Wednesday, February 8, 2012

US Nats: Championship Ladies

It's been over a week since the US Figure Skating Championships ended and the Exhibitions have finally been shown on TV so I guess it's pretty clear that I'm not going to finish detailed reports on the rest of the Championship events. That's okay. There are plenty of bloggers covering the Senior levels; I much prefer giving some attention to the younger kids.

 Which is not to say that I haven't got thoughts on these events. I always have thoughts! So here's a quick wrap-up of the Ladies, with Pairs and Mens to follow hopefully by the end of the week. 

Senior Ladies SP

The Senior Ladies Short Program was quite an impressive event with lots of strong programs. However, most of the expected leaders made a mistake. As a result, the leader after the SP was a relative unknown, Agnes Zadwaski. Now, just two years ago, she had won the Junior event and people were getting all excited about how the US finally had a Ladies skater who could jump and predicting she'd win everything. When she didn't (becuase, basically no one does their first year in Seniors), the Next Young Thing crowd all abandoned her for last year's Next Young Thing (who wasn't even here due to a very serious injury) so it was gratifying to me to see her do so well and show those people who were so fickle that she's not to be ignored.

Another breakout performance was had by Ashley Wagner who tends to mess up just enough in the Short to not be able to win the whole thing. She had one of her best SP ever, ending up in 3rd and the only predicted podium threat who went clean.

 But the most satisfying SP to me was that of Caroline Zhang. I've been watching this kid since she was a bendy Novice being compared to Sasha Cohen (though she reminded me more of Michelle Kwan). Caroline has always had "it" in my opinion, but back then Zhang fans were in short supply because even though she had amazing spins and choreography, she did have technique issues with her jumps and was kind of slow. But personally I didn't care because I found her skating mesmerizing and a lot of that was because of how lyrical she was and the joy she projected. But eventually the rest of the world caught on and I had some company in my enthusiasm.

Anyway, fast forward to 2007 Nationals and Caroline was tense and doing the same-old, same-old programs and Mirai Nagasu stole my heart away from her. Then Caroline had a growth spurt and her skating career kind of went south as she could no longer whip off the triples like she used to. Now all those people who were drooling over her skating and predicting great things were saying stuff like "Stick a fork in her. She's done." I admit it. That made me mad. So I really wanted her to prove them wrong.

And she did!

Caroline came out to skate and she skated clean and with joy and with her great "Pearl" spin that she invented and it was like I'd gotten my old Caroline back. Only in a completely different package because her adult body is so different from her kid body. Now she did still mule kick the triple lutz a little bit (but not as bad as she used to) and she under-rotated the second triple in her triple loop-triple loop so the scores were lower than the crowd expected (well the ones who didn't have a SkateBug and so didn't know about the under-rotation). But she ended up in 4th, which was still really impressive especially when you think about how much work it is to totally remake your jump technique with a new body.

 The most heart-breaking SP, for me, was that of the afore-mentioned Mirai. Who has also been going through "stuff" and had some disappointing results including not making the World Team at all last year after once being National Champion. She had neen having good practices according to reports and she started out strong but she went up into th efirst jump, a triple loop, and fell out of it with a look of total shock on her face. From then on the performance didn't quite have the oomph that a great Mirai program had but she landed everything and made no major mistakes. I was kind of suprised she ended up in 5th but it was hard to argue that anyone above her shouldn't have been. I think this just hows deep the field was.

The other notable Short was from Rachael Flatt. It was notable mostly because everyone was holding their breath the whole time because it was clear she was undertrained, probably because she's majoring in some sort of Engineering discipline at Stanford while still trying to skate at an elite level. That's pretty hard to do and her Falls season was pretty disappointing. Her SP was serviceable but she ran out of steam near the end and singled her Double Axel. That's a BIG mistake in the SP because doing a 2X is required. She ended up in ninth place, which is one of her lowest placements after the SP at Nationals since she turned Senior. It did not look good for the Free skate because it's almost twice as long and has a lot more jumping passes.

Senior Ladies Free Skate

Since the Free skate skating order is determined by a combination of random draw and seeding, Rachael was the first of these skaters to skate and the only who wasn't in the final group. She started out kind of shaking and I was holding my breath but as the program progressed, she got stronger and stronger and she was able to change some of the jumps around to get some of the point she left on the table with her earlier mistakes. By the end of the program, she was really into it and the crowd got very excited for her too. Her score was pretty good, enough to move her up to 8th. There were years that would be a  horrible finish for her but this year it was a triumph and nice to see.

And now I'm going to go out on a limb... there are plenty of people saying Rachael will retire after this because she's had a "decent" career even winning a National championship and you just can't go to a serious school and skate and she'll never do any bettter. I think they are wrong.

First of all, I don't think Rachael will retire. Second, I don't think she should. The 2014 Winter Olympics are coming up and I think she should try to pull a Wylie. That is, keep skating and going to school next year, letting the chips fall where they may, but staying in the mix. Then the next year, take some time off from school and really work towards making the Olympic team.

Why not? Maybe she won't make the team after all but she sure won't make the team if she quits skating now! Besides, from everything I've seen, she is a very nice person and I've known her coaches for a while and they are great too so I don't want them to all thrown in the towel and then wonder what might have been.

Speaking of what might have been... in the final group -- which skated in reverse order of their SP finishes to make TV happy -- Christina Gao (and other Junior Wunderkind) had a respectable program and moved up to 5th place which I think is her highest finish as a Senior yet. I look forward to seeing more from her.

Then Mirai skates and it was one of those nights when it just wasn't her night. For example, she went up for one jump and landed not quite right but still reached back to pick for the second jump in the combo and she had this very determined look on her face (she did that particular combo right in front of my row) and landed it but there were just too many little problems and she ended up rearranging her jump content to make up for the mistakes and it just didn't work. She actually came in 8th in this portion of the event dropping from 5th to 7th overall. Yes, she finished behind Rachael even though she came into the event totally trained. I really hope she figures out whatever it is that's stealing her mojo because I miss "my" Mirai who is so breathtaking when she's "on."

Then we had Caroline Zhang who continued to skate her best and actually came in 3rd in the Free skate. But it wasn't enough to move her up any and she finished in 4th winning the pewter medal (it still cracks me up that USFS has a pewter medal). She was really happy and we (the audience) were really happy for her too.

Ashley Wagner came out and skated the program of her life. It was to Black Swan and I admit I hate those "I'm a ballerina on ice flapping my wings" versions of the various swan ballets but Ashley was not to be denied and she pulled ahead of everyone who had skated so far and by a large margin. It really looked like it was going to be her year.

Alissa Czisny was next skating in her slip. Seriously. Her skating dress looked like she put on a corset and then a slip over it but forgot to put on the actual dress. It was HORRIBLE. (The gals at Go Fug Yourself agree as does pretty much everyone in the known universe except whomever it was that had the idea for that dress and let her go out and compete in it. Alissa, please, please, get a new dress for Worlds, okay?) Oops, I just gave away the ending. Alissa skated well, not too many mistakes, and was in 2nd after Ashley. At this point, she was guaranteed a medal but not a spot on the World team.

It was up to Agnes. Who did not respond well to the pressure. Her skate didn't seem that bad to me but it did come in 7th. Yes, below Rachael Flatt (which I'm not sure I agree with but I don't feel like studying the protocols and figuring out if I've missed some technicality that explains that result.) But she had scored high enough in the SP that she only dropped to 3rd. So she got the Bronze medal and no trip to Worlds but a trip to Four Continents, which is nothing to sneeze at. I think she'll learn from this and come back stronger next year.

It's actually kind of exciting to have a bunch of Senior Ladies who can all end up on the podium on any particular day and even to like to watch most of them. I can't wait to see what happens in the next two years leading up to the Olympics.
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