Friday, January 21, 2011

2011 US Figure Skating Championships: Senior Pairs Predictions and Fantasy Picks

My Predictions:
1) Caitlin Yankowskas & John Coughlin
2) Caydee Denney & Jeremy Barrett
3) Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig
4) Marissa  Castelli & Simon Shnapir
5) Mary Beth Marley & Rockne Brubaker

My Fantasy Picks:                                     SkateGate's Fantasy Picks:
A) Yankowskas & Couglin                         A) Yankowskas & Coughlin
B) Marley & Brubaker                               B) Marley & Brubaker
C) Aaron & Cohen                                     C) Aaron & Cohen
Pairs is always a tough event to call at Nationals because anything can happen. When your pair teams are as inconsistent as they are in the US, falls and mistakes are practically inevitable, especially in high-pressure situations. However, I am going to be an optimist and hope that we have a fabulous senior pairs event this year with clean programs and tight competition. The pairs title really could go to about five different teams depending on how the chips fall, but I think this event is going to belong to Caitlin Yankowskas & John Coughlin. They have a fierce short program that they really attack and a gorgeous free skate to Ave Maria dedicated to the memory of John's mother. They put up some strong programs on the Grand Prix and have the hardware to prove it with a bronze medal at Cup of China. Their scores this season, a top combined score of 166.72, are competitive internationally and they qualified as second alternate for the Grand Prix Final. Based on their momentum from the Grand Prix, I think they are truly the team to beat in Greensboro.
Caydee Denney & Jeremy Barrett are the defending US National Champions but based on their Grand Prix performances, I think they will be playing catch up at Nationals, and that may be a good thing for them. Last year they came in as underdogs and won the title. This season, all the buzz is about Yankowskas & Coughlin so Denney & Barrett are going to find themselves in another situation where they are not necessarily favored to win, and that low-pressure situation very well could lead to another title. Though at first glance it seems that they had an unsuccessful Grand Prix season because they did not bring home medals, they competed against tougher fields than some of the other top US teams. And though they suffered a fall in the free skate, their Skate America score that landed them in 4th was 166.42, only .30 less than the score that won Yankowskas & Coughlin a bronze at Cup of China. I love their Free Skate to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and I think it is so dynamic and exciting. Their coaching switch to John Zimmerman has done wonders for their performance quality and I think they will put up a strong fight to hold onto their national title.
Reigning US silver medalists Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig will also be right in the thick of things. They struggled at Cup of China but ended their Grand Prix season with a bronze medal at Cup of Russia so they have great momentum going into Nationals. Both of their programs this season, short to The Mask of Zorro and free to Nessun Dorma are gorgeous and they have some of the best elements in the world if they can execute well. In fact, one of the lifts in their free skate was the highest scoring single element in the entire pairs competition at the Olympics last season. Because of their lack of consistency, I have them in third, but they could easily run away with this competition if they skate two clean programs. Their 110.27 in the free skate is the highest of any US pair this season so if they can stay in the top 3 in the short program, their free skate could put them atop the podium.
Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir are a wildcard team for me because they have some spectacular elements but are incredibly inconsistent. They showed us an incredible short program at Skate Canada but fell apart in the free skate and fell into a hole in Skate America with a weak short program but went on to put up a good number in the free skate. They have an edge to them and do not conform to tradition in terms of music or costumes with a Pink Floyd short program and an Avatar free skate. They can definitely shake things up if they show up fully loaded. They have a throw triple axel in their free skate and the consistency is improving so that will be a key element if they hope to knock one of the top three teams off of the podium.
Speaking of wildcards, Mary Beth Marley & Rockne Brubaker, most of us have yet to even see them compete. They put up a strong score internationally at Nesquik Cup that ranks them 5th overall in terms of US pair team scores and they'll look to make a big splash in Greensboro in order to prove they are the real deal and set themselves up for a strong season in 2011-2012. 

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