Thursday, February 3, 2011

The American Outlook



With the first National Championships of the new Olympic cycle in the books, it is time to start looking at the direction the USFSA is going.  Gone are Lysacek, Weir and Belgosto.  The perennial stars have moved on to successful professional careers, and while they may flirt with the idea of coming back, it is most unlikely.  Times have changed under the IJS.  The US no longer has ready-made champions who are waiting in the wings for the champion ahead of them to retire so they can begin a new four-year reign.  The days of a Fleming-Lynn-Hamill-Fratianne-Sumners-Thomas-Yamaguchi-Kerrigan-Kwan lineage are long gone.

While the US will not likely be contending for bags of medals at the upcoming World Championships, it will not be a total drought.  What is important is that plenty of potential stars are pushing one another and opening the possibility of potential stars by 2014.




Ice Dance is the leading discipline of the USFSA at this point.  Marlie are primed for another Four Continents title and look ready to win America's first world title in ice dance.  This season has been challenging and far from a cake walk, but they have stretched their performance ability in the process.  While their programs may not be iconic, Marlie will likely be better skaters in the long run for having pushed through this season.  Without Belgosto, Voir and DomShabs, they've had to push themselves.  Not only are they dealing with the Post Olympic Depression, they are having to face a season where they need to challenge themselves to maintain their distance over the rest of the field without having a rival for motivation.  While victory will be less assured when Voir return to full strength, it will likely be easier to find the will to train everyday.  Having different programs to work on will also help.  As far as the gold medal at worlds is concerned, they are the most prepared team to win at this point.  Competing all season and making adjustments will help them.  It is unlikely that Voir will have the necessary preparation to really challenge them.  It would not be a shock if they ultimately realize they won't win and decide to protect their reputation until they are ready to win in the fall.


The Shibutanis and Chock and Zuerlein were neck-and-neck in terms of scores on the Grand Prix circuit, but that was far from the case at Nationals.  Alex and Maia stepped up and the media is beginning to realize why everyone in skating is such an Alex Shibutani fan.  In terms of a competitive performance, Maia and Alex rose the bar at Nationals and far exceeded expectations.  It appears that if they stay healthy, they should find themselves in the top five (and likely the top three) by 2014.  Sibling duos face unique challenges in terms of finding effective performance vehicles, but the precision of their technique is unmatched.

Chock and Zuerlein took a giant leap forward this season with their programs.  Having Samuelson and Bates back in the mix will likely push them to achieve even greater heights next season.  They will need to continue improving at this rate in order to maintain a spot on the World Team and make up ground internationally.  The competitiveness in Canton will help the US in the future.  Having Lynn and Logan and the Hubbells stick around will also aid in maintaining depth.


In terms of pairs, not much has changed.  The depth of the field is slightly better than it was last season, but the US is far from reaching levels of excellence.  If Yankowskas and Coughlin can keep from being a one-year-wonder, things will improve.  Denney and Barrett, as fugly as they may sometimes be, are fighters and will likely come back from missing Worlds.  Marley and Brubaker are promising, but have tons of work to do.  It will be interesting to see where they are after a full summer training together.  Evora and Ladwig are improving and pushing the other top teams, but it is unlikely that they will ever make a big impact internationally.  With the Russians having their pairs mojo back, the US is unlikely to medal at Worlds during the next four years, but the results have the potential to at least return to the level of respectability.


The American ladies were the big disappointment of the last four years, but things are starting to turn around.  There is not enough that can be said about Alissa Czisny's success this season.   In order to be competitive internationally, the judges need to view you as a potential medalist and champion.  With another strong showing at Four Continents, Alissa Czisny will be primed for a top five finish at Worlds and will likely be in strong contention for a bronze medal.

The decision to send Czisny, Flatt and Nagasu to Four Continents is probably the right one.  Flatt and Czisny will benefit from not having too much down time before Worlds.  Czisny is on fire and is believing in herself more and more with each consistent performance.  In the words of the great Michelle Kwan,she "is making that broken record a positive one."  Rachael Flatt is questioning her drive to continue, but the additional competition will help her maintain her competitive edge.  If Czisny and Flatt perform as they did at Nationals, it is likely that the US will earn a third spot for next season.  Without significant improvement in her world ranking, it looks doubtful that Flatt will continue competing much longer.


Mirai Nagasu is receiving the kick in the ass that many feel she needs to either 'put up or shut up.'  Many former skaters even felt that the USFSA should consider sending Agnes Zawadzki or Christina Gao to Four Continents or Worlds to earn experience.  As it is, having them just miss will likely motivate them to strive even harder for next season.  Both have areas of improvement and will likely have good showings at Junior Worlds.  With Adelina Sotnikova hot hot hot, Junior Worlds will be a hotly-contested event.  Earning a medal will be a true accomplishment, not a foregone conclusion as when Flatt, Nagasu, Zhang and Wagner were on the Junior International scene.

Courtney Hicks is ready for a top 10 finish at Junior Worlds, but she needs more seasoning before she is ready for the senior scene.  A few Junior Grand Prix assignments could really test her.  Courtney Hicks has been consistent this season, but much can change and be revealed during the jump to the senior ranks.

Ashley Wagner is still on the fringe, but her career is at a crossroads.  Ashley can either move on or make a significant jump.  It appears that the USFSA is ready to move on to someone else unless she performs like she never has.  The triple-triples need to become consistent and the two foot landings need to be eradicated.  Ashley is currently at risk for developing into another Tonia Kwiatkowski, where they stick around without significant improvement and occasionally luck out by having a consistent showing when others falter.

Yasmin Siraj and Lauren Dinh would be good candidates for the Gardena Spring Trophy and JGP assignments.  They are two skaters to keep tabs on.  Mary Beth Marley, Katarina Kulgeyko, Angela Wang, Nina Jiang, Kiri Baga and Leah Keiser are hanging around the periphery.  There is hope that one or two of them may emerge as a decent contender over the coming years.


The American men are experiencing the most growing pains.  Nationals demonstrated great depth, but inconsistent efforts by the leading men led to a clusterfuck of a situation where two emerging skaters are on the world team, with a veteran who experienced a Rudy Galindo-moment, yet has no chance of ever being competitive internationally.  Abbott, Rippon and Mahbanoozadeh will likely perform well at Four Continents.  It is important that they all perform well and show the federation that they are not to be ignored after finishing out of the top three.  Each has something to prove.  One can only hope that they will perform well enough to cause the federation to question their selection procedures.  In many ways, USA Gymnastics has Martha Karolyi in order to prevent a situation like this from occurring.


It remains a conundrum that the skaters most capable of earning three spots at not being sent to Worlds, while inexperienced skaters are being boosted, only to make things more difficult down the road.  Abbott and Rippon may be question marks at times, but they have proven themselves able to handle the task of putting the US in the best possible situation to retain three spots.  The federation appears open to new blood at the top, yet things will get murky once the third spot is lost.  Unfortunately, the third spot is difficult to regain once it is lost.  The advantage to having three skaters attempt to earn three spots is that, under the current system, one can afford to have a poor competition and not screw the number of spots.  It is difficult for two skaters to perform well enough to average a 6th-7th finish, especially in the absence of a true medal contender.  Abbott and Rippon at least had the potential to earn that spot.

The USFSA made the decision to push Bradley to the top of the podium at Nationals because they felt 'skating needed him,' yet it is that very decision that will likely screw them in the future.  They've now pushed established stars out of the picture too early and potentially damaged their international reputations.  It is unlikely that both Rippon and Abbott will restore their positive career trajectory by being kept out of worlds.  In all likelihood, one will come back fighting and one will crumble for good.  If one does have an outstanding showing at Four Continents, it would behoove the USFSA to offer Bradley and IMG a lump sum, get him on the tour and out of the way for the World Championships.

Phil Hersh and others are saying that the likelihood is that only Marlie will medal at Worlds.  That is certainly the only quasi-guarantee, but Czisny does have the potential.  Unfortunately, the USFSA no longer has the potential for a men's medal.  Rippon and Abbott both had the potential to medal if they skated well and others did not.  That is no longer the case with the current team.

As for medals at Four Continents, the US will likely see an additional bronze medal from the Shibutanis in ice dance.  That adorable duo is facing the music and winning.

32 comments:

  1. the only thing that worries me right now is how on earth Marlie can top this year's FD next year.

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  2. one more thing to get worried over. Despite the insane difficulty of Davis and White's FD they only won by 12 points. Not exactly a tight victory but considering how USFSA usually overscores the favorites and the fact that the Shibs are virgin seniors and only teenagers....

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  3. The only-12 pt margin will likely push them to work just a bit harder. Meryl is obviously quite a fierce girl. They will want to stay on top and push it even more. They will likely feel satisfied when this season is over, but they'll probably be effing exhausted.

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  4. Yeah, the USFSA giving Shibs high marks right out of the gate will only serve to keep Meryl/Charlie hungry. They seem a lot more motivated to keep pushing themselves than Tanith and Ben did coming off their Olympic silver medal..but maybe that's just me. I see problems with Shibs packaging themselves down the line though...Idk, they have amazing technical ability and they have a great set of programs this year but I don't see them having a lot of range. :(

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  5. Excellent post, Olympic Effect!! Very insightful, thorough, and well-written!

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  6. Good post. You've been on a roll lately!

    Nothing would make me happier than seeing Alissa Czisny on the podium at Worlds. I think I could die happy.

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  7. Isn't it a little early to predict 2014 Shibutani results? I think it all depends on their programs heading forward. Everyone thought they were a shoo-in for Jr Worlds podium last year and they just missed. So ice dance isn't as predictable as it used to be. They are fantastic though.

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  8. When did Polina Shelepen get hot again?

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  9. "Ashley is currently at risk for developing into another Tonia Kwiatkowski, where they stick around without significant improvement and occasionally luck out by having a consistent showing when others falter."

    That's pretty much how competitions are won though. Czisny isn't winning necessarily because she's better than everyone... She definitely gets some help from others who falter. I don't know if Wagner is good enough to get on a World team on her own, but if others falter, it definitely helps her chances.

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  10. Sorry to whomever said it, on what basis should we be sending Zawadzki and Gao to Worlds, or even 4CC? 4CC is like Europeans now, the top skaters have to go. Gao is still learning to compete in Jrs, and judging by her GPs, Zawadzki could use the competitive experience at Jr Worlds too. Nagasu earned that 4CC berth. Just because she's not knocking it out of the park like some of the fans obsessively want, it doesn't mean she didn't skate well

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  11. "One can only hope that they will perform well enough to cause the federation to question their selection procedures. In many ways, USA Gymnastics has Martha Karolyi in order to prevent a situation like this from occurring."

    Bingo

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  12. "It remains a conundrum that the skaters most capable of earning three spots at not being sent to Worlds, while inexperienced skaters are being boosted, only to make things more difficult down the road."

    Yes. I may never forgive the USFSA for shortsightedly leaving Abbott off the World team, over .19 no less. I don't have an issue with Bradley... His SP was very good and he won the competition... I have a problem with putting two unproven guys on the World team with him. At least Dornbush is coming off of a big JGPF win... Miner struggled on the GP far worse than Abbott. Sigh. This writeup hits the nail on the head that once that 3rd spot is lost, it's very hard to get it back. But does the USFSA even care about getting 3 spots? Do they care about getting the best Worlds results they can? I question their desire. It seems to me that they are just sitting back and relaxing because they know this country has a lot of depth... They are okay with being okay and it doesn't seem to matter to them who gets sent to Worlds. Odd. I couldn't imagine this happening in gymnastics.

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  13. The USFSA's selection procedures already say that they "shall consider all international results" in World team selection. They've just chosen to ignore this for all these years. If Intl results truly mattered, Miner would have had no shot over Abbott.

    The selection committee will sometimes rearrange the order of skaters for Alternate spots, so that the best ones are in primary position, but it's like they are too scared to name the best World team.

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  14. I could see this becoming a vicious cycle where we have men producing quality International results, then faltering under the Nationals pressure and having some unproven green skater take their Worlds spot... And then those skaters perhaps may improve their Intl results, only have an unproven skater take their spot, and so on, and so on. Gone are the days when we knew Lysacek and Weir would make the team pretty much without fail and retain 3 spots every time.

    The favorites at Nationals who are expected to defend their titles/medals and perform their best are obviously the ones who will be under the most amount of pressure, and therefore the most likely to falter. This sets up the chance for surprise finishes in the top 3 from guys who have no expectations on them, which is nice and all, but not so much when the World team is set in stone based on these results. For goodness sake, Miner didn't even bring an exhibition costume because he had no thoughts of even placing top 4. I mean, there was no pressure on this kid. I just feel for Abbott and Rippon because they have had such quality international results time and time again compared to Miner. It must be frustrating.

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  15. Good analysis. Thanks for not being snarky about Rachael. Objective observations are more credible. I have to laugh at Phil Hersh, with another one of his "predictions." Anyone who has followed skating would have to agree that Davis and White, the current Olympic silver medalists, are the only US skaters likely to medal at Worlds. But if that happens, Phil will claim credit for his brilliant analysis. For that reason alone, I hope that Alissa makes the podium. (Actually, there are other reasons why I am hoping for Alissa to do well. She is the most artistic skater among the current ladies, Yu Na included).

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  16. I meant Sotnikova not Shelepen and corrected it. I wrote this too late at night for my brain to function properly.

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  17. I find some of the random theories in this post without any basis in fact. In fact a few quick questions would lead one to believe that the emperor wears no clothes.
    Why would the GPF winner need a strong 4CCs showing to be on her way to a "Top five finish at worlds?
    On what basis is the third spot at worlds "difficult to regain once it is lost"?
    And most importantly why would men who do not win when it matters (we could call them "losers") be supported over others who were victorious? It is sport, the best may not always win, that's what makes it enjoyable. I would prefer competitors who, when told they must skate well to qualify, actually skate well.

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  18. 8:54 - I think Alissa is still kind of a question mark with the international judges. It's no question she's given incredible performances this season, but if she can handle the unique pressure of 4CC, she'll really drive the point home. She's having the season of her life, and I think some people are waiting to see whether or not she falters. A strong 4CC showing would also give her more confidence and momentum. The pressure isn't on her to do well, it's on others to beat her.

    The third spot is difficult to regain once it's lost because the onus is entirely on the two individuals/teams competing to finish top 10. There is no leeway, where one person has a bad day but then someone else has a good day. If one person has a bad short, for example, and fails to finish top 10 (or, you know, whatever the numbers end up being >13) then there is no one else to rise to the challenge. Getting that third spot is incredibly difficult, both in terms of results and psychological pressure on the two athletes.

    And finally, I would say that figure skating is one of the only sports where a single competition can determine an entire season. Consider baseball, for example: a pitcher has a bad game, or gives up a home-run or a critical walk. That person isn't damned forever because of ONE DAY. You look at history as a whole. Is that pitcher the person who is MOST LIKELY to get the job done? Then you continue to use them. In the case of the USFS and Nationals, it's true that Jeremy Abbott didn't do as well as he has at the competition in the past, but I don't think we should relegate him to second string because of that performance. I know people like Phil Hersh are slighting his top five performance last year in a "watered down" field, but without Evan Lysacek & Johnny Weir, Jeremy is part of the reason we HAVE three spots (the other part being Adam Rippon). If you recall, Ryan Bradley didn't do us any favors. I think that dismissing that is a huge "FUCK YOU" from the USFS. Jeremy should have performed better, yes, but I question the point differential between he and Miner; and, thinking back to AJ's PCS analysis, it is suspect that Adam and Jeremy did not get a Nationals boost like everyone else did. Jeremy and Adam are the ones who could have gotten it done at Worlds. A top 10 finish from any of our Tokyo representatives will be nothing short of a miracle.

    I don't think the theories in this post are at all without basis in fact.

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  19. I agree that the third spot is difficult to regain once it's lost. And I'd add another reason to the reasons mentioned above. Remember Russia had two spots in mens last year? And then Borodulin's blade broke during the sp in Turin and he had to withdraw.

    His wiki profile says the likelihood of such an event is 1 in 10,000. But it did happen. This year, Russia has just one spot (Gachinski), imagine the pressure he'll be dealing with while trying to earn the lost spots back.

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  20. "That person isn't damned forever because of ONE DAY."

    I get you're saying, but there are a whole lotta athletes in other sports who are famously known for missing that winning catch or fumbling that last ball, etc and have been pretty much damned forever because of it (at least by the public, not the organization, unless that's what you meant, being damned by the sport organization). Bill Buckner, anyone?

    Very first anon, I don't think there will be any problems topping this FD next year. They are finally getting a hold of it, but the tango really was too much for them.

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  21. I really don't understand all the gripes about this "young, unproven" world team. Yes, Richard and Ross are both young and inexperienced but they skated their fucking ASSES off at Nationals and they deserve a spot on the team. Even Jeremy thought his sixth place free skate was good enough for the bronze, but his smile quickly faded when he saw the current placements. Jeremy just doesn't deserve the opportunity to go to Tokyo. He blew it. I hope this lights a fire under him for next year.

    USFSA needs to look ahead to the future, not only the present. They need to get these guys out there...to test their mental fortitude and to establish a solid reputation. Will this team result in the loss of three spots for London, Ontario? Probably. Will we get them back for Sochi, or even before? Probably. The most important thing here is that Richard and Ross gain needed experience and ISU ranking points. USFSA knows they cannot put all of their eggs in one basket (Abbott and Rippon). They need to spread the wealth a bit to allow for some movement on top. It was a good choice, IMO.

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  22. Am a bit concerned about Meryl - yes, she's fabulous, but look at the appearance of her thighs compared to the two women on her left. Yes, she may be a 'winner', but just don't want to see another Karen Carpenter situation......

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  23. RE: Flatt & EoE SP: Did anyone else see her channeling 'Lycacek arms/head/passion' in this performance? lol

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  24. "The USFSA made the decision to push Bradley to the top of the podium at Nationals because they felt 'skating needed him,'". Is this an actual quote or just an impression?

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  25. Needed for what? To finish 15-18 at Worlds? A lot of guys can achieve that.

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  26. "Am a bit concerned about Meryl - yes, she's fabulous, but look at the appearance of her thighs compared to the two women on her left. Yes, she may be a 'winner', but just don't want to see another Karen Carpenter situation...... "

    Those are Meryl's knees, so no wonder they're skinnier. Her skirt is longer than the other girls' and she's standing higher up. Meryl has pretty muscular thighs. When those go, then I think we'll know something's wrong. Remember how skinny Tanith's thighs were during her particularly bad points?

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  27. >Those are Meryl's knees, so no wonder they're skinnier. Her skirt is longer than the other girls' and she's standing higher up. Meryl has pretty muscular thighs. When those go, then I think we'll know something's wrong. Remember how skinny Tanith's thighs were during her particularly bad points?
    >

    Indeed- thank you! (my bad!)
    Of course- she's up on the top podium :)

    Just took a quick look and thought 'Whoa!- that's scary!'

    Thanks for the clarification!

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  28. The thing is, even if Alissa doesn't do that well at 4CC, it doesn't necessarily mean anything except maybe she's having a bad day. It's really not indicative of whether or not she can excel at Worlds. If you look at her entire season in general, it's clear she's a top 5 contender no question for Worlds.

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  29. "I think that dismissing that is a huge "FUCK YOU" from the USFS."

    Yes, I would like to see USFS more supportive of its top athletes... Meaning, Alissa Czisny shouldn't have to squeeze in Sectionals amongst her 3 events on the Grand Prix series... Meaning, Jeremy Abbott shouldn't be deemed "not good enough" for Worlds based on his loss to a weaker skater by .19 at one competition. The top skaters are the ones generating interest in the sport, so it would be nice to see a little more support for them.

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  30. Sorry, Anonymous @9:08 PM, Worlds isn't about "spreading the wealth". It's about sending your best team. One weekend didn't all of a sudden make Miner a better hope for Worlds than Abbott. .19 isn't friggin anything, and one competition doesn't tell enough of a story to make selections for something as important as Worlds.

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