Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘United States Figure Skating

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.)

United States Team Advances to Team Figure Skating Final

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Folks, after a rough skate by United States men’s champion Jeremy Abbott two days ago, it was unclear whether or not the U.S. would advance in the new figure skating team event.

You see, in this event, all four types of figure skating are on display. You must field an ice dance team and a pairs team plus one female skater and one male skater. You get one point for tenth place, ten points for first, and the points aggregate. And you’re allowed two substitutions after the short program.

Anyway, in the first night of the team event, Abbott skated disastrously and landed in seventh place, gaining only four points, while the pairs team of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shapnir came in fifth — about what was expected — gaining six points. Which meant after the first two disciplines skated, the U.S. had only ten points and was tied for fifth place with two other teams.

This may sound good, but as there were only ten entries in this inaugural team event, it’s really not what was expected.

Earlier today, the dance team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White took the ice and delivered an excellent short dance (the dance version of the short program), finishing in first place and gaining all ten points. Which meant that Ashley Wagner, who was next (and last) to skate for the United States, had to finish in the top five or the United States not qualify for the final round.

Fortunately, Ashley Wagner delivered a solid performance and landed in fourth place. This allowed the United States to qualify along with Russia, Japan, Italy, and Canada for the medal round.

What to watch in the finals? Well, the top Russian team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov have dropped out of the team event, allowing the second Russian pairs team to take over (probably Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, the current Russian champions, will be substituted in their place). And Patrick Chan, the reigning World Champion (despite last year’s disastrous free skate), has also dropped out, allowing Kevin Reynolds to skate in his place.

This makes it a little easier for the United States to perhaps move up and take a silver, depending on how well they do from here on out.

A few more things to keep an eye on:

Japan does not have much help coming from their ice dance and pairs skaters, and will no doubt finish fifth in both of those (the pairs team is particularly weak). Their male and female skaters must finish either first or second in order for them to make up for this weakness.

Italy also has a weak pairs team, but a decent-to-better ice dance team that’s actually in contention for a bronze individual medal by most accounts. Their strength is in the women’s competition, where Carolina Kostner has medaled at Worlds several times, winning a gold, two silvers and two bronzes over the years; their male skaters are not among the top twenty in the world, and may not even be in the top fifty.

Canada has an excellent pairs team, an excellent dance team, a decent-to-better female skater in Kaetlyn Osmond and their second-best man, Kevin Reynolds. Hard to say how well they can do overall, but I’d be shocked if they didn’t win a silver.

Russia is the odds-on favorite to win the gold, as they have strong competitors in all four disciplines and a huge lead going into the finals (as the points apparently carry over).

The final round starts off with the pairs again, and will take place later this evening in Sochi. (It may be underway as we speak, in fact.) I plan to come back later and discuss this here at my blog, and give you my own assessment.

All I know right now is this: It’s good the United States made it this far. But the U.S. team had best replace Abbott with Jason Brown — I’ve heard it’s likely they’ll do this (Abbott himself surely seemed to think so, at any rate, from the interviews I’ve seen on NBC and its related networks) — if it wants any chance at a medal.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 8, 2014 at 2:05 pm