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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:

The Good

1. Consistency

2018 Nationals Podium

Image Courtesy Figure Skaters Online; Photo by Leah Adams

Bradie Tennell showed nerves of steel, following up on her breakout Skate America performance with two clean, confident performances here. She is the queen of consistency, but all of the ladies in that final group showed consistent performances. There were some mistakes, but no full-on meltdowns, which was very impressive under Olympic pressure.

2. Hubbell and Donohue Break Through

Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donahue

Image Source: Toledo Blade

Ice dance tends to be the most predictable event in figure skating, and surprise winners are rare. But Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have been on an upward trajectory for several years now, and came into the event saying they wanted to win. Even though Maia and Alex Shibutani had stronger results internationally this fall, they stumbled in the free dance here, and Hubbell and Donohue were finally able to skate to their potential and take advantage of an open door. They missed similar opportunities at Worlds last year and the Grand Prix Final in December, so it was great to see them skate with such command and confidence.

The depth of U.S. ice dancing in general is incredibly exciting. A different couple won each segment of the event — the Shib Sibs won the short dance, Madison Chock and Evan Bates won the free dance, and Hubbell and Donohue’s total score won the whole thing. Some might say that previous results make a bronze medal more likely for the Shib Sibs at the Olympics (safely assuming the French and Canadians go 1-2), but I prefer to think it matters who skates best on the night. And these three teams proved here that it could be any one of them, and they are all contenders for that Olympic podium. Hubbell and Donohue will get the deserved momentum and boost of being the national champions, but I don’t doubt that will make the Shibutanis and Chock/Bates even more motivated in these remaining weeks until the Olympic Games.

3. Clean Performances from NChen

Nathan Chen is undefeated this season, but had yet to put together two solid performances before this event. It was more like gold medal by multiple attempted quads rather than brilliant skating, and after each event, Chen said that he was going to take it as a learning experience. He made good on that promise here, with great quads and incredible performance quality. The triple axel is still his pesky foe, but overall, this was a great last skate before he takes Olympic ice. It sends a message to those other top men in the world that he seems to be on track for peaking in PyeongChang.

The Bad

1. So. Much. Crying.

gfmhf

I’m not talking about from the skaters (although there was plenty of that, too). I’m talking about from me.

There was happy crying when Ross Miner had the skate of his life in the long program, after a couple years of excellent shorts and subpar longs.

Sad crying watching Max Aaron’s interview with Andrew Joyce, about his Olympic dreams being over, and watching Jason Brown’s face in the kiss and cry as he realized the same thing. It was heartbreaking.

Beyond the tears, there was a whole gauntlet of emotions. Frustration seeing Ashley Wagner’s near-miss at qualifying for her second Olympics. Shock watching the Shib Sibs stumble. A mixture of disappointment and sympathy as nearly all the pairs struggled with side-by-side jumps.

2. The Judging

The judging also played a big role in my emotional roller coaster during this event. I’m going to share my thoughts here, and also recommend the superb, detailed analysis of The Skating Protocol on Instagram and skatingscores.com, if you want to delve into the scoring a bit more.

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The scores at any figure skating national championship, across the globe, are always inflated. It’s one of those facts of figure skating life. Technical callers aren’t as nit-picky on underrotations, program component scores are overly generous, everybody is cheering for the home team, basically. I understand it, but also felt like it left room for manipulation of the scores. It reminded me of when the judges used to “leave room” in the old 6.0 system, saving the highest marks for later in the event, even if one of the first skaters in the event brought down the house.

The new system was supposed to prevent that type of thing, but it felt like the program components scores, in particular, were being used to send a message. Ashley Wagner’s PCS, usually light years ahead of her fellow American competitors, were evenly matched or even lower than skaters who don’t bring her performance quality to the program. (Yes, I understand that PCS has a number of components beyond performance, but I’m highlighting that one because it is where Wagner clearly excels the most.) As The Skating Protocol pointed out, a judge giving Wagner a 63 for PCS compared to Tennell’s 68 doesn’t quite make sense, without taking anything away from Tennell’s stellar performance. She simply needs time to grow into the artist that Wagner is. Wagner’s PCS for the long program here were the same as they were for her dismal performance in the long at Worlds last year — no Nationals boost in sight (and it was in sight for others) for a performance that was much stronger than Worlds.

Underrotation calls also weren’t consistent between Wagner and Karen Chen in the ladies’ event (the judges were actually a bit more harsh with Karen), or with Jason Brown’s triple axel in the short program in the men’s event (it was underrotated but not called as such). In the men’s event overall, it felt like the judges were waiting for Adam Rippon and Jason Brown to come out and deliver their usual clean performances, so they could rain down the PCS numbers on them. Both skaters’ shaky performances meant that was impossible. I think it was the lack of consistency within events, as well as across events, that made it feel like the scores were jiggered to favor a certain Olympic team selection.

3. Confusing Olympic Selection Criteria

That last point brings me to the rather confusing Olympic selection criteria. I’m a fan of the criteria method, because I think it gives the U.S. the best chance of fielding the strongest team at the Olympics. It’s exciting and wonderful when a skater delivers a great performance at Nationals, given how pressure-packed the event is, but there is something to be said for consistency over an entire year or multiple seasons. That experience holds up more under Olympic pressure than just one good skate.

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Image Source: TeamUSA.org

That said, there are three levels of criteria, but lots of confusion and speculation about how much weight each is given. And there is still the misconception of Nationals as Olympic trials to overcome — this event is not the Olympic trials, and performances from this fall and last year matter. This type of confusion is frustrating to fans who tune in all the time, but even crazier for people who only tune in during the Olympics. I was listening to an episode of the Tara and Johnny podcast earlier today and Tara referred to Nationals as the Olympic trials, so it’s no wonder the confusion is out there.

In terms of the selections themselves, I think they made sense. Unfortunately, there was no justifying taking Wagner after another 4th place finish in an Olympic year. And as fabulous as Ross Miner skated, both Adam Rippon and Vincent Zhou checked more boxes of the criteria. People in the Twitterverse seemed to think that Ross was removed in favor of Adam, because of their placements on the medal stand, but that was never clearly stated and isn’t necessarily the case. The selection committee was choosing a team from a clean slate, based on the criteria, not eliminating people from the podium. I don’t think it makes sense to say that any one skater was subbed out for another.

Now that the U.S. Olympic team is set, I’m looking forward to seeing how the roster shakes out for the team event at the Olympics. After all this drama, I imagine there will be more once those teams are announced. Part of the strategy of this Olympic selection criteria is designed to have the right combination of skaters available for the team event, after all.

Whew, I waited a while to post this, but once I got going, the opinions really flooded out, huh?

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Just kidding.

What do you think about all the 2018 Nationals drama?

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Impressions: 5 Thoughts from Skate America 2017

The Grand Prix series wrapped up this weekend with Skate America — which usually kicks off the series. While I thought the timing was weird at first, it was definitely exciting to close out the series with an event broadcast live and in primetime on NBC here in the U.S. I’ve got five thoughts on five Americans at their home-country competition:

  1. Bradie Tennell! I’ve been watching her since this summer, when I worked on her website for Figure Skaters Online, and am such a fan. I remember watching her at previous Nationals and enjoying her skating, but she has kicked it up a notch this year. Her poise and confidence at this event were excellent. I know some are cautioning against anointing her as the next great American hope after one good performance, but it hasn’t been just one. She has been delivering consistently since July, and built on those successes to deliver two clean performances here, under pressure, and grab the bronze medal. If she continues on this trajectory, I predict big things for Nationals. (And just maybe…the Olympics!)

    Skate America Bronze Medalist

    Bradie with her coach, Denise Myers (left), and choreographer, Scott Brown (right). Photo Courtesy Figure Skaters Online

  2. You can always count on Maia and Alex Shibutani to be prepared and deliver clean, consistent programs. But here at Skate America, they looked even stronger and sharper than their last event, Rostelecom Cup. It particularly stood out to me in their short dance, where they brought such energy while still being precise in their movements and nailing the technical content. They are gunning for that third U.S. title — there is no resting on the laurels of success with these two.
  3. Speaking of no rest…who else loved it when Adam Rippon said that his trip to the Grand Prix Final was his reward for his excellent Skate America performance? His work ethic in this Olympic season — while also coming back from his broken foot — is incredibly impressive. If I were picking the U.S. men’s Olympic team, Adam would be on it, no question. He dislocated his shoulder on his opening quad lutz and gave no thought to giving up. He delivered a clean program from there. Johnny Weir and some of the other commentators have mentioned it, but the way that Adam takes his time and breathes through each element is so refreshing and easy to watch. Some of the guys attempting record-breaking quads look like they are gritting their teeth through these programs, but Adam is performing while nailing his jumps.
  4. It was sad, and somewhat shocking, to see Adam’s BFF Ashley Wagner withdraw mid-long program. People from the Twitterverse to commentator Johnny Weir were chattering about the timing of the withdrawal (should she have done it mid-program? toughed it out? withdrew after the warmup?) to the severity of the injury. Whatever you think, it was tough to watch someone who is so synonymous with being a fighter end a competition like that. In the last Olympic cycle, Ashley made her case for the Olympic team with her international successes in the fall, then faltered at Nationals. This time around, she has given herself no choice but to rise to the occasion at Nationals, after low scores at Skate Canada (even though she ended up with the bronze) and withdrawing here, plus some struggles internationally at the end of last season. Before she withdrew from the competition, her focus in comments to the media was on getting enough training time before Nationals, so even if she pulled out a win here and qualified for the Grand Prix Final, it seems unlikely that she would have gone. Hopefully she can buckle down and get the training and preparation in before heading to San Jose for Nationals at the end of December.
  5. The throw jumps by Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim are absolutely breath-taking, in the long program especially. They are timed perfectly with the music, she lands them with such strength and excellent posture, and he throws in a nice little flourish with his arms on the landing as well. Yes, they are still struggling with the side-by-side jumps, but they are maxing out points in their strength areas, like these throws and their huge triple twist.
  6. Ok, I have to do a bonus #6, on a non-American. Can’t help myself. How lovely was Satoko Miyahara? I loved her a few seasons ago and honestly, all her injuries and time away from the ice made her slip from my radar. Her subpar showing at NHK Trophy didn’t help, but, wow, was she great here. She skated with such emotion and heart, and her in-between skating is just stunning. I know her jumps aren’t the highest, but the way she puts together the full package of jumps, spins, and choreography is so appealing. Much like Ashley Wagner, she is a mature skater and genuine performer, which I’ll take over a jumping bean any day.

Between now and the Grand Prix Final (which is Dec. 7-10 in Nagoya, Japan), I’m going to take a look at some of my favorite elements (spins, lifts, etc.) in programs this season!


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Impressions: Cup of China 2017 and Backloading Programs

I have a lot to say about Alina Zagitiva’s victory in the ladies event at the 2017 Cup of China, and I’ll go from trivial to serious. Firstly, those tights:

Alina Zagitova

Image Source: The Daily Mail

Either go fully over the boot, or just wear regular tights. Please. This in-between look is messy and distracting.

Another distracting thing? How ridiculously backloaded her long program was. I actually got bored watching the first two minutes, waiting for jumps. Then I checked the time in disbelief, because I couldn’t imagine that she did two minutes without jumps. But she did, which made the second half a jumble of skating from jump to jump, without any transitions or interesting movements. I was watching on YouTube without commentary, though I noticed in watching later on NBC that commentator Tara Lipinski pointed it out at the start of the program and said she liked the buildup. I’m on the opposite side of the spectrum.

One of the requirements of the program components mark is proportion in choreography and composition of the program. How does a program like this fit that criteria? With this judging panel, her scores ranged from 8-9.25 in composition. That’s out of 10. And that’s absolutely ridiculous. Beyond that, you need to have the skating skills of someone with the last name Kwan, Cohen, or Kostner to keep my attention for two minutes without jumps.

Proportion requires a balanced program. That means she needs to jump in the first half, no question. I understand putting a majority of jumps in the second half to take advantage of the bonus points, and they are deserved bonus points in most cases. However, the component marks in the composition category should not have been as high as they were. Sure, give her the bonus on the jumps and contribute to her overall TES score of 76.09, but the imbalance needs to be reflected in the components score.

The ISU is considering all sorts of crazy rule changes, and Claire Cloutier of A Divine Sport did an excellent analysis that I highly recommend reading. The changes range from reducing the length of free skates for men and pairs to creating separate artistic and technical programs. They all seem unnecessary and unfounded, and Claire does a great job of explaining why. I’d rather see proposed rule changes that confront issues like this backloading problem, or the fact that people will purposefully rotate and fall on a quad over a clean triple jump, because it gets them more points (More on that from the great Jackie Wong of Rocker Skating). Or maybe the ISU could spend less time on rule changes and more time educating judges and making sure they are handing out marks that reflect the requirements.

The one redeeming quality of Zagitova’s program for me? She included a Charlotte spiral, one of my favorite moves to watch and to do. Here’s the original, performed by Charlotte Oelschlegel, after whom the spiral is named.

charlotte

Image Source: AHistoryBlog.com

Thoughts? Anybody love the backloaded approach and care to share a counterargument?


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Impressions: 5 Thoughts on Skate Canada 2017

Did anybody stay up to watch the Skate Canada broadcast on NBC Sports from 11:30 pm – 1 am on Sunday night/Monday morning?

No?

Perhaps because it was basically the middle of the night? Sigh.

Here are my five thoughts from Skate Canada 2017, starting with my tv schedule woes:

      1. I know most diehard fans are watching a live stream on IceNetwork, or following along on Twitter with the exceptional live-tweeting of Rocker Skating’s Jackie Wong. But I like catching the NBC broadcast of Grand Prix events on Sunday morning/early afternoon, and most casual skating viewers are going to watch at that time — rather than late at night. It is a bummer that a sport already struggling with the American audience is relegated to such a bad broadcast time. Get it in on Sunday before football starts, and I think you might have more viewers.
      2. Poor Anna Pogorilaya of Russia had another cringe-worthy performance, full of wild, body-crushing falls. It makes me wonder about how solid her technique is, that this keeps happening [it is at least the third time, with the 2017 Worlds long program and the short at 2015 NHK Trophy being two other noteworthy instances]. I’ve taken more than a few horrible, un-graceful falls in my day, but this is too much for someone at her level. The Skating Lesson even suggested that some of it may be dramatics, once she realizes that the program is going downhill. Whatever it is, it is harming her chances of getting one of the three Russian spots for the Olympic team. It’s too bad, because, in the short program at this event, it looked like she came out swinging and ready to make a comeback. She nailed a clean program, and I especially liked the steps into her triple loop:
      3. I am a HUGE fan of Kaitlin Hawayak and Jean-Luc Baker of the U.S. Their “Liebestraum” free dance is stunning, and I was thrilled that they kept the program for this year, after some sub-par outings at the end of last season. I also liked that they chose fun, popular music for the Latin short dance — I haven’t noticed too much current pop music among the top teams this year [except for the French dance team’s FAB short dance, of course]. That said, “Get Busy” by Sean Paul would not have been my choice.

        The lyrics are a little much for a competition program, and then when they slowed down the tempo for the pattern? I liked it even less. Which is hard because I like them so much — how cute was it that she told him “Good job!” so enthusiastically in the kiss and cry? I definitely prefer the free dance with them this year, because it so lyrical and heartfelt. This program, in addition to the iffy song choice, seemed a little bit like a Meryl Davis and Charlie White impression. I suppose if you’re going to imitate anyone, that’s a good choice. But this is what it reminded me of:
      4. Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir grabbed another world record, despite a bobble in the free dance (that a lot of people apparently ignored, according to The Skating Protocol Instagram account). They look happy and relaxed, Tessa especially, when they are performing. They are unmatched in the seamless flow of their elements — there is no telegraphing that an element or pattern is coming up. It is all just pure skating. The short dance is fantastic (though I could do without the mouthing of the lyrics. Ashley Wagner did that in her short as well, and it’s just not my favorite when skaters do that. This isn’t Disney on Ice!). I’m not a huge fan of the free dance, only because Virtue and Moir are known for their originality, and “Moulin Rouge!” feels like it has been done so many times before. There was definite improvement since their first competition at Autumn Classic, so maybe I’ll be singing a different tune by the time the Olympics roll around.
      5. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are my vote for the U.S. national dance title this year. They are skating with incredible control — which is a good thing, after some really poorly timed mistakes kept them from moving up on the U.S. podium last year and making the World podium. The opening of their free dance is mesmerizing. Not only are they on point in their timing with the music, but they also uses the pauses in the music really effectively. It’s rare to have a pause in music in skating at all. I also think this program feels very genuine, especially compared to Virtue and Moir’s free dance. As a viewer, I tend to gravitate towards music I’m already familiar with, as I’m sure many of us do. So it’s interesting to me that even though I know Virtue and Moir’s music, and have never run across Hubbell and Donohue’s, that’s the one I connect with more. It feels less like a put-on performance and more like pure dancing. See for yourself:


Next up: Cup of China!

P.S. Apologies if the numbers are showing as roman numerals…I intended for regular old numbers, but lost a battle with WordPress code.


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5 Thoughts On Rostelecom Cup 2017

I’ve got five thoughts to share on Rostelecom Cup 2017, and they all have to do with music, or musicality. I realized the common thread as I was jotting down my notes after watching the NBC recap show on Sunday afternoon. Some people’s perfect fall Sunday involves a hike or an apple orchard, but mine includes an afternoon of skating narrated by Terry, Tara, and Johnny. At least I had a nice cup of tea and my pumpkin-scented candle burning, to set the seasonal mood.

    1. I love Mariah Bell of the U.S., but I don’t love her “West Side Story” program. I got my hopes up when she teased “Beauty and the Beast” for this season on Instagram last spring, because I love that music and character — and hello, gorgeous yellow dress potential. I think it would have fit her style so nicely. So when Mariah came out with this “West Side Story” number this year, I was already disappointed, before even seeing the program. After a few outings with it, she’s still not hitting the notes of the music with her movements, whether it’s those famous snaps or even just the right beats during her footwork sequence. Mark Hanretty, one of my favorite commentators, made the same point in the British Eurosport broadcast:

      I’ll just be over here in the corner, hoping she brings back last year’s “East of Eden” long, which brought me to tears when I saw it live at Skate America. And if you think Mark Hanretty is as awesome as I do, check out his guest spot on the Ice Talk podcast last year.
    2. Not to pile on Team Raf (the group that trains with Rafael Arutyunyan in southern California), but U.S. all-star Nathan Chen is also slightly off the music with his movements, especially in the intense middle section of his long program. I really like this section, and the footwork, so I hope he tightens it up. Maybe time for a visit to Marina Zoueva, who he worked with on choreography last season? Or, someone devoted entirely to choreography in the Arutyunyan camp?
    3. Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau of Canada are two of my favorites in the pairs field. They have such a pleasant, joyful energy about their skating, and are working their way back after two injury-ridden seasons. The music change at about the 3-minute mark in their long program is very effective — it happened juuust as the repetitiveness of the song was making me want to zone out. I also kind of loved how the lift coordinated with the words (“she was carried up into the clouds”), but I know not everyone appreciates that level of cute/corny.
    4. Carolina Kostner of Italy is just a delight to watch. I wanted her to get that early triple-triple combo! The dress is a lovely color and a super weird cut, but it is all overshadowed by the pure joy on her face. There has been plenty of criticism/bemoaning of her watered-down technical content, but I’m hoping that she is ramping up and getting her feet back under her with a plan to do more as the season goes on. Honestly, I’d take this kind of performance over one where the skater guts out 7-8 triples without any artistic expression. Which is, of course, why we have the program components mark, and why I think it is a bit of a travesty that she received almost three points less than winner Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia on that front. Evgenia is a beautiful skater and commits to both the artistic and athletic aspects of the performance, but there is a genuineness and honesty missing from her programs that is in Carolina’s.
    5. And a general note on the ice dance field, where music is arguably the most important: I wish NBC would broadcast more of the dance events. I understand for Rostelecom, that there weren’t names that would be as recognizable to the casual skating fan, but later in the season I hope to see more than just the winning free dance. I’m still mulling over the Shibutanis’ new Coldplay free dance, to “Paradise.” I was caught off guard by the interjection of one lyric from “Fix You” in this cut of the free dance — an interesting nod to their past? Trying too hard? I need to mull this over more. I thought “Fix You” was a complete masterpiece, and [nerd confession alert] probably watch it on YouTube every few months and cry every time. Share your thoughts in the comments if you’d like!


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Worlds 2017 Postmortem for Team USA

If you look at 2017 Worlds purely from a medal count or placement perspective, Team USA had a pretty rough outing in Helsinki.

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Image Source: helsinski2017.com

  • Ashley Wagner, usually so reliable on a major stage, skated as poorly as she did in the long program at U.S. Nationals in 2014, without her usual fight and verve.
  • All eyes were on Nathan Chen to get to the podium—many people, including me, had him pegged for the top spot—but boot problems thwarted him and his quads were not nearly as consistent as usual. (Stay tuned for a post with my thoughts on the boot problems that plagued both Americans with the last name Chen this season, because I have strong feelings.)
  • With U.S. Champions Haven Denny and Brandon Frazier not qualifying for the free skate, Team USA only earned one Olympic spot for pairs.
  • And Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue were en route to a medal before disaster struck on their twizzle sequence.

I could go on, but it has already gotten a little too depressing, huh? There is plenty of dejection out there right now, as well as some doomsday predictions for U.S. prospects at the 2018 Olympics. So I’m going to interject some positivity into the skating interwebz today, because there were some encouraging bright spots for Team USA at Worlds this year:

  • Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim’s comeback was inspiring. Despite her surgeries and the fact that it was only their second event of the season, they still earned the top scores by a U.S. pair this year. They are the best pair that the U.S has had in years, and I hope they can grab back on to the momentum that they had going before her stomach issues.

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    Image Source: mercurynews.com

  • I had my doubts about Karen Chen at this event after her dismal showing at Four Continents, but she held her own and proved me, and a lot of other people, wrong. She gave two steady performances that were absolutely essential to the U.S. maintaining three spots in the ladies’ event for the Olympics.

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    Image Source: Newsday

  • I know all the talk about Jason Brown is that he still doesn’t have that quad consistent, but the numbers he is putting up without quads are huge. His free skate total at 2016 Skate America (with a quad deemed underrotated) earned 182.63 points, and is the 7th highest score this season, behind the six guys who have multiple quads in their long programs. And it is 15 points higher than the 167.37-scoring long program that won Evan Lysacek the 2010 Olympic Gold Medal without a quad [It should be noted that there have been rule changes since 2010, and that it’s not an exact comparison, but it does speak to how well Brown maximizes every point possible in terms of grade of execution and difficulty of spins and footwork.].

  • I thought Ashley Wagner’s spins (always a spot where she leaves points on the table) significantly improved for this event. The ISU rules for 2016 state that each spin position needs at least three revolutions to count, and every time she did a position with only two revolutions, I would just cringe. Unfortunately, this bright spot is one that I saw but the judges apparently missed—in comparing her free skate scores from U.S. Nationals and Worlds, I expected the spin points to be significantly improved at Worlds, but was I ever wrong. She actually earned a few tenths of a point lower on her first two spins, and the exact same points (3.36 to be exact) on her final combo spin.

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    Image Source: USA Today

  • But by far the brightest and, I think most admirable, display by Team USA at Worlds was their sportsmanship and team spirit. Wagner was candid and gracious about how Chen’s performance locked in three spots for the women’s team at the Olympics next year, and Chen was gracious in return. Check out their Twitter exchange:
    SportsmanshipAnd Brown posted a celebratory video with Nathan Chen after they cemented three spots for the men with their 7th and 6th place performances, respectively:

 

Skating can be known for cattiness and rivalries, from Tonya vs. Nancy to this little gem from 2008, starring Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek:

As humorous and ridiculous as that clip is—and as much as I’m sure the NBC producers loved playing up that rivalry for ratings—I’m happy that this current generation is the type to support their fellow Team USA skaters, rather than take them down. Not only because I’m a fan of positivity (hello, this post), but because it will create a stronger Team USA down the road. With team events like World Team Trophy (WTT) and the Olympic team event growing in popularity and importance, they need to cultivate a team atmosphere a la gymnastics or swimming relays to be successful.

And if nothing else, it will help them have the most enthusiastic and spirited cheering section at WWT later this week!