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?


Anonymous said...

Your analysis is spot on, Kelli. I agree with a lot of what you have pointed out. I honestly could have lived with a Gold, Nagasu and Wagner podium / team had the USFSA just resisted the temptation of getting “cute” and playing games with those spots, (two and three), but primarily the third spot.

The only disagreement I have with your opinion, (which I definitely respect!), is I do think that Polina Edmunds should and obviously is staying on the team, but only because she did out skate Wagner on this occasion, even though the scores given were inflated, (there's that getting “cute” again by the USFSA) and because I am such a stickler for letting the final results stand in competition, (unless there is / has been corruption involved) and taking each competition singularly, thus not rewarding an athletes “body of work” or “resume.”

Plenty of people agree with me on this and plenty of people do not. So no need, in my mind, to debate this point anymore! To each his or her own.

I do not hold Polina Edmund's age against her. I think if you can win the big titles at the age of 15, 16 or 17, (example: Baiul, Lipinski, Kwan, Hughes, Asada, Kim, Kostner, etc., who have won senior titles at those ages) more power to you and why take that away?!

I think everyone who was in the running at Nationals was over-scored, but that has been the norm in this Olympic season and not just at our Nationals, but internationally as well, (even Wagner's FS score was inflated in comparison to how she actually did skate).

The good news for Ashley Wagner, is that she has some time to regroup before the Olympics, but for Mirai Nagasu, the tank may be on empty after the highs and lows of what happened at Nationals.

A skater, (cannot remember who at this moment), recently said that trying to finish off the season at Europeans / Four Continents, on a high and positive note, is really tough after you have missed out on making the Olympic team to represent your country.

So whatever should lie ahead for Mirai Nagasu, I wish and hope for her nothing but the very best!

The Nagasu / Kovtun pairs team...,hmmm, could work!! ;-)

sara.raju said...

Kelli, I need to hear your Olympics predictions! I feel like the fair weather fans are drowning out the rest of us-at least on twitter. (I also made my own predictions, if you'd care to peruse )

nagasu/kovtun representing japan would be v. interesting to watch at the very least

Anonymous said...

I hate to see the great ones like Plush on the downward slide, it's like when Montana went to the Kansas City Chiefs, just cringe-worthy. And I think Maxim has a better shot. I agreed with the USFSA decision re Mirai, she rallied for two great skates, but she looked out of shape, has been inconsistent, and having no coach is a red flag (not to mention there was no one to fight for her behind the scenes.) I don't think she would score well internationally and the US wants medals. I would have put Polina fourth but am not unhappy that she's going to Sochi.