15 days til Worlds…and counting!

Don’t miss out on my Worlds Podium Predictions Contest, with up to $80.00 in gift certificates at stake (and, you pay nothing to play)! And, if you want to experience the Worlds vicariously through “jcm”, click here to check out the groovy Staples Arena “Seat Viewer” (pictured below are our seats in section 117). And, be sure to keep an eye on my tweets in the sidebar for LIVE results.

Staples Arena, LA: View from Section 117

Staples Arena, LA: View from Section 117

With the US junior team scoring 6 of the 12 medals, including 2 gold medals, at the recent Junior Worlds, hopefully our senior team will feel that as wind at their backs, offering them some momentum going into Worlds. Our skaters have clearly been faring much better at Junior Worlds than Worlds of late.

Jeremy Abbott: Photo by Leah Adams

Jeremy Abbott: Photo by Leah Adams

Surprisingly, when lifeskate.com’s Susan asked Johnny Weir in a recent interview what he was encouraging his fans to do at Worlds (given his first absence from them in 5 seasons) he spouted “support Evan Lysacek… loving Evan Lysacek!” Good for you Johnny! (Although, personally I’m rooting for Jeremy Abbott… out of the American men.)

Will there be any fate-changing withdrawals? Canadian pair Langois & Hay have already withdrawn, although they weren’t realistic medal contenders. Will any ice dance teams suffer the same fate? Delobel & Schoenfelder (FRA), Belbin & Agosto (USA), and Domnina & Shabalin (RUS) have all struggled with injury this season. Frankly, I’m surprised that ice dance injuries at the top level outweigh those in pairs. The new CoP, and the demanding lifts in particular are making ice dance far more grueling then in past generations. I still laugh when I recall, around the time the CoP was instituted, and the Salt Lake Winter Games, a critic or commentator (was it Button or Wynne?) said they thought the new lift requirements were causing the male skaters to look like they were carrying their partners around like handbags! How true!

The recent Junior Worlds Ladies Champion Alena Leonova is the perfect case in point for what a gold medal will require at Worlds, where the competetive bar is even higher…TWO solid programs. Although her programs and skating style are mundane in my taste, her 3rd place SP and 2nd place LP trumped Caroline Zhang’s 10th place SP and 1st place LP, and Elene Gedevanishvili’s (GEO) 1st place SP and 11th place LP. Although Zhang (and Wagner’s) quality is much higher than Leonova’s, she was clearly more consistent, and I don’t mind the Russian skating federation and community enjoying a ray of sunlight, given the dark cloud that seems to have been over the prospects of their singles skaters (in particular) over the past few years. However, what I want to know is, where was the new tsarina of the ice Adelina Sotnikova, the ’09 Russian Champion. Now, she is something to behold, and on par with Zhang in expression, extension and artistry! The true future of Russian Ladies’ skating.

Tweens!Speaking of Junior Worlds, you may recall last season’s grumblings after US Nationals that three of the top four finishers in the ladies’ competition were not even old enough to compete at Worlds. I wondered, what did this say about the sport and the CoP? Was it further elevating the tweens, and not leveraging any of the assets of experience or maturity of other longer-standing skaters (even less so than in the past). Three of the US Nationals medalists, Nagasu (1), Flatt (2) and Zhang (4 – pewter) instead could only compete at Junior Worlds. Wagner (3), Liang (5) and Hacker (6) were sent to Worlds. Who knows how Nagasu, Flatt and Zhang would have fared, but clearly the three that went only secured us two spots for this year’s Worlds and may have lowered our profile moving into the Olympic season. Was it lack of competitive experience, lack of maturity? OR, is it the oft discussed, plain-old slump in the highest level of US Ladies’ skating? In response to the latter, clearly the heightening of the skating profile in other countries’ programs (JPN, KOR), has made them competitive players in the field.

This year another interesting situation has arisen. All three US ladies competitors at Junior Worlds have been competing on the senior level for at least a year (Zhang and Wagner for 2), including Nationals and the Grand Prix. Zhang already won the Junior Worlds gold in ’07 (and two silvers more recently), and Wagner the bronze in ’07 (and again in ’09). AND, Hacker is “retiring” from competitive skating on this level to focus on her studies at Princeton University and downgrading to their skating program. Are we not preventing the true juniors from emerging from the field and getting international competition under their belts: the less seasoned up-and-comers Gilles, Maxwell, or Rizo (for example)?

The surprising reality is that Zhang is younger than ALL of these noted “up-and-comers”, so we are reminded that her on-ice maturity belies her years, and is rare indeed (last seen so prodigiously in Cohen, I believe). And that, because of the depth of her senior experience, she sprang to success at that level not because of her age, but because of her ability and hard work.

'08 Nats Ladies Podium: Tween Envy?

'08 Nats Ladies Podium: Tween Envy?

The key problem is that the selection all comes down to a skater’s birth certificate. Skaters are allowed to participate in juniors at the international level until they turn 21. By that time, most skaters have moved on to seniors, or in our time, have even retired from competitive skating (?@!#$). Skaters can’t participate as seniors internationally until they turn 16. But, on the national level many ladies as young as 14 compete as seniors. It creates lots of confusion about the REAL distinction between juniors and seniors, especially in countries where the talent pool is very deep, and where they may continue to compete in both (ie: Japan, US).

Lowering the ceiling for juniors (ie: to 18, for example, as the drinking age so too should be), and doing away with the minimum international age requirement for seniors could be a strong solution. Having the rules be the same internationally, as well as at all national levels would remove much of the confusion. And, in countries that have a shallow pool of skaters or very small programs, special clauses could be put into effect to fairly protect and nurture them.


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