Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘United States Figure Skating Association

Two Quiet, Heartwarming Stories in the News

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Folks, over the last few days, there have been two inspirational stories that caught my eye. They are quiet stories of resolution, strength, grit, determination, and nerve, in two very different arenas — but they are both heartwarming in their own way.

First, and most recent — yesterday (January 26, 2016 to be exact), the FBI office in Milwaukee avoided a potential mass shooting. According to various local news reports (including this one from WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee), a twenty-three-year-old man, a United States citizen I will not name, wanted to shoot up the local Masonic Temple. He had apparently bragged that he wanted to kill at least thirty people — and he’d purchased weapons to that effect. All he needed now, he believed, were silencers…

Fortunately, the FBI swooped in as he was buying those (according to the news reports I heard), arrested this individual, and we did not have a mass shooting in Milwaukee.

Thank goodness.

This story makes me wonder just how many other mass shootings or acts of domestic terrorism are being averted by members of the police, the FBI, and other federal and state agencies. It also makes me grateful, because I’m glad that Southeastern Wisconsin didn’t have to deal with yet another shooting of this nature. (The mass shooting in the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek a few years ago was more than bad enough, thanks.)

So, that story covers man’s inhumanity to man (and how just this once, the good guys won). The next story is more a “man against himself” sort of deal, and is much quieter…but still is quite an interesting story in its own right.

You see, over the weekend, figure skater Adam Rippon finally did something he’d been trying to do for years: he won the United States Championships. While I don’t completely understand how Rippon, who’s a beautiful skater but did not fully complete a quad jump**, beat Max Aaron’s technical score, I do understand how Rippon beat Aaron artistically…there’s a style and grace to Rippon’s skating that I’ve long admired, and now that he’s fully matured into his ability, the sky is the limit.

But why do I care, precisely?

Aside from the fact that Adam Rippon is a brilliant skater, he’s also done something historic. He’s only the second man to win the United States national championships after telling the world openly that he is gay. (Rudy Galindo, in 1996, is the only other man to have done this.) Rippon is also only the third openly gay male figure skater to ever win a gold medal at the U.S. nationals — the third being Jeremy Abbott.***

Now, why wasn’t this covered much in the news? It’s simple: our society has changed so much in the past twenty years, it’s not considered major news any longer.

We’ve had twenty years of progress since Rudy Galindo won his U.S. skating championship in 1996. We’ve had many people in many sports come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. And society, while still not approving of it, no longer seems to condemn it, either.

When we’ve had men and women coming out as gay and lesbian in multiple sports, Rippon’s matter-of-fact disclosure (done via Skating magazine, if memory serves) doesn’t warrant more than a blip on the national radar.

That said, it was still an historic event. And as such, I am very pleased to discuss it — though I’m more pleased to discuss just how well Rippon did, and why, and how after all these years as a high-ranking skater, he’s finally reached the pinnacle of winning the U.S. National Championships.

Adam Rippon is a great figure skater, and is also a proud gay man. And all I can say is, “Good for you, Adam!” (Now go get ’em at Worlds.)

I think that’s wonderful.

Anyway, these were the two stories that riveted my attention, albeit not for the same reasons. But they both were heartwarming in their own way, which is why I wanted to discuss their impact.

I also wanted to remind everyone that just because a story seems quieter, that makes it no less important.

So, two unrelated things. Both great news of the quieter sort.

And I couldn’t be happier about them.

———

**Quick note: I do know Rippon attempted the quadruple Lutz. That’s the hardest quad jump there is. And he wasn’t far from landing it; I have the sense that he will land it, and soon, in a major championship event.

***Originally I had forgotten to mention Jeremy Abbott, which is ridiculous on my part as I’m a huge fan of his. (I blame the flu I’ve had the past few days for this glaring omission.) Abbott has acknowledged openly that he is gay, and basically said it should be no big deal.

I agree. But it’s still history in the making — and as such, I want to applaud him. (It’s not easy to be an openly LGBT athlete.)

Thoughts After Watching 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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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.

Longer takes:

  • 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.)

U.S. Figure Skating Assn. Places Ashley Wagner on 2014 Olympic Team Despite Dismal 4th Place Finish at Nationals

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Folks, right now I’m glad I write a blog where headline length is flexible. Because as you see, what just happened a few, short hours ago would strain the limits of most normal newspaper headlines — former United States champion Ashley Wagner, who finished way behind the top three finishers last night at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, was placed on the Olympic Team anyway and is going to Sochi.

Here’s what happened last night during the Ladies Long Program at the United States Figure Skating Championships in Boston — 18-year-old Gracie Gold won the gold medal with a technically challenging routine, 15-year-old Polina Edmunds won the silver medal with perhaps the most difficult routine, and 20-year-old Mirai Nagasu won the bronze medal in a complete upset. Heavily favored Ashley Wagner, a two-time national champion, finished fourth due to two major falls and under-rotating two other triple jumps instead.**

Usually, when there are three spots on the Olympic Team, the top three at the U.S. Nationals are the people who end up going. However, in this case, that did not happen.

Take a look at the point totals for these four women:

  1. Gracie Gold — 211.69
  2. Polina Edmunds — 193.63
  3. Mirai Nagasu — 190.74
  4. Ashley Wagner — 182.74

In particular, the difference between Edmunds in second place and Nagasu in third was only about three points. Edmunds competed in her very first senior-level event last night in Boston, and while she was impressive, it’s hard to believe she can duplicate her efforts in Sochi. (Mind you, I’d like her to do so — I felt she was light on her feet and had a good, musical style, to boot. But the reason Tara Lipinski’s 1998 Olympic gold medal is still celebrated so many years later is because what Lipinski did at the age of fifteen is rare.)

The U.S. Figure Skating Association thus had a choice: Were they going to name Wagner, who has been heavily promoted in NBC TV advertising? Were they going to name Nagasu, who despite not having a coach (an extreme rarity in elite figure skating) did exceptionally well? Were they going to confirm Edmunds despite her lack of international experience at the senior level?

In other words, the only lock here was Gracie Gold. She won the national championships, fair and square. She has international experience. She was going to Sochi, but everyone else was in doubt.

So when the USFSA decided to name Gold, Edmunds, and Wagner, at least a few eyebrows were raised.

Take a look at this article from Yahoo Sportswriter Martin Rogers:

Ashley Wagner was controversially named to the United States women’s Olympic team on Sunday despite her disappointing fourth-place finish at the U.S. Championships this weekend.

Wagner, the two-time U.S. champion and fifth-place finisher in the World Championships, was awarded the third spot on the roster just hours after being highly critical of her own effort at TD Garden, where the Nationals typically serve as the de facto Olympic trials.

Vancouver Olympian Mirai Nagasu finished third here but will miss out on Sochi, as Gracie Gold, 18, and Polina Edmunds, 15, were awarded the first two spots.

In previous years, the finishing order at the Nationals has generally been used to select the squad, with the only changes coming as a result of injury.

Rogers’ point is that Wagner finished fourth, so she doesn’t deserve to go.

Here’s an opposing view from internationally respected sportswriter Christine Brennan in an article written for USA Today last evening before the official selections were announced:

Ashley Wagner did not skate well Thursday night in the women’s short program at the U.S. figure skating Olympic trials, and she was even worse Saturday night, falling twice.

Still, U.S. Figure Skating should send her to the Sochi Olympic Games . . . One competition, even as big an event as the U.S. nationals, should not mar the best international resume among U.S. women over the past two years . . .

Here’s why the 22-year-old Wagner deserves to go even though she performed poorly here:

She was the two-time defending national champion who has by far the most impressive resume of the bunch. She won the silver medal at the 2012 Grand Prix Final and the bronze at last month’s 2013 Grand Prix Final. These are prestigious, important international events. She has finished fourth and fifth, respectively, at the last two world championships — the best of any American. New national champion Gracie Gold was sixth, right behind Wagner, at the 2013 worlds.

It should be noted that Wagner’s and Gold’s placements there earned the United States the third spot for the Olympic Games, the spot Wagner presumably would fill.

(Note: Ellipses and emphasis added by BC)

So Brennan’s contention is that Wagner is the most consistent of the U.S. ladies — something I firmly agree with — and that as Wagner was part of the reason why the U.S. got three spots in the first place, Wagner should represent the U.S.

My point is a little different, though. I’m not saying Wagner shouldn’t go. I’m saying Edmunds shouldn’t go, mostly because Edmunds has never before skated in a senior event. She may be the next Tara Lipinski, as she herself alluded to last night in NBC’s figure skating coverage — or she could be a huge bust.

Whereas Nagasu finished fourth in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, has proven herself as a figure skater despite all her recent inconsistency (much less her volatility in not currently having a coach), and more to the point is a bit older, besides.

So if you must pick between these four women — a strong supposition — you have consistent skaters in Gold and Wagner, and the biggest wild card extant in either Edmunds or Nagasu.

The USFSA picked Edmunds due to her youth. They figure she will improve. She also speaks Russian, has Russian family members, and probably will get more out of the trip on a personal level than Nagasu — all good.

But I still don’t like what the USFSA did. I think if they were bound and determined to pick Edmunds, they should’ve picked Nagasu as well even though it would’ve really upset the apple cart with NBC (not to mention Wagner, who’s highly regarded in the figure skating community) because logically, it doesn’t scan well any other way.

Because of what the USFSA did today — and the way in which they did it — has reminded me yet again that in figure skating, it’s not what you do so much as who you know that determines our Olympic Team.

And that’s sad.

————–

**Under-rotating jumps, for non-figure skating fans, basically means this — the jumps looked like triples to the naked eye. Wagner attempted to jump cleanly, but instead of the jump grading out as a triple (with three rotations in the air), it instead was a gussied-up double (meaning it was an over-rotated double or an under-rotated triple). Jumps such as these are counted as double jumps rather than triple jumps and get less credit from the judges thereby; further, such under-rotated jumps often get downgraded on the second mark (what used to be called artistic impression) as well in something called “grade of execution.” (Clear as mud, right?)