Chen Delivers, Big Task Ahead
Karen Chen has always shown that she’s capable of being the full package - high jumps, beautiful spins and spirals, and good musical interpretation. But she’s not consistently delivered in competition as she navigated boot problems and injuries. NO ONE was talking about her for the title, but she showed up in Kansas City with the two best skates of her career. For me, it was her gorgeous short program where she really shined.
In the free, many have acknowledged that her 3T on the end of the combo was under rotated (not called) and I think that her score was high overall. To her credit, Karen delivered under pressure in the free, which frankly, I wasn't sure she'd be able to do. Let’s hope this is turning point for her and that she can build confidence for the rest of the season. Eyes will be on her as she heads to Four Continents to see if she can remain consistent and she will be tasked with a top 8-10 finish at Worlds to give the U.S. a chance at three Olympic spots. (see more on that below).
Wagner Sets Up for Worlds Preparations
Ashley Wagner should be happy with her Nationals performances; she avoided major mistakes and delivered two technically solid performances that have her on a good pace to peak at Worlds. Ashley is the skater who engages you in her performance from start to finish and she created the moment of the free skate for me. The judges could’ve given her the title based on PCS, and to be honest, I’m surprised they didn’t. She will head to Helsinki as the U.S.’s leading lady and she's in a good position to skate well there.
The performance of Chen’s career and the resurgence of Mirai Nagasu again drew attention to the weakness of Ashley’s spins and footwork. Much like the rise of Gracie Gold’s career in the last Olympiad forced Ashley to commit to consistently compete with the triple- triple, the rise of these skaters may force her to commit to achieving the level 4s she capable of in those areas.
Gracie’s Season Ends, So Does Relationship With Carroll
While many were encouraged by Gracie Gold’s pre-event teleconference, she didn’t deliver in Kansas City, skating far below what she is capable of. Had she finished in fourth, I could’ve seen a scenario where she was placed on the World team, but frankly she looks like she needs a long break to decide if- and how- she wants to continue her career.
Perhaps more disheartening than her skating here was the drama that ensued between her and Frank Carroll. While the partnership was clearly no longer a good fit, it was yet another situation Gold was forced to address in the public forum. With more experienced reporters like Christine Brennan and Phil Hersh covering the sport as we approach the Olympic year, there was no shying away from media scrutiny and Gold left Missouri on a low note, on and off the ice.
Three Olympic Spots May Be Out of the Question
At the beginning of the season, I wouldn’t have imagined we’d have a better chance at three men’s Olympic spots than ladies, but--- here we are. While Wagner can give you a solid 3rd-6th place finish, expecting a top ten placement from Karen Chen or Mariah Bell isn’t going to be easy. Considering the strength of the Canadian (2), Japanese(3) and Russian (3) teams alone (plus Wagner and Carolina Kostner), you’re looking at 11 experienced competitors already. The thought of watching 2018 Nats with so many competitors and only two spots honestly gives me anxiety.
Looking to Four Continents
I think it was a good decision for Ashley to pass on Four Continents, as she tends to skater better with more preparation time between events. There's not much to gain at this event for Wagner unless she skates lights out IMO. It *is* good opportunity for Mirai Nagasu to rebound from her free skate and to potentially gain some ISU ranking points that will be very important for next year's Grand Prix assignments. It's hard to not think that Karen and Mariah need a really good skate at Four Continents before Worlds to have any hope for three spots. I don't envy the position they're in.
I am still catching up on some of the programs I missed live, but will hope to post further recaps later. Skating is already continuing this week with Europeans!
Ah! I've put this off to the last possible second, but there's no avoiding it any longer as the event gets underway tomorrow : )
Pairs: Okay, so this pick is based on absolutely no data point whatsoever. It's just a guess/stab in the dark. Overall, I say its gonna be a messy event, with none of the top teams skating well. I will pick Kayne/OShea to have some Nationals magic again and skate the most consistently for their second title, followed by Castelli/Tran, who will surprise and make it on their first world team. Denney/Frazier will finish third, with Cain/LeDuc having a fantastic debut for fourth.
Ladies: I'm betting on Ashley Wagner to be the most consistent of the event to win her fourth title. I think she has the motivation to win and and that her free skate will be her strength. I feel like something big is coming for Mirai Nagasu. While her triple axel could play spoiler here, I'll count on consistent skates to put her in second place and on the World team. While I think this event will be a step in the right direction for Gracie Gold, I'm thinking there will still be doubt in her mind and therefore, some mistakes to finish a close third. I am a Mariah Bell fan and hoping she can pull off some Skate America magic to earn pewter. This is an important event for her; she needs to follow through on that bronze from the fall.
Dance: I don't see anything drastic happening here. Shibutanis for gold, Chock/Bates silver and Hubbell/Donohue third. Hawayek/Baker will race back to their fourth place standing with their gorgeous free dance.
Men: Well, Nathan Chen is going to win, haha. And then after that? I am really pulling for Jason Brown here for second. I think we need him for the World team. Vincent Zhou will have a great event and finish in a close third. Max Aaron will impress with his short, but not be able to follow it up in the free and end up in fourth.
Happy watching and tweeting! I'll be in Kansas City for the ladies free on Saturday and following all the other events live. Here's to a good event ; )
Ohmygod U.S. Nationals are THIS WEEK! #anxiety
With some major players out with injuries and all eyes looking towards 2018, what we see this year is skaters setting themselves up for the Olympic year. More important than what happens in Kansas City this week is what happens at Worlds this year or what I like to call "White Knuckling Olympic Spots". Here is a look at the storylines I will be keeping my eye on in Kansas City: (See Part One here)
3. How high will Nathan Chen’s scores get?
Anyone that tells you this title isn’t Nathan Chen’s to lose is lying. His improved components combined with his 10,000 quads have him securely in the frontrunner position in Kansas City. If you remember back to last year, Nathan’s lowballed scores were at the center of the controversial men’s result. Now, with the reigning champion out, the 2015 champ recovering from an injury and a senior Grand Prix Final medal under his belt, the judges have free reign to give Nathan with (deserved) points and I expect crazy high scores.
With one of the World team spots presumably taken by #Slaythan, it could be a tight race for the silver medal. Jason Brown is dealing with an injury that has caused him to miss significant training time. Healthy, Jason is an easy pick for second (with the incredible quality of his programs) but his injury leaves the door open. Max Aaron is coming to Nationals with a new short program that seems more suited to his style. He could ride that momentum and quad or two to another Worlds birth. I’m going to be watching those two skaters scores for some *interesting* marks. While I love Grant Hochstein and Ross Miner’s skating, they haven’t been skating the best. I’m very excited to see what Vincent Zhou can bring to the table here.
4. Can anyone shake up the dance placements?
It’s fairly predictable that the U.S.’s top three internationally ranked teams will be the three teams on top of the podium this week. The Shibutanis come off of two wins on the Grand Prix, a GPF bronze and I’m certain hungry to keep their national title. These two are so consistent and technically precise, they come in as the favorites. Madison Chock/Evan Bates are coming off a disappointing Grand Prix Final, where mistakes left them in last place, behind not only the Shibs but Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue as well. While I think Hubbell/Donohue have the best free dance of the event, their hip-hop short is a liability in my opinion. Can Madi and Zach pull an upset here? Possible. But clean skates from Chock/Bates make a big difference.
Last year, Anastasia Cannuscio/Colin McManus pulled an upset, winning the pewter medal over Kaitlyn Hayawek/Jean Luc Baker. This season, however, Hawayek/Baker have shown much improvement and their free dance is absolutely gorgeous. In the Grand Prix, they averaged roughly 20 points higher than Cannuscio/McManus and beat them at NHK. All signs point to Kaitlyn and Jean Luc grabbing their fourth place U.S. ranking back. I am also looking forward to Progrebinsky/Benoit skating at the senior level this year.
I'll be back on Wednesday with some predictions, then I'm off to enjoy the weekend in Kansas City! I'll be live in the arena for the ladies free, so check me out on Twitter if you want updates!
So, that GPF review never happened! I could totally leave a hundred excuses here as to why, but I will spare us both the time and just move on : ) U.S. Nationals is happening this week (ohmygod) so I'll hopefully shake the rust off and get back to it! Happy new year!
Happy new year! Though the last few weeks have been relatively quiet in figure skating news, this week, social media is blowing up with coverage. AND the reality that this event starts *NEXT WEEK* (a.k.a. the panic has started to set in).
This will be an interesting nationals, with some major players out with injuries (Rippon, Edmunds, Scimeca Knieirm) and all eyes looking towards the 2018 season. Much of what we see this year is skaters setting themselves up for the Olympic year by rehabbing injuries, trying out new elements and jockeying for position. More important than what happens in Kansas City this week is what happens at Worlds this year or what I like to call "White Knuckling Olympic Spots". Here is a look at the storylines I will be keeping my eye on in Kansas City:
1. Which pair can be the most consistent?
The pairs field is so wide open that you may as well draw names to pick a winner. While reigning champions Tarah Kayne/Danny O'Shea have the best programs of this event IMO, Tarah has been dealing with a knee injury and not feeling her best. When they won their first title last year, it was their consistency in the side-by-side jumps that won them the title and they haven't been able to find that yet this season.
Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier have been the most consistent team so far, achieving a third and fourth place in the Grand Prix. They're coming off a huge injury to Denney, so I give them credit for doing as well as they have, but I have to say I find their programs forgettable. Possibly my favorite U.S. pair team is Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran, who have incredible potential as a team, but struggle with the consistency of their elements. I am also excited for the Nationals debut of Ashley Cain/Tim LeDuc.
2. Which U.S. lady is most motivated for a comeback?
Let's be real, the U.S. ladies were an absolute disaster this fall. Despite medals from Ashley Wagner, Mariah Bell and Courtney Hicks, the inconsistency of the U.S. ladies ran rampant in the Grand Prix. For the fifth year in a row, it will be the Ashley v. Gracie storyline playing out for the top two. While Ashley Wagner has had a somewhat typical for her up-and-down fall season, Gracie Gold has been scoring far below even her worst of performances from her senior career. While both are promising a comeback, it's an entirely other thing to put it on the ice.
Regardless of whether you're Team Ashley or Team Gracie, you're gonna want BOTH of them to skate well and get on that World team. In my opinion, we need to send World- level experienced skaters who have to have any hope of getting three spots for South Korea. With Edmunds out, that means I'm also looking for a big performance out of Mirai Nagasu in Kansas City. While I'm not sure how the uncertainty of the triple axel will effect her, she has great programs and I'm hoping she peaks here. I will also have my eye on Mariah Bell, Karen Chen, Angela Wang and Caroline Zhang as skaters who can make a statement here.
In the next post, I'll preview the men and dance, and follow up with a predictions/fantasy picks post early next week. I'm trying to keep these short and sweet : )
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Reviews, predictions and opinions in the magical, sparkly and dramatic field of figure skating.