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 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 limited 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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In a tweet storm, raining down my observations on Day 1 of the World Figure Skating Championships

In a tweet storm, raining down my observations on Day 1 of the World Figure Skating Championships

Ok, I’m going to try something here. And, not, it’s not because it’s the easy way out. It’s because I said everything I wanted about Day I of the World Figure Skating Championships in a 14-item Twitter thread…and a couple later tweets.

So, in a bow to 2019 short-form journalism, here they are:

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Alysa Liu makes history but wants to make more

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Twenty-five seconds into her short program Thursday, Alysa Liu made history.

She was the first woman to land a triple Axel in the short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Not bad for a 13-year-old making her senior debut at nationals.

And not enough for Liu. She wants to make more.

“She definitely wants to be the youngest champion,” said her coach, Laura Lipetsky. “That’s in the back of her head.”

It won’t be easy. Liu, second after the short program, likely will need another historic performance to overcome reigning champion Bradie Tennellwho takes a 2.71-point lead into Friday’s free skate.

But one would not be wise to discount the possibility of Liu pulling it off.

For the whole story on NBCSports.Com, click here:

And for a brief story on Bradie Tennell taking command of the short program, click here:

Skating prodigy Alysa Liu, a senior national competitor at 13, is using the present to avoid future shock

Skating prodigy Alysa Liu, a senior national competitor at 13, is using the present to avoid future shock

The idea was to show Alysa Liu what her future might look like and for her to get comfortable seeing herself in that picture.

So Samuel Auxier, U.S. Figure Skating’s international committee chair, arranged for Liu and her coach, Laura Lipetsky, to attend the junior and senior Grand Prix Final competitions earlier this month in Vancouver.

“Having judged and watched the Junior Grand Prixes, it was clear our skaters competing their first time in them were often very intimidated by the Russian and Japanese ladies,” Auxier said.

He soon realized that Liu isn’t intimidated by much.

“At first, she was amazed by the Russian ladies, but then (she) wanted to get out there and show them her triple Axels,” Auxier said.

That’s right, triple Axels.

The triple Axels Liu, 13, plans to show in the senior competition at next month’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit.

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An old debate about the young in figure skating heats up again: is it time to raise the minimum age for seniors?

An old debate about the young in figure skating heats up again: is it time to raise the minimum age for seniors?

Is it time to raise the age minimum for singles figure skaters in senior international competition?

Rafael Arutunian thinks so. The coach of the only two U.S. skaters to win senior World Championship medals since 2009 brought up the idea unprompted during our lengthy recent conversation at his training base south of Los Angeles.

For a number of reasons, including health, career longevity and competitive equity, Arutunian favors a minimum age of 18 for senior men and women rather than the current 15.

“Everyone now talks about jumping too much and people starting to damage themselves,” Arutunian said.  “How do you want to stop that?  In my mind, there is only one way: not allow them to compete (at seniors) until 18.

“If I am 12 years old, and I know real money is after 18, do you think I will do too many quads, or I will do just enough quads to win and save my body for later?”

Several other coaches and skaters contacted by phone, email or text message, including Alexei Mishin of Russia, Brian Orser of Canada and Tom Zakrajsek of the U.S., agreed with Arutunian, especially where female skaters are concerned.

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