Monday, January 28, 2008


That’s where I was all this past weekend when NBC did a surprisingly good job of broadcasting the U.S. Figure Skating Championships from 4-6 p.m. on Saturday, again from 8-11 p.m. on Saturday and then from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.

Ice Dancing
This is my favorite part of the event. I only wish that I had ever been 1% of the ice dancer of any of those currently in the top 20 in the world. But it is my opinion – and not even based on national bias – that Tanith Belbin & Benjamin Agosto are superior to any other dance team in the world.

Certainly the controversial results at the European Championships last week give a frisson of déjà vu because it seemed clear to me that once again the judges were giving preferential treatment to the Russian ice dancers Domnina and Shabolin that was wholly undeserved. To me they are all flash and only mediocre technique and unworthy of the high marks they regularly receive.

Belbin & Agosto are the real deal, as are Meryl Davis & Charlie White. They will represent our country well.

Ladies Free Skate
First, let me comment that when only 1 of the top 4 ladies in the competition are even age-eligible to participate in the World Championships or Four Continents, a hard look at the U.S. criteria for this event is needed. Do we really need another wunderkind with endless hip and knee problems, as has been the case with Tara Lipinski? It is my view that there is nothing wrong with these little tiny phenoms gaining a little bit of seasoning and maturity. And, quite honestly, it is irritating as hell to hear them interviewed – they all sound like Minnie Mouse!

All that being said, Mirai Nagasu (gold), Rachael Flatt (silver) and Ashley Wagner (bronze and the only one old enough to actually GO to the World Championships) turned in wonderful performances. Caroline Zhang seemed to falter a bit under the weight of expectations – her own and those of the rest of the skating world – but her joy in her sport was evident in her long program to a far greater extent than in her short program. This is another 14-year old who needs seasoning, despite her beautiful skating.

Kimberly Meissner (former U.S. and World Champion) did herself no favors by skating on a sprained ankle (she placed 7th), but because of the ineligibilities of the children in the competition, she will be going to the World Championships. One can only hope that her ankle has healed somewhat by March. The final member of the U.S. team is Beatrisa Liang, a skater of enormous talent who has had some of the most bizarre bad luck as a skater that I have ever seen. Let’s hope this does not recur in Sweden.

Again, the U.S. Pairs Champions are too young to compete at Worlds. However, the skating of Keanu McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker signals the emergence of a brilliant and ultimately highly successful team.

The reliable John Baldwin and Rena Inoue will be competing at the World Championships as the team leaders, but they will most be remembered for John’s actions after the Free Skate, when he dropped to his knees and proposed marriage to his partner! Talk about emotional! They will be joined at the Worlds by Castile & Okolski and Vise & Trent (as alternates).

I respect Johnny Weir (and at age 23 it might be time to be just plain “John”) as an athlete but have always felt he lacked focus and intensity – not to mention plain old common sense. He is so flamboyant he makes Rudi Galindo look conservative by comparison.

Evan Lysacek is another story. Other than my on-going quibble about his ever-present 5 o’clock shadow, I have always both respected and enjoyed his skating. He has enormous courage and intensity, outstanding technical ability and a commanding presence on the ice. He is quite tall for a skater and he uses what could be a disadvantage in his own favor with his exceptional carriage and line.

All that being said, last night’s men’s program was historic. These two men laid down brilliant programs, both ever-so-slightly flawed, and in the end each of them scored a total of 244.77 for a numerical tie, an unprecedented result. Because Lysacek had scored 1.35 points higher in the long program, he was declared the U.S. Champion for the second year in a row.

And this too is one of my quibbles with John Weir – he freaking pouted! For heaven’s sakes. You skated your best; someone else won – get over yourself! Man up, at the very least!

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