Thursday, January 20, 2011

2011 US Figure Skating Championships: Senior Ice Dance Predictions and Fantasy Picks

My Predictions:
1) Meryl Davis & Charlie White
2) Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein
3) Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani
4) Madison Hubbell & Keiffer Hubbell
5) Lynn Kriengkrairui & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt
6) Isabella Cannuscio & Ian Lorello

My Fantasy Picks:                                        SkateGate's Fantasy Pick:
A) Davis/White                                              A) Davis/White
B) Kriengkrairut/Giulietti-Schmitt                 B) Kriengkrairut/Giulietti-Schmitt
C) Hoptman/Filchenkov                                C) Hoptman/Filchenkov

If there is such a thing as a sure thing in figure skating these days, it is Meryl Davis and Charlie White. With Virtue and Moir out of the Grand Prix this season, they had not competition internationally and they should not be challenged at home this year at Nationals either. While the US has a strong field in the senior Ice Dance event, Davis and White would literally have to skip several elements in their programs to find themselves below the top spot of the podium. They have top scores of 68.64 in the short dance, 102.94 in the free dance, and an overall combined score of  171.58. These scores easily won them the Grand Prix Final gold for the second year in a row. While they do not have to worry about competition at Nationals, they can use the event as a chance to improve their technical levels and program components going into the World Championships where they are favored to win gold. 

Nipping at the heels of Davis and White are their training partners Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein and Maia and Alex Shibutani. Both of these teams are relatively young and train under Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband. Chock and Zuerlein are the 2009 Jr. National and World Champions and last year they debuted on the senior level with an impressive 5th place finish at Nationals. With a senior season under their belts, they looked poised to land in the number two spot in the US, though Maia and Alex Shibutani, the 2010 Jr. National Champions making their senior debut actually have put up higher scores on the Grand Prix.
Though the Shibutanis have put up slightly higher scores, particularly in the free dance, the teams are in a relative dead heat for the silver medal and I think that will be one of the most interesting battles of the event. I am torn because I love both teams so much and they bring very different things to the table. I don't think Chock and Zuerlein's short dance to Edith Piaf's waltzes suits them as well as it could. However, I love their free dance to Cabaret and it is just so quirky. They perform it so well and remind me of a young Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli. They definitely commit to the characters in a mature, yet whimsical way and because they are a Zoueva/Shpilband team, the technical content is obviously there. Their performances won them two bronze medals at their Grand Prix events this season.

I think the Shibutanis have a fantastic short dance and it is just so fluid and gorgeous. Part of that is that The Carousel Waltz is one of my favorite pieces of music on the planet, but they just perform it so incredibly well. They burst onto the senior Grand Prix circuit this year like seasoned professionals, winning two bronze medals in highly contested fields at both of their events. I think they were US bronze medal favorites going into this season, but after the scores they put up on the Grand Prix, they may just be favorites for silver in the minds of most.

While I and many other predict that these three Zoueva and Shpilband teams will sweep the podium, there are several other top teams just waiting to throw a wrench into that plan. Madison and Keiffer Hubbell had a disastrous short dance at Cup of China and though they came back with a stronger free, they still finished off of the podium. They had a much stronger start at Cup of Russia, but they withdrew due to illness, so they will have something to prove at nationals. If all goes according to plan, the Hubbells will make up the final warm up group with the three Zoueva/Shpilband teams, though I don't think they are at the same level as my perceived top three. Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt made a very strong showing at their lone Grand Prix event and actually scored higher than the Hubbells by about 10 points so we'll see if that was a precursor of things to come. Also, expect big things out of Isabella Cannuscio & Ian Lorello. Their overall score improved by about 15 points from their first Grand Prix to their second and if they can keep going, they'll be in the same score range as the the Hubbells and Kriengkrairut/Giulietti-Schmitt. Regardless of what happens, I am most looking forward to this event next weekend!

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