Saturday, May 8, 2010

Three Ladies and a Dream: The Latest on Czisny, Liang, and Meissner

It’s probably time I move on to the should-they-stay-or-go question as it applies to some of the world’s best pair and dance teams… after all, the breakup of a whole bunch of lesser-known ice dance teams in the U.S. (including virtual unknowns in the junior and novice ranks) was announced en masse this past friday.

But it’s the decisions announced by three U.S. Ladies in that same press release that I’d like to address this time around. No more will they or won’t they questions for these three; it appears they’ve each found the answer. For now, at least. In alphabetical order:

NAME: Alissa Czisny, b. 6/25/87
BEST NATIONAL FINISH: Gold medal, 2009
BEST INTERNATIONAL FINISH: Gold medal, Skate Canada, 2005
STAYING OR GOING: Staying… but switching coaches.
2009-10 had to be one of the most difficult seasons of Czisny’s career, and that’s a crying shame, considering the high she should have been on with a U.S. title in her back pocket. But something I’ll call negative fact-underscoring started before the medal ceremony even took place. She’d only won on the strength of her stunning SP? Check, along with the “fact” that apparently none of the other ladies wanted the title. She still couldn’t put two solid skates back to back? Check, and unfortunately that continued to hold true with her GP assignments in the fall. We were doomed as far as getting three spots for the Olympics? Unfortunately, that proved true too. Only Czisny knows how much that sort of chatter might have affected her 11th place performance. There were even those that said she’d probably cost the U.S. team her own spot; an implication that she’d do well to finish 3rd in 2010… there was no way she’d pull off another win.

That last part proved true too… except she didn’t make the podium at all. She finished down in 10th, leaving us to wonder if this was the last we’d see of her on the competitive stage. Then came word a while back that she’d left her longtime coach Julianne Berlin, leaving us to wonder if another coach was coming, or if they’d parted ways because Czisny was retiring. Now, via the new announcement, we learn it’s the former—and that Yuka Sato (Jeremy Abbott’s current coach) is the one taking her under her wing. At age 23 in the fall, will Czisny be able to demonstrate the mental toughness and resilience (not to mention technical difficulty) necessary for a comeback? And if she does, how will she rank against the rest of the best?

I’ve no clue, but I’m glad she’s trying… it would be pretty heartbreaking to have called it a day after Spokane.

NAME: Beatrisa Liang, b. 3/31/88
BEST NATIONAL FINISH: Pewter medal (4th place), 2007
BEST INTERNATIONAL FINISH: Bronze medal, Four Continents 2006… and Gold medal, Nebelhorn Trophy 2006
On the other hand, Bebe Liang didn’t do her best in Spokane either (finishing 7th), but I think her decision to retire is the right one. And this is someone who arguably never had their moment in the sun. What’s the difference? Well it can’t be age; Liang is even younger than Czisny. And as progress goes, it’s a tough one to measure—while she did rebound from a 14th place finish at 2009 Nationals, her sole international appearance this season (Cup of China) was a dismal 10th. But whether Liang was finishing 3rd or 13th, we have to keep in mind she made her debut at Senior Nationals when she was only 12 years old! That was a decade ago! (as you can see in this adorable
Clip of the Day)

As a former low-level competitor (read: VERY low, VERY long ago) who came in second more times than my hands have fingers, I can empathize just a little with the frustration that must come from being christened “the next big phenom” when you enter the elite ranks at such a tender age… only to miss the national (let alone world) podium every single time you try. Even if you’re of the Reason For Everything school of thought, that’s got to be a bitter pill to swallow.

But of course, it’s been swallowed by countless young, talented athletes through the years. Skating isn’t a Saturday morning soccer game put on by the YMCA; you don’t come away happy with a snack and a Capri-Sun and the simple satisfaction that you tried your hardest, and that’s what matters. There’s so much time involved, so very much money, and so many injuries that don’t shake off at 25 like they did at 15. And with so few fine skaters ever getting the public recognition they deserve, the rest are left to pick apart the bones for their tidbits of treasure, taking away as much value as they can carry before starting that Next Chapter.

Liang and Czisny were two of four U.S. “Olympic hopefuls” featured in the 2005-6 documentary series Ice Diaries. They’ve also, difficulties and all, been by far the most successful of the four in terms of their skating. If that’s not a testament to the multitude of ways a “hopeful” career can go, I don’t know what is.

NAME: Kimmie Meissner, b. 10/4/89
BEST NATIONAL FINISH: Gold medal, 2007
BEST INTERNATIONAL FINISH: World Championships (Gold medal), 2006
STAYING OR GOING: Staying… but switching coaches.
Meissner’s the wildest of wild cards right now. The once steady-eddie teenager with the full arsenal of triples (yes, including axel) AND triple-triple combos had a merciless fall from grace less than two years after winning her world title… then came a rash of injuries that sent her careening off the radar completely, in an Olympic season to boot. Would anyone have blamed Meissner if she took her sole U.S. and World titles, called it a life, and vanished from the competitive scene forever?

Apparently Meissner herself would have… she’s decided she still has something to contribute to this sport, and hauled herself back from Florida (where she trained with Richard Callaghan for the past couple of years) to train in Fairfax, VA with Chris Conte. Back on March 30 she announced on Twitter that she was going to be abandoning the service “for a while… probably a month or so”, and indeed not a peep (or Tweet) has been heard from her since then. Could it be a symbolic focusing move for someone who, at age 20, is young enough to potentially have her best competitive years still ahead of her?


Stef said...

Great article! :)
But I just want to mention that Czisny got the gold at Skate Canada in 2005. In 2008, she got the bronze.

I'm sad to see Liang go, although I was expecting to see her retire. :S

Kelli Lawrence said...

Thanks Stef, and thanks for the catch... I knew that... was adding the details on this late last night... my only excuse! But I've already gone back and made the fix