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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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2017 Worlds Predictions: Pairs

Of the four skating disciplines, pairs tends to be the one that I don’t follow as closely. I certainly know less about it – despite my childhood dreams of being a #pairgirl because of how fun the throws looked. Not only was there a shortage of male skaters at my rink, but I was also too tall by the time I was approximately 10. Hat’s off to the brave pair ladies in this discipline.

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Image Source: icenetwork.com

In listening to the awesome episodes of the Ice Talk podcast with Nick McCarvel and Jackie Wong on Ice Network, I’ve not only learned more about pairs this year, but loved hearing firsthand from some of the teams, in particular, France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres and Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. You should check out their episodes if you haven’t already!

I have less of a blind loyalty/emotional attachment to any of the pairs as compared to other disciplines, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t have strong opinions about it. So here goes:

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Image Source: vancouversun.com

Sentimental:
Gold – Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, Canada
Silver – Wenjing Sui/Cong Han, China
Bronze – Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres, France
Bonus: Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau of Canada and Americans Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim in the top 6

Rational:
Gold –Wenjing Sui/Cong Han, China
Silver –Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, Canada
Bronze – Evgenia Tarasova/Valdimir Morozov, Russian

I’ve loved Duhamel and Radford since Sochi – when they skate with true ease and joy, it is completely infectious. It would make my sappy little heart so happy for them to win a third World title after an up-and-down season. Sui and Han were beautiful at Four Continents, especially considering it was their first competition of the year and a comeback after injury for Sui. That performance was so solid that I think they are likely to take the title, and the Russian team is riding a wave of success after victories at the Grand Prix Final and Europeans.

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Image Source: goldenskate.com

My bonus sentimental predictions are for two teams whose style and attitude I love. The Canadians skate with a lightness that is a pleasure to watch, and I’d love to see them succeed. The married Knierims are coming back from a terrible injury to Alexa, and yet still posted the highest scores of a U.S. pair this year in their comeback outing at Four Continents. I think the odds are good that they skate well, and it would be well-deserved after all they have been through.

Last but not least, my ladies predictions are up next!