Get Ready for the Olympic Figure Skating Season

BlogHer Original Post

As if I was a newbie blogger rather than a seven year veteran, I nearly concluded the title of this post with an exclamation point because I'm so excited about this Olympic figure skating season. This weekend, I resume covering figure skating here at BlogHer, starting with Skate America, culminating with the Olympic Games in February and the World Championships in March.  We have some amazing skaters to watch, so I wanted to give everyone a preview.

First and foremost, if you haven't heard of Yu-Na Kim or Kim Yu-Na (you'll see it used both ways), read my posts from the World Championships (short and long programs) last year. She is the woman to beat, hands down. Chances are, if she doesn't get injured or have a major nervous collapese, she is the Olympic favorite. She's coached by Brian Orser, former World Champion and Olympic medalist, and she is amazing.  Her jumps are gigantic and beautiful. There aren't enough flowery words for Dick Button to use in describing her, really.

Next in line: Mao Asada. Asada would have won the Olympics in '06 if she had been old enough to compete. She could land two triple axels in her freeskate at the time and she has an amazing sense of style. Since then, she's faced some challenges due to a huge growth spurt and injuries, common in the sport, so now the question becomes whether she can rise to the challenge by February. Meanwhile, she has an incredible team of Japanese skaters all vying for spots on the Japanese Olympic team, including former World Champion Miki Ando, rising star Akiko Suzuki, powerful Yukari Nakano and World Medalist Fumie Suguri.

Although the Grand Prix Final will be held in Tokyo and favors the Japanese, don't count out the Americans for the Olympics or Worlds yet - this year looks to be like the last Olympic season where we had a group of amazing women all competing at the U.S. Nationals for three spots. This year, we only have two, due to placements at Worlds last spring. Here's the impressive list of Americans to watch:

  • Sasha Cohen, Olympic silver medalist, former Olympic favorite and former U.S. champion, formerly scheduled to compete in the Grand Prix series, dropped out due to injury and speculation as to whether she has a shot at medaling at U.S. Nationals, but who always has exquisite style - still, she hasn't competed in a long time, so she's a wild card
  • Emily Hughes, former U.S. silver medalist and sister of Sarah Hughes, Olympic gold medalist, last minute entry into Skate America
  • Kimmie Meissner, 2006 World champion who hasn't ranked high since then but has the whole package when she skates well
  • Alissa Czisny, last year's national champion and the best spinner you'll see; she has beautiful style but shaky jumps
  • Mirai Nagasu, arguably the best U.S. lady we have right now - she's got the whole package
  • Rachel Flatt, who came in fifth at Worlds in her debut and is a solid all-around skater
  • Ashley Wagner who just took home a bronze medal in Japan at the Grand Prix and is reigning U.S. bronze medalist
  • Caroline Zhang, former Grand Prix Final Champion and former World Junior Champion
  • Alexe Gilles, former U.S. junior champion and the newest American rising star

Other contenders for the international events include Joannie Rochette, who will be the home country favorite in Vancouver. She has a similar skating style to Michelle Kwan. Carolina Kostner of Italy, if she can get her game back, will be one to watch.  And Julia Sebestyen of Hungary, Alena Leonova of Russia and Kiira Korpi of Finland.

Now, a word about judging. The new judging system has been in effect for a while now, but only in the past few years have skaters and coaches really figured out what works. Some of the things don't always make sense at first - like odd looking positions in spins - but the reason everyone's doing them at that level is because they're more difficult and they get more points. Things to look for: unique positions in spins, aerobesques (spirals, anything where the leg is extended while gliding), jump combinations with two or more triples, quad jumps, complex combination spins, and extended footwork sequences. Pay special attention to changes in direction in footwork and general arm use and extention. Those can bring more performance points.

Also, artistry and speed matter a lot. The skater who performs a clean program with a couple of triples, a bunch of doubles, basic spins and slow speed will not rank against the competitor who can do many of the things listed above. There's nuance to it, so listen to the commentators and drop me a line on Twitter if you have questions.  Usually the skater with the best overall program with the most difficulty who skates cleanly wins, but that's not always the case.  In the Olympics, however, it's extremely rare that the winners don't have perfect programs - the stakes are just too high.

While my skating coverage will focus primarily on the ladies figure skating events, I will give updates on how the men, pairs and ice dancers do in their events and I may cover those in more detail during the Olympics. Below are top skaters to watch in the other categories.

Men: Russian reigning Olympic Champion Evgeny Plushenko (off the ice for three years, came back in Russia and blew everyone else away); Evan Lysacek, American reigning World Champion; Brian Joubert, French Champion and powerhouse jumper; former World Champion Nobunari Oda, who has an incredible Charlie Chaplin routine; Patrick Chan, Canadian home favorite; Johnny Weir, former U.S. Champion who has incredible style when he skates cleanly.

Pairs: Two-time Olympic Bronze Medalists and three-time World Champions, Shen & Zhao of China; reigning World Champions Savchenko & Szolkowy of Germany; former Olympic Silver Medalists, Zhang & Zhang, also of China;  Kavaguti & Smirnov, Russian Champions; Pang & Tong of China; McLaughlin & Brubaker, two-time U.S. Champions; Volosozhar & Morozov, Ukrainians.

Ice Dancers: Belbin & Agosto, reigning Olympic silver medalists; reigning World Champions Domnina & Shabalin of Russia; 2008 World Champions Delobel & Schoenfelder of France; Canadian Champions Virtue & Moir; Davis & White, U.S. Champions and Grand Prix Medalists.

Here's what I'll be covering at BlogHer and the associated dates the events will be occuring (TV coverage may be slightly off):

  • Skate America, Nov. 12-15
  • Skate Canada, Nov. 19-22
  • Grand Prix Final, Dec. 3-6
  • U.S. Nationals, Jan. 14-24
  • Olympic Games, Feb. 14-27
  • World Championships, March 20-29

I'll be writing up most of the events after they're over so as to not spoil the results for people, but I'll be live tweeting as much as possible, and for the Olympics (and possibly Nationals) we can work out some live blogging action if there's interest.

TV schedule for Skate America includes both the Universal Sports network on cable and NBC where the main events and Olympics will be shown.  Also note that icenetwork.com has a lot of the events online including the Grand Prix events that have already occurred.  Please also watch my Twitter feed at @segsk8 - all about skating.

Every Olympics, there's a surprise - whether someone who should have made the team stays home, an unknown skater wins the gold, or a debacle occurs like when Nancy Kerrigan was kept out of U.S. Nationals due to that brutal attack or the back room judging deal ending in double gold medals in Salt Lake City after a disastrous fall by one of the teams earlier in the season. You just never know what could happen. It's going to be an exciting season! Thanks for watching with me.

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Sarah Granger is BlogHer's figure skating editor, a former competitive skater who has also dabbled in judging. She writes at a dozen other places that can be found here.

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