Nearly Missed Skating Glories & Curiosities
So often we focus on “what could have been”, or titles that we feel were taken undeservedly. Well, this time I’m going to take a look at it from the cup half full perspective, or “what almost wasn’t”.
Wylie Squeaked into Albertville?
Rewind to the ’91-‘92 US Nationals. Many (including Dick Button) felt Paul Wylie was outskated by Mark Mitchell, however, he was awarded the silver, ahead of Mitchell’s bronze. Before the scores were posted, Button felt Mitchell’s triple axel would be the deal breaker. The US men had three spots to the ’92 Winter Olympics in Albertville, secured the previous year by ’91 National Champion Todd Eldredge. However, Mitchell was left off the team due to a medical bye given to Eldredge.
Because of Wylie’s mediocre performance at Nationals, and the fact that he had never finished higher than ninth at Worlds (four years prior), critics questioned his placement on the Olympic team. He had also surprisingly never won a National title.
However, he was sent to his second Olympics, and won the silver medal, with two very strong performances. What a way to make an exit from amateur competition, especially from a career without any international titles (excepting the ’88 Trophee Lalique). His SP was flawless, and his LP, although not containing a real jump combination, had only one error in a two-footed landing.
Alternatively, the USFSA left Wylie off the team for the ’92 Worlds, naming Mark Mitchell in his place, where he placed 5th, ahead of Eldredge.
From Middling to The Top
Sarah Hughes won the bronze at US Nationals the year she was Olympic Champion (’02). She, in fact never won gold at Nationals, receiving two silvers and two bronzes, behind Kwan (and Cohen). (Ironically, I rooted for Angela Nikodinov to snag that third ticket to Salt Lake, as I was always a fan of her quiet elegance. In hindsight, I’m sure glad Hughes prevailed, given the outcome.)
Shizuka Arakawa won her Olympic Gold SEVEN seasons after winning Japanese Nationals (in both ’97-‘98 and ’98-‘99). But, she never again won Nationals, curiously loosing them to a Chisato Shiina in ’99-‘00. Ever heard of her? (Shiina was in 14th place the following season, and then seems to have disappeared.) After that Arakawa lost to Suguri, Ando, and Asada.
Like Hughes, she won the bronze at her Nationals the year she was Olympic Champion (’06). And, she won nothing else in the seasons in which she won both her World and Olympic titles. Fascinating! She was on the ’98 Japanese Olympic Team, but did not make the ’02 Team. It seems extremely rare for a skater to attend two Olympics, but miss one inbetween. (Anyone know stats on this?)
Alexei Yagudin NEVER won Russian Nationals. He brought home four silvers, and a bronze, loosing to Ilia Kulik the first two times, and then Plushy the following three. Plushy has SEVEN golds from that event! However, when it really mattered at the ’02 Olympics, he delivered the goods, and brought home the gold…thankfully before his hip gave out.
Emanuel Sandhu’s International Moment
Building up to the ’03-‘04 GP Final, Sandhu was the SECOND substitute, but thanks to Jeffrey Buttle and Timothy Goebel’s withdrawals, and Brian Joubert’s inability to step in quickly as first substitute, he competed and seized the gold! He was one of only two skaters (the other being Brian Joubert) to beat Plushy in that quadrennial. This win was even more notable, given that he had not medaled either of his GP events that season! He never returned to that level of glory again in his skating career.
The “Chinese National Games”
Did you know that there is a quadrennial competition in China called the National Games? Some of the top Chinese pair skaters do not participate in the Chinese Championships, preferring to compete solely at these National Games instead, for which they receive byes. (The Chinese Championships serve to qualify some skaters for these National Games.)
The big name teams competed at the National Games in those seasons, thereby filling up these podiums with teams unfamiliar to the West. Therefore, instead of names like Zhang, Pang, or Tong, etc. as Chinese Champions, in ’05, we see pair Ding Yang & Ren Zhongfei, in ’06, Zhao Rui & An Yang, and in ’09, Dong Huibo & Wu Yimin! Ever heard of any of them?
A Russian Star Still Under Wraps
As a curiosity…I could find no record of last year’s (’08-‘09) Russian National Junior and Nationals champion Adelina Sotnikova attending the recent ’09-’10 Junior Worlds (or, any record at all of her at isu.org)? That is because, amazingly, at 13, she was STILL too young for the event! The current requirements are for the competitor to have reached the age of 13 by the previous 1 July. She was born on July 11, 1996. Perhaps this 10-day discrepancy will proove fateful, allowing her time to evolve at this tender age, before her international debut. I’m sure she’s being nurtured well, as she could be Russia’s future, eclipsing Alena Leonova.
Have any memories of nearly missed glories, or curiosities you’d like to share?