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2013 Nationals Ladies and Men's Preview

by Geraldine Walbert

(19 January 2012)  

THE LADIES

For decades the United States has led the world in Ladies Figure Skating. Since the start of the Ladies discipline in 1924, U.S. women have won a total of 70 medals at the World Championships, but no medals since 2006 when Kimmie Meissner won Worlds and Sasha Cohen took the bronze medal.

There are 21 competitors entered into the Senior Ladies competition. Twelve women earned their entrance into the U.S. Figure Skating Championships through their top 4 placements at the Eastern, Midwestern and Pacific Coast Sectionals. The rest of the entrants received a “bye” due to participation in international events.

Rachael Flatt, the 2010 US Ladies champion and 2010 Olympian, was the 2008 World Junior champion, and three-time national silver medalist. She is known as a strong jumper and tough competitor, but at the end of October she announced that she was withdrawing from the balance of the season to recover from a recurring injury on her right lower leg and ankle. The Stanford University sophomore last competed at the 2012 Skate America international where she placed 9th.

The current U.S, Ladies champion, Ashley Wagner, is coming off a strong international season having won gold medals at Skate America and the Trophee Eric Bompard International in France. At the Grand Prix Final, she suffered an unfortunate fall in her Samson & Delilah Freeskate, to place 2nd overall. Diagnosed with a hip pointer as a result of the fall, she returned home to recuperate.

“I gave give myself a bit of a break. It’s been a long one – preparing myself for Nationals, very stressful especially after the Grand Prix Final. I think I have a few gray hairs,” she laughed at a recent teleconference. “I was a bit of a mess traveling home.”

As for the hip pointer, Wagner said she was feeling much better. “I was not seriously injured. I had to be careful and stay off my leg for a week. I took care of it and am feeling better now.”

In training for Nationals, Wagner says she and coach John Nicks tweaked everything in both programs spending time and effort in spins and getting her levels, working on them every single day. “I also want to push myself a little bit more performance wise,” she said.

Asked if she planned on putting in a triple/triple combination in either program, Wagner said, “Nicks thinks it’s better to skate smart. He won’t put anything in my program unless my success rate is high.” They will make this decision at Nationals.

As far as defending the national title she won last year, Wagner said it was an interesting position for her, but she is very competitive – especially after this season. “I am hungry for the gold.”

Wagner is the favorite to win the ladies event in Omaha and she is aware of the importance of getting a third woman on the 2014 Olympic Team. “It’s always on the back of my mind, now that it’s so close, but I am going out one competition at a time, building and getting recognition for my skating. We have a plan and are right on track for Sochi, but I can only think about one competition at a time.”

Wagner added that the U.S. Nationals is her favorite competition, skating in front of family and friends before a home crowd. All eyes will be on Wagner to see if she can take charge in Omaha.

Former two-time national champion, Alissa Czisny, had a disastrous end to her 2012 season, falling on most of her jumps in her World Championships Freeskate, only to go home to learn that an MRI revealed a labral tear in her left hip. She underwent surgery in June but was unable to participate in the 2012 Grand Prix season. She began limited training in the fall and entered a local competition (2012 Fox Cities Invitational in Appleton, Wis.,) last week to prepare herself for the U.S. Nationals. But tragedy struck again as she dislocated her left hip on a fall during her Freeskate. In an update of her condition, U.S. Figure Skating announced that she had withdrawn from the 2013 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships due to injury and that she was currently being treated at a local hospital and was resting.

Certainly this was sad news for Czisny as well as her fans and potentially for the eventual makeup of the Ladies World Team as only two competitors are eligible to compete at the 2013 World Championships. For a number of other challengers, it becomes an opportunity to shine.

U.S. national Junior Ladies Champion and World Junior silver medalist, Gracie Gold, entered the senior international season last fall, placing 7th at Skate Canada and 2nd at the Rostelecom Cup in Russia, raising the possibility that she could be the one to stand on top of the podium in Omaha and make that desired trip to Worlds in March.

In a recent teleconference, Gold said the experience of her first senior Grand Prix was a little overwhelming. “I expected to finish a little bit better in my first senior international season. I was disappointed in how I skated at Skate Canada and in my nerves. I came much better prepared mentally and physically in Russia. I had some time off around the holidays but I still have been training and working hard. 

“I feel a lot of confidence in my skating going into Nationals. I did put a lot of pressure on myself early in the season which was unnecessary.  I changed a lot of the flow in the components of my Freeskate, so I think it will be a much better program all around.”

Gold does have strong competition for a World Team spot that includes fellow Chicagoan Agnes Zwadzki, who splits her training in Colorado Springs with Christy Krall and David Santee in Illinois.

Zwadzki was the 2010 U.S. Ladies Junior Champion and the 2012 U.S. (senior) bronze medalist, but her senior international career to date has been spotty. She placed 7th & 8th in her first senior Grand Prix circuit the previous year, but won the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic last fall and a bronze medal at Rostelecom Cup in Russia, but placed a somewhat disappointing 5th at the NHK Trophy. Nevertheless she is a strong jumper and a definite threat to all competitors hoping to land on the podium in Omaha.

Another hopeful expected to challenge for a World Team spot is former U.S. Ladies champion Mirai Nagasu. Her win in 2008 at age 14, only one year after winning the U.S. Junior Ladies title, brought her into the international spotlight. However for the next two years she experienced some trouble with technical jump issues. She returned to the spotlight to nearly win the 2010 national title, taking the silver medal and finished 4th at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Nagasu seemed to be back on track as the top U.S. ladies skater but a 7th placement at the following Worlds was disappointing. She did manage to win a bronze medal at the 2011 U.S. Nationals, but failed to make the World Team. The following year she suffered another setback with disappointing results and an increasing difficult training situation when her coach Frank Carroll moved his training center out of Los Angeles to the Palm Springs area nearer to his home. The two-hour one way drive proved unmanageable in her training schedule and it showed in her 7th placement at the 2012 U.S. Nationals.

Nagasu changed her coaching situation returning to the Los Angeles area to work with Wendy Olson at the end of last season. She came back to the ice with renewed vigor to win bronze medals at the Finlandia Trophy and the NHK Trophy. It remains to be seen whether her natural talent together with her new training situation will keep her focused and on track for a trip to Worlds.

Boston’s Christina Gao took everyone’s attention when she brought her A game to the 2012 Skate America. The 2009 U.S. Junior bronze medalist, now a student at Harvard, opened up her Short Program with a brilliant triple Lutz/triple toe loop combination. She finished 2nd to Wagner and 4th at the French International and won a spot in the Grand Prix Final where she finished 6th.

Geo said she plans to be in the best shape ever in Omaha. “I don’t want to hold anything back.”

There are also a number of other young challengers like Yasmin Siraj, Courtney Hicks, Vanessa Lam, Leah Keiser, and Hannah Miller who hope to make some noise in Omaha along with Caroline Zhang, a World Junior Champion, (2007), a two-time World Junior medalist and a Four Continents bronze medalist (2012), who hopes to re-emerge as a podium contender this season.

The Ladies competition will be one of the most exciting events in Omaha.

THE MEN

Two former U.S. National Champions, Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek had initially announced their return to competition at the beginning of the season. Lysacek was subsequently injured with a sports hernia (a torn muscle in his lower abdomen) that required surgery and withdrew from Skate America. He is still questionable for Omaha, although he remains listed as one of the entrants. Should he make an appearance and win a spot on the World Team, the 2010 Olympic men’s champion would still have to meet the new minimum technical scores for men to enter the 2013 World Championships and would have to meet this deadline at an international competition 21 days prior to Worlds.

After a brief sojourn into the competitive season where he placed 4th at the Finlandia Trophy, Weir was forced to withdraw from the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow due to a hip injury after the Short Program. The former three-time national champion then announced his decision to sit out the rest of the season and look to train instead for the 2013-2014 season.

In a prepared statement Weir said, “My performances so far have not been to my satisfaction and, combined with the stress of competing, I feel that I need to take a step back, prepare more and be ready for the Olympic season beginning next fall.”

Therefore, 27 year-old Jeremy Abbott, the returning and three-time U.S. men’s champion, remains the favorite to win a 4th men’s title in Omaha. However, his early season wasn’t so wonderful despite having two great new programs. At Skate America he missed the quad in both programs, and along with some other jump errors, finished in 5th place and left the ice holding his back. Later he revealed that his upper back and glutes were really tight, causing a nerve problem in his legs. “I got it taken care of before Paris (Trophee Eric Bompard), working with a U.S. Gymnastics team doctor in Lansing, Mich., to get me back in shape.”

He took Britta Ottoboni, the official Detroit Skating Club trainer, with him to Paris and plans for her to come to Omaha for continued physical therapy.

At a recent teleconference, Abbott said he’s feeling great, confident and skating well. “My training is going really well, I’m excited to go to Omaha. My concern is making the team. I want to help get the 3rd spot for Sochi. I feel I have momentum with two solid programs.”

He said it took him awhile to get his quad back after Skate America. “I played around with different entrances and went back to the original pattern, not the circular pattern anymore, back to the straight-line entrance.”

He plans to do the quad in the long program but not the short at Nationals, adding it to the Short Program at Worlds. “I’ve learned that I am a strong competitor and must trust my instincts. I’m confident I can win a 4th national title. I have the most experience.”

Two-time U.S. men’s bronze medalist and the 2009 National Junior Champion, Boston’s Ross Miner, has been building a strong resume with solid skating performances that garnered two bronze medals in international competition this season, at the U.S. international Figure Skating Classic and the recent NHK Trophy. Consistent performances are key to winning medals and Miner has made that a priority in recent years. His programs this season are exciting with the romantic Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and the music from the swashbuckling Errol Flynn movie Captain Blood. Miner will certainly be one of the challengers for the podium at Nationals and a spot on the World Team.

Adam Rippon, Richard Dornbush, Armin Mahbanoozadeh have had their share of inconsistent performances the past couple of years but any one of them could have brilliant performances that would challenge for the podium.

Then there are two outstanding young men who have competed at the junior level internationally winning medals with the potential to make it to the podium in the senior event in Omaha. Joshua Farris won silver medals at the recent Junior Grand Prix Final and last season’s World Junior Championships, while Jason Brown was 3rd at the 2012 World Junior Championships and finished 4th at the Junior Grand Prix Final. Since only two men can make the senior World Team this season, it seems likely that unless the others mentioned here have a meltdown, both Farris and Brown will be sent instead to World Juniors wherever they place in Omaha.

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