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.

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