner did the same thing in ’07.)

The very good news: Denney/Frazier (5th at Nats) won the Pairs event over the favorites Fedorova/Miroshkin, RUS, who were 7th in SP but won the FS... and Yu/Jin, CHN, the leaders after SP who were 5th in the FS and finished in 4th. It was the first time THAT has happened since McLaughlin/Brubaker did it in ’07. Fingers crossed this victory leads to a better overall ending.

The pretty good news: Aldridge/Eaton won their 2nd consecutive Junior Worlds bronze medal, just behind the same two teams that took gold and silver ahead of them at last fall’s JGP Final—Stepanova/Bukin of RUS, and Papdakis/Ciezron of FRA. But Papdakis did their FD on a sprained, heavily taped ankle that forced them to stop mid-routine and start up again several minutes later (much as Virtue/Moir did at 4CC last month). And once again (as with V/M) there were no deductions for stopping down the program. I know there is precedence for this—Zhang/Zhang, silver medalists at the Torino Olympics to name one of the better known cases—but right now the “penalization” for being unable to complete a program straight through seems increasingly arbitrary. Hopefully the ISU will address this in the off-season? But I digress...

Now, the not-so-good news... the U.S. junior ladies were unable to get to the podium at all. The sweep in that case was Russian; Elena Radionova, Julia Lipnit “Gumby” skaia, and Anna Pogorilaya went 1-2-3. The U.S. senior ladies pewter medalist, Courtney Hicks, finished 5th, while SP winner Samantha Cesario (8th at Senior Nats) slipped to 4th place after several of her triple jumps were downgraded. Yasmin Siraj (6th at Senior Nats) finished down in 11th.

Speaking of Hicks’ fourth-place finish at Nationals, here is a little breakdown as to how 3rd/4th/5th in the ladies final turned out as it did (Zawadzki/Hicks/Gao)... and I’ll add up front that I studied this because I was pretty agitated to see Gao in 5th place yet again (as I probably said at the time!):

With regards to the free skate scores between these three ONLY...

Elements: Hicks got the highest score, followed by Gao, then Zawadzki

Components: Zawadzki highest, then Gao, then Hicks (and it’s worth noting that in most areas, Zawadzki’s score was around a half-point higher than Gao’s).

Spins: Hicks, then Zawadzki, then Gao. The first two had level 4’s on all three spins, while Gao lagged 3 to 3.5 points behind them... not helped, I’m sure, by the level 1 given for her flying spin. (NOTE: talking about the FS here, not the SP when she unfortunately had the glaring error on her final spin.)

Footwork: Gao (with Level 4 FW), followed by Hicks (level 3) and Zawadzki (level 2—about 1.5 points lower than Gao).

Considering the difference between 3rd and 5th place was around 3.5 points, you could blame some combo of the component score and the spins scores... but also considering the fact that Zawadzki only had the 7th best FS of the night and, like Wagner, earned her medal on the strength of her SP... I’d have to go study the SP protocols as well if I really wanted to get to the nitty gritty of these differences. Haven’t done it yet, but... who’s curious besides me? Anyone? Let me know.

Finally, a few words about Mirai Nagasu’s dismal 11th place FS at Nationals (which ultimately took her from 3rd after the SP to 7th overall)... you’ve probably heard by now that downgrades and underrotations were to blame for her remarkably low elements score (49.80; Gracie Gold’s, by comparison, was 71.14). A level 2 spin and a fall on her triple flip didn’t help either... but the brutal truth was that of the five triples she landed in some fashion, four of them were “dinged” by the judges in one way or another. It adds up fast. (If it’s any comfort, her total score this year would’ve been good enough for fourth place last year!)

And for anyone wondering why NBC chose to stay on an uncomfortable close-up of Nagasu in the K’n’C after learning her fate... rather than cut away ASAP to the joy/relief shared by Wagner and Gold... all you need to know is that I can almost guarantee the man directing (aka “calling the shots”) for NBC is the same man who was responsible for staying FOREVER on the miserable close-up of Nancy Kerrigan as she sank to a 5th-place finish back at the ’93 Worlds. I talked to him several times for Skating on Air, and much as he loves the innate drama of a good old-fashioned rivalry, he seems to love the raw (read: agonizing) emotion of defeated athletes just a little bit more. Better get used to it if you aren't already...

Worlds predictions coming up... by necessity... in the next few days!!!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Nationals Scrapes and Scraps Roundup, Pt. 1

There were a few more things I wanted to say about Nats even though we’re one month removed from it now... 4CC intervened before... so here it comes (in two parts) before Worlds preview, predictions and performances eclipse it completely!

The meltdown: it’s uncomfortable to watch a despondent skater in the Kiss’n’Cry (think Alissa Czisny at last year’s Worlds). It’s agonizing when the despondents in question are a dance or pairs team, particularly when one appears to be more to blame for whatever just happened (think Pechalat/Bourzat at ’11 Worlds).

But how about when one part of the team appears to have made the mistakes and the other one has the meltdown? That’s what IceNetwork viewers witnessed if they watched the post-mortem following Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin’s last place-earning SP at Nationals. (Sorry I can’t find a YouTube link to post.) Vise fell on the side-by-side triple toes, and put her hand down on their throw jump—definitely not what you expect from veteran pair skaters who surely had hopes of finally making it to the podium this year. But once in the K’n’C, Baldwin was a cursing, skate guard-slamming, grimacing mess who could barely look at his partner. Poor Tiffany tried to get him to cool it (with a couple of sharp “Donny”s), if only because there was a camera and live microphone focused on the whole thing, but “Donny” made it clear he couldn't care less who was watching (“I really don’t care... what’s the difference? There is no difference,” he snarled.) By the time he stalked off (alone), as their scores were read, all I could think was “... and that’s the oldest competitor we have at this event??”

I’d speculate on the possibility of Vise ditching Baldwin next season in favor of Rockne Brubaker, but Brubaker just recently partnered up with Lindsay Davis... she of the almost-just-as-recently-dissolved Davis/Ladwig. And I’d better stop there before my head threatens to spin off my body from pairs-go-round dizziness.

Oh, one more thing... it was announced this week that Tai Babylonia and Randy Gardner—aka 1979 World Champions and one of the finest pairs teams the sport has ever seen— have been nominated for induction into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame. No argument there... for the longer U.S. fans (and skaters) sit and wonder if we’ll ever have another Top 5 in-the-world team—let alone a world medalist—the more precious Tai and Randy’s accomplishments of years gone by become.


We tend not to hear much about the athletes that finish out of the top 10, but I was somewhat surprised to learn that Omaha was the end of the competitive road for two veterans. Both 26 year-old Jonathan Cassar and 27 year-old Wesley Campbell have elected to hang up the skates one year shy of Sochi, and as sad as that surely makes some of us, I give both of them big props for doing so. Both men are wonderful all-around skaters with artistry to spare... and Cassar, of course, even has a signature move (his physics-defying inside spreadeagle). But they’re both missing triple axels from their arsenal of jumps (never mind quads), and without ‘em there’s just no way to rack up the kind of points they’d need to be contenders in any shape or form: Campbell, for instance, had a beautiful and clean 7-triple free skate, and a relatively clean SP, yet wasn’t even close to breaking the 200 mark. What impresses me most is that, rather than hang around for the glory of an Olympic season, both are embracing their achievements for what they are and clearing the way for two other guys to begin their own journeys as national elite skaters.

So Cassar, with five senior appearances, topping out at 11th place... and Campbell, with six appearances and several 14th place finishes (though he went as high as 7th place back in 2008)... tip of the hat to you both, and hope to see you somewhere down the road. Here is a clip from each of them; sorry I couldn’t find either of their most recent appearances on YouTube.

On the other hand... you know how you watch these Nationals year in and year out, and you come to expect certain names to be those who always “round out the top 20”... but then every once in a great while one of those names goes Bang! ZOOM! Into the top 10 before you even know what hit you?

Well this year was the Great While, and the “name” was Alexander Johnson. He was a bronze medalist at 2009 Junior Nationals, but in the years since was making glacier-like progress at the senior level—17th in ‘10, 16th in ‘11, and 15th in ’12. A fall on his triple axel contributed to his 12th place SP this year, but this free skate proved to be one of the cleanest and most enthralling performances of the evening—good enough to pull Johnson all the way up to 7th place, and earn him a trip to the recent Challenge Cup in Graz, Austria. Where he was just barely edged out for the title by Brian Joubert! What a cool way to wrap up a season.