It's going to be a show to watch in Greensboro Saturday night as the best US ladies duke it out for medals in the free skate. I was truly impressed with the overall skating quality of the competition in the short, so fingers crossed we get a repeat of that in the free skate.
Here are the current standings of the top 6:
1. Ashley Wagner 72.04
2. Gracie Gold 67.02 (5.02 points from 1st)
3. Polina Edmunds 66.04 (6 points from 1st) (0.98 points from 2nd)
4. Mirai Nagasu 65.28 (6.76 pts from 1st) (1.74 pts from 2nd) (0.76 from 3rd)
5.Courtney Hicks 65.01 (7.08 pts from 1st) (2.01 pts from 2nd) (1.03 from 3rd)
6. Karen Chen 64.66 (7.28 from 1st) (2.36 from 2nd) (1.30 from 3rd)
Click here to see the skate order for the free skate. We will see the top 4 back-to-back with Hicks, Wagner, Gold and Edmunds skating last ( in that order).
Start order doesn't necessarily mean much... but Gold skating after Ashley sets up quite the drama: either Wagner falters and Gold has opportunity to clinch a win -- or -- Wagner delivers and then the pressure to compete will really be on Gold. Either way, you know Gracie will hear Ashley's score so I actually think Gold has the less enviable position, considering she can struggle under pressure. Wagner can throw out her program and then see if anyone can beat it...if she hits. And that's an IF, ladies and gents.
NOW- I can't fail to mention that many were picking Edmunds to win Nationals this year. If Gracie and Ashley crumble, Edmunds has a huge opportunity in skating last.
Disregarding the fact that all scores will be way inflated at a National free skate, here's a look at long program performance this season: Wagner and Gold's season averages in the free skate are separated by about two points (AW 122.60 and GG 120.79). Courtney Hicks, sitting in fifth (only 1.03 from third) has the next-highest average at 117.52, with Polina at 111.89 and Mirai at 107.95. See how interesting this competition is?
First and Second: I think the top two will come down to a Gold-Wagner battle, as predicted. Ashley's lead is not unbeatable; she HAS to deliver a solidly clean performance to stay on top, but I really am feeling her confidence at this point and the free has been the stronger of her two programs this year. She is however, attempting more technical difficulty for Saturday's program that she ever has before, which is a huge risk. AND THEN if Wagner falters, the bigger question remains- can Gold deliver enough to overcome that 5 point lead?
Bottom line: If Ashley makes 1 mistake, I think she'll be okay - but- more than that could bump her to silver after a clean performance from Gracie Gold.
Third and Fourth: Hmmm... I'm a fan of Mirai's programs this season, but I don't think she has the technical goods to top a clean Polina Edmunds, simply because the judges seem to be holding Polina up when she hits technically. Hicks could certainly battle for bronze with those big jumps of hers, but her free program really doesn't suit her and I can't see it scoring huge PCS.
Bottom line: A clean performance from Edmunds should get her the bronze. 3rd-5th place are incredibly close heading into the free, though, so a mistake by Edmunds easily would open the door for a clean Courtney Hicks.
ANYTHING can happen in this sport, so I'm saying my prayers for my favorites and buckling up for what hopes to be a big night on Saturday!
I usually don't do recaps in between the short and long programs, but last night's event was so exciting I had to get all my thoughts out! Overall, it was a great night of competition- the big guns stayed on their feet and all of the competitors threw down technically difficult programs. The judges were handing out BIG scores, too.
Mirai Nagasu (65.28) also had a nice redemptive performance for fourth place. The audience really supported her and she received high PCS for it. Her triple toe at the end of her combination was called under rotated but the other jumps were clean. I like this music for her and she skated well to it.
Courtney Hicks (65.01) threw down some big jumps for fifth place. It was nice to see her skate clean in the short. She had the second highest technical element score (behind Wagner) (...what??) but lower program components than Nagasu and Edmunds, which resulted in the fifth place. I thought her components in this performance were much improved, though, and that she should've finished higher.
Karen Chen (64.66) may be skating at her first senior nationals, but she threw down a big TES score after attempting a triple lutz, triple toe (the toe was called under rotated), which is what allowed her to be so high in these standings. I think her Requiem music was too 'big' for her, but I get what she's trying to do. And clearly, it worked for her.
Other News out of the Top 6: I feel terrible for Sammi Cesario (11th place). I really like her music selections and choreography, but the second jump in her combination was downgraded to a double, costing big points. The less experienced skaters ahead of her either out skated her technically or had higher PCS. Ashley Cain had a rough night, with a fall landing her in 14th place. Angela Wang popped a triple to land in 17th place.
I'll write another post on a preview for the long program showdown!
After a month break, we are back to agonizing over Fantasy Picks! This event is challenging because there are a large number of entrants per A,B,C pool and I am not very familiar with younger skaters. I'll dig deeper to my A picks, but for the B/C picks, I mostly chose the highest scores from sectionals or preseason competitions.
LADIES: My heart lies with Ashley Wagner and I will be cheering her on, but I'm going with my gut for a Gracie Gold A pick. She is more technically consistent and is a judges' favorite (read: high PCS). She has to skate clean in both segments to guarantee a win, which she's struggled with in the past. Many are questioning her injury, but from all reports, it shouldn't be an issue.
MEN: I just have a feeling that it is Jason Brown's turn to have a golden moment. I love his free skate this season and the crowd will for sure be behind him. Without a quad, he will have to be squeaky clean in order to land on top of the podium. Mistakes are not an option! Jeremy Abbott certainly could have yet another National moment if Brown falters, and what a story that would be after losing his father and his Sochi fall.
PAIRS: Denney/Fraiser are the favorites going into this event but Scimeca/Knierim can bring a lot to the table to challenge here. I love this team and their chemistry. Their triple twist has been fabulous and I cannot wait to see them attempt a quad in Greensboro.
DANCE: For me, this was the easiest pick to call. Chock and Bates have had a fabulous season so far and are just on another level than the rest of the competition Madison is incredible to watch on the ice and this team should skate towards an easy win on the way to hopefully winning a medal at Worlds this year.
Are you ready for a very exciting week in Greensboro? I know that I am! Though most post-Olympic seasons see a variety of new faces, the ladies roster at the 2015 US Championships looks a lot like the last three years, with a majority of the major players having competed at this event before.
Gracie Gold: Many may be doubting Gold after she pulled out of the Grand Prix Final with a stress fracture, but I don't think the injury is serious enough to keep her out of the running. Both her and Coach Frank Carroll have been confident in the press that the injury is healed. Her nerves in big moments, though, certainly could effect her. Her Grand Prix series went fairly well ( a third after mistakes at Skate America and a gold at NHK Trophy against a weak field) but her performances weren't perfect. She needs to control those nerves and create some consistency in her performances to win in Greensboro.
Ashley Wagner: Ashley should still be riding high after her wonderful comeback performance at Grand Prix Final and hopefully she can bring that confidence to the Nationals ice. She seems determined to get her National title back, but it's not going to be easy. Her performances can lack the technical consistency needed to top the podium. She would have to skate cleaner in both segments of the competition than she has all season in order to win. She certainly has the best program components in the field and could make it to the top with two programs of fully rotated jumps.
Polina Edmunds: Polina has had a rough season so far, citing growing pains as the reason her jumps seem to be escaping her. In recent interviews, she says the jumps have improved and that she's confident heading to Nationals, but it will be difficult for her to repeat her surprise breakthrough performance from last year. Personally, her programs this year still heavily lack the poise and polish displayed by Wagner, Gold and others in the field. She does have the highest technical base value in the competition, so should she skate clean, the numbers could easily fall her way for a podium finish.
Mirai Nagasu: After the much talked about Nationals controversy of last year, Mirai came back and started her season so-so at her two Grand Prix events. Her programs this year are beautiful and have great potential. She's displayed a bit more "fight" than I've seen in the past, but many doubts about her mental toughness still exist. This Nationals has to carry a huge emotional weight for Mirai and it could either weigh her down- or propel her to great performances. Which Mirai will it be in Greensboro?
Samantha Cesario: This New Yorker had a good start to her season at Skate America, but Trophee Bompbard was slightly less impressive. She has a technical consistency to her programs and has some high scoring jumping passes to boot, but her footwork, spins and speed are still in need of improvement. She has two programs this year that should get the crowd involved and they really suit her well. If she takes some technical risks successfully, she could easily land on the podium.
Courtney Hicks: Courtney is a jumping powerhouse and she had the third- best Grand Prix season of all of the American ladies. Her programs this year are more polished than in the past, but she still comes off a bit clunky and rough to me. Her jumps are very impressive though, and if she skates clean, a podium finish is a definite possibility.
BOTTOM LINE: My heart would love to see Wagner come through with a gold medal, but Gracie is technically more consistent and has now gained an international reputation good enough to boost those program component scores that Wagner counts on to stay competitive. Sammi Cesario is my dark horse for bronze, but I think the technically strong Hicks or Edmunds will take it with a big score.
My wish list: Wagner, Gold, Cesario
My prediction: Gold, Wagner, Edmunds
As we prepare for the US National Championships, let's take a look at a few countries have held their national championships already.
RUSSIA: This event was possibly the most interesting one of them all! Elena Radionova topped the competition and win her first national title after skating two clean and inspired programs. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva won second after a few mistakes, with junior Evgenia Medvedeva third. Anna Pogorilaya improved on her last few performances, but her effort was only good enough for fourth place. Sadly, Julia Lipnitskya's poor season continued with an incredibly flawed free skate for ninth place. Elena Leonova finished in seventh.
Radionova, Tuktamysheva and Pogorilaya have been named to the Russian European Championship team. Injured Adelina Sotnikova was named an alternate before an announcement was made she would be too injured to compete. It appears her season as well as fellow Sochi superstar Julia Lipnitskya's seasons are over.
JAPAN: Satoko Miyhara won her first Japanese title after a wonderful free skate. Rika Hongo skated well to the silver medal, and the bronze was won by Wakaba Higuchi. Kanako Murakami struggled into fifth place behind fourth place finisher Yuka Nagai.
Miyahara, Hongo and Murakami will represent Japan at the World Championships.
FRANCE: Mae Bernice Meite easily defended her national title.
FINLAND: Kiira Korpi won her fifth national title.
CHINA: Zijun Li reagined her title as well.
SWEEDEN: Viktoria Helgessen defended her national title and sister Joshi finished second.
SOUTH KOREA: So Youn Park won her first national title.
Canada and the US are the last big skating nations to hold their championships next weekend. Let the excitement begin!
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Reviews, predictions and opinions in the magical, sparkly and dramatic field of figure skating.