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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As skating returns to the scene of the crime, a look back at how expected big story at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships was whacked into a footnote by. . .you know what

As skating returns to the scene of the crime, a look back at how expected big story at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships was whacked into a footnote by. . .you know what

“They say history repeats itself. It’s been 25 years since Detroit was the epicenter of the figure skating world.”

— From a U.S. Figure Skating promotional video for the 2019 national championships in Detroit.

Todd Sand’s first response to the question of what he remembered most about the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit is not as surprising as it seems.

“It was the year the pros were coming back,” Sand said. “That was the main chatter leading up to the season and the nationals.”

Indeed it was.

And the 1994 nationals would be the first significant place to gauge the impact of the International Skating Union’s 1992 decision to give professionals the option to be reinstated for Olympic-style events. That put 1988 Olympic champion Brian Boitano and 1982 world champion Elaine Zayak into the mix for the 1994 Olympic team, a competition made more cutthroat by the U.S. having earned just two spots in both men’s and women’s singles for those Winter Games in Norway.

The denouement of those comebacks figured to be the big story in Detroit.

“Yeah, right,” Zayak said, with a hearty laugh, when reminded of that scenario this week. “I really made a comeback the right year, huh?”

Zayak’s standing-ovation-worthy skating to get fourth place after seven years away from any serious competition and Boitano’s making the Olympic team with a disappointing second to Scott Davis now are among the footnotes to the most attention-getting and notorious story in the history of figure skating in the United States.

You likely remember it: The attack on Nancy Kerrigan by associates of Tonya Harding that marked its silver anniversary on Sunday.

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