Sunday, January 7, 2018

2018 U.S. National Championships: Review

There's nothing like the Olympic Trials to remind everyone that this sport is the epitome of grace, athleticism and controversy.

This was one for the books!

Final results:

Bradie Tennell:  73.79 (SP) + 145.72 (FS) = 219.51  - 1st
Bradie came into this event with a hopeful question mark over her head.  She was great at Skate America but how would she hold up under the pressure now that all eyes were on her?

The SP was a breeze for Miss Bradie.  She hit a soaring 3Lz-3T (+1.80) and though her check of her landing was a tad off in her 3L, she earned +0.80 for that as well.  All of Bradie's non-jump elements were solidly executed and level 4s.  In short, she did her job.  As far as the performance...meh.  Bradie is not the most engaging or entertaining skater at this time.  Despite her age (19 years old) her skating lacks the polish and maturity we're used to seeing from our ladies at this age.  However, I feel as though these are all things that can be fixed with a bit of training and some better packaging.  What matters right now is getting it done and Bradie got it done.  She scored a personal best, set the record for the highest SP total ever at nationals, and went into the FS with a tiny lead of 0.70.

Meet the USFSA's new "it" girl!

If there is a test to truly determine someone's mettle as a competitor, it's skating last at a big event with the lead.  It takes a lot of mental strength to block it all out and just skate...and that's what Bradie did.  Just like at Skate America she came out and nailed everything she needed to nail.  Her only mistake was an under-rotation on her axel in her 2A-3T combo but given the TES score she put up, it barely made a dent.  Bradie was technically amazing but, again, her actual skating wasn't anything special...but again, it didn't matter.  What the judges wanted to see was someone come out and deliver under pressure and Bradie did just that.  I definitely disagree with her PCS (the highest of the night, which is total bullshit) but the judges had their mind made up after the SP who they'd put in first if given the opportunity.  She made it easy for them by skating so well which allowed them to give her the kind of scores they're hoping she'll receive in Pyeongchang.  Bradie won the FS with a monster score and is the new U.S. national champion.

I'm a bit torn on this.  I honestly don't know if I agree with Bradie winning or not.  Based on her technical performance, yes she should have won...but, in my opinion, she was the weakest of the top 4 when it came to PCS, yet that was not reflected in her scores.  It's supposed to be a blend of the technical and component/artistic and, to me, Bradie is 100% technical.  Though I don't necessarily agree with her scores I am very happy for her.  She's an amazing competitor and we're lucky to have someone like her representing  for the U.S. in Pyeongchang.

Mirai Nagasu: 73.09 (SP) + 140.75 (FS) = 213.84 - 2nd
It took four years of waiting for Mirai to have another chance at making the Olympic team.  She's said all along that was her goal.  It was time for her to make it happen.

There was a huge build up to Mirai taking the ice for her SP.  She'd be practicing so brilliantly all week landing triple axel after triple axel...everyone was so excited to see her land it here.  Mirai powered through her 3A attempt, over-rotating it and stepping out with a hand down.  It was a messy attempt but it was fully rotated which meant after the -GOE she still earned 6.36 points.  Even though the axel didn't go as planned Mirai had to refocus immediately to hit her remaining jumps.  She turned in a too-close-to-call 3F-3T that ended up receiving full credit, as well as a strong 3L.  The emotion and energy that is oftentimes missing from Mirai's performance came through well, especially in the step sequence.  When all was said and done Mirai earned the highest TES of the night and placed 2nd in the segment, only 0.70 out of 1st place.

Four years later...

Since 2014 Mirai had been working to this moment. I can't even lie...I was nervous as hell for her!  Mirai's opening 3A was better than the one from the SP; however, it was still over-rotated and landed on two feet.  She immediately refocused and went into her 3F-3T and 3S.  I watched with quite a bit of pride as Mirai pushed her way through the program, hitting four more triple jumps.  Her only error was an under-rotation and slight two-footed landing on her 3Lz.  Again, she gave more energy and emotion to the program than we've seen from her all season.  After she hit her final 3L the crowd went absolutely crazy and didn't stop cheering.  Everyone was on their feet before the music ended.  Mirai broke down in tears at the end and I got a little misty-eyed too.  I've been following Mirai's career since 2007.  The ups, the downs...she's been through it all and yet she continued on.  She worked so hard and when it came time to do it, she did it.  Mirai scored a huge 140+ and went on to place 2nd in the FS and 2nd overall, earning a silver medal.

Full disclosure: I wanted Mirai to win this event.  I really did.  Given the propped up scores for Bradie in PCS, Mirai may have had a case for gold.  Regardless of her placement I am just thrilled for Mirai and the way she skated.  After the disappointment of being left off of the team in 2014, this time around she left no doubt in anyone's mind that she deserves a spot on the Olympic team.  Mirai will go to Pyeongchang as a 2-time Olympian.  I am so beyond proud of her.

Karen Chen: 69.48 (SP) + 129.11 = 198.59 - 3rd
Karen came into this event as the defending national champion which carries with it a different kind of pressure.  After struggling for most of the season, she'd need a convincing performance to repeat as champion.

Karen's decision to return to her programs from last season seemed to pay off in the SP.  She opened with a huge 3Lz-3T but under-rotated the second jump and stumbled out of the landing (-1.40).  The combo has been an issue for her pretty much all season long.  The first jump is massively huge but she doesn't get enough lift and rotation into the second jump and ends up under-rotating it.  Luckily that was the only mistake in the program.  Karen hit her 3L and 2A beautifully and finished up with a lovely level 4 layback (+1.43).  She left points on the ice with her combo and her other spins and step sequence (only level 3s).  Even with the errors, it was one of the strongest performances she's put out this year.  Even though it's a reused program, there's something very timelessly beautiful about her "On Golden Pond" SP.  It still works, especially when she skates well.  The judges rewarded her with the highest PCS of the segment...and I kinda agree with it but I'll go into that more in a later post...Karen went into the FS in 3rd place.

That'll do Karen...that'll do

The FS has not been a strength for Karen this year, though she seems to do better than in the SP.  Given the performance that came before her (Mirai) she knew she'd need to be perfect if she had any hope of going into 1st.  To her credit, she laid down a strong performance.  She attacked her jumps, skated with speed and sold the program.  The only visible error she made was a stumble out of her 3S.  The TES tracker in the corner of the screen read 71.90 when Karen finished...when her score came up her final TES was 59.53.  Despite the strong performance Karen received three under-rotations, an edge call and a downgrade.  It looked like a good skate but it ended up being the weakest of the top 4.  Even with the errors Karen still managed to pull down the second highest PCS of the night (again, I have thoughts on that I'll address later).  The higher PCS helped her finish 4th in the FS and 3rd overall for the bronze medal.

It should be noted that Karen got sick after the SP which may have affected her performance.  Then again, this is the way she skates when she's not ill either so I don't know that a 100% healthy Karen would have done better.  Karen as a competitor is iffy at best, however she does manage to show up when it counts.  And when she's on, she's pretty amazing.  Karen was named as the 3rd and final member of the 2018 Olympic team. 

As for the rest...

4th again

Ashley Wagner (196.14, 4th):  Historically, the pre-Olympic national championships have never been Ashley's forte. In the three she's participated in she has placed one spot below where she needs to be to secure a spot on the team.  Given her track record at this competition and the way she'd been skating this season, I did not expect good things from Ashley here.  However, all things considered, she managed to turn in two respectable skates.  Ashley under-rotated and stepped out of the landing of her 3F-3T in the SP but finished up the rest of the performance well with level 4 spins, level 3 steps, and a ton of energy and personality.  Despite the good skate Ashley's score seemed low compared to what she'd usually receive for a skate like that, particularly in her PCS (32.94).  Inflation is very common (and expected) at national events.  Ashley didn't receive that here.

Ashley debuted her "La La Land" FS here which was a very risky move.  Ultimately it was a successful program and her performance was lovely.  As always she did a good job of portraying the character and feel of the music.  The jumps were okay but not great.  She nailed her 3F-3T but lost points on a popped salchow in her 3-jump combo as well as an under-rotated lutz and lower levels on a spin and her step sequence. When her scores came up (130.25) you could tell Ashley was pissed.  I did expect a slightly higher score.  She earned 68.00 in PCS which is a good score but she usually earns stronger PCS at this event.  Then again last year when it was rather close between Ashley and Karen, Karen was given the nod...a sign of things to come?  In the end Ashley placed 3rd in the FS but it wasn't enough to move her into the top 3.  She finished 4th overall. 

The love affair (if ever there was one) is over

Afterwards Ashley voiced her anger at the scores she received.  Say what you will about her but I love the fact that she's not afraid to speak her mind.  Most would sit by "graciously" and hold their tongue and just accept it.  I don't find Ashley voicing her opinion as ungracious, arrogant or poor sportsmanship.  There was an obvious change in the scoring at this event and she had every right to question it.  It was suspicious that certain skaters received the usual nationals inflation and she did not.  There was a bias at this event and it was mostly against her.  I'll reserve my full feelings for another post but I will say I'm proud of what she accomplished and I thought she deserved better than what she got.

That damn 2A

Mariah Bell (192.34, 5th):
  Mariah struggled all season long but, like Karen, seems to put out her best under pressure.  She stumbled out of the landing of her 3Lz-3T combo in the SP but was able to finish out the rest cleanly and go into the FS in 6th place.  I have not been the greatest fan of Mariah's "West Side Story" FS this season but she changed my mind a bit here.  She turned in the best FS she's had since nationals last year.  Mariah reeled off 7 triple jumps including a 3Lz-3T and 2A-3T.  Everything was going along amazingly...until she fell on her final 2A.  It was a facepalm moment if ever there was one.  Mariah placed a solid 6th in the FS and finished 5th overall.  She's been assigned to compete at Four Continents at the end of the month.

Shining Starr!

Starr Andrews (189.91, 6th):  She's a shining Starr! (I couldn't resist...)  It was so great to see Starr come out and have such an incredible senior debut on the big stage.  Her only hiccup was a swingy landing on her 3L in the SP--but the element was still clean.  In the end Starr was the only skater in the entire event to go clean in both performances (even Bradie received an under-rotation in the FS).  That's hella impressive for a senior debut!  I'm also loving the fact that she decided to sing part of the song she skated to in the FS.  I applaud her for having the guts to tackle a Whitney Houston song and give her kudos for doing a good job.  It's such a powerful song and it must have been surreal to have that kind of "moment in time" while skating to "One Moment in Time."  Starr has been assigned to both Four Continents and Junior Worlds.  I'm so happy for her and I'm beyond excited to see her grow as a skater and performer in the future!

So proud of her!

Angela Wang (188.01, 7th):  It was so wonderful to see Angela have such a great moment in the SP.  She's been a favorite of mine for years.  I just love her smooth style and quiet grace.  Her "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" program is so gorgeous and she delivered it beautifully.  Angela placed a surprising 4th in the segment.  Her FS was a strong effort overall but not enough to keep her in the top 5.  Still, I'm very proud of her.

Other Competition Notes:  Amber Glenn (168.06, 8th) had moments of brilliance in both of her programs. She just couldn't keep it going.  I'm still holding out hope she'll get it together one day...Courtney Hicks (165.48, 9th) had a repeat of the last 3 years at this event.  Big errors in the SP knocked her out of the running and she couldn't get it together in the FS either.  I wonder if she'll continue to compete...Tessa Hong (156.86, 10th) is such a lovely skater but something isn't clicking with her.  Her jumps have gotten better but she's so inconsistent.  She's lovely to watch though...Caroline Zhang (156.38, 11th) had a shaky SP and a very rough FS but she was just happy to compete.  I get the sense she skates now because she enjoys it; not for the purpose of winning any medals.  There's nothing wrong with that...Emmy Ma (138.02, 16th) didn't have the kind of performances I was hoping to see.  She's still a gorgeous skater though...Polina Edmunds (63.78, WD) had a solid SP.  Her content was far below the top skaters but after the SP she was in 7th place and could have made a run at the top 5.  Unfortunately a nagging injury returned and forced her to withdraw.  If that was her final performance at nationals, at least she went out on a high note.

Congrats to the medalists!  Despite all of the scoring hoopla surrounding this event, I do think we are sending a very strong team to Pyeongchang.  I think the top 2 skaters were far and away the best of the field and there's no doubt whatsoever that they both belong on the team.  Could Mirai have beaten Bradie?  Maybe...  Additionally, I feel as though there's some debate for 3rd place.  Karen did not out-skate Ashley at this event.  This was a case where the two of them were neck and neck, and it could have gone either way.  For that reason, I'm going to do an "I'll Be the Judge of That" post next week and score the top 4 myself.  I'm curious to see what the results will be.  Check back soon!

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