Thoughts After Watching 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
The last few days have been challenging ones around Chez Caffrey, as I’ve been battling some health issues. That, and only that, is the reason I didn’t write something sooner about the 2015 United States Figure Skating Championships, held in Greensboro, North Carolina, this past weekend.
There’s a great many things I wish to say, both about the men’s and women’s competitions. They showcased persistence and heart as Adam Rippon won the free skate event and nearly walked off with the United States men’s title, and they also showcased the fighting spirit of Mirai Nagasu, who finished her long program after suffering a devastating freak injury by skating into the boards.
First, let’s talk about the men’s event, which was completed on Sunday afternoon.
- Adam Rippon’s long program was a complete delight from beginning to end. It was lyrical, it was athletic, and it was brilliant. Rippon, who attempted a quadruple Lutz jump (by far the toughest quadruple jump ever attempted) and landed it (albeit with an under-rotation), deserved to win the men’s event, hands-down, as he was graded much more harshly in the short program than he should’ve been. But he did win the free skate, as he deserved…he’s my odds-on favorite for a World medal in Shanghai whether he lands the quad Lutz or not. (But if he does, watch out — Rippon could shock the world and win gold. Shades of Rudy Galindo, indeed!)
- Jason Brown won the overall event with a good and solid performance that, three-quarters of the way in, I’d have called “robotic.” However, in his final minute, his footwork caught fire and he again became the showman I knew he could be. Brown’s spins and jumps are solid and beautiful, but he does not have a quadruple jump planned for World’s. He is likely to place somewhere between fifth and seventh even if he skates lights-out at World’s because of this.
- Joshua Farris came in third with an introspective program that showcased his artistry along with a quadruple jump attempt. Farris has more chance at a medal than Brown, but probably less than Rippon, who has the most international experience of the lot. However, Farris reminds me the most of retired World Champion Jeremy Buttle of Canada…if Farris hits his quad and does everything else at the same level as he did in Greensboro, he has a fighting chance for a medal.
Those are the top three medalists, and all are both artists and good, solid jumpers. But what about the rest of the field?
Some quick hits:
- Max Aaron tried two quads, landing one cleanly and the other two-footed and possibly a tad under-rotated. Still, he has guts and moxie, and I enjoyed his program (skated to the music from the “Gladiator” movie) immensely. Aaron has a similar style to Maxim Kovtun of Russia, yet Aaron never gets the same sort of PCS marks Kovtun gets from the judges (PCS means artistic impression, more or less). Aaron came in a strong fourth, and is the first alternate to the World team.
- Jeremy Abbott skated a quiet and lyrical program, but fell twice; he did attempt a quad toe loop. His father passed away last week of Parkinson’s disease, and as such I felt Jeremy’s performance showed a great deal of grit and heart. As always, I enjoyed his musicianship and style. He finished fifth, but any other year, he’d have won a bronze.
- I appreciated Ross Miner’s program. It was quiet, elegant, a little reserved, but seemed to fit him admirably. He was a bit under the radar due to being in the final flight of skaters with Abbott, Aaron, Rippon, etc. Miner skated as well as I’ve ever seen him; some years, what he did would’ve been enough for a bronze.
- Douglas Razzano skated in the second flight of skaters, but I was impressed with his energetic performance. He has a wonderful sense of timing and rhythm. He attempted a quad toe loop and finished seventh; many other years, he’d have been in the top five.
- Loved, loved, loved Sean Rabbit’s fire and showmanship. He doesn’t have a quad, doesn’t have a solid triple Axel, but man does he have talent. Truly enjoyed his performance.
- Felt terrible for Richard Dornbush. He’s had boot and skate problems all season, and they came back to haunt him in Greensboro. He finished in tenth place, mostly because of equipment issues.
Now it’s on to the ladies’ event, which had its own share of drama and excitement.
I’ve been tough on Ashley Wagner in the past. I didn’t think she deserved to go to the Olympics last year, and I let everyone know it. But this year — ah, what a difference a year makes!
This year, she showed moxie, class, and confidence in adding a Triple lutz-triple toe loop combination — the toughest jump combo any woman attemped at the U.S. Nationals — very late in the game. She was easily the class of the field, and has an excellent chance to win a medal at World’s.
Quick hits regarding the other competitors who caught my eye:
- Gracie Gold may not be hurt right now, but she skated tentatively and cautiously to a silver medal performance. She looked beautiful, as always, and I loved her layback spin and presentation. But if she skates like that at World’s, she’s probably going to be ranked somewhere between fifth and eighth.
- Karen Chen’s delightful, effervescent performance deservedly won the bronze medal. She’s young, she’s fresh, she’s outspoken in the same way Ashley Wagner is — I look forward to much more from her. But because she is too young to go to World’s, she’ll be going to Junior World’s instead. (I fully expect her to dominate Junior World’s, too, if she skates anything close to what she did at the U.S. Nationals.)
- Polina Edmunds’ fourth-place performance looked gawky and awkward, possibly because of some growing pains. (She’s just turned sixteen.) She has a boatload of talent; once she gets fully acclimated to her adult height (whatever it turns out to be), she’s going to be formidable. She’s been named to the World team; because of her “puberty issues,” it’s impossible for me to predict how she’ll do — she’s the ultimate wild card.
- I felt terrible for Courtney Hicks in the long program. She is a jumper, and is a strong presence on the ice. Her long program was conceptualized (according to what I found at Ice Network and via some Twitter conversations with other figure skating fans) as a woman slowly going insane, which makes sense in retrospect as her performance looked herky-jerky and as if she’d woken up with stiffness and soreness. Her jumps were solid, as ever, and her spins were good. But the program itself did not seem to showcase her good qualities. To my mind, Ms. Hicks needs to study skaters like the now-disgraced Tonya Harding, Elizabeth Manley, and Midori Ito — the powerful jumpers, in short. (Others to consider: Elaine Zayak, Kimmie Meissner, Emily Hughes, even Nicole Bobek — another disgraced skater, granted, but one who combined powerful jumps with an effervescent style at her best.) Hicks is never going to be a ballerina and should not try; her coaches did so well with her this year in the short program with something that truly suited her style. Now they need to find out whether or not Hicks can master the triple Axel — because if she can, that’s her ticket to a World medal, not to mention fame and fortune.
- Finally, poor Mirai Nagasu. That woman cannot catch a break to save her life. She started off her long program with a strong triple flip-triple toeloop-double toeloop combination, landing it solidly (albeit with some underrotations called by the judges), and followed that up with another solid double Axel-triple toeloop combination. But then, she skated too close to the boards and fell down — shades of what happened to Jeremy Abbott last year during his Olympic short program — and injured her knee. Bravely, she finished her program despite being in obvious pain, and finished 10th overall. She deserves a medal for her strong spirit, fortitude in the face of adversity, and as many shoutouts as possible because no one — not the judges, not her own coach, not even the medical staff — seemed to realize how badly she was hurt, forcing her to go out and take bows even though she’d immediately skated to the side to get off the ice and rest her knee. Ms. Nagasu is a fighter of the first water, and showed her resilience and strength in full measure; what I saw from her on Saturday night was not just a portrait in courage, but a superbly trained athlete doing her all after becoming injured in the pursuit. I’m very impressed with Ms. Nagasu, and hope that whatever nonsense she may hear due to her 10th place finish will go straight out the window; I also hope her own coach, Tom Zakrajsek, will give her major “props” for finishing.
Anyway, these were my thoughts. I’m sure I’ll have more in the coming days…but until then, I hope that anyone who may come across this blog will remember one, final thing:
Do your best. Providing you’ve done that, nothing else matters. (I had to learn this as a musician when I competed in various events, and it still applies.)