1999 US Nationals

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Reports from the event


Novice ladies and men

I got into town on Monday afternoon in time to see the novice ladies and men's free skate. I think this is the first time I have seen any of the novice events at Nationals since 1990; in the past few years, they've had them either scheduled the weekend before the junior and senior events, or running in parallel with them.

Some of the more notable ladies:

Evelyn Kong: girl from CT I've seen a lot of at local competitions, very small for a novice with excessively cutesy choreography. Here she looked slow and kind of lost on the big ice surface, and did not land any triples cleanly. I'm not sure how she wound up 7th in the long with this program.

Joanna Glick: I thought she was undermarked. According to my notes, she landed two triple salchows and two triple loops, and covered the ice well.

Amber Czisny: crashed into the boards on her very first jump and limped off the ice crying and rubbing her knee. The judges allowed her to restart. She two-footed both triples she attempted but I was impressed at the way she attacked all her jumps with good speed; so many novice skaters slow down to a crawl on their jump entrances. Also has a great layback spin. She's coached by Diana Ronayne.

Midori Williams: skated probably about as well as she can, with two triple salchows. She's a powerful and muscular skater, but lumbers around the ice somewhat with bad posture.

Beatrisa Liang: tiny, tiny girl, skated to the "Warsaw Concerto" in a light blue dress. Also landed only the two triple salchows, but she has lots of energy.

Deanna Stellato: landed a gorgeous triple lutz, also a triple flip with a step out that the judges probably gave her credit for anyway, triple salchow, triple toe. Good presentation as well. She could easily have placed in the top 10 in seniors, and I wouldn't be surprised if she skips juniors next year.

Andrey Chua: skated to "Finlandia", landed two triple salchows and what was either a flip or a toe loop.

And, for the men:

Bradford Griffies: skated to Minkus, landed a triple toe loop and salchow. I thought he carried himself very well although his choreography was fairly minimal. He was actually the first skater in the long after having been 7th in the short, but this was a 2nd-place free skate.

Nicholas LaRoche: Zorba the Greek. He didn't skate as well as he did at New Englands, putting his hands down on his first triple toe and I believe leaving out a triple flip. He skates extremely fast, but seems slightly out of control on his posture and doesn't know what to do with his arms yet.

Evan Lysacek: wow, what jump combinations. Walley, reverse walley, half loop, triple flip; then later on, triple toe, half loop, triple salchow. Also landed a triple salchow by itself. I was sure he would win after this.

Benjamin Miller: skated to "When I'm 64" in a very loud black, red, and yellow flame-patterned outfit. He landed three or four triples but he got very little height on any of his jumps, and the music and choreography were pretty bad.


Junior pairs

Ganaba & Ganaba: Yikes. Sima Ganaba scares me. I first saw this team two or three years ago and in all that time they have had Sima dressed and made up and choreographed like a little Lolita -- and she is only 12 years old *now*. They're good pair skaters, but there's no need to present children in such an overtly sexual manner. Impressive lifts, but in the long their triple twist was crashy and Sima couldn't land either the triple toe or double axel they were attempting. Their throws were both doubles. The first of the duelling "Zorro" programs in the long.

MacAdam & Lucash: in the short, they had some trouble with their side-by-side spins and I thought their pair spin was also quite messy. In the long, another "Zorro". I think they were the only team to complete a throw triple (salchow), but their twist in the long was only a double. According to my notes, their hardest solo jump was a double flip, too.

Sierk & Sierk: I thought this team was the class of the competition, as they were fast and smooth and had wonderful presentation. Great double twist and spiral sequence in the short, but she put her hand down on the double loop. In the long they did a crashy triple twist, only double throws, and she popped the double lutz that was their most difficult solo jump.

Gadkowski & Trent: skated what I thought was an all-around nice clean short program, but they must have picked up a deduction somewhere. In the long they landed side-by-side double axels, but she fell on both throws they attempted. Their triple twist was crashy.

Rogeness & Rogeness: nice twist and double loops in the short, although their side-by-side spins were slow and out of sync. They skated with good speed and assurance in the short but looked much more sluggish in the long. Their most advanced pair skill looks like a triple twist, which I think was the best of the event; only double throws from them, and she also missed the double lutz.

The bottom three or four pairs in this field were really horrifying -- not just because they were bad, but because you actively feared for the safety of the skaters, especially on the lifts.


Junior men

The short programs for the men were really a splat-fest and I was somewhat depressed thinking that this event was going to turn out to be as awful as last year's, but in the free skating things were not quite as bad.

Ryan Bradley: what a cutie, with some resemblance to the other Ryan (Jahnke). Landed triple lutz/triple toe in the short, but proceeded to fall on his triple loop. Ooops. In the long, he again went for the triple lutz/triple toe, but had a step-out on the lutz; then triple flip with a possible two-foot, triple salchow/triple toe, triple loop, and another triple lutz. Fast edgy footwork and pleasant presentation.

Braden Overett: it looks like he's grown about 6 inches since last year and is now such a beanpole that he's barely recognizable. His short program was a disaster, with a two-footed triple loop, 2.5 lutz with a step out into a double toe, two-footed double axel, and loss of balance in his combination spin. Yikes. Only the quality of his footwork and presentation kept him in contention, but his long was even worse, with three hard falls and two other triples with messy landings as well. It's obvious he hasn't adjusted to his growth yet, but he was never the strongest jumper before, either, so I'm very worried about his future.

Don Baldwin: in the short, put a hand down on the triple loop, and did triple flip/double toe for his combination. Skated a surprisingly good long with a triple loop and two triple toes and two flips. He finished second overall. The talk is that he is going to retire from skating now; good for him. I think he has a lot more natural talent than his older brother, but it's been obvious for some time that he just doesn't care about the sport at all and has only been doing it to please his parents.

Johnny Weir: fell on his triple lutz in the short and had weak spins as well. But he came back and skated an impressive long program. He really needs to stay in juniors another year, I think, though. He still looks too young to be a senior man.

Parker Pennington: verrrry protracted, deliberate set-ups on all his jumps. Had a step-out on his triple lutz and a very weak camel in the short. In the long, he landed a triple lutz, flip, loop with a cheated landing, salchow, and toe loop; and fell on a triple axel attempt. (The only other boy to try one was Robert Brathwaite, who had landed one at Pacific Coasts, but who skated dreadfully here and wound up in 16th place.) Weak flying camel again. Parker needs at least another year in juniors, too.

Josh Figurido: in the short (yet another "Zorro"), he landed his triple lutz, but seemed to forget that he had to make it a combination before tacking on a single toe loop at the last possible moment; then he popped the loop. In the long, he actually rotated all his triples for a change, but fell on the salchow and loop and put a hand down on the flip and lutz, leaving only the two triple toes landed cleanly. Incidentally, from talking with his coach Tom McGinnis afterwards, I do not think the resemblance to Michael Chack that so many people have commented on is deliberate imitation on either his part or Josh's.


Junior ladies

I only saw the short programs for the junior ladies, as their long program conflicted with the last senior men's practice on Friday afternoon. It was a tough choice....

Sara Wheat: triple flip/double toe combination, double loop. I think her layback was short a couple rotations, and she certainly picked up a deduction somewhere in this program.

Ann Patrice McDonough: it was evident from the start that she wasn't going to be in contention for a medal here, just from the overall quality of her in-between skating. Fell on her triple lutz attempt, triple loop was good, double axel was not.

Ye Bin Mok: good presentation and edge quality, but her combination was only a triple salchow with a step out into a double toe, and only a double loop.

Sasha Cohen: wonderful edge quality, speed, and presentation, and her flexibility and extension are astounding. Triple flip/double toe, but two-footed a double loop.

Elizabeth Kwon: only a triple toe/double toe for her combination, and a double loop. I noted that her layback spin is ugly.

Jenny Kirk: triple flip/double toe, triple loop that may have been slightly cheated, and a double axel out of a spread eagle. Her jumping ability is right up there, but she lacked speed and power compared to Sasha and Sara. She looks a lot younger than her age.


Junior and senior dance

I wound up seeing only the compulsory dance for the senior skaters and the original dance and free dance for the juniors, again because the other events conflicted with senior men's practices. It also hardly seemed worth it to travel back and forth between the practice and competition rinks for just 8 couples in the senior dance, especially since it was all going to be on TV anyway and I had already seen Lang & Tchernyshev and Chalom & Gates at Skate America.

Based on what I saw of the seniors on TV, I'd say the juniors had a lot more depth to the field anyway. Silverstein & Pekarek are wonderful, and remind me a lot of Anissina & Peizerat in the very flowing, edgy quality of their skating. It was interesting to see that Lang & Tchernyshev were there cheering for them and throwing them goodies after they skated; I wonder how long that friendly relationship will last. It's pretty astonishing to see a junior team getting 5.9's -- did L&T even get any marks that high? General consensus among people who saw both junior and senior dance was that S&P would likely have finished second in seniors.

Nussear & Forsyth are also very good and would have won in any other year. They used an untraditional kind of waltz (gypsy or Italian or something like that) for their OD, and for their free dance they took the Grishuk & Platov approach of a frantic Latin dance. It seems like they have added more footwork for Emilie since I last saw them perform this, where I had the impression that she was doing a lot of jiggling while Brandon did all the hard stuff. They might have finished third or fourth in seniors.

Beckerdite & Healy: my main memory of their free dance is that she was wearing such a low-cut dress that I was worried the entire time that she was going to pop out of it. I guess they must not have had a chance to try out their costumes before they got here.

Newman & Klus: their OD waltz was to "Danse Macabre", in elaborate red and black spider-web costumes. Very dramatic presentation as well. Their free dance costumes were similarly gaudy with lots of yellow and multicolored squares. I thought it might be a circus theme, but it turned out to be an eclectic mix of music that was hard to put in any category at all.

Finally, I thought Schnering & Jones, who finished in 9th place, were totally adorable. Tim puts on his glasses as soon as he gets into the kiss-and-cry and I get the feeling that he can't see a thing while he's skating. I'd think they'll stay junior at least another year, and probably move up to the podium next year, as the talk is that the top 6 junior teams are all likely to move up to senior now.


Figures

Wednesday morning I attended the figures competition, the first time I'd been at a figures event since 1990 Nationals. That was the last year figures were part of the combined championship and I look back on it as one of the more memorable experiences of my "career" as a skatefan. So, with this year's event being the last time figures will be part of the championships at all, I made a point of going.

The figures skated were the LFO/RBO counter, RBO/LBI paragraph double three, and LFO/RFI paragraph loop. Nearly all of the skaters were having a lot of problems getting around the last circle on the paragraph double three and later I heard that the skaters (including the freestyle skaters) were all complaining about the quality of the ice at the Acord rink where this event was held. Apparently it was very alkaline and "sticky".

The atmosphere at this event was quite different from the 1990 one in that closed marking was being used and they didn't even have an announcer. So, while in 1990 all the skaters got a little applause as their marks were read, this time the event was skated in more or less complete silence, with the referee quietly calling the skaters out when it was their turn to skate.

At the end there was applause, and roses on the ice for the last figure. Then there was a little ceremony where Lauren Hill, the girl who skated the last figure, was presented with a certificate by the referee, and all of the competitors came out to have a group photo taken and take a bow in front of the audience. Many of them also had their own cameras and were taking snapshots of each other and photos of their figures, and all too soon they were chased off the ice by the Zamboni. It was a very touching moment for these skaters who will no longer have an opportunity to compete in the discipline in which they excel. Towards the end, a woman who I'm certain was Holly Cook was standing behind me saying how sad it was; she commented on the coincidence that the paragraph loop figure skated here was exact same figure as the last one they did back in 1990, which she had won.


Senior pairs

Hartsell & Hartsell: What can you say about them? They're technically very consistent, but I don't think they'll ever be remembered as one of the great pair teams. The best thing about them, aside from their consistency, is their energy level. Clean short program, a couple of minor but not disruptive mistakes on solo jumps in the long.

Ina & Zimmerman: One thing I will say for them, they are really attacking all of their elements full-out with the same kind of speed, extension, and flair that Moskvina has instilled in her other teams. But at the same time it is painfully obvious that they are skating too big for their technical abilities, always just on the verge of disaster. In the short they avoided major errors but were slightly ragged throughout the whole program. In the long, they both came crashing to the ice on the triple twist and he had mistakes on both the solo triple toe and double axel; and they did only a throw double loop and double salchow, which is pathetic for a senior-level pair team. Plus getting these two to spin in unison seems like a lost cause. It has to be really hard to judge this team, since they have the makings of greatness but are just not able to pull it off successfully.

Handy & Binnebose: Good short program, the weakest element probably being the pair spin at the end. I love Paul's spirals; he has such strength in both the position and edging. What happened to them in the long? They were going great guns through the triple twist, triple toes, two throw triples, and wonderful lifts; but then they seemed to lose it in the last 30 seconds of their program in the middle of their pair spin, omitting their final lift and both appearing somewhat disoriented. I wonder if the altitude got to them, or if they both just panicked at how well things were going.

Stiegler & Stiegler: Johnnie continues to have problems with his solo jumps, missing the triple toe in the short, and falling on the double axel and popping two other jumps in the long. Their triple twist is still crashy and some of their other lifts slow and labored, but they do have terrific throw jumps. This was a better performance than I'd seen from them at Skate America, but they still have work to do to look like a senior team. The age rule for Worlds is not hurting them; they are not ready yet anyway.

Scott & Dulebohn: their 5th-place finish was a surprise to me. Their short was a mess, and likewise their long; she wasn't able to land either the triple toe or double axel, and their triple twist attempt was at least half a rotation short and they nearly fell. Good side-by-side spins and throws.

Magarian & Guzman: I would have had them in 5th in spite of her troubles on the solo jumps, purely on the strength of their lifts. Their triple twist was crashy but acceptable, at least. Throws were fine as well. Jered seems to be a much more gentle partner to Amanda than he was to Natalie Vlandis; the whole look of this pair is much softer and less aggressive.

Vlandis & Peterson: both the short and long were ragged with multiple mistakes throughout. Too bad; these are nice programs, and they performed them better at Pacific Coasts.


Senior men

Now we're getting serious: this is where I spent most of my time throughout the week, watching a lot of practices.

Michael Weiss: It takes an effort to look past all of the obnoxious hype surrounding him, but he is actually a good skater and I can still see why I used to like him so much. I don't think either of his programs this year are artistic masterpieces indicative of a major breakthrough the way his Santana program was in the fall of 1995, but there is nothing really wrong with them, either. His biggest shortcoming is the horrible scrape on his triple axel entrance, which made me wince every time I heard it. I couldn't get a very good look in spite of attempting to peer at his tracings, but he seems to be taking off the back of the blade instead of vaulting off the toe pick. I don't know how he can land this jump with enough flow to do a triple toe afterwards, but somehow, he's doing it. On the Friday afternoon practice, Michael showed up wearing what was obviously a new long program costume, with a leather tunic with flappy panels hanging over his hips like a skirt, matching the knickers and boot covers. I thought it was more attractive than the old one with the diagonal ruffle, but for some reason he showed up in the old one for the competition on Saturday instead. Not sure why he didn't go for the tunic; maybe a problem with the fit, or did he just feel silly wearing a skirt?

Trifun Zivanovic: On Monday he couldn't land a triple axel to save his life, but his practices improved as the week went on. I was pleased to see him do well. Whatever his shortcomings in technique and presentation, he can be an intensely charismatic performer and I find his gung-ho approach kind of endearing. And he's certainly paid his dues to get where he is now. On the other hand, his programs are really, really poorly constructed. I actually timed him in his short program: for the first minute and 45 seconds out of a 2.5 minute program, he did nothing but circle around center ice. The layout of the long wasn't as bad as at Pacific Coasts, but I still think he never got into the corners of the ice at all.

Tim Goebel: Gack. This kid received a gift from the judges, pure and simple. In the three years he has competed at senior nationals, I have seen absolutely no improvement in either his technical or presentation skills. Very inconsistent in practices during the week, not only struggling with the axel (he seemed to be falling as often as not on it), but with the triple lutz as well; he "flutzes", and his arms and shoulders are just all wrong on the set-up for this jump. I saw him land a couple quad salchows in practice, but he fell on every attempt at the quad toe that I saw. Somebody please get this boy to stand up straight, and give him some decent programs.

Matt Savoie: Wow, such an improvement since last year. Going into this competition, I expected nothing at all from him, and I certainly didn't expect that he would win me over as a fan, but that's exactly what happened. His long program (from last year) simply does not show what great strides he's made in the past year; the short is a lot more like the real him now, smooth and slinky on the ice. He's still got that very loose carriage but I think he's finding ways to use it to his advantage. He reminds me an awful lot of a young Todd Eldredge, and I think he's going to continue to get better. Jump-wise, he seemed to be totally consistent with those triple-triple combinations in practices all week long, but he needs to work on getting those edge jumps in his long program.

Shepherd Clark: dreadful practices all week long. I don't know how he managed to pull it off in the competition, but he did. I didn't really care for either of his programs this year.

Damon Allen: made everyone else look really bad in practice, because of his great posture and edge quality. I've never been much impressed by the style of programs he brings to Nationals, but oh boy, can he ever present. Terrific footwork, too. He was landing the triple axel consistently all week long but I was worried about his lack of combinations and general weakness in the jump content in his programs. Why was he trying only a triple toe as the jump out of footwork in his short? In the long he landed only a triple lutz, toe, and salchow cleanly and just lacked sharpness overall. Very sad. I think I would have put him down another notch or two in the long; he probably got the benefit of the doubt by skating in the final group.

Justin Dillon: what a triumphant debut at senior nationals! He doesn't have a triple axel yet (and may never get one; I never saw him attempting one in practice, and his double axel is far from his best jump) but at least he got the triple/triple combination he didn't have with him at Pacific Coasts, and he got the crowd behind him too. In the short he did double axel, triple lutz/triple toe, and triple flip out of footwork. Clean long also included a terrific layback spin and an extended section of one-foot footwork. Good for him. Incidentally, he lost the gold lame' jiffy-pop shirt he had been wearing for the long at Pacific Coasts, and came out in a sleek black one-piece outfit with some braid trim around the shoulders instead.

Michael Chack: a bittersweet competition for Michael and his fans. He'd announced last year that this would be his last time to compete, and then last fall he got a really bad case of tendonitis in his jumping (left) knee. At Pacific Coasts in December he told me he was in pain the entire time, and it was obviously even worse here; he told me it hurt when he picked in for the lutz and flip, and the loop made him "see stars". It was obvious that he was in bad shape from his first practice, where he was visibly limping after trying the loop, and then in his midweek practices he was not doing the loop at all. He said he was taking massive amounts of anti-inflammatories and that the doctors at the competition had even tried giving him steroid injections to get him through the week, but it hadn't been helping so he stopped that treatment after a couple days. He might have withdrawn under other circumstances, but, as he put it, "I didn't come all this way just to withdraw from my last competition." I am sure he was disappointed in knowing he was not going to be competitive for a medal, but throughout the week he seemed calm and very much at peace with himself, looking forward rather than back. He skated a clean but super-conservative short program to last year's "Dark Eyes" tango with a double axel, triple lutz/double toe, and triple flip. He had a really good warmup for the long on Saturday morning; after warming up for a few doubles, he basically tried one of each triple in his long program, and got them all on the first try. The actual competition didn't go quite as smoothly, as he doubled the triple lutz/triple toe and triple salchow. But his axel was one of the better attempts he'd done all week (fully rotated, with just a little hand down), and the triple loop that hurt him so much was perfectly done. So now he is going to rest his knee, and see what life as a pro is like, and probably go back to school, too. I am so pleased that he was able to find a sense of closure on this part of his career, and go out with a lot of class. I am going to miss him a lot, but it's time for him to move on.

Ryan Jahnke: last year he'd spent a lot of time in practices having fun and showing off his beautiful edgy footwork, but this year it was all business. He was working really hard on the triple lutz/triple toe and triple axel, but never quite getting either one of them. I'm not sure what the problem on the triple/triple is because his lutz technique is as good as it gets; much like Paul Wylie in the way he gets deeper on the edge as he picks. He's much closer to landing the axel than last year as it looks like the full rotation is there now, but he's just not getting his weight in the right place to land on one foot. His short, to "Danse Macabre", was a mess, with a major splat on what was probably the worst axel attempt he'd made all week, a two-foot on the triple flip, and a very wild entrance to his combination spin; the latter being unusual for him, because he's a good spinner. I think the actual program itself was probably the best short of the entire competition, but not the way he skated it this time. Another not-so-good practice on Friday; I was worried enough to have a word with him afterwards, and remind him not to let the jumps eat him up. Thankfully, it was the old Ryan who showed up for the long on Saturday, with that radiant quality to his skating that I'd missed seeing from him all week. The program was a Duke Ellington medley, I think -- jazz, anyway. Triple lutz/double toe, popped the axel, then triple flip, triple lutz with a slight two-foot, triple loop/triple loop with the second jump not quite fully rotated and landed on two feet, triple toe/double toe, triple salchow. Glorious footwork, edge quality, and spins throughout, and that contagious smile, too. I believe he had the best presentation of any of the men in the long. On another day Allen or Chack might have been able to top this, but not this time. Presentation-wise, I'd have put Weiss and Dillon just behind Jahnke, BTW.

Derrick Delmore: I like his "Rondo Capricioso" short program, but the long did nothing for me. Very inconsistent with his jumps in practices throughout the week, so it wasn't a surprise when both programs were also a mess. Three falls in the long and the jumps he did land were not particularly secure looking. He needs to re-think his schooling/training arrangements if he wants to continue in the sport.

Dan Hollander: had his "Michael Chack moment" in his short. Very sad, because the program itself was a masterpiece of choreography, with everything set right to the beat. Again, bad practices, so the mistakes were not unexpected. After the short, Dan skipped the rest of his practices, leading to much speculation that he was going to withdraw, so I was surprised to see him show up for the free skate Saturday afternoon. In the long, he did triple lutz, triple axel landed forward on two feet, triple flip, triple loop with a hand down, droopy camel spin, double lutz, another droopy camel spin, triple toe/single toe, triple salchow with a step-out. And then a back flip -- bye, Dan. The crowd went nuts, but I thought it was just sad. I have a bad feeling that he didn't really think through his decision to turn pro and I hope he doesn't come to regret this.

Jere Michael: in the short, he did a slightly two-footed triple axel, triple lutz/double toe, and then went splat on the triple flip. Ouch. The long, though, was about as good as he can skate: the triple axel again slightly two-footed, triple loop, triple lutz/double toe, triple flip, triple toe/triple toe, triple salchow. Good spins and footwork. I was surprised the judges put him behind Dan Hollander, especially since Dan ought to have gotten hit with a deduction for the back flip. Jere has left Frank Carroll and is now at the University of Delaware taking from Jeff DiGregorio, and the change seems to agree with him. He seems a lot more crisp in everything than last year, and isn't so prone to popping his jumps in odd ways. By the way, Jere showed up with facial hair, but it was gone by the long program.

John Baldwin: skated the Bowman programs, but not as well as at Pacific Coasts. Something about Baldwin's skating still rubs me the wrong way, but I think he has improved since last year, even if the jumps were not working here. One thing I will say for him, he now has a very pretty camel spin.

Scott Smith: is it too late for this kid to go back to juniors? He looked very slow and hesitant, especially in the long program. Jumps were triple salchow and triple toe/triple toe. He popped two attempts at a lutz and the rest of his jumps were doubles.

Matt Kessinger: I don't remember him having blond hair before. He's being coached by Peter Oppegard now and his long program, in particular, seemed to bear Peter's stamp. But the jumps were just not there for Matt.

Pete St. Germaine: a fine skater in spite of his last-place finish, with good carriage, interesting choreography, and a mature, developed approach to his skating. (Personally, I thought he deserved better presentation marks than Tim Goebel....) Unfortunately, his only reliable triples are the toe loop and salchow. He did a nice one-foot axel/footwork/triple salchow combination. I like the pony tail.

Danny Clausen: skated a good clean short with a double axel, triple lutz/triple toe, and triple flip, then withdrew from the long with some unspecified illness. He seems to like to land all of his jumps with his arms folded in front of his chest. Pleasant skater, but didn't really knock my socks off. No triple axel in his repertoire.

Jeff Merica: now here is a guy who was really, really sick the whole week. He was on the same bus back from the practice rink with me on Monday night, and was already coughing like he was fit to die. By the Saturday morning warmup he looked like he was about to pass out on the ice, and he wisely withdrew before the free skate. It's a pity, since he is also one of the best presenters in the field, and he was actually having pretty good luck with his triple axel earlier in the week and probably would have pulled up a few notches over his finish last year if he'd been able to skate. I hope we get to see him again, and healthy, next year. It really has to be devastating to the skaters to get sick during the one chance they have during the year to establish themselves in this sport.


Senior ladies

I saw a bunch of the ladies practices, too....

Michelle Kwan: Well, I don't really know what to say. Clearly the class of the field, and yet I saw a lot of things I didn't like. She needs to skate faster, and her spins look really pathetic compared to those of Nam and even Nikodinov. I would hope Nam would push her to fix her spins in the same way that Bobek pushed her to improve her spiral four years ago. I also don't think either of her programs this year represent much of a step forward for her; they seem to be more closely related to her 1996-97 programs than the ones she did last year.

Naomi Nari Nam: she had incredibly good luck at this competition, when Bobek pulled out and each of Nikodinov, Corwin, and McConn tanked in at least one phase of the competition. After seeing her land only two triples at Pacific Coasts, I thought the best she could possibly hope for was the bottom half of the top 10. I am worried that she's getting too much hype too soon.... it seems that the toe loop and flip are still her only consistent triples, as she was still struggling with two-footing the loop and salchow. One thing I am impressed with, though, is the high quality of her double axel. When I first saw Naomi Nari at Pacific Coasts two years go, her axel was tiny and cheated, now it's a power jump for her.

Angela Nikodinov: she is a fine, fine skater, but I wonder where her head is. Her practices were horrible, all week long. When she'd land her jumps, they'd be totally perfect, but more often than not she'd pop or double. If she can't pull herself together at 4Cs and Worlds this year, I'd say this is the end of the line for her, and it's such a pity, because she has the talent to do this.

Sarah Hughes: still skates like a junior. Flutzes. Like Nam, she may have trouble holding her placement when the new crop of juniors moves up next year, unless she can make good use of the additional year of competition experience she's gaining on them.

Erin Pearl: I never would have predicted Erin in the top 5 coming in to this championship! I have a suspicion, though, that she is going to turn out like Patricia Mansfield four years ago -- 5th at Nationals when she skated well in a weak field, and then basically never heard from again. With that leg wrap, I don't think she's going to be able to get any more triples, and although her skating has improved in other ways, she is still doing the same jumps she had as a junior two or three years ago.

Amber Corwin: Her short was fine, and I would have had her second instead of third. But the long....ouch. Like Angela, this may be the end for her, unless she can place well at 4Cs.

Brittney McConn: another skater who was having bad practices all week. In the short she went up sideways on a double lutz and fell, then fell on her triple salchow too. I don't know if I saw her land a triple lutz once all week in practices. Then in the long she comes out and skates a completely clean program with triple salchow, triple lutz, triple flip/double toe, double loop, triple salchow/double toe, and triple toe. Her reaction at the end of the program was priceless!

Andrea Aggeler: a real delight. She's an 18-year-old in her first year of seniors, and was reminding me a bit of Nancy Kerrigan in the mature way she carried herself on the ice.... and then she came out for the free skate in this black dress with a white beaded band around the chest and back and sheer black illusion sleeves. In the short she was either going for triple toe/double toe or triple toe/triple toe, but she doubled the first jump, took a step, and then did a triple toe, so she got credit for attempting a double toe/triple toe combination with a step in between. Gutsy. But then she fell on the loop. In the long, she was attempting double salchow/half loop/triple salchow, which seemed like a very original combination; but she had a step-out on the triple sal. She also landed a loop and two toe loops, fell on a second triple salchow, and waxeled (oops). Very nice spins and good edge quality, what I have come to expect from Diana Ronayne's students.

Stacey Pensgen: I think she had the most consistent triple lutz of the field, after Michelle Kwan. But she seemed to be unable to land much else. It's a pity, because I like her unaffected, athletic style.

Sydne Vogel: Sad to say, but I think she ought to hang up her skates and concentrate on college full-time. I think the growth and injuries she has gone through since 1996 or 1997 have totally destroyed her skating; even her spins have deteriorated, and her only reliable triple now seems to be the triple toe. I'd rather see her going on to have a good career doing something else than to continue to hang on year after year and never breaking out of the bottom of the pack at Nationals again.

Andrea Gardiner: I think in her case the problem is that she didn't get in enough training time after her injury, and the lack of confidence affected her as much as the injury itself. It was very sad to see her struggling with even her double axel and triple loop. She's such a power skater, and has a real presence on the ice.


Other random comments

A couple of notes on the venues. The ice surface in the Delta Center is about 10 feet below the level of the first row of seats, which are also set back maybe 5 or 10 feet from the ice. In the corners the seats curve around to basically overhang the ice, though, so if you are up above, you can't see what's happening below the overhang. And this layout makes the ice and the skaters farther away than normal, too. From the skaters point of view, they can't see anything but black curtain, judges, and TV cameras down in that pit. I can't believe they are really planning to hold the *Olympics* in this arena.

The E-center is a terrific new arena in a location in the 'burbs with a ton of restaurants, shops, and hotels around, and it's too bad they didn't decide to use it as the main rink for the competition. I suppose it is a little too small but with half the seats in the Delta Center either removed or left unsold because of the blocked view, does it really matter? Another nice feature of the E-center is that the arena food was better there.

The Acord practice rink is really out in the middle of nowhere, but it's a nice new rink and is not too cold for spectating. As I noted, the skaters were complaining about the sticky ice there; it gave the figures competitors difficulties, Ryan Jahnke mentioned it to me, and I heard other skaters were bothered by it too.

I spent very little time lobby-lurking at the competitor's hotel this time, just quickly cruising through on Saturday night to say goodbye to Michael Chack. On Friday evening I witnessed a really horrifying incident at the Acord practice rink, involving Michelle Kwan being mobbed by autograph seekers, and I really didn't have any desire to be part of any fan mobs myself.

I heard a lot of skaters and coaches complaining about the bus system and having to take a bus from the hotel to the Delta center and change there for the buses to the other two venues. In some cases it was taking an hour or more to get to and from the practice rinks. It was also irritating that there was no bus connecting the two practice rinks which were only a few miles apart in West Valley City; you had to take the bus back downtown and switch. Early in the week they also were not running buses directly from the Delta center back to the hotel -- just the long loop serving all the downtown hotels with the Hilton as the last stop -- but I guess they figured that one out pretty quickly.

Finally, one very irritating thing: the Delta center management was under strict orders from the LOC not to allow any banners for the skaters to be hung up in the arena, and they came around and removed anything that people had put up. I heard that the problem was that the LOC had originally planned to hang advertising around the black curtains but that plan was squashed by USFSA headquarters because of their TV and sponsorship agreements, so they weren't going to allow *anything* to be hung up there. It was unfortunate for the skaters, who really seem to like the gestures of fan support.

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