Tuesday, January 29, 2013

2013 U.S. National Championships: Ladies Review

Wow. This was definitely one of the most dramatic and controversial ladies championships we’ve seen in quite a while. I still don’t know how I feel about the outcome. This review isn’t going to follow my usual format mainly because I’m still really conflicted and don’t even know how to begin to sum this competition up. These judges took cheating, inflation and holding up to a completely different level this year...

The most blonde podium we've ever had!

The final standings:

Ashley Wagner: 67.57 (SP) + 121.27 (FS) = 188.84 (1st) 
Like Mao has so many times this season, Ashley won this one based off of her street cred. Plain and simple. She’s the beneficiary of the USFSA’s desperation for a viable champion for the US ladies. They’re so sick of hearing how the US champion changes year to year and, given how well Ashley has worn the crown up until this point, they wanted to make sure she kept it…if only to keep up appearances of her dominance in this field of ladies.

She did what she needed to do in the SP. Even though she was the only one in the top 6 after the SP who did not have a 3-3, Ashley did her job. She was clean albeit cautious, but she delivered and did what needed to be done. After the success she’s had on the GP this year and the scores she earned there, I was expecting something close to what she got at the Final (66.44) so the 67.57 was fine.

It wasn't pretty but she did it...

The FS was nothing short of a disaster though judging by the score, you’d think she had a pretty decent performance. 121.27…that’s an excellent score! Her amazing FS from last year’s nationals scored 123.96 and that was with only one edge call and a popped salchow. Ashley’s performance this year was worth about 10 points less than what she received. The fact this program came in 2nd in the segment is enough to make my head explode. The judges knew, come hell or high water, that Ashley was going to be on that world team. Why bother making her compete for it if you’re going to give it to her anyway? It’s unfair to everyone else and it makes this little sport we call figure skating look like a big ass joke. When skaters skate well or at least halfway decently, it’s easier to boost them up and justify the high scores; when they make obvious mistakes and still win, that’s when it comes off looking like the judges are cheating.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Ashley supporter and I wanted her to win…but not like this. This is an Alissa Czisny type win like in 2009 when she was clearly beaten by a number of other skaters and yet she was given the title. That’s similar to what happened here. Ashley was gifted here and everyone knows it. I’m glad she still has her title but it feels like an empty win to me.

Gracie Gold: 54.08 (SP) + 132.49 (FS) = 186.57 (2nd) 
Anything short of perfection from this girl is seen as a failure. Why? You can thank the media for that. Gracie is all anyone could talk about heading into this thing and thanks to her big ol’ FAIL in the SP followed by her gigantimongous score and meteoric rise in the standings, complete with controversial 2nd place finish, now she’s all anyone is going to talk about for a while.

I don’t know if I’m on the Gracie wuz robbed train. Like Ashley, I think Gracie was the beneficiary of the USFSA’s desperation for a star as well. Gracie was being hailed as the golden child and after her stellar display in the FS the judges did what they needed to do to make sure she’d get a spot on that world team. However, I’d have had her lower in both programs. I think the judges were very nice to her in the SP after she fell and popped a jump. I figured she’d score somewhere between 50-52, so a 54 was pretty kind in my opinion. That kept her close enough to make up ground if she had a good FS.

Well, she had a great FS. All of Gracie’s jumps were big and clean and her spins were nice as well. The judges went +2 and +3 crazy with the GOEs because we haven’t seen a technical display like that in US ladies’ skating in quite a while. But that’s all it was: a technical display. A showcase of some kick-ass jumps but nothing else. Gracie was tunnel vision focused through the majority of the program and her focused face is as devoid of emotion as Kristen Stewart’s. I don’t know if the rumors of her working with Zoueva are true or not because I didn’t see any improvements in Gracie’s interpretation, expression, musical connection or maturity. She was deadpan as she went through her program and only showed some signs of life at the end.

Best moment of the entire program...

Gracie was amazing but that score was inflated. Those PCS were too high; 61 is a lot given what she put out. Her skating skills and transitions were nice, her execution was great but the performance itself wasn’t anything special. Her choreography and interpretation were junior level at best. All in all, I thought Gracie’s PCS should have been somewhere between 56-58.

She was the clear FS winner and, if we’re basing it solely off of jumps, she should have won the title as well. However, I have issues saying Gracie clearly won the competition because aside from her good jumps in the FS, both of her programs as a whole were various forms of blah and meh. When you take the jumps away you have a pretty but extremely boring skater. I like a blend of the artistic and the technical; Gracie is still 100% technical…so I don’t know if I’d have had her win this one or not.  I'll have to go play with some numbers and get back to you.

Agnes Zawadzki: 65.31 (SP) + 114.32 (FS) = 179.63 (3rd)
Agnes’ 2nd place SP finish is why this sport is dying…the casual viewer has no freakin’ idea what’s going on! The uneducated skating viewer sees a fall as a mistake: Skater A fell but Skater B didn’t so, by virtue of a clean program, Skater B should be in the lead. Unfortunately, the sport is more about math than it is about skating now.

The only way to understand how Agnes beat Mirai in the SP is to dissect the protocols and crunch the numbers. Agnes had the highest base value to start (30.43) plus her 2A was in the bonus, so with the added point value, the fall only cost her 2.50 points total and she still earned the highest TES of the segment (35.94)…that’s just too much effort for the average viewer and most will not go so far as to track down protocols to compare and contrast scores to understand what they've just seen. Instead they’ll say, “This is some ol’ bullshit!” and change the channel.

No double axel? No problem!

Agnes couldn’t hold it together in the FS though she did a better job this year. She received a significant hike in PCS for this competition versus her international competitions. She was given 61.14 here. Call that a gift because Agnes has never seen anything close to that number from the international judges (Cup of Russia – 54.74; NHK where she placed 3rd - 55.33). These inflated PCS are doing nothing to help these skaters internationally. They will never see them in a competition outside of the US so what’s the point of over-scoring them?

Agnes is a very powerful skater who seems to do much better at nationals than she does internationally. But until she learns to skate her international events the way she skates at nationals, Agnes will never break out of the 3rd to 6th place range of skaters. 

As for the rest…

Huge jumps but still all over the place...

Courtney Hicks (4th; 177.92): Solid outing for her. Seeing her on the big screen you get a sense for how explosive her jumps are. I’m seriously hoping she and her team get busy on refining her presentation and smoothing her out. She’s a very hard skater; they need to soften her up a bit. Excellent placement for her first time out though.

Successfully defended 5th place for the 4th consecutive time...

Christina Gao (5th; 176.28): It’s almost like an insult that she placed 5th again, for the fourth year in a row. She was visibly shaky in her SP but I thought she rocked her FS quite well and could have scored higher than she did. Plus she looked absolutely stunning. No clue if she’ll put forth the effort to go for Sochi next year or whether she’ll dedicate her focus completely to Harvard, but I’ve truly gained an appreciation for her skating this year.

Yasmin Siraj (6th; 175.07): I’m so happy Yasmin was able to break through this year! She’s been a favorite of mine for a long time but she’s been injured in the past and could never get the jumps to materialize when she needed them. Her SP was lovely and I’m so happy she was able to have a strong FS and place so well.

Her health was an issue but she was great in the SP...

Mirai Nagasu (7th; 173.75): I feel like Mirai got dumped. It sucks that she made so much progress this year only to be bitch-slapped by the federation, right back down into the spot she was in last year. I think Mirai’s SP was proof she’s improved. It’s unfortunate that she happened to be very sick on such an important weekend. Her stamina was affected by her cold and definitely contributed to the sluggishness and lack of speed and power she had during her FS.

It was hard to see her so devastated when her scores came up. The judges crushed her…and I’m not sure how strong her resolve will be to come back next year. Without Frank Carroll as a buffer, the judges have no reason to give her even the slightest boost for encouragement. You’d think given the progress she’s made they may have given her an incentive to carry on…but nope. It’s clear who their favorites are now and Mirai is no longer one of them...if she ever was.

Samantha Cesario (8th; 170.15): Strong performances all around for Samantha. I thought both of her programs were well presented and well skated. If she can work to up her technical content she’ll have a real shot at doing well on the GP. She’s a lovely skater with great presentation and I enjoyed watching her.

Angela Wang (9th; 164.76):  I so wanted her to place better than this but until she can get a handle on her SP nerves, she will forever be in the bottom of the top 10. She fought back hard with her FS, as always, so she should be proud of that. I still find her to be a beautiful skater and hopefully she’ll get herself together soon.

Hannah Miller (10th; 164.68): I love Hannah’s spunk and fire. She really reminds me of Tara Lipinski, even more so at this competition. She’s a wonderful performer but she and her team need to work on coaxing a bit more height out of her jumps. They are too tiny and prone to under-rotations. She doesn’t want to get a reputation for under-rotating…once that happens she’ll never get the benefit of the doubt from the judges.

I'm proud of her...

Caroline Zhang (11th; 161.89): I don’t care what the marks say. I thought Caroline had two wonderful and moving performances at nationals this year. They ripped her apart in the SP and killed any shot she had of getting into the top 5-7 skaters. She still has her issues in terms of her speed, stroking, basic moves, etc. but you have to admire her perseverance and the way she was able to deliver that wonderful FS performance despite the anger and hurt she probably felt from her SP score.

I don’t know if Caroline with bother coming back next year. With her being so low in the standings, it’s unlikely she’ll get an invite to a GP event next season. If she wants to continue to compete just to compete I say more power to her; however, her chances of making the Sochi team next year are pretty much zero. Whatever she decides, I will always be a Caroline Zhang supporter and I thought she did wonderfully at nationals this year.

Ashley Cain (12th; 150.79): Ashley didn’t have the best of outings here but it’s definitely something she can build on for the future. I thought the choreography of her FS was beautiful and I really loved her dress as well.

Kiri Baga (13th; 138.14): Kiri struggled with the jumps all around but I don’t think anyone can deny she had some of the best spins in the competition, especially that Biellmann!

Haley Dunne (14th; 127.73): Haley’s skating is so classic to me. She looks as though she was plucked straight out of the Dorothy/Peggy era of skating, where everything was about elegance, flow and ease. Even though the jumps weren’t there I really enjoyed watching her, especially that beautiful SP. I don’t know how well that style of skating fits in with all of the flash and bang that COP demands, but hers was a wonderful throwback to what made skating beautiful to watch.

This competition was insane. The judging speaks volumes as to where this country is in terms of this sport and raises issues on a number of things from judging to the selection process for 4CC and worlds. I will rant more on that later…for now, I’ll say congratulations to the medalists.

Christina, Gracie and Agnes will go to 4CC; Ashley and Gracie will go to worlds; Samantha, Courtney and Yasmin will go to junior worlds. Best of luck to everyone…especially Ashley and Gracie, who will take on the quasi-impossible task of gaining back that 3rd spot for Sochi. It will not be easy in the least but with a little luck and some much better skating than we saw at this competition, the two of them might pull it off.


  1. My heart broke for Mirai, I really wouldn't blame her if she walked away from the sport and moved on with her life. She is an Olympian after all and nobody can take that from her. Unless she can learn to detach her emotions from a bad score or placement the way that I feel Caroline has (Caroline, by the way, still seems to very much want to continue competing from what I've read)then I'd rather not see her put herself through so much pain by staying in the sport. She and Alissa are still my American favorites though.

  2. I feel terrible for Caroline and Mirai. I love figure skating, but the politics makes it such a dirty sport. At least it isn't as bad as gymnastics.

  3. ^
    Completely agree. Mirai and Christina WUZROBBED and I feel terrible for Mira, Caroline, and Christina. Apparently the USFSA cares so little about artistry these days that they want someone like annoying little look at me shimmy like a stripper in my overdone program with the over-used music! Yeah! Gracie Gold...bleh.
    Cannot stand her.
    The podium looks like German Nationals. WTF
    I am done with US figure skating. Done.
    GO JAPAN! GO S KOREA! GO...Russia? Hmm...maybe not. Canada anyone?

  4. Women's and Mens skating is such a disappointment now. Christina was robbed the entire season!! I can't believe how they constantly score her so low considering she has some of the most elegant and beautiful skating in the US. This competition is pretty much why I'm much more interested in US ice dance now. Watching the ice dance comp was breathtaking. The sheer depth of talent is incredible.