Friday, January 22, 2016

2016 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships: Previews/Predictions Part 2

Here's what I've got for you regarding DANCE predictions at 2016 Nationals:

GOLD: Madison Chock/Evan Bates
SILVER: Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani
BRONZE: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
PEWTER: Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker

Dark Horse: Anastasia Cannuscio/Colin McManus

Like my Ladies predictions from yesterday, this list is pretty similar to last year’s. But for what it’s worth (and since I’m not a judge, “it” is not worth much at all I’m afraid), I would like to see the Shib Sibs win this year. I know I’m not alone in the feeling that their “Fix You” free dance has elevated their skating this season. And it’s not that the Chock/Bates classically-rooted FD is a problem,  or a step backward, or anything like that—at least not for me, as still enjoy it (and them) very much.

But “Fix You” is special. The Shibs, like so many sibling couples ahead of them, have struggled at times to conceptualize their contributions to the part of this sport that is uniquely driven by romantic imagery. Here, in “Fix You”, they have created a piece that is so much more than beautiful and (for lack of a better word) appropriate. It is contemporary, it is evocative—and maybe most important of all, it is a wonderfully telling reflection of how much those two have grown, both individually and as a team.

Unfortunately, “it” still landed them behind C/B at the recent Grand Prix Final—even with the latter team having a notable error on at least one element (the twizzles). And while I guess it could be argued that the Shibs couldn’t possibly have done their best at the GPF—Alex suffering terribly from a stomach ailment and all—I’m one of those who thought it was possibly the best and most moving performance they’ve ever given in competition (and not knowing something was actually wrong with Alex until post-performance).

So the reasoning goes like this: If they couldn’t finish ahead of C/B there... they won’t do it here either. (Sigh. I really, really want to be wrong though—can you tell?)

As for the bronze/pewter battle: after 2015 Nats it looked like Hawayek/Baker had a crazy head of steam propelling them towards overtaking Hubbell/Donohue this year. But as of right now, it feels like all that steam has dissipated. From Baker’s concussion in September, to Hawayek’s bout with food poisoning that took the team out of  Cup of China, to a free dance (taking on the Hawking story of The Theory of Everything) that seems a little difficult to connect with—yeah, I find myself thinking Advantage HUBBELL/DONOHUE. And that’s not by default either—I think they have risen to the challenge of staying on the World team this year. (I still like their Hallelujah SD much more than their Adagio for Tron FD, though.)

The one change I made from last year’s predictions is having Cannuscio/ McManus (or as one of my Twitter followers calls them endearingly, Can Man) as the Dark Horse. For better or worse, both Can Man and Haw/Bake have taken on story pieces for their free dances—Beethoven’s saga is the Can Man version—and it feels like the time might be right for them to make a move.

As for the rest of the field (14 teams in all), I watched their qualifying Sectionals performances and... sorry to say... very few stood out for me in a positive way. (As always, I note that I don’t “know” dance like I know singles skating... I just know what looks/feels good to me.)  The only exceptions—aka teams you might want to take note of—are:

+     Karina Manta/Joseph Johnson, who were 10th at Junior Nats last year (I wrote in my notes pretty good twizzles; seem much better than the rest)

+     Alexandra Aldridge/Matthew Blackmer and Danielle Thomas/Daniel Eaton. The names sound familiar because A) Aldridge and Eaton competed together through 2015 Nats, and B) Blackmer previously competed as a pairs skater, winning Junior Nats in 2013 with Britney Simpson. (FYI, Thomas/Eaton are skating 3rd in the SD while Aldridge/Blackmer are skating 9th.)


Here's what I'm predicting for the MEN:

GOLD: Nathan Chen
SILVER: Max Aaron
BRONZE: Adam Rippon
PEWTER: Vincent Zhou

Dark Horse: Grant Hochstein or Ross Miner

“Nowhere” Man: Zhou

“Not Here” Men (that is, the laundry list of guys who have scratched from this event):
Jason Brown, Richard Dornbush, Joshua Farris, Jordan Moeller

Admittedly, I haven’t peeked around to see what others are predicting so I’ve no idea of choosing Chen is a surprise, or the surprise-that-everyone-saw-coming. But here’s how I’m looking at this:

+      Chen has good quads. Yes, he has artistry (still developing, of course—he’s only 16!—but it’s coming). But more importantly for this level of competition: Chen has good, point-mongering QUADS. And he lands them most of the time.

+      Aaron has quads too, and so does Rippon. But so far this year, the consistency hasn’t been there for either of them (and that goes moreso for some of their triples than the quads).

+      Especially with all the WDs at the top, the pressure is both Rippon and Aaron like it probably hasn’t been since... well, since a team was being chosen for Sochi (which didn’t include either of them). While I don’t think they will have dates with disaster—I wouldn’t predict them for medals if I did—I’m afraid the nerves will tag them both just enough to keep the top spot out of reach. Chen, meanwhile, has nothing to lose. Did I mention he’s 16??

+      Speaking of teenagers... Vincent Zhou. He won Novice Men on his first attempt. He won Junior Men on his first attempt. He didn’t compete last year due to injury... but he’s back. With a quad salchow (one of the few to successfully land one in Sectionals, if not THE only one). And a full arsenal of triples. And some decent musicality (his FS is to The Godfather, or as I’ll probably quip on Twitter, The Godfather’s Unexpected Nephew). And yes, I’m predicting this 15 (FIFTEEN!!) year-old will finish his senior-level debut in a most-exciting 4th place.

+      Finally, we’ve got Grant (Hochstein) and Ross (Miner). One turned in surprisingly strong 4th place finishes at both his GP events this season (after being away from the entire circuit for several years); the other earned a surprise of his own when he claimed bronze at Rostelecom Cup a couple months ago. Can either of them convert those successes into a podium-worthy Nationals? Yep, I think either one of them could do it—especially with a landed quad (which both have done) and IF the other guys I’ve mentioned execute seriously flawed programs. (And after watching the ladies Thursday night, we certainly know what that’s like!) But those are pretty specific circumstances, which is why I give both Hochstein and Miner the Dark Horse slot.

 OTHER MEN RETURNING WITH A “BYE” (as in by-passing Sectionals): Tim Dolensky

OTHERS RETURNING VIA SECTIONALS: Scott Dyer, Alexander Johnson (NOTE: he skates first in the SD tonight) Jimmy Ma, Curran Oi**, Sebastien Payannet, Robert Przepioski, Sean Rabbitt

ROOKIES to the senior ranks this year are Ben Jalovick, Daniel Kulenkamp, Emmanuel Savary, Eric Stinehart, and the previously mentioned Zhou.

VETERANS: 26 year-old Rippon’s first senior-level Nationals was 2009.
**But of special note is 25 year-old Curran Oi, who you might recall was a standout 6th-place finisher that same year (FUN FACT—he outskated Rippon by less than half a point!). He then dropped out of competition to attend M.I.T. full-time. But he’s back, and while his FS at Sectionals wasn’t a complete return to that 2009 form, it was enough to get him back to Nationals for the first time in seven years! No small accomplishment.

Whether you’re following everything on Ice Network, or just the marquee groups/events on NBC this weekend, chances are good that I’ll be on Twitter at the same time... look for me @KLBSt8ofSk8, using #USChamps16 on all Nats-related Tweets!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

2016 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships: Previews/Predictions Part 1

Hey! Welcome back to State of the Skate! Say, did you know 2016 U.S. Nationals are underway?

Of course you did. I'm just messing with you. Anyway, the Pairs SP is up first-- as usual-- so here's a few words and predictions about all of that:


GOLD: Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim
SILVER: Tarah Kayne/Daniel O’Shea
BRONZE: Madeline Aaron/Max Settlage
PEWTER: Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran

Dark Horse: Jessica Calalang/Zack Sidhu

Even with two teams scratching (Donlan/Bartholomay and reigning silver medalists Denney/Frazier), this year’s pairs field is a little bigger than last year’s. Trouble is, I feel like I barely know what’s happening with any of them. Sci/Kni seem to be a lock for gold this year, especially with Denney/Frazier gone. Kayne/O’Shea have had a pretty good season thus far—1st at the U.S. Classic and 4th at Rostelecom among the highlights—so I’ve got them making the move from bronze to silver this year. The rest is kind of a crap shoot... Aaron/Settlage had to scratch from their only GP assignment, Castelli/Tran are improving rapidly but still had a ways to go last time I saw them (4th at Skate Canada), and Calalang/Sidhu could only manage 7th place at NHK. So consider all those placements sheer guesswork!

As for the nine teams that got here by way of Sectionals—I tried to watch all of them via IceNetwork, but couldn’t locate four of the teams (!!). And the five I DID see were not particularly noteworthy—not in a good way, at least!

So when it comes to new teams, I’ll just call out two of ‘em: Chelsea Liu/Brian Johnson, who skated the JGP circuit this past fall (and had a BYE from Sectionals for that reason I think) and have “good speed and energy” with their Beauty and the Beast program... and Caitlin Fields/Ernie Utah Stevens, who didn’t have a great skate at Midwestern Sectionals but won Junior Nationals last year, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. Also I’m giving them a “homer” vote because they skate out of the Indianapolis area (and Stevens is (or was?) a Butler University student)!

VETERAN OF THE FIELD: 25 year-old Castelli, who first competed senior Nats in 2010 with Simon Shnapir. But to be fair her current partner (Tran, also 25) is even more of a veteran, considering he first competed in a senior nats (for Japan, with Narumi Takahashi) back in 2008!


GOLD: Gracie Gold
SILVER: Ashley Wagner
BRONZE: Polina Edmunds
PEWTER: Courtney Hicks

Dark Horse: Karen Chen
“Nowhere” Lady: Tyler Pierce

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that this is the exact same gold-to-pewter set of predictions I made last year. That’s not by mistake. This time, I’m saying “Gracie for Gold” because I’ve grown concerned about Wagner’s ability, of late, to deliver back-to-back great skates. While I’m not convinced Gold will skate either program clean, I’m better the sum of her mistakes will be slightly less than whichever program Wagner might bungle (FWIW I’m guessing that will be the long... I just don’t know that she can come close to her Nats performance of essentially the same Moulin Rouge free skate of 2015.) But, having said all that, keep in mind that I’ve gotten this particular prediction correct only ONE TIME in the past five years!

As for Bronze, Pewter, and my DH pick, the thinking goes like this:
+      both Edmunds and Hicks have been stronger so far this year (with Hicks picking up her first GP medal!) but I tend to think Edmunds is both more fluid and more consistent... so long as she fully rotates her jumps.
+      Hicks’ jumps are FIERCE but she’s had issues with her combo jumps in particular. (As in, not really combo jumps.)
+      While Chen has been OK in the first half of the season, I don’t really see her improving (or “keeping up”?) enough to get another podium finish. BUT she’s proven she’s capable...

And I’ve got Pierce as a coming out of “nowhere” for a top-6 finish because based on what I saw last year and this year. I started this prediction last year and didn’t do well with it, so I won’t talk more about it unless I happen to be right this time... heh heh.

OTHER LADIES RETURNING WITH A “BYE” (as in by-passing Sectionals): Mariah Bell, Hannah Miller, Mirai Nagasu, and Angela Wang.

MISSING IN ACTION? Last year’s 12th place finisher Leah Keiser. If you know what she’s up to (injured, taking a break, full-time college, etc.) please share in the comments!

OTHERS RETURNING VIA SECTIONALS: Ashley Cain, Francesca Chiera, Christina Cleveland, Katie McBeath, Maria Yang

ROOKIES to the senior ranks this year are Alexis Gagnon, Carly Gold (aka Gracie’s redheaded sister), Avery Kurtz, Alexie Mieskoski, Heidi Munger, Elena Pulkinen, and Bradie Tennell (last year’s Junior Champ—watch for her!)

VETERANS: Both Wagner (age 24) and Mirai Nagasu (age 22) have competed at senior Nats since 2008!

See you on Twitter, I hope...? More predictions coming Friday of course!