Could rush to judgment hurt U.S. women's chances for three Olympic figure skating spots?

Could rush to judgment hurt U.S. women's chances for three Olympic figure skating spots?

Earlier this season, U.S. Figure Skating changed its senior world team selection rules to deny a guaranteed place for the reigning national champion.

The change was made, according to a USFS document approved in December, “to select the athletes who will have the best chance for success at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships to win the maximum number of medals and future berths for the World and Olympic Team the following season.”

It was made just in case the winner at nationals was a fluke (or, more politely, a surprise), someone whose past international record gave no strong indication of success at the World Championships.

Someone like Karen Chen.

Her performances in both programs at last month’s U.S. Championships in Kansas City were undeniably brilliant – by far the best of her career.

Her performances in this week’s Four Continents Championships on the 2018 Olympic rink in Gangneung, South Korea, were undeniably dismal:  12th in the short program, with a fall and a watered-down combination; 10th in Saturday’s free skate, when she omitted the planned opening combination, did an invalid element and had four sloppy jumping passes (out of seven).

Overall, with a 12th place that matched her finish at last year’s Four Continents, Chen looked like the skater who had been consistently mediocre this season and last – with the exception of the 2017 nationals.

That should get USFS officials thinking of a future change in its world team selection rules so the results of Four Continents can be taken into consideration.  After all, it will be more than two months from the end of nationals to the start of worlds.

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When playing by the rules apparently doesn't apply to figure skating officials, a team gets shut out of a world meet

When playing by the rules apparently doesn't apply to figure skating officials, a team gets shut out of a world meet

Some may wonder why I have spent several days this week in reporting and writing this story about a junior team in a non-Olympic discipline of figure skating.

The answer:  rules are rules, but international and national governing bodies in many Olympic sports have a tendency to stretch them, even as they spout commitment to Olympic ideals.  (Yes, stretch is a euphemism).  And these cases usually get little outside scrutiny.

That’s the background.  Here’s the story:

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A suburban Chicago synchronized skating team has been deprived of a spot at the World Junior Championships because a U.S. Figure Skating selection committee apparently both did not follow its own rules and then gave an ex-post facto justification for the selection decision.

The rules in force leave little doubt that the Chicago Jazz should have been given a place at the 2017 World Junior Championships March 10-11 in Mississauga, Ont.

The Jazz, based in Glenview, Ill., has filed a grievance with the USFS under the governing body’s provisions for such complaints.

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A wondrous Nathan Chen is defying description

A wondrous Nathan Chen is defying description

I am already running out of ways to describe the wonders of Nathan Chen, so I will let someone else do the heavy lifting this morning.

That would be Mark Hanretty, the Eurosport commentator and former ice dancer who skated for Great Britain in the world and European championships.

Hanretty’s background makes his observations of Chen’s brilliant Four Continents short program more meaningful.  A dancer would have a keen eye for the parts of Chen’s skating that factor into his “second mark,” the PCS, on which the judges still find him significantly below his major rivals.

First, the facts:  With a quad lutz-triple toe combination and a quad flip, Chen won Friday’s short program in Gangneung, South Korea, with a score, 103.12, that topped his previous personal best by nearly 10 points.  Shoma Uno (two quads) was second at 100.28, also a personal best, with Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan (botched second quad) third at 97.04.

The free skate is Sunday.

This is what Hanretty said while waiting for the scores to be announced:

“The jumps are coming from nowhere.  He has the whole package.  He has beautiful posture, wonderfully pointed extension, nice spin positions.”

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For U.S. women figure skaters, Four Continents opens with triple trouble

For U.S. women figure skaters, Four Continents opens with triple trouble

The reason why I wrote last month after the U.S. Championships that U.S. men had a better chance of getting three 2018 Olympic figure skating spots than U.S. women was clear again Thursday.

And, coincidentally, that clarity came on the rink in Gangneung, South Korea, where the 2018 Olympic figure skating will take place.

I’m not foolhardy enough to suggest that the results of one short program at the Four Continents Championships should be seen as indisputable evidence of big trouble.  Saturday’s free skate could provide a more optimistic indication.

So let’s just say the performances of two of the three U.S. women were troublesome, because either Karen Chen or Mariah Bell (or both) will be critical to the three-spots effort next month at the World Championships in Helsinki.

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Two-time U.S. figure skating champion Gracie Gold picks new coaches

Two-time U.S. figure skating champion Gracie Gold picks new coaches

Two-time U.S. figure skating champion Gracie Gold is moving from Los Angeles to Canton, Mich., to begin working with coaches Marina Zoueva and Oleg Epstein.

Gold and Frank Carroll, her coach the past four seasons, parted ways after her disappointing sixth place at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships last month.

Gold, 21, skated poorly in all four of her competitions this season.  Her performance at nationals means she is not going to the World Championships for the first time in her senior career.

"She needs her confidence back," Zoueva said in a brief conversation before returning to the lesson she was giving.  "She's a gorgeous-looking girl.  Great skater.  Excellent jumps.  Her expression is wonderful.

"Over time, she lost confidence.  (This season) was difficult, for sure."

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