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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: Ice Dance

It’s almost time for the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships, and I’m going to make some guesses on how the standings will shake out.

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Image Source: helsinki2017.com

I’ve been shying away from doing predictions posts this year, because there are plenty of them out there, and because I sometimes find that my personal biases battle against my analytical knowledge. Which actually makes this a great time to bring back a post format I did prior to the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships: sentimental vs. rational results predictions.

I have so much respect for all the skaters, both in terms of their talent and the rigorous training they put in. But that said, I also have my favorites, and these sentimental picks reflect that. Whereas the rational picks, on the other hand, are based more on how this season has gone so far.

Let’s say, sentimental picks by superfan Maura, rational picks by wannabe journalist Maura. I’ll start with the ice dance event:

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Image Source: justjaredjr.com

Sentimental:
Gold – Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani, USA
Silver – Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, Canada
Bronze – Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron, France

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Image Source: lfpress.com

Rational:
Gold – Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, Canada
Silver – Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani, USA
Bronze – Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron, France

Virtue and Moir have been on a roll in their comeback season, not losing a single event. It’s almost been too easy. I think all reason and logic points to them on the top step of the podium, based on the point margins they have been winning with all season (5 points ahead of the Shibutanis at Four Continents, 11 ahead of Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates at the same event, 5 points ahead of the French at the Grand Prix Final).

It has been several months since all of those competitions, offering plenty of time for the other teams to improve, and we all know ice is slippery and anything can happen on a given day. I think a little adversity will make Virtue and Moir hungrier and even more motivated, hence my sentimental pick of the Shib Sibs in first.

I just LOVE their short dance (To me, it is the most cohesive, in terms of theme and hip hop movement, of all the teams). On the rational side, I think that will land them in second overall, because their programs are stronger than the French team’s this season. Papadakis and Cizeron are fighters, who stormed back from third place in the short dance to win Europeans, so I think they will still land on the podium this year.

Bonus non-podium prediction that has both some sentimentality and logic in it: American Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue jump to fourth place. They have made such great strides in the past two years, and their free dance is so beautiful. That moment in the dance spin when the grasp hands? I legitimately said “AWWW” aloud when I saw it live at Skate America this fall.

I’ll be back with ladies, men, and pairs predictions before the competition gets going on Wednesday!