Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Final Thoughts on Figure Skating Nationals

1. Kimmie Meissner is a fighter. The country needs to be supporting her and egging her on to figure out her slump and to regain her confidence. The press (especially Phil Hersh) has been extremely critical of Meissner all year and has been waiting to hand over her reign to one of the younger skaters. Unfortunately for Meissner, she won the 2006 World Championship when she wasn’t at the level of the best in the world. Had everything gone as planned, Sasha Cohen or Fumie Suguri would’ve won, Meissner would’ve medaled, and then Meissner could’ve continued to develop without being expected to deliver a world champion performance in every competition. Kimmie Meissner performed with improved artistry and palpable fire and intensity at Skate America. It appears that the press and the downgrades by the technical callers have shaken her confidence. Hopefully now that the worst has happened (a weak Grand Prix Final and a poor showing at Nationals), the former world champion will get angry, get tough and skate with belief again. Meissner and Wagner should both finish in the top 7 if they skate solid performances.

2. Tanith Belin and Ben Agosto have the programs to win at worlds. They will need to convincingly out-skate Domnina and Shabalin and hope the non-Russian judges lobby their support behind them. Their free dance is intricate and performed with speed and passion. This could be their year. If Belbin and Agosto are able to win in Vancouver, Ice Dancing could become perceived as a legitimate discipline in the US. The duo has the skating, the looks and the personalities to become media darlings in 2010.
3. The fact that Bebe Liang has qualified for a world team is proof that the country may be in jeopardy of not having three ladies qualify to the 2009 World Championships. Skaters are not usually given infinite chances to prove their legitimacy. Bebe has never finished higher than fourth in eight trips to senior nationals. The USFSA has sent Liang to seven Grand Prix events, but the world team member has failed to home a medal. Inconsistency continues to plague the California native; she popped her combination jump in the short program at nationals and popped two jumps in her long program. Liang is too inconsistent to be relied upon to deliver three spots for worlds next season.

4. Ryan Bradley and Emily Hughes should join SOI next fall so they can develop into fan favorites by the Olympic season. Both would be naturals on the professional circuit and would likely find their niche skating on tour. (They could also recoup funds and heal their beat-up bodies.) This hip injury could be a blessing in disguise, providing Hughes with a graceful exit from the senior ranks. The 2006 Olympian performed well at Skate America, but the writing was on the wall when she finished behind Caroline Zhang in both portions of the competition. Her programs were more subtle and nuanced than ever before. Hughes’ body type just doesn’t appear to be built to handle several Triple-Triple combinations.
5. It may be better for Caroline Zhang to skip Junior Worlds. Meissner has been under attack from the press all year. Will Zhang be hounded if she is unable to defend her title? Will it affect her world status? With extra training time, Zhang can make significant improvements in her speed of skating, presentation, jump rotations, takeoff edges and can learn useful combinations for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. With some luck, Zhang will grow a few inches over the summer. A few added inches and pounds will help Zhang develop speed and power. Working with arm weights could also help Zhang fix her Lutz technique.
6. Weir and Lysacek are both capable of medaling at worlds. Instead of lobbying for Wagner or Meissner to medal, the USFSA should try to put both men on the podium at worlds.
7. If Alissa Czisny wants to have a future in the sport, she’ll need to break her “nice girl” image and leave Julie Berlin in favor or working full-time with Linda Leaver and Brian Boitano. Coach Julie Berlin's promised jump improvements have failed to materialize for the past three seasons. Czisny's spins, spirals and artistry are competitive with the best in the world, but her jumps continue to hold her back. If she is in the middle of relearning her technique, practicing with Leaver and Boitano everyday gives her a much better chance of implementing the changes successfully. It would be ideal if Kimmie Meissner transferred to work with Leaver and Boitano as well. Czisny and Meissner’s opposite strengths and weaknesses could help push each other to improve. Having a training partner pushed Jill Trenary and Caryn Kadavy to be much better skaters.

8. One of the ladies needs to beg Sandra Bezic to choreograph their programs. With so many skaters going to Nichol, Wilson and Morozov for choreography, Bezic could provide a fresh look that helps the skater stand out. Zhang may be the best candidate, as she has been looking to show more passion and better presentation. Li Minzghu worked with Sandra Bezic when Lu Chen was competing and the results were legendary.

9. It is doubtful that either Cohen or Kwan will make comebacks to the international scene. It is very possible that Kwan could be offered a salary she can’t refuse and finally skate with Stars On Ice now that SOI and COI will merge. Cohen has never performed better or appeared as confident as she does on tour this season. The Olympic Silver Medalist is finally performing exhibitions with innovative choreography, instead of merely showcasing her trademark spirals and spins.
10. It is exciting that Pasha Grishuk now coaches and choreographs for Inoue and Baldwin. Grishuk could give the pair pizzazz and help the skaters receive better marks from the Russian judges.
11. With ABC covering worlds, it would be fantastic if NBC and IMG co-produced a professional skating event. Sasha Cohen, Michelle Kwan, Emily Hughes, Irina Slutskaya and Shizuka Arakawa would deliver huge ratings around the world if they were provided with big enough incentives (appearance fees and prize money) to face off in World Pro-type event. Eldredge, Weiss, Yagudin, Kulik , Sandhu and Plushenko could deliver big ratings on the men’s side. With so many skaters from North America having strong medal chances in Vancouver, pro skating could be revitalized if enough skaters move on. Buttle, Weir and Lysacek could provide a pro scene with strong rivalries post-Vancouver.
12. Is anyone sad we haven’t seen any typical-Zmeivskaya vamping in any of Weir’s routines? Perhaps Johnny Weir and Oksana Baiul can perform a duet in a TV Special where they each performed the other’s signature routines. Perhaps Baiul could be persuaded to lend skaters her artistic expertise? The Olympic Champion is creative and a natural choreographer.
13. He may have joked about being the voice of Ice Network, but does anyone know if Brain Boitano will be joining Nancy Kerrigan next season? Their friendship could enable them to develop strong on-air chemistry. Kerrigan has improved tremendously over the course of the season, and Boitano already has a wealth of experience. It would be amusing to hear the two friends banter back and forth.
14. Christine Brennan's recent column mentioned that the USFSA didn't fight to petition a change in the age requirement back in 2006, when they knew our junior ranks were developing considerable depth. Isn't it time that the USFSA, the federation who pays the ISU its highest broadcasting fee, stands up for its skaters? It isn't surprising that the federation hasn't, given that Phyllis Howard is on the ISU Technical Committee and Ron Hershberger is President of the USFSA. According to Jon Jackson's book, Howard refused to file a protest with the court of arbitration after learning that Tamara Moskvina made deals against Ina and Zimmerman in order to assure the Chinese of the bronze and the Chinese judge's vote for the Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze. (Jackson, On Edge 190-209) It is time for the USFSA to take an aggressive stand and fight for the best interests of the sport: fairness in judging, a repeal of the new judging system, and new age requirements. If the ISU council continues to bow to Cinquanta's wishes, the sport may alienate remaining viewers and rob the sport of the joy and artistry that has attracted fans and participants for decades.
15. Tracy Wilson's voice could soothe a nation amidst a nuclear attack. It has been wonderful to hear her commentating for American TV again this season.

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