Sunday, January 24, 2010

2010 US Nationals: Ladies FS

No school + Lots of down time in lab + Temporarily not applying to jobs = Excessive number of blog posts + Sleep. And so here is my take on the ladies FS--I know the FD happened first but I haven't been able to watch it yet...

The first I saw was Caroline Zhang. It was a little painful to watch, knowing how she'd been hailed as one of US figure skating's next stars, but the truth is that her technique is still terrible (why would anyone even consider tapping in from the side?). She fell on her opening jump and wasn't clean on many others (actually she was only clean on one, according to her protocols), and what's very curious to me is that she got a ! on her flip and a e on her Lutz. Can't she just take the right edge at the right time? And what with injuries or whatnot, her trademark flexibility has decreased a little too; she didn't do a Pearl in either her SP or FS, and without them her spins were just spins, albeit with nice positions. Also, as usual, she was just SO. SLOW. I don't understand how she can even generate enough speed/power to jump. Well, apparently she isn't. Sad... I guess we'll see if she's up to the challenge of reforming her skating and making a run in 2014. The commentators mentioned that she'd spent time this season fixing her technique, although that takes so much time and commitment. Again, we'll see.

Bebe Liang skated next, and although she jumped better than Caroline, she still singled one of her later jumps (right after Scott Hamilton said she was a great jumper or something, what a jinxer) and had very little artistry to speak of. Her performance left no impression on me but he judges seemed to like her, and her FS score held up for a long time, even through skaters that the USFSA loves (see: Alissa Czisny).

And so came Alissa Czisny. She was skating to her Dr. Zhivago FS again, which I believe is what she won the National title with last year, although she had a different (better) dress this time around. Everyone really does want the best for her, but there's no much anyone, even the judges, can do if she insists on falling, popping, and underrotating. Oh, and she threw in two triple toe + double toes, so of course the second one didn't count. Aargh. Her spins and spirals were as beautiful as ever, but this time it wasn't enough to keep her afloat in the standings, even with the sentimental bias going on. Actually, the judges really punished Alissa this year--I actually thought she deserved more. Oh well, I don't have the slow-motion replays they so love to use. In any case, it's hard to believe that last year she was on top of the podium.

Next was Emily Hughes. The commentators kept talking about what a fighter she is, since she's a Hughes and all, and took every opportunity to prove their point. A fall (twice)? No big deal, a Hughes just gets up and keeps going, compared to all of the other skaters who go straight to the Kiss & Cry. But although they were a little over the top in their analysis, they did have a point--Emily has fight. You can see it in the way she goes at her jumps, even though much of it didn't work out for her this time. Her spirals were good, as usual, but overall it was a disappointing performance that (somehow) scored higher than Alissa's.

After her were Alexe Gilles, Amanda Dobbs, and Christina Gao. I didn't really have any opinions or expectations from them, so I just sort of watched calmly and played around with NBC's You Be the Judge tool with Rafael. Alexe was (is) strikingly tall and quite pretty on the ice, but still slow and lacking in the jumps. She really ran out of steam at the end after attacking her first several jumps. Amanda was cute--she fell on two of her jumps but still sort of smiled at the end, and given that she's 16 and at her first Nationals, it was nice to see. Christina was pretty impressive, given her age and inexperience, and it seems that everyone is expecting things from her in the future. Here's to hoping she doesn't turn into the next Caroline... All three of them did decently in the standings.

And then finally came the last four skaters. First was Ashley Wagner, who I have to admit has good speed and attack, although she two-footed at least two of her jumps. Her costumes and artistry have really improved as of late (I love the purple!), but there are just some blacklists you can't do anything about. At the end she punched the air in joy, and I understand her happiness after coming back from a 4th-place SP, but really, she didn't do THAT well. I suppose any psychological tinkering with the judges helps, but really. And it must have worked--despite her two-footed landings her scores were pretty huge. Sigh. She looked positively ecstatic after crossing her fingers in the Kiss & Cry and being too nervous to look at her scores.

Second was Sasha Cohen, the headliner everyone had been waiting for. Although she fought for everything, many of her landings were two-footed or just plain awkward (she would just fall out of her jump prematurely and land on two weirdly oriented feet), and of course there was the requisite fall. Her spins and spirals were gorgeous, as everyone already knew, but everyone also knew that her hopes for the podium and the Olympic team were over. Afterwards she did say that she has no regrets about coming back and competing, which, if actually said from the heart, is a "good for her" moment.

Third was Rachael Flatt, who, as Sondra pointed out, had the disadvantage of skating immediately after Sasha since their spins and spirals could more directly be compared. In general, though, Rachael was unfazed as expected, and she hit all of her jumps except her triple flip + triple toe combination, which she stepped out of. She was slow as usual and her skating was pretty boring, but in the end you just can't beat technical consistency.

And finally, my favorite, Mirai Nagasu. As the commentators noted, she has the best balance of athleticism and artistry among the US ladies right now, and her program was great to watch. She didn't fall, had good speed, and hit some nice positions on her spirals and spins, but was hammered in the scoring. Evidently she underrotated three of her jumps... sigh. I'm actually not convinced she did, though, and I don't really understand how Sasha got away without any underrotations called. Anyway, the point is--I think she should have won. I understand the technical aspect is important, but her program was the best of the night. I don't care if she supposedly made 2 3/5 revolutions in the air. She hit her program. Mirai was absolutely adorable at the end of her performance though, grinning away and holding her head/face in joy. Please stick around for four more years! You can get so much better (actually so can Rachael and she more or less said it herself in the press conference (see below), but given her/the press' lovefest with her academics I can just as well see her retiring after the Olympics).

So in the end it was Rachael, Mirai, and Ashley, in that order, and after much deliberation Rachael and Mirai were named to the Olympic team. Some reporter in the press conference asked Rachael if she thought she had a chance at a medal if the other skaters (I think he named Mao Asada, Miki Ando, and Yu-Na Kim) skated cleanly as well, and she gave some insubstantial answer about the spirit of competition and the merits of her consistency. She also mentioned that she hopes that this is not the peak of her career, but rather that it is in the near future (by that did she mean three weeks from now or three years?). Oh well. I think we all know what the answer is to that, but I suppose guarded diplomacy is the way to go. Unlike Mirai, who is 16 and adorable on- and off-ice, but will probably have to hire a PR coach at some point. :)

Some random thoughts:
  • Dear Scott Hamilton, a close field ≠ a deep field. The outcome of the ladies event may have been uncertain, but by no means is it deep.
  • J1 was the weird, generous outlier in all of the judging. Can someone standardize this already?
  • Have the rules for scoring underrotations changed? Now the GOEs are not -3 across the board...
  • The return of Dick Button involved wearing a hideous TIE, not a hideous BOWTIE! It was a strange sight to behold.
  • Good thinking, USFSA. End the ice dance and ladies competition on the 23rd, and send a bunch of them to Four Continents, which officially starts on the 25th in Korea (with competition starting on the 27th). That's not hectic at all.

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