Twizzle Talk

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2018 U.S. Nationals Debrief: The Good & The Bad

The good, the bad, the happy, the sad…that’s me singing some Al Green after a crazy 2018 Nationals. Despite all the drama, I’ll stick with skating forever.

Watching the 2018 U.S. Nationals was more of an emotional viewing experience than I bargained for. I needed some time to digest, hence, why this post is coming almost two weeks after the event. I was so excited for the senior events to get started, and then was emotionally exhausted by the time it all wrapped up on Sunday night. Here’s why:

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My Picks for the U.S. Olympic Team: Pairs & Ice Dance

While there are plenty of variables and speculation in the men’s and ladies’ events at U.S. Nationals, the pairs and ice dance seems to be much more straightforward.

A reminder of the three tiers of selection criteria from U.S. Figure Skating, via Phil Hersh:
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In pairs, Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim have earned the one U.S. spot. After a horrific year of injuries/illness last year (plus a few this year, too, with his knee problems), they are still working their way back to the top form that earned them a spot in the 2015 Grand Prix Final. They showed off a quad twist on Instagram recently and said on Ice Talk that they plan to add it back into the program for Nationals, so they are definitely getting there.

ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships - Gangneung - Day 1

Image Source: Mercury News

Scimeca Knierim and Knierim have the highest placements and scores of any U.S. pair team in any event of the three tiers, and are still the only U.S. pair to break 200 points internationally. While side-by-side jumps can be a problem, their pair elements are stunning. It won’t be enough for them to figure into the medal conversation, with the international pairs field as stacked as it is, but they could help the U.S. in their quest for a team medal. Hopefully they make it an easy choice and take their U.S. title back at Nationals, because a rough performance there could throw all of the above into question for casual viewers (a la the Wagner-Nagasu controversy of 2014).

In ice dance, Madison Chock/Evan Bates, Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue, and Maia/Alex Shibutani are, without a doubt, the U.S. Olympic team. I listed them in alphabetical order here because I think it is anyone’s game at Nationals. Yes, the Shibutanis had the most successful fall campaign, with two golds on the Grand Prix and a bronze at the final, but they didn’t have to skate against the two Olympic favorites, Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir or France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guilluame Cizeron, on the Grand Prix, like their U.S. counterparts did. And the three teams were separated by less than a point overall at the Grand Prix Final. The Shibs beat Hubbell and Donohue by 0.6, and Hubbell and Donohue were only 0.25 ahead of Chock and Bates.


The top 3 U.S. ice dance teams pictured at 2017 Nationals, along with pewter medalists Elliana Pogrebinskiy and Alex Benoit (far right). Image Source: IceNetwork

I enjoy all these teams and think it will be an exciting dance event at U.S. Nationals — though I must say I’m pulling for Hubbell and Donohue this year, after their impressive rebound from disappointment at Worlds last year. Their skating is the best it’s ever been and it’s time for them to move up from that bronze medal position. I can’t wait to watch it all unfold in San Jose!

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My Picks for the U.S. Olympic Team: Ladies

I’ve made my picks for the U.S. men’s Olympic figure skating team, and now it’s time for the ladies. Unfortunately, the American ladies were underwhelming on the Grand Prix this year, and didn’t have anyone in the Final, an important tier 1 selection criteria. Nationals is going to carry extra weight for all of them.

A reminder of the three tiers of selection criteria from U.S. Figure Skating, via Phil Hersh:
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  1. Ashley Wagner

    Image Source: IceNetwork

    While Ashley has had a bit of a bumpy road since the end of the Grand Prix series last year, she is still the leading U.S. lady in my mind. She’ll be putting out a new (old) free skate at Nationals, her original “La La Land” program, choreographed over the summer and then scrapped at Champs Camp. In 2014, she put together a new (old) free skate to “Samson and Delilah” and skated it clean in Sochi, so I have faith that a little extra pressure and excitement will bring out her fight and motivation.This title is hers to lose, and she said as much when she withdrew during the long program at Skate America. She needs it to check a tier 1 box, after missing this year’s Grand Prix Final and the subpar finish at Worlds last year. Plus, she didn’t compete in any events that fit tier 3, and only has her Skate Canada bronze for tier 2 credit. Anything off the podium at Nationals will put her in major jeopardy, but a fourth U.S. title would be an excellent statement to the selection committee. Here’s to the ones who dream, right?

  2. Mirai Nagasu

    Even though Mirai had some iffy results on the Grand Prix, she is looking more fit, strong, and confident this year than she ever has. Earning a 2018 Olympic spot would be sweet redemption for her after missing the 2014 team (which was the right call, and let’s not redo that conversation, guys). Her gumption in trying the triple axel and pushing herself to be a better skater, 10 years after she first won a U.S. Senior National Championship, is impressive and inspiring. Her bronze at last year’s Four Continents Championships checks a tier 2 box, while she earned a silver on the Challenger Series this year for tier 3. Imagine if she won a second U.S. title in 2018, 10 years after her first in 2008? The NBC promos people would be ALL over that, as would the loyal Mirai fans.

    3. Bradie Tennell


    Image Source:

    I’ve been calling this one since November, people. Though Bradie only competed in one Grand Prix event, she grabbed a bronze medal and the highest international score of any of the U.S. ladies this season. She’s been skating consistently and calmly at competitions since the summer and has really solid jumps. Her artistry might not match the likes of Ashley Wagner, but her consistency is unparalleled in the current U.S. field. She needs to have a strong Nationals to cement an Olympic spot, but I think she can do it.

Dark Horse: Karen Chen


Image Source: East Bay Times

It’s really tough to imagine leaving Karen Chen off the Olympic team, since her 4th place finish at Worlds last year clinched the three spots for the U.S. ladies. But that said, she hasn’t had a strong outing at a major event since Worlds and Nationals last year, and those were her only strong events of that season (granted, it’s pretty ideal to save your best stuff for the biggest events of the year, but still). Switching her free skate four times since the summer certainly hasn’t helped matters, and she has also gone back to last year’s short program. Both were signature pieces for her, and maybe the comfort level with those programs will lead to a strong showing at Nationals. If she defends her title, she should go to Pyeongchang. Anything other than that leaves a question mark in my mind.

Tough Call: Mariah Bell


Image Source: IceNetwork

I absolutely adore Mariah’s skating, and when her jumps are on, they are excellent. This is not the first time that I’ve typed on this blog that her “East of Eden” free skate made me tear up at 2016 Skate America. She has great personality on the ice. But unfortunately, she hasn’t capitalized on last year’s momentum and had a difficult Grand Prix. Unless she blows everyone away at Nationals, it seems like an uphill battle for her to make the Olympic team. She had a rough outing at 2017 Worlds, which is a tier 1 criteria. She was 6th at Four Continents last year, with a career-best short, so that could gain her some points in the tier 2 category. I’ll be rooting for her to put it all together at Nationals.

Next up: pairs and ice dance!



My Picks for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team: Men

It’s been on all U.S. skating fans’ minds this whole season: Who will qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team? With only one event left for skaters to prove their mettle (U.S. Nationals in San Jose at the end of the month), I thought it might be fun to share my picks in each of the disciplines. Here is the criteria that U.S. Figure Skating is using to pick the teams, shared from Olympic sports reporter Phil Hersh’s Twitter account:

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An important distinction to note, which began with World Team selection in 2017, is that the U.S. Champion is no longer guaranteed a berth to the Olympics or Worlds.

I had initially intended to put all four disciplines in one post, but after writing more than 600 words on the men alone, I decided to split it into more than one post. Here’s who I’d send to Pyeongchang to compete for the U.S. men, if I were the one-woman selection committee:

  1. Nathan Chen

    Image Source: Figure Skaters Online

    Nathan will likely defend his U.S. title and become the 2018 U.S. Champion. While that doesn’t guarantee him an Olympic berth, as it did for champions in previous years, it will check all the boxes in tier 1: 2018 U.S. champ, 2017 Grand Prix Final champion, top six at 2017 Worlds. He has three gold medals for tier 2 (two on the 2017 Grand Prix Series and the 2017 Four Continents Championship), plus his 2017 national title for tier 3. There is no way he won’t go.

  2. Adam Rippon
    Figure Skating - ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK Trophy - Men's Free Skating

    Image Source: Japan Times

    Adam would have been my sentimental favorite for the Olympic team no matter how his fall campaign went, but he came back from his broken foot with a vengeance and proved that he deserves to go to this Olympic Games. Two silver medals on the Grand Prix and a spot in the Grand Prix Final, with nearly clean, solid performances each time. The quad lutz is still eluding him, but how great would it be if he pulled it off at Nationals? He checks boxes in tiers 1 and 2, plus a bronze from Finlandia Trophy for tier 3. Adam has earned his spot with calm, consistent skating, not to mention breathtaking performance quality.

  3. Jason Brown

    Jason was the third U.S. man in the Grand Prix Final, and though he made it after an injury withdrawal by Boyang Jin, it still checks off an important tier 1 box, which has the most weight. He also grabbed 7th at World last year, helping the U.S. earn three Olympic spots alongside Nathan Chen. He was lacking some of his usual consistency on the Grand Prix (tier 2), but did earn two medals in the tier 3 Challenger Series this fall. While the consistency issues are a bit unusual for Brown, I still think his steadiness and resume based on this criteria should be enough to punch a ticket to his second Olympics — provided that he medals at Nationals. Anything off the podium at Nationals could be his undoing.

Dark Horse: Max Aaron

Max Aaron

Image Source: Associated Press

If Max Aaron delivers at Nationals and gets on the podium, it will make the selection committee’s decision a bit more complicated. He won the free skate at Cup of China, ahead of Mikhail Kolyada, Boyang Jin, and Javier Fernandez, none of whom were able to deliver their quads that day. Despite the hiccup of a 5th place finish at Rostelecom Cup, he also earned two Challenger Series medals this fall (tier 3). His only chance to check a box in tier 1 will be Nationals, and I’m definitely rooting for him to have a great performance. His skating has made huge strides since his 2013 U.S. title and his last Olympic campaign in 2014 — the spins, basic skating, and presentation have really improved and, if he hits his quads, Max could be a surprise medalists at Nationals.

Tough Call: Vincent Zhou


Image Source: IceNetwork

Vincent has incredible potential, but really struggled to land his quads and put out solid performances on the Grand Prix this year. It’s good to remember that he’s only 17, and this is his first full senior season. I listened to his interview on Ice Talk, and he was mature, thoughtful, and well-spoken. He’s candid about the mistakes he’s made and his goals of making this Olympic team. It’s a tough one to call, because of the potential he has with the quads, but I think he needs to get some more experience and consistency before taking the Olympic stage. But watch out in 2022.

My ladies picks will be up next! Special shout out to the website Skating Scores for making it really easy to fact check everyone’s placements this season.


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Favorite Spins of the 2017-18 Season

I shared the lifts I’m loving this season, now it’s time for some spins. I picked one spin that caught my eye in each discipline, heavily influenced by any unique or beautiful entries to the spin.

For the ladies, it’s Bradie Tennell. I love the spiral entrance to her camel spin in the short program:


A difficult transition to the back spin entry that she completes seamlessly. You can watch the entire spin in her performance at Skate America:

On the men’s side, I like Javier Fernandez’s smooth transition from his footwork sequence into the sit spin combination spin. The twizzle/illusion are timed really nicely with the flourishes in the music, as is the final sit spin position. Here’s the entry:


And the full spin in the video of his long program from his win at Internationaux de France this fall:

On the ice dance side of things, I think Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje’s spiral entry to their dance spin in the free dance is both beautiful and difficult, especially the way they are able to use their strong outside edges to get momentum going into the spin. Gif breakdown of the entry, then the full program video so you can see the entire spin:


I had a tough time choosing in pairs, but went with Wenjing Sui and Cong Han’s breathtaking short program spin:


The strength and flexibility on display are fantastic, and they are able to maintain nice speed throughout the spin. And a slight digression, but her dress is also stunning! Here is the full program video:

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot have such strong side-by-side spins — with actual unison, which is so rare in pairs skating these days! So I almost went with their long program side-by-side spin on that reasoning, but Sui and Han’s move had such wow factor that it won out.

Which spins are you loving this season? I’m off to watch all the YouTube videos from the Grand Prix Final in Nagoya, where I’m sure I’ll find a few more spins, lifts, or choreography to love!



Favorite Lifts of the 2017-2018 Season

While skating fans await the Grand Prix Final, I’m taking inventory of some of my favorite ice moves of the season so far. I’ve been keeping a list of the elements I love, jotting them down as I’ve watched them either on TV or IceNetwork.

Here are my favorite lifts of the season, skewed a bit towards the ice dance scene with one pair lift. (To be fair, lots of the pairs do similar positions to meet the IJS requirements…or, not entirely aesthetically pleasing positions that meet the IJS requirements).

  1. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje’s final lift in their free dance:
    Strength, difficulty, a beautiful position, and it is timed perfectly with the emotional final moments of the music.
  2. Another Canadian dance team, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, have a fabulous lift in their short dance:
    It’s a very acrobatic lift, but they execute it with ease and smoothness, and also hit each position clearly. Sometimes the most intricate dance lifts end up looking like a whirling dervish, and each position isn’t clear as the couple moves so quickly through each variation. This lift is really well done and unique, while still having appealing positions.
  3. Continuing the Canadian theme I’ve got going here, I also love the lift at the end of Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro’s short program:
    The exit is my favorite part — it’s unique and her position, stretch, and toe point is exquisite. Her position throughout is great, while he could be a little more sure and fluid on his steps. But, I also think the gif version accentuates that a bit more than the video.
  4. Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte have a gorgeous straight-line lift in their free dance, with Anna in a spiral position. I’m always a sucker for a lovely spiral position!
    The exit on this one isn’t the smoothest and definitely needs to be improved, but the lift itself is gorgeous.
  5. I’m obsessed with all of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s “Moonlight Sonata” free dance, but this lift is a highlight:
    The camera angle isn’t ideal, but this stunning photo from Gabriella’s Instagram shows a better view of that the last position.
  6. While the lifts I’ve mentioned so far go up, I love this lift from Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue that is a bit closer to the ice:
    It fits the character of their blues-y free dance really nicely, and the entry and exit are seamless.
  7. /8. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker’s “Liebestraum” free dance is my favorite of the year (and I guess last year, too, since they are repeating the program, but this is a program repeat I can get behind. The performance has definitely grown!). The music, costumes, and choreography are impeccable, and, as such, I couldn’t pick just ONE favorite lift in this program. I love the combination of ease and strength in this leaning lift:
    I’m clearly drawn to the ones where the girl is standing on the guy’s leg, huh? This next one is a little different, and I love how not only is the lift timed perfectly with the music, but their movement mimics what we are hearing in the music.
    I wish she would keep her arm out during the entire sweeping motion of the lift — it would be a prettier line and also accentuate the circular movement more.

Did you love these, too? Any fantastic lifts that I missed or need to give a second look?