Monday, January 31, 2011

2011 US Figure Skating Championships: The Barbie Awards for Best Moments in Greensboro

I needed a way to summarize Nationals 2011 in my own way without doing a generic wrap up of each event. I thought of doing a top ten favorite moments post, but there were so many that were great for different reasons that I simply couldn't rank them. So, I decided that I would just talk about the things that were highlights for me and why they were so special. Therefore, I give you The Barbie Awards for the Best Moments in Greensboro.
Newcomer Award: Courtney Hicks
Courtney Hicks won the Jr Ladies event by a huge margin and with the highest score ever posted by a US Jr lady. If the pressure doesn't get to her, she will do a phenomenal job at the Jr Worlds this season on a spectacular team also composed of Agnes Zawadzki & Christina Gao. What was spectacular about Courtney wasn't her win though, it was her ability and her talent. She truly reminds me of Sasha Cohen, not just because they share a coach, a dress, and a music selection, but because of her lines and technique. If she can find the consistency that Sasha lacked, she'll go very far. Check out her tw-hicks spin if you get the chance, I can't even describe it, but she is basically a spinning pretzel.

Debut Award: Mary Beth Marley
We've been hearing all season about the new partnership of Marley & Brubaker but we didn't get a chance to see them and boy was I surprised, pleasantly so. They haven't completely gelled as a pair yet-their jumps and spins aren't in perfect unison-but the progress they've made in 5 months is outstanding. Mary Beth showed so much determination in landing those throws and holding her positions in the lifts, especially after a fall in the free skate on some basic crossovers. She definitely has a fighting spirit and a willingness to learn which was great to see. They have so much promise if they can just stay together and stay healthy. The 2011 Grand Prix season will give them the chance to compete against the World's best and see how they stack up.
Emotionally Stirring Performance Award: Yankowskas & Coughlin
It's no surprise that I found John and Caitilin's free skate to Ave Maria to be the emotional performance of Nationals this year. Yes skating is a sport, but it is also about performing, and the performances are always more captivating when they portray real human emotion. Marina Zoueva's choreography perfectly conveyed what John was feeling after his mother's death and they translated it in such a way that it served as catharsis for John and also allowed he and Caitlin to connect with the audience in a very personal way. Aside from the mesmerizing performance, the program was very sound technically, aside from an awkward landing on a throw, and the judges awarded them, rightfully so, the gold medal. If they can deliver the two programs they performed at Nationals at Worlds, they'll do very well.
Watch out World Award: Maia & Alex Shibutani
I have been following this delightful brother and sister Ice Dance duo all season and they improve every time they step onto the ice. They have great natural ability and are very well matched, but I can also tell that they are very hard workers. They are both still teenagers and they have a very bright future as a team. They have the best coaches in the world, Marina Zoueva & Igor Shpilband, and at the rate they are going, they'll soon pass Davis & White.They may not have won a Junior World title, but if they can avoid injury and keep up their work ethic, they are sure to stand atop the senior World podium a few short years from now. Oh and did I mention that their short dance to The Carousel Waltz is the most heart-warming program of the season?

Selling the Performance Award: Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein
Madison & Greg's free dance to Cabaret has been the program I've talked about all season, and being a musical theatre gal, this is no surprise. This team has never really done much for me until I caught them at Skate Canada and was blown away. They have toed the line between over the top and too conservative all season but I felt they really hit their stride in Greensboro. They gave all they had to the performance without getting out of control. I felt like I was watching a young Liza Minnelli & Joel Grey. Excuse my theatrical terminology, but Madison knows how to "chew the scenery" just like Ms. Minnelli. With the rise of the Shibutani siblings, It may be a pipe dream, but I would still love to see Madison & Greg win a world championship someday because I appreciate their commitment to performance. 
Kick It And Stick It Award: Rachael Flatt
I am a Rachael fan and have really felt for her as she experienced the ups and downs of the season. She put us some great performances on the Grand Prix to win two silvers, but never had enough in the tank to win gold. An injury led to a disappointing Grand Prix Final and the scores her programs received this season seemed they would keep her off of the World Team. But then Lori Nichol stepped in, as she often does, with a brilliant piece of choreography that, in my opinion, saved Rachael's season. Before Rachael took the ice for her new East of Eden short program in Greensboro, I tweeted that I was going to lend Rachael my signature catchphrase "Kick It & Stick It." But what she did on the ice surprised us all. She actually did the "stick it" part first as she landed 4 clean jumps, in true Rachael fashion. But what nobody expected was when the "kick it" part came in as she lit up the arena with an explosive step sequence that showed passion that we have never seen from her, ever. Unfortunately she didn't completely kick it or stick it in the free skate, but she did enough to go onto Four Continents and Worlds, where I will again lend her my signature phrase. 
Comeback Kid Award: Alissa Czisny
Alissa is on the short list of most talked about skaters in the world this year, and who expected that? Well according to Alissa, her success has come from having coaches that truly believe in her, so Yuka Sato & Jason Dungjen have had faith all along that this would be her season. What I love about Alissa is that she demonstrates that grace, artistry, and belief in yourself can often get you further than triple-triple combinations. She has also shown the world that great figure skating careers don't have to end at age 17. After a tumultuous history at Nationals it was great to see her win a second title, this time with two clean performances and no controversy surrounding the win. Her performances in Greensboro were like a breath of fresh air and this was the first time I could really enjoy watching her skate without fearing that she would fall. After a very solid season and two major titles, Grand Prix Final & US Nationals, dare I say she has broken shaken the label of "the pretty skater who can't land her jumps?" Well I was one of those naysayers and she has certainly changed my mind this season, so with a strong showing at Four Continents, she may just establish herself about one to beat at Worlds.
Showmanship Award: Ryan Bradley
Ryan Bradley has always been known as a showman, and unfortunately, as the skater who finishes just off of the podium. He planned to retire after the heartbreak of missing the 2010 Vancouver team but due to popular demand, he returned to Nationals. With a new mindset, please the audience and enjoy himself, Ryan was freer than I've ever seen him and he delivered a short program that was sheer entertainment for the audience, but also a points magnet that landed him in first place. I cannot recall any other program in recent memory, aside from Davis & White's Baliwood, that was this entertaining while still gathering a huge sum of points from the judges.

Fighting Spirit Award: Adam Rippon
Adam's shaky performance in the short program, complete with a fall on the Rippon lutz, was the heartbreak of Nationals for me. I wanted so badly for him to win this one and I'm still in shock that he will not be competing at Worlds after a 5th place finish last season. After the disappointment of the short, I wanted so badly for him to come back with a strong free, and aside from a shaky first jump, he did just that. When Adam is "on" his skating is a thing of such beauty and last night he was "on". I think he knew that even a perfect free skate wouldn't put him on the podium, but the joy on his face after he finished a near perfect program was simply infectious. A lesser person would have given up after being favored to win and landing in 9th place after the short. Adam proved in the free that he has what it takes to be a winner if he can work on his focus and his mental toughness.

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