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Jan 29, 2012

2012 United States Figure Skating Championships: Ladies

In some respects, American figure skating looks to have flourished in the past few years. American ice dance has never looked stronger with two US teams on the world podium last year and very impressive depth even further down the ranks. An American man is the reigning Olympic champion, and as for, well, they're typical US pairs. But for some fans of American figure skating, all that does not matter. Instead, it is All About the Ladies, and as such, the ladies discipline has inspired near-unprecedented levels of hand-wringing among many fans of US figure skating in recent years. Gone indeed are the days in which a bad day for the top US ladies skaters translated to a mere silver or bronze on the international podiums. With the ladies world podium completely devoid of US ladies for almost six years and perhaps lacking faith in the current crop of ladies, many fans have been hurriedly anointing whatever up-and-coming US skater without a Y chromosome capable of landing a proper triple lutz and/or a triple-triple as the Savior of US ladies skating (e.g. current Chosen One: Gracie Gold)....often to hilarious results.

Such behavior is not entirely unreasonable, however. Winning in figure skating is all about youth (particularly when it comes to ladies, famously the disciple of prepubescent champions) and reputation, so having someone who has been competing at Nationals for ten years as the highest-ranking US ladies skater as well as several talented but wildly inconsistent headcases who don't turn in enough decent performances to properly build up their reputations is understandably going to inspire quite a few anxiety attacks. With the recent results of the 2012 US National Championships, it is clear that fans of US ladies figure skating may have to hang onto their Zoloft tablets for quite a bit longer.

Unfortunately, I only managed to catch the final flight of the ladies LP.....the following is a slightly edited version of the notes I took during the live broadcast, hence the rambling stream of consciousness style.

Christina Gao is skating first in the last group to a Piazzolla tango in a dress that vaguely reminds me of a Tarasova-for-Mao Asada creation. It really doesn't look that great on Miss Gao either. Fantastic 3F-3T to start, good 2A, 3flutz. The program looks kind of sluggish, a tango with zero sensuality, sex appeal, playfulness, fire, etc--i.e. everything that makes a tango fun. Typical ladies figure skating tango, in other words. Great 3F, 3Lo and a step-out on what looks like a doubled salchow. 3T-2T and a rather dull step sequence to end that would improve if it were actually somewhat more related to the sharpness of the tango music. Miss Gao needs to watch Yu-Na Kim's Tango de Roxanne for pointers. Also, Miss Gao still doesn't look like she's completely in control of her long post-growth spurt limbs. Scott Hamilton says, "good to see her being a little fiery." WHAT? Where? Smiling =/= fiery. Sometimes I wonder if Mr. Hamilton is watching the same competition as I am. 111.53 FS, 166.36 total, into first.

Mirai Nagasu is next to skate. Her expression before going into her opening pose is rather reminiscent of Sasha Cohen before the free skate at the 2006 Olympics...i.e. meltdown time. Miss Nagasu begins with a great 3Lo-2T, then a 2A-2T (wasn't that supposed to be a 3T?). Randomly placed but pretty spiral sequence....and Miss Nagasu looks very subdued. 3Lz-2T (standstill)....2Lo (fall). There was clearly no speed coming out of the 2T, that 2Lo should NOT have been tacked on. The fall could be seen from a mile away. Blah blah blah choreography, spread eagle just misses the crescendo and completely nullifies its intended effect....Miss Nagasu looks lost, and a bit behind the music. It is very Skate Canada 2010, but worse: 3Lz (fall), 1F, good recovery on the 3Lo. But it doesn't matter by now. Miss Nagasu is looking slower and slower, and her movements more and more lifeless. Decent 2A, an absolutely limp step sequence, and Sandra Bezic and Scott Hamilton are pouring on the platitudes: "Mirai doesn't know where to go," etc. Ugh, make it stop (both the platitudes and the lifeless skating). Miss Nagasu quite literally crawls into her layback....and it's over. Frank Carroll looks pissed as fuck, and he should be. Coming off the ice, Miss Nagasu says she was distracted as she was thinking about her facial expressions too much....what?  104.97 FS, 163.99 into third place for now. And people thought last year was bad. I wonder when we will hear the announcement regarding Miss Nagasu's next coaching change.

Caroline Zhang comes onto the ice. My eternal mental image of Miss Zhang is that of a tiny sylphlike creature in pale pastels during her prelapsarian prepubescent days, so it's still a bit disconcerting to see her looking so mature and in black, no less. Miss Zhang's excellent short program is perhaps one of the biggest surprises at the US Nationals so far--after the string of disappointing results of late, it's great to see her within striking distance of the podium. 3F (fall out), 3flutz-2T (still kind of mulekick-ish, but better than before), 2A with no speed, slow spins that have definitely regressed from when she was younger. The speed and power of the music is rather incongruous with Miss Zhang's lack of speed and power on the ice: Mirai Nagasu was slow, but Miss Zhang is even slower. 3Lo, very pretty spirals, 3F-2T-2Lo. The step sequence looks slow and rather simple, not sure if she's going to get the levels here. Also, Miss Zhang needs to hit the accents in the music more, but 2A and a very excellent +3 GOE worthy pearl spin to end, easily her best element by far. It's amazing that she can still do the pearl at her current advanced old age. The crowd goes wild, and Miss Zhang looks elated. But she should be--this is a very impressive comeback, especially after the deluge of criticisms and the bad results. There is still a lot to work on, but progress has been made despite considerable odds. 113.01 FS, 173.19, in first place for now. Insanity....never say never, indeed.

The "Almost Girl," aka Ashley Wagner, in black as befits her Black Swan program, is next. She certainly doesn't look like she's about to meltdown as she skates into her opening pose. 3F-2T-2T to start, done with good flow and speed. 2A-3T (two-foot, typical), 3flutz. Looking good....nice spiral with the arm movement, excellent spread eagle right into the 3Lo. That was new, I believe. Pop on what should've been a 3S, then a rather tight 3Lo-2T. Well, at the very least, nobody's going to accuse Miss Wagner of giving up on her performance. 3F, step sequence, some toe-picking (more new choreography?), decent spin to end. I haven't been the most fervent fan of this program in the past, but I actually enjoyed Miss Wagner's performance. Good to see someone actually go for it. Six triples and a pop, but that should be enough to make the world team. Between Alissa Czisny and Agnes Zawadki, I'd put good money on either one of them bombing the LP. Standing ovation, and it's 123.96 FS, 187.02 overall, into first place as expected. Looks like Mr. Nicks is working his magic....

Alissa Czisny, in second place after the short program, skates onto the ice. Ugh, that semi-transparent white dress looks tacky, like something Nikolai Morozov would put Miki Ando in. I think it's that transparent skirt, rather reminiscent of Miki Ando's SP dress last season. I'm getting serious Bride of Morozov vibes, and that is not good. Miss Czisny looks quite nervous skating into position....I have a feeling that this won't be her night. The melodiously mournful strains of Valse Triste begin, and Miss Czisny sort of lands her opening 3Lz (tight on landing, hand down). 2A-2T looks rather tight...uh oh. Good 3F, but this program is positively funereal in both mood and choreography. Gorgeous spiral....and 3Lz (fall, very tilted in air). No combination, and that was definitely a UR. Looks like this is going to go behind Ashley Wagner in the final placements. 2A (very tight, hung on), 3Lo, 3Lo-2T-2Lo, fantastic spins and a step sequence to close. Well, at least Miss Czisny didnt completely implode like she used to in the bad old days. But what happened to the newly acquired zen-like confidence and calm of last year? Was it all a dream? Also, this Valse Triste program is very dreary and repetitive, and the only smidgen of excitement that occurs when watching the program is when one looks to see if Miss Czisny would remain vertical when she lands her jumps. I'd be VERY surprised if this takes the National title....and it doesn't. 116.86 FS, 180.10 overall, into second place.

Agnes Zawadzki is the final skater to take the ice. She is skating to Rhapsody in Blue, but not in giraffe print. Miss Zawadzki is definitely not a skater of the American ice princess mold, and every skater in the final group looks rather lilliputian next to her. It certainly makes her stand out among the American ladies. A very good 2A-3T to start, then 3F, and a 3Lz (fall, and right after Scott Hamilton rhapsodizes about its perfection. Oh, the irony). Spiral looks very imposing and impressive with her long legs. 3Lz-2T right into the boards.....and then a fall on the 3S. Well, it looks like Ashley Wagner is the new US ladies champion now. Miss Zawadzki's program is a snooze....who choreographed this? The choreography is so generic and looks like the sum of every unmemorable Rhapsody in Blue program ever performed. 2T (two-foot), 2A (tight), with some blah typical CoP step sequence devoid of any creativity whatsoever. Miss Zawadzki looks less stiff than she used to be, and she's clearly trying to sell the program, but the choreography is of so little interest and depth that it doesn't really matter. OK spin to close, and this performance should leave the current top two untouched. Ashley Wagner is looking tense backstage....but 107.86 FS, 174.10 overall and Miss Zawadzki is in third place.

A rather messy night of skating, but a few surprises here and there. It looks like the pecking order of US ladies skating has changed yet again, but the prospect of regaining three spots for the world team still seems nebulous as ever.....

(also, a Euros post hopefully coming soon!)


  1. It's more like when the imminent retirement announcement will come with Mirai

  2. Please tell me you'll be laying your tentacles on the men.

  3. Anon @ Jan. 29: I don't think Miss Nagasu will retire, but she should really re-consider the circumstances of her current training situation. Or Frank Carroll could always kick her out......

    Anon @ Jan. 30: I would like to, but I was not able to watch the live broadcast of the LPs and I can't find any videos on Youtube. I'm very pleased with the results, however.

  4. Mirai hasn't given A Performance since last years' Four Continents. Don't blame her. I don't understand why vaunted, all-powerful Frank couldn't see that her programs this year were garbage.

    Jeremy at nationals:

    Adam's SP: