I don’t have the opportunity to blog about figure skating as often as I’d like but tonight I had to write about how exciting some of the new skaters on the scene are and how much potential they have. I was a bit worried for a while that the Japanese and Chinese teams were going to dominate in 2010 but I think we have some major contendors coming up in the ranks – even without veterens like Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen.
First off, I was incredibly impressed by Evan Lysacek’s performance in both of his programs. He’s finally got everything working in his favor and the best part is – I don’t think he’s peaked yet. Maybe has this year, but not career-wise. He can add a second quad if he needs it, and he can strengthen his spins and artistry. He is incredibly talented and he can give Brian Joubert some tough competition. Then you have his incredibly gorgeous girlfriend, Tanith Belbin along with her partner, Ben Agosto, creating a wonderfully intricate new program and posting some fantastic scores to win their fourth gold at Nationals. Gregory and Petukhov looked great, by the way. It’s nice having two strong dance teams for once. And the bronze medalists, Davis and White, were impressive too. They have a definite future.
For the pairs, a new couple is on the scene and they – according to Peter Carruthers (and I believe him) have the talent to play in the same field with the Chinese pairs. That’s Brooke Castile / Benjamin Okolski. Naomi Nari Nam and Themistocles Leftheris (sounds like a Greek philosopher, doesn’t it?), another new team, had a shot at the gold but they need a little more training. John Baldwin Jr. and Rene Inoue, on the other hand, are looking tired. I would be surprised if they make it to 2010 with these newer teams hot on their trail.
But back to the men – Ryan Bradley earned his bronze, it wasn’t handed to him from years of medals. He skated well and deserves to be on the World team. He probably has no chance at medaling there but that won’t be his goal. He’s got the best deal of anyone – just to have fun in Tokyo. I think Johnny Weir is one of those US mens’ champions who will never get the Olympic gold because he doesn’t have the nerves for it. I don’t think he’ll capture the World gold either unless it’s one of those odd years when everybody else just bombs and he has a fabulous day. He’s an incredible skater, but he doesn’t have the long-term concentration I think he needs at this point. Senioritis may be setting in.
For the ladies, I really wanted Kimmie Meissner to win, I’ll admit it. And I really wanted Alissa Czisny to get that bronze. I have nothing against Emily Hughes – her jumps are huge and she’s improving artistically but Kimmie has the whole package more consistently and even without the World title, she was ready to be US champion. Of course, even with the silver medal, Emily still placed higher than Sarah Hughes ever did on the national level. I expect Emily can still improve as can all three of them. But Alissa is the only one who has artistry that comes close to Mao Asada.
I can’t wait to see nationals the next two years with Mirai Nagasu and Caroline Zhang, both of whom are clearly good enough to be on the Senior level. I’m excited that ABC decided to show both of their programs in their entirety as the Junior ladies’ champions (1 & 2, respectively). They could both be the next Mao Asada easily. Thirteen years old and they possibly could have contended for medals on the Senior level. (It’s hard to know since the points are different, programs are shorter in Jr. level and they don’t do as many jumps.) That’s what I miss about not having attended one of these competitions in person in several years – seeing the entire field of competitors shows how good the top tier skaters really are. And it’s always nice to have a reminder of how high the jumps can be.
So Worlds will be in April. That’s three months – a quarter of a year – from now, which makes a big difference in where skaters are as to the polish on their programs, how tired they are from training, how strong they are physically and whether they have sustained injuries or other setbacks. Some skaters peak earlier in the year. Michelle Kwan was one of those – always peaking at Nationals and rarely holding onto that level of performance by Worlds. Kimmie Meissner wasn’t ready to peak last year at the Olympics but she peaked late and won Worlds. We’ll see what happens to her this year. Perhaps since she wasn’t at her very best at Nationals, that’s actually a good sign. Evan Lysacek has peaked at seemingly random times in the past, but seems to be steady so far. I think he’ll be back on the podium again.
One note about choreography – the more years I watch figure skating as well as dance, I learn how important both music and choreography are to skaters’ programs. This year, I would give choreography awards to Beatrissa Liang’s short program, Kimmie Meissner’s short program, Evan Lysacek for both of his programs, Johnny Weir’s short program, Belbin and Agosto’s new free dance, and Gregory and Petukhov’s free dance program. These all stood out. There were a few others well choreographed who didn’t receive medals but what stood out for me in these were the intricacies in footwork, edge control, arm motions as well as facial expressions. The pairs got close – they get points for trying, but their programs I don’t think were quite as beautifully conceived choreographically.
Music choice is also key. A few skaters chose abominably whereas others picked great music for them. One of the dance teams in the top ten chose the Beatles and although they didn’t have the speed of the champions or the complexity in their moves, the music still moved the audience and made a difference in their scores. I saw way too many bland music choices this year. It makes me miss Michael Weiss’s Van Halen and Metallica because so many programs blended together in the bland department. I wish I could remember which ones irked me the most. If I get a chance to review the recording again later, I will.