The major takeaway at Nationals for me was how good Maia and Alex Shibutani have gotten. They got level fours on their elements. That is a pretty big stepping stone to becoming the best in the world - the rest is just developing their style and performance. Their smile free skate is perfect for them right now, very fun, lighter than air. I wonder how they'll tackle more passionate or emotional pieces, but they definitely made the right choices for their first year at seniors. Great scores, and wow, they've gotten so much better just since Grand Prix season.
I thought Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein did a great job selling their Cabaret free dance and keeping my attention the whole way. The problem was that, seeing them directly up against the Shibutanis made it clear that they have a lot more technical development to do in order to match up with the top two teams. That's something I couldn't see when they weren't competing in the same competitions during the Grand Prix.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White made some big changes in their free dance and I think whatever they did was a major improvement. I felt more of a passion. I love how winded Charlie is after the skate - that guy does not phone it in, I'll say that much. There were little moments here and there where they weren't as together as I expected in the dancing. Those twizzles are works of art, though. I love them. I do still think that Virtue and Moir can come in and win the world championships, though. As difficult as what Davis and White are doing is, I also thought they were doing the most difficult program last season and sometimes that doesn't matter. It has to be the perfect package for the skaters AND the judges. If Virtue and Moir's free dance is more appealing to the judges (who have reportedly been providing a lot of constructive criticism on Davis and White's dance all season, driving them to change the dance over and over) then V/M will take away the gold again. Of course, considering Virtue's injury, it also depends on how ready the two are to compete. Although it didn't stop them from beating Davis and White at the 2009 worlds, where Virtue was also coming off of an injury (although she had come back a tad earlier in the season with that injury, I believe).
Heartbreaker moment: Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giuletti-Schmitt giving a wonderful performance of their free dance (and all of its great lifts and...'are they about to fall or is that choreography?' moments) taking a stumble before a dance sequence. So sad.
NBC could not have asked for more with the way the pairs, ladies, and men competitions panned out. All of their human interest stories won! A broadcaster's dream come true. I did think they overdid it with the John Coughlin's mom passing away story. Still, I think I finally understood the Ave Maria program, and I appreciated it more for that. Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin definitely came in here to win, and they were not perfectly flawless, but they really didn't give much away. They just had so much confidence and Yankowskas held onto every throw, whereas last season she may have fallen on them. A vast improvement. I think they have a long way to being competitive with the top in the world. I don't necessarily see a pairs medal happening for the U.S. at the world championships anytime soon, but I do think the performances this season were improved over what we've been getting in years past, at least from the top three.
Not much to say about Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig. I thought they were fine. There was nothing the judges could do but put them in second place. They seem vastly improved over what they were doing on the Grand Prix, and maybe that will continue through the next couple of competitions.
One of the biggest deals for me in pairs was how much better Denney and Barrett looked in their free skate. They were inspired again...it's the best I've seen them skate in about a season. I do hate that last lift where Jeremy lifts his one leg up..too treacherous!
Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker had an impressive start. It really says a lot about how far she's come in a short amount of time when she was asking Rockne in the kiss and cry about them taking a deduction for each person who fell. She is very young and adorable, though, and comes off more as a little sister to Rockne than a romantic pair partner. Perhaps they will be able to develop that as time goes on.
Heartbreaker moment: Denney falling in the short program. You kind of knew with the way momentum was going that one major mistake would do them in.
I have to say that sentiment won me over in this competition as well and I was rooting for Ryan Bradley to win by the end, especially after the implosion of Jeremy Abbott. Speaking of Abbott, here are the many things I found disturbing about his situation:
-That crazy intense look he had on his face in the short program, even after it was finished. Maybe he was in character, but I read it as a look to his doubters of being like...'screw you, doubters! Look, I can deliver! And pay attention to me because I am THE BEST and there is not a Lysacek or Weir to steal my thunder.' I thought it was way overdone. I mean, Jeremy, you skated early on in a competition where you are heads and tails better than anyone who would have come in in any other position. You SHOULD be skating with confidence at that point.
-The way the broadcasters were trying to say how well he dealt with the pressure of the short program, as though all of his problems are solved. I had a "talking to the tv" moment there, and said, "well, let's just see what happens with the pressure of not leading coming into the free skate. TV." I knew. And I'm sad that I knew, because if I know, that means it's really predictable.
-Those jump landings...I mean, what the heck was that? Were they landings? Did his toe pick grow three sizes? Did his muscles seize up from nerves? JEREMY, is the US NATIONALS. Your main competition is Ryan Bradley and Brandon Mroz! Get it together!
-All of the people reporting that Abbott was going to keep skating after Nationals, as though that last free skate had done him in. Yikes, you know it's bad when people are predicting your retirement.
-Finally, the fact that, prior to the competition, I was fairly sure that Abbott's team said the boot issues were sorted out, but after the free skate, the boot issues were brought back on as a bit of an excuse. If it was the boots, then I'm sorry, maybe I'm being too hard on you. But we can't be sure because he was complaining about the boots all Grand Prix season and then he stopped prior to nationals. I assume that that much disruption in the training obviously took some of the wind out of his season and probably didn't help in his nationals performance. But he skated the free skate like he trying not to lose, and hey, friend, when you're not in first place, you DEFINITELY have to skate offensively!
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. The mens. This was definitely the most surprising men's competition I have ever seen. Thank you, Richard Dornbush. I (and every other blogger, probably) definitely said to look out for Richard Dornbush, who had the second highest American score this season internationally. On the Junior Grand Prix circuit. It's always hard to know how those scores will translate in seniors, but Dornbush wowed the judges here with his well-choreographed and perfectly done free skate. I am not sure how he'll fare internationally. He had no quad, here, additionally. I think he would be very lucky with a top ten finish at worlds, but he shocked me here so he may very well surprise us as worlds as well.
Nice to see Ross Miner do so well, and I'm glad he got the world championship slot. I don't think this would have been the situation to break precedence if they ever were going to award world spots outside of the top three. That said, Miner hasn't fared well with the senior international judges this season. I have a feeling he'll finish out of the top ten at worlds.
And Ryan Bradley. I was so happy to see Ryan Bradley in his short program. He was like a new man, one who could land jumps cleanly. And a quad/triple? Oh gosh. What a fun, fun program. It was just an amazing moment for him and for all the fans who cheered him on.
Heartbreaker moment: Realizing that Ryan Bradley was still the old Ryan Bradley in the free skate. And then the world championships fear set back in, and I realized that Ryan Bradley may very well have a poor finish again at worlds. I mean, he's not going to get very high components scores, because he doesn't really have much in the way of transitions and he doesn't have fab spins and his choreography is cute but not challenging. And then those jumps! Yikes! If they get the rotation, they'll have negative GOE all over the place. I was very excited to see him get the win here, it was just so nice to see him be able to pull it off. But...I don't know that the worlds team bodes well for our chances at keeping three spots.
Additional heartbreakers: Personal heartbreakers were Adam Rippon and Armin Mahbanoozadeh wiping out in the short program. And boy, the judges were OVER them! So sad, two of the prettiest skaters in the competition and people who DO fare rather well on the world stage when they skate clean.
Another sentimental favorite! Alissa Czisny is a different skater. She is starting to get to the point where I don't expect her to fall, which scares me. There were so many moments where, any other season, she would have just let herself fall, but instead she shook them off and came back stronger. I am so impressed. She has possibly the prettiest skating in the world and to see her put together good programs is so wonderful. I wish she had a triple/triple, because I'm starting to think she could really be competitive at the world championships if she skates clean...and Carolina Kostner and Kiira Korpi do have triple/triples (not to mention Yu-na Kim). I don't know what Yuka Sato and Jason Dungen have done with Alissa, but I wish they could work that confidence magic with Jeremy Abbott.
Rachael Flatt, ah. People were tweeting that Rachael stated that she'll change her free skate, so if that's true, that will be two new programs for Flatt this season. It couldn't hurt. I think the judges are over the 'is it hot in here, or is it just me?' cutesy pageant looks that Flatt has become an expert in over the last couple of years. I could not take Flatt's short program seriously with that step sequence, but I can admit it is a vast improvement over the first short program. International judges will not swoon for it the way American judges do. I always get confused with Rachael because she's supposed to be this great technical skater and then she comes into the free skate in third place and doesn't even try one of her triple/triples. She's not going to win worlds on her program components so she better get back to landing those jumps well.
Oh, Mirai Nagasu. You whiled away your summer at the beach while you had a stress fracture (instead of, as many others have pointed out...working out), you, according to your coach, only put in three weeks of hard work before the free skate, and you have one of the world's greatest coaches excoriating you in public. And you know he must be doing it because he wants to slap you upside the head and let you know you are completely wasting your talent. If Mirai doesn't come back next season a changed skater, then I will think she just doesn't have the drive it takes to be a world champion. She's not some young girl anymore...many other skaters had already won Olympic gold medals by the time they were Mirai's age. Think of what Mao Asada and Yu-na Kim were like only a couple of years ago. I'm not going to buy the teenager excuse. You're either serious about it or you're not. And she's got the most natural talent out of anyone, at least in the U.S., so I would love it not to go to waste. I'll still love to watch her skate no matter what, but it's sad because I know she's better than what she puts out there.
Talk about human interest - Agnes Zawadzki's father is dead and her mother sleeps on a couch and there was a whole lot of other information thrown out by the commentators before one of her skates. I want her back story! Agnes is still having troubles in her free skates on the senior level but she has such amazing jumps and so much energy...I'm getting more and more excited about seeing her continue. I would love to see some better choreography and a little bit more work on her lines and all the pretty pretty princess things. But she impresses every time.
Heartbreaker moment: Ugh, Nagasu and that spin. WHYYY. Also, her kiss and cry. Yikes, Frank Carroll....cold as ice!
Ice dancing...you have to think it's a failure if Davis and White can't win gold this season. They really should, but Virtue and Moir are the wild card. Don't see any other medals for the U.S. but hopefully a top ten finish for the Shibutanis.
Pairs...I think having both pairs in the top ten would be a success. As for medals? I say no chance.
Men...Yikes, I don't know. Having two of those guys in the top ten would be a big deal, I think. I don't see a medal this season.
Ladies...Who knows? Flatt is unlikely to medal but she could skate clean and be in the top six, or take advantage of others' mistakes. Czisny is a possibility if she skates clean, although I think her programs are easier than many of the top competitors which could hurt. Both should definitely place in the top ten.