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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Long and short (form) of it: Nathan Chen's brilliance surpassing in both at worlds

Long and short (form) of it:  Nathan Chen's brilliance surpassing in both at worlds

With a baker’s dozen of tweets, I wrap up Day 4 of the World Figure Skating Championships, a big one for Team USA:

*Nathan Chen (gold), who was simply otherworldly, and Vincent Zhou (bronze), confident and solid, gave the U.S. two men on the podium for the first time since 1996, when Todd Eldredge and Rudy Galindo went gold/bronze.

*Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue’s bronze extended the U.S. streak of world dance medals to five years.

I’ve enjoyed covering the meet this way. I hope you enjoyed reading about it this way. (High-quality, uninterrupted NBC Sports Gold live stream made it possible.)

I’ll have more about Chen’s victory Monday on nbcsports.com, and there also will be a link to it here.

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Who will win 2019 figure skating worlds? My gold medal crystal ball perfectly clear on just one event

Who will win 2019 figure skating worlds?  My gold medal crystal ball perfectly clear on just one event

There are two ways to do figure skating predictions.

One is based on the unlikely event that the top six or so skaters or couples in every discipline skate cleanly (wouldn’t that be wonderful to see.) Predictions then are relatively simple, since one can rely on measures of past clean programs and of pure ability.

The second method factors in recent performances, injuries, the way judges have perceived an athlete or team, how the athletes have done under pressure in big events and other intangibles.  These are much more valid but also trickier, given what might happen when you combine all that information with a slippery surface, knife-blade-wide skate edges and limit-pushing, extreme sports skills.

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Wait for It: Stars on Ice shines brighter as show goes on, leaving you wanting more

Wait for It:  Stars on Ice shines brighter as show goes on, leaving you wanting more

The first half of Sunday’s Stars on Ice show at Allstate Arena in suburban Chicago felt like an interminable rock concert with skating as an incidental accompaniment to music blared at twice the necessary volume.

The decibels didn’t drop much in the second half.  But, despite a difficult two days of travel, the skaters amped themselves up after intermission with programs richer in choreography and polish.  Those performances thankfully dampened the music, putting the skaters at the center of the icy stage and allowing the visual to take the expected precedence over the aural.

By the penultimate star turn, with new world champion Nathan Chen doing “Nemesis,” his competitive short program this season, this was a show that clearly understood the maxim to always leave the audience wanting more.   As Stars finished with the entire cast - 13 U.S. Olympians - combining on “You Will Be Found” from “Dear Evan Hansen,” the two hours of entertainment had become more and more compelling.

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