Friday, January 23, 2009

2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Men's Short Program

Tonight I will be doing live commentary for the men's short program. Whether you don't have an Icenetwork feed or you would just like an additional interpretation of the happenings of the competition, I am hear to provide my analysis of every skater's performance tonight.

Start Order:
Warmup Group 1
1 Evan Lysacek, DuPage FSC
2 Jeremy Abbott, Broadmoor SC
3 Stephen Carriere, SC of Boston4
4 Adam Rippon, SC of New York

Warmup Group 2
5 William Brewster, Detroit SC
6 Shaun Rogers, University of Delaware FSC
7 Tommy Steenberg, SC of Northern Virginia
8 Jason Wong, SC of Boston
9Scott Smith, Salt Lake Figure Skating

Warmup Group 3
10 Nicholas LaRoche, All Year FSC
11 Parker Pennington, Winterhurst FSC
12 Jonathan Cassar, Detroit SC
13 Eliot Halverson, Ann Arbor FSC
14 Johnny Weir, SC of New York

Warmup Group 4
15 Douglas Razzano, Coyotes SC of Arizona
16 Ryan Bradley, Broadmoor SC
17 Dennis Phan, All Year FSC
18 Brandon Mroz, Broadmoor SC
19 Curran Oi, SC of Boston

8:25 ET time. First warmup group about to go on the ice, Lysacek is in his god-awful black costume with the cross in the front and back (same costume he was wearing at SA and SC in the short)

8:28 Men still waiting to go out on the ice for the warmup, Rippon has curls in case of anyone is interested LOL.

8:31 Decent triple flip+triple toe from Abbott, little bit slow coming out of it.

8:35 Crowd is a little bigger than last night. Lysacek is about to skate.

Evan Lysacek
3A-decent, little forward on landing but fully-rotated
3Lz+3T-little slow, possible UR on toe but I believe it was clean
Very good expression and energy throughout performance, very creditable work overall and looks extremely fit. Lysacek is very happy with his skate.

TES: 45.30
PCS: 38.29
Total: 83.59-Excellent marks

Jeremy Abbott
3A-Beautiful leg extension on landing
3Lz-Very centered and solid
Really immaculate edge work and musicality, program loaded with passion and speed, a truly exceptional performance that got him a standing ovation (Lysacek got one as well). I would put this first.

TES: 46.79
PCS: 39.61
Total: 86.40-WOW, well-deserved.

Stephen Carriere

3A-Great height but stepped out of it.
3F+3T-Very good speed but stepped out of the 3T, off-axis in the air on the second jump.
3Lz-Little forward on landing but clean.
A bit more maturity than he has displayed thus far in his career in terms of artistry, but seemed to not be able to control his speed in his jumps as much as he is usually able to do.

TES: 36.14
PCS: 33.22
Total: 69.36
Rank: 3rd

Adam Rippon

3F+3T-very smooth, good knee bend on both jumps
1A-unfortunate, also singled it in the warmup
Tano 3Lz-Fantastic
Very nice spins, just a tad bit slow throughout his program and doesn't have the depth to his artistry like Abbott. Rippon has nice basic skating skills and displays a lot of polish for his age, however. Brian Orser is not in attendance with Adam.

TES: 30.69
PCS: 31.53
Total: 62.22
Rank: 4th

William Brewster

Apparently someone dropped something onto the ice, a ball of yarn LOL as he was starting. Stopped the music and is starting again.
3S+3T-solid, jumps a bit low but rotated
3Lz-very short reach back on the entrance with the leg, but did pull off the jump.
2A-little bit low but landed
Nice low sit-spin position, has good posture but a rather flat program artistically, which is forgivable given his inexperience. Appears happy about the performance, a solid one overall. Kerrigan is informing us that Rippon got a jump downgraded.

TES: 32.59
PCS: 27.64
Total: 60.23
Rank: 5th

Shawn Rogers

Skating to Sweeney Todd
4T+2T-Excellent height, little off on the landing of the quad and had to do a double toe instead of a triple
3Lz-Little off on landing but clean, great height once again.
3A-Flipped out of it, too bad because his 3A in warmup was stunning.
Nice spins, very powerful piece of music but didn't convey that completely in his choreography.

TES: 35.16
PCS: 28.97
Total: 64.13
Rank: 4th (ahead of Rippon)

Tommy Steenberg

Very interesting dragonlike costume
3A-fall and possible UR
3R+3R-Struggle on landing of first jump but gutted it out and landed the second jump without a major error.
3Lz-Low but landed.
Steenberg has great speed and is a very quirky skater to look at, very interesting hitchkick type of element during the footwork.

TES: 33.70
PCS: 27.07
Ded: -1.00 (first fall of the night)
Total: 59.77
Rank: 7th

Jason Wong

3A-Good height, looked a tad UR
3Lz+2T-Intended 3Lz+3T, a bit of a toe-axel on 3T but a clean jumping pass
3R-fall, landed an exceptional one in the warmup, this jump was just a bit too low and his weight was back behind him
Excellent flexibility and posture, needs more speed in his spins and footwork and more connection to the audience, but overall Wong has quite a bit of potential.

TES: 35.34
PCS: 29.06
Ded: -1.00
Total: 63.40
Rank: 5th (ahead of Rippon as well)

Scott Smith-Has withdrawn, apparently injured his back in practice earlier today.

10:14 ET Ice resurfacing and hall of fane induction ceremonies have concluded, warmup group 3 about to go on the ice. Johnny in same SP costume as during the Grand Prix, looking very tanned LOL.

10:22-Weir singled an axel attempt in warmup but landed a beautiful triple axel later on.

Nicholas LaRoche

Skating to Moonlight Sonata
3A-slight struggle on landing but clean
3Lz+3T-very nice height, fell out on the back-end of the combo, however
Very mature program, but a tremendous lack of speed throughout. LaRoche failed to go with the faster tempo of the music towards the end of the program with his footwork sequence.

TES: 31.19
PCS: 26.82
Total: 58.01
Rank: 9th

Parker Pennington

3A-Not a tremendous knee bend on landing but solid
3Lz+3T-very centered on landing
3F-very nice
Aside from his somewhat unsmooth landings there are absolutely no complaints here; he threw his entire heart into that performance. Wonderful speed throughout his spins and footwork, and is one of the few skaters tonight to really engage the crowd into their program. Standing ovation.

TES: 43.09
PCS: 33.08
Total: 76.17
Rank: 3rd-That should put him in the final group during the free on Sunday

Jonathan Cassar

3Lz+2T-forward on landing of lutz
3F-possible wrong-edge takeoff, but clean
Very technically sound skater, good spins and edges and a very intriguing program. GORGEOUS spread eagle, and a large response from crowd.

TES: 27.22
PCS: 28.50
Total: 55.72
Rank: 11th (Big boos from audience)
Apparently his flip was downgraded, looking at it in slow-mo I couldn't disagree more.

Eliot Halverson

3A-Gutsy of him to try it without planning it but a flip out
3F+3T- Triple toe was supposed to be after the triple lutz, good for him for doing it after the triple flip. 3F looked a bit UR, however, but it was landed.
Not trying to get into any stereotyping here, but he has a rather effeminate style which should have a bit more masculinity at this level.

TES: 25.30
PCS: 26.79
Ded: -1.00
Total: 51.09
Rank: 12th

Johnny Weir

3Lz+3T-smooth as silk
1A-Same error as warmup
3F-good solidity to the landing but usually gets dinged with an edge call on that, don't know why he hasn't switched to a triple loop for the short.
What sets Weir's skating apart is how he connects the dots, the program is a very linked work of art as opposed to just eight required elements.

TES: 33.54
PCS: 37.22
Total: 70.76
Rank: 4th (Oh dear, the national title may be out of the question at this point)

Douglas Razzano

3F+2T-intended to be 3F+3T but put his hand down on the opening part of the combo and had to a double for the toe loop instead.
3Lz-fall backwards
Nice flexibility in the spins, but rather mundane choreographically and a bit slow overall.

TES: 31.54
PCS: 26.46
Ded: -1.00
Total: 57.00
Rank: 12th

Ryan Bradley

4T+3T-only quad-triple combo of the night, very nicely done but 4T looked ever so slightly UR
2Lz-strange error but doesn't seem affected, goes write back into the choreography
Has such an incredibly vibrant personality, skating to an Elvis Presley number and the crowd was behind him the entire way. Lisa Ervin better have secret service with her if she decides to downgrade his quad (which I don't believe she should)

TES: 39.16 (quad got credited)
PCS: 34.89
Total: 74.05
Rank: 4th (Cautious applause from audience but those marks are right where they should be, and are very impressive)

Dennis Phan

3Lz+2T-supposed to be 3Lz+3T but still clean
3F-Very soft landing
Excellent skate, very flowy and had good musicality and expression. Good posture and technique, just needs a bit more speed.

TES: 38.86
PCS: 30.25
Total: 69.11
Rank: 7th (Just behind Carriere)

Brandon Mroz

3Lz+3T-very tight turns in the air, good landing
3F-revolutions finished well before the landing
Artistry has improved slightly, a bit slow coming towards the end of the program but his jumps were some of the most centered and consistent we have seen tonight. Great skate for him.

TES: 42.91
PCS: 31.97
Total: 74.88
Rank: 4th (Does this mean Weir is out of the final group on Sunday? NBC hadn't thought about that one)

Curran Oi

3F+3T-very tight revolutions in the air, little forward on landing but very clean otherwise
Very good strength and power to his skating, needs a little bit more speed in his spins and could relate to the music and the audience a little more. His transitions are also a little rushed, but this was overall an excellent skate.

TES: 41.87
PCS: 30.89
Total: 72.76
Rank: 6th (Knocking down Weir to 7th, that's shocking)

Final Standings

1 Jeremy Abbott, Broadmoor SC 86.40 46.79 39.61 7.93 7.68 8.11 7.89 8.00 0.00 #2
2 Evan Lysacek, DuPage FSC 83.59 45.30 38.29 7.79 7.21 7.93 7.75 7.61 0.00 #1
3 Parker Pennington, Winterhurst FSC 76.17 43.09 33.08 6.54 6.18 6.89 6.61 6.86 0.00 #11
4 Brandon Mroz, Broadmoor SC 74.88 42.91 31.97 6.54 6.29 6.36 6.39 6.39 0.00 #18
5 Ryan Bradley, Broadmoor SC 74.05 39.16 34.89 6.96 6.18 7.57 6.93 7.25 0.00 #16
6 Curran Oi, SC of Boston 72.76 41.87 30.89 6.11 5.93 6.21 6.46 6.18 0.00 #19
7 Johnny Weir, SC of New York 70.76 33.54 37.22 7.68 7.14 7.43 7.43 7.54 0.00 #14
8 Stephen Carriere, SC of Boston 69.36 36.14 33.22 6.68 6.50 6.50 6.79 6.75 0.00 #3
9 Dennis Phan, All Year FSC 69.11 38.86 30.25 6.21 5.75 6.11 6.18 6.00 0.00 #17
10 Shaun Rogers, University of Delaware FSC 64.13 35.16 28.97 6.04 5.50 5.86 5.93 5.64 0.00 #6
11 Jason Wong, SC of Boston 63.40 35.34 29.06 5.96 5.57 5.96 5.82 5.75 1.00 #8
12 Adam Rippon, SC of New York 62.22 30.69 31.53 6.46 6.14 6.29 6.32 6.32 0.00 #4
13 William Brewster, Detroit SC 60.23 32.59 27.64 5.57 5.18 5.71 5.61 5.57 0.00 #5
14 Tommy Steenberg, SC of Northern Virginia 59.77 33.70 27.07 5.54 5.25 5.32 5.50 5.46 1.00 #7
15 Nicholas LaRoche, All Year FSC 58.01 31.19 26.82 5.75 4.86 5.46 5.43 5.32 0.00 #10
16 Douglas Razzano, Coyotes SC of Arizona 57.00 31.54 26.46 5.57 5.04 5.14 5.39 5.32 1.00 #15
17 Jonathan Cassar, Detroit SC 55.72 27.22 28.50 5.68 5.46 5.79 5.75 5.82 0.00 #12
18 Eliot Halverson, Ann Arbor FSC 51.09 25.30 26.79 5.29 5.00 5.46 5.50 5.54 1.00 #13

That is all.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Preview-Men

It would be a lie to say that the ladies have not been the dominant discipline of skating in the United States for the last half-century. In every Olympic Games since 1956 (with the exception of 1964), there has been at least one U.S. lady on the Olympic podium, and a total of seven American ladies have had the honor of stepping atop the platform reserved for the gold medalist. Surprising it will be when come the World Championships and the 2010 Olympics, an American man will have the best chance at securing a podium finish for the United States, not an American woman. The men were the only skating discipline where an American scored a medal at the last world championships (bronze-Johnny Weir, 2008) and the only American to have won a Grand Prix Final since 2002 is Jeremy Abbott.

The last three national championships have been hijacked by the Evan Lysacek vs. Johnny Weir battle for the title. Though a far cry from the intense and often bitter rivalry between Russian Olympic champions Alexei Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko, there was quite a climax at last year's Nationals in St. Paul when Lysacek beat Weir in a tie-breaker by virtue of winning the free skate. To add to the tension, a chilling fluff piece was shown at the opening of NBC's broadcast of the men's free. The fluff was created especially for the two rivals in which Weir commented "Outside from skating, I don't really like Evan" and Lysacek called the rivalry "war" between the two skaters. However, in a compelling twist, a relative newcomer by the name of Jeremy Abbott looks to get the biggest slice of the pie in Cleveland. With a victory at the Grand Prix Final, an event where Weir settled for bronze and Lysacek failed to even qualify for, Abbott has established himself as an exceptionally creditable threat to both men, who have a combined total of five national titles between them, whereas Abbott has none.

While a compelling three-way fight for the title should no doubt be a thrilling event to witness, the story lines for the men's event at Nationals won't end there. The inconsistent but entertaining veteran Ryan Bradley, the reliable and steady Stephen Carriere, and newcomers Branden Mroz and Adam Rippon will be other faces to keep an eye on in Cleveland when the men's short program gets under way on January 23rd, 2009.

Skaters Featured in Post:

Jeremy Abbott
Ryan Bradley
Stephen Carriere
Evan Lysacek
Branden Mroz
Adam Rippon
Johnny Weir

Jeremy Abbott

Noteworthy Results: 2008 Grand Prix Final Champion, 2008 Cup of Russia-4th, 2008 Cup of China Champion, 2008 World Championships-11th, 2008 Four Continents Championships-5th, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-4th, 2007 Four Continents Championships-3rd, 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-4th

Pros: Abbott's standing ovation from a thunderously approving crowd at this year's Grand Prix Final seemed to symbolize the transformation of Abbott's skating. Once a talented but notoriously inconsistent competitor, his victory in South Korea earned him a spot amongst the world's leading male figure skaters. Abbott, who has landed three clean quadruple toe loops in major international competition, has the three highest scores in the long program for any U.S. man this season, in addition to the two highest segment total scores (237.72 and 233.44). Lauded for his good musicality, first-rate jumping technique, and strong basic skating skills, on paper Jeremy has placed himself away from his competitors with the highest averages this season in the long program for both technical elements (79.98) and program components (74.87), the former of which being over nine points ahead of his closest rival, Johnny Weir.

Cons: Abbott has yet to even attempt the quadruple toe loop in either program this season, and did struggle at the recent Cup of Russia, singling his lutz in the short and doubling a triple toe in the long. Abbott's venture to do the quad in both programs at last year's nationals proved unsuccessful; stepping out of it on both attempts. While Abbott is not a full-fledged newcomer, having won the pewter medal at the last two nationals and participating at a world championship, this national championship will no doubt be Abbott's biggest test of his mettle in competition to date. Doing well at the Grand Prix isn't always a blessing, as proven by Matt Savoie winning the bronze (and having the highest U.S. finish) at the Grand Prix Final in 2001, and failing to make the world team. While the two scenarios aren't entirely comparable, as there were only two spots available for the world team in 2001 and Savoie would've otherwise gone (having finished with the bronze medal at nationals), it is an indication of just how slippery the ice really is, especially at nationals, considered the ultimate pressure competition of the year.

Outlook: Looking at the scores internationally this season, Abbott is the favorite to win his first U.S. national championship and is undoubtedly a shoo-in to be on his second world team. Inserting a quad into his already loaded bag of tricks could propel him to be in a position with quite a bit of breathing room to win. However, one must not forget that Abbott's quad has by no means been a walk in the park for him, and that Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir, who have also stated their plans to include the jump, have far more experience nationally and internationally than Jeremy can claim. Abbott's performances at the last two Nationals have been neither brilliant nor dreadful, but Abbott may be required to skate nothing less than brilliantly if Weir and Lysacek skate with greater intensity than they have for the entirety of this season.

Ryan Bradley

Noteworthy Results: 2008 Trophee Eric Bombard-7th, 2008 Skate Canada-2nd, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-5th, 2007 Trophee Eric Bombard-5th, 2007 Skate America-6th, 2007 World Championships-15th, 2007 Four Continents Championships-4th, 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-2nd

Pros: The three-time U.S. Collegiate champion sets himself apart with his unique programs that are full of vitality. Bradley has beaten Abbott, Lysacek, and Weir at some point in his career, and Ryan's decision to return to his former long program to musical selections from "Mambo en Sax," "Historia De Un Amor," and "El Cumbanchero" appeared to be a wise one at this season's Skate Canada, where he finished with a silver medal with a performance that many argued was rightful of gold. He also scored personal bests at that meet in both programs, a 72.50 in the short and a 140.25 in the free.

Cons: Bradley's nervy showing at the 2007 World Figure Skating Championships, his only world championship to date, has not given U.S. Figure Skating any incentive to send him to Los Angeles this year, where assuring three Olympic spots will be a must. The same can also be said for Ryan's abysmal performance at this year's Trophee Eric Bombard, where he fell twice in the free and did two many jump combinations en route to finishing 10th in the free and 7th overall. While a crowd favorite, he has hardly been a judges favorite throughout his career, having the second-lowest PCS average in the long program among the men featured in this post this season. Bradley's TES scores are also the lowest among the top U.S. men, which is all thanks to his weak showing at Trophee Eric Bombard.

Outlook: Known for his vibrant character on the ice, one can hope that Bradley enjoyed his time in Tokyo, Japan, for his first world championships, because with Abbott's rapid improvement and Lysacek and Weir's experience, one is unlikely to be finding Bradley skating on a television set in March when worlds arrive. Although a mightily inconsistent skater, Bradley is known to be an opportunist when it comes to taking advantage of detrimental performances from his fellow rivals and stepping up to bat and delivering the goods, the most notable example being his shocking silver medal finish at the 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. With Abbott, Lysacek, and Weir predicted to lock up the world team spots, Bradley will still be motivated for a strong finish here to ensure him of Grand Prix assignments next season and a possible ticket to Four Continents if one of the top three opts out of being chosen to rest for Worlds. Currently 25 years of age, Bradley's quest to make a name for himself beyond 2010 could unfortunately prove to be too little, too late.

Stephen Carriere

Noteworthy Results: 2008 NHK Trophy-6th, 2008 Cup of China-2nd, 2008 World Championships-10th, 2008 Four Continents Championships-4th, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-3rd, 2007 NHK Trophy-3rd, 2007 Skate America-4th, 2007 World Junior Champion, 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-9th, 2006 Junior Grand Prix Final Champion

Pros: Only 19 years of age and competing in his third senior national championship, the Wakefield, Massachusetts native is currently an impressive 9th on the seasons best list and among the cards that he brings to the table are his inordinate triple axels and his Tano-style double jumps for his combinations. Carriere has already been a proven commodity for the United States in his young career, placing 10th at last year's worlds which, combined with Johnny Weir's bronze medal, secured three spots for this year's World Championships. Carriere's seasons best in the long program, 145.25, is over three points higher than that of Evan Lysacek's 141.91. In addition to his great speed across the ice, Carriere is commended for his consistently cool head under pressure.

Cons: Carriere's hopes of making the Grand Prix Final after being an alternate last year descended with a poor showing at the NHK Trophy, where he singled both of his axel attempts in the long and under rotated his triple-triple in the short. His total at NHK regressed nearly 25 points from Cup of China, which is not a good sign for his preparation or political favor heading into nationals. While Carriere is immune to flutzing, Stephen has struggled with taking off of the correct edge for his flip, receiving "!" marks during both programs at Cup of China and an "e" deduction during the long at NHK. With a top-three finish being a must for Carriere to be named to the world team, his TES average this season in the long program is only 5th among the top U.S. men, and is 4th when it comes to average PCS marks in the long and seasons best totals. Unlike many of the other top men, Carriere does not compete a quadruple jump and while it is a legitimate argument to say that risking a jump isn't worth it, for Carriere it is a necessity because of his weaker artistic marks.

Outlook: Carriere, who once compared his skating to growing branches on a tree, may be forced to stop climbing up the standings when a top 3 finish and an additional trip to worlds look to be unlikely this year. Even if Carriere were to finish with a bronze medal and would thus knock one of Abbott, Weir, or Lysacek off the podium, all three of those men have more experience and reputation than that of Carriere and he could still feasibly be passed over anyway. While Carriere is an immensely talented skater, his skating is still considered by many to be fairly juniorish and his consistency is unfortunately too invaluable of a trinket to disguise his other weaknesses. However, Stephen can still get an assignment to the Four Continents Championships if one of the top three opts out of going, and Grand Prix assignments for next year should come his way barring a disastrous performance in Cleveland.

Evan Lysacek

Noteworthy Results: 2008 Skate Canada-3rd, 2008 Skate America-3rd, 2008 Four Continents Championships-3rd, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Champion, 2007 Grand Prix Final-3rd, 2007 Cup of China-2nd, 2007 Skate America-2nd, 2007 World Figure Skating Championships-5th, 2007 Four Continents Championships Champion, 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Champion, 2006 Cup of China Champion, 2006 World Championships-3rd, 2006 Olympic Games-4th, 2005 World Championships-3rd

Pros: Every bit as experienced as the length of his 6'2'' frame, Lysacek will make his 10th trip to the national championship, and his eighth as a senior. Lysacek is decent in every area of his skating, and this event has historically been a kind one for Evan, with him being the champion for the last two years. A relentless competitor who is practically incapable of skating two sub-par programs in a competition, Lysacek has been credited with landing the quad in national and international competition, unlike Johnny Weir. Lysacek's personal best scores in the long program and overall are higher than that of Weir, and his personal best and seasons best in the short is the highest among any American skater. Lysacek is also known for his intelligence when handling the current code of points, maxing out his levels and points in non-jump elements and changing jump combinations during the program if he puts himself into a situation where such a task is necessary.

Cons: Evan received four downgrades and two wrong-edge "!" calls during the Grand Prix series, with that and more contributing to him failing to make the Grand Prix Final. Although Lysacek's PCS marks in the long at Skate America were very competitive (76.30), they regressed nearly six points to a 70.70 during his long at Skate Canada, which was a mostly clean performance. Lysacek hasn't successfully landed the quad since the Four Continents Championships in February 2008, and seems to have dropped it from his short program for good. Lysacek has been criticized in the past for his artificial artistry, arm-flailing footwork sequence extravaganzas, and, although irrelevant, his distasteful choices in costuming. Lysacek's failure to compete at worlds last year and making the Grand Prix Final this year may stunt his potential to do well at nationals, both in terms of confidence and how well he will be received from the judging panel.

Outlook: Lysacek may not be having the best season thus far, and people can complain all day long about his wonky technique on his triple axel, weaker basic skating skills, and hackneyed programs. However, one would be a fool to count the two-time world bronze medalist from the mix, and Evan has some very layered layers of breathing room to fall under before he will be unable to make the world team. As for winning the title, his forecast is fairly to partly cloudy with a definite chance of showers. To make the sun shine for him, he must get his quad consistent, start landing his triple axels without any ambiguity regarding whether the jump completed the required rotations, and to skate his programs with renewed life and intensity that has been missing this season. Having been away from competition since early November, Lysacek has surely worked vigorously to get back to the top. With reports saying how good his practice sessions have looked as of late, will practice make perfect in Cleveland?

Brandon Mroz

Noteworthy Results: 2008 Trophee Eric Bombard-5th, 2008 Skate Canada-7th, 2008 World Junior Championships-4th, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-2nd (juniors), 2007 Junior Grand Prix Final-2nd, 2007 Junior World Championships-4th, 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-2nd (juniors), 2006 Junior Grand Prix Final-2nd

Pros: A fine technical skater, Mroz currently competes a quadruple toe-loop to open his long program. Having only received one downgrade this year, and one wrong-edge call ("!" for his triple flip), Mroz has the third highest TES average this season in the long (67.36), which is higher than that of Evan Lysacek or Stephen Carriere. Mroz generally receives level 3s and 4s for her non-jump elements, which create greater cushion for error when it comes to jumping. This championship is a perfect opportunity for Mroz to establish himself as a recognizable threat for the future while having little pressure on him to do well.

Cons: Mroz cannot hold a candle to the top U.S. men with it comes to program components, specifically when it comes choreography and interpretation. A rather mundane and juniorish skater when it comes to artistry, he is unlikely to be getting the marks in that department to land on the podium, which is evidenced by him having the lowest PCS average among the top U.S. men in the long this season (58.25). Mroz has had his fair share of errors throughout the Grand Prix, having not landed the quad successfully at either Skate Canada or Trophee Eric Bombard. Brandon has also struggled with landing his second triple axel in his long program, and throughout his junior career he has been forced to step under the shadow of Adam Rippon, who beat Mroz at the Junior Grand Prix Final, Nationals (junior level), and Junior Worlds last season.

Outlook: While Brandon has a ways to go before he becomes a top level skater, he is making definitive strides in the right direction. Having upgraded to a quad and placing a second triple axel after the half-way point of his long program (as a junior he placed both triple axels at the beginning of his long) this more ambitious jump composition will be a necessity for him beyond 2010. While Mroz is hardly in contention of making the world team, a ticket to Sofia, Bulgaria, for the junior world championships is easily realistic and he will be able to further hone his talents before potentially becoming a medal contender at nationals in the future.

Adam Rippon

Noteworthy Results: 2008 Cup of Russia-5th, 2008 Skate America-8th, 2008 World Junior Champion, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Champion (Junior), 2007 Junior Grand Prix Final Champion, 2007 Junior Grand Prix Romania Champion

Pros: Blessed with an exceptionally malleable and compact body, the 19-year-old Rippon dominated the junior circuit last year, winning the Junior Grand Prix Final, U.S. Figure Skating Championships (junior level), and the Junior World Championship. At the 2008 U.S. Nationals, Paul Wylie commented during an NBC fluff that Rippon has all of the makings to be a future champion, and with airy jumps, blue-ribbon spins, and a flair for musicality, there is undoubtedly a good deal of validity to that statement. Rippon has added a triple axel to his jumping repertoire this season and has generally been a consistent skater in competition. Many have praised Adam's intelligent decision in making a coaching change mid-season from Nikolai Morozov to Brian Orser, as Orser has fewer students to devote his attention to than Morozov.

Cons: Although age-eligible to compete at worlds, Rippon will have a mightily tough act on his back if he hopes to qualify. Rippon has received negative GOEs on all five of his triple axel attempts this season, and fell on two of them. Rippon lost at least seven potential points when he was downgraded on three jumps in the long at Skate America, and his overall showing at that competition, his first senior showing, was an uncharacteristically poor one. Adam's averages this season in the long program for technical elements and program components are 2nd and 3rd lowest, respectively, among the men featured in this post. Rippon's personal best total score of 207.93, achieved at the recent Cup of Russia, is far lower than that of Abbott (237.72), Lysacek (233.11), Weir (231.78), Carriere (218.30), and Bradley (212.75).

Outlook: A diamond in the rough, Rippon will particularly need to focus on his content to out skate the big boys. Getting his triple axel consistent, and preferably putting two of them into his long program will he a big help to the Pennsylvania native, and learning a quad wouldn't hurt, either. Rippon is certainly improving, scoring personal bests in both phases of the competition at his most recent competition, Cup of Russia. Rippon has immaculate basic skating skills, including correct edge take-offs for both his flip and lutz, and Brian Orser's immense expertise of jumps like the triple axel should further fulfill the potential that Rippon has to offer. Although unlikely to be in contention for the world team, Rippon should use this competition to learn, grow, have fun, and take risks. With a former world champion as his coach, and two-time Grand Prix Final champion Yu-Na Kim as his training partner, Rippon will be able to witness the day-to-day happenings of the expectation and preparation of one of the top ladies figure skaters in the world, which should prove useful as soon as Rippon is ready to step into the spotlight and away from the shadows of other top skaters.

Johnny Weir

Noteworthy Results: 2008 Grand Prix Final-3rd, 2008 NHK Trophy-2nd, 2008 Skate America-3rd, 2008 World Figure Skating Championships-3rd, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-2nd, 2007 Grand Prix Final-4th, 2007 Cup of Russia Champion, 2007 Cup of China Champion, 2007 World Figure Skating Championships-8th, 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-3rd, 2006 World Figure Skating Championships-7th, 2006 Olympic Games-5th, 2006 U.S. Figure Skating Champion, 2005 World Figure Skating Championships-4th, 2005 U.S. Figure Skating Champion, 2004 World Figure Skating Championships-5th, 2004 U.S. Figure Skating Champion

Pros: The only skater since Brian Boitano to have won three consecutive (2004-2006) national titles in the United States, Weir is a distinctly unique skater, from his costume and music selections to the fact that he rotates clockwise as opposed to counter-clockwise. Blessed with heavenly deep knees, assertive presentation, and a renewed fight for the top, these are all desirable cards for Weir to emerge victorious in Cleveland. Weir has butter-smooth triple axels and triple+triple combinations, and is hoping to land his quad for the first time in a major competition. Outside of the jumping department, Weir has very strong spins and footwork that routinely get in the level three and four range, and typically is a recipient of very desirable PCS marks in the U.S. and abroad.

Cons: Weir's biggest opponent at nationals may not be Jeremy Abbott, or Evan Lysacek, but rather something far more subtle called the code of points. Weir got lucky when he did too many combinations during the long at the 2006 U.S. Nationals, where he still had enough breathing room from the short to win. However, karma for his poor decision making in programs greeted him at the 2006 Olympics, where he only did one jump combination in the long and that, among other things, kept him from stepping onto the medals stand. Johnny left out a possible combination again at the 2008 U.S. Nationals, which mathematically speaking cost him a 4th title. At the world championships, Weir once again did two combinations (neither being a three-jump combo), but this time was saved by Daisuke Takahashi being credited with too many combinations, thus forfeiting his spot on the podium to Weir. As far as his skating rivals are concerned, Weir's personal best is lower than that of Lysacek and his seasons average for both TES (especially) and PCS in the long program is lower than that of Abbott. Weir is also routinely given an "e" deduction for liping his triple flip.

Outlook: Despite the retirements of Jeffrey Buttle and Stephane Lambiel and the current absence of Takahashi, the international mens field is immensely deep and Weir cannot afford anything less than a victory here to ensure him of realistic medal prospects when the world championships roll around, and the same holds true for the Olympics next year. Weir's criticism of the code of points is not without its irony, as Johnny has actually been helped by COP for the fact that the quad doesn't have to be a do-or-die jump. The reality is that fighting for every point is necessary, and with close results being commonplace an extra double toe DOES MATTER. Abbott does have the momentum heading into nationals, but by no means is Weir going to let him take an idyllic path to victory. Weir obviously hasn't started working with Galina Zmievskaya, known to be an extremely demanding coach, for nothing. His experience could prove to be his biggest asset, but per the numbers of this season Weir is a slight underdog heading into nationals, an unfamiliar position for him.

Podium Prediction:

Gold: Jeremy Abbott-
Has had a phenomenal season thus far and as far as the data is concerned he shouldn't have a problem winning. However, his lack of experience compared to Weir and Lysacek and pressure from winning the Grand Prix Final will be obstacles to overcome. Seems to have the most momentum in terms of confidence and scoring favor, however.

Silver: Johnny Weir-Johnny has historically done well at nationals with a few exceptions (2003, 2007), and has enough experience to skate well despite all of the expectations surrounding him. However, his quad, and his inability to maximize his points in past programs could result in lower scores than what will be necessary to win the title.

Bronze: Evan Lysacek- Will likely look better than earlier in the season, but his quad is hit-or-miss, he has been getting more downgrades this season and his PCS have been regressing.

4th/Pewter: Stephen Carriere-Solid, consistent, and a great jumper, but isn't near to the level of the top three to have a good chance at going to worlds.

5th: Adam Rippon-Wise move to switch coaches; did extremely well at last year's nationals as a junior and it will be interesting to see if he will be intimidated or free-spirited when competing at the biggest event of his career thus far.

6th: Ryan Bradley-Has been a steady but unspectacular player at nationals for a number of years, and while his 2007 performance was a shock to all, the former statement is likely to wind up true in Cleveland.

7th: Brandon Mroz- A great opportunity for him to hold nothing back and gain feedback from judges for further improvement. With solid technical content, he should be right up there in the standings at nationals, although a podium finish is almost out of the question.

UPDATE: Kimmie Meissner has just announced her withdrawal from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, due to a currently unspecified injury. This likely means the end of her season, and will be lucky just to get one GP assignment next year. Many are speculating that Meissner's retirement may be imminent. My new ladies prediction will be (in order from 1st to 10th): Flatt, Wagner, Zhang, Czisny, Nagasu, Liang, Bereswill, Gilles, Hacker, and Forte.

That is all.

Friday, January 2, 2009

2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-Ladies Preview-Part 2
Above: The senior ladies podium from last year's Nationals (from left to right: Rachael Flatt-silver, Mirai Nagasu-gold, Ashley Wagner-bronze, Caroline Zhang-pewter)

Skaters Featured in Part 2:

Beatrisa Liang
Angela Maxwell
Kimmie Meissner
Kristine Musademba
Mirai Nagasu
Ashley Wagner
Caroline Zhang
Beatrisa Liang

Noteworthy Results: 2008 Trophee Eric Bombard-5th, 2008 Skate Canada-6th, 2008 World Championships-1oth, 2008 Four Continents Championships-11th, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-5th, 2007 Nebelhorn Trophy Champion, 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-4th

Pros: Competing in her 11th national championship, and 9th as a senior, Liang is one of the most experienced ladies competing in Cleveland. Liang has four triple jumps in her back pocket (lutz, flip, loop, toe), strong spins, improving flexibility and very creditable speed across the ice. At the recent Trophee Eric Bombard, Liang had seven of her ten non-jump elements marked out of a level 4. Liang only received two downgrades throughout her two Grand Prix events this season (Skate Canada, Trophee Eric Bombard). Liang was able to crack the top 10 at the World Championships last season, a placement that many thought she would be incapable of meeting.

Cons: Liang is notorious for flutzing, and while she did get two of her lutzes marked with an "!" at Skate Canada, she reverted back to her old ways at Trophee Eric Bombard, where she received the more severe "e" deduction on her lutz three out of three times. Liang has been known as a headcase throughout her entire career, examples dating back to the 2006 Nationals where an Olympic berth was legitimately within her grasp when she placed 3rd in the short program. Unfortunately, it didn't become a reality when she dropped to 5th after suffering two falls in the long. Bebe also appears to have stamina issues, as evidenced by her falling on two jump elements, one of them being a relatively simple double axel, after the half-way point of her free skate in Paris. Liang also doesn't have a triple salchow jump, limiting her to a possible six triple jumps in the long instead of seven.

Outlook: Hopefully, Liang enjoyed her time in Gothenburg, Sweden, last March because such an opportunity is unlikely to present itself again. Inconsistency, downgrades, and flutzing have further stunted the potential that Bebe has, which is an unfortunate reality for the very talented skater who was the first U.S. lady ever to successfully complete a triple lutz+triple loop, a combination she is no longer competing. Between this year's Skate Canada and Trophee Eric Bombard, she averaged only 45.64 for program components between the two events in her long program, hardly competitive with the top contenders at this competition. However, one definite plus for Liang is that the last two years she has skated decently at the national championship. While Liang is unlikely to make the world team even at her peak form, she at least won't be forgotten.
Angela Maxwell

Noteworthy Results: 2008 Junior Grand Prix Final-5th, 2008 JGP Great Britain-3rd, 2008 JGP Ostrava-2nd, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-2nd (junior), 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships (novice)

Pros: A solidly athletic and expressive skater with a very unique long program to the soundtrack of Inuyasha, a Japanese anime, Maxwell will be making her senior debut in Cleveland. She has been witnessed training triple axels (though she said in an Icenetwork article that she's put the jump on hold for the moment), as well as triple lutz+triple toes and triple flip+triple toes. She is currently competing all of the other triples besides the axel. In addition to that, Maxwell is capable of competing a triple flip+double toe and triple salchow+double toe+double loop after the half-way point of her long program. In an era where rotating jumps is ever-important, Maxwell had no downgrades throughout either of her skates at JGPF.

Cons: Maxwell has little experience in comparison with some of her competitors, which showed at the Junior Grand Prix Final. At that competition, Angela suffered three major errors, a fall on her triple lutz in the short, and a single flip and a missed triple flip in the long. These are not the kind of errors that Maxwell can afford to make if she wishes to be competitive for a Grand Prix spot next season. Maxwell was only credited with doing one jump combination for her long program at JGPF. She also simplified the back-end of her planned triple toe+triple toe combination to a double toe and replaced her triple loop with an easier triple toe later on in the program. Maxwell's non-jump elements are in definite need of improvement, with her receiving one level 1 and six level 2s in South Korea. Her PCS marks were only the 4th highest in the long program (44.40), and 6th highest in the short (21.96), and there is no doubt that these marks will have to improve substantially for Maxwell to become a top contender in the U.S. and abroad.

Outlook: Maxwell, who recently made a coaching change from Robin Wagner to Olga Orlova (after originally being coached by Natalia Mishkutenok), has the confidence, content, and artistry to become a contender on the national and possibly international stage, although she is going to have to wait her turn. Maxwell's PCS marks have been less than desirable internationally, and will have to learn and grow from the experience of competing at her first senior competition. While a world team berth is almost out of the question, a top 10 finish is possible for Maxwell in Cleveland. Such a placement could get her onto the junior world team, which would be a first time experience for this self-proclaimed "I'm not into brand names" girl.
Kimmie Meissner

Noteworthy Results: 2008 Cup of Russia-8th, 2008 Skate America-8th, 2008 World Championships-7th, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-7th, 2007 Grand Prix Final-6th, 2007 Skate America Champion, 2007 World Championships-4th, 2007 Four Continents Championships Champion, 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Champion, 2006 World Champion, 2006 Olympics-6th, 2006 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-2nd

Pros: The only U.S. skater to have won a world title since Michelle Kwan in 2003, Kimmie Meissner has proved that she has a burning desire to get back to her top form by moving approximately 1000 miles away from home, living on her own, and temporarily giving up college. An experienced veteran who was a won a medal of every color at the national championship, Meissner is capable of triple-triple combinations and was seen landing triple axels at the practice sessions of last year's World Championship. An elegant short program to "Un Ange Passe" and a dramatic long program to "Concerto Grosso no. 11 in D minor" and "Adagio in G Minor" have expanded the artistic horizons of a skater who has been criticized in the past for her non-existent expression and airplane arms.

Cons: Meissner has gotten wrong-edge deductions in the past for her triple flip (though at Cup of Russia they appeared to be going away). However, one of the real reasons behind Meissner's decline in the standings is downgrades, receiving four of them at Cup of Russia, including a double axel. Meissner was also hammered with low levels on her non-jump elements this season, particularly at Cup of Russia where she received six level 1s throughout the course of the event. Interestingly, Meissner's total score at Cup of Russia was actually lower than at Skate America (131.36 at COR, 135.92 at SA), despite the fact that Meissner's performance was superior to the eye in Moscow than it was in Everett. This is evidenced by the fact that Meissner suffered three falls at Skate America, and had none at Cup of Russia.

Outlook: Meissner's PCS marks have plummeted since her meltdown beginning in December 2007 at the Grand Prix Final, only receiving 25.32 in the short and 48.64 in the long at Cup of Russia. Meissner winning the world title was the best and worst thing that ever happened to her. The best because it gave her publicity, a name to the international skating community, and several miscellaneous opportunities she would not have otherwise had. However, it became the worst thing that ever happened to her career because it caused much more pressure on her and her alone to continue the dominant reign of U.S. ladies in figure skating, with that and iffy jumping technique contributing to her demise. This national championship is really about putting her name back into the hat of possible contenders for the 2010 Olympic team. Realistically speaking, she won't be going to worlds and that shouldn't be of concern to Meissner; been there, done that. While she may not be under pressure for a trip to L.A., she is under pressure here to secure a good finish (preferably top 5), which would allow her to lock up some coveted grand prix assignments next season. If all goes according to plan, she could get herself back into the graces of the international judges to culminate in making the Olympic team a year from now. As for the jumps, Meissner needs to dump her triple-triples immediately in favor of using the triple toe as a solo jump, a double axel+triple toe combination in the long, or an easier triple toe+triple toe. Downgrades are going to be Meissner's biggest nemesis for her quest to go to Vancouver.

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Kristine Musademba

Noteworthy Results: 2008 Junior Grand Prix Final-6th, 2008 JGP Courchevel Champion, 2008 JGP Madrid Champion, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-4th (junior), 2007 Junior Grand Prix Final-4th

Pros: Musademba, another skater who is making her first appearance on the senior level in Cleveland, has had a solid start to her year, placing 1st at both of her junior Grand Prix assignments and placing 6th in the final. Musademba has five triple jumps that she is currently competing (all except the axel) and has been credited with taking off of the correct edge for both her flip and lutz. Musademba also beat Becky Bereswill at the Junior Grand Prix Courchevel this year, and also received three level 4s for her non-jump elements at JGPF.

Cons: Musademba had a shaky outing at the Junior Grand Prix final, placing eighth out of eight skaters after the short before moving up to sixth after the long. After suffering a fall on her triple flip in the short and later going on to under rotate her triple lutz, Kristine under rotated two jumps in the long and had a very awkward fall on a double toe loop. While Kristine skated nervously in South Korea, even when she does put it together her scoring potential is nothing to drop your jaw over, receiving a mere 89.84 for a program with five cleanly hit triples at the Junior Grand Prix Courchevel. Musademba's PCS marks were the 2nd-lowest at the Junior Grand Prix Final in the long program (41.76).

Outlook: Musademba has a legitimate shot at making the top 10 at Nationals and while making the world team is a virtual impossibility, a trip to junior worlds would be great experience for the 16-year-old from Washington, D.C. If she wishes to become a top-rate skater, Musademba will need to work on the artistic components of her skating, especially musicality and flow. And of course improving the consistency of her jumps and avoiding downgrades will be key as well. Musademba could get on NBC's last nerve, however, if she is to take Emily Hughes' spot as one of the top 10 skaters after the short program that will be broadcast in the free.
Mirai Nagasu

Noteworthy Results: 2008 NHK Trophy-8th, 2008 Skate Canada-5th, 2008 World Junior Championships-3rd, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Champion, 2007 Junior Grand Prix Final Champion, 2007 World Junior Chamionships-2nd, 2007 U.S. National Champion (junior)

Pros: During the last two years Nagasu has peaked at the national championship, upsetting favorite Caroline Zhang to win the junior title in 2007 and the senior title in 2008. Nagasu won last year's event despite under rotating a the back-end of a triple lutz-triple toe combination in her long program, as well as suffering a fall on a double axel. Her short program score at last year's junior worlds (65.07) has only been surpassed by two skaters this season (Yu-Na Kim, Mao Asada), and that was with a wrong-edge deduction on her triple lutz. Nagasu's scores are aided by her non-jump elements, including her spins and spirals which showcase astounding flexibility. Nagasu received the highest program component scores of all the ladies in both programs at last year's Nationals.

Cons: Nagasu has had a grand total of 13 jumps downgraded thus far this season, and some of them were double jumps as well. Nagasu has struggled with fully-rotating jumps in the past, and having grown to the height of 5'1'' has not helped her out in the least. There were past rumors that the Japanese Skating Federation was trying to court Nagasu into skating for Japan, but any such hopes of JSF doing so went straight to the grave when Nagasu finished 8th at the NHK Trophy in Tokyo, not being credited with landing a single triple jump throughout the entire competition. Nagasu also had three non-jump elements that were below a level 3 at that particular event. She also appeared to have stamina issues at both competitions, further evidenced by her falling on her footwork in the long program at this year's Skate America.

Outlook: If Nagasu were to put it all together like she did when winning the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, she could actually be U.S.A.'s best hope of a ladies medal in Vancouver, and that includes Sasha Cohen. Nagasu has all the ingredients: spins, spirals, artistry, skating skills, and speed, but those jumps have to be consistently landed and consistently rotated in order for Nagasu to stand a chance internationally. Nagasu's PCS marks weren't overly dreadful at NHK, which means that the judges still appreciate her talent. Citing that jumps are Nagasu's big issue, many have suggested that it would be wise to leave her coach, Charlene Wong, and go to a coach who specializes in jumps. Rafael Artunian, Richard Callaghan, and Brian Orser are some possible "jump doctors" that could help Nagasu with her under rotations and her consistency. However, it is unclear whether such a change is at all likely to happen, as Nagasu seems pretty comfortably situated with Charlene Wong, and her parents are reliant on running their restaurant in order to make a living. As for this championship, there are many unknown factors regarding Nagasu's potential placement. How much Nagasu has improved from NHK is unknown, and there is also the factor of a lenient caller who will be less likely to downgrade Nagasu's jumps, thus providing her with an unfair advantage. While she may have the most potential of all the U.S. girls, Mirai shouldn't be stepping foot on the ice in L.A. or Vancouver until she has proven that she can rotate her jumps consistently, and with authority.
Ashley Wagner

Noteworthy Results: 2008 NHK Trophy-4th, 2008 Cup of China-4th, 2008 World Figure Skating Championships-16th, 2008 Four Continents Championships-8th, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-3rd, 2007 Trophee Eric Bombard-3rd, 2007 World Junior Championships-3rd, 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-3rd (junior)

Pros: Wagner is one of only five skaters to have broken 60 in the short program thus far this season in international competition. Ashley has competed triple lutz+triple loops before, and gave the strongest performance of her career thus far at last year's nationals. Wagner, now coached by Priscilla Hill, has wisely rearranged the jumping layout for the long program in such a way to allow her to do seven triples without risking a triple-triple or doing the lutz twice, as she has gotten several wrong-edge deductions on her lutz in the past. Wagner has demonstrated solid improvement in her artistry this season, with a romantic short to "Somewhere in Time" and a dramatic, powerful long to "Spartacus." This has been reflected in her program component scores, with Wagner receiving a 54.56 in the long program at NHK, the highest PCS marks awarded in a long program this season for an American lady.

Cons: Wagner is a chronic flutzer, the only time where she didn't receive an "e" deduction at a major international meet was during the short at this year's NHK, where she still received an "!" Wagner has been prone to getting deducted for under rotating her triples, getting downgraded for two at NHK and one at Cup of China earlier this season. Wagner has yet to show a triple-triple this year and had three errors on her jumps in the long at NHK, causing some to think that her artistic improvement has come at the expense of her maintaining the solidity and consistency of her triple jumps. Wagner's seasons best in the long has been surpassed by Alissa Czisny, Rachael Flatt, and Caroline Zhang thus far this season.

Outlook: Unless if her triple-triples start becoming incredibly consistent, Wagner will probably be wise to stick to doing a triple-double in the short, as her short has proven to have very high scoring potential already. One has to remember that part of the reason of Wagner's relatively shaky long at NHK likely had a bit to do with her rearranging the program so much between Cup of China and NHK. Wagner's seasons best is the second highest among the ladies competing in Cleveland (behind Flatt), and her program components average this season in the long (52.32) is the highest of all the U.S. ladies, including Czisny. Wagner was scored suspiciously high at last year's Nationals, especially looking at the protocols where she did not receive a single wrong-edge deduction. With all of this criteria considered, it seems logical to predict that Wagner has a very respectable chance at going to Los Angeles, although USFSA might be wary to send her after her weak showing last year.
Caroline Zhang

Noteworthy Results: 2008 Trophee Eric Bombard-3rd, 2008 Skate Canada-5th, 2008 World Junior Championships-2nd, 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships-4th, 2007 Grand Prix Final-4th, 2007 Cup of China-2nd, 2007 Skate America-3rd, 2007 World Junior Figure Skating Champion, 2006 Junior Grand Prix Final Champion

Pros: Coached by Ming Zhu Li, a past coach of former world champion Lu Chen, Zhang is a tough competitor and a very talented young skater. Zhang's assets include having triple flip+triple toes in her arsenal for both programs, good consistency, and practically inhumane flexibility. Her signature "pearl spin" is a hotbed for +2 and +3 GOEs, and it is easy as 1+1=2 to recognize that Zhang is a ruthless perfectionist, as evidenced by almost every competition article where she is always quick to point out what she wishes to improve upon.

Cons: Unfortunately, just because Zhang is a perfectionist doesn't mean that her skating is without obvious flaws. First off, she has been criticized for her "mule kick" technique into her lutz and flip, as well as her flutzing her lutz, which still received an "e" wrong-edge deduction during the free skate at Trophee Eric Bombard. The flutz has required Zhang to reinstate a less valuable triple salchow into her long program, and put a triple loop into her short program. Like Nagasu, Zhang had a growth spurt over the summer, growing to the height of 5'2". Zhang got downgraded on both the front-end and back-end of her triple-triple in the long at Trophee Eric Bombard, as well as the back-end of that same jumping pass in the short. Zhang is also weak when it comes to speed and skating skills, and her program component marks are reflecting that. Her PCS average in the long this season is actually lower than that of Nagasu and Meissner.

Outlook: While Zhang is a competitor, she has some serious technique issues that if not addressed will certainly have a negative impact on her overall skating in the future. Zhang has fallen short of expectations and skated below her best at the last two national championships, and has been receiving lower PCS marks and downgrades this season. Also noteworthy is that Zhang placed lower than Nagasu during the long last year at Nationals, where Zhang essentially skated the best she could and Nagasu had one fall, one downgrade, and one wrong-edge deduction on her lutz that she isn't as prone to getting as Zhang. Many are putting Zhang up against Wagner for the second ticket to L.A. (assuming Flatt wins), and it really seems as though Wagner has the advantage over Zhang in more ways than one. However, it is worth mentioning that Zhang's personal bests in the short (62.40) and the long (114.66) are higher than those of Wagner or even Flatt, and if she were to get to the level she was at where she placed 4th at the Junior Grand Prix Final last season, Caroline would be a shoo-in to go.

Podium Prediction

Gold: Rachael Flatt-Consistent as all get out, rotates her jumps, and performed brilliantly last year. A recent video of her performing her short program at a judges' critiquing session at Broadmoor Skating Club shows Flatt to be looking very fit and confident.

Silver: Ashley Wagner-Has improved artistically and hopefully can get it together technically. Peaked at nationals last year and was scored very well, and with the international judges warming up to her she seems like a logical girl to send to Worlds.

Bronze: Caroline Zhang-Has had issues at Nationals in the past and could receive substantial deductions for under rotations and flutzing, but is a first-rate competitor who one can never count out.

4th/Pewter: Alissa Czisny-Has been inconsistent and the same is true for her history at Nationals, but she has made improvements in her jumping technique this season and has all the other ingredients for a great skate and big marks.

5th: Mirai Nagasu-A Japanese article after her long at NHK mentioned how disappointed and angry Nagasu was with her performance in Japan; if history means anything she'll do very well in Cleveland, but hopefully USFSA has the message that a strict caller is necessary for the championship and that Nagasu getting away with downgrades could prove to be disastrous if she goes to Worlds.

6th: Kimmie Meissner-Surely will have improved from the Grand Prix series and will have very little pressure on her to do well. Likely won't be at the form she was when she won her world, four continents and national titles, however.

7th: Beatrisa Liang-Generally skates decently at Nationals, and has far more experience than some of the younger skaters coming up.

8th: Becky Bereswill-With decent artistry and decent jumps, Becky would like to improve from her 10th place finish from last year.

9th: Alexe Gilles-Elegant skater with solid jumps, has polishing to do and more experience to gain.

10th: Katrina Hacker-Beautiful skater but doesn't have the content to contend for the higher placements; I wish her all the best if this is indeed her swan song.

Predictions for World Team: Rachael Flatt, Ashley Wagner
Predictions for Four Continents Team: Rachael Flatt, Ashley Wagner, Caroline Zhang
Predictions for Junior World Team: Becky Bereswill, Alexe Gilles, Angela Maxwell

That is all.