Friday, October 21, 2011

2011 Skate America: Ladies Preview & Predictions

So I said I wasn't going post until after Skate America, but what they heck, I'll do a preview.  Why? 'Cause it's Friday and I'm bored as hell at work...

My money is on these three...

After months and months of experiencing sweats, headaches, chills, the shakes, and a general sense of loss and irritability, my figure skating withdrawal symptoms have finally subsided.  The Grand Prix season officially begins today! WOO!  However, my excitement is somewhat subdued...

Rather than starting off with a BANG!, the season is starting off with a tiny sputtering puff.  There aren't many big names at Skate America this year.  Most notably we have the current GPF champ and two-time US national champ, Alissa Czisny; and the three-time European champ and current world bronze medalist, Speedy Fettucini aka Carolina Kostner. Other than that, the competitor list is pretty much a dud: Joelle Forte, Caroline Zhang, Joshi Helgesson, Viktoria Helgesson, Valentia Marchei, Haruka Imai, Ksenia Makarova and Elene Gedevanishvili.

With a less than stellar pool to choose from, I'm going to throw out some predictions here and we'll see how badly I guessed this thing shakes down...

Gold:  Carolina Kostner (ITA)

Carolina Kostner is probably the biggest wildcard skater in the ladies field.  She has a ridiculous amount of speed, huge jumps (when she lands them), maturity, wonderful skating skills and lovely presentation.  When she's on, she's incredible.  The problem is she's as hot and cold as they come: one competition, she's blowing everyone away and the next, she's completely blowing it.  She experienced a decent turn-around last season.  Due to her injury, she eliminated the harder jumps (flip and lutz) and shifted her focus to other elements.  While it seems like a cop out, it was a truly brilliant strategy that paid off in a big way.  The easier jumps (1) improved her consistency and confidence, and (2) allowed her to focus on the other elements of her performance.  As a result, Carolina's programs were absolutely wonderful last year.

I don't know what her strategy is this year.  If Carolina sticks to her same game plan of only doing easier jumps, she still has a great chance of winning, even against a skater with harder jumps.  Overall, her skills are unmatched at this competition which gives her a huge edge.  Also, she gets the SWI (Skating While Italian) bonus which means even if she messes up, she'll still pull down solid waaay too high marks.  For that reason, I'm picking Carolina for gold.

Silver:  Alissa Czisny (USA)

A lot of people want to pick Alissa for this and, I'll admit, I'm tempted.  She made huge strides last year in terms of her confidence and, as a result, her skating was much, much improved.  Alissa is really accepting the challenge this season by upping her technical difficulty and going for 7 triples in her FS, including a 3lz-3t.  She went for it at Japan Open and managed to stay upright, though the 3t received a downgrade.  I'm impressed with her, I'll just say that much.  She's the only (established) American lady who has come out and said she'll be going for the tougher tricks this year.

While I admire her determination and tenacity, I do think she's going to need some time to build up to that perfect 7-triple performance.  Therefore, I don't think it's going to happen at Skate America.  If it does, I'll actually be pretty worried.  You don't want to have your best performance at the first competition of the season because the season is long and you need to pace yourself.  I think Alissa will have a respectable skate here, but I don't think it will be enough for gold.  So, I'm picking Alissa for silver.

Bronze: Haruka Imai (JPN)

I've watched Haruka before and she's never really stood out.  Last year she had respectable finishes for a debut senior season (sixth at TEB and fifth at SC) but she lacked that attention grabbing factor that makes people take notice.  With Kanako Murakami debuting so strongly, Haruka just sort of faded into the background...Well, she's definitely got my attention now!

I saw Haruka's new SP last week and I was floored. OMG!  Who is this girl?  Haruka looks so beautiful and she delivered this gorgeous program perfectly.  I can see the improvement in her arms (very delicate, controlled and elegant), her flow across the ice, her spins and her overall presentation.  She really breathes with and feels this music and that's something I love to see.  Haruka has skyrocketed into my top skaters to watch this season.  I don't know what she has planned for the FS, but if it's anything like that, she will definitely become one of my new favorites.  Haruka is pretty decent when it comes to jumps but what's going to make this program shine is her presentation.  If she can bring that level of performance to the competition, I can't see the judges not rewarding her.  Therefore, Haruka is my pick for bronze.

The rest of the field is really a toss up.  I'd probably pick Ksenia Makarova for third but she's still coming off of the injury that caused her to pull out of Nebelhorn a few weeks ago.  Word at the Golden Skate Forum is that she's been struggling in practice, so that doesn't look good.  Practice reports for Caroline Zhang have been good but her chances are still pretty slim here.  She's made visible improvements in the last year and, being that this is her only GP assignment of the season, I really want her to have a decent skate and place well.  Elene Gedevanishvili is another skater who has potential to be a podium threat, though her inconsistency has always been her undoing.  She's being coached by Brian Orser now (why the hell did she stay with Robin Wagner for so long??) so we'll see what she's capable of here.  Viktoria Helgesson has improved in the last year so it'll be interesting to see how she does, and Joelle Forte is not what you'd expect of a Skate America entrant, but I'm happy she's getting this opportunity.  The joy in her skating is always fun to watch.

So to recap, my predictions are:
GOLD - Carolina Kostner (ITA)
SILVER - Alissa Czisny (USA)
BRONZE - Haruka Imai (JPN)

Will I be right?  No clue...but we'll know soon!  The ladies SP is tomorrow at 11:25pm (EST), and the FS will take place at 5:45pm (EST) on Sunday.

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