2000 US Nationals

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Monday's report

My flight to Cleveland was somewhat delayed, and having heard about what a zoo the Winterhurst rink was on Sunday for the Novice short programs, I decided to skip the remaining Novice events entirely and just hang out at Gund Arena to watch practices instead. I caught the tail end of the men's short program practice, went out to lunch, came back to catch the last 3 groups of pairs, took another break to check into my hotel and grab some dinner, then watched all three groups of men do their long program practice. I didn't take notes on anything, but here are a few impressions....

In the pairs, I missed Ina & Zimmerman's group. Scott & Dulebohn looked fine, as did Spielberg & Joeright. I really enjoyed watching Vlandis & Peterson's program although they were having a lot of problems with the elements.

It's hard to know what to make of the Stieglers. Johnnie seemed to be avoiding jumping -- he was just skating around doing nothing while Tiffany was warming up double axel, etc. My recollection is that they ignored their music and worked on throw jumps instead of doing their runthrough.

For all that Jered Guzman has had a serious knee injury, he looked very strong in this practice -- nailing his triple toe on every attempt, etc. Amanda Magarian was having lots of problems with her jumps, OTOH, but I heard that at yesterday's practice she was landing everything.

No-shows for men included Weiss, Merica, and Delmore, but the turn-out was overall pretty good for the first day of practices.

Matt Savoie looks to be in fine form with his jumps -- he was nailing triple axel/triple toe, etc. I was wishing he would skate with a little more speed, though.

Tim Goebel basically didn't do anything but quad attempts in either of the practices, as far as I could tell. He landed a bunch, but he also fell on quite a number of them. In the free skate practice he left before his music was played.

Damon Allen was having no luck at all with his triple axel -- I don't think he even managed to rotate just one, among all the pops and doubles. His other jumps looked pretty solid, except that he slipped off the entrance edge to his loop in his runthrough.

Ryan Jahnke was doing better with getting his triple axel rotated, but he's still having problems with two-footing the landings. He was one of the few skaters (perhaps the only one?) to do a complete run-through of his program with all the jumps -- he did a really nice triple salchow/triple loop combination, in particular, which I'd never seen from him before.

Ryan Bradley's triple axel is still looking like it's in the "no way" stage (significantly underrotated, from what I could see) but he has an amazing ability to pull off triple/triple combinations even when the first jump has a wonky landing. Lots of personality on the ice, and a real cutie; if he gets shown on TV, he's going to make legions of fans.

Shepherd Clark did almost no jumping at all. I've seen him do this before at Nationals -- spend a practice just skating his program choreography with no jumps.

Trifun Zivanovic was there but, since he was in the same group as Clark and Jahnke, I found it hard to pay much attention to him. I did see him land a triple axel/triple toe, etc.


Tuesday's report

I ended up spending most of the day at the practice rink -- I decided to pass on the junior pairs short program in the afternoon after remembering how scary the ones at Easterns were. So I saw two groups of senior ladies, senior men again, plus a little of the senior pairs, junior dance, and junior ladies practices.

The ladies don't compete until Friday so practices were still half-empty -- Kirk, Wheat, Nam, Cohen, Nikodinov, etc. were all no-shows at the short program practice. For me the big surprise of the two groups I sat through was Heidi Pakkala, who I'd never seen before. She had a great runthrough with a triple lutz (mild flutz?) combination and triple flip. Andrea Gardiner is back again this year and also seems to be skating really well. Sarah Hughes and Deanna Stellato had so-so practices.

The men were much the same as yesterday. Shepherd Clark did some jumps during the short program practice and skipped the long program practice. Tim Goebel finally did some stuff other than quad attempts during the short program practice, but still didn't bother to do a program run-through. Damon Allen finally managed to land a couple triple axels; unbelievably enough, the closest one I saw from any of the other guys came from Don Baldwin. Michael Weiss and Jeff Merica were still no-shows, but Justin Dillon was there and I saw Derrick Delmore arriving for the later practice although I didn't stay to watch his group.

After a dinner break, I saw the junior ladies short. This time I actually took notes:

Ann Patrice McDonough (2): Burgundy outfit with lots of gold sequins, Sarasate gypsy violin music. Flying sit spin didn't really fly. Fell on triple flip. Surprised me with a triple lutz out of footwork, that looked like a real lutz. I think she got a deduction for recentering her combination spin.

Midori Williams (7): Black sparkly dress, wimpy violin and piano music. Triple sal/double toe combination, good flying sit spin, double lutz.

Katy Orscher (5): Pale blue dress, Indian/Irish music mishmash. Triple toe/double toe combination, OK flying sit spin, double lutz, other spins were on the weak side. She looked a little hesitant or off-balance at a couple points; I would have put her behind Midori.

Kim Ryan (6): Grey & red 1-sleeved dress, "Schindler's List". Travelly layback, triple toe/step out/double toe, good flying sit spin, double axel may have been 2-footed, more problems centering spin combination, double lutz looked flutzed to me. Good flow, nice program.

Felicia Beck (12): Blue dress, gypsy music. Double axel looked cheated, fall on triple flip, fall on triple lutz. OTOH, she had the best layback spin of the competition.

Lisa Nesuda (1): Pale blue dress, "On Golden Pond". Layback had nice position but travelled, complicated steps into 'tano double lutz, popped axel, great flying sit spin, triple loop/double toe, good combination spin. Pleasant program, good presentation.

Beatrisa Liang (10): Orange dress, Cirque du Soleil music. Triple flip/double toe, fell on double axel, flying sit spin was a bit awkward, double lutz. She did a nice triple lutz in warmup but I guess was playing it safe after having fallen on the axel. She's so small that she's noticibly lacking in speed and power compared to the other competitors.

Lindsey Weber (9): Purple sparkly dress, Tchaikovsky violin concerto. triple toe/toe axel, travelly layback, double lutz, flying sit spin didn't. I thought she looked a bit stiff throughout the entire program.

Joanna Glick (8): Red dress, "Mulan". Double flutz, triple flip/double loop, travelly layback, straight-line footwork sequence seemed a little off-kilter. I'm not sure why her marks came out quite as low as they did; perhaps some of the judges thought she only did a double flip? Or perhaps they were paying more attention to the quality of her basic skating than the jumps?

Jordana Blesa (3): Blue dress, some new-age-type music with a harp in it. Very fast and smooth. Fell on triple flutz, triple toe/double toe flew over the ice, big double axel, layback spin was relatively weak.

Kim Olson-Wheeler (11): Green Chinese-style dress, "Last Emperor". Double toe/double toe combination, popped axel, double lutz, spin combination looked weak to me.

Dirke O'Brien Baker (4): Blue dress, Rachmaninoff. Double axel, triple toe/hands down/double toe, flying sit spin didn't, double lutz. Fast. She's capable of skating a lot better than this.


Wednesday's report

Today's schedule for me was: senior men and ladies short program practices, junior men short program, senior original dance, dinner break, and senior pairs short program.

I think pretty much all the competitors have arrived now. The senior men's practice started at 7:10am and I think it was a bit too early for most of the guys, as they were really taking their time warming up, not doing an awful lot of jumping, and once again Ryan Jahnke seemed to be the only one doing a complete program runthrough.

Michael Weiss has arrived but I have to say that he really looked awful in this practice. He didn't do much of anything other than take a whopping fall on his stomach on a triple axel attempt. He tried a few more later in the session and was having more problems with a bad lean in the air and pitching forward on the landing. I really hope the problem is just that he wasn't awake that early in the morning and that he can pull himself together before tomorrow.

The ladies were up next and most of them were being more serious about doing their runthroughs. The big news is that Michelle Kwan is here -- she was the first skater in her group to do her runthrough, it was perfect, and then she spent the rest of the practice working on some of her long program elements.

Naomi Nari Nam has also arrived; in her runthrough she fell out of her flying sit spin and two-footed the flip, but she hit a big triple lutz/double toe combination. Her speed has improved a lot this year and she looked impressive. Sasha Cohen had a clean runthrough with triple lutz/double toe and triple flip, as did Jenny Kirk. I'd give Jenny the edge on her jumps, but Sasha has better speed and looks a little less juniorish.

Angela Nikodinov had a typical Angela performance in her runthrough; if she skates like that in the competition, I predict she will finish about 12th. Amber Corwin actually looked the most impressive of the older girls.

After this there was the junior men's short. It's too late for me to be ambitious enough to write up complete notes on everybody, but here are the leaders. Nobody really skated cleanly and the ordinals were all mixed up....

Johnny Weir (1): Fell on triple axel attempt, hit the triple lutz with no trouble. His flying sit spin was a bit scary. Good change-foot camel, although the front half was better than the back spin.

Ben Miller (2): Hand down on triple lutz, triple flip/double toe combination clean but not much flow, droopy slow change camel, not much fly on the flying sit spin. Good fast serpentine step sequence that really covered the ice surface. Fast.

Daniel Lee (3): Triple flip/double toe, 2.5 lutz landed facing forward, spins were all considerably above average, straight-line footwork on the weak side but the circular steps were good.

Parker Pennington (4): Fell on triple flip (not even close to landing it), triple lutz may have been flutzed, spin combination was good but the other spins weren't so great.

Evan Lysacek (5): Fell on triple flip (but it was a much better attempt than Parker's), triple lutz clean, droopy slow camel. A little slow through the footwork.

Michael Villareal (6): Triple toe/toe axel, double three turns out of the double axel, only a double lutz and it didn't pop directly out of the footwork. Good spins, effective program. The judges were loudly booed for his placement, but he had both a lower base mark and various deductions.

I don't have much to say about the senior original dance except that I think Handra & Sinek placing ahead of Koegel and Fediukov was totally deserved -- they've really improved a lot, were faster, had a more coherent program, etc. OTOH, my sense was that Newman & Boundoukin were over-marked by at least one place.

Here are some brief comments about the senior pairs short program:

Ina & Zimmerman (1): Kyoko did all but fall on the landing of the throw, otherwise the program was reasonably clean. Their twist was spectacular.

Scott & Dulebohn (2): Tiffany fell on the triple toe. Rest of the program was good.

Stieglers (3): What a mess. Tiffany fell on her triple toe while Johnnie doubled his. Then she fell and crashed into the boards on the throw. Then they really slopped through their side-by-side spins. They were waaay overmarked on presentation because of all the errors; I think they should have been 4th or 5th.

Spielberg & Joeright (4): An almost-clean program of lesser difficulty (double axels, two-handed lift). The only error was that she put her hand down on the throw, but overall they looked very crisp and secure.

Magarian & Guzman (5): Amanda fell on her triple toe while Jered landed his. They had unison problems on the side-by-side spins but the other elements were all of good quality. Their lift was one of the better ones of the competition -- one-armed star with a very nifty flip dismount.

Vlandis & Peterson (6): Noticibly slower than any of the pairs who placed above them. They both botched their triple toes and had various unison problems, but this was a stronger performance from them than I'd expected after seeing them practice.


Thursday's report

First up for me this morning was the first two groups of the senior ladies long program practice. As with the men yesterday, most of the skaters didn't seem quite awake yet. Michelle Kwan had a so-so runthrough; she scaled down her triple/triple to a triple/double and also doubled the loop. Naomi Nari Nam was having a lot of jump trouble today, having major problems with the flip, loop, and salchow. I don't recall that she skated through much of her program when they played the music. Jenny Kirk did do her program, missed a bunch of jumps, then went back and didn't seem to have much trouble doing them in isolation.

I didn't see the group with Sarah Hughes, Stacey Pensgen, etc because I went over to Winterhurst to see the men's long program practice instead. I was hoping to see Michael Weiss but he blew off this practice, as did both Tim Goebel and Trifun Zivanovic and several of the other guys. Matt Savoie was there, though, being his usual hard-working self. Shepherd Clark was there, but still not doing much of anything; he entertained us by doing a loop figure on the ice instead.

I skipped the junior pairs free skate -- it's impossible to see everything at these events, and pairs has been my least favorite discipline lately. Sorry, but the more I see of novice and junior pairs, the less I like just sitting there being afraid for the safety of the skaters.

I did make it for the junior ladies free skate, though. Again, I'm feeling too lazy to type up complete notes on everybody, and also my notes are a little sketchy. I found I have a hard time seeing into one corner of the rink from where I'm sitting, and I'm having trouble identifying jumps (etc) that are done too close to the boards there.

Beatrisa Liang pulled way up from 10th in the short to 3rd in the long and 6th overall with a really strong performance with 4 or 5 triples including a flip and lutz. The only obvious mistake was a fall on a triple loop attempt. However, as I noted in the short, she still lacks speed and the technical aspects of her presentation need a lot of work.

In the final flight, we were blessed (not!) with three "Zorro" programs in a row, from Dirke O'Brien Baker, Jordana Blesa, and Kathryn Orscher. Orscher's was by far the best. Her triples were toe, salchow, and loop (the latter being in the blind corner so I couldn't tell if it was cleanly landed or not), but her program was also packed with a lot of double jumps and jump combinations and good connecting elements. She also could stand to skate with more speed and "command", but this was good enough for 4th in the long and 3rd overall.

Lisa Nesuda skated a Latin-themed program. She did a nice triple loop/double toe combination and two other triples in my blind corner -- I thought they were both flips, but that can't be right, so one of them must have been either a lutz or a toe loop. The first one looked two-footed to me. She also had a bunch of double jumps and combinations including two double axels, and she pulled the highest presentation marks of the event.

Ann Patrice McDonough skated last, and like Beatrisa Liang she landed 4 or 5 triples including flip and lutz. But, like Beatrisa, her presentation marks went down compared to her technical merit marks, and I wasn't sure this was going to be enough to put her over Lisa Nesuda until the standings came up on the screen and showed her in first place, which had her jumping up and down in the kiss-and-cry area.

After this there was the senior men's short program warm-up. All the guys showed up for this one. More of the same -- Matt Savoie looked consistent and businesslike, Tim Goebel spent nearly all his practice time attempting quads, Michael Weiss looked somewhat uncertain. Derrick Delmore and Jeff Merica, who hadn't been around earlier in the week, were each having some success with their triple axels. Shepherd Clark finally decided to work on some jumps -- he did a terrific triple lutz/triple loop but his triple axel attempts all resulted in major wipeouts. By this time, I was beginning to suspect that Shep's lack of jumps in practice has been due to injury, as he's been rubbing his lower back every now and then.

I took a break for dinner, then caught the last flight of the senior free dance. A couple random thoughts:

Newman & Boundoukin's Greek peasant free dance looked a heck of a lot better here than it did at Easterns, and the music didn't sound as painfully screechy either. Koegel & Fediukov did a dance with a theme that seemed to be a bit of a downer and I wasn't sure it would hold up for that reason. I was so distracted by Handra & Sinek's music that I found it impossible to appreciate their dance as a dance -- it sounded like a ripoff of the Bach B minor mass overlaid with heavy percussion, strange electronic noises, and an electric fiddle. Shudder.

I thought that Silverstein & Pekarek skated with more speed than Lang & Tchernyshev, who seemed to be skating quite cautiously throughout their program. In spite of that, Peter fell out of a twizzle near the end of the program. OTOH, L&T's choreography was obviously the more difficult. I thought the highlight of the program was where they did something akin to Anissina & Peizerat's "ying-yang" spiral, but rotating, and they changed the direction of the rotation in the middle of the move, which must be incredibly difficult. Anyway, L&T's marks were incredibly high, including a 6.0 for presentation.

BTW, L&T have new costumes -- pink for her and dark burgundy for him.

After this, it was the senior men's short program. People who have been paying attention may have noticed that this is where I have been spending most of my time, so here are some notes on the entire field:

Ryan Bradley (6): Clean program with double axel, triple flip/triple toe, triple lutz. His spin combination was a bit slow. This kid is really a charmer and I'm thrilled he's going to get some TV exposure in his first senior nationals.

Trifun Zivanovic (4): Triple flip/double toe, triple axel, triple lutz. Typical Trifun performance.

Danny Clausen (11): Painfully slow. Splat on triple axel, triple flip/triple toe, hands down on triple lutz.

Justin Dillon (8): Splat on triple axel, wild death drop, triple flutz, slow straight footwork, spin combination had nice layback but travelled, and then at the very end of the program triple loop/triple toe with a touch of the free foot on the landing of the second jump.

Tim Goebel (2): Quad salchow had no footwork on the entrance and a step-out on the landing, triple axel/triple toe was barely squeaked out, double axel. Poor positions on his spins -- his back sit spin position is so especially horrible that I wonder why they have him doing both a sit-change-sit and death drop in addition to including this position in his combination spin.

Damon Allen (5): Triple axel, and he landed it! I was surprised after all the trouble he'd had in practice. But then he went and blew the landings of both jumps in his triple lutz/double toe combination. Triple flip as the jump out of footwork.

Ryan Jahnke (7): While he was circling around waiting for Damon's marks to be read, someone yelled out really loud, "Ryan, will you marry me?" He looked really nervous and skated a lot more cautiously than in practice. Triple axel was underrotated and two-footed but he didn't fall, triple lutz/double toe instead of the triple/triple he'd been planning, then he picked up and did a great triple flip out of footwork and the rest of the program was fine.

Derrick Delmore (10): Fell on his triple axel and popped his lutz (he got too close to the boards again). Combination was triple flip/double toe. His change-foot camel was probably the best spin of the entire competition.

Jeff Merica (9): Had a great program going with a clean triple axel and triple lutz/double toe combination, but wound up doing only a double toe as his jump out of footwork. Huh? Loss of concentration, perhaps? Quite a spread of marks but I was surprised by how generally low they were, especially on the second mark. OTOH, he also looked quite cautious throughout his program and he is not the speediest skater anyway.

Michael Weiss (1): Only a triple toe as his jump out of footwork. I don't think he was even planning to attempt a quad there. Wonky leaning triple axel/double toe, double axel. Spins and footwork were fine, as is usual for him, and he skated with enough speed and authority that he looked good in spite of the disappointing jump content. He also had a pretty wide spread on his first mark.

Kurt Fromknecht (15): Triple flip/double toe kind of wild, double axel, major splat on a triple lutz that disrupted the remainder of his program as he got behind his music, etc.

Don Baldwin (13): Triple axel was cleanly landed! I just about fell over in shock. But things went downhill from there -- he fell on his triple lutz, stepped out of his triple flip/double toe combination, and generally seemed to give up on the program in the way he has often done at past competitions. Incidentally, I must give Don a special award for having the Best Hair of any of the guys in this event.

Johnnie Bevan (12): Double axel, triple flutz/double toe, fell on triple flip. He's improved a lot since I last saw him 3 years ago; he's being coached by Frank Carroll now.

John Baldwin (14): Fell on triple axel, two-footed triple flip/double toe combination, triple lutz. Nice change-foot camel.

Shepherd Clark: Big splat on wonky axel, triple lutz but no combination. There was obviously something wrong and he stopped in the middle of his program and was holding his back again and went over to tell the referee he was withdrawing, which resulted in a spontaneous standing ovation as I think a lot of people realized they might be witnessing Shep's swan song at Nationals. He seems to be truly beloved in the skating community and it just wouldn't be Nationals without him after all these years. He was in tears as he left the ice.

Matt Savoie (3): Triple axel out of spread eagle entrance, made his triple flip/triple toe combination look easy, triple lutz likewise. He might have picked up a minor spin deduction and he could have skated with a little more speed, but the choreography of this program was interesting, Matt has made major improvements in every aspect of his carriage and in-between skating, and it was certainly a cleaner program than Tim's and ought to have had a much higher base mark than Michael's. I thought he ought to have won the short easily, and I was stunned to see how low his marks were. It has to be terribly frustrating for him and his coach -- what more does he have to do to get the respect of the US judges? I hate it when bad judging like this happens because it makes the whole sport look like a farce.


Friday's report

First event of the day for me was the junior men's free skate. This turned out to be a very competitive event with much better skating overall than in recent years, although I'm not sure any of the top 5 are really ready to move up to senior yet.

Parker Pennington was first to skate in the final group. He certainly wins the costume award, at least -- lovely blue and green shaded shirt with matching blue pants. My notes are not 100% accurate, but I have that he landed a triple lutz, triple loop, triple axel that looked cheated, triple sal/double toe, triple flip, and fell on another lutz attempt. Expression was fairly bland throughout the program and I thought some of his jump technique left a lot to be desired -- he has a weird twisted entry to both his lutz and axel.

Evan Lysacek skated next. He went for a triple lutz/ triple toe combination but fell on the second jump, triple flip/half loop/triple salchow that looked two-footed, triple flip, triple lutz again. I thought his program and presentation were better than Parker's and was surprised to see that the judges didn't give him a clear edge on the second mark.

Ben Miller did triple lutz, triple flip with a hand down, triple toe/step out/double toe, triple loop/double loop out of serpentine footwork, triple salchow, triple lutz/double toe. He was quite fast but I think didn't have the overall quality in his in-between skating, and was surprised when the standings came up and showed him ahead of Evan, because I would have had him third at this point.

Daniel Lee skated next. I'm afraid I don't have very good notes on him because I was distracted by people shuffling seats. He had a couple falls at the beginning of the program, and at the end landed triple salchow, triple toe double toe, triple flip(?), and another triple salchow.

Johnny Weir was last. Triple lutz/double toe, fell on triple axel attempt, popped the flip, fell on loop, popped an axel, landed another triple lutz and a triple salchow. He also had a slip in his combination spin. So, this dropped him all the way down to fifth place after being first after the short, but his placement re-shuffled the majorities for the other skaters and suddenly Evan Lysacek wound up winning the event on a tie-breaker! I would have liked to have seen his face when they told him he won -- I'm sure he must have thought he was going to be third or fourth. The final standings were Lysacek, Pennington, Miller, Lee, Weir.

After this was the junior original dance. As usual for me, I didn't take detailed notes on the dance, but I did note that Nussear & Forsyth were fairly slow through the middle part of their dance. Belbin & Agosto had more speed and flow but less complexity in their program.

Rather than watching the pairs warmup, I went over to Winterhurst to catch some of the men's practice. Not much to report. I saw Justin Dillon finally stand up on a triple axel, although it was cheated by half a turn. Ryan Jahnke is still two-footing his, although it's not a disruptive error. I didn't get to see the final group because I had to get back to the main arena for the start of the senior ladies short program.

Angela Nikodinov (4) was the first skater up. Surprise, surprise -- she skated clean, with triple lutz/double toe and triple flip. But she was really slow and her music and choreography did nothing to add any excitement to her skating.

Susan Ng (18) did two-footed triple flip/double toe and fell on a triple salchow. Her tango program was wonderfully choreographed although I've seen her present it better in practice.

Naomi Nari Nam (5) did triple flutz/step/double toe but then doubled her flip. I thought that some of her required elements marks were pretty generous given what the latter mistake ought to have done to her base mark.

Andrea Gardiner (6) skated a clean program with triple flutz/double toe and a triple toe out of footwork. I thought she ought to have been placed above Naomi, but I'm glad she made the final group as she'd been looking really good in practice during the week.

Jennifer Kirk (11) did an impressive triple lutz/double toe out of a spread eagle but took herself out of contention by falling on her triple flip. She was also hurt by her lack of speed and power.

Sara Wheat (12) landed triple flip/double toe and triple toe, but then popped her axel. She seemed very tentative through much of her program.

Brittney McConn (9) had a good skate, her only major error being a step out on her triple flutz. She did a triple loop as her jump in combination, and her death drop was spectacular. I thought she was undermarked.

Amber Corwin (15) had a nightmarish skate, falling on all three jump elements. This was really sad, because she'd looked pretty "on" in the practice I'd seen earlier in the week.

Heidi Pakkala (13) landed a fine triple lutz/double toe with tons of speed and flow, and triple toe as the jump out of footwork, but made the same mistake as Sara and popped her axel. I had observed in practice that her axel technique is pretty wonky as she doesn't really step up or bring her free leg through. Anyway, I was rather taken aback by how low her marks were.

Deanna Stellato (8) put her hands down on her triple lutz, then did double toe. Solo jump was triple flip. Everything she did was very quick and fast, and her skating had almost a choppy quality to it as a result.

Kimberly Kilby (20) had a really awful performance, falling on triple lutz and triple flip and popping her axel into a waltz jump. I think it would have been smarter for her to go for simpler jumps that she can actually land.

Michelle Kwan (3) did double axel and triple lutz/double toe with no trouble, but fell on her triple toe and seemed a little deflated through the rest of the program.

Stacey Pensgen (7) did triple lutz/double toe and triple flip, but her stupid mistake was falling in her circular footwork sequence. The program and choreography was really blah, but I thought she was really undermarked by some of the judges -- a 4.5 for required elements?

Andrea Aggeler (10) did triple flutz with a hand down and no flow into a toe axel, and complicated footwork into a triple toe. This was tons better than any of her practices that I'd seen where she was doing major splats on her lutz attempts. She looked very cautious at some points in her program and I thought she was a little overmarked -- one judge had her as high as 6th, for instance.

Cohen Duncan (17) did a triple salchow with a weird scrape on the takeoff as her jump out of footwork and came up half a rotation short on what was supposed to be a triple toe as her jump in combination. I really liked her layback, which had a sideways-leaning position.

Sasha Cohen (1) skated a clean program with triple lutz/double toe, triple flip, double axel, and a lot of moves that showed off her flexibility. The lutz may have been slightly flutzed but the major problem I saw was lack of speed, and she is so small that it is hard for her to project an air of authority on the ice.

Sarah Hughes (2) also skated a clean program with the same jump elements. Her flutz didn't seem quite as obvious to me this time. I would have put her ahead of Sasha just on speed and edge quality.

Elizabeth Kwon (14) fell on her triple lutz attempt but did the rest of the program clean. This is really a very pleasant program but she's a little outclassed in this field; I think she probably would have been better off staying junior another year.

Katie Lee (19) had one of those "ouch" performances as she popped her combination into double toe/double toe and fell on both the salchow and axel.

Stephanie Roth (16), OTOH, actually skated quite well, really skating with a lot of attack and speed. She did a double toe/triple toe combination but fell on the triple salchow she did as the jump out of footwork.

The next event was the pairs free skate.

Magarian & Guzman (4), skating in the middle warmup group, did side-by-side double axels with a hand down, triple twist, she doubled the triple toe, an impressive star to platter lift with a change in the direction of rotation, throw triple loop, a 1-arm lasso lift, jump sequence, and a lift that failed to go up. Not bad considering how much training time Jered lost.

Scott & Dulebohn (2) started the final flight with a really good performance. Clean triple toes, crashy triple twist, throw double axel, great side-by-side spins, throw triple salchow with a step out on the landing, double axels, and another jump sequence at the end. I think lack of speed in parts of their program hurt them more than the mistakes on the elements. I really like this program.

Ina & Zimmerman (1) skated about as well as they could -- they basically hit everything in their program and skated with speed and authority. Absolutely no question that they deserved to win.

Spielberg & Joeright (3) didn't skate up to the same level as their short program. He stepped out of their opening double axels, their triple twist was crashy, clean throw triple salchow, two-handed lift with flip out, double flips not quite in unison, a failed lasso (?) lift, double salchows, throw double loop, star lift. I would have put them behind Magarian & Guzman because both teams made similar kinds of mistakes but M&G were trying more difficult elements.

Stiegler & Stiegler (5) did only double toes, crashy triple twist, throw triple loop with hand down, both had major errors on double axels, messy side-by-side spins, splat on throw triple salchow, a very awkward back press lift, both stumbled out of double loops, and their twisted star lift at the end looked really unstable. On top of the obvious mistakes, they were having problems with unison and Tiffany looked insecure enough in the lifts that she wasn't getting a particularly good extension or position. After what happened with the marking in the short I thought the judges might hold them up to third anyway, since both M&G and S&J had flawed performances too, but I guess sanity prevailed among the judges.

Overall, the pairs event wasn't as awful as I was fearing it was going to be. Only the one last-place team was really scary to watch, and I found quite a number of the programs from the mid-ranked teams to be quite enjoyable.


Saturday's report

The first event of the day was the junior free dance. I think the results came out right on this as far as the top two were concerned. Nussear & Forsyth skated a frantic dance to Keystone Kops music that seemed somewhat old-fashioned, like a poor imitation of Grishuk & Platov at their most obnoxious. Belbin & Agosto, OTOH, were clearly skating in the Anissina & Peizerat dance style, with more emphasis on speed and flow and edge quality and soft knees. The next three or four couples I could rank purely on the basis of their speed, except that the Youngs dropped a spot in the standings because they also had a very obvious stumble near the beginning of their dance and I didn't think the theme and choreography of their dance worked very well for them.

After this it was time for the senior men's free skate. I'm not going to bother giving a blow-by-blow analysis of every skater's elements, because the top group was shown on live TV and for the most part the performances that were not shown weren't all that great. Kurt Fromknecht, Derrick Delmore, and Justin Dillon landed 4 triples apiece, by my count, and nearly everyone else completely imploded.

The one exception was Ryan Jahnke, who skated a program of absolute brilliance to "Asturias" for solo guitar by Isaac Albeniz. It was not only beautifully choreographed and presented, but technically Ryan skated very close to the limit of his current abilities: his jumps were a slightly underrotated and two-footed triple axel, triple lutz/double toe, triple flip, triple salchow/triple loop, solo triple loop, triple lutz, and triple toe, all with the purest technique and connected with easy flowing footwork, spins, and connecting moves performed with speed, confidence, and graceful carriage. I've been a fan of Ryan's for years, but I think this is the first really mature long program he's put together and I'm thrilled to death that he performed it so well when it counted. He placed 4th in the long and 5th overall, so he's going to get USFSA funding and international assignments. If only this had been shown on TV, too!

After a break in which I was hopping around doing a Snoopy happy dance on Ryan's behalf most of the time, it was time for the senior ladies free skate. Just to hit some of the better performances that were not shown on TV:

Amber Corwin landed triple loop/single toe (oops), triple flip, another triple loop, double axel/triple toe sequence, and a triple salchow. She looked really happy with the way she skated.

Stacey Pensgen did triple lutz/double toe, triple flip/double toe, triple salchow, triple toe/double toe, popped the second lutz, and did a triple toe that looked two-footed. Her spins were not up to the quality of her jumps and the program kind of let down at the end with the two mistakes. If she can't do a triple loop, it would be nice if she'd at least do a double as the back half of one of her combinations for a little more variety.

Sara Wheat did triple flip, fell on triple lutz, triple salchow, triple loop, double flip/double toe, and a triple toe/double toe/double loop combination. Her program (Tchaikovsky 6th symphony) was really the best of any of the girls outside the final group but she doesn't yet skate with the authority or power of the older skaters. She looked really thrilled with the way she skated, too.

Jennifer Kirk did triple salchow, triple lutz/double toe, triple toe/triple toe, fell on triple flip, triple loop, spread eagle into triple lutz. The non-jump elements were a little weak (e.g., my notes say "wimpy flying camel") but it's hard to argue with 6 triples. After the short I was afraid she'd blown her chances of going to junior worlds, but she definitely redeemed herself here.

Deanna Stellato did triple lutz/double toe, triple flip, triple toe/double toe, fell on triple loop, triple salchow, triple toe, and popped her second lutz. She is faster and more powerful than Jenny, but I didn't think either of them (or Stacey for that matter) had particularly interesting programs or choreography.

A few other random comments on the remaining ladies:

Angela Nikodinov is flutzing obviously and regularly now, whereas she used to have a pretty pure lutz. Nam's and Cohen's lutzes are also flutzes of the never getting on a strong outside edge to begin with variety, while Gardiner's is the Bobekian type with a deep S-shaped tracing.

I thought Sasha Cohen was a bit overmarked considering she only landed 4 clean triples to Michelle's 6 and Sarah's 5 (with a triple-triple). I would have had her third behind Sarah. Sasha often had problems centering or controlling her spins in spite of hitting some pretty positions in them (but I do think that that split spin she does with her foot twisted sideways is really ugly). I also think that the contortionist moves she does on a flat are more gimmicks than anything that demonstrates mastery of skating, which is supposed to be all about edges.

The Angela Nikodinov versus Andrea Gardiner decision was kind of a toss-up, as far as I was concerned. In spite of the fact that Andrea had one more triple and skated with more attack and excitement, I thought Angela's basic skating quality was better -- Andrea was a bit scratchy and jerky. Neither of them had particularly memorable choreography.

I hope people aren't going to write off Naomi Nari Nam just yet. She is probably not any more inconsistent on her jumps now than she was last year, and she is skating with far more speed and power. She really knocked my socks off in that respect. Give her a couple more years.


Random thoughts

Except for the fiasco of holding the novice events in a rink that was far too small to accommodate the number of people who wanted to see them, this was one of the best-run Nationals I've ever attended. The bus system worked great, the results sheets and starting orders were free, there was a shopping mall with a food court connected to the arena by an indoor passageway so I never once had to eat junky arena food the entire week, and somebody seemed to have taken the trouble to educate the arena staff in advance about etiquette like not letting people down the aisles in the middle of skaters' performances.

The one aspect of the event I found distasteful was all the hype surrounding the men's competition. The Cleveland news media was hyping Timmy and his quads all over the place, and it didn't help to have Carol Heiss Jenkins talking about him doing quints, either. That's just a lot of hot air and everybody knows it -- it reminds me of 1995 Nationals when Tara Lipinski's coach was building her up by telling everybody that she was going to be the first female skater to do quads, when she didn't even have a complete set of triples yet.

Meanwhile, Team Weiss was being equally obnoxious. When Michael did that triple toe loop as his solo jump in his short program, people in his cheering section were yelling and screaming so loudly that you might have thought *he'd* just done a quint -- and it was really obvious where the noise was coming from because everybody else in the arena was being deathly silent after he'd made a goof like that. And, at the medal ceremony when Michael went over to pick up his baby to carry around on his victory lap, there was a very definite and audible groan of dismay from the spectators who were present. Even worse, the Cleveland newspaper reported on Sunday that the baby had been sick all week and was finally diagnosed with chickenpox the morning before the long program -- what the *bleep* kind of parent would drag out a sick child with a contagious illness just for the sake of a publicity stunt like that? Yecchhhh. It takes an effort for me to have to keep reminding myself that I actually like Michael Weiss a lot as a skater.

Anyway, this kind of antics really made me appreciate skaters like Matt Savoie and Ryan Jahnke, who just went out and did their stuff with a minimum of fuss. In the long run, it's all about the skating, and only about the skating.

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