The Championships ended today with the skating of the Junior Pairs free skating, the Senior Dance free dance, and the Senior Ladies free skating. The top three Junior Pairs all gave respectable performances, but none of the teams were standouts, and all could look to benefit from another year in Juniors. Mercifully, the rules no longer require the Junior Champions to move up to Seniors, and in the case of Junior Pairs that would appear to be a good idea.
As no one did not expect Punsalan and Swallow to repeat as National Dance Champions, the big story in dance was the second place finish of Joseph and Butler, and the top five sweep of teams from Igor Sphilband and Liz Coates from the Detroit Skating Club.
Senior ladies saw Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski, and Nicole Bobek take the medals in one of the strongest group of ladies in recent years. Tonia Kwiatkowski failed to make the Olympic Team but demonstrated the class and character that has made her one of the most respected skaters in the eligible ranks. She was overcome with emotion at the end of her performance and again when introduced during the awards ceremony for her fourth place medal. Before stepping onto the medalists' podium she warmly hugged and congratulated each of the three ladies who will go on to represent the U.S. at the Olympic Games in February. Although she never won a U.S. Championship or reached her goal of skating in the Olympic Games, throughout her career she proved herself, by virtue of her character, a role model for all competitive skaters.
The junior men and dance, and senior pairs finished up today. I would like to tell you that the depth in the junior men and pairs was a strong as it was for the ladies. I would like to; but I can't. On the contrary both these events were pretty thin.
For the junior men, the top two showed some glimmer of hope, but after that it was pretty weak. Most of the boys had jumps and no style, or style and no jumps. Many looked under-trained and could not get through their entire programs before running out of gas. Although the winner Scott Smith did a good job, it is the silver medalist Bradon Overett who seems to have the greater potential. In junior dance it was a similar story, with the top three teams set apart from the rest of the pack.
In senior pairs, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand were forced to withdraw due to injury. Nevertheless, they were named to the Olympic Team and are expected to be ready to compete in Nagano. The Olympic pairs event begins on 8 February.
By winning the short program today with seven marks of 6.0 while Tara Lipinski placed fourth, Michelle Kwan is on track to reclaim her national title. It is virtually impossible now for Tara to repeat as champion, and with her lackluster second marks, she may even have trouble making the Olympic Team. With four talented and popular ladies in the event and only three team spots available the pressure is on, and the event is sure to end dramatically. When asked after the short program how they would feel if Tara placed fourth in the long program and was still named to the Olympic Team, Tonia Kwiatkowski was diplomatically silent, but Nicole Bobek stepped up to the plate and said it shouldn't be done and that the public would not accept it. She is probably right.
Campbell Soup is planning a promotion in which pictures of Michelle, Tara, and Nicole are being placed on different cans of soup. After ending up third in the short program, Tonia was asked how she felt about that. She replied she was going to do the best she could to see to it that Campbell's would have to change the labels.
Michael Weiss failed in his attempt to be the first U.S. man to land a quad jump at Nationals, and the first man to land quad Lutz in a major competition. The jump was landed on two feet, but by making the Olympic Team he follows in the Olympian footsteps of his father who competed as a gymnast in the 1964 games in Tokyo.
Today was an extremely busy, with competitive events going on in both arenas for most of the day. The Junior Ladies finished up, with Sarah Hughes winning both the short and the long. She gave two lovely performances, demonstrating command of most of the triple jumps and a winning style as well. The next three ladies also had their strengths. The depth of the U.S. ladies program remains substantial.
To their credit the dance judges have been calling them like they skated. No old-timer points here, with plenty of movement in both the junior and senior placements. In what must be a record, after the seniors dance CD's the top five teams are all coached by the same coaches, Igor Sphilband and Liz Coates. This sends a powerful message to those in U.S. skating who complain about the presence of foreign coaches working in the U.S. They are the best thing that has happened to U.S. ice dancing in the past 50 years.
Speaking of old-timers, a lot of them are sentimental favorites here, including Scott Davis, Tonia Kwiatkowski, and Meno and Sand. How old is Todd Sand? If they regain their title, he will be the oldest U.S. Champion since 1925. He is older than Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski put together. He is old enough to be their father. In fact, he is old enough to be the father of 3/4 of the skaters here. He is old (but he still has great hair).
The LOC is still struggling to get organized. Despite two large arenas, thing remain somewhat like too many puppies squirming for too few teats.
ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta came into town to be schmoozed by the USFSA. Looks more and more like the USFSA President aspires to swim in a bigger pond after his term is up this year.
The neighborhood around the hotel is most entertaining, what with the gay bars, transvestite hookers, and homeless people in abundance every evening.
First our travelogue: Nationals was last held in Philadelphia in 1968, at what was then the newly constructed Spectrum. The Spectrum is being used again - this time for the Novice events and some of the Junior events. The Senior events are being held at the new, adjacent CoreStates Center. The new arena is one of those modern sports facilities built today by greedy team owners suffering from arena envy who convince the locals to spend millions of dollars on ever grander buildings so that they can become wealthier at taxpayer expense. And grand the building is. Both arenas are located about 20 minutes from downtown, in the middle of nowhere. The hotels are in the center of a decidedly rundown downtown. In addition to the two arenas, a portable ice surface has been installed in the downtown convention center for some of the practice sessions. Because Disney was booked into the CoreStates Center through Sunday night. No one was from the competition was able to get into that arena until Monday, which greatly hampered preparations.
After three days, thing are running along more or less - but at times are organizationally challenged. The busses usually show up, but sometime don't. Nobody seems to know what the schedule is. Tonight they locked the arena parking lot before the last bus left and it took an hour to get out. Arena security couldn't have cared less. Very irresponsible. Monday evening one of the Novice pair teams took a nasty fall out of a lift in the warm-up and there were no medical personnel on duty at the arena. A doctor had to be sent from the hotel, but instead of sending a car or a taxi they waited for the next shuttle bus for transportation. Very, very irresponsible. And then the media. The poor, poor, abused media. Fifty-one photographers were credentialed and the local organizers set aside 9 places for them.
The big hype among the men remains the quads. Did Todd land one in practice today? Will he use it in this competition? Will he need it at the Olympics? Will he have one there? Will Weiss really try a quad Lutz here? Sometimes. No. Yes. No. Yes. That about covers it.
The buzz from the ladies' practices favors Michelle, Tara, and Nicole. Michelle's toe remains troublesome, but not enough to knock her out of the medals. Tara is skating well, and Nicole has a triple - triple working for her so far. Tonia Kwiatkowski, in her last attempt to make the Olympics, has been struggling.
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