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Quick US Figure Skating Update (Men’s and Women’s 2012 Worlds)

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Folks, it annoys me severely when I can’t watch the United States Figure Skating Team compete, especially when they go to the World Figure Skating Championship — this year’s venue was in Nice, France.  That makes it tough to comment on what happened, because all I know is what I can read about online, or when I’m able to see YouTube videos after the fact.  And this can’t convey the energy in the arena or the circumstances of the event, as they’re just a snapshot of one person’s skating, without the context necessary in which to judge the event.

So all I can tell you is the bare facts.  Which aren’t pretty.

Here goes:

The United States men’s team, comprised of the talented duo of Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon, did not do very well in France.  This was Rippon’s first time at Worlds, so for him to finish 13th isn’t terrible — other people who’ve gone to Worlds for the first time have finished lower than that.  But it also wasn’t very good, and I haven’t a clue about why except that Rippon apparently was a bit rattled (nerves, most likely) and fell on his opening jump in the free skate.  This threw him off enough that he wasn’t able to get back on his game.

But while nerves can perhaps be blamed for Rippon’s 13th place finish, I really don’t know what happened with U.S. Champ Jeremy Abbott, who finished 8th.  I know he battles severe problems with nerves, because he sees a sports psychologist (something I admire him for doing).  And I know that when he went to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver as the 2010 U.S. Champ, he finished 9th.  This sounds a lot better than it was, as Abbott had to work hard to move up to get into the top ten, as he had a disastrous short program; apparently something similar happened in France, which is a shame.

Both of these men are lyrical, elegant skaters with excellent skating skills and technique.  When they’re on, they can light up the room in a similar manner to my favorite U.S. skater, Johnny Weir; because of this, they are fan favorites (perhaps not as much as Weir, who’s attempting a comeback).  That’s why it hurts so much to have to report such results.

Here’s an article from the Chicago Tribune online that describes what happened to the men, and how disappointing it is:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/globetrotting/chi-the-truth-hurts-us-men-dismal-at-world-skate-20120331,0,1277841.column

And the women did no better; U.S. champ Ashley Wagner finished fourth only because she worked her heart out in the free skate, pulling way up.  And poor Alissa Czisny — I ache for this woman — finished a dismal 22nd after falling in the free skate five times.  Czisny also fell twice in the short program, which begs the question: was she injured?  And if so, why did she go and skate, especially as she has had trouble with her nerves before, and something like this would not help her at all?

Here’s the article, again from the Chicago Tribune, that explains this:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/globetrotting/chi-no-bad-just-good-and-ugly-for-us-women-at-world-skate-20120331,0,3166346.column

Here’s writer Philip Hersh’s assessment of what happened to Czisny:

Czisny, U.S. champion in 2009 and 2011 and second this year, wound up 22nd after what may have been the worst free skate ever by a skater with her talent and record. (emphasis mine: BC)

She fell five times in four minutes.  She landed no clean triple jumps.

She had fallen twice in the short program and finished 16th.  Seven falls in a competition must be some kind of record.

Czisny has so much talent that a result like this is unfathomable.  I’ve written posts before about her persistence and her elegance and grace; this woman always gives it her best effort, has rallied back from huge defeats, and has apparently battled nerves throughout.  When Czisny is on — and she’s on far more than she’s off — she lights up the room, especially when she spins as she’s one of the best spinners, male or female, in the world.  And she’d improved her jumping technique — her only real weakness — very much in the past few years, which is why I really don’t understand how Czisny didn’t land a single triple jump.

My only guess is that Czisny was injured, but if she was injured, why was she in France at all?  Why not withdraw rather than “take one for the team” and finish 22nd?

I’m well aware that the others who could’ve been sent — Caroline Zhang, Mirai Nagasu, and Agnes Zawadski — would’ve had a tough time at Worlds, too.  But they’d probably have done better than 22nd as this was the lowest finish ever for an American woman — much less someone with top talent like Czisny (she finished a strong fifth last year, for pity’s sake!).

My hope for all of these skaters is that they keep at it.  Abbott has tons of talent; so does Czisny.  Rippon has barely scratched the surface of what he can do.  Wagner has improved so much, she could be our next Olympic gold medalist — but of these four, she’s the only one who appears to be on an even keel.  (Though it’s quite possible Rippon is, too.  It’s not unknown to go to Worlds for the first time and finish under where your ability should put you; in fact, it’s odd when something like that doesn’t happen.)

Abbott and Czisny are both in their mid-twenties; that’s old for the sport.  That makes getting a handle on whatever went wrong for them more time-sensitive than it is for Rippon or Wagner (especially as Wagner did have an excellent free skate).  I sincerely hope for both of their sakes they will realize that this was just one bad day (very bad in Czisny’s case), and that the talent they embody continues, undimished.  They must shake this off, and keep trying; that’s the best way to win in the only way that truly counts: being your best self, and using your talents accordingly.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 1, 2012 at 8:40 pm

2012 US Women’s Figure Skating Championships — Wagner Wins, Czisny Second

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Folks, last year I wrote a blog about Alissa Czisny (link is here), and that blog goes double for her performance this year in the 2012 United States Women’s Figure Skating National Championships even though she came in second to Ashley Wagner.

Watching Czisny skate last evening, I was struck again by her elegance across the ice, the perfection of her positioning, her excellent spins, and her gritty determination.  Though Czisny fell on her first triple Lutz (her most difficult jump) and turned out of another attempt at the same jump, she otherwise made no obvious mistakes; this is quite difficult to do, because once something goes wrong in a performance, it can be difficult to hold it together.

I applaud her determination and persistence; coming in second to Ashley Wagner (who skated by far the best program of the night, with six clean triple jumps) is not a defeat.  And as Czisny said herself to NBC Sports reporter Andrea Joyce, sometimes you can learn more from your imperfect programs than your perfect ones, which shows how strong Czisny’s mental perspective is overall.

Czisny should be named to the World Team as she came in fifth last year.  Had she come in third at the US Nationals, she’d have had a harder time to get onto the World Team, though it might’ve happened anyway as the US has to know Czisny is their strongest competitor overall, and is by far the US’s best chance to medal at Worlds.**

But keep your eyes on Wagner; she’s a very strong skater with good jumps, good spins, and some nice artistry to her.  (She’s friendly with my favorite figure skater, Johnny Weir, too, so that doesn’t hurt her in my eyes, either.)  She, too, has an excellent chance to get a medal, providing she hangs on to her composure.

More thoughts about the women’s championships: it was nice to see Caroline Zhang do well and come in fourth, as it’s been years since she skated a clean and effective performance.  Zhang skates a bit too slowly for my taste but the way she moves is impeccable and her spins, while slower and less precise than Czisny’s, are probably the best of all the American women aside from Czisny.

Agnes Zawadski, first after the short program, fell into third place.  Zawadski is only seventeen years old, so she has plenty of time to compete among the best in the United States, and eventually, the world.  I really enjoyed her short program and see big things ahead for her if she can only get a handle on her nerves.

Otherwise, I felt sorry for Mirai Nagasu; she came in seventh, and had a wildly inconsistent performance.  I think Nagasu needs to speak with Czisny once this season is over, because Czisny is the skater who’s most likely to understand what Nagasu has been going through. 

See, once upon a time, Czisny was not a model of consistency, either, partly due to a lack of good jump techniques with the triple jumps.  But she’s worked through that and has come out more confident, more dedicated and with everything you could ever want in a figure skater on the other side.  Maybe Nagasu can do the same thing down the road if she just learns to trust herself and her ability.

Here’s hoping.

———-

** UPDATE:  Czisny was indeed named to the World Team along with Wagner.  Congratulations!

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 29, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Alissa Czisny, figure skating champion — and lesson in persistence

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Alissa Czisny is 23 years old and a figure skater from the United States.  She’s also the two-time U.S. National Champion, winning in 2009, and again this year in 2011.  And if you only knew that about her — not knowing about her 10th place finish last year in 2010, about her 9th place finish in 2008, about her up and down career before that — you’d think she’d had an easy, and perhaps even tranquil, existence.

But knowing that she’s had an up and down career, not to mention that she’s now 23 years of age, which is ancient for a female figure skater (many of the best in the world are 18 or less), changes that perception immeasurably, doesn’t it?

I’ve watched Ms. Czisny’s career for the past seven or eight years; she has beautiful spins, gorgeous spirals, and yet her jumps were never quite up to snuff.  She also battled her nerves, which endeared her to me as I knew when I used to perform that nerves were the final hurdle I needed to jump before performing well.  These two areas — nerves and jumps — had to be part of why her performances were, to be charitable, wildly inconsistent.

However, now she has new coaches,  Jason Dungjen and Yuka Sato (he a former US pairs National champion, she a former World gold medalist for Japan), a new and much more reliable jump technique, and much better control over her nerves. 

All of this has resulted in outstanding performance after outstanding performance this past year, with Ms. Czisny winning the Grand Prix finale, winning Skate Canada, coming in third at Trophée Eric Bompard, and winning the Midwestern Sectionals before winning, easily, the U.S. National championship last night.

Clearly, Ms. Czisny’s new coaches, along with her re-work on her jumping technique to make her jumps more consistent, have helped her greatly.  But what impresses me most about Ms. Czisny is the fact that she’s persisted.  She’s refused to give up, and while she apparently considered quitting after her dismal 10th place performance last year at the U.S. Nationals, she knew she had more to give.  And she was right.

Look.  I root for Alissa Czisny for three reasons.  The first is because she’s a gorgeous skater, with beautiful lines, and she does things I could never do with an ease and serenity that I find extremely appealing.  The second is because she’s 23 — ancient, in her sport — and she’s only getting better as a skater.  The third is because I root for the underdog, big-time, and Ms. Czisny qualifies because of her past inconsistency, and because of her indifferent performances on the international stage prior to this year.

Watching Alissa Czisny skate is like watching a ballerina on ice.  She’s just that graceful, and looks so perfect as a skater that people “ooh” and “ah” over her even when she does the most basic moves.  (Of course, all that “oohing” and “ah-ing” gets considerably louder when Ms. Czisny spins.   She has to be the best female spinner in the world, with grace and center and perfect positions and forms.  No one can outclass her in that area — no one.)

But I think the main reason people root for her, myself included, is because we want her to succeed.  She’s been out there competing on a high level for the past eight or nine years, and has so many strengths, but it’s never quite been her time.

It looks like 2011 is now, finally, Alissa Czisny’s time.

Let that be a lesson to everyone — persist, and don’t give up.  Don’t let anything stop you if you know you’re right.  Be like Alissa Czisny instead, and let yourself soar.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 30, 2011 at 4:56 pm