2002 US Nationals

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Saturday's report

By heading there directly from the airport, I arrived early enough on Saturday to catch the senior, novice, and junior men's free skate practices at the HealthSouth rink. Just a word about this facility: it's a very spectator-unfriendly rink. In the larger rink, they left both the hockey glass and hockey net up (the net is particularly annoying). It's also quite cold in there. The other rink has no spectator seating at all and you can only stand in the rink lobby (no chairs, even) and look through the glass wall. I was wondering if they were trying to deliberately discourage spectators from hanging out at this rink.... The only good thing about this rink seems to be that the snack bar sells real food!

Only a few of the senior men were there on Saturday. In the first group, Parker Pennington was the only one who showed. I saw him land a couple ugly triple axels (better than he was doing at Mids, at least). Todd Eldredge's quad is not looking good; after numerous attempts, the best he could manage was a two-footed one. On the positive side, he did a full runthrough of his long program and I thought it looked better-constructed than anything he's had for quite a while; not so much crossovers and plain stroking on his jump set-ups as is typical for him. Evan Lysacek was also in that group, but my mind is blanking on what he actually did. In the third group, Shepherd Clark and Rohene Ward showed. Shep looks like he may actually have trained some since Easterns, while I can sense that Rohene is going to be the focus of a lot of buzz at this Nationals -- speed, huge jumps, astonishing flexibility moves, etc. He landed a few triple axels and moved on to working on his quad toe, but was taking big hard falls on every one.

Casey McGraw looked like the class of the novice men, although Jason Wong also seemed to be skating pretty well, and Wesley Campbell had his moments. In the juniors, I was amused to see that Nick LaRoche still skates exactly the same as he did last year -- namely, like a mad bomber on skates -- in spite of his coaching changes in the meantime. Shaun Rogers's triple axel is amazingly easy and light, while Ben Miller wasn't having much luck with his. Incidentally, Ben wins the fashion award for all the men on Saturday by showing up in a black velour bodysuit with a multicolored ruffle running down one sleeve and side of his costume. Jordan Brauninger doubled out on most (all?) of the triples in his program runthrough and then went back to work on the jumps later in the practice. He looks pretty good.

Sunday's report

Senior men practices

I saw both the morning (short program) and afternoon (free skate) practices. I was taking photos rather than notes, and things have kind of all run together in my head. All 18 men showed up for both practices -- I was actually surprised to see Michael Weiss there so early in the week, given his usual propensity for not showing up until the last minute. Maybe he decided that strategy hasn't been working for him.

Overall, it seemed like all the men were pretty ragged in the morning practice. I don't think anybody hit all their jumps in their program runthrough. In the afternoon practice, it seemed like the skaters were starting to find their legs.

I am guessing Tim Goebel will probably win this event unless he has some sort of meltdown. He was landing quads left and right, as usual, but the real miracle is what Frank Carroll and Lori Nichol have done with the rest of his skating. He's still far from being a great skater, but his presentation skills have definitely progressed to the point now where he is no longer an embarassment to men's skating.

Todd Eldredge is looking OK, I guess. He is still using the "Carmina Burana" short program music with the forbidden vocals. Ooops. The quad just isn't happening for him -- maybe 10 attempts before he finally got one -- and I think the amount of time he's spent training it has cut into his consistency on his triple/triple combinations. Aside from the quad, his free skate runthrough was OK, but I don't think it would be enough to beat a typical Tim performance.

Michael Weiss was also having quad problems -- I think it was in the afternoon practice where he landed a good one near the beginning of the session and then couldn't get another one in spite of many tries. Very hard fall on it in his free skate runthrough. I remember he got the triple axel/triple toe but the second triple axel was wildly tilted in the air and he couldn't save the landing. In spite of the dumb "Mike Pike", it's an excellent program and I'd give Mike high marks for his strong upper-body carriage and his dance ability.

Matt Savoie doesn't look as sharp as he did last year in terms of his jumps, but every year I get more and more impressed by the improvements in his presentation and style. Hard to believe this is really the same gawky skater I first saw back in 1997. I must say that I really like Matt's new longer hairstyle, too. Makes him look very sexy.

Johnny Weir seems to be having some kind of problem. At first we were wondering if he might have a cold since he was spending a lot of time standing at the boards blowing his nose, but in the afternoon practice he kept fiddling with his boot, couldn't finish his runthrough, and finally I saw him take some ibuprofen or tylenol (from a large white bottle) and leave the ice 15 or 20 minutes before the end of the session.

Rohene Ward was still splatting all over the ice on his quad attempts. He spent quite a bit of time on it in the morning practice. He didn't do a complete runthrough of his short program, but the annoying gliding on two feet and dancing in place still seems to be there. His long program is better-constructed. He was first to skate in the afternoon session so he chose to do a complete runthrough of the choreography without any of the jumps. When the jumps are in, watch for the reverse-direction double axel!

Ryan Jahnke's triple axel was MIA in both practices, but his programs, as usual, are lovely. I've noticed at past competitions that it's typical for Ryan to have less than stellar practices early in the week and become more consistent, focused, and confident each day, so I'm hopeful that he'll be able to find his groove by competition day this time.

Aside from Tim Goebel, the prize for most quads landed goes to -- surprise! -- Scott Smith, who landed at least 5 quad salchows in a row at the end of the afternoon practice. And unlike Tim, Scott does a real salchow with takeoff from one foot, too. It's really going to put the judges on the spot if Scott pulls this off in competition, because the rest of his skating is really nowhere near that quality -- not much power or extension, and his programs are kind of boring as well.

In the morning, I was very amused to see that Shepherd Clark has finally ditched his "1812" short program -- but is now skating to Josh Figurido's "Nightmare" program instead! But he's still doing his own normal footwork sequence instead of the one with the cool leaps that Josh did. In the afternoon practice I was astonished to see Shep not only make a respectable attempt at a triple axel, but also try a quad loop as well.

At this point, I'm kind of blanking on what most of the other guys were doing. Sorry. More notes later as the week goes on.

Novice ladies short program

I was a bit surprised that Danielle Kahle won this competition. According to my notes, her triple toe combination was kind of wild and she did an ugly layback spin that travelled, in a field where there were some exceptionally good spinners. On the positive side, she skated with a lot of attack. Her program was to "Sabre Dance" and maybe the judges gave her extra credit for being able to keep up with that music.

I would have had Lisa Dannemiller in first. She landed a huge triple toe/double toe combination and skated with impressive power throughout the program. Maybe some of the judges didn't like her clean-edge double axel.

Beyond that, things got to be rather a jumble. Some of the stronger skaters had some kind of glitch in the programs. Anna Peng barely squeaked through her combination with a decided toe axel on the end, ditto Ashley Lovasik, Erica Archambault fell on her triple salchow, etc. Sandra Rucker looked undertrained and not only fell on her salchow, but also almost wiped out on her spiral sequence, of all things. Katie Hadford had amazing spins but was also probably the slowest skater of the competition.

Junior men practices

Briefly....

Shaun Rogers is still looking impressive -- his triple axel is light and easy and very consistent. Nick LaRoche looked a lot better today than yesterday, actually landing all the jumps cleanly in his runthrough. Dennis Phan also had a much better practice today. I don't know what to make of Ben Miller's skating, but today he was wearing another bodysuit adorned with a line of gold stars wrapped around the shoulder, chest, and hip. Jordan Brauninger continues to charm me, but to be honest I think he needs another year in juniors. Brad Griffies was having a very good day for triple lutzes but not much luck with his triple loop.

Monday's report

The judges at the junior compulsory dance last night seemed to be taking forever to get their marks in, with the result that event dragged on interminably. I had been intending to stay through all the novice podiums but it was so late by the time they started that I realized I was about to drop from exhaustion.

Novice men's free skate

What a topsy-turvy competition! Three of the best performances of the competition came in the two earlier warmup-groups, while four of the five skaters in the final group utterly self-destructed with skates that were far below their abilities.

The first of the notably good skates came from David Weintraub, who skated an effective "Carmen" program. Triples were flip in combination with a double toe (a little forced and almost hitting the boards), toe, and salchow. Hands down on another triple toe attempt. I think I would have placed him a couple notches higher than where the judges did.

Jeremy Abbott fell on his triple lutz attempt but came back strong with two triple toes and a triple salchow. Very good footwork in his program and he was fast and had an easy, natural carriage on the ice. Sounds like his poor showing in the short program (12 out of 13) was due to a bad case of nerves at his first Nationals (they don't call this event "nervous men" for nothing!) but this is more typical of his skating. He looked thrilled at the end of his program and ended up third in this phase of the competition.

In the middle group, Evan Gibbs gave the standout performance, with a triple salchow/double toe, triple toe/triple toe, and triple loop. Good speed and decent presentation.

The final flight started out with Robert Dierking, who looks like he must be the youngest skater in the event. Jumps were double axel, triple salchow/double toe, triple lutz/double toe barely squeaked out, double axel/double toe/double loop, triple toe, double flip, triple salchow. Almost wiped out on the flying camel at the end of his program. Music was "Henry V", which seemed a little too big for him. At the event I thought I would have placed him behind Evan on the basis of Evan's better speed and power, but looking over my notes now I think the placement with Robert in first is correct.

After that, alas, it was all downhill!

Jason Wong landed a triple toe and two triple salchows, but also had two nasty falls, and finished so far behind his music that the referee blew the whistle on him. Casey McCraw, whose basic skating is clearly the most developed of the field, landed only a triple toe and salchow, and had two falls and two other botched triples. Luis Hernandez basically landed nothing at all. I think the only triple Wesley Campbell landed cleanly was a flip (if I'm reading my scribblings correctly) -- the toe and salchow both looked two-footed, and he fell on the lutz.

Senior men's practice

Rather than hanging around the Sports Arena to watch the novice ladies, I went back to Staples to watch the men's short program practice.

Tim Goebel continues to look rock-solid. 'Nuff said. Michael Weiss stood up on a two-footed quad in his program runthrough but then popped the axel. For some unknown reason, in his runthrough Todd Eldredge changed his jumps to triple axel/triple toe (with a step in between), double axel, triple lutz. I think he did land at least one quad during the session, but again it was the sort of thing where he had to try it over and over again, and was popping most of his attempts. He was so fixated on the quad, in fact, that at least twice he failed to get out of the way of the skater whose music was playing and almost caused a collision. Bad Todd!

Matt Savoie looked great in this practice, with a clean runthrough. Watching him, I've decided that the area where he has improved the most this year is that he's learned what to do with his hands and arms. Sometimes in the past he's looked like he's all elbows, but now his arms act like organic extensions of his body, and he has beautifully expressive hands. I am in awe of Tom Dickson for the transformation he has patiently been working on Matt.

Ryan Jahnke started his practice off with a bang by landing a clean triple lutz/triple toe, triple flip, and triple axel (!) one after another, all on the first attempt. He did fall on the axel in his runthrough but his other jumps were all easy and perfect through the whole practice -- a few more clean lutz/toe combos, and towards the end he also got a clean triple salchow/triple loop on the first attempt. For Ryan, skating is as much of a mental and spiritual exercise as a physical one, and it looked to me like he was finding his way towards that particular state of blissful awareness where he finds his best performances.

Johnny Weir also looked better in this practice than he did on on Sunday, but Rohene Ward looked pretty ragged. Ryan Bradley did the best triple axel attempt I've ever seen from him -- he stood up on it although it was a bit underrotated and two-footed -- but overall he seems to be unable to pick up the momentum he had going two years ago. His triple/triple combinations are still nowhere near as consistent as they were before his injury problems last year, for instance. Evan Lysacek was also working on a triple axel but his best attempts were all even more underrotated and badly two-footed than Bradley's. He seems to be intending to try it in his short program but I think that's a mistake at this point.

Shepherd Clark provided some comic relief by falling on his butt on the closing pose of his program in his runthrough. At one point I saw him skating around thinking through the quad loop again but I got distracted and never saw if he actually tried any or not.

Derrick Delmore was landing some triple axels but I don't think he was having any luck with his quad. OTOH, Scott Smith seemed to be doing better with the quad than the axel in this session.

Junior men's short program

I apologize for the brevity of this, but I don't have time to write up full notes on everybody right now.

Shaun Rogers (1) did a great triple axel/double toe, but only a double loop, scratchy double axel landed on the toe. Also nearly lost it on the back half of the change camel. Spin combination was fine and flying sit was spectacular. Strong edges and good speed throughout the program.

Nick LaRoche (2) did triple lutz/triple toe, fall on triple loop, double axel. Incredibly fast skating that had no relation at all to the slow, boring music that kind of trailed off oddly at the end. If they picked that music thinking that it would get Nick to slow down and hold out his movements more instead of rushing all over the ice, it didn't work.

Ben Miller (3) did triple lutz/double toe, triple loop, double axel. All three spin elements had major problems -- he never got the forward half of the camel under control at all, the flying sit spin neither flew nor sat, and a big wobble on the transition in the spin combination. Good speed, expression was so over-the-top as to be bordering on hilarious. Costume was over-the-top, too -- a dark green bodysuit with big, elaborate ruffled sleeves in a lighter blue/green color.

Jordan Brauninger (4) did triple lutz/double toe, triple loop with an obvious hesitation on the entry, double axel. Spins were all OK. Jordan is a skater with overall neat technique and good presentation skills, who impresses me very much for his age and level of development. He just needs to add a little more "oomph!".

Jordan Miller (5) is another mad bomber on skates. Triple axel with a hand down into a triple toe, botched triple loop, barely held on to double axel. Yeah, he's got a huge triple axel which he can sometimes even land, but the rest of his skating is really of mediocre quality at best.

Matt Lind (6) did triple flutz/double toe, triple loop, double axel landed awkwardly on two feet. Camel was kind of barely squeaked out. Presentation and basic skating has improved a lot since last year (and even since Easterns, I think). I would have had him ahead of Jordan Miller.

Junior compulsory dances

I was busy with my camera during this event and also forgot to bring my rulebook so I could study up on the dance patterns, so I don't have any intelligible comments to make about the judging or placement. Sorry.

Tuesday's report

I am beyond pissed at the incompetence of the local organizers in getting the staff at the Staples arena to understand how this event is supposed to be run. Tonight they locked the doors of the arena at 5pm and were not allowing any all-event ticket holders in to watch the practices we had paid for until they were prepared to open the doors for the competition at 6:30pm. Besides people like me who had just come over from watching the junior men at the other arena, there were also some people who had stepped outside to have a smoke or whatever and found themselves locked out with all their stuff still inside the building.

The arena gestapo at the doors kept saying that they didn't make the policy, and I was standing outside the arena trying to get my foot in the door to demand to speak to someone who *did* make the policy until they all but threatened to have me arrested. I didn't spend thousands of dollars to come to this event to be treated like a criminal, but I do expect that after buying an all-event ticket including a pass that is advertised as being good for admission to all practices, it will indeed be valid for admission to all practices.

Anyway, it was developing into a near-riot outside the arena with people wanting to get in to watch the senior men's warmup, and finally around 6pm someone in authority *did* realize what was happening and get the gestapo to open the doors. After the warmups were over, I went around to the guest services office and explained had happened to the supervisor there -- I showed him my practice pass that said it was good for admission to all practices, and he said that it had been a mistake and the gestapo at the doors would be informed so it wouldn't happen again. Ha. I'll believe it when I see it.

Senior ladies free skate practice

I was taking photos and not notes during this practice and my memory is kind of hazy now (I'm writing this the following morning). Here are just a few random impressions.

Sarah Hughes left out almost all the jumps in her program runthrough, then went back and worked on them later. She was clearly the class of her practice group. My main recollection of Amber Corwin is that she was wearing a tasteful and flattering unitard instead of the practice sleazewear she normally seems to favor. Not having a good day for jumps, though. Beatrisa Liang had a pretty good practice. I really enjoyed watching Molly Quigley who seemed to be having fun the entire practice. She spent a lot of time working on her triple lutz -- usually not even coming close to landing it, but I did observe that her technique on the entry is very very good. Huge death drop, too.

Angela Nikodinov wow wow wow. I have always appreciated her good technique but have been vastly annoyed by the sense she used to project that she was just going through the motions. Not any more -- she truly commands the ice. Besides the improvement in presentation, she also seems to be skating faster than in previous years. Sasha Cohen is a skater with many good qualities of her own, but I don't think she'll be able to touch Angela if she skates anywhere near her best. This group also had Patricia Mansfield. She wasn't having the greatest time with her jumps, but this 29-year-old woman has the best body in the competition -- incredibly muscular and toned in her arms and shoulders, as revealed by a tank top.

The last group was the one with Michelle Kwan, who was still coachless. Her father was just at the boards to guard her water bottle while Michelle did her own thing. Dunno if they even spoke to each other at all while she was on the ice. I guess Michelle looks better trained than she did in her early-season competitions, but her triple toe/triple toe is not anything near consistent and her spins are still painfully, painfully slow. Jenny Kirk didn't do much of her program during her runthrough so it is hard to get a feel for where she is at. She's definitely grown since last year. Andrea Gardiner was another one of those happy skaters who is fun to watch -- she landed a triple toe/triple toe in her runthrough but not much else. Ye Bin Mok was having difficulties with the harder triples but her stroking and edge quality are stunningly good -- in the same class as Michelle's. Don't remember much about Sara Wheat, but Ann Patrice McDonough had a very good runthrough of her program.

Junior original dance

Again, I was taking photos and not notes, so no deep analysis from me. I thought Galler-Rabinowitz & Mitchell did deserve to win this -- good speed and smooth twizzles -- but I would have flipped the order of the next two teams. I'm having a hard time remembering what the other teams did, except that Hart & Zepeda goofed up the side-by-side steps, with her getting way behind him. I don't think any of the couples had a fall, at least.

Junior men free skate

Nick LaRoche finally held it together long enough to win something! His program started out strong with a huge triple lutz/triple toe and four more triples landed in quick succession. Unfortunately he couldn't hold it together for the entire program, with his typical rushed unchecked landings with a step-out on the second lutz and the double axel in the second half of the program. I was wondering if the judges would pay more attention to the first half or the second half of the program, but overall he definitely did do more than any of the other competitors and deserved this win.

Shaun Rogers ended up second after an overly-cautious skate. Only a triple lutz/double toe instead of a triple/triple, fall on the triple axel, triple flip and triple loop good, had to fight to save the salchow, another fall on the second lutz, triple toe, double axel. Really ugly camel spins with a droopy free leg. He can't help it that he's short and muscular like Elvis Stojko, but I've seen other skaters with this build who are still able to get attractive spin positions.

Ben Miller fell on what I think was a triple axel attempt, got in a good triple flip, triple lutz/triple toe with a slight two-foot, had to fight to save his triple salchow, good loop and second lutz. Great speed and distance over the ice on both lutzes and the spins and connecting moves were of decent quality. I would have placed him ahead of Shaun. Ben's program, BTW, was to lesser-known parts of "Don Quixote", and both the choreography and costuming were much less over-the-top than in his short program.

Matt Lind pulled up to fourth -- his triples were flutz, loop, flip, toe. He also did two salchows but the first one was definitely not cleanly landed and I also thought the second one was probably two-footed. The program as a whole seemed to have more punch to it than it did at Easterns.

Jordan Brauninger had an entirely respectable skate but not up to the standard he set at Mids. Triple lutz/triple toe, triple flip, popped what was supposed to be a double axel in combination with a double toe, triple toe, had to fight on the triple loop, triple salchow, double flip/double loop, popped the second lutz, got the second double axel OK. After the wild reception I saw him get with this program at Mids where he skated it cleanly, here it seemed curiously flat, the audience were just sitting on their hands and being very quiet. Anyway, this is still a very good result for a first-year junior who was more or less a complete nobody at the beginning of the season.

Senior men short program

At last, the main event of the day.....

Derrick Delmore (6) started things out with a bang by landing a quad salchow with a kind of messy turn-out into a double toe, triple lutz out of steps, triple axel. I thought he picked up a deduction for being short of rotation on his camel, but after repeated disappointing showings at Nationals, this is a breakthrough performance for him. He looked thrilled coming off the ice.

Ryan Jahnke (7) -- joy joy joy. His triple lutz/triple toe at the far end of the rink was landed without a lot of flow and looked a little suspicious, but on the replay it didn't seem to be two-footed. The triple axel was definitely two-footed but it was a good attempt and not a disruptive error. Flip and other elements were fine. Most importantly, Ryan was flying through this performance -- he seems to pour all of his enthusiasm and love for skating into this program set to "Stairway to Heaven". Another happy skater coming off the ice. I still think Ryan is getting a raw deal from the judges on the second mark and not enough credit for his spins and connecting elements on the first mark, but his placement was probably correct overall.

Johnny Weir (4) did triple flip/triple toe, triple axel, triple lutz. I thought the flip might possibly have been two-footed, but the program was lovely and his marks and placement were well-deserved. Interesting that both Ryan and Johnny start out with an edgy, slower circular footwork sequence. Johnny also looked thrilled coming off the ice.

Todd Eldredge (tied for first) took the quad out of his short and did triple axel/triple toe, double axel, and triple lutz with a really bad landing. Everyone was trying to figure out exactly what was wrong with the landing -- it happened at the far end of the ice from where I was sitting, but I thought it was two-footed and that he did not actually touch the ice with his hand. Other people didn't see a two-foot but thought he did touch his hand. Anyway, between the low base mark for the program, the error on the lutz, and the supposed deduction for the use of vocal music, I thought Todd was going to be toast, but the judges either seemed determined to keep him in the hunt, or else were just being exceptionally generous and marking him on something other than a 6.0 scale. After three happy performances in a row, it was quite a contrast to see Todd looking so grim in the kiss-and-cry.

Next up was Scott Smith (9), who really suffered by skating immediately after Derrick, Ryan, Johnny, and Todd -- all guys who have notably good speed, extension, and edge quality, which Scott definitely does not have. Crawling around the ice, he did a triple axel with a step out, quad salchow/double toe that looked a bit forced (maybe cheated?), triple loop. Nevertheless, he was also beaming when he left the ice.

Ryan Bradley (8) made a big splat on a hopeless triple axel attempt, triple lutz/triple toe with both jumps landed at an almost complete standstill (how he can pull off a triple toe with so little speed going into it is beyond me), triple flip. Flying camel was painfully slow. Ryan packs a lot of choreography and dance stuff into his programs and I can see why the judges like him.

Michael Sasaki (16) did only a sloppy double lutz/double toe combination and triple toe as his jump out of footwork. Double axel. The highlight of his "Schindler's List" program was impressive straight-line footwork done mostly on one foot. Maybe I missed some other deduction, since it looked to me like he ought to have placed a few notches higher.

Sean Calvillo (17) did double axel, fell on triple lutz, only a double toe as his jump out of footwork. Had a slip in his spin combination, too.

Michael Weiss (5) started out with a fall on his quad toe, triple axel was almost sideways in the air so that he fell out of that on two feet as well, triple lutz was good. It sure looked to me from where I was sitting that his circular footwork did not come close to being the full width of the rink as it spiraled inward at least 15 to 20 feet away from the boards. I was very surprised that Derrick didn't take any ordinals from Mike, as he did in the short at Easterns, because Derrick skated a lot better here and Mike was just as bad. I also have to question Mike's placement above Ryan Jahnke -- not that I feel strongly that Ryan ought to have beaten Mike, but I did think that it should have been closer than the way the judges marked it. Jumps aside, both Mike and Ryan have comparable excellent overall skating and presentation skills and well-choreographed programs that suit their individual styles, but in this case Mike was not only looking at at least 0.8 in deductions, but his errors were far more disruptive than Ryan's. Again, I felt that the judges were trying to give Mike as much benefit of the doubt as possible to keep him in contention, while they just aren't willing to give Ryan the same credit in the second mark.

Anyway, moving on. Don Baldwin (13) did double axel, popped lutz, nice triple flip.

Parker Pennington (14) self-destructed with falls on both his triple lutz and triple flip. Double axel OK. Dreadful music for his program grates on my nerves.

Matt Savoie (3) got a raw deal from the judges after giving what was definitely the performance of the night, and the only one to get a standing ovation. Triple axel, triple flip/triple toe, triple lutz all spotlessly clean, totally wonderful spins, footwork, and connecting elements. He had to wait extra long before they called his name to start his program because they were doing some emergency ice repair at the far end of the rink, and he was looking so stressed out while he was stroking around in circles that I kind of feared for his performance. It was terrific to see him break out into a great big smile after landing the combination, and after that he was flying high. Anyway, Matt still doesn't get any respect from the US judges. He ought to have been first with this performance.

Michael Villareal (17) struggled with a hand down on his triple flutz and no combination, fall on triple flip, double axel. Same "Dracula" program as last year.

Tim Goebel (tied for first) got through all his jump elements OK (quad salchow/triple toe, triple axel, triple flip) but then went sprawling on the ice in his serpentine footwork. I think the judges who gave him 5.8's must have been marking on about a 6.2 scale, because that's supposed to be a 0.3 deduction, and even if he skated this program cleanly would Tim really deserve 6.0's for technical merit? His spins, for instance, are still not nearly of the quality of Todd's, Mike's, or Matt's. And don't get me started on those 5.9's for presentation. Tim's improved a lot, but I still think it's a total joke to give him higher presentation scores than Ryan Jahnke, much less Mike and Todd. Once again there seemed to be some serious holding-up going on here. In Olympic years, particularly, there always seems to be subtle pressure for the judges to give the top skaters a boost and that's clearly what happened here. We can't have the US's best chance for a medal at the OOOOOs getting beaten by a nobody named Matt Savoie at his own nationals, after all.... even if that's the way it should have happened. I have no strong feelings about the Tim vs. Todd placement, but I personally would have put Tim second.

Rohene Ward (15) -- sigh. Big splat on triple axel, another one on his triple lutz, and then he popped the flip. I still don't think this Michael Jackson program shows Rohene's skills to best advantage, either, although it surely would have gotten the crowd going if he had been able to skate it anywhere near clean. Shepherd Clark (12) fell on his triple axel attempt, got off only a double flip/double loop combination, and then basically lost it on the back half of his change-foot camel spin, which is a real no-brainer for him since he's normally a good spinner.

Evan Lysacek (10) managed to stand up on a triple axel attempt (underrotated with feet still crossed on the landing), but did only a triple lutz/double toe instead of the triple/triple that is normally so consistent for him, and then he also had a silly fall in his straight-line footwork.

Justin Dillon (11) did double axel, popped flutz/steps/triple toe, triple loop as his jump from footwork. He generally looks nowhere near as sharp as last year.

Wednesday's report

Latest insanity from Staples Arena: I had been wondering whatever happened to those "official commemorative plush toys" that were supposed to be available in the arena -- I hadn't seen a booth anywhere in Staples, and there certainly was nothing being sold at the Sports Arena venue. Well, tonight, there were people in the arena concourse handing out stuffed Chevrolet logos. Bright yellow things about a foot long. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them. Guess where they all ended up -- yup, out on the ice. OK, we can't bring teddy bears and froggies into the arena to throw to the skaters because it supposedly takes too long to pick them up off the ice. So they're encouraging people to throw worthless junk to the skaters instead, that takes just as long to pick up off the ice. Makes a lot of sense, right?

By the way, a bit of trivia: it seems it is now politically correct to give flowers to the men at the medal ceremonies again. Remember about a dozen years ago the USFSA started giving "gifts" to the men instead of flowers out of concern that flowers weren't "manly" enough? Well, this year they're handing out flowers.

I had intended to watch the senior ladies short program practice, but after writing up my notes from the day before I got out my hotel too late in the morning to catch anything but the last group, and was pretty distracted once I did get there. I'm in a rush this morning, too, so not much detail...

Senior men practices

Rohene Ward was an utter train wreck in this practice. It seemed like the only jumps he could land were his reverse double axel/normal triple salchow sequence. He even fell out of a spin and tripped in a spiral in his runthrough. I have worried all along about his mental focus and it looks entirely gone at this point. A friend remarked that he looked like mentally he was already at the competitors' party. If it's possible, Justin Dillon had an even worse practice. I don't know that he landed *anything* in the entire session.

My focus in the middle group was mostly on Ryan Jahnke. He was having an awesome day for his triple lutz/triple toe combo -- I think every attempt clean -- but struggling with all his other jumps. He was looking visibly frustrated after 5 or 6 unsuccessful attempts at the triple salchow/triple loop, but he did finally did get one.

Michael Weiss had a terrific program runthrough, landing an undeniably clean quad toe/triple toe and getting in both the triple axel/triple toe and the second axel as well. Seriously, if he skates like that in the free skate I think he will win that part of the competition. I am kind of blanking on what Todd Eldredge did in his runthrough, but I remember Tim Goebel only did part of his because he stopped about halfway through to retie his laces. Matt Savoie continues to look great. I keep overhearing other people in the arena and on the buses all gushing over his skating -- but I have the feeling that inside he is kind of embarassed by how popular he's become.....

Junior ladies short program

Louann Donovan won the short by skating a clean program with a triple lutz combination and a triple loop, but she still managed to give a disappointing performance -- way too slow and cautious. Her "Bolero" program can be tremendously exciting when she really attacks it, but here it fell flat as a pancake. I was pretty worried when one skater after another started pulling higher presentation marks than she did.

Louann did stay in first throughout the competition, but behind her the ordinals were a jumble and skaters were flip-flopping all over the place. I really cannot believe that Felicia Beck managed to finish second. We need to come up with a new adjective -- "Beckian" -- to describe her flutz. She goes from a deep inside edge to a deep outside edge and then swerves back onto an even deeper inside edge as she picks. It has to be the worst flutz I've ever seen, and I can't believe she hasn't broken an ankle by now. On top of that, all of her jumps seem to be horribly cheated. She has nice spins and a lot of spark in her presentation, but I can't get over her awful jump technique.

Another surprise in 3rd -- Jennifer Don, who skated a clean program but with only a triple toe/double toe combination and double loop. Good speed and a radiant presence on the ice. The smile never seems to come off her face, and yet it doesn't seem at all forced or phony.

Amber Czisny wound up 4th, with a good triple toe/double toe and a near-fall out of her triple loop. Very good spins, including a genuine flying sit spin.

Kristin Schaeffer ended up 5th with a good triple loop but a fall on her triple toe (duh). Double axel looked a little iffy to me, like it might have been cheated. The audience went nuts when she did the contortionist spin at the end of her program where she tucks her boot behind her neck.

Adriana DeSanctis (6th) was the only skater other than Louann to try a triple lutz, and she fell on it. Triple loop was good, but she has one of those "line drive" double axels with no height. She was very fast.

Senior compulsory dance

I got to the arena late after junior ladies and missed the first group of the waltz, so I really have nothing intelligible to say about that dance. I am more familiar with the Blues anyway. This is a relatively easy dance for skaters at this level. I was focusing less on the quality of the choctaws than on the unison and partnering through all the long edges in the dance.

I expect there is some buzz about Joseph & Forsyth ending up in 5th. Well, from what I saw, that is about right. Individually I think they are both good skaters, but on this dance their extensions didn't match and they were also sloppy about the unison of the timing on some of the steps. Handra & Sinek are known to be very reliable in the compulsories -- as I recall, last year they were ahead of both Belbin & Agosto and Joseph & Forsyth in that phase of the competition although they dropped behind both those teams in the other two phases. And Gregory & Petukhov's placement is not a surprise to me either, after having seen them at Midwesterns. Anyway, my $0.02 worth is that if the USFSA wants to send a team to the OOOOO's that has a shot at even making the cut for the free dance, they should send Handra & Sinek. Even if Joseph & Forsyth have the stronger free dance, it isn't going to help them if they never get to skate it.

Senior pairs short program

This competition was very, very depressing. I don't think anybody skated anything like a clean program.....

Stiegler & Stiegler (10) set the tone for what was to follow. Hand down and step out on the throw triple loop, both fell (in perfect unison!) on the triple toes, twist lift still has the illegal butt push, Johnny completely wiped out on the side-by-side spins. Besides the errors on the elements, they have lost their trademark speed on their stroking, and Tiffany no longer "projects" the way she used to.

Handy & Hunt (6) weren't much better. Pair spin and twist were good, but he fell on the triple toe. Lift OK, then she stepped out on the throw triple salchow on two feet. Out of unison on the circular footwork, and then on the side-by-side spins too. Death spiral may not have been a full circle.

Orscher & Lucash (8) managed to get through their program with their only errors being a step out on the triple salchow and another unison problem in the circular footwork. Yay! A team where both partners can land their solo jumps! Judges seemed unwilling to reward them, though.

Spielberg & Joeright (9) had hard falls by her on both the solo triple salchow and throw. They did the harder axel lasso lift instead of the toe lasso like most of the other teams.

Ganaba & Ganaba (12), as usual, caused the crowd to boo the judges because their problems were not the obvious, disruptive kind of errors; she two-footed both her solo triple toe and the throw, their pair spin was messy, their stroking is weak, etc. She seems to have toned down her makeup quite a bit from previous years.

Scott & Dulebohn (3): triple toes clean, axel lasso lift, throw triple loop good, twist, straight-line step, side-by-side spins ragged on unison, pair spin, then on the back inside death spiral Phil slipped on the exit and went down on one knee, fortunately not bringing Tiffany down with him. Most of the judges seemed to count this as a fall on the element. Their "Heartbreak Hotel" program didn't seem to show them off well and their unison seemed off throughout.

Inoue & Baldwin (5): John fell on solo triple toe (duh!), big throw landed cleanly to a big cheer from the audience. Other elements looked to be of decent quality to me. Their toe lasso lift had a step-through in the air to a one-arm dismount.

Hinzmann & Biancosino (13) did triple toes with him putting a hand down, throw triple salchow clean but cautious and covered no distance across the ice, ditto for their toe lasso lift and double twist. Very slow skating throughout the program.

Rogeness & Rogeness (14): only double flips as their side-by-side jumps, fall on throw triple loop, toe lasso lift was very basic. Slow. Juvenile program to "March of the Toy Soldier".

Kalesavich & Parchem (2): throw triple salchow very nice, she two-footed her solo triple salchow, toe lasso lift all done with two-hands, a little off unison on the side-by-side spins. Other elements OK, nothing really stuck out.

Hartsell & Hartsell (4): throw triple loop didn't cover much ice, he doubled his solo triple toe, twist ok, side-by-side spins lost unison at the change, toe lasso that went to one arm, pair spin had good speed, straight-line steps, back inside death spiral from shoot-the-duck.

Quigley & Cording (7): pair spin, axel lasso lift to one arm, both may have two-footed their solo triple toes, splat on throw triple loop, crashy double twist.

Don & Guzman (11): cautious double twist, triple toes great, very basic toe lasso lift, pair spin ok, side-by-side spins looked good. They went for a clean program instead of really pushing themselves. They are both strong singles skaters but Jennifer has only been skating pairs for 6 months, hence the novice-level pair skills.

Ina & Zimmerman (1): big high twist lift, he fell on triple toe, throw triple loop, side-by-side spins, axel lasso lift to one arm with a change of position, death spiral, their usual pair spin. In spite of the fall, the clear winner in terms of overall difficulty and quality.

Thursday's report

Senior ladies short program

Overall, this was an extremely well-skated event, with many clean or almost-clean programs. Here are short notes on the entire field:

Alissa Czisny: triple lutz/double toe squeaked out, fall on triple flip, double axel OK. Terrific spins and spirals, but very slow.

Michelle Kwan: triple lutz/double toe, double axel looked slightly two-footed to me, triple flip fine. This wasn't a 6.0 performance even without the bad landing on the double axel; she was a little off the music with that skid stop at the transition between the two pieces of music, for instance.

Molly Quigley: double axel fine, heavily two-footed triple lutz/double toe, badly underrotated triple loop. I think Molly made a strategic mistake by putting jumps she can't really land even in practice in her short program, and would have been better served by going for a clean program with simpler jumps. Very pleasant skater with strong in-between skating.

Sarah Hughes: double axel, triple flutz/double toe, triple flip. Could she have chosen a worse arrangement of "Ave Maria" to skate to? The screechy violin grated on the ears, and the rushed choppiness of the music made her skating seem rushed and choppy too. The black dress was unflattering as well.

Angela Nikodinov: triple lutz/double toe at the other end of the rink so I couldn't tell if it was flutzed or not, had to fight a bit for the triple flip, double axel. Seemed fairly slow and cautious.

Patricia Mansfield: bad step out on double axel, fall on triple lutz, triple toe.

Jennifer Kirk: triple flutz/double toe, triple flip, double axel. The flying camel didn't really fly. Jenny's speed really *has* improved; I thought she was faster than Angela although she had to take a lot more strokes to get there, compared to Angela's rather languid style. Likewise, Jenny's jumps have a bit more oomph to them than in the past.

Amber Corwin: triple toe/triple toe horribly prerotated on both halves, triple lutz from a long glide instead of connecting steps, double axel. On the positive side, I loved her "Strawberry Tango" program, which was slinky and sexy without being sleazy.

Ann Patrice McDonough: triple lutz/double toe with a step out (very close to boards), double axel, triple flip. Noticibly faster, smoother, and more powerful in-between skating than Jenny.

Ye Bin Mok: falls on both triple lutz and triple flip. The height and distance she gets on her jumps is amazing, but she has tons of trouble controlling the landings. Her carriage, edge quality, and spins are stunning as well.

Christina Gordon: sorry, bathroom break, no notes.

Andrea Gardiner: double axel, triple flutz maybe two-footed/double toe, triple flip, kind of slipped out of the end of her spin combination. Overall tons of power but lacking in polish compared to the skaters who finished above her. The lutz is still flutzed but it's not nearly as bad as in past years.

Beatrisa Liang: double axel, triple flutz/double toe, triple flip. Bad wobbles all the way through the spiral sequence.

Sasha Cohen: triple flutz/double toe, triple flip, double axel. I could see her flutz tracing clearly from where I was sitting and it's as bad as, or maybe even worse than, Sarah's. I think it was the program as much as the performance intensity that made the difference between them.

Stacey Pensgen: falls on both triple lutz and triple flip, had some problems centering the flying camel as well.

Joan Cristobal: triple salchow from steps, triple flip badly two-footed/double toe, double axel. Pleasant skater but fairly slow and still juniorish.

Sara Wheat: triple loop, triple flutz with a step-out and hand down into a double toe, double axel. She had an obvious stumble or balance check in her circular footwork and her flying camel was really slow -- not sure if she got in the required rotations or not.

Andrea Varraux: falls on triple toe and double axel, triple salchow out of steps. Even without the falls, she looked out of her depth in this field.

Senior men free skate

Michael Villareal (15) had a good skate with triple toe, triple flip/double toe, triple flutz/double toe, double axel, double loop, another triple flutz, triple salchow, fall out of triple toe. Skated to "Gettysburg". With his hair longer, he looks even younger than he did last year.

According to my notes, the only triple Sean Calvillo (18) landed was a triple toe. Clearly the weakest skater of the event.

Don Baldwin (17 in free, 16 overall) got in a triple toe, flip, and salchow, skating the same "Spartacus" program as last season.

Michael Sasaki (16 in free, 17 overall) got in a triple lutz/double toe, triple toe/double toe, and solo triple toe before he started doubling and falling on jumps. His in-between skating, though, is of a far higher standard than his jumps, and he has the strong upper-body carriage I like. I hope to see him back next year.

Parker Pennington (12 in the free, 13 overall) redeemed himself after a disastrous short with a fine free skate with 6 clean triples: triple loop/triple toe, triple lutz/triple toe, triple flip, triple salchow two-footed, triple lutz. Very good fast spin combination at the end of his program. In the tradition of incompetence for these Nationals, the video scoreboard identified his music as "Romero and Juliet". :-P

Rohene Ward (14) competed much the same way as he had practiced the last couple of days -- only three clean triples (flip, loop, and salchow in series with the reverse-direction double axel), plus stupid mistakes like tripping on a spiral and slipping on the entry to his final spin combination. Rohene needs to rethink something to improve his focus in competition -- this is his second trip to Nationals and he has yet to keep his brain fully engaged for the length of even one program. He seems to spend a lot of time socializing in the stands and maybe all his friends are distracting him from doing his job.

Ryan Jahnke (8) didn't have a great skate, but it was better than last year. His jumps were triple lutz/double toe (the lutz landing was a bit too stiff for the triple/triple), fall on triple axel, triple flip, triple salchow/triple loop with a hop out, huge flowing triple lutz, double axel/half loop, triple toe sequence (Ryan makes the half loop look like a real jump with height and distance instead of just an awkward hop). Fine spins and connecting steps throughout the program, including a breathtaking outside spread eagle in a full circle. It is too bad that he didn't hit the elements as well as he'd been doing them in practice, and that more people did not get to see this beautifully choreographed and presented program.

After looking lackluster all week in practice, Shepherd Clark (11) suddenly came alive in the free skate. Opened with a huge triple axel -- where did that come from? He wasn't even close in his attempts in practice. Triple salchow, popped what was probably intended to be an attempt at a quad loop, hung on to a triple lutz, another triple lutz not in combination, double axel/double toe, triple flip, triple loop. The program looked kind of thrown together and I'm not sure how much of it he was improvising.

Justin Dillon (10) also had a nice comeback after his disastrous practice on Wednesday. Triple flutz/triple toe, popped axel, triple salchow, triple toe, triple flip/double toe scary, triple loop likewise, double lutz, popped another axel. This is the same "Sorcerer's Apprentice" program he skated so well in Boston last year, but it didn't come off nearly as well this time. Short choppy strokes are still a big distraction to me.

Evan Lysacek (13 in the free, 12 overall) had a meltdown, unfortunately. After grinding out an underrotated triple axel, he popped or fell on everything else until the end of his program where he got in a triple flip and triple lutz/double toe. I don't care much for his program, which seems too dark and dreary to show him off well, but at least he skated it well at Midwesterns.

I have no clue how Ryan Bradley (7) wound up ahead of Ryan Jahnke, and on the presentation mark, no less. He managed to land 7 triples, but only because about halfway through his program he completely abandoned his choreography and just started retrying all the jumps that he had popped the first time around. Some of the jumps he did land were of poor quality, and he looked really slow and hesitant in parts of the program.

Scott Smith (9) did triple axel/triple toe with a slight two-foot on the back half, a similarly two-footed quad salchow, fall on triple lutz, another triple axel, triple loop, fell on triple flip, triple salchow, triple toe. I was surprised by how high his marks were given the poor quality of his in-between skating. I also think some of the judges must have missed the two-footed landings.

Michael Weiss (3) did the same thing as Ryan Bradley: chucked out his program and started retrying jumps he missed the first time around. Fall on quad toe, threw in another quad toe that was two-footed in combination with a double toe (this was where the triple axel/triple toe was originally supposed to go), triple loop, awkward triple axel with a hand down, threw in another triple axel in combination with a double toe, triple salchow, triple lutz landed but not pretty. Eh. Pretty messy performance with only 4 clean triples and a two-footed quad, but I figured that since he'd managed to stand up on both a quad and an axel, the judges would give him the benefit of the doubt, and they did.

Matt Savoie (4) was next. Triple loop a little off balance, hard fall on triple axel, at that point I figured Matt had lost his chance: if he had missed any other jump in his program it would still have been enough for him to beat Mike, but he needed that triple axel/triple toe combination to get the respect of the judges. Fought back with triple salchow, triple flip/triple toe, triple axel out of a spread eagle, hydroblading into a triple lutz. Lovely program with exquisite spins and field moves, courtesy of choreographer Tom Dickson.

Derrick Delmore (6) had a kind of a messy skate. Triple lutz/double toe, quad salchow with an awkward step-out, fall on triple axel, fell out of triple flip; then recovered somewhat with a triple axel, triple flip, triple loop, triple salchow, and triple toe/double toe. I've said before that I think this is the best long program he's ever had.

Tim Goebel (2) was up next. It looked to me like he'd forgotten everything he's learned about presentation in the last two years, and was back to wandering aimlessly around the ice at a snail's pace in between his jumps, the exactly the same as at Cleveland nationals two years ago. And, just like in Cleveland, he just gave the title away with an utterly lifeless performance. Jumps were triple flip out of steps, quad salchow/triple toe, triple axel/double toe, fall on quad toe, walleys in both directions, triple axel, triple salchow, another triple flip, triple loop out of hydroblading move. I suspect Tim is trying to use the quick entry to fool the judges into thinking that his first jump is a lutz and not a flip, but he did it right in front of me where I could see the tracing very clearly, and as far as I could tell he is never on an outside edge at all: he seems to step onto a flat out of the mohawk, and then roll over onto a deep inside edge.

Quite a contrast between Tim and Todd Eldredge (1), who skated next. I was told that Todd looked slow and boring on TV, but in person in the arena he was electrifying: he was very fast, and really attacked every single element in his program. Jumps were triple toe (intended to be a quad), triple axel/double toe, triple lutz, triple loop/triple toe, triple flip with a step out, triple axel, triple salchow. Excellent straight-line footwork sequence at the end of the program into a split jump and spin combination, and people were already on their feet well before he was done. A well-deserved win for Todd.

Johnny Weir (5) rounded out the competition. Triple lutz/double toe, triple axel/triple toe apparently landed cleanly but then he just sat down on the ice, triple flip, another triple axel, double loop (oops), triple toe, I think. Especially coming right after Todd, this program really lacked interest or excitement, but even before Johnny started to skate I felt it was a foregone conclusion that he would finish 5th no matter how he skated.

Overall, this was a satisfying men's competition, certainly much better than the one in Boston last year that left such a bad taste in my mouth after one bad performance after another in the free skate. I have to say that I think Matt Savoie got jobbed out of a trip to the Olympics, though; the long program was kind of a toss-up between him and Michael Weiss, but Matt really ought to have won the short. OTOH, the way I am looking at it, Mike will go to the Olympics and then he'll be gone, while I'm sure Matt will be sticking around for many years yet. I truly like and appreciate Mike's skating when he is "on", but his relentless efforts at self-promotion have become so ludicrous that I'll be glad when he takes himself and his stupid "Go Mike" signs out of the sport for good. In the meantime, just shut up and skate, Mike.

Senior original dance

Very briefly.... again, I think the placements were correct. Joseph & Forsyth's dance didn't seem as difficult as those of the teams who placed above them, and I noticed a lot of balance checks and the like. Jessica seems to have problems with her twizzles, often having to put her other foot down a little early or otherwise not being totally in control on the exit. Handra & Sinek's dance is very complex, they skate closer together for more of the dance, and they've also managed to make the flamenco and a tango sections flow together seamlessly. This may be my favorite OD of the season, already. I had to do a double-take on their costumes -- Charles is wearing a unitard with a sheer lace top and a red ruffle on one sleeve....

Friday's report

Junior ladies free skate

As I had been more or less expecting, Louann Donovan blew away the rest of the field by skating a clean program with 5 triples: triple lutz/double toe, triple loop, triple flip, back spiral into a triple toe/double toe, double axel, walley into a triple salchow. She seemed to be skating cautiously and deliberately, and focusing on getting through the jumps rather than the presentation aspect, but I have to give her a lot of credit for her toughness and consistency under pressure. I don't think there is much doubt now that the USFSA will send her to junior worlds.

It's kind of amazing that Jennifer Don managed to hang on to get a silver medal given that her only triples were a toe loop and an iffy salchow. Her basic skating skills are senior quality, though, and she always looks radiant on the ice. OTOH, she has an irritating tendency to break at the waist and really lean forward with her upper body on her stroking. Jennifer also competed senior pairs with Jered Guzman here, and there were times when their unison and partnering skills really seemed to suffer because of her bad posture compared to Jered.

Other than Louann, Lauren Thomas probably gave the best technical performance of the bunch, landing a triple flip, triple salchow/double toe, triple toe that might have been a little two-footed, triple salchow, and a bunch of doubles. Her presentation was a little flat and I think she was hurt by having to skate in the first group after botching her short program, and her low placement in the short kept her off the podium in spite of a 3rd place finish in the long.

OTOH, Felicia Beck didn't land much of anything cleanly but also still managed to make the podium because of her (undeserved, IMO) 2nd place finish in the short. Wild flutz with multiple changes of edge was two-footed, double axel was cheated, triple flip was probably OK (it was at the other end of the rink), falls on triple salchow and another flutz, cheated triple salchow. Nice spins and presence on the ice, I guess.

According to my notes, Adriana DeSanctis landed a triple lutz and two triple salchows, the first of poor quality. That was enough to put her between Thomas and Beck in the free and 4th overall. Amber Czisny and Kristen Sheaffer both had unfortunate melt-downs -- I felt especially bad for Amber who dropped from her placement last year.

Senior pairs free skate

Sorry, but I didn't take any notes on the first group of pairs. The second group started out with the Steiglers (9), who did a nice throw triple loop, double twist with the butt push, she did a double axel while he did only a single, a simple split lift, throw triple salchow with a hand down, spirals, back inside death spiral only half a circle, a section of very slow skating, pair spin, side-by-side spins, simple back press lift, double salchow/double toe sequence, hip lift with a scary dismount, forward inside death spiral, pair spin during which Tiffany pulled out her wedgie. :-P

Don & Guzman (10) did triple toes and a double twist with an awkward catch, simple toe lasso lift and throw double loop. Double axel/double toe sequences but Jered falls on his (oops). Pair spin, forward inside death spiral, spirals, toe lasso lift that reversed rotation halfway through, throw double salchow, back press lift into a 1-arm carry lift with Jennifer in an upside-down stag position (oohs and aaahs from the audience here), double salchows, hip lift into a 1-arm sideways star position, side-by-side spins that were good as individual spins but a little off in unison.

Spielberg & Joeright (7) opened with triple toes but he missed his; crashy triple twist, throw triple loop with hand down, that went up rather than out. Back inside death spiral had two rotations, hip lift, double axel/double toe sequence but she put a hand down, throw triple salchow with a hand down and step out, fast skating into a stag lift that changed to a split position, double lutzes where she put a hand down, poor unison on side-by-side spins, an unidentified lift, back outside death spiral, and I think a pair spin. Very messy program all around.

Orscher & Lucash (5) did a nice triple twist, side-by-side triple toes, stag lift, throw triple loop that she landed but couldn't hold and had to step forward on, triple toe/double toe sequence where he fell, side-by-side spins, back pair spiral pulled into a pair camel, a cautious press lift, throw triple salchow, forward inside death spiral, straight-line steps, hip lift that went to one arm, a swing into a small assisted jump, pair spin. Good for them. I have to confess that I've had a soft spot for Katie ever since I saw her clutching her "security frog" at New Englands a couple years ago. :-)

Quigley & Cording (8) did a 2.5 twist with a really bad catch where they almost fell, axel lasso lift to one arm with a flip-out dismount, double axels, triple toes she fell, pair spin, throw triple loop with an unchecked step-out landing, hip lift with a carry, throw triple salchow where she reached for the ice, toe lasso lift, a series of jumps, side-by-side spins looked really bad, forward inside death spiral. Very messy performances in both the short and the long from this team, and I'm wondering if the reason might have been that it was just too much for Molly to try to compete in singles as well.

Inoue & Baldwin (4) started out with fast skating into a triple twist where she landed on his chest, double axels, more fast skating into a throw triple loop that she fell on, toe lasso lift to one arm, pair spin, spirals, throw triple salchow, press lift, walleys into triple toes very late in the program, death drops, carry lift, axel/half loop/double toe sequence, back outside death spiral. Last year I said this pair had potential, and they've indeed improved a lot.

Handy & Hunt (6) did a triple twist with no catch, double axels with him doing an awkward step out on his, both barely hung onto triple toes in sequence with double toes, back press lift illegible scribble, fall on throw triple toe, spirals, hip lift with an ugly carry position, side-by-side spins, throw triple salchow with a step out, a scary lift where they almost lost balance and fell, back outside death spiral, and a scary pair spin. Yikes.

The Hartsells came out for the warmup for the final group, but about midway through we saw Steve shaking his head and going over to the referee, and then they went to center ice and bowed to the audience, so it was obvious that they had withdrawn. I'm sure this isn't the way they want to end their careers, but given their poor international results earlier this season I don't know whether they can expect enough support from the USFSA next season to justify them continuing any longer. OTOH, the US pair program really seems to be in deep trouble about now.

Anyway, the Hartsell's withdrawal meant that Ina & Zimmerman (1) were first to skate in the final group. Both botched their triple toes, double axel, triple twist, double axel/double toe sequence, straight line steps, lift with a scary change of grip, throw triple loop, good side-by-side spins, adagio lift with a scary jerk as John was getting into the spread eagle, Kyoko reached for the ice on the throw triple salchow, forward inside death spiral, steps, hip lift, twisty assisted jump, pair spin, John carries Kyoko on his lap while in a besti squat. Urk. Good enough to win this competition by a mile, but they're gonna get creamed if they skate like this at the Olympics and Worlds.

Kalesavich & Parchem (3) opened with an OK triple twist, throw triple loop with a quick step out, triple salchows where she fell and he put a hand down, side-by-side death drops, toe lasso lift, throw triple salchow, loop lift with a carry, double salchow/double toe sequence, pair spin, easy toe lasso lift, double flip, spirals, back outside death spiral. Generally fast and smooth skating between the elements.

Scott & Dulebohn (2) opened with triple toes where she fell, crashy triple twist, axel lasso lift to one arm, throw triple toe landed but looked awkward, back press lift with a carry dismount, side-by-side spins, spirals. At this point, their music cut out for a few seconds, but they kept skating and when the music came back it seemed to be at the appropriate point for where they were. Throw triple salchow, double axel/double toe sequence, pair spin, straight-line steps, toe lasso lift, back outside death spiral. Complex choreography added to the difficulty of their program; this is maybe not the kind of program that grabs the audience right away, but it's something that you appreciate more with each performance.

Saturday's report

Senior free dance

I didn't take notes on this event, and didn't get around to writing up any comments until more than a week later, so this is going to be pretty sketchy.

Of the couples in the lower-ranked groups, I really enjoyed Navarro & Shmalo's free dance, which according to the program was inspired by New Zealand tribal dance. Hyden & Azroyan did a tango, while the Youngs did a mish-mash identified as "The Ballroom Competition". I was amused to note that Henzes & Foster have a definite resemblance to their coaches Klimova & Ponomarenko!

In the final group, Lang & Tchernyshev's free dance was hot hot hot, but I'm not sure how well it's going to go over in front of an international judging panel. It seemed to have a lot of hand-in-hand or side-by-side skating and not enough in close dance holds. In warmup, I thought Peter's flapping open shirt was distracting, but I forgot about it once they started the program.

Gregory & Petukhov once again delivered a solid performance. I am feeling rather proud of myself for spotting this couple at Midwesterns and predicting they would make the podium at Nationals. :-)

Joseph & Forsyth skated immediately afterwards, and it was painfully obvious that they didn't have the goods. More sloppy skating, and their program didn't have the difficulty in the holds and transitions. Many people at the competition were talking about how they are mismatched physically (Jessica is broad-shouldered and muscular while Brandon is built like a string bean), and that they would each probably be better off with other partners, if they could find them.

Handra & Sinek's free dance was also a let-down after their spiffy original dance. They're skating to "Samson & Delilah" (aha, the reason for Charles growing his hair out becomes apparent!) but the concept dance didn't seem to work very well. They were slow and had an obvious stumble near the beginning of the dance. Costumes were unflattering, too -- Charles was in another see-through lace bodysuit with scarves hanging off it, while Beata had a distracting beaded thing hanging on her forehead.

I was wondering whether any judges would have the guts to put Belbin & Agosto first in the competition, and they did indeed get one first-place ordinal (from Anthony Bardin). More telling, perhaps, is that on the technical merit mark, 4 judges placed them ahead of L&T, 3 gave them the same mark, and only 2 gave L&T the higher mark. Belbin & Agosto definitely had the more complex dance in terms of holds and transitions and I think they are fast closing the gap on L&T. If L&T want to stay in another 4 years, they've got to push up their difficulty another couple notches to stay competitive.

Senior ladies free skate

Ye Bin Mok (9 in the free, 10 overall) started the competition off with a bang by landing a gigantic triple lutz as her first jump. Ye Bin jumps bigger than any other American lady I've ever seen, and that includes Tonya Harding. The size of her lutz, in particular, invites comparisons to Volkchova and Baiul. Ooops, popped the flip, but got a triple salchow, a shakey triple loop (a new jump for her this year), triple toe/double toe, silly fall after landing a double axel, triple toe, messy triple salchow attempt. Good spins, but fairly slow and deliberate skating in between the elements. More lively music would help her to sell her programs better -- and why does she bury that glorious lutz in the corner where the judges can hardly see it?

After several messy performances in a row which I will skip over in the name of mercy, we got to Amber Corwin (8) in the second group. Triple toe/triple toe prerotated as usual, fall on triple lutz, triple loop/double toe, triple flip (I think), another fall on a triple flutz, at which point she stopped and went over to the referee and was pointing along the path of her lutz entry. It seems her music had cut out for a couple seconds as she was approaching the lutz and thrown off her timing, so she got a restart, tried the lutz over again and landed it this time. Triple salchow, death drop, double axel, and spin combination to end. Jazzy program in her usual style.

Beatrisa Liang (10 in free, 9 overall) was next. Jumps were triple lutz/double toe, triple toe/triple toe/fall, triple flip, fall on triple loop, triple salchow/double toe, popped lutz, split jump into a triple toe (uh, Zayak rule?), fall on double axel. For the ladies free skate, I had to retreat to my real seat in the 200 level for the first time all week, and from that high vantage point Beatrisa's problems with ice coverage were painfully evident -- I think the only time she approached within 15 feet of the boards during her program was right in front of the judges. It doesn't look like they were fooled, since her presentation marks went down by as much as 0.4 from her first mark in spite of all the jump problems.

Andrea Gardiner (7) rounded out the second group, skating to what the clueless scoreboard programmers thought was "Puccini's Opera". :-P Triple toe/double toe, powerful double axel, triple flutz/double toe, triple loop, triple salchow. Then started to run into problems with only a double flip, second triple flutz two-footed, step out on second triple toe. In spite of the jump errors, the whole was more than the sum of the parts. Big ovation from the crowd.

Then on to the final group. I was a bit late coming back from the ladies' room after the ice resurface and was slightly distracted during the warmup, but I sure didn't miss the collision between Kwan and Cohen that happened in the corner directly below where I was sitting. I couldn't have said whether Cohen seemed to be deliberately trying to get in Kwan's way or not, though.

Michelle Kwan (1) really took her time in getting to her start position after her name was announced, but she looked very focused and determined and her performance did not disappoint. Triple loop, triple toe/double toe, triple lutz/double loop, flying camel/back cross-foot spin I think barely got the required 6 rotations total for it to count as a spin, section of slow posing, doule axel, triple flip fine, layback really needed to be longer and faster, triple salchow, spirals, spin combination OK, illegible scribble in my notes, triple lutz, straight-line step, split leaps, death drop, and the crowd was on their feet before she finished. I think they must have run out of those stupid yellow Chevy things they were handing out in the concourse -- I only counted four bags full (see photos here and here).

Angela Nikodinov (4), alas, skated an all-too-typical Angela performance, landing a big triple lutz/double toe, triple toe/double toe, and triple flip before falling on a triple loop and then promptly giving up on the rest of her program. All the suspense kind of went out of the event at this point -- it was obvious that Kwan was going to win, and that Nikodinov was going to be the one of the "big four" who wouldn't make the Olympic team.

Sasha Cohen (2) was up next, skating to "Carmen". After opening with some spirals more or less on flats, she knocked off a double axel, triple flutz/double toe, triple flip/double toe, triple toe, and triple salchow in quick succession before doing a super bendy layback spin with control and centering much improved over previous years. Triple loop, triple flutz with a hard check on the landing, Sasha Spiral (tm) kind of came to a grinding halt on the skid turn instead of continuing forward, flying camel good, straight-line steps, another triple salchow where she probably touched her hand down (and got a Zayak rule deduction since it wasn't in combination), spin combination with the vertical split position and then a scratch spin. She's still lacking in power and speed and edge quality compared to Michelle, and I'm not too thrilled by how front-loaded this program was, but she has improved in the last couple of years and clearly wasn't holding anything back in this performance.

Sarah Hughes (3) was wearing another unflattering dress, this time a beige-pink thing covered with far too much fussy beading and trim that made her look dowdy. Double axel in sequence with triple toe, cheated triple flutz/double toe, cheated triple flip, back catch-foot spin nice position but barely 6 rotations, spiral into a triple loop, flying camel, another cheated triple flutz, spin combination with a flip-over into a catch foot spin, circular step with an obvious balance check or stumble, spirals, triple toe, layback. Aside from the jumps, Sarah just looked a little "off" through the whole program. The audience reaction seemed pretty subdued.

It was pretty obvious from the high marks Angela Nikodinov got that the final two skaters were going to be fighting it out for 5th and 6th places and didn't have a prayer of pulling up to 4th. Ann Patrice McDonough (6) was up first, and she basically let it slip through her fingers -- jumps were triple lutz/double toe, triple loop, double toe (oops), triple flip where she might have put a hand down, double axel, triple salchow (surprise!), popped lutz (big oops), triple toe/double toe. Jennifer Kirk (5) got a triple flutz/double toe, triple toe/double toe (it looked like she got a bad pick on the first jump and was barely able to save it), triple flip, double axel, triple loop underrotated, triple flutz, triple salchow. At this point, I think AP is the better technical skater, but her performance seemed kind of remote, while Jenny got the crowd on her side and an enthusiastic partial standing ovation at the end.

All in all, I was kind of relieved that we made it through the competition with no bigger controversy than the warmup collision, because to tell the truth, I was really dreading weeks and months of hysterical "so-and-so was robbed!" complaints about the judging, both from the press and from fans on the net. Instead, the results worked out to be completely noncontroversial, as far as I could tell. I am sorry that some of the skaters who finished in the bottom half of the field could not go home feeling happier with how they skated, though. I suspect Angela Nikodinov will have opportunities to redeem herself in the future, but for skaters like Stacey Pensgen who aren't making any money from the sport, this might turn out to be the end of the line.

Podiums, etc

Competition wrap-up

This has to be the worst-organized Nationals I've ever been to. After my horrible experience with the Staples security gestapo on Tuesday night, I was seriously thinking about leaving on Friday, as soon as the senior men were over. I also was hassled one day later in the week about the bag I was using to carry my program, notebook, and odds and ends in. The first couple days I was using my normal backpack until suddenly the staff at the door started turning away people with backpacks, so I switched to a tiny nylon tote bag. Well, one day I was told that was too big, too -- even though other people coming in other doors were not warned about bags that were a lot bigger than mine, and my bag was in fact smaller than the tote bags that were being sold at the official souvenir stand inside the arena. Suggestion to LOCs for future events: work out the bag policy with the arena in advance, and distribute a copy of it with tickets, instead of springing surprises on people at the door. We never knew what to expect from one day to the next.

Other policies in place at the arena were also irritating -- the spectator-unfriendly seating arrangements at the HealthSouth rink, not being able to take outside food into Staples (combined with there not being anyplace right near the arena where you could step out to get a quick bite to eat between events), the fact that the Staples concessions wouldn't sell you a bottle of water with the top on, the rather arbitrary restrictions that the Staples people had about seating during practices, and the like. It was annoying that they had no concessions at all open the first day at either of the two competition arenas (even though there were competitions and not just practices being held at the Sports Arena), and if you were hoping to get one of their approved "official commemorative plush toys" to throw to the novice and junior skaters, forget it, because they were never selling them at the Sports Arena and didn't get the souvenir booth open in Staples until Wednesday.

It was also annoying that they didn't have direct bus service between nearby venues, and you had to waste a lot of time changing buses to get between Staples and the Sports Arena. By the end of the week I think most people figured out it was more efficient to take the city bus. I felt like the $55 I paid for my bus pass was mostly wasted, particularly since I never made it back to HealthSouth after the first day.

On top of that, Los Angeles isn't a great place to hold an event like this. The city is so empty at night it seems almost surreal. We had problems finding places to eat that were still open at night, other than overpriced hotel restaurants. The hotel prices were pretty steep, as is typical in most large cities; it probably doesn't matter to the USFSA officials who are getting their expenses paid, but the skaters and their families have to pay their food and lodging bills out of their own pockets. On top of that, I heard that the rooms at the Biltmore weren't even all that great. One skater I spoke with said they couldn't get the hot water to work right in their room.

Anyway, I did end up sticking it out through the whole week. Ultimately, the thing that really makes a nationals for me is the quality of the skating, and I think we saw good performances and deserving winners in all of the events this time. Thanks to all the skaters for their hard work and dedication in preparing for this event.

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