Sunday, January 23, 2011

2011 US Figure Skating Championships: The Top Coaches

As we gear up for the start of competition at Nationals in Greensboro today, we cannot wait to see our favorite skaters give it their all. But behind every skater there is a dedicated team, so I thought it would be nice to write about some of the most important people in the sport...the coaches.
Let's start out with one of my favorite figure skating coaches, Frank Carroll. I was, and still am, a huge Michelle Kwan fan so Frank is the first skating coach I ever knew of. I have watched him coach many skaters, but I'll always remember him in conjunction with Michelle. I am not the biggest Evan Lysacek fan but I was so happy that he won Olympic Gold because he was Frank's first ever Olympic Gold. Because Evan is retired, Frank's only elite skater in contention at Nationals is Mirai Nagasu. I have loved watching their relationship develop and I still remember Cup of China last season when he told her she was no longer allowed to cry at competitions. Mirai has calmed down and matured a lot over the past few seasons and most of that can be attributed to Frank's stellar coaching skills.

Another one of my favorite coaches these days, and perhaps the busiest skating coach in the business is Tom Zakrajsek of the Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado Springs. Correct me if I am missing anybody but he has at least 7 elite skaters competing in Greensboro this year including Rachael Flatt, Agnes Zawadzki, Alexe Gilles, Brandon Mroz, Joshua Farris, Alexander Johnson, and Max Aaron. With Rachael and Brandon being top contenders in their events, Tom could theoretically have two national champions under his tutelage. Between 4 senior skaters, Tom was at every senior ISU Grand Prix this season (I want his frequent flyer miles), including the final. He is known to go above and beyond to prepare and motivate his skaters, from renting late night ice time to prepare his male skaters for a late draw in the short program, to doing pushups on national TV when Rachael Flatt won the free skate at Skate America. Greensboro certainly won't be a vacation for coach Tom, but with so many talented skaters, he'll certainly enjoy the spoils of victory.

If anybody is going to challenge Tom for the title of "busiest coach" it will be Marina Zoueva & Igor Shpilband. They train the four top senior dance teams in the country, though Samuelson and Bates are absent due to injury, and Lichtman and Copely, a top junior team. Their work with Davis & White, Chock & Zuerlein, and previously with Belbin & Agosto has completely transformed Ice Dance in the US. They've made world class competitors in a discipline that was previously dominated by eastern Europeans. Unless something outlandish happens next weekend, their teams should sweep the senior National podium and win the junior title. In addition to "busiest coaches" they'll also most likely be the "most decorated coaches" this week in Greensboro.
Of all the coaches that have multiple pupils competing in the Senior division, the husband and wife team of Yuka Sato & Jason Dungjen have the best chance of striking Gold twice. They have done wonders with Alissa Czisny, particularly in terms of confidence and consistency, in their first season with her and coached her to a Grand Prix Final gold. She is, in my opinion, the favorite to win the ladies title if she can keep her focus. On the men's side, they also coach Jeremy Abbott, who is the 2-time reigning US champion and looks strong enough to win a third this week. Yuka choreographs for additional skaters around the world and Jason is an ISU technical specialist. This marriage of technical expertise and choreographic artistry has allowed them to add precision and polish to Jeremy and Alissa. I have a feeling they'll be getting requests to coach a lot more skaters if they have the success I suspect they will in Greensboro.
Olympic silver medalist and coach of Olympic gold medalist Yu-Na Kim, Brian Orser, also has two top contenders in the senior event, Adam Rippon and Christina Gao. Adam put up the top score by a US male this season and Christina put up the 3rd highest score by a US lady, so he too may have medalists on two senior podiums. After his break with Kim, Rippon and Gao are his top skaters and he now has more time to focus on them. If all goes as predicted, he'll be taking Adam to Worlds and Christina to junior Worlds where they'll both be medal threats. Orser is a great example of a successful world-class skater who was able to use his experience to become a stellar coach.

Priscilla Hill is yet another coach who has top contenders in senior men's and ladies with Armin Mahbanoozadeh and Ashley Wagner. Both have the potential to medal in their events. She also coaches Stephen Carierre who has withdrawn due to injury and some other international skaters. Hill is no stranger to coaching winners, as she coached Johnny Weir to 3 National titles and was usfsa's 2004 coach of the year. She trains her students at the University of Delaware Figure Skating Club in Wilmington.

Married couple John Zimmerman & Sylvia Fontana are first-time coaches, but they have taken on reigning US Pairs champions Denney & Barrett and have done wonders with them thus far. Their work has built some consistency within the team and taught them to connect with one another more on the ice. They train the pair in Florida and are working to establish a world-class pairs training center there. In my opinion, that is just what is needed for US pairs skating to begin to thrive and this may just be the coaching team to do it. Look at Russian pairs under Tamara Moskvina, Chinese pairs under Bin Yao, and USA/Canada ice dance under Zoueva/Shpilband-they are all very successful programs and the common thread is one coach and one training system. If I were Zimmerman & Fontana, I would look for strong young skaters and pair them up very young so that they learn their elements together and learn to truly skate as one. I think that they can help Denney & Barrett to grow and improve, but their work should focus primarily on younger skaters if they want to truly establish a successful US pairs training program.

No comments:

Post a Comment