Friday, January 15, 2010

2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Mens SP Live Commentary

Starting Order

Warmup Group #1
1 Wesley Campbell, Nashville FSC
2 Johnny Weir, SC of New York Inc
3 Douglas Razzano, Coyotes SC of Arizona
4 Parker Pennington, Winterhurst FSC
5 Jeremy Abbott, Detroit SC

Warmup Group #2
6 Michael Solonoski, SC of New York Inc
7 Ryan Bradley, Broadmoor SC
8 Jonathan Cassar, Detroit SC
9 Alexander Johnson, Braemar-City of Lakes FSC
10 Keegan Messing, Alaska Assoc of Figure Skaters
11 Grant Hochstein, St Clair Shores FSC

Warmup Group #3
12 Stephen Carriere, Skating Club of Boston
13 Shaun Rogers, SC of Wilmington Inc
14 Dennis Phan, All Year FSC
15 Daniel Raad, Park FSC
16 Richard Dornbush, All Year FSC
17 Evan Lysacek, DuPage FSC

Warmup Group #4
18 Brandon Mroz, Broadmoor SC
19 Armin Mahbanoozadeh, Washington FSC
20 Andrew Gonzales, All Year FSC
21 Adam Rippon, SC of New York Inc
22 Jason Wong, Skating Club of Boston
23 Tommy Steenberg, SC of Northern Virginia

9:02 CT Opening ceremonies fluff going on.
9:10  National Anthem being played.
9:12 Ice resurface going on, first warm-up group will probably start in about ten minutes
9:26 Crowd looks a bit more full than pairs SP, but it is far from sold out.
9:28 Lights are up in the arena and it looks like the competition is close to getting underway
Warm-up Group 1 on ice. Fairly big crowd responses for Abbott and Weir
Abbott-clean 3R
Commentators say that Razzano is planning a quad
Abbott and Weir in same costumes as GP events
Warm-up group 1 has concluded

Wesley Campbell
3A-leaning to right in air; fall
3Z(possible UR)+2R-landed
Circular step-slow
Spin combo- nicely centered but slow
Back sit spin to pancake to fwd sit-slow
3F-good; slight cheat
Deathdrop to sit spin to pancake-positions not low enough
Has smooth movement quality but overall movement quality is slow and a bit lifeless.

TES: 28.55
PCS: 28.43
Ded: -1.00
Total: 55.98

Johnny Weir
3Z+3T-very smooth
3A-slightly off in air but beautifully landed
3F-smallest of wobbles but well done
Sit spin combo-good speed and stretch
Circular step-good attack
Deathdrop to pancake to sit-good
SLSS-a tad slow in places but great energy
Final spin combo-excellent
Excellent skate. Weir really sold the performance and his stroking looked faster. Standing ovation.

TES: 45.32
PCS: 38.19
Total: 83.51
Rank: 1

Douglas Razzano
4T-fall; slight UR
3T+3T-fall out of 2nd jump
Nice low pancake and sit spin positions
Circular step sequence-slow
Deathdrop to pancake-good
Camel to sit spin to back pancake-excellent
Good spins, potentially good jumps but relatively bland program to "Claire de Lune."

TES: 36.56
PCS: 28.71
Ded: -1.00
Total: 64.27
Rank: 2

Parker Pennington
3A-fall; looked rotated
3Z(weight forward)+3T-wobble but landed
3F-great height and landing; possible lip
Good deathdrop to pancake spin combo
Circular step-good energy at beginning but loses it that toward the end
Excellent sit spin combo
SLSS-a bit simplistic, good speed
Fwd sit to bwd sit spin-very good
Good energy in parts of the program but his movement is often a bit awkward looking. Really muscled through that skate but the spins were nice.

TES: 33.33
PCS: 29.25
Ded: -1.00
Total: 61.58
Rank: 3

Jeremy Abbott
3F+3T-well done
Sit spin combo-decent
3Z-slightly forward on landing but otherwise clean
Circular step-brilliant
Camel to fwd sit to bwd sit-good
SLSS-good but no the same abandonment be had in the circular step
Deathdrop to pancake-good
Very focused at the beginning but otherwise the presentation was brilliant. Great jumps, spins, and footwork. Standing ovation.

TES: 47.55
PCS: 40.30
Total: 87.85
Rank: 1

Warm-Up Group 2 on ice that includes Ryan Bradley.
Crowd response seems to indicate that Bradley did his 4T in warm-up; he was preparing for the jump but the camera turned to someone else.
4T+3T from Bradley with a wonky landing on his 4T
Warm-Up Group 2 has concluded.

Michael Solonoski
2A-landed; loose in the air; intended 3A
Deathdrop to sit-well centered but slow
Circular step sequence-a bit slow and bland
Fwd sit to bwd sit-once again slow but centered
SLSS-smooth and fluid but very vanilla movement
Fwd sit to bwd sit to fwd catch-foot- decent
Somewhat fluid but extremely bland skating

TES: 29.45
PCS: 25.81
Total: 55.26
Rank: 6

Ryan Bradley
4T(slight UR but will likely get credited)+3T-well done
2A-stalled out too long in the air; landed fine
Circular step-very fun
2Z-bye bye Olympic dream
Spin combo with several different positions that ended with a very slow back camel
SLSS-not as much attack as he is capable of
Fwd camel(little wobble) to back sit-OK
Very disappointed

TES: 37.05
PCS: 33.58
Total: 70.63
Rank: 3

Jonathan Cassar
3Z+3T(possible UR)-fall
Deathdrop to sit to pancake spin combo- a tad slow, positions not low enough
SLSS-not much use of levels but good musicality
Stunning inside spread eagle
Decent spin combo
Circular step-good
Fwd camel to bkwd pancake-great

TES: 26.84
PCS: 29.69
Ded: -1.00
Total: 55.53
Rank: 7

Alexander Johnson
3F-weight forward, possible UR, fall
3Z(hand down)+2T-landed
Step sequence-lots of turns; decent speed; keeps in character with the program
Deathdrop to sit spin-nice low position
Circular step sequence-a bit simplistic
Fwd camel to fwd sit to bkwd sit to Y-scale spin-slowed down toward end
bkwd sit to fwd sit-a tad slow but centered well

TES: 26.43
PCS: 28.86
Ded: -1.00
Total: 54.29
Rank: 9

Keegan Messing
3A-forward on landing; possible UR
3Z(off-balance)+1T-two footed
Deathdrop to sit to pancake spin combo-excellent
SLSS-nice expression, good quick movement
Fwd camel to sit with variations to bkwd camel to bkwd sit-great
Circular step-movement is a tad awkward but he has good energy
Great final spin combination
Awkward ending
A bit unpolished but great energy, speed, and spins. Good potential and he really engaged the crowd into his skate.

TES: 34.95
PCS: 28.83
Total: 63.78
Rank: 5

Grant Hochstein
2A-clean with leap out of the landing position
Back camel to donut to fwd camel to catch-foot- centered well but slow
3F-low; fall out; possible UR
Circular step-good
Flying sit spin-very good
SLSS-decent speed
Fwd camel to bkwd sit-decent
Elegant but bland program to the music of the ballet The Sleeping Beauty. Nice polish and good speed.

TES: 35.94
PCS: 29.61
Total: 65.55
Rank: 4

Ice resurfacing going on right now.

Warm-Up Group 3 on ice that includes Lysacek.
Lysacek in different costume with no feathers that is still basically all black.
Lysacek-good 3R, almost collided with someone while attempting 3F
The Icenetwork feed is currently down. I will post further updates when it is back up.
The feed has been stopping and starting but it is back up and seems to be OK now.
Warm-Up Group 3 concluded.

Stephen Carriere
3Z(weight forward)+2T-landed
Fwd sit to pancake-little bit slow in sit spin
SLSS-good speed
Deathdrop to sit spin-good speed at beginning but loses a lot of that speed during his last spin variation in the combination
Circular step sequence-decent
Back camel (traveled slightly) to bkwd sit to fwd sit (lost balance)
Good speed and some good movement but a rather one-dimensional program. He has a lot of potential that is unfortunately unfulfilled at this point.

TES: 28.85
PCS: 29.83
Total: 58.68
Rank: 8

Shaun Rogers
4T-fell, possible UR, too slow going in
Icenetwork feed stopped
SLSS-interesting in places but labored
Final spin combo-decent but not especially difficult
Replay shows that 3A was excellent

Icenetwork feed stopped again.

Dennis Phan
Fwd sit to bkwd sit to pancake-a tad slow
SLSS-very fluid but slow
Pancake spin combo-very good
Circular step sequence-good
Back camel to forward sit spin (among other spin variations) in final spin combo-wobbled noticeably going into forward sit spin
Very fluid and calm skater.

TES: 31.55
PCS: 30.96
Total: 62.51
Rank: 7

Daniel Raad
3F(possible UR, forward, slow coming out)+2T(toe-axeled)-landed
3Z-forward, hand down
Spin combo-decent
Circular step sequence-slow
Fwd sit to bkwd sit (not low enough) to pancake (slow)
SLSS-occasionally good movement but presented with no spark at all
Back camel (position substandard) to fwd sit spin (a tad slow)
Wobble on ending pose
Program was like watching paint dry

TES: 27.07
PCS: 22.25
Total: 49.32
Rank: 15

Richard Dornbush
3Z+3T(slightly toe-axeled)-well landed
3A-fall; possible UR
Flying sit spin-good low position
3F-very good
Bkwd camel to catch-foot to fwd camel-nice positions
Circular step sequence-A little slow in places but good movement
Fwd camel to sit to back sit to fwd catch-foot- nice speed until the end
SLSS-Nice power
Good strength and attack but needs a little bit more refinement to his movement.

TES: 37.54
PCS: 29.25
Ded: -1.00
Total: 65.79
Rank: 4

Evan Lysacek
3A-fall out but rotated
3Z+3T-little forward on landing but held landing edge nicely
3F-spiral preceding it, good amplitude and landing
Circular step sequence-very dramatic and fast
Bkwd sit to pancake and fwd sit-excellent
Deathdrop to bkwd sit to pancake-good
Fwd camel to sit to bkwd sit to catch-foot-good
Good recovery from mistake on 3A. Presentation is very dramatic and perhaps overly so.

TES: 44.23
PCS: 39.46
Total: 83.69
Rank: 2

Warm-Up Group 4, which includes Rippon and Mroz, is currently on the ice.
Rippon-stunning Rippin 3Z in warm-up.
Mroz just fell out of a jump (probably the quad)
Warm-up concluded.

Brandon Mroz
4T-fell out; hand down; possible UR
1A-spread eagle preceding it
Bkwd sit to fwd sit spin-good
Deathdrop to sit spin
SLSS-Not completely invested in the music but some occasional good moments
Circular step-bland
Final spin combo that ended with a back sit spin-decent
Not a terrible program but he looks very tense while doing some of the choreography. A rough skate for him jumping wise and the replay seems to indicate that his 4T will be downgraded.

TES: 33.99
PCS: 30.46
Total: 64.45
Rank: 7

Armin Mahbanoozadeh
3A-slight wobble but good
3F+3T-very good
3Z-slightly forward but solid
Good spin combo
Nice soft knees in footwork; could look up at audience more
Spin combination-good
SLSS-Decent, needs to make movement bigger
Final spin combo-traveled slightly on camel but otherwise OK
Very polished and fluid performance.

TES: 41.16
PCS: 31.40
Total: 72.56
Rank: 4

Andrew Gonzales
3F(slightly UR)+3T-landed
3Z-possible UR; landed
Back sit spin to fwd sit spin-good speed
Circular step sequence-good movement but doesn't use the entire rink
Good camel to sit spin to bkwd sit spin
SLSS-Nice energy
Gonzales has quite a few decent qualities to his skating but nothing completely stands out. His speed is very creditable no matter what he is doing, however.

TES: 33.38
PCS: 29.00
Total: 62.38
Rank: 12 (loud boos from audience)

Adam Rippon
3A-slight cheat but will likely get credited; landed well
Superb donut spin
Circular step-Nice fluidity
Rippon 2Z-touches his hands to the boards
SLSS-fall at beginning
Bkwd camel to layback catch-foot - good
Fwd sit to bkwd sit to pancake-good

TES: 38.06
PCS: 35.85
Ded: -1.00
Total: 72.91
Rank: 4

Jason Wong
3Z+2T+Combo-Step out of 3Z, will not get credit for 2T
Back pancake to fwd sit-good
Circular step sequence-a bit bland
3S-low but landed
Deathdrop to sit spin-traveled slightly at beginning and completely fumbled exit
SLSS-good expression but footwork is simplistic
Final spin combo-solid
Very pleased with performance.

TES: 33.49
PCS: 31.07
Total: 64.56
Rank: 9

Tommy Steenberg
3A-two footed, possible UR
3Z+3R-turn in-between, UR and double footed 3R
Bkwd sit to fwd sit to pancake-good
Circular step-good
Fwd camel to upright to bkwd pancake spin-decent speed
Good flexibility and has a fairly natural moving quality but jumps were very poor tonight.

TES: 30.86
PCS: 29.31
Ded: -1.00
Total: 59.17
Rank: 16

Results here

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Ladies Preview Part II

Emily Hughes

Expectations Going In: The 20-year-old Great Neck, New York native is best known for being a last-minute replacement for Michelle Kwan at the 2006 Olympics, where Hughes would finish the competition in 7th place. The following year, Hughes followed up that career breakthrough with silver medals attained at both the U.S. Championships and the Four Continents Championships. However, Hughes's skating began to fizzle out thereafter, and she wound up withdrawing from the 2008 and 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Hughes later announced that she would take the year off from attending Harvard to focus on her efforts of making a second Olympic team. While a loss at the North Atlantic Regionals was not part of her plan, Hughes was invited to compete at Skate America when Sasha Cohen withdrew. Hughes's short program was a relative disaster, but she improved her standing in the free skate by four placements to finish 7th overall.

Pros: Hughes is one of only four women scheduled to compete in Spokane who has the experience of competing at a U.S. Championships in an Olympic year, and she is one of only two women entering this event with Olympic experience. The 2006 Olympian is consistently capable of taking off from her lutz and flip jumps from the correct edge, something very few of the other U.S. ladies can say. Hughes demonstrates commendable flexibility in her spins and spirals, and she is currently showing a more mature style in her long program to the soundtrack from the motion picture Gone with the Wind. Hughes also skates with a creditable amount of speed, and 1998 Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski commented that Hughes's work with a ballet coach has helped the 2007 U.S. silver medalist create more defined movement in her choreography.

Cons: Hughes's jump rotation speed is slow when compared to her adversaries, and such a weakness causes her jumps to be under rotated frequently. Even while at the athletic peak of her career (2006-2007), Hughes was prone to under rotating jumps, and her more mature body certainly doesn't help her in this endeavor. Trouble with rotating triples continued at Skate America, where her triple flip in the short and her triple salchow in the long were only credited as doubles. Hughes's reputation has certainly waned in the last couple of years, as evidenced by her relatively low PCS marks at Skate America: a 23.76 in her short and a 46.64 in her long. While her programs have potential, they appear disjointed at the moment, and Hughes is going to have to find ways to connect dots of her program far better than what she is doing now to raise her PCS. An example of this can be found in her long program,  where Hughes does a spiral in the middle of the program. The spiral would be a very nice transition if done shortly before a jump, but Hughes takes so much time to pick up speed and prepare the jump that the overall effect of the movement is lost. Hughes is also known to not have the most steady landing positions: commentators frequently state comments like "She fought for the jump" or "She hangs on," but seldom do they ever say that she outright nails a jump.

Outlook: The Hughes family was blessed with the miracles of Sarah winning Olympic gold and Emily getting to go to the Olympics after Michelle Kwan withdrew, but it will take an even greater miracle than those two for Emily Hughes to make a second Olympic team. Even when adding back all of the marks Hughes lost for negative GOEs, downgrades, and popped/doubled jumps at Skate America, Hughes would have only scored around a 56.06 for her short and a 101.39 for her long. Her short program score would not put her at too much of a disadvantage, but her long program, even with a clean skate, would be easy to surpass for many. One thing that is in Hughes's favor, however, is experience. While Hughes is one to be sluggish during Grand Prixs, she typically is one to deliver at least decent performances at major events later in the season. Hughes has time to improve since Skate America, and she will probably be in better shape for nationals. With little reputation to bank on, however, Hughes will need to make the Olympic team, or any team, the hard way.

Beatrisa Liang

Expectations Going In: Liang appeared to have all the promise one could ask for when she competed at her first U.S. Figure Skating Championships on the senior level in 2001, all the while being just 12 years old. Unfortunately, the 21-year-old Tarzana, Los Angeles native has never fulfilled that early promise, aside from a few career highlights (pewter medalist at the 2007 U.S. Championships, 10th place at 2008 World Championships). Liang's career appears to be spiraling downward more than ever, as she placed 14th at this event last year and was 10th out of 11 skaters at this year's Cup of China. Thus, not much is expected of what could be Liang's final competition.

Pros: The 2006 Four Continents bronze medalist moves extremely quickly while doing anything: jumps, spins, stroking, et al. She achieves decent height on her triples, and she has some of the better spins among the current crop of American ladies skaters. Liang is also one of the most experienced U.S. ladies skaters who are currently competing: she has competed in 11 national championships and nine of them on the senior level. Liang has improved her extension over the years and is one of the few to repeat the lutz and flip jumps - the two hardest jumps besides the axel -  twice in her long program. Liang has finished in the top five four times at the U.S. Championships.

Cons: A 62.93 is considered a very good score for a short program. Although, with the 76+ totals that Yu-Na Kim often receives, the score would be unlikely to top a leader board going into the free skate of a World Championship or Olympic Games. However, Bebe Liang received a 62.93 for her free skate at the Japan Open back in October for a humiliating free skate that contained zero clean triples. Poor, desolate performances from Liang last year dropped her to 14th place, and her 10th place finish from Cup of China was even scarier, as she had the potential to skate much worse than she did. Liang received edge calls on each of the three triple lutzes she attempted at Cup of China, and she also had three triple jumps downgraded in her long program there. Artistically, Liang's transitions are not optimal and her choreography in her current programs is fairly elementary when stacked up against the top U.S. women.

Outlook: It is more likely that pigs will start flying than it is for Liang to make the 2010 Olympic team. Liang had a decent chance of making the 2006 Olympic team, but she blew it when she succumbed to the pressure in the long program by falling twice. She made the most out of her time at what will likely be her only World Championship in 2008, where she cracked the top ten with two decent skates. Since then, however, Liang's skating has gone south and it is unlikely that she will continue beyond this season. Liang is no longer age-eligible to compete at the World Junior Championships, and the Four Continents Championships are scheduled for the week immediately following the ladies competition at Nationals, thus making it questionable as to whether there will be any American representatives in the ladies event there. With all of that said, Liang's last competition may very well be this one, and with the way she has been skating lately, she won't go out with a bang.

Mirai Nagasu

Expectations Going In: The 16-year-old Montebello, California native came out of nowhere to beat heavy favorite Caroline Zhang for the junior title at the 2007 U.S. Championships. Nagasu appeared to be the next great U.S. skater when she surprisingly won the 2008 U.S. Championships as a senior, becoming the second youngest U.S. senior ladies champion in history (Tara Lipinski being the youngest). Unfortunately, a massive growth spurt and an ankle injury severely hindered Nagasu's efforts in the 2008/2009 season, and she has since switched coaches from Charlene Wong to Frank Carroll. Thus far this season, Nagasu has neither helped nor hurt her Olympic bid, but she is still considered a very viable contender for a ticket to the Games.

Pros: Nagasu has superb extension and shows that off to its fullest in her exemplary spins and spirals. Nagasu's growth spurt has enabled her to become much faster across the ice, and her long, lean frame presents viewers with a very attractive body line to watch. Nagasu won the short program at this season's Cup of China with a score of 62.20, a short program total which has only been surpassed by four women in ISU competition this season. Also, the two-time Junior Worlds medalist is prone to peaking at Nationals, as she won the junior title in 2007 and senior title in 2008. Also, even though Nagasu did not medal in 2009, her overall showing there was far superior to her performances at her two Grand Prix events earlier that season. Nagasu showed to be a formidable competitor last year, when she arrived to her free skate in tears and admirably finished her skate without major error. Nagasu has always been marked favorably by the U.S. judges: in 2008, she broke 70 points for her short program and placed above Caroline Zhang's clean long program with a free skate that contained a fall and an under rotated jump.

Cons: Nagasu has always had a huge tendency to flutz, but at Skate Canada, she was given an edge call for her flip in the short and both of her lutzes in the long. Nagasu had four triples and one double jump downgraded during her free skate at Cup of China, and she also received downgrades on two double jumps at Skate Canada. Nagasu's PCS marks went down from Cup of China to Skate Canada for both programs, and while she rotated all of her triples during her long at the latter event, her expression and overall artistry suffered immensely. Nagasu has taken the salchow jump out of her repertoire, and she only attempted five triples in her long at Skate Canada. Two of those triples were lutzes, which are often taken off from the wrong edge or under rotated, and another was a flip jump, an element which was downgraded twice at last year's Nationals. Several of Nagasu's comments that she made at the U.S. Olympic Media Summit about her not being very pretty or very smart, while honest, indicate that Nagasu's confidence level is precarious at best.

Outlook: Nagasu's fall international season has lagged behind those of Czisny, Flatt, and Wagner; however, her scoring potential and ability to peak at nationals make her chances to make the Olympic team very realistic. What should decide Nagasu's fate will be her ability to rotate jumps. Even though the execution judges are no longer required to give a downgraded jump a -GOE, under rotated jumps are still very costly under the new scoring system and will tarnish any advantage Nagasu would have on the second mark. Luckily for Nagasu, Czisny and Wagner have frequently had jumps downgraded as well, and Nagasu receiving full credit for her planned five triples at Skate Canada is certainly a step in the right direction. Nagasu has scored well domestically, and she will be difficult to unseat for an Olympic berth if she goes close to clean in Spokane. However, a meager difference in the rotation of a jump can put a lifelong dream on hold.

Ashley Wagner

Expectations Going In: Wagner burst out onto the scene as a senior level skater in the 2007/2008 season when she took home a bronze medal at the U.S. Championships. Battling injury, pressure, and the unenviable task of following Miki Ando (who withdrew during the beginning of her skate due to an injury), Wagner only finished 16th at her only World Championship thus far. The 2008 U.S. bronze medalist decided to change coaches from Shirley Hughes to Priscilla Hill in 2008, and while Wagner didn't make the world team last year, her coaching switch appears to be paying off with two medals on the Grand Prix this season and a 4th place finish at the Grand Prix Final. Wagner appears to be the favorite to take the second Olympic ticket (behind Rachael Flatt), but with Czisny and Nagasu nipping at her heels, Wagner cannot attain an Olympic berth without two creditable performances.

Pros: The change in Wagner's artistry since moving to Priscilla Hill is night and day, and the two-time World Junior bronze medalist has two strong, dramatic programs this season to showcase that improvement: a short to the soundtrack of Once Upon a Time in America, and a long to the music of "Polovtsian Dances." Wagner is one of the most complete U.S. ladies skaters, boasting strong jumps, spins, speed, and musicality.  Wagner was the only U.S. lady to qualify to the Grand Prix Final, and a 4th place finish there should help her out politically heading into Nationals. Wagner won the long program at last year's U.S. Championships with only five clean triples, and she placed ahead of Rachael Flatt and Caroline Zhang, who both landed six triples. Wagner was the only U.S. lady to medal in both of her Grand Prix events this season, and she set personal bests at the Rostelecom Cup for both her long program and her overall segment total. Wagner stated on her Facebook account that she is "plugging away at those triple-triples," and Priscilla Hill insisted in a New York Times article that Wagner was far from her optimum form during the Grand Prix season.

Cons: Wagner has yet to kick her flutz habit to the curb, and out of six attempts at that jump during this season's Grand Prix she received one "!" and five "e" edge-calls (and the "e" edge-calls are the more severe of the two). She is also a skater to often under rotate jumps, and no jump is immune from being downgraded for Wagner. The current U.S. pewter medalist has had not one, but two, double axels downgraded this season, and she also has received two downgrades on her second triple flip in the long program. Wagner puts a triple lutz late in the long program, which she often receives a -2 GOE for, even if otherwise done cleanly, instead of doing an easier triple toe that would give her around the same point value. The same logic could also be applied to her short program, where the substitution of a loop or salchow for her lutz would likely augment her score. Also, Wagner's plans to do a triple-triple backfired last year, and she has not competed one cleanly since 2008 Nationals. Wagner's PCS went down in the long program from NHK Trophy to the Grand Prix Final, with her GPF free skate being far superior to her one executed at NHK.

Outlook: For better or for worse, Wagner certainly has confidence, going as far as to imply that she could surprise and win the Olympic Games in a New York Times article. Wagner has easily been the second best skater in the long program this year, but Czisny should have an advantage with her short program if Wagner's flutz remains intact. It is worth mentioning that the U.S. technical specialists tend to be more lax with edge calls and have been so to Wagner's lutzes in the past: in 2008, Wagner received no edge call for any of her three lutzes, and she only received an "!" for one of them in 2009. However, the U.S. technical specialists were not shy at Nationals last year when it came to downgrading jumps, which is something that could make an attempt at a triple-triple unwise. Scott Hamilton did mention during his commentary at the Grand Prix Final that Wagner should increase her difficulty, but cleanliness might be the best route with top rivals such as Czisny and Nagasu bound to make errors somewhere. Wagner has been neither brilliant nor dreadful this season, but she has been reasonably solid across three competitions. Adding that with a 4th place finish at the Grand Prix Final should ensure Wagner of the ability to control her own destiny at the U.S. Championships, as she has been marked well at this event in the past with less credentials entering in.

Caroline Zhang

Expectations Going In: Like Nagasu, Caroline Zhang was considered a budding talent whilst on the junior ranks, as evidenced by her taking home the gold medal at the 2007 World Junior Championships. Her first experience on the senior Grand Prix went well, and she took 4th place at the 2007 Grand Prix Final with an overall score that has not since been matched by a U.S. lady in ISU competition. Zhang was too young to qualify to the senior world team in 2008, but she became eligible in 2009 and just missed a spot on the team. Many felt that she should have been on the world team with her impressive performances at both the 2009 Four Continents Championships and the 2009 World Team Trophy. Since then, however, Zhang has not indicated that she will skate well enough in Spokane to be at all deserving of an Olympic berth.

Pros: Arguably the most flexible skater in the world, Zhang is renowned for her six o'clock spirals and her stunning "pearl" and Bielmann spin positions, as she frequently receives high levels and GOE through the roof for her spins and spiral sequences. Zhang delivered near clean long programs at both the 2008 and the 2009 U.S. Championships and is one to perform near her optimum in the later part of the season. Zhang's new short program to "Zigeunerweisen" showcases a fire and intensity that has been missing from several of her previous programs. Zhang's personal best in her long program, a 116.80, has only been surpassed by one of the ladies set to compete in Spokane, Sasha Cohen. Zhang also has a full arsenal of triples besides the axel and will likely be one of the only women attempting triple-triple combinations in Spokane.

Cons: Zhang didn't perform terribly at her opening event of the season, Trophee Eric Bompard, but her PCS marks went down considerably from when she had last competed at the World Team Trophy. Zhang would go on to miss the podium at that event and finish 4th, but the worst was yet to come. At Skate Canada, Zhang had the worst long program of her career as a senior level skater, scoring only 77.88 for a performance of which contained two falls and an invalid jumping pass. Zhang's poor speed, transitions, and overall artistry were reflected brashly in the judges' marks, with one judge going as far as to give Zhang a 2.5 for transitions. Zhang has not had much political favor domestically, and her fall international showing will certainly not aid her in that regard. Zhang landed six triples in her 2008 and 2009 Nationals free skates, but both times she only finished 4th in the long program phase of the event. Zhang has said to be incapable of breaking out of her comfort zone, and it certainly appears to be that way with so many of her weaknesses including her flutz, mule kick, poor stroking, lack of transitions, and molasses speed showing little or no improvement from when she was on the junior level.

Outlook: Zhang's season appears to have been doomed from the start, with two coaching changes and a partial tear of her ACL occurring over the summer. Zhang had a pitiful outing at Skate Canada, but she has shown a fighting spirit several times in the past and should improve for nationals; however, even a dramatic improvement will mean nothing for Zhang's nearly non-existent Olympic chances. The U.S. judges have never scored Zhang beneficially and certainly won't start doing so with her poor Grand Prix season. Zhang will still be much in the running to earn a 4th ticket to what is perhaps a painfully familiar event for her: the World Junior Championships. Zhang's poor technique on just about every jump (except the salchow, which interestingly she never did throughout much of 2007-2008) and her poor speed going into those jumps will hold Zhang back forever unless if major changes are to be in order. Zhang did grow taller last year, yet she interestingly dealt with all of her technical issues well (for the most part). Unfortunately, it appears as though an injury and a further growth spurt have expired Zhang's success with her many technique foibles. Zhang is incredibly talented and can make a splash come 2014, if she does something she has never done before: break out of her comfort zone.


Gold: Rachael Flatt- Flatt should start winning respect from the U.S. judges after her excellent showing at Skate America. If Cohen is not to come back and Czisny remains a headcase - both of which appear likely - Flatt will be the United States' only hope for a ladies medal in Vancouver.

Silver: Ashley Wagner- If the U.S. judges are lax with edge calls, Wagner will be in very good stead to make her first Olympic team. Still, the two-time Junior World bronze medalist would be wise to arrange her jump layouts in such a way that she wouldn't have a try the jump in either program. Triple-triple combinations are great if they're landed (or even just rotated), but they could be unnecessary, or detrimental, to Wagner's Olympic bid.

Bronze: Alissa Czisny- Quite an irony this would be if Czisny were to finish 3rd after basically losing the third spot for the United States in Los Angeles. The judges would look terrible if they blatantly prop up Czisny as they did last year, but she still should be marked favorably with a decent fall international season behind her. However, Czisny cannot go clean in both programs to save her life, and an Olympic ticket on the line won't help her out at all in that endeavor.

4th: Mirai Nagasu- She should perform at least decently here considering her past nationals showings, but downgrades always plague her and could cost her dearly at this event. Nagasu's PCS have been fine domestically, but have not been so fine internationally this season. Thus, it will be interesting to see if her lower PCS marks (especially comparative to Czisny's) at Skate Canada will show up at Nationals.

5th: Caroline Zhang- Has no where to go but up after her performance at Skate Canada, and she has delivered good skates at the past two U.S. Championships. All of that won't mean anything, however, because the judges won't be on her side.

6th: Christina Gao- She has good jumps, very good jumps, and not much else. Still, Brian Orser and his assistants are absolutely heading Gao in the right direction, and she is in the position to have a very admirable showing at these Championships.

7th: Emily Hughes- She had an adequate outing at Skate America on short notice and should display relative improvement for this competition. Under rotated jumps will be a major factor in her placement, but Hughes is experienced enough to get decent PCS and avoid cleaning the ice here.

8th: Alexe Gilles- She is a fairly elegant skater but her jumps are quite often not there for her. She had a fair showing last year and will hopefully take that experience to perform well again.

9th: Bebe Liang- She generally manages somewhat decent showings at nationals, but top ten will probably be the highest realistic goal for her after her poor finish last year and her rough outings in the fall.

WD: Sasha Cohen- Her injury situation was dire enough to pull her out of an event with a weak field and little at stake at Skate America. Recent videos from the show "Improv Ice" show Cohen struggling with one of the easiest jumps, the salchow. Perhaps we may be lucky enough and see Cohen show up in Spokane to do a short program and then mysteriously bow out prior to the long.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Ladies Preview

Two years ago at this very competition, the talent pool for U.S. ladies figure skating appeared limitless. There was Mirai Nagasu, the winner of the event who scored an eye-popping 70.23 points for her short program. Then there was silver medalist Rachael Flatt, who landed ten triples throughout the course of the competition, bronze medalist Ashley Wagner, who displayed a rare triple lutz-triple loop combination in both programs, and 4th place finisher Caroline Zhang, who skated an excellent long program while still finishing outside of the top three. Unfortunately, an age rule preventing Nagasu, Flatt, and Zhang from competing at Worlds meant that U.S. Figure Skating would be represented by the then immature Wagner, the interminably error-prone Beatrisa Liang, and the confidence-stricken Kimmie Meissner. Not surprisingly, the U.S. ladies failed to earn three berths for the following year's World Championships. The ladies' prospects for the 2009 World Championships hardly looked better, and the result was no different. Alissa Czisny managed to splat her way to win the 2009 U.S. title in controversial fashion, and she would splat once again, twice in fact, in her short program at the 2009 World Championships. Czisny would eventually finish 11th, while compatriot Rachael Flatt fared better to finish 5th; however, no U.S. lady had proven to have the technical and artistic gifts to realistically vie for a medal, and certainly not a gold, on a premier international stage.

Enter Sasha Cohen. The 2006 Olympic silver medalist was supposed to save the day; she was supposed to be the solution to win a medal at the Winter Games, or, at the very least, to ignite increased exposure for the Olympics that would not be existent otherwise. Fans around the world, perhaps delusionally, thought that this comeback effort would be brilliant. Cohen was looking fit on tour. Cohen was supposedly practicing triple-triples. Cohen was going to be coached by task master Rafael Artunian. Cohen was going to rearrange her "Moonlight Sonata" program that was so lauded on tour. Now, Cohen is merely attempting to save her own comeback from amounting to nothing. Cohen is on her third strike now, having withdrawn from TEB and Skate America, but it is still debatable over whether Cohen will even attempt to step up to bat in January.

While Cohen has been out of it, several of the U.S. ladies have been faring much better. Rachael Flatt beat current World Champion Yu-Na Kim in the free skate at this season's Skate America, and Flatt didn't even receive credit for her final spin combination. Ashley Wagner pulled off an impressive 4th place finish at the 2009 Grand Prix Final. Alissa Czisny has even managed to skate several clean short programs this year, and she won a silver medal at this season's Skate Canada. Mirai Nagasu's season has not been brilliant, but even she won the short program at the 2009 Cup of China. Cohen certainly has an uphill climb to make the Olympic team while planning to compete for the first time in nearly four years, but it is still not out of the question for her to do so if she is to miraculously become fit, healthy, and peaked for nationals. Despite what the selection procedure states about Olympic team results being decided on multiple events, all does come down to the results of the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The training has been arduous; the pressure, intense; but the rewards of earning the right to compete at the Olympics speak for themselves. After January 23rd, 2010, two women will be able to call those rewards their own.

Skaters Featured in Post

Sasha Cohen
Alissa Czisny
Rachael Flatt
Christina Gao
Alexe Gilles

Emily Hughes
Beatrisa Liang
Mirai Nagasu
Ashley Wagner
Caroline Zhang

Red indicates commentary of skater is featured in part one of preview
Blue indicates commentary of skater is featured in part two of preview

Sasha Cohen

Expectations Going In: Cohen enters this event as the true enigma of the championship. The 25-year-old Laguna Niguel, California native’s programs have yet to be shown in their entirety, fans haven’t even seen her jump since a show at the beginning of October, and her injury - tendinitis in her calf - was first thought to be a sham. Cohen's injury was serious enough to keep her out of Skate America, which was host to a very weak ladies field (with the exception of Kim and Flatt). The blog "Aunt Joyce's Ice Cream Stand" reports that Cohen is continuing to struggle in training. Hence, few of Cohen's fans are so hopeful any longer, and it would be surprise to many just to see Cohen board a flight to Spokane in January.

Pros: Cohen's artistry far surpasses that of any of the U.S. women competing today. The two-time Olympian has supreme musicality and interpretation, qualities which were the prime reason why she won the 2006 Olympic silver medal and World Championship medals in 2004, 2005, and 2006. Armed with legs that extend to tomorrow, beautifully shaped feet, and a supple back, Cohen is one of the most limber athletes to ever compete in figure skating, with such flexibility allowing her spin and spiral positions to be nothing short of brilliant. Cohen has long been scored favorably both domestically and abroad, and the judges marked Cohen well at the 2006 Olympic Games, despite her having two major mistakes in her long program. ISU head Ottavio Cinquanta commented upon the announcement of Cohen's return that "Now we can have the Sasha Cohen era as a strong skater with more experience," and that "It is a good decision for the ISU and her." Statements such as those suggest that Cohen is still favored politically even after having not competed for years. U.S. Figure Skating, void of having a star in the ladies event since Cohen's departure from the sport, should feel no differently toward Cohen if she is to skate well in Spokane.

Cons: Cohen is a habitual flutz offender and will likely receive wrong-edge deductions for that jump that she did not receive during and before 2006. Cohen has yet to skate a clean long program at a U.S. Championships, World Championships, or Olympic Games. Cohen's injury situation is obviously dire- or at least it was a month ago - because her old form would have had no issue medaling at Skate America. Recent returns to competition after injury from Patrick Chan, Stephane Lambiel, and Daisuke Takahashi haven't exactly been smooth, and they weren't away from competition as long as Cohen, nor were they making their return to events with as much pressure as what Cohen will face in Spokane. Debuting programs and testing out jumps for the first time with an Olympic team berth on the line will be a daunting task for the 2006 U.S. Champion, who has never been an especially brilliant competitor or jumper, even while at her athletic peak. The other U.S. ladies have had time to test out their programs, get feedback on them, and to rearrange jump layouts if necessary; Cohen, however, has none of those luxuries entering this event.

Outlook: Even though Cohen is planning on making her return to a competition that is essentially an Olympic trials, she really has little to lose if she is to perform poorly here, provided she doesn't risk further injury. Cohen has already competed at two Olympics and won a medal, and a failed comeback won't be the first thing that defines Sasha Cohen to people in the skating community after all of this is said and done. After all, Cohen has commented that she misses the fire and intensity associated with competition, and what better way to experience that than at a national championship in an Olympic year. It is unknown how much or how little Cohen will factor in at this event, or if she will even make an attempt to factor in at all. Cohen would be the first lady in 74 years to make a third U.S. Olympic team, but the 2006 Olympic silver medalist's efforts to make that happen have likely been too little, too late.

Alissa Czisny

Expectations Going In: At last year's U.S. Championships, Czisny was one of four athletes (Flatt, Wagner, and Zhang being the other three) favored to make the world team. Out of the four, Czisny was chosen as the judges' favorite and she became national title in an extremely controversial result. Czisny only managed to land three clean triples in her long program, yet she placed above Caroline Zhang, who landed six triples, in that portion of the competition. USFSA's tactless and peculiar propping up of Czisny backfired when the reigning U.S. Champion continued upon her head case ways, as she fell twice in the short program at the World Championships en route to an 11th place finish. A disappointing outing in L.A., however, didn't seem to hinder Czisny's confidence badly in the least. Czisny won a silver medal at Skate Canada, and while she has met with trouble in several of her long programs this year, her short program has been successful competition after competition. Czisny is not favored to repeat as champion, but she does still make a strong case for the second Olympic berth.

Pros: Czisny is one of the world's most exemplary spinners, spinning faster than a tornado while maintaining immaculate positions. The two-time world team member has always been noted for her artistry and maturity on the ice, and she has two great programs to showcase that this year: a short program to Mask of Zorro and an improved revival of last year's long program to Dr. Zhivago. Her current programs have been well received by the international judges, as evidenced by Czisny having the highest average PCS score in the long program among all of the U.S. women this season. Czisny is one of the few U.S. ladies consistently capable of taking off of an outside edge whilst attempting a lutz jump, and she is also one of just a handful of skaters to ever perform a Charlotte spiral. Czisny has skated near-clean short programs at every competition she has skated in since the 2009 Worlds, and her SP score of 63.52 at Skate Canada has only been bested by current world medalists Yu-Na Kim, Joannie Rochette, and Miki Ando so far this season.

Cons: Czisny was coming into the 2006 U.S. Championships as one of the favorites to claim an Olympic berth after she had qualified to the Grand Prix Final. Instead, Czisny would fall five times throughout the course of the event and finish the event in 7th place. Czisny has taken much effort to improve her jump technique and her consistency in competition, whether it be attending numerous competitions throughout the summer or working on her jumps with Brian Boitano and his former coach, Linda Leaver. Czisny has improved, but her nerves are still bound to fail her at inopportune times. Czisny fell once in her long program at the Rostelecom Cup and twice in her long at Skate Canada, and she had nine triples downgraded between Nebelhorn and her two Grand Prixs this season. Czisny has not received full credit for a triple loop at an ISU event this season, and she does not attempt a triple salchow jump. She also has a tendency to take off of her triple flip from an outside edge, thus incurring an additional penalty.

Outlook: One shouldn't expect the judges to prop up Czisny like they did last year - particularly if Cohen competes - but she has been marked well internationally this season and her always favorable marks at the U.S. Championships should continue to come. The two-time U.S. medalist has been upgrading her jump content, as she has added both a double axel-double axel sequence and a second triple loop to her long program jump layout. She would be wise to scale back her second loop to a double axel, as her triple loop consistency from last season has vanished. Czisny should go for a safer jump layout because her PCS, spins, and spirals will be enough to cushion her over Ashley Wagner, who lacks Czisny's finesse and doesn't have as high a scoring potential in the short program. Czisny's consistency with short programs has been impressive this year, and continued solidity there should allow her to be ranked first or second after that phase. However, Wagner can surpass her in the long program if Czisny's downgrade woes continue. Czisny's chances for actually repeating as champion of the United States are low, as Rachael Flatt certainly has picked up much momentum after Skate America. Czisny should still have an advantage over Flatt with PCS, but likely not as much as before, and Flatt's jumps should have no issue making up any ground on the second mark. Czisny's case for making the team via the second spot is by no means assured; however, she is a strong enough skater to control her own destiny toward securing that ticket.

Rachael Flatt

Expectations Going In: The 17-year-old native of Del Mar, California, won the U.S. silver medal in 2008 and 2009, both competitions of which some felt she should have won. Too young to qualify in 2008, Flatt made her first trip to the senior worlds in 2009, where she took full advantage of others' mistakes to finish in the top five. Her 2009/2010 season started off abruptly with a weak showing at the Cup of China, where she finished 4th, but the disappointment of that event was erased with a strong second place finish at Skate America, where she landed seven triples in her long program and beat Yu-Na Kim in that phase. Although Flatt narrowly missed qualifying to the Grand Prix Final, she does enter her fourth U.S. Championships at the senior level as the favorite.

Pros: Flatt marked a personal best score of 116.11 for her long at Skate America, which is the highest long program mark attained by any American lady this season by over seven points. Flatt attained the score even though her final spin combination did not count, and her long program and overall segment scores from that competition have only been bested by five women thus far this season. The reigning U.S. silver medalist has improved several aspects of her skating for this Olympic season, including her presentation to the audience (best evidenced in her short program to "Sing, Sing, Sing") and her lutz, which received no edge call at Skate America or Cup of China. Flatt has skated cleanly (minus a downgrade on her triple-triple last year) at the last two U.S. Championships and is easily the most consistent jumper among the top American women.

Cons: Flatt has a very awkwardly proportioned body and it hinders parts of her skating such as flexibility and posture. Flatt is routinely criticized for her lack of speed and this weakness continues to be very much on display during her long program to "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini," where Flatt gets little power in her stroking during the later part of the program. Flatt's posture is considerably hunched over, and she thus doesn't have great usage of her upper body as she skates. To top that off, several of Flatt’s spin positions are less than desirable, with her catch-foot spin being particularly poor. In regards to political favor, Flatt has not received the benefit of the doubt at the last two U.S. Championships. In 2008, Flatt went to skate a clean short that contained a triple-triple, but she only finished third in that phase and was over seven points behind Nagasu. In 2009, Czisny's short program scored over five points higher than Flatt's short (with both skating programs with similar content and execution) and Czisny's three-triple long program only placed a little over a point below Flatt's six triple long program at that event. Flatt's PCS score during her long at those U.S. Championships was also only the 5th highest of the night for a basically clean skate, and she scored over seven points back of Czisny on that mark.

Outlook: Flatt was nearly 18 points away from the bronze medal at the World Championships, but the international judges are warming up to her and with Cohen's comeback woes, Czisny's jump issues, and Wagner's inconsistency, Flatt looks to be the only American woman with even a remote shot of contending for an Olympic medal. The judges can arrange the marks how they want to, but Flatt has marked over 116 for a long program when Wagner's best is under 109 and Czisny and Nagasu are struggling just to break 100. Slow, mundane, boring, flat, whatever you want to call her, Flatt is more and more looking like the top American woman and the U.S. judges ought to recognize that and favor her instead of favoring someone else who will diminish the need for a Zamboni. With the results of the 2009 Worlds and Skate America, Flatt's PCS should increase for the U.S. Championships, and she should be looking at a first U.S. title and a ticket to Vancouver if she arrives as fit to Spokane as she has for the past two years at this event.

Christina Gao

Expectations Going In: Gao is not a contender for the Olympic team, but she could make a case for either the Four Continents team or the Junior Worlds team if she continues her rapid improvement under the tutelage of Brian Orser. Gao will be entering her first U.S. Championships on the senior level after finishing third last year on the junior level. She bested Canadian Cynthia Phaneuf during the long program at a competition in Quebec last summer, and she won three bronze medals this year on the Junior Grand Prix circuit, including one of them that was attained at the Junior Grand Prix Final.

Pros: Gao scored personal bests in both phases of competition at the Junior Grand Prix Final, and she completed all of her planned triple jumps successfully. Gao has both a high jump and a quick head spot, which enable her to rotate her triples consistently. Brian Orser's magic as a coach is clearly rubbing off on Gao, who has gone from being the third ranked junior skater at U.S nationals last year to becoming the top U.S. finisher at the Junior Grand Prix Final. Gao has the 7th highest seasons best among the U.S. ladies, and she was credited with landing six triple jumps at the Junior Grand Prix Final, something that Czisny, Nagasu, Wagner, and Zhang have yet to do in an ISU competition this season. Gao can also be lauded for her ability to go outside the box with different music choices: she skates her short program to "Morning Passages" from the film soundtrack of The Hours and her long program is to the music of the ballet "La Fille Mal Gardee."

Cons: Gao is in desperate need of extension in her sit spins, spirals, and choreography. Gao lacks stylistic maturity and is not one to project and express herself to the audience. Her personal best score of 151.47 achieved at JGPF is solid, but even when adding in 3-4 points for a missing spiral sequence (as the juniors aren't currently allowed to have a spiral in their LP) and a possible score inflation, Gao would still have been 10-15 points back of placing in the top three at last year's U.S. Championships with clean skates. It is also worth mentioning that Gao's scores at her opening two Junior Grand Prixs were over 16 points lower than what she attained in Tokyo at the Final. Gao has an egregious flutz, and she doesn't appear to have enough speed coming out of her triple lutz or a strong enough toe-pick assistance on her double toe to upgrade that combination to a triple-triple. Gao will not only need to speed up to challenge the top U.S. women, but she will also need to augment her currently rudimentary choreography.

Outlook: Gao should be extremely proud of her improvement, as she went from scoring a 128.69 at last year's U.S. Championships to a 151.47 at JGPF in less than a year. Gao should have no issue breaking the top ten in Spokane and solid performances like those she produced in Tokyo could even break her into the top six. A strong showing at nationals should get Gao either a Four Continents assignment or a Junior Worlds assignment, the latter of which being more likely. Gao turns 16 in July 2010 and has a bright future ahead of her. She still has much room to grow and improve, but she has come a long way in the last year and should continue to do under the eyes of Brian Orser. Gao is blessed with a very ideal body for a figure skater, and she will hopefully fine tune her technique and artistry in the coming future to let her skating reach its fullest potential.

Alexe Gilles

Expectations Going In: Gilles appeared to be a possible dark horse for an Olympic team after winning the bronze medal at the Junior Grand Prix Final last season and placing 5th at Trophee Eric Bompard this year. Unfortunately, a 10th place finish at Skate America won't do well for Gilles's nerves, nor will it serve her in good stead in the eyes of the judges in Spokane. Gilles has a reasonable chance for a Four Continents or Junior Worlds assignment, but her prospects of making an Olympic or World Championship team are far darker than even a dark horse's.

Pros: Gilles has a charming, elegant presence on the ice, which she best shows off in her beautiful short program to Strauss's Cinderella. Gilles placed 2nd in TES and 4th overall during the short program phase of this year’s Trophee Eric Bompard. Gilles would go on to beat Carolina Kostner, Kiira Korpi, and Elene Gedevanishvilli to finish 5th, and Gilles was just 1.24 points away from taking 4th ahead of compatriot Caroline Zhang. Gilles is one of the only U.S. skaters who are consistently capable of taking off from the correct edge on her lutz, and she did not receive any downgrades for her triple jumps at TEB. Gilles gets nice height on her triples and is also solid in the other elements of her skating, as evidenced by her receiving level threes and fours for all of her non-jump elements (except one) throughout her two Grand Prix events.

Cons: Gilles doesn't have much of a reputation domestically or internationally, and her scores at both TEB and last year's U.S. Championships were both thought to be too low by many fans. Gilles has somewhat erratic jumps and it will be difficult with her 5'7" frame to be able to gain that consistency (just ask Carolina Kostner). Tara Lipinski also commented at Skate America that part of the problem that tends to give Gilles issues on her jumps is her lack of speed going into them. A lack of speed throughout Gilles's stroking and non-jump elements does impede her overall scoring potential sizably. Gilles is somewhat prone to lipping, as she received an "!" edge call for all three of her triple flip attempts at Skate America. Also, Gilles has relatively weak flexibility and has a particularly unflattering Biellmann position (if one could even call it that). The choreography in Gilles's programs is fairly elementary, as are her transitions preceding major elements.

Outlook: Gilles is a talented skater with a creditable sense of musicality and pretty jumps when they are on. However, she has quite a bit of room for improvement and will need to fill that if she is to ever make a World Championship or Olympic team. Gilles is actually fairly consistent with rotating jumps despite being so tall, but her timing has to be 100% precise to land the difficult triples considering her height. Gilles will need to skate faster in all of her elements: stroking, spins, spirals among them. Gilles also needs to add more difficult choreography and a triple loop entering her jump repertoire couldn't hurt either. Despite these weaknesses, Gilles's basics are there. Her edges are decent, she has nice square hips while approaching her flip and lutz jumps, and she does have an innate sense of musicality. Gilles is 17 and should thus have the next quadrennial to make these improvements if she chooses to continue skating. While Gilles may not be in Vancouver, it is very possible that she will be skating at several major competitions to come.

Part two to come shortly.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

2009 Grand Prix Final Ladies Preview

Thousands of Japanese skating fans bought tickets to the 2009 ISU Grand Prix Final with the expectations that they would be witnessing their hometown heroine, Mao Asada, take on her premier rival, Yu-Na Kim, in a pre-Olympic showdown. While Kim easily qualified to this event, Asada's career hit rock bottom at Cup of Russia, where three failed attempts at the storied triple axel lead her to finish off the podium for only the second time in her career as a senior level skater. Asada's absence from the Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo next week is of a particularly sad irony, as the 2008 world champion won this event in that very arena back in 2005 when she was not age-eligible to compete at the 2006 Olympic Games. With Asada out, the Japanese will now look to 2007 world champion Miki Ando, the winner of two Grand Prix events this season, to try and match Kim. Another athlete from the host nation, Akiko Suzuki, will be looking to secure an Olympic berth at the Grand Prix Final, which would be quite an inspirational culmination to a career that was stagnated by Anorexia five years ago. Alena Leonova will be making her first trip to the Final and could be looking at a podium finish if her consistency remains intact. The only United States representative for the ladies in Tokyo, Ashley Wagner, is seeming to provide some light at the end of the tunnel for the shallow state of U.S. ladies figure skating. However, Kim's top rival won't be Suzuki, it won't be Leonova, it won't be Wagner, and it may not even be Ando. The international judges have not always sided with the five-time Canadian champion Joannie Rochette, but they are appearing to favor her immensely now, late in her career, to become the first Canadian ladies medalist at an Olympic Games since Elizabeth Manley in 1988.

While the Grand Prix Final is not life or death, there is still much to be gained and much to be lost at this event. For Kim, another less than desirable performance could cause some of her immense favor from the judges to diminish. Despite winning Skate Canada, Rochette has not skated with enough quality this season to realistically challenge the likes of Kim. Ando and Suzuki are both battling one another to become the highest placing Japanese skater, and thus, a winner of an Olympic berth. Leonova is set to be on her nation's Olympic team, but needs a strong competition here to even be considered as a remotely realistic prospect for a medal in Vancouver. It is certainly advantageous for Wagner to be the only American here, but having just barely placed ahead of the top two finishers from last year's U.S. nationals, Alissa Czisny and Rachael Flatt, Wagner's opportunity for receiving one of the two Olympic berths allotted for the American ladies in Vancouver is by no means assured. When also factoring in the potential return of 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen, Wagner needs nothing less than a strong showing here to further prove her worth of an Olympic berth. The Grand Prix series up to this point has been unpredictable enough, and with six of the top female figure skaters in the world skating in one event, that unpredictability shouldn't die off. With much to gain and much to lose, the skaters will be demanded to produce their competitive mettle to wish for a medal at this competition. This event could ultimately foreshadow what is to occur at the biggest outing of these athletes' lives, the XXI Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada.

The Finalists

Miki Ando (Japan)
Yu-Na Kim (South Korea)
Alena Leonova (Russia)
Joannie Rochette (Canada)
Akiko Suzuki (Japan)
Ashley Wagner (USA)

Miki Ando (Japan)

Top Achievements: 2007 World Champion, 2009 world bronze medalist, Four-time Grand Prix finalist, 2009 NHK Trophy Champion, 2009 Rostelecom Cup Champion, 2006 Skate America Champion, 2006 Olympian, 2004/2005 Japanese champion

Pros: With Asada's demise, Ando has become the current top female skater in Japan, having won both of her Grand Prix events this season. Lauded for her high, secure jumps, the 2007 world champion is the only female skater to have ever landed a quadruple jump in competition. Ando is capable of landing triple lutz-triple loop combos, a jumping pass more difficult than the triple lutz-triple toe Yu-Na Kim is currently attempting, and Ando has also avoided receiving an edge call on either her lutz or her flip this season. Ando has shown improved artistry in her programs for this year, with a short program to Mozart's "Requiem" and a Cleopatra-themed long program to the soundtracks from both the television series "Rome" and "Marco Polo." The judges have been marking Ando's PCS marks favorably this year, and her artistic score has been consistently higher this season than it was during her Grand Prix events last year.

Cons: Ando's improvement artistically still does not make her a true "artist" on the ice, as she lags behind several of the top female skaters in musicality, posture, and extension. Ando's primary resource for boosting her score is jumps, but those haven't been especially brilliant since last season's worlds. Her lone attempt at a triple-triple so far this season ended with both a faulty landing and a downgrade on the second jump. Ando has also had issues with her double axel-triple toe loop combination, both falling and under rotating the pass at the Rostelecom Cup and nixing the combo entirely when she struggled with it during the women's free warm-up at NHK. Particularly with the intense media scrutiny in Japan, Ando will have much more pressure placed on her at this event being the top female Japanese skater, a position she has little experience filling. Ando has historically not done well at the Grand Prix Final: While she has qualified four times, she has never brought home a medal.

Outlook: Ando is one to perform at her peak whilst the underdog, and with Asada out of the Grand Prix Final, entering the competition as Japan's premier female skater will bring about all sorts of new challenges for the two-time world medalist. Perhaps these challenges are what Ando is most looking forward to overcome, however, as she has commented that she absolutely wants to erase the disaster that was her 15th place finish in Torino. Although Ando did win both of her Grand Prix events, that accomplishment is not especially great when considering that her scores at Rostelecom and NHK were the two lowest winning scores throughout the six events, and her score of 162.55 at the latter event would not have even medaled at either Trophee Eric Bompard or Cup of China. However, perhaps, that is good news for her. Ando has not often shown to be capable of staying at her peak for an extended period of time, and poor showings at this event in 2006 and 2008 did not negatively impact her showing at the World Championships for those seasons in the least. Claiming an Olympic berth here would be ideal, and if Suzuki doesn't regain her Cup of China form, Ando should have no issue doing so. Considering Suzuki's poor showing at Skate Canada, and Ando's victories over Leonova and Wagner at Rostelecom and NHK, Ando appears destined for her first Grand Prix medal, but Ando winning this competition is about as likely as Sarah Palin disappearing from the public eye.

Yu-Na Kim (South Korea)

Top Achievements: 2009 World Champion, 2007 and 2008 world bronze medalist, 2006 and 2007 Grand Prix Final Champion, 2008 and 2009 Skate America Champion, 2006 and 2009 Trophee Eric Bompard Champion, 2009 Four Continents Champion, 2008 Grand Prix Final silver medalist, 2007 and 2008 Cup of China Champion, 2007 Cup of Russia Champion

Pros: The Roger Federer of ladies figure skating, South Korean superstar Yu-Na Kim owns both the current World title and the world record scores in the short program, free skate, and overall segment score. She achieved her world record free skate score of 133.95 at the recent Trophee Eric Bompard, where she completely jettisoned her triple flip and had four of her five non-jump elements only graded at a level three. Kim has been undefeated since this event last year, and the last time any of the 2009 Grand Prix Final qualifiers beat Kim was when Miki Ando won her world title in March 2007. Kim has breathtaking jumps, including her signature triple-triple combinations, and is the only woman to have ever received at or above +2 GOE on a jumping pass under the code of points in international competition. Kim also demonstrates commendable speed and interpretation in her two current programs: a flirtatious, scintillating short to the medley from the "James Bond" movies, and a polished, elegant long to Gershwin's "Piano Concerto in F."

Cons: Kim had one of her worst long programs in memory at her most recent competition, Skate America, losing that phase of the event to Rachael Flatt, a skater whose score at the 2009 World Championships was a staggering 17.94 points off of securing a medal. Kim had far less pressure and outside competition than she will in Tokyo or in Vancouver at Skate America, and her overall score at that event would not have medaled at last year's worlds. Kim has a colossal amount of pressure from the people of her homeland and she was seen in tears after performing her short program at last year's Grand Prix Final (held in South Korea), where she popped open her triple lutz. The current world champion has also struggled with maintaining her health for key competitions. Kim was ill for this event last year, and entered both the 2007 and 2008 World Championships battling a back injury. At all three competitions, Kim missed the gold medal at stake. Kim has not landed seven clean triples in a single program since 2007 Cup of Russia, and has not even done six cleanly since 2008 Skate America. Kim has substandard positions on her layback, Bielmann, and spiral positions, and she appears to be no longer keeping the triple loop jump in her repertoire.

Outlook: Kim picked the perfect competition to have a poor long program at Skate America. She seemed relieved, albeit disappointed, in the kiss and cry following the skate, which perhaps means that she just needed an event to get a bad skate out of her system, much like last year when she had a shaky outing at GPF only to win Four Continents and Worlds thereafter. If Kim goes clean, or close to it, she will simply be untouchable for the other women. Kim has broken 76 in the short program three times, whereas the highest score ever posted by any of her competitors at this event was a 70 by Rochette. Adding 5.5 points for the lost triple flip to her Trophee Eric Bompard long program score, Kim would be looking at a mark near 140. Add in some positive grades of execution for that element (during her short program at Skate America she received +1.8 GOE), a few more level fours for her spins, and a slight increase to her PCS score, Kim could be looking at a LP score near 145 if she goes absolutely clean. Taking Asada's score from WTT where she had an excellent free and adding back the points she lost for two downgraded jumps (plus some additional positive GOE) her score "only" hovers around 137. Kim has this gold medal and, most importantly, the Olympic gold medal, in the bag if she skates near her full potential. Winning this event will be a help to Kim's confidence and will win her a medal and some prize money, but in the end will count for hardly anything. If Yu-Na Kim is able to enter the Olympic Games in February in prime physical condition and a confident mindset, her name will be plastered adjacent to 1 on the scoreboard. There will simply be no way for anyone to catch her, not even a hometown boost for Rochette, not even three triple axels for Asada.

Alena Leonova (Russia)

Top Achievements: 2009 NHK Trophy silver medalist, 2009 Cup of Russia bronze medalist, 2009 Finlandia Trophy Champion, 2009 World Championships-7th place, 2009 World Junior Champion, 2009 European Championships-4th

Pros: The vivacious Russian is continuing to build off of her breakthrough last season with a win at the Finlandia Trophy and two medals on the Grand Prix circuit, which enabled her to qualify to this competition for the first time. Leonova finished a strong 7th at her first World Championships last year, and is noted to be one of the more consistent jumpers in the world today. Leonova has a full arsenal of triples (besides the axel) and has upgraded her jumping content from last season with a new triple toe-triple toe combination. Leonova is a fan favorite for her spunky personality on the ice and shows that off to its best with a short program to the Russian folk song "Barynya" and a long program to the soundtrack from "Chicago." Leonova could gain political favor at this event, as she is the only European lady to have qualified.

Cons: Leonova has the lowest average short program score from the Grand Prix series among the six qualifiers, and has the second lowest average PCS score from the long program. Also, Leonova's seasons best scores in the long program and overall segment total are the lowest among the six qualifiers. Leonova has unsatisfactory extension and her spins are far from brilliant. Leonova received edge calls for each of her four lutzes that she did throughout her two Grand Prixs, and she has failed to complete her new triple-triple combination after four attempts in competition thus far. Although Leonova always sells her programs, there is little else in her skating that supports her program components score. Her transitions are relatively choppy and her choreography is not the most difficult; therefore, the judges have yet to give her superior marks in that area.

Outlook: Leonova may be lacking in polish and refinement, but one thing she has that cannot be said for any of the other top European ladies is consistency. Gedevanishvilli, Korpi, Kostner, Lepisto, and Poykio struggle with varying degrees to consistently land their jumps and to avoid meltdowns at major events. Kostner is absolutely the top European lady at her prime, but that she has been not since her meltdown in Los Angeles and 6th place finishes at Trophee Eric Bompard and Cup of China. If Kostner doesn't get her act together, Kiira Korpi may end up being Leonova's top rival for a European title if Korpi's over scoring from Cup of China continues. This is where the importance of this event comes to Leonova. A strong placement here, and especially a podium finish, should not only help Leonova's confidence, but it also should give her a boost from the judges come Europeans to vie for the gold medal. Leonova is doubtful to reach the medals stand in Vancouver, but strong showings here and at Europeans should help the 19-year-old Leonova to stay competitive and to fend off a potential influx of upcoming Russian ladies skaters in the next quadrennium.

Joannie Rochette (Canada)

Top Achievements: 2006, 2008, and 2009 Skate Canada Champion, 2009 World silver medalist, 2008 and 2009 Four Continents silver medalist, 2005-2009 Canadian Champion, 2004 and 2008 Trophee Eric Bompard Champion, 2006 Olympic Games-5th, 2004 Grand Prix Final bronze medalist

Pros: Rochette is one of the best examples of skaters who combine the technical and artistic aspects of skating seamlessly, as her skating possesses strong, high jumps, and creditable musicality and choreography. On the technical side, Rochette not only avoids the wrong edge deductions on the lutz and flip, but also rotates her jumps consistently, and she is rewarded for being one of the few female skaters to consistently demonstrate those merits of fine jumping technique. On the artistic side, Rochette has strong skating skills and agility of the blade, and has augmented her expression and artistry over the past several seasons. Rochette has taken much effort into improving her ability to peak under pressure, whether it be touring with Stars On Ice or announcing publicly her intentions of winning a world championship medal last season. Having been successful in her endeavor to win a world championship medal last year, and having just recently won Skate Canada by over 20 points without skating at her optimum, Rochette has proven that she is entirely in the running to win Canada's first Olympic medal for ladies figure skating in over two decades.

Cons: Rochette had a meltdown during her short program at Cup of China, doubling the front end of her combination and leaving out the second jump entirely. She later went on to single her axel, finishing 7th in that phase and 3rd overall. The short program was what cost Rochette a medal at this event last year, and she also finished behind Cynthia Phaneuf (who had a fall) during the SP phase of the 2009 Canadian Nationals. Rochette has hopes of doing a triple-triple combination in her short, but has not once completed the element successfully. Rochette delivered a superb free skate at the Japan Open, a competition of little significance, but her condition went down at Cup of China and Skate Canada, where she executed weaker free skates that scored around 15 points lower than what she received at an inconsequential competition early on in the year. Rochette's potential scoring ability when going clean is considerably less than that of Kim or even Asada. Rochette's score for a clean, seven-triple long program at last year's Canadian Nationals was a 131.77, over two points lower than what Yu-Na Kim received in France for a five-triple program. Even when adding a hypothetical triple lutz-triple toe combination, Rochette's SP score at Skate Canada would still only be 72.7 (give or take depending on GOE and PCS), which is over three points lower than the personal bests of Asada and Kim.  These scores, of course, are given in the event where Rochette is to do a clean long program, something she has never done internationally, and when she is to do a triple lutz-triple toe combination in the short, something she has never done.

Outlook: Rochette is faced with a dilemma off the bat. On one hand, she needs a triple-triple in the short to stay within striking distance of Kim for the gold medal, but she has every potential to still be in the running for an Olympic podium spot, but not necessarily gold, with a triple-double combination. This is where the Grand Prix Final comes in handy. It will be the ideal event for Rochette to test out the triple-triple combination, and to see how her rivals, specifically Kim, are looking. Rochette would obviously enjoy a podium finish here, and two strong showings should easily do the trick, but the five-time Canadian champion has not been especially impressive thus far this season. Her Cup of China performances were uneven, and she had a shaky long at Skate Canada. Thus, it is possible that Rochette may perform below her optimum at this event as well, but even a poor outing shouldn't diminish Rochette's reputation entering the Games, as she has plenty of that already in the bank from her world silver last year. Both the Grand Prix Final and Canadian Nationals will be events where Rochette won't have much to lose, but she will still have much to gain. An international event against world class skaters and a national event at home should be the ideal combination of competitions to get Rochette fit for Vancouver.

Akiko Suzuki (Japan)

Top Achievements: 2009 Cup of China Champion, 2009 Four Continents Championships-8th, 2008/2009 Japanese Nationals-4th, 2008 NHK Trophy silver medalist, 2008 Finlandia Trophy Champion

Pros: Suzuki has made a resilient comeback from Anorexia to become one of the top female figure skaters in Japan. 2009 Skate Canada notwithstanding, Suzuki has been a fairly consistent competitor throughout the last two seasons and has shown to be especially consistent when skating in Asia. At Cup of China, Suzuki scored the second highest free skate score of this year's Grand Prix series en route to her first career Grand Prix victory. Suzuki finished 4th at last year's Japanese Nationals, a placement deemed too low by several fans who thought that she was robbed of a podium finish because of an unfairly downgraded triple salchow in her long program. Suzuki has a full arsenal of triple jumps (besides the axel) and skates with fervent passion and speed. Suzuki generally skates her best when she is competing in or near her home country, as last year's NHK Trophy, Japanese Nationals, and this year's Cup of China have shown. Suzuki is the only skater competing at this event who actually trains in Japan, let alone Asia.

Cons: Suzuki has never been a judge's favorite, in part due to her weaker transitions and extension. Suzuki's average PCS score during the Grand Prix for her long program is the lowest among the six qualifiers, and she is prone to receiving deductions for turning onto an inside edge for her lutz. Suzuki is not an especially strong spinner, and her spirals leave much to be desired as well. Suzuki is lucky just to have qualified to the Final after a poor outing at Skate Canada, where she only landed three clean triples (one marked down by an edge call), but she survived to stay in the top five after epic meltdowns from Cynthia Phaneuf and Caroline Zhang surfaced. Even with two of her best performances, Suzuki was only able to place 4th at Cup of China during the short program phase, and her winning long program had a substandard PCS score of only 52.56. Suzuki was the lowest rank qualifier to this event, so she will fulfill the unenviable task of skating first in the short program, a start position often destined for lower marks.

Outlook: Suzuki would want nothing more than to snatch her Olympic berth in Tokyo for the Grand Prix Final. Miki Ando should be favored enough at Japanese Nationals to get a medal through PCS even if she doesn't skate well, such as what happened last year at Suzuki's expense. The same cannot necessarily be said for Suzuki, however, particularly after her poor showing at Skate Canada. Fumie Suguri may not be performing well so far this year but one absolutely shouldn't count her out: in 2005, she placed 8th at Skate Canada and went onto win Japanese Nationals under an even deeper field than what will be in store at this year's competition. Yukari Nakano at her 2008 worlds form should also have no issue finishing ahead of Suzuki and claiming an Olympic berth. Suzuki always seems to perform well at home, however, and if she can regain her magic from Cup of China she could be looking at a podium finish and an Olympic berth coming from this event. Although, without the judges on her side, Suzuki will need to take the hard way to the medals stand.

Ashley Wagner (USA)

Top Achivements: 2009 NHK Trophy bronze medalist, 2009 Rostelecom Cup silver medalist, 2007 and 2009 World Junior Bronze medalist, 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-4th, 2008 World Championships qualifier, 2008 U.S. bronze medalist, 2007 Trophee Eric Bompard bronze medalist

Pros: Wagner has always been a creditable jumper; however, since changing coaches to Priscilla Hill, the 2008 U.S. bronze medalist has matured her presentation immensely and shows off that improvement this season with a dramatic short to the soundtrack from "Once Upon a Time in America" and an elegant long to "Polovtsian Dances." Wagner won the long program at last year's U.S. Nationals with a program that only contained five triples, and she could have won the overall title were it not for a faulty short program. Wagner scored personal bests for the long program and overall segment total at the recent Rostelecom Cup. The 2008 U.S. bronze medalist takes full advantage of the rule allowing 10% bonus to be awarded for jumping pass after the midway point of a long program, as she does a triple loop-double axel sequence, a triple flip-double axel sequence, and a triple lutz deep into the program. A well-rounded skater, Wagner demonstrates both excellent speed and refined positions throughout her skating.

Cons: Wagner has an egregious flutz, and she has yet to not receive an edge call on that particular element this season. Wagner's triple-triple combinations seem to have disappeared, and she doesn't look capable of adding a triple toe loop as a combination jump, as she has a tendency to toe-axel her double toes (something she had a downgrade on at the 2009 U.S. Nationals). While Wagner is able to execute difficult jumps after the halfway point of a program, her stamina goes out the door when straight line footwork is concerned. Her straight line step sequence at the conclusion of her long program is fairly lethargic and makes for a poor concluding impression of her performance. Wagner has proven very susceptible to nerves: At last year's U.S. Nationals, she was completely in the running for a U.S. title, but an error littered short program prevented any hope of that happening. Wagner was only 16th at her first World Championships in 2008, and a shaky free at the NHK Trophy prevented her from winning a championship that was entirely within her grasp.

Outlook: The first order of business for Wagner is to replace her triple lutz in the short with a triple loop. The loop has been a solid jump for her this year and would actually get her more credit than a lutz with an "e" edge call, or even an "!" call. Wagner rearranged her jump layout several times last season, and appears to be doing the same this year as well. Hopefully, she won't be changing her jump layout too much more, but there are still some potentially easy switches of jumps in her long program that could be beneficial to her. Wagner has a fairly competitive jump layout for the long already, but her flutz at the end with an "e" call is going to get her about the same credit as a clean triple toe loop, so she would be wise to make that change as well. For a podium finish here, Wagner is going to rely on other skater's mistakes because she does not possess consistent triple-triple combinations or the high program component scores given to Kim, Rochette, and Ando. However, even just skating well and improving upon her personal bests will be a tremendous confidence boost for Ashley and will give her a leg up in the tight race for the two Olympic berths when U.S. Nationals arrive. Wagner has been scored well domestically for the last two years, and a strong finish here will help her create her own destiny toward making that Olympic team.


Gold: Yu-Na Kim (South Korea): Yes, she had one of her worst long programs ever at Skate America, but it has to be noted that every other top ladies skater has had, at the very least, a mini-meltdown in some shape or form this year. Kim has the top two overall segment totals this season and has proven to have a fairly comfortable margin for error even over her toughest adversaries.

Silver: Joannie Rochette (Canada): Rochette has the judges on her side and just needs those jumps to be the same. A couple of less than desirable skates throughout the Grand Prix should invigorate Rochette to skate with solidity here. A peaked Rochette should have no issue beating Leonova, Suzuki, or Wagner, even if they skate at their absolute best, and the Grand Prix Final has not historically been a great competition to Miki Ando, who has not looked so superior to Rochette thus far.

Bronze: Miki Ando (Japan): She never peaks for this event, but because of the huge advantage she will have on PCS over Leonova, Suzuki, and Wagner, Ando should be on the podium if she just skates decently. Competing at home and as the top ranked Japanese female could give Ando a slight boost to her marks as well, but on the flip side, Ando will be bound to feel more pressure at this competition, which could negatively impact her skating.

4th: Akiko Suzuki (Japan): She generally does well at home and can probably bounce back at least somewhat from her poor Skate Canada outing, but she simply doesn't have the polish nor the reputation behind her to give her a medal against far more seasoned skaters, unless of course she skates lights out.

5th: Alena Leonova (Russia): Her overall score from Rostelecom and NHK was higher than that of Wagner's, and Leonova did much better at her first worlds (7th) than Ashley did at hers (16th). Both will be making their debut here, but Leonova has slightly more momentum to ride off of from her silver medal at NHK.

6th: Ashley Wagner (USA): She should have an advantage on Leonova and Suzuki with PCS, but being that this is a major international event, it is possible that Wagner may succumb to pressure and not perform at her best. It is imperative for Wagner to deliver two quality skates, as she can often deliver one great program in a major competition, but not both.

That is all.