Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lady Liberty

I have a confession to make; I was born during a time when I was spoiled by good American ladies skaters to the point where I never understood why fans referred to the discipline as 'LadieZZZZZZZ.' After attending numerous skating events, I now understand.

Talented ladies are fun to watch, but they are few and far between. Never have so many people who have no business competing senior signed up for public humiliation. I mean, I'm willing to simply not write about them. I didn't even take notes on many of them because I simply had nothing nice to say. I'm brutally honest, but I'm not THAT cruel. Once you've seen girls wiping out on underrotated doubles toes, you reach a breaking point.

To be short and to the point, I'm going to break down the events and write about noteworthy skaters. Unfortunately, there simply aren't that many.

Senior Ladies Short Program: Group A

Melissa Bulanhagui skated first in the short and performed a new program choreographed by Ron Luddington's fourth wife. Mel B has some serious power and is a natural jumper. The girl pulled out a triple lutz+double loop with no speed. She opened up early on her triple flip and landed on two feet (she tends to do this a lot when she'd otherwise fall) and ended with a huge double axel during the last few notes of music. Mel really made an effort to sell the tango and it was effective enough, but there is something holding Mel back. That is speed. Mel B is seriously tiny in person, but her powerful musculature is evident the second she puts on a skating dress. The girl is strong and has huge jumps, but her skating would be much more exciting if she really developed some speed and took command of the ice. With a little more speed, command and confidence, she could be one of the top ladies in the country. Mel takes a stroking class, but she'll need to focus on it to take her skating to the next level. (44.83)

Christine Mozier skated to Tango De Roxanne (another piece of music deserving to go on the banned list.) Mozier is unsure whether she'll compete Junior or Senior this season, but she tweaked her knee recently and chose only to compete a short program. This girl has natural spring in her jumps. She landed a huge triple flip (possibly UR) and double axel, but she fell on her triple lutz. The girl can really perform and has gorgeous back catchfoot and doughnut spins. Christine is able to hit accents in the music and high kicked and then threw her head back on a layback at precisely the right moment in the music. Given that she works with Kyoko Ina, this is a girl that should seriously think about taking up pairs skating. She is a beautiful performer and is already in her late teens and is still tiny. Given the numerous positive aspects of her skating, pairs should definitely be something she considers. (40.57)

After sitting through some more bad technique, dreary music and hesitant jumps, it was time for the second warm up group.

With Agnes, Wagner and Yasmin Siraj on the ice, it was quite the show. Agnes Zawadzki is so strong and steady that watching her jump is mesmerizing. I've never seen such a huge triple lutz in my life. It is criminal how easy that jump is for her. Ashley Wagner's lutz looks improved but it is too early in the season for my brain to deal with edge changes on clockwise jumpers. I'll admit it: I'm prejudiced against them. Frankly, it is annoying. Is that a lutz or a toe? If I watch the skater enough, I don't even realize it. When you have Ashley Wagner technique, it is all a big clusterfuck. There is so much to watch for: edges, pre-rotating, underrotating, clunky feet, etc.

Agnes Zawadzki skated first. If you've ever watched Tom Z at the boards, you'll notice that he gives his skaters these really looooong nods while speaking to them. It isn't similar to a bobble head because they're very elongated in an affected manner.

Agnes is certainly making every attempt to make her skating more musical and artistic. Her Mambo was more effective in person than on youtube. From her opening hip wiggle pose, it was clear that she was making the effort. I appreciate the dance classes she is taking and the effort she's making. Unfortunately, her presentation doesn't capture the audience because she is a typically slow Tom Z skater. Her jumps and attempts at presentation make her much more engaging than Rachael Flatt, but this is a girl who has World Champion potential. The speed needs to improve and it needs to happen sooner rather than later.

Her jumps were magnificent. She turned out of her Triple Toe and didn't do the second triple toe. Her combos were stunning in warm up. She hit it at her last competition, so she shouldn't be overly concerned. Agnes is mentally tough and came back with a gigantic Triple Lutz and an Ina Bauer+Double Axel. The program is well constructed with difficult transitions. SPEED is the issue now. Get some. Agnes has the potential to make a giant splash on the Grand Prix circuit. If not for her mistake on her combination, she would've easily defeated Ashley Wagner. (50.85)

Yasmin Siraj is a precocious young dynamo. I am iffy about her going senior this season, but she has improved immensely. Yasmin is still quite limby and has like six or seven joints in her arms and legs, but she is far more graceful than she was at Nationals. She pulled out a Triple Lutz+Double Toe combo with the determination of Tara Lipinski. She popped her Triple Loop but came back with a very good double axel. Yasmin has more speed than Agnes and clearly WANTS IT badly. She is going to be somebody. Her positions are a work in progress, but it is clear that this girl is going to make a name for herself on the Junior Grand Prix. (47.37)

Ashley Wagner's black and silver short program dress is a huge improvement over last season's costumes. The program is much more relaxed and Ashley even sports a long ponytail. The look is more sophisticated and the entire package doesn't scream 'trying too hard' like before. Thankfully, the program doesn't include any of her signature back bend poses from last year's programs. The girl used to lean back all the time like she had lower back pain. It certainly gave the audience some having to sit through it.

I will say that Ashley's Triple Flip looks much improved. She has a foot injury and didn't want to go for the Triple Flip+Triple Toe, but she should be able to do it. The girl is finally giving some diva eyes and attitude during her program. Led Zeppelin works for her. It is the type of program she should be doing. By the fall, the program should be quite convincing.

Priscilla Hill isn't a miracle worker. Ashley's technique isn't magically fixed. The technical caller did not appear to be the strictest person on planet Earth. I'm not convinced that her lutz is entirely fixed. When my eyes were on the prize (her back outside edge), a woman moved her head and blocked my view of the jump. I was NOT pleased. Of all moments to move your head! For what it is worth, her double axel looks exactly the same as last season. It is just funky looking. She deserves an award for cheating it the way she does. (54.55)

After her skate, Ashley put on her heels, her print dress, a black blazer, and entered the stands. Local skaters fawned over her.

Senior B did not have the depth of Senior A, but there were a few skaters worth watching.

Joelle Forte is no longer Azerbaijani. She is noteworthy because Joelle Forte is the new queen of the 70% rotation rule. Previously, Joelle was buried at Nationals due to URs. It kept her from earning international assignments and spurred the decision to country hop. For being the oldest lady in the field, Joelle commits the juniorish sin of putting her tights over the ankles of her skates. It is extremely unpolished and draws more attention to her feet. When you're a known member of the Hughes Jumping Family, drawing attention to your feet is not a good idea. Joelle is a pleasant skater to watch but she will only go so far. She works hard and is nice to watch, but you know she isn't going anywhere. (49ish)

Felicia Zhang, my adopted daughter, continues to improve. Pairs is helping her singles skating and vice versa. Ultimately, I see her as a successful pairs skater, but she is becoming quite formidable in singles. I had the pleasure of sitting with Kaye Zhang. Kaye is super supportive of the other skaters, but when Felicia skates she is actively involved. If you ever have any questions about the IJS, ask Kaye. She counts the number of spin revolutions and knows how to gain levels better than anyone.

Felicia looks sweet, innocent and smiley, but there is a competitive beast inside of her. She missed her Triple Lutz during warmup but came back and nailed the hell out of it during her short program. She performed a lovely Triple Toe for her solo jump and a nice double axel. With a harder solo jump, Felicia could've won the event. It is a shame that the spirals are no longer a required element, because she has one of the best spirals in the country. (I will say that eliminating the element stops me from wanting to become a cutter when people like Irina compete.) Her edges are strong and she has very nice spins. She has a cannonball position to die for. Nice doughnut spins and catch foots. She easily won her group and even scored higher than Agnes. Most important, Kaye Zhang was ecstatic and hugged everyone in sight. (50.98)

Samantha Cesario excites me in the way that Sasha Cohen causes Dick Button to gasp for breath. The girl knows how to perform and pays attention to details and subtleties. Then there is her costuming! Sam has a gorgeous black lace dress with red underneath. It is magnificent on the ice. There is a matching flower in the hair and bright red lipstick. The girl is fierce. Her new spanish guitar short program is heaven. There is attitude, eye contact, facial expressions. She has now mastered five triples and has tons of confidence. Triple Flip, Triple Flutz+Double Toe, and Double Axel. Winning the Gardena Spring Trophy paid off and it is incredible how much she has improved in just a few months. The USFSA is going to send her somewhere after her performances at Liberty. Samantha is older than the other girls and knows how to use her entire body to perform. It is marvelous. LOVE LOVE LOVE HER! (47.64)

The Ladies Long Program was held at an ungodly hour. Most of the girls wound up withdrawing, but I carted my ass over there to show some support.

Unfortunately, Philadelphia's inability to synchronize their traffic lights kept me from seeing Yasmin Siraj's long program. That city is unreal. You drive one block and then the next traffic light is red. You finally travel another block or two and then get another red light. It is a giant headache and doesn't leave me with any feeling of brotherly love. Yasmin apparently skated quite well but had one fall.

Agnes Zawadzki's Ziegeunerweisen is infinitely better than her Chicago long program. The girl is simply a rock. She is borderline beastly with how easily she jumps. Agnes has so much height that she is even able to point her toes in the air. You can easily imagine her competitors watching her during practice and saying "Fuck you!" With more speed, she will be top three in the world. Agnes debuted a double axel+triple toe that was fully rotated and easy to the point where you'd assume that she's done it her entire life. Triple Flip (Lip) was huge and gorgeous. She fell on her first Triple Lutz, but came back during the bonus and nailed a Triple Lutz+Double Toe. She doubled her Triple Loop (little off on takeoff edge) and came back with an Ina Bauer+Triple Toe+Double Toe+Double Loop and a lovely spiral sequence+Triple Salchow. For competing at nine AM, the performance was disgustingly good. Members of the media were so excited by her than she was still dressed in her costume and granting interviews four hours later. (102.97)

Melissa Bulanhagui had a great warmup but it didn't translate to her program. She opened up early on her triple axel. It was exciting to see her attempt it. After a nice Triple Lutz+Double Toe, she opened up most of her jumps and tweeted that she skated better at Nationals when she had the swine flu. She tends to be streaky at times. It is either really good or really bad. Just wasn't her day.

Joelle Forte's long program was pleasant to watch but her jumps were underrotation central.

The long programs from the other competitors were dreadful. Simply dreadful. One girl even brought out Kwan's Romanza+Fiesta Flamenca music. It was not cute.

And then Samantha took the ice. Ms. Cesario skated with intensity while waiting for the previous skater's marks and executed an airy double of each triple. Her speed stroking around the rink was impressive by itself. Her Man of La Mancha program is perfect for her. It is a more mature vehicle than her Dark Eyes program and enables her to show off her magnificent lyricism. Her spins, footwork, choreography and spirals are stunning. Her newfound confidence is contagious. The crowd just knew she was going to nail it and really got behind her. Triple Flip+Double Toe, Triple Loop, Triple Flutz, Triple Toe, Triple Flip (hand down), Ina Bauer+Triple Salchow+Double Toe+Double Loop, Double Axel+Double Axel. The girl deserved a standing ovation. (99.62)

Later in the day, the junior ladies competed their final round. They already performed a short and long to qualify for the final. During the initial long program round, Lauren Dinh skated cleanly and blew away the field. The adorable Nina Jiang missed some new triples but still qualified to the final with ease.

McKinzie Daniels went out an laded Triple Toe, Triple Lutz (2 ft)+Double Toe, Triple Flip (UR?), Double Axel+Double Toe+Double Loop, Triple Loop, Triple Lutz (2 ft?), Triple Toe (not in combination). You can tell she is coached by Tom Z because she manages to land scores of triples and still causes the audience to fight off sleepiness about four times during the program. Adagio from Spartacus was a little too mature for a junior skater. (81.41)

Lauren Dinh skated out like a power Asian in a black and silver dress that screamed Danse Macabre before the music even started. Lauren wasn't as on as she was the other day, but she remained impressive. Triple Loop, Triple Lutz+Double Toe, Double Axel, Triple Lutz (turned out and hand down), Triple Flip (fall) and Triple Salchow (put foot down for support), Single Toe. Not her day, but impressive for a girl who is just getting back into the swing of things after an injury forced her to miss a Novice Nationals she was the favorite to win. (72.74)

Angela Wang definitely wants to judges to get a point: she's Asian. Last year, Angela skated to Yellow River Piano Concerto. That is the token piece that all Chinese Americans must skate to. It is a rite of passage. This year, Angela is skating to 'How To Train Your Dragon.' If she is channeling the great power Asians before her, it is working. Double Axel+Triple Toe, Triple Lutz+Triple Toe, Triple Flip (turn out), Triple Loop, Triple Lutz, Double Axel+Double Toe, Triple Salchow. The pressure was on the juniors, as the USFSA was using Liberty to determine which girls get JGP assignments. Expect to see Angela Wang kicking some serious ass around the globe. (94.45)

And finally, my adopted daughter took the ice. Nina had an up and down warmup, but showed some gorgeous Triple Flips. Her coach has done a wonderful job of pacing her and correcting technique issues. Nina used to be seriously tilted in the air, but that has been corrected. She had the most speed and best presentation and edges of the entire junior field. She emotes to 'Ladies In Lavender' so well. Double Flip, Triple Loop (Turn Out), Triple Salchow, Lovely Layback Spin, Triple Loop+Double Toe, Triple Toe, Flying Sit Spin variation, Triple Toe (fall), Double Axel. Nina now has a stunning new cannonball position. The girl never even did a normal sit spin in her programs before this year and now she has a beautifully extended cannonball. The triple loop was new at the end of last season and she now has it nailed. Some worried that her growth spurt would hurt her, but she looks under control. Nina doesn't grin from ear to ear like before, but she has replaced her precocious charisma with a wonderful musicality. I miss her back hydroblade+Doube Axel, but Nina has more important things to focus on...like triple jumps. (75.43)


  1. AJ. I'm so glad you didn't dump your blog. I appreciate your point of view, and I enjoy your sense of humor. I check for updates everyday. Of course I'm subscribed to the feed. I guess I'm addicted to you. Thanks for summarizing what was worth printing at Liberty. I'm excited about Ashley, Agnes and Felicia. Some skaters to look forward to and watch grow. Glad that Ashley has found her niche.


  2. Interesting post, AJ. I have one question, though--you seem so convinced that Agnes is headed to the top of the world, but what about her artistry? You keep mentioning her speed, but isn't a sense of artistry (or lack thereof) that was trained by the same environment that produced Rachael Flatt enough to hold her back?

  3. Wow thanks so much for the great, long post. The girl in the clip has great runot and nice technique, but Dark Eyes is a bad choice that begs a unfair comparison. She spend most of the program skating back and forth between pretty jumps with not much attention to the music.

  4. Piling on to what Debbi said--please don't ever stop writing. You have a real gift.

    Thanks for the long post. So glad you didn't delete this. I live for your blog/formspring and your skating/gymn posts are better than any message board in existence.

    - Lauren

  5. AJ: what was the speed difference between Wagner and Zawadzki?

    I am actually a bit concerned that a clean Wagner was scoring less than 4 points above a flawed Zawadzki without a combination and with a mandatory -3 at it. Appeared like if she had hit that 3toe3toe she would have gotten at least 7 more points and beat Wagner handily.

  6. Wagner really isn't that good. She will be passed. IMO, she'll be lucky to make the World Team this year.

  7. I believe it is Christine Mozer, not Mozier.
    Thanks for the post!