Takeaways from 2018-19 figure skating season: big props for Zagitova (and others)

Takeaways from 2018-19 figure skating season:  big props for Zagitova (and others)

A baker’s dozen takeaways, with some looks to the future, from the 2018-19 figure skating season, which ended Saturday in Japan with the United States winning the World Team Trophy.

1. It’s time to give Russia’s Alina Zagitova full – and massive – credit for what she has done the past two seasons.

Zagitova and her coaching team were unfairly criticized in some quarters for what turned out to be a brilliant strategy of doing all seven jumping passes in the second half bonus area of the 2018 Olympic free skate. Not only was that an impressive feat of stamina, the bonus points Zagitova got for those jumps were the difference between her winning gold and getting silver.

When a Zagitova worn down by a post-Olympic whirl of appearances flopped to fifth in the 2018 World Championships, staggered to fifth at this season’s Russian Championships and was beaten at Europeans, there were suggestions she might be a one-hit wonder. Then, as she later said in an interview on the Russian Skating Federation website, Zagitova became so unsettled by the pressure and the thought of failure at 2019 worlds her jumps deserted her in practice, and she had thoughts of quitting.

Some of her struggles were not unexpected. She had grown some three inches since the Olympics. Her body proportions were changing from those of a girl to those of a young woman. New rules minimized one of her strengths by limiting skaters to just three jumping passes in the bonus area.

And Zagitova overcame all that, the psychological and the physical issues and the scoring changes, to win the 2019 worlds with two clean programs, a dazzling short and a strong, commanding free. At 16, she had added a world title to her Olympic title. That is worthy of unqualified acclaim.

2. Nathan Chen had a remarkable season, even if judged only by what he did on the ice.

When one puts his undefeated record in the context of having done it while simultaneously being a full-time freshman student at Yale University whose coach was 3,000 miles away, Chen’s was a season for the ages.

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The John Coughlin story, tragic for all involved, should lead to empathy and understanding instead of finger-pointing

The John Coughlin story, tragic for all involved, should lead to empathy and understanding instead of finger-pointing

Let’s start with the simple fact that John Coughlin’s death is a tragedy.

Whatever the circumstances and reasons that led the 33-year-old pairs figure skating national champion to take his own life Friday, as his sister’s Facebook post confirmed, they do not mitigate the pain Coughlin’s passing has brought to his family and friends.

And the desire of those people to express their love and support for Coughlin does not mitigate the pain of those who have reported being victimized by him.

Coughlin’s death leaves many questions specific to his case that likely will never be answered and other, broader questions that should continue to be asked.

Yet too many people have felt compelled to draw conclusions based on assumptions, misinformation and misunderstanding.

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Hanyu, Ledecká rise above it all in a year when world sport needed them - and other athletes - as salvation from scandal and cowardice

Hanyu, Ledecká rise above it all in a year when world sport needed them - and other athletes - as salvation from scandal and cowardice

In international sports, 2018 was a year of courage and cowardice and common sense in seeing through a con.

And, as usual, it was a year of athletes of all colors, backgrounds, nations, shapes and sizes rising above the inanity, craven callousness and amorality of the old, white men who run global sports.

To which one can only say this:  Thanks, Yuzuru Hanyu and Simone Biles, thanks Ester Ledecká and Chloe Kim, thanks Eliud Kipchoge and Team Shuster. . .thanks to you and more for the achievements and goodwill that made us remember that sport, for all its ugly, scandalous warts, can show humankind at its most attractive.

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Damning report on USOC leadership in Nassar abuse scandal should lead nearly entire USOC board to resign

Damning report on USOC leadership in Nassar abuse scandal should lead nearly entire USOC board to resign

All but one member of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Board of Directors must resign.

A new board must separate the position of athlete ombudsman from the USOC paid staff, so athletes can feel their grievances, large and small, get an independent hearing.

USOC sponsors, not Congress, should lead the drive for those changes in the aftermath of a damning report about the way USOC leadership mishandled the horrific Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.

But the board could start the process of replacing itself at its meeting today in California.

Nassar was sentenced Jan. 24 to 40-to-175 years in prison for multiple sex crimes after some 200 of his victims courageously testified against him in court. But that testimony did not fill in all the blanks about the case.

In the months that have followed, there remained many critical and unanswered questions about how the USOC leadership had handled - and is handling - the worst and most gruesome events in the history of Olympic sports in the United States.

The answers, searingly critical of the USOC, came this week in the report issued by Ropes & Gray, the Boston-based international law firm whom the USOC Board of Directors hired to conduct an independent investigation.

The report’s evidence that USA Gymnastics and its former chief executive, Steve Penny, acted unconscionably already had been well documented.  Its evidence about the USOC’s utter failure to act was new – and even more awful than many suspected.

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In needed move to prevent federation figure skating heads from judging, ISU still needs to go further

In needed move to prevent federation figure skating heads from judging, ISU still needs to go further

The International Skating Union’s biennial congress early next month will consider a proposal that might have been unnecessary if the top Canadian figure skating federation official had a more accurate ethical compass.

So you can call Urgent Proposal No. 6 the Leanna Caron Rule, since the proposal obviously was spurred largely by the actions of Skate Canada president Caron.

The proposal, submitted by the ISU Council, is a move in the right direction toward eliminating conflicts of interest that can undermine confidence in judging of this highly subjective sport.  Hopefully, it will pass.

But it doesn’t go quite far enough.

And the ISU needs to change another regulation so it can go further.

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