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