Thursday, January 23, 2014

2014 Nats & Euros: The Ballad of Maxim and Mirai

It’s time to review and recap last week’s European Championships, but here’s the problem: I’ve watched about 17 of the top finishers, and was trying to draw parallels between that event and U.S. Nationals (particularly since I’m not really done commenting on the latter yet). Simultaneously, my Twitter feed was becoming increasingly littered with “inside reports” that Plushenko would be the one announced later this week as the recipient of the sole men’s spot on the Russian Olympic team (reports that have now been made official). This after months of speculation, followed by bonus weeks of even more speculation when Plushenko himself failed to win Russian Nationals.

The national title instead went to Maxim Kovtun, an 18 year-old who first posed a threat when he won the 2012 Junior GPF, then did well enough in this year’s Senior GP to make it to the finals (finishing 5th). But you know where else he finished fifth? Last week’s Euros... with both his Russian teammates Sergei Voronov and Konstantin Menshov surpassing him with their free skates, finishing 2nd and 3rd overall, respectively, behind Javier Fernandez.

Where did Kovtun skate his best, possibly of the whole season to date? Nationals, where one might think it counted the most...

But one might be mistaken, as Kovtun has officially been left off the team.

And now there’s only one Russian/U.S. parallel that seems worth writing about.

There are more than the usual share of ironies hanging in the air with each new competition of late: 

--Best overall competitor of the past 10 months turns in worst overall performances in years (Ashley Wagner, at U.S. Nationals). 

--Most unpredictable competitor of past four years finally delivers when it counts, only to find it did NOT really count (Mirai Nagasu, U.S. Nationals). And component scores in the Ladies event—the decidedly more subjective scores; the ones we tend to think should rise gradually as a skater matures and develops their “artistic side”—were indeed griped about by skundits (skating pundits), but the target was no longer 18 year-old Gracie Gold (last year's recipient). The talk of “junior-ish skating” shifted from that teenager to an even younger one in 15 year-old Polina Edmunds.

Then at Europeans... well, let’s start the irony bus with the fact that Plushy—He Who Has Made The Biggest Stink About Being In Sochi—couldn’t be bothered to attend this always-critical event. Then we have both Voronov and Menshov coming out of season-long (some might say career-long) shadows at the 11th hour to make fairly convincing arguments that they’re as worthy of that Olympic spot as anyone. And finally, young champion Kovtun buckled under the pre-selection pressure and turned in possibly his worst set of performances all season. (Which is to say he double-3’d out of one quad jump, doubled the second one, and badly doubled the third. The rest of the jumps, including two triple axels, were spot-on... but it wasn’t nearly enough to carry the program.)

Both the U.S. and Russia have been stuck with the same difficult question in the past few weeks: Who do you choose? Russia always takes its time selecting the skating representatives, but being limited to only one man and two ladies for Singles makes the choices that much tougher. On the other hand, the U.S.’s three ladies spots provided more flexibility than it’s had in years—more irony, anyone?-- yet they had a trickier time of it than even back in 2008, when three out of the top four ladies were too young to compete at Worlds. The very top lady back then? Nagasu, of course. (Whoa... and now the irony has come full circle.)

One of the biggest problems I have with the Plushy decision—besides him, that is—is the fact that Russia has been hunting tooth and nail for “the next one” for soooo long. Finally, here he is, everything they’ve been looking for: young, fresh, deep jump repertoire, capable of delivering under intense pressure (if competing against Plushy head to head at Nats in an Olympic year isn’t intense, I don’t know what is). That’s more than what Kovtun can be; it’s what he already is. Yet this is how they reward him?!

Meanwhile, the biggest problem I have with the USFS decision is... the USFS decision. If that sounds like a cop-out, read on:

First off (as several of you pointed out in your comments on my previous post), they were inconsistent in their rationale when measuring the ladies choice alongside pairs. In other words, if you reward Wagner a spot for her “body of work” as they best-performing U.S. lady of the past year, you need to do the same for Denney/Coughlin’s role as the best-performing U.S. pair of the past year. Or at least the past 6 months (since there was an injury involved there).

As for the ladies: Edmunds felt overscored to me, particularly in the SP, and I’m getting weary of hearing what a train wreck Wagner’s FS was. (Two costly mistakes she usually doesn’t make, yes. But we’ve all seen skating train wrecks, and that wasn’t it.) So 1) A Gold/Nagasu/Wagner podium felt like the right one to me, and the one they should’ve been working with in the first place. 2) All the reasons given for bumping Edmunds worked for me... (and yes, my unattachment to her is showing in full force, but that’s just how I feel—or don’t feel—towards her). And 3) The fact that Nagasu wasn’t even graced with a Worlds berth, let alone an Olympic one, just feels trifling and small on USFS’s part. If they didn’t want the public to think they were deliberately screwing her over, they have a not-so-funny way of showing it. Not to mention painfully, stupidly transparent.

Kind of like the painfully, stupidly transparent waiting game Russia made Kovtun go through while allegedly wrestling with the Plushenko choice.

As Johnny Weir memorably uttered during the U.S. Nationals Gala... but it applies to both countries’ federations... OUTRAGEOUS.

So here’s my fantasy solution:

1) Both Kovtun and Nagasu cut ties with their respective federations.
2) Nagasu (who has dual citizenship with U.S. and Japan until age 22) pursues full Japanese citizenship.
3) Representing Japan, the pairs team of Nagasu/Kovtun is born.
4) By the 2018 Olympics season, THEY’VE TAKEN OVER THE WORLD.

I know, I know... but it’s fun to think about, isn’t it?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

2014 U.S. Nationals Post-Mortem, or "A Game of 20 Questions"

Two hours before the press conference that announced most of the U.S. Olympic figure skating team for 2014, I was sitting in church... where the sermon was taking a closer look at the idea of “everything happening for a reason.” 

Hmmmm. There were no figure skating analogies made (of course; it’s not Sochi time yet), but oh, what might have been...!

I’ve had a couple of days to mull it all over, and what can I say... I’m an inquisitive lady with more questions than answers. 20 QUESTIONS, to be exact...

(and pardon me for using mostly first names here, but at this stage of the game I just feel like it's the right thing to do)

1) Does anyone else see that Get-it-together-before-it’s-too-late moment with Jeremy’s FS—where he suddenly had to scramble to his starting pose and deliver, or risk a time disqualification—as a great metaphor regarding Jeremy’s situation in general leading up to this Nationals?

2) Does Max watch someone like Jason and wonder, just a little, “how the hell am I going to beat this guy in the long run without pummeling my hips and knees into a dark, gooey jam from all the quad jumps?”

3) If/when Jason lops off his ponytail, will it be kind of like the moment when Felicity cut her long ringlets away?

4) Do you realize that Jason was only 3 years old when Felicity debuted on the WB Network, and surely has no first-hand idea what I mean when I throw out a Felicity reference like that one?

5) Are Ricky (Dornbush, 2nd after SP/5th overall) and the pairs team of Scimeca/Knierim (2nd at 2013 Nats; 4th this time) just now waking up from all the Olympics hullabaloo of which they ultimately had no part, shaking their heads like dazed cyclone victims and asking themselves What just happened??

6) Did Caydee/John, as the most decorated U.S. pairs team over the past couple of years, have as much of a right as Ashley to hope that USFS would choose them over Felicia/Nate for the Olympic team?

7) Were Caydee/John passed over without much fanfare (relative to U-NO-WHAT) because of the lack of international pairs success (read medals)? Or is it because, justified or not, the ladies’ discipline (aka U-NO-WHAT) is still considered the best way to attract U.S. viewers to the sport?

8) Either way... how does Caitlin Yankowskas feel right about now?

And speaking of U-NO-WHAT...

9) Do you worry that the passive skating fan—the kind that only watches Olympic skating, save for Nationals on prime-time TV every January—say “I don’t get it” about Ashley because all they’ve really seen of late are her sub-par performances?

10) How would we all feel if the one who had finished 3rd and left off the team was Agnes? Or Christina? What about Samantha? Or Courtney?

11) Is it different because it’s Mirai, the one among these names that we’ve “known” the longest? Or would the outrage be the same regardless?

12) Do you think, after the ladies’ SP, at least a few of The Powers That Be pondered Mirai’s results at the last two Nationals... and assumed there would be no difficult decisions to be made come Sunday because she’d be out of the picture?

13) Did USFS cast its vote for the ladies’ team keeping in mind the adage “there is no such thing as bad publicity”... (and as I ask that, I keep in mind the image of Mirai on the Yahoo! Headline ticker over the weekend, or the feature that made it to NBC Nightly News on Monday)

14) Did USFS leave Mirai off the Worlds team to twist the knife a little deeper, or out of concern that a Gold/Edmunds/Nagasu team didn’t stand as good a chance to keep 3 ladies’ spots for 2015?

15) Does the Mirai/Ashley decision set a bad precedent or a good one? Or none of the above?

16) Can we think of any other year when the most decorated figure skater of the time finished off their Nationals podium in an Olympic year? Was it even possible in the days when compulsory figures prowess set the stage for the rest of the event?

17) What one person might Mirai most upset with at this point? A specific individual likely to have cast a vote on Sunday? An old coach? Polina? Ashley? Herself?

18) Speaking of Polina... how much of a disadvantage does she have simply because she is relatively unknown to the media or to skating fans? Or because she clearly asserted, to the media, her right to be in the top three if she managed her multiple high-scoring jumps with ease...?

19) Or because any number of fans (if not judges) quickly decried her style to be as junior-ish as her 15 years... consequently disputing her placement in the top 3 altogether?

And finally...

20) Are Olympic years ending in “4” now destined to be crazy ones for U.S. Nationals?

I’ve got more to say about the “controversy,” as I alluded to on Twitter, but here’s a starting point. Or maybe 20 starting points. Feel free to make these questions anything but rhetorical ones via the Comments!

P.S. I know Euros start very shortly (may have already started by the time you read this), but I’m still coming out of the Nationals vortex and haven’t made any predictions... based on how I did with Nats— a paltry 4-for-12, I think?—it’s probably just as well. But I’ll be following along of course! Let’s talk about it next week. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

2014 U.S. Nationals Preview & Predictions

With it being an Olympic year, and U.S. Nationals consequentially happening a couple weeks ahead of 2013, I didn’t get the time to assemble a multi-day preview & predictions list this time around. But in case there are some new eyes checking out the blog this week—eyes that are more likely to re-visit figure skating every four years around this time—it’s probably best I keep things kind of to-the-point anyway.

Before I get going, it’s worth a mention that the Senior Nationals schedules for both IceNetwork and NBC can be found in the January 7 post, just below this one.

Oh, and I have not heard of any new withdrawals, for medical reasons or otherwise... but if YOU have, please share!

How many: 12
How many Olympic Spots: 2

Who’s new: 3 teams, all graduating from Junior Nats last year:
Shaughnessy/Morgan, Calalang/Sidhu, and Pfund/Reiss.

Who’s returned: 2012 Champs Denney/Coughlin, who missed the second half of last season due to injury. Also the “new” pair of Davis/BrubakerDavis came in 4th last year with former partner Mark Ladwig; Brubaker finished 2nd in 2012 with former partner Mary Beth Marley (not to mention won this event in 2008-09 with Keauna McLaughlin).

Who’s missing: Simpson/Blackmer, who won Junior Nats last year... but announced the end of their partnership about a month ago.

Who’s noteworthy: Denney/Coughlin were the only U.S. pair to medal at any of the Grand Prix events earlier this season (bronze, at Trophee Eric Bompard). Castelli/Shnapir, the reigning U.S. champs, are the only pair that will be attempting a throw quad salchow. Also worth noting there are TWO “Denneys” in this event—Caydee (paired with Coughlin) and younger sister Haven (paired with Brandon Frazier); the latter finished 5th in 2013.


Dark Horse? Donlan/Speroff

How many: 21
How many Olympic Spots: 3

Who’s new: The top three finishers from last year’s Junior Ladies event: Polina Edmunds, Mariah Bell, and Barbie Long. Who’s really new: 16 year-old Franchesca Chiera, who didn’t get out of Novice Regionals last year yet skated well enough to win Eastern Sectionals this year at the Senior level (never competed in Juniors).

Who’s returned: Three ladies we last saw here in 2012... 2010 Olympian and National Champ Rachael Flatt (who finished 6th in ’12), as well as Vanessa Lam (finished 9th in ’12) and Leah Keiser (finished 12th in ’12).

Who’s missing: 2009 and 2011 National Champ Alissa Czisny, who had to bow out earlier in the season due to injury. (No word yet on whether she will continue competing next season.)

Who’s noteworthy: The front-runner is definitely reigning, 2-time champ Ashley Wagner, the only U.S. lady to make it to the Grand Prix Final this season (finishing 3rd). Gracie Gold, last year’s silver medalist, and 2008 Champ Mirai Nagasu were the only other U.S. ladies to medal on the GP circuit this year. As for those planning the most difficult combo in this discipline—the triple lutz/triple toe—look to at least Gold, Edmunds and Angela Wang (9th last year) for those, with several others attempting triple flip/triple toes instead.

Wagner and Gold secured that elusive “third spot” for the U.S. ladies, but who will get it? Agnes Zawadzki has won bronze at this event for the past two years, but she faces stiff competition from Courtney Hicks (#4 last year), Christina Gao (#5 the past four years) and Samantha Cesario-- #8 last year, but did some truly impressive work on the GP circuit earlier this season. Nagasu can never be ruled out; neither should 17 year-old Yasmin Siraj, who quietly finished a very strong 6th last year.

GOLD—Ashley Wagner
SILVER—Gracie Gold
BRONZE—Christina Gao

Dark Horse? Samantha Cesario

Also in the Top 10: Edmunds, Hicks, Nagasu, Siraj, Wang, Zawadzki

How many: 18
How many Olympic Spots: 3

Who’s new: 6 teams—2 are graduates from Juniors (Aldridge/Eaton, who won at that level, and Heritage/Fast, who finished 7th )... 3 I know nothing about (Zucker/Sitiks, Bynum/Deveikis, and Reynolds/Reynolds)... 1 is a new pairing of previous senior dance competitors (Olson/Lorello).

Who’s noteworthy: Davis/White have won everything they’ve set blades to—including and especially this event—for quite a while now. They’re not likely to disappoint here. Determining 2nd, 3rd and even 4th place is a much bigger challenge, but the Shib Sibs appear to be rising above the muck of their past couple of seasons with this year’s Michael Jackson FD. (And they’ve reportedly replaced the “Ben” section of their music with “Man in the Mirror,” which will probably make it even stronger.) Their scores from their autumn GP events put them a few ticks ahead of both Chock/Bates (who repeatedly edged them out last season), as well as Hubbell/Donohue (3rd here in ’12; 4th last year). So that leaves the biggest nail-biter to be between C/B and H/D. The former is free-dancing to Les Miz; the latter to the instrumental Bohemian Rhapsody that’s become pretty popular in recent seasons. Take your pick. Flip a coin. Draw straws! It’s that close.

SILVER— Shibutani/Shibutani
BRONZE— Chock/Bates

Dark Horse? Hubbell/Donohue

How many: 19
How many Olympic Spots: 2

Who’s new: 2 graduates from Juniors—Tim Dolensky, who was 2nd in ’12 but (I think) was injured last season, and Lukas Kaugars, who was 11th last year at that level. Also new is Robert Przepioski, who was last seen competing at the National level in 2012 (in Novice Pairs).

Who’s returned: Daniel Raad and Scott Dyer, both of whom competed at this level in 2012 but missed the mark last year. Dyer finished 10th in ’12; Raad was 20th.

Who’s missing: Evan Lysacek did everything in his power to try and return to this event in an effort to make a third Olympic team (finished 4th in ’06; won the OGM in ’10)... but only last month gave up that effort in order to avoid permanent hip damage.

Who’s noteworthy: My first instinct is to say “who isn’t??”—kind of ironic, given how difficult it has been of late for any of these guys to succeed in a lasting (read: hardware) way on the international level. We have Max Aaron, a surprise defending champ suffering a bit of a sophomore slump, but still one of the best jumpers in the event. We have Jeremy Abbott (in his final season, at age 28), a glorious skater and intermittently fierce competitor, with a FS that still leaves me breathless with its beauty when he skates it well. We have the ponytail power of Jason Brown, who is quadless-but-who-cares-he-is-THAT-good. We have reigning silver medalist (and hometown fave) Ross Miner delivering a free skate tribute to “Boston Strong” in the face of last year’s Marathon bombings. We have 2012’s silver medalist, Adam Rippon, skating with more assuredness and strength than we’ve seen in a number of years. We have dark horses to the dark horses—Joshua Farris (4th last year), Douglas Razzano (5th in ’12), and Richard Dornbush (2nd in ’11) are ALL capable of making a big move. Do you sense awesomeness unfolding once again in this event, heightened all the more by the Olympic hunt? Me too.
GOLD— Jeremy Abbott
SILVER—Adam Rippon
BRONZE— Max Aaron

Dark Horse? Jason Brown

Also in the Top 10: Farris, Dornbush, Hochstein, Miner, Mroz, Razzano

There you have it! While I’m not likely to post blog updates until next week (AFTER U.S. Nats ends), I’ll be live Tweeting as much as possible during the senior events... follow me at @KLBSt8ofSk8... or check out my posts at the Facebook page for SkatingOn Air... 

Happy viewing, everyone, and best of luck to ALL the skaters trying to do their best in a tough Olympic season. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Russian (Nats) Were Here; The U.S. (Nats) Are On the Doorstep

Is it too late for a Russian Nationals recap? Hope not! Here goes... 

LADIES... Adelina Sotnikova defeated Julia Gumbyskaia --you may know her as Lipnitskaia-- in the SP (the latter scuffed up the back end of her 3lz/3T) and while Lipnitskaia skated clean and won the FS, Sotnikova had enough of a lead to stay on top overall. Kudos to Alena Leonova, for while she finished 5th, she appears the best bet for the Olympic alternate since both Elena Radionova (bronze medalist) and Alexandra Proklova (4th place finisher) are too young for Sochi. I’d have figured her to finish 6th or 7th at best, given what we’d seen earlier this season from Anna Pogorilaya and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. But Pogorilaya appeared to 2-foot the back end of her 3lz/3T in both programs, and Tuktamysheva wiped out on the 3T part of that jump altogether in the SP (then fell on another jump and doubled many jumps in her FS). They finished 8th and 10th, respectively.

MEN... The showdown of showdowns! Indeed, it was Plushy for the SP victory... but Maxim Kovtun claimed the overall prize with a FS packed with multiple quads and triple axels (his only notable mistake was a doubled quad salchow attempt). Plushy, to his credit, got off A quad and A triple axel in the FS too. But that was about it, and in this case, it wasn’t enough. He lost steam as the program wore on; there were some triples, but there were a lot more doubles and other minor mistakes than I’m used to seeing in a Plushy program. The look on his face at the end said it all: Eh, that wasn’t it. That wasn’t what I came here for. Not a look I think any of us are used to!

PAIRS... An interesting year for this event, given that the World Champs Volosohzar/Trankov weren’t here, and two-time World Bronze Medalists Kavaguti/Smirnov remain out of contention due to Smirnov’s injury and subsequent surgery. Stolbova/Klimov – the team using Addams’ Family for their FS this season—came away with the win, edging Bazarova/Larionov (who had trouble with the SBS jumps, as per usual) by less than a point. The bronze medalists here (Maria Vigalova/Egor Zakroey) are most likely alternates rather than bona fide Olympians, since Volo/Trank will round out the team of course. But if you’re up for a reminder of the dangers of pairs skating, check out the FS of Evgenia Tarasova/Vladmir Morozov, who were in third up to that point. The very last lift of the program resulted in both skaters falling but an especially hard slam to the ice for Tarasova, who avoided hitting her head (thank goodness) but was in obvious, serious pain despite recovering enough to complete the pairs spin at the very end.

DANCE... Bobrova/Soloviev won the event, but their FD irritates me so I chose to skip it. Ilinykh/Katsalapov had that glorious, high-reaching, straight-line lift early in their Swan Lake FD, but in setting up for their second one (an ice-grazer, just the opposite), I/K took an unfortunate fall that cost them the entire maneuver—and may have affected their rhythm for the rest of the program, though I didn’t see any other major flaws. They still finished second, easily putting them on Russia’s three-spot Olympic team, but they (she) looked understandably rattled as they did the K’n’C wait. 2013 bronze medalists Riazanova/Tkachenko looked like they had a little twizzle trouble, as well as problems with their final lift... those and some other technique issues paved the way for 2012 World Junior champs Sinitsina/Zhiganshin to claim this year’s medal. And the third Olympic spot too? We’ll see... both S/Z and R/T have been assigned to the European Championships, which start in Budapest on January 13.


U.S. Nationals are already underway in Boston! The senior (or “championship”) events are scheduled to unfold like this on IceNetwork (All times Eastern):

THURSDAY 1/9: Pairs SP 4:15 PM; Ladies SP 7:45 PM

FRIDAY 1/10: Dance SD 1:45 PM; Men’s SP 8 PM

SATURDAY 1/11: Pairs FS Groups 1 & 2, 11:30 AM; Dance FD Groups 1 & 2, 12:45 PM; Ladies FS Group 1, 6:45 PM

SUNDAY 1/12: Men’s FS Groups 1 & 2, 12:50 PM

The remainder of the “live” coverage will be on NBC:

3-6 PM Saturday (later groups in the Pairs & Dance Finals, I presume)
8-11 PM Saturday (later groups in the Ladies Final, but prepare to see more SP recaps in that 8-9PM hour than anything else)

3-5 PM Sunday (later groups in the Men’s Final)

By the way, the NBC Sports TV page lists Tom Hammond, Sandra Bezic, Scott Hamilton, and Andrea Joyce as the commentators for all its coverage. Apparently they are saving Tanith Belbin and Johnny Weir for Sochi...

And predictions?! Yes, of course there will be predictions! I predict my predictions will be up for all to see... either late Wednesday or early Thursday. (By “early”, of course, I mean “sometime before the Pairs SP starts at 4:15 PM Eastern”)

What are YOUR predictions for the podium and/or U.S. Olympic Team? Post ‘em in the Comments!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Oda and Ando: Two Careers in Retrospective

Happy New Year to all my SOTS readers!!

It’s been so long since I posted that I neglected to mention the winners of my 3rd annual Skating on Air holiday book giveaway... so before I do anything else, congratulations to Cecilia Quick of San Jose, CA and Jenny Moynihan of Essex U.K.! Each won a signed copy of my book.

For the rest of you—especially those on the fence about buying a copy of it—please check out this all-new review of SOA as well as this interview I just did with the My Friend Amy book blog to accompany the review!

In other (undoubtedly bigger) news...

The Japanese Olympic team is set! The Russian team, not so much.
The ladies weren’t much of a surprise, though the finishing order probably was to most: Suzuki/Murakami/Asada rather than Asada/Suzuki/Murakami... though anything putting Mao Asada in 3rd would be a surprise, considering she’d finished no lower than 2nd since 2005.

This was Akiko Suzuki’s first-ever national title in thirteen appearances! (No wonder she/everyone was so happy!) Asada’s subpar score was largely due to triple axel trouble, so the question seems to be back as to whether or not she should include the maneuver in her Olympic routines. But you know when this conversation last came up? About this time in 2010, when (as I recall) she was popping her triple axel more than she was landing it successfully. Then she went to Vancouver and nailed it when it counted. Twice! So... will she reconsider for Sochi? I’m thinking no...

The men’s finish was more complex... the top three were Hanyu/Machida/Kozuka, with Nobunari Oda in 4th and Daisuke Takahasi in (gasp!?!) 5th. But as you’ve probably heard by now, Dice-K was chosen for the Olympics anyway. Kozuka was bumped off to alternate status; this decision saddens me, as you probably know how fond I am of Taka’s sublime work. But I’m well aware that he may have “peaked” at 2011 Worlds, as he’s been somewhat inconsistent since then. The same might be said for Dice-K, but his bright moments (such as this year’s NHK Trophy) have been pretty spectacular. And knowing this is his final season, how could there have been much debate?

Speaking of final seasons... these respective men’s/ladies outcomes led to a pair of retirement announcements. Oda and Miki Ando, both 26, both missed the mark for their Olympic dreams and have decided to call it a career.

ODA’s fourth-place score, for what it’s worth, topped Max Aaron’s score at the most recent U.S. Nationals by about 4 points... so that might give some perspective to the incredibly deep pool of men’s talent in Japan! His career certainly had its share of high, low, and altogether strange moments:

n      His senior debut was in 2005... he’s earned 17 GP medals since then; five were gold, four were from GP Finals for which he qualified (2006, 2009, 2010, 2013).
n      He competed at Worlds from 2006-2011, with his highest finish coming in his first time there (4th). He made the national Japan podium six times between 2005-11, winning the national title once, in ’09.
n      He was also the 2006 Four Continents champ, this despite a memorable-for-all-the-wrong-reasons FS where he crashed hard on a triple axel attempt, then spent a significant part of the program looking like he couldn’t recall his choreography.
n      He made the 2010 Olympic team, but a broken skate lace during his Chaplin FS contributed to him skating far below his best (finishing 7th).
n      He became infamous for “miscalculating” his free skates, putting in too many jumps (usually triple toe-loops) and costing himself points—and placements—in the process. The biggest events in which this happened: 2010 Japanese Nats, where Daisuke Takahashi officially took the title after the jump miscalculation was discovered... also 2007 Worlds, and again at 2011 Worlds. And in yet another bizarre turn, he ended one of his strongest seasons (2009-10) by failing to make it out of qualifying round at 2010 Worlds. The problem? He singled all the jumps in his SP.
n      Finally, he remains the only elite skater in recent memory to be arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated—an action that essentially cost him the entire 2007-8 season—and is one of the few (if not only) men on the elite circuit who is married with two sons.

ANDO didn’t compete the past two seasons, but made headlines when she revealed she’d given birth to a baby girl in spring of ’13. She made a respectable comeback this season in an effort to make the Olympic team, finishing 2nd in three different “B” events this past fall... but finishing 7th at these Nationals prompted her retirement. (All things being equal, her total score of 171.12 would have placed her 8th at the most recent U.S. Nats.) Her highs and lows were many as well:

n      She debuted on the senior level at 2004 Worlds and finished 4th her first time out! This led to a total of six finishes at Worlds between ’04-11, winning gold twice (’07 & ’11).
n      She won 13 medals on the GP circuit between 2004-2010, including 5 golds.
n      She is considered the only lady to date to have completed a quad jump (salchow) in competition—waaay back on the junior GP circuit at the 2002 JGP Final.
n      She is a two-time Olympian: 2006 (where she finished 15th after falling three times during her FS, including a quad sal attempt), and 2010 (where she finished 5th). She is also a 3-time Japanese national champ (2004, 05, 11).

In any case, BIG KUDOS to both these immensely talented athletes as they move on to the next chapters in their lives.

As for Russian Nationals, I’m not going to comment yet because I haven’t had a chance to watch any of it yet! But the biggest news to report is that Evgeni Plushenko (aka “Plushy”) did not win the Men’s title... and, as this article indicates, will not be competing in Men’s Singles in Sochi. (That honor goes to Maxim Kovtun, who I suppose provided the upset but I think many of us thought it was likely to happen.) But what about that all-new Team Event? Plushy indicates “it would be enough” for him to represent Russia for that event... and considering such an action would probably make him the only man in figure skating to ever compete in FOUR Olympics, I see his point. But will he be chosen over Kovtun? Doesn’t sound like that’s been decided yet.