Friday, April 19, 2013

World Team Trophy 2013: Pros and Cons

So NOW the season is over. I honestly didn’t realize the ISU was holding World Team Trophy this year—I thought it was an every-other-year occurrence—until Jackie Wong mentioned it on Twitter, shortly after Worlds ended, and I checked in while making a pit stop on the day-long drive back home. (It was probably just after I crossed the Canadian border, and the patrolman, upon learning I’d been up there for Worlds, asked me to explain the difference between a triple axel and a flying camel... not realizing, until the bemused look I gave him, that one is a jump and the other is a spin... but I digress.)

WTT sure has managed to kick up a lot of good and bad in its mere thimbleful of appearances on the ISU schedule. From (some) of the performances, to (some) of the absences, to its overall reminder of next year’s Olympic team event debut (despite the reported major differences in the two competitions). I wasn’t able to watch it in real time this year—kudos to all of those on U.S. time who could, though—so I’ve yet to catch up with as many performances as I’d like. But I think I’ve seen enough to draw up a Pros and Cons list to share with y’all...

PRO-- Can do a “make-good” on an unsatisfying Worlds (or Nationals) performance.
See Akiko Suzuki, who finished 4th at Japan Nationals and 12th at Worlds, but won the WTT ladies event nonetheless. And of course, also see Jeremy Abbott—3rd at U.S. Nationals, and a non-qualifier for Worlds... but at WTT seemed more driven and determined than he’s been in a while (even with a doubled quad-toe loop and a 6th place finish).

CON-- Can realllly reflect that “it’s been a long season.”
Speaking of which... I’m especially looking at you, men’s quad toe loops and most of the ladies’ 3/3 combos (or triple axels if you’re Mao Asada, though admittedly those are seldom clean anyway).

PRO-- Can put an exclamation point on a breakthrough season.
I’m thinking Chock/Bates for dance, Max Aaron for men, Li Zijun (and maybe Kaitlyn Osmond) for ladies... especially James/Cipres for pairs, who seem to have improved steadily with each and every competition, including WTT.
CON-- Can put a question mark on a uniquely challenging year.
On the other hand, this only fits for one “uniquely challenging” skater... one who dazzles one minute, only to unravel the next... one who remains at the top of the heap, but seems on an endless quest to verbally defend his titles... one who started this season with a free skate disaster (three or four falls at the Japan Open) and literally ended this season flat on his face when he tanked on his final flying spin at WTT. Yes, Patrick Chan, this one’s for you.

PRO-- Can laugh in the face of the ISU’s motives for WTT. (If you’re Japan, that is.)
World Team Trophy was described at a 2008 ISU press conference as coming about “in the hope of encouraging countries to develop top figure skaters in all disciplines.” Yet Team Japan is so packed with top-notch singles skaters, they made it to the podium despite having a fairly average dance team (the Reeds, who finished a very respectable fourth this time) and NO pairs team to speak of.

CON-- Can take the “puzzling results” thing to a new level.
This is NOT a dig on the well-deserved top placement of Team USA, but... given the status of 3 out of 4 disciplines (a champion dance team, but no other medals of any kind at Worlds last month), well... wouldn’t it start a whole new round of head-scratching if as similar scenario unfolds at the Olympics next year? That seems like the last thing figure skating needs.

PRO-- Can encourage a “nothing to lose” mentality. (If you’re a pairs team, that is.)
The U.S. pair of Castelli/Shnapir were already 5th out of 5 after the SP; the worst they could do was stay in 5th--  and still earn Team USA 8 more points in the process. Why NOT go for that elusive throw quad salchow? What better place to give it a try?

So they did, and she fell. But it looked close! Hopefully this will give them confidence to try it again in the next GP series, and help them when they face off against Denney/Coughlin next season.

Con-- Can aggravate and/or initiate troublesome injuries... some would say needlessly.

And this brings us to Russia’s Konstantin Menshov... denied a spot at Europeans (and therefore, no chance for Worlds) under much protest, they DID send him to WTT... only to suffer a dislocated shoulder when he fell on a triple axel! And subsequently withdraw from the event! Gah! The humanity!! But injury aside, how can you not feel for this guy: 30 years old, competing at the senior level for ELEVEN seasons, one Russian National title, two NRW Trophy titles, two 4th place finishes in GP events just this past season... but with Russia only able to qualify one man for Sochi (based on the Worlds placement of Maxim Kovtun), his chances of representing in the Olympic year seem slim to none. And Phil Hersh thinks the U.S. men have problems...

OK, that seems like more than enough Pro/Con action for now. Stay tuned, though... the season may be over, but the State of the Skate is a constant one!

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