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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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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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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Bradie Tennell working to hammer home jumps, repeat national champion mentality

Bradie Tennell working to hammer home jumps, repeat national champion mentality

Bradie Tennell had awakened at 4 a.m., as usual, and arrived at the Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion in Chicago’s northwest suburbs by 6 a.m., as usual. Now it was early afternoon, and the 2018 Olympic team event bronze medalist was on her sixth of seven 30-minute training session of the day.

It is a workload that befits her personality on and off the ice: relentless, no-nonsense, a grinder in a sport where the surface glitz often hides the lunch-bucket labor that figure skaters put in daily on rinks like this one.

Not all of her training days are so intense. Her coach of 11 years, Denise Myers, insists that the 20-year-old Tennell cut back at times to make sure she stays healthy after having had her skating career threatened by back problems in both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. So there are days with reduced jumping and days with no jumping at all and days with fewer sessions and fewer full program run-throughs.

“I like to take as long as I need to get everything done,” Tennell said. “I don’t really count the hours.”

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For Russian skating star Medvedeva, a huge change was necessary to keep going

For Russian skating star Medvedeva, a huge change was necessary to keep going

TORONTO – She was not supposed to be sitting here, in a coach’s office at a skating club in Canada. Yevgenia Medvedeva is Russian, just 18 years old, figure skating world champion in 2016 and 2017, and only eight months ago winner of the singles silver medal at the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Barely two months after the Olympics, she left her Russian coach of 10 years, Eteri Tutberidze, who had guided her to the top of the figure skating world, for reasons Medvedeva has not discussed except in general terms. The move she made was startling and utterly unexpected.

Star Russian skaters stay in Russia. Never before had one of the sport’s pre-eminent Russians left the country to train with a non-Russian coach. Not since Michelle Kwan in 2001 had a skater with a career record as brilliant on the world and Olympic level as Medvedeva’s made such a dramatic coaching change, and Kwan did it without leaving her native California.

But Medvedeva felt she had no other choice after a tumultuous 2018 season that did not end with the Olympic gold medal she had seemed a lock to win.

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