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!


Jessica Browning said...

Couldn't agree more regarding the Shibs and C/B. I imagine that C/B will hold on for the win in the FD. And while I like this year's FD more than their "An American in Paris" program from last year I LOVE the Shibs "Fix You" program and wish that they had been able to at least medal at the GPF.

Kelli Lawrence said...

Yes... no GPF medal felt like a crime! :-(