Rinkside Reports from 1997 US Nationals

This page contains my reports from the 1997 US Figure Skating Championships.

Monday's report

I arrived at the practice arena toward the tail end of the junior men's practice, just in time to see Ryan Jahnke skate through his short program. It's a beautiful program set to "The Moldau", with wonderful, flowing edges and footwork, but the jumps weren't working this time. I did see him land some very nice lutzes and flips in isolation at the very end of the session, though.

The senior men were up next. All five skaters in the first group were there, but nobody showed up in the second group and only one person in the third. Todd Eldredge was one of the skaters who was there, and he looked terrific -- a clean long program runthrough with two triple/triples. Trifun Zivanovic blew off half his runthrough and fell hard on a triple axel. Damon Allen has a very pleasant program to "Die Fliedermaus" but stumbled through many of his jumps and also fell on his axel. Shepherd Clark is doing a disco Yanni thing, and he did land a triple axel, but not much else. Shep's practice outfit was also the source of some comment; a black outfit with bands of white embroidered trim with his initials at the cuffs and waist.

After standing around a while talking to some other netters while waiting to see if any other men were going to show up, some of us headed over to the other practice rink where we caught the last part of the ladies and all of the pairs.

Among the ladies, Alizah Allen is back doing the same short program she did last year. Amber Corwin is doing a triple toe/triple toe and what looks like either a flip or lutz as the solo jump (it was hard to see at the far corner of the rink). Tara Lipinski is doing triple lutz/triple loop -- she landed at least three or four of them. Shelby Lyons is not going anywhere in singles this year; she still looks too much like a junior, or maybe even a novice, and will be lucky to make the top 10, I think. Her short program is so little-girlish that it doesn't help matters any. I didn't see any of the other major contenders -- Bobek, Kwan, Vogel, Kwiatkowski, etc.

The pairs were also doing their short programs, and these sessions seemed to be well-attended by the skaters. Jason Dungjen was having some troubles with his triple toe today -- not going splat, but not landing it cleanly, either. And Kyoko took a hard fall on a throw they tried towards the end of their session and seemed a bit stunned by it. Todd Sand was also having some triple toe trouble but eventually got it right. General consensus is that he and Jenni are looking unbeatable this year. Stiegler & Zimmerman are also doing triple toes now, but John looks to be having major struggles with it. For a change, Shelby Lyons was having some trouble with her triple salchow, and Brian Wells was landing his. Both of the Ice Castle pairs who just moved up from junior -- Grabow & Oberman and Vlandis & Guzman -- looked strong. Personally, I find both of these pairs more exciting than the Hartsells. Vlandis & Guzman are going for triple loops in the short, believe it or not, and they're also doing an impressive one-arm lift. Dawn Piepenbrink and Nick Castaneda also have this trick, and a very nice double twist, although the rest of their program is unremarkable. Cheryl Marker & Todd Price, again ripping off one of Mary Scotvold's signature programs, are skating to "Henry V".

That's about it for tonight. I hope some more men show up for the morning practice tomorrow.

Tuesday's report

This is going to be fairly short and not terribly detailed. I'm really tired and have another early morning tomorrow.

I started out at the senior men's short program practice, went over to the arena to see the junior pairs short, then decided to forgo the junior ladies' short to see more men's practices and then the ladies, then went back to the arena to see the compulsory dance. I sat through all N renditions of the Golden Waltz but decided the Rhumba was more than I could bear. There was only one unfortunate couple who completely fell out of the Golden pattern but a few others had pretty obvious stumbles -- including Robinson & Breen, among the higher-ranked couples. It seems like the dancers are doing better now at timing their starts in the warmup so that they don't collide with each other, than they were at Skate America.

Backing up to discuss the men's practices.... Todd was having trouble with his lutz today, kept doing doubles and was getting a little frustrated. Probably nothing too serious. Dan Hollander is looking much better than he did at Skate America. Michael Weiss was doing OK at landing his jumps in isolation but missed about half of them in his program runthrough. He was seen landing a 2-footed quad. Damon Allen and Trifun Zivanovic were not having very good luck with triple axels. Michael Chack landed a few of them, but Frank was messing around with his technique and it wasn't always working. Michael was also having some uncharacteristic trouble with his triple lutz/triple toe combination. I have not had a chance to talk to him at all yet. John Baldwin surprisingly, was doing pretty well at landing his triple axel today. He's dumped his "Lone Ranger" short program since Pacific Coasts and is now doing some hillbilly thing.... wonder why, heh. Shepherd Clark was being his usual sloppy self, but was coming pretty close on some of his triple axel/triple loop attempts. Tim Goebel's practices were kind of mixed -- I saw him underrotating and 2-footing his triple axels, also landing a clean triple axel/triple toe, and making some attempts at a quad. As for Scott Davis.... he's still not here yet.

For the ladies, Nicole Bobek and both Kwans are still missing, also Angela Nikodinov. My mind is starting to blur here.... The major event I remember from the practice is that during Alizah Allen's free skate runthrough, first Tonia K nearly ran into her, and then her music ended halfway through and they announced the next skater and started her music while Alizah was still skating through to the end of her program! People in the audience were very alert to what happened even if the music people were not, and gave her a nice ovation. Tonia was seen apologizing, and they played Alizah's music again at the end of the group.

I don't have much to say about the junior pairs. Barnhart & Bernhard got first place even though she had a really nasty double lutz. They deserved it, though; they're the only couple out there who look like they're ready to move up to seniors. The Stieglers are looking less like precocious little kids and more like normal juniors now, but they definitely don't look like seniors yet.

A few miscellanous notes: it seems like the Nashville organizers were really listening to all the complaints about last year's event. They gave up on segregating the shuttle buses, the practice groups and schedules are included in the program booklet so you don't *have* to buy a separate handbook to get that information, and there's actually a trade show in the arena (although I have not checked it out yet myself). They're also doing a really nice job with displaying marks and standings on the big-screen monitors in the arena. On the down side, there's another incredibly big and ugly logo painted on the ice in the arena, it's *cold* in there, and I get a wonderful view of a couple TV cameras from my seat.

Wednesday's report

This morning started out with an early short program practice for the senior men. I made it to the arena about midway through the first group, in time to see that Scott Davis is here and not looking nearly as dreadful as I had feared after hearing the report on how he was looking at Simsbury last week. He only did pieces of his program when they played his music; triple axel and about a 2 and a half toe. I think all of the guys were making various mistakes in their runthroughs; Todd popped his triple axel but his lutz and double axel look fixed, Shepherd landed a triple axel but then had a nasty fall after tacking on a double loop, Michael Chack did a clean combination immediately before his runthrough and then popped it when going through the program, etc. I still have not seen either Trifun or Damon landing a triple axel here. I forgot to take any special notes on Michael Weiss or Dan Hollander today, sorry.

Jumping ahead a little bit, later in the day I finally had a chance to talk to Michael Chack for a few minutes. He told me he was tired of practicing and just wanted the competition to start. Things were very, very intense for all of the skaters at Ice Castle in the last week or two, and it seems that everyone's nerves have been getting frayed. Anyway, Michael's showing the stress too. He told me he's not sick, but he's sounding very hoarse when he talks.

The ladies were on next, with their short programs. Still no sign of the Kwans, but Nicole Bobek is here. She had a pretty poor practice jump-wise. I'm still puzzled about what she is intending to do for a combination -- the lutz, or a triple toe/triple toe. Tonia and Sydne also had lots of jump problems today. BTW, Sydne has a new short program, different than the one at Skate America. Kyoko Ina, Angela Nikodinov, and I think Tara Lipinski as well all had clean runthroughs.

Next came the junior men's short program. It turned out to be one of those kind of competitions where it seemed like the skaters were all saying, "Gee, I don't really want to win; how about you?" "Nope, I don't either." Until finally, there was nobody left but Matt Savoie, the last skater in the competition, and he wound up stuck in first place! It seemed like all of the best skaters were making a mess of their programs.... Ryan Jahnke fell on both his lutz and flip, Justin Dillon landed his double axel on his butt, Michael Edgren fell on his lutz, Braden Overett simply left out the second jump of his combination, etc. I am not sure Matt will be able to hang in there for the long. Personally, I felt that the only skater who really showed a genuine *command* of the ice was Michael Edgren.

Jumping ahead a little bit again, I went to the junior men's practice later in the afternoon. I had half expected that many of the guys either would blow it off or be in a pretty grumpy state, but they were all there and even Ryan looked to be in reasonably good spirits.

BTW, I have to report that Justin Dillon has a layback spin to die for. Yes, I think it's better than Rudy's. He doesn't look like he has the body type to be super flexible, but somehow it works for him.

OK, now jumping back to the other afternoon competition, the senior original dance. The notable event here was that Punsalan & Swallow collected a couple of 6.0's for their dance. It was pretty spectacular, to tell the truth. Also, in something of a surprise, Webster & Kravette dropped another place into 5th, behind the new team of Naomi Lang & Peter Tchernyshev. I think the judges are trying to send out another message this year, sigh.

After the original dance was when I skipped out, bumped into Michael, watched the junior men practice, and had dinner with some other netters. We got back to the arena towards the end of the opening ceremonies (which I was not particularly interested in), and we met some more netters near the arena lobby.

Then it was time for the pairs short program. Well, this one went more or less the same way as the junior men's. I have never seen a competition so filled with errors and accidents.

Remember what I said earlier about how all of the Ice Castle skaters were stressed out? Well, of the four pairs they had entered here:

Stiegler & Zimmerman were the first to skate. They managed to put their hands down on their triple toes in perfect unison. A little later, it was Vlandis & Guzman's turn. They went for the triple loops, and he wiped out on his. I also think that they goofed a little at the end, with Natalie getting kind of excited and continuing to glide across the rink for several seconds instead of stopping when the music did -- the clock stopped at 2:45 and they may well have gotten a deduction for that. Then Grabow and Oberman had an even worse disaster -- first Naomi sat on her double axel, and then tripped on some circular footwork and slammed into the boards face-first. Thankfully, there was no blood and she was able to get up immediately and finish the program, although she was obviously stunned and crying the whole time.

But the real shocker was Meno & Sand. They seemed a little off right from the beginning -- their steps into their triple toes were a little out of sync, and Todd's jump was a bit underrotated, I think, and he had to really struggle out of the landing. Then their side-by-side spins were way out of unison. Next they had a glitch on the exit of their lift, where he sort of put her down very abruptly and they looked kind of confused for a few seconds before they could pick up the program again. And last of all, Todd slipped out of his pivot in the death spiral and dropped Jenni on her head. Ouch.

(BTW, in partial compensation for having to sit behind the TV cameras, I get to see the slow-motion replays on the TV monitors they have sitting on the camera platform. So I got to see all of these goofs multiple times.)

And it wasn't just the Ice Castle pairs who were having trouble. Ina & Dungjen also had their share of troubles -- their side-by-side spins were also out of sync, and then he overrotated out of his triple toe. I also thought their presentation looked kind of tentative and flat overall.

Personally, I would have put Lyons & Wells first; they were obviously slower and less polished than the other top teams, but they skated clean and seemed to be really "on". The Hartsells also skated pretty well with clean triple toes.

There was one other scary incident.... When the local Nashville team, Darst & Reid, were skating, a child sitting in the front row threw a stuffed animal onto the ice, and they had to dodge it through the remaining two minutes or so of their program -- including doing their spirals and footwork sequence around it. Many people sitting around me seemed to think that the referee should have stopped them and allowed them to restart, but they did OK.

OK, this is getting long, and it's getting late. Another couple quick notes....

The local organizers deserve a lot of credit for making this competition pleasant. A couple little things they're doing that seem really nice: they have stacks of the result and starting order sheets around on tables that you can pick up for free, instead of hassling with selling them and having to have volunteers around to hand them out and make change for people. Also, when the snack bar over in the Municipal Auditorium practice rink has been closed, they've had an urn of free coffee set up that people can help themelves to. I did make it over to the trade show this morning, too, and they've got a fair number of booths set up there.

Thursday's report

My day started out at the practice rink to see the senior men. This was supposed to be a long program practice but most of the guys were working just as much on their short program elements and many of them reportedly skipped the shorter warmup for the short program later in the afternoon. More about men later.

Then it was over to the main arena to catch the junior pairs final. There were really only two pairs in contention here, the Stieglers and Barnhart & Bernhard, and it wound up going to the Stieglers in a fairly close decision, even though they had two falls in their program. B&B also made a couple mistakes, but I think what really gave it to the Stieglers was that they had two throw triples while B&B only did doubles. I think this result came as something of a surprise to everybody -- I happened to be just across the aisle from the section where they were sitting when Stephanie came back from her own practice session, and you could see how pleased and surprised she was about it -- it was like, "You won?!?"

The junior ladies final was next, won by Andrea Gardiner. She landed triple flip, loop, salchow, and toe loop. I remembered her from last year as having stronger presentation than jumps, but this year her technical skills were better than the presentation. Andrea has a very nasty high-swinging picking leg on her lutz and flip, BTW. In second place was Erin Pearl, who has an equally nasty leg wrap on her jumps. Morgan Rowe managed to hang in for third place (doing only a double lutz instead of the triple she has sometmes landed in practice), but the other skaters in the final group, Jenny Tew and Kristin Treni, faded badly in the long. J.J. Matthews pulled up to 4th place, I think. She still does not impress me particularly.

After a quick break for food, it was time for the main event of the day, the senior men's short program. I might as well get the bad news out of the way immediately by saying that Michael Chack managed to chack himself this time. First he fell on his triple axel, which was not totally surprising to me because he was having a lot of trouble with it in practice all week. But what really hurt is that he had the most spectacular "waxel" I've ever seen on the double axel at the end of his program. It was a complete freak accident; he just slipped off his entrance edge and went flying sideways without ever getting the jump up into the air at all. He went stomping off backstage looking like he wanted to kick himself before he came out to the kiss & cry to get the bad news from the judges, namely 9th place.

I'll be at the early morning practice session tomorrow to see what Michael's frame of mind is. I dunno, things can hardly get any worse for him in the free skate, and maybe knowing that will take some of the pressure off of him. I think his long program is the equal of any other in this event and he could still pull himself up into the top 5 with a good skate.

Also on the positive side of the coin, the other Ice Castle guy I've taken a bit of a personal interest in, Jere Michael, skated a wonderful, clean program of lesser difficulty (triple lutz/double toe and triple loop), and found himself in 8th place, which I'm sure he's totally thrilled about. As I noted when I saw him skate this program (much more messily) at Pacific Coasts, he really knows how to sell it and the audience ate it up. One judge even gave him 5.5/5.6 and put him in 4th place! I wonder if this will make it onto ESPN's coverage, though, since I observed he wasn't marked on the "cheat sheet" the camera operators in front of me were using, although they *did* tape all of the programs.

Here's what happened to the other top skaters.

Todd Eldredge had a great skate, and about the only thing he could have asked for was a cleaner landing on the back half of his triple axel/triple toe, with a little more flow out of it.

Damon Allen pulled something of an upset by skating the only other clean program besides Jere's and Todd's. He landed triple axel/double toe, and the only trouble I noted was that one of his spins travelled pretty wildly. I like Damon's skating very much; he has the same kind of straight-backed carriage as Michael and hits some wonderful positions in his spins.

Everybody else had their problems. Scott Davis also landed a clean triple axel/double toe, but put his hand down on his triple lutz. Dan Hollander hit the lutz and triple axel/double loop, but stepped out of the landing of his double axel. Michael Weiss had the lutz and double axel, but put his hands down on the triple axel before getting up and doing the double toe. Likewise, Aren Nielsen and Shepherd Clark both fell on their triple axels but had the rest of the program clean. Rounding out the bottom of the top 10 is Tim Goebel, who fell on the axel and I think also put his hand down on his solo triple (was that a flip or a lutz?) and whose spins and general carriage were clearly weaker than that of the older guys ahead of him.

Anyway, on to the free dance. Understandably, I was still in a state of semi-shock after the men, and didn't take terribly detailed notes. Punsalan & Swallow won handily but had a fall near the beginning of their program that no doubt prevented them from collecting any more 6's. Chalom & Gates did a similar latin-theme program, carried a lot of speed through their dance, and wound up second. Robinson & Breen stayed in third place with their Irish dance, and Webster & Kravette pulled back up to fourth with a very dancey Gershwin program, skated more or less cleanly this time, that went over big with the audience. Lang & Tchernyshev had a fall in their program; I'm not sure whether they might have dropped to 5th anyway, though, because they seemed kind of slow and lifeless to me. They're doing yet another middle-eastern themed program in purple, green, and gold harem outfits. In 6th place were the other newly formed half-Russian couple, Koegel & Fediukov, who did a program to "Die Fliedermaus" that I found totally enchanting.

BTW, Renee Roca & Gorsha Sur seem to be doing the dance commentary for ABC along with Dick and Terry. I wonder what kind of things they'll have to say about Punsalan & Swallow. :-P

Friday's report

Today started out with the men's practice at 7am. Believe it or not, this was the last chance the men are getting to go through their programs before the final -- they get only a 20-minute warmup tomorrow morning. It seems to me like the organizers goofed somewhat in scheduling these last two practices for the men. It seemed silly to have their free skating practice yesterday in the morning, before they skated the short, instead of afterwards. Many of the men were working on their short programs then anyway. And, this morning's practice could have been scheduled for an hour later to allow folks (including me!) to get a little more sleep, because there was nothing else going on in the arena for a while afterwards.

Anyway, I didn't take any detailed notes. Michael Chack was still looking somewhat distraught and did a kind of half-hearted runthrough, wimping out on some of his jumps and choreography. I was pleased to see that Frank had him go through a couple of the sections afterwards and do them right. (I was also pleased to see that, when I spotted him later in the day during the pairs final, he seemed to be in much better spirits.) Some of the other guys were equally wimpy -- Todd didn't do a full runthrough, either, and Shepherd Clark didn't show up at all for this practice.

I missed the junior dance entirely by going out in search of caffeine and running an errand or two, but got back to the arena in time for the junior men's final. Just like the short program, it turned out that everyone else who could have won blew it and Matt Savoie, a skater who is definitely not ready for seniors, wound up winning with a clean program that included two triple lutzes. He was fine in terms of his jumps, but his carriage is so loose and lurchy and he looked completely petrified through the whole program. Justin Dillon placed second with a much more developed program to "Finlandia", but my notes are that the only triples he landed cleanly were a one-foot axel/triple salchow combination and a triple toe/triple toe with some turns in between. Michael Edgren, who I had thought was likely to win, fell on his triple axel attempt, landed a few other triples, and then came completely unglued at the end of his program with falls and popped jumps, and dropped to third. Braden Overett, the youngest skater in the event (who bears a remarkable resemblance to Paul Wylie at about that age!), also came unglued and dropped out of the medals, while Ryan Jahnke pulled himself up to 5th place with a jazzy/bluesy program I really liked. According to my notes, he landed more stuff than Justin, and his presentation is just as good, IMHO.

After a break, the next event was the senior ladies' short program. You've probably seen this on TV already. In contrast to the men, there were lots of clean programs skated -- Michelle Kwan, Tonia Kwiatkowski, Angela Nikodinov, Amber Corwin, Tara Lipinski. Corwin, BTW, did triple toe/triple toe for her combination and triple lutz for her jump out of footwork, and it seemed like the judges were split on whether this ought to be ranked before or after Nikodinov's triple lutz/double toe and triple flip. In the end I think it was Corwin's presentation that made the difference, but I have a suspicion things will go the other way in the long because Nikodinov's long program suits her better than her short. Nicole Bobek stepped out of her triple flip and doubled the triple toe out of footwork. I thought Karen Kwan may have two-footed her triple salchow but otherwise looked terrific. She has a better far layback spin than Michelle, I think. Sydne Vogel withdrew with some sort of injury; it's not clear when this happened. People thought she was sick earlier in the week because she was obviously not skating up to her usual level. Finally, I want to note that Alizah Allen skated a terrific program and is in 10th place. She doesn't have the difficult jumps or speed of the skaters above her, but she has such a unique sense of choreography and has obviously paid a great deal of attention to getting the details right.

Then it was on to the pairs final. Skipping over the lower-ranked pairs, in the next-to-last group the Hartsells kept their lead over Vlandis & Guzman. Both pairs made a couple mistakes and had different strengths and weaknesses in terms of their elements, but I think the Hartsells generally had more speed and a more mature look about them, that made the difference.

During the warmup for the last group, a gigantic hole in the ice appeared -- there was a loose piece about the size of a dinner plate. So they had to delay while the ice crew came out and patched it. It was kind of neat; after they filled it in with slush, they froze it by blasting it with a fire extinguisher.

The delay didn't seem to do Ina & Dungjen any harm. They skated a completely clean program except for tripping as they were taking up their closing pose -- they were able to laugh about that. It's the Grand Canyon Suite program, but somewhat reworked to make the balance better with regards to the placement of the elements. They also have new costumes in plain rust-colored velvet with no trim at all. I thought they appeared to be almost painfully slow during the middle section but it was great to see them skate clean and presenting the program well. They got a big standing ovation.

The next pair to skate were Stiegler & Zimmerman, with their Sorcerer's Apprentice program. They had troubles with the triple toes again but everything else looked fine, and of course their choreography and presentation are superior.

After the ice technicians came out to check the patch on the ice again, it was Meno & Sand's turn. They seemed to have decided to take it very cautiously, doing only double toes and singling the throw axel. Other people remarked that they seemed slow and flat, but I thought the overall level of their in-between skating was still high enough that the judges would be likely to hold them in first place with 5.9's for presentation. I was wrong; Ina & Dungjen got the gold on a 5-4 split.

So that left it up to Lyons & Wells to see if they could retain their third-place spot, but they choked too. Only double loops instead of their usual triples, a crashy triple twist, she touched down on a throw, and he fell on the triple salchows, and it was over. They also seemed slow and I still get the feeling of a grown man skating with a little girl from watching them. I was wondering if they might even wind up behind the Hartsells but they only dropped to fourth place.

I stayed to watch the medal ceremony. I think this was a popular victory because so many people thought Kyoko & Jason were "robbed" last year.

So, that's it for Friday. Tomorrow is junior free dance, and the senior men and ladies.

Saturday's report

I finally got to see the junior dancers in their free dance. Urghhh, but it seems like dance is getting stuck in a rut.... everybody trying to imitate Punsalan & Swallow in what I've started thinking of as the "Detroit style" -- frenetic latin dances in neon costumes, with hydroblading or other deep edgy moves. Even the non-Detroit skaters are jumping on the bandwagon now. It seems like the only other styles much in evidence were the ever-popular Fred & Ginger or else the romantic old-fashioned waltz. Whatever happened to the blues?

Anyway, on to the men's final. Michael Chack popped his first two jumping passes (the triple lutz/triple toe and triple axel combination) before pulling himself together and going after the rest of his program pretty much full out. I was pleased that he got the triple loop, in particular; that's a jump that seems to have scared him in the past, but since he's started working with Frank Carroll it's become one of his best and most consistent jumps -- better than the flip, I think. Anyway, it certainly was not a great performance, but Michael wound up in 7th place.

I have to disagree with the judges who gave Tim Goebel presentation marks equal to or better than Michael's. The multiple falls and flopping and flailing out of his jumps in his program were at least as disruptive as Michael's mistakes, Tim's carriage and positions and flow are not anywhere near on the same level as Michael's, and his choreography is not as strong, either.

Shepherd Clark and Aren Nielsen both self-destructed even worse than Michael and Tim in the long program. To a lesser extent, Damon Allen did too; he couldn't hold the landing on his triple axel, and then did a "woop" (or is that a "whoops"?) to go with Michael's "waxel", and then had another fall. His program was beautiful and interesting but the mistakes cost him in both marks.

On the positive side, Jere Michael turned in a pretty good performance. His triple axel isn't all there yet, but he got in an attempt and didn't make a complete splat on it, and he landed 5 other triples cleanly including a lutz and two loops. Jere also has terrific spins, a well-choreographed program, and a good sense of how to use his music. There was some flip-flopping of the standings throughout the event, but he wound up in 8th place. He has to be pleased with that placement.

(I wish I knew what happened to Trifun Zivanovic, BTW. He was skating wretchedly all week and then withdrew from the final. At Pacific Coasts he was looking like he'd also be a strong contender for the top 10, but here he couldn't land a thing and was taking really nasty falls in the practices.)

Being seated behind the judges, I got the full benefit of Scott Davis's mugging and posing. Urggghhh. I was about ready to vomit. (Another netter commented to me, "Do you think that his face will freeze like that?") When I've watched him doing this program at Simsbury, the bleachers are on the other side of the rink and I think I prefer the view of his butt. :-) Anyway, he started out OK but popped his second triple axel and then doubled the lutz and was looking like he was out of steam by the end of his program.

Dan Hollander likewise made a bunch of silly mistakes; missed the second jump of his opening combination, doubled a couple jumps, and stepped out of another. He wound up doing pretty much the same set of jumps as Scott, and it was a close decision between them. Personally, I would also have given it to Dan just because his program is far better constructed and less obnoxious stylistically than Scott's.

Todd Eldredge skated cleanly but conservatively, landing only 6 triples and bailing out on both of his planned triple/triple combinations. His first triple axel was landed very low and he could only get off a double afterwards, and his lutz had been giving him fits all week and was kind of scary. That triple salchow was even scarier. He got a big standing ovation but I know that at least some of the people sitting near me were random spectators who weren't aware that this performance was definitely a notch or two below Todd's hoped-for standard and what he would need to win at worlds again.

And then there was only Michael Weiss, the last skater in the competition, and he simply took command. I could not see if his quad was two-footed or not -- I thought it might have been, but it sure looked to be full rotation and landed with flow and control, at least. And Michael also got in the triple axel/triple toe that Todd did not, although it seemed a bit messy. In my mind, there was no doubt that he should have won the free skating. I think some of the judges may have boxed themselves in by giving Todd marks that were a bit too high, and then since Michael did make one mistake in putting his hands down on his triple loop, they couldn't very well give him 6's. And maybe some judges were also reluctant to put Michael in front because it wouldn't change the overall standings but it would still make Todd look bad going into worlds. Heck, I think Todd's a smart guy and knows what a close shave he had here.

After a break for food, it was time for the ladies' final. I kind of snoozed through the first two groups, waking up briefly to see Kathaleen Kelly Cutone's attempt at a triple lutz (she didn't make it), and Kyoko Ina's program. I think that if Kyoko concentrated on her singles skating full-time she would have the potential to be a major contender. Her jumps are big and powerful but she just lacks the consistency in landing them that she would get by training them full-time instead of devoting most of her time to pairs. She also seemed less tentative and more expressive in her programs than she did when we last saw her skate two years ago in Providence.

I believe that all of the skaters in the final two groups were shown on TV, so I don't need to recount the bloody details. A few general comments....

Shelby Lyons skated another little-girl program that makes her look like a novice. I simply cannot figure out why the judges give her such high marks -- combined with what they did with Tim Goebel, it seems like they're rewarding skaters for their stylistic immaturity instead of those who are more developed.

I'm thrilled that Alizah Allen got to skate on TV. She was landing more of the jumps in her practice runthroughs, though. I never did see her land that loop cleanly, but I think she's getting pretty close to having it.

Those of you who remember her from Providence will probably be shocked to hear me saying this, but I think Karen Kwan is developing into a genuine power skater. She is at least as fast as any of the other women now, and her program and choreography are powerful and grown-up. There's nothing wimpy about her skating. I think she's unlikely to move much from her current ranking unless she gets some more jumps (I hear she's working on a lutz) but she's become one of those skaters I enjoy watching whether or not they land their jumps.

As far as the medal contenders go, I was sure pleased to see Nicole Bobek skate so well. Her jumps were absolutely *huge*, and she projected such assurance and solidity in everything she did. My only gripe is that her program seems a bit too frilly and girlish to go with all that power -- why doesn't she skate to something that emphasizes it rather than attempts to disguise it? If she can get her lutz back before worlds, she could sure shake things up there.

About halfway through Michelle Kwan's program, I started thinking, oh my god, Tara Lipinski is going to win -- there was no way the placements would work out for Nicole to win, even if she won the free skating. But then Tara delivered the goods and didn't leave the judges much choice but to give it to her in a convincing fashion, although I suppose at least some of them were at least as horrified as I was at what they had to do. As for Michelle, I do not know if she was yet another victim of the Ice Castle nervous breakdown syndrome, or whether there's something else amiss (more boot/foot trouble, for instance). I'm inclined to think her schedule and commitments for competing and touring and doing TV publicity and whatever else have gotten out of control. Perhaps that was also Tonia Kwiatkowski's trouble.

In general, I think the USFSA ought to be re-thinking their policy of sending the same bunch of skaters to every event. It's really become obvious to me that doing three Champions Series events and two or three pro-ams in the fall season is too much for any of these skaters. I also think that the mid-ranked skaters who have not been getting international assignments would really benefit by getting at least one fall competition experience under their belts, instead of just going into Nationals cold. This competition has become huge, and the hype and the distractions and pressure surrounding it can be overwhelming. It's got to be even worse when this competition is the *only* opportunity you'll have all season to prove yourself. Anyway, I know it's the USFSA's stated goal to produce skaters who can win medals internationally, but I think they could do a better job of that by cultivating a deeper field than by wearing out the skaters who've brought home medals in the past. (If Damon Allen had hung on and earned a spot on the world team, for instance, it certainly would have been better for his chances there if he could have taken some recent international competition experience and exposure with him.) In general, the level of skating at this competition has been pretty bad -- the ladies are finally starting to show the same kind of potential and depth as the men, but oh my, did we ever see the mistake-filled performances at this event.

I'll wind this up with some general comments about the event. There was an article in the local paper this morning that said the skaters were complaining that the arena was cheerless and lacked character. I dunno, the main things the spectators have been grumbling about are it being too cold in there, and about how closely packed and uncomfortable the seats are -- they're very narrow, and don't have much leg room, either. When you're spending maybe 12 hours a day sitting in them, you notice things like that. Another minor thing that irked me was that there was no clock in the arena. I've stopped wearing a watch because it was giving me a rash and I never knew what time it was.

This week I spent a lot of time in practices observing various skaters' jump technique -- the blue-painted ice made it very easy to see the tracings. Some things I noticed:

Michelle Kwan has a serious flaw in technique on her lutz. From the tracing it is obvious that, when she picks, she drops back onto the edge on the picking foot, leaving a tracing about a foot long, so that she's actually executing something more like a triple loop than a lutz. I'm sure that this is why she has so much trouble getting a good "pop" out the jump.

Add Shelby Lyons and Kyoko Ina to the list of notorious "flutzers". Tonia Kwiatkowski appeared to flutz sometimes and other times she gets off a real outside edge -- this is strange because most skaters do their jumps exactly the same way every time, so that their tracings are like carbon copies of each other.

I did see Aren Nielsen doing a flip that looked like a real flip instead of a lutz. I wasn't watching closely enough to see if he's doing it right consistently now, or if that was just one that he happened to get right.

The reason why John Baldwin never gets much credit from the judges for his triple axel is that his takeoff is horribly cheated -- you can see a scrapey three turn with the tail a blade length or so long. Michael Chack's problem with the triple axel is that he scrapes the entrance edge too much. I think he is trying to start rotating a bit too early, which interferes with the mechanics of getting the jump up into the air; I see Frank Carroll trying to fix his shoulders and the "snap" into the jump. Scott Davis consistently lands his triple axel a little bit short of rotation, and on the flat of his blade instead of the toe (it makes a big "thud"), so that he has to bounce around maybe 30 to 45 degrees to flow out on the edge. It leaves a print like a check mark a blade length or so long on the landing end of the edge. I don't think this qualifies as a serious cheat, but it's probably why he has consistency problems with the jump. It seems to be highly unstable and he has to get everything just right to be able to pull it off. When you land on the toe pick instead of the flat of the blade, it's much easier just to pivot a little as you drop back onto the edge. I've previously noted Todd Eldredge's occasional tendency to land his jumps on an inside edge when he gets a big lean outside the circle in the air.

Some of those loops that Tara Lipinski tacks on to the back half of her combinations are so cheated that it's not even clear whether she's doing a double or a triple -- she maybe does three rotations, but only two of them are in the air. Dan Hollander and Serena Phillips, the other two "loopers" here, also do this sometimes. Done properly, the tracing for a loop jump ought to look like two halves of a three turn, not like a loop figure cut in two, but that's what I was seeing on some of their attempts. I also think that, to some extent, all three of them are using the loop as the back end of their combinations because it disguises underrotation of the first jump -- they can get away with not getting their legs unwrapped by the time they get down and/or landing on a deeply hooked edge. It seems to me like the right technique ought to show that the landing edge of the first jump is clearly checked and controlled and held for a split second, instead of the skater just bouncing up into the second jump.

Erin Pearl and Amber Corwin both have problems with a terrible leg wrap on their jumps. Yow, reminds me of the days of Claudia Kristofics-Binder. Andrea Gardiner's wild, high-swinging picking leg on her flip and lutz is just as scary. Jonathan Keen, the junior man coached by Frank Carroll, also has a scary picking technique, but his problem is that he picks way too close to his other foot so there's no "pole-vaulting" action.

Spins.... Let's see. Alizah Allen's technique is remarkable; all of her spins are normally perfectly centered and she gets great positions as well. We're still seeing a lot of the male skaters with droopy camels, and if Scott Davis did a camel spin at all in his long program, I must have blinked and missed it. His sit spins also seem to be less well-centered than they used to be. Todd Eldredge's scratch spin is amazingly fast. I can't think of any other male skater who has such speed or good positions in general, although I'd dearly love to see him develop a little more variety in his positions. Plain vanilla gets boring even if it's good vanilla. :-)

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