Saturday, January 22, 2011

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

My Predictions:
1) Alissa Czisny
2) Mirai Nagasu
3) Rachael Flatt
4) Ashley Wagner
5) Christina Gao
6) Agnes Zawadzki

My Fantasy Picks:                         Skate Gate's Fantasy Picks:
A) Alissa Czisny                             A) Alissa Czisny
B) Christina Gao                            B) Christina Gao
C) Kristiene Gong                          C) Kristiene Gong

I never thought I would say this, but it seems that Alissa Czisny is poised to reclaim her National title. She has always seemed to me like a beautiful show skater who could never handle the competition pressure, but she truly proved me wrong this season. Her programs are gorgeous this season and the lyrical qualities of each selection suit her better than any other piece I've seen her skate to. The coaching change to Yuka Sato, a former World Champion, and Jason Dungjen seems to have allowed her to truly take ownership of her own skating. Her win at Skate Canada caught me by surprise, but a lackluster Trophee Eric Bompard made me wonder if she was for real this time. But two near perfect performances that garnered at total score of 180.75 quieted all of the naysayers at the Final. Beating some of the world's best by winning the Grand Prix Final gave Alissa so much confidence and validation and she is the favorite going into Nationals. She gets such high marks for her program components and for her spins on the technical side that she can afford some small mistakes or negative GOE's on jumps. So it is my belief that all she has to do is stay on her feet and she will be the National champion once again. Regardless of how she finishes, I think she is a smart choice to send to Worlds because her programs have scored very well internationally this season and she has already beaten Mao Asada, Miki Ando, Carolina Kostner, and Kanako Murakami who will be some of the top contenders at Worlds this season.

I love Mirai Nagasu and I think that she has the brightest future of any of the top US ladies. Of the top seniors right now, I think she is the only one who will be able to contend in Sochi in 2014, but she needs to improve her consistency and tackle her demons. She always says that when she is in first after the short program, she feels too much pressure and falls apart, which we saw at the 2010 Worlds and at Cup of China. So for Mirai's sake, let's hope that somebody beats her in the short program. Mirai is a skater like Alissa that can afford small errors because she receives high technical marks for her spins as well as high program components scores. Her highest combined score of 167.79 from Trophee Eric Bompard was the second highest score posted by a US lady this season, though its about 13 points short of what Alissa Czisny put up at The Grand Prix Final. She won a silver medal at Trophee Eric Bompard this season, her first senior Grand Prix medal, so with that added confidence, I think she can make a strong showing at Worlds if she can qualify with at top two finish in Greensboro. I think the most important thing for US ladies this season is to gain a 3rd slot for Worlds. In order to do that, the US ladies' placements at Worlds need to add up to 13 or less and I think Alissa and Mirai are the best bets to do that.
The person who is probably going to throw a wrench into my predictions is Rachael Flatt and I love her for that. An ankle injury plagued her all season but she still brought home two Grand Prix medals against tough fields. She qualified for the Grand Prix Final, and though she had a disappointing finish, she qualified nonetheless, which is something Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner could not do. For some reason international judges score Rachael lower than most on program components but she has been working this season to transition from a little girl to a more mature skater and she has really grown up. She has also been working on her jumps to avoid under-rotation calls that plagued her last season at the Olympics and Worlds. Her highest combined score this season is a 165.53 which places her 5th among US ladies this season. The short program will be key for Rachael, she has actually scrapped her old jazzy short and replaced it with an East of Eden program choreographed by Lori Nichol. I think that with Rachael's consistently low program components scores, there are only two ways that she can land in the top two and make the World team. She need to either win the short program or sit in a close second in order to have the edge going into the free skate and a points buffer to hold of Alissa and Mirai's PCS marks. The option for Rachael is to do what she does best and hit all of her elements cleanly, because while Alissa, Mirai, and company very well may make mistakes, Rachael is the consistency queen. Rachael is such a fighter and I have no doubt that she will skate two clean programs, but she'll need some help from the other ladies to make the top two.
Ashley Wagner is yet another lady who could contend for the National title if she puts together two clean programs. Like Ryan Bradley on the mens side, she has spent a lot of time in the dreaded 4th place position at Nationals. She actually won the bronze last season and was devastated to have not made the Olympic team so it would be great for her to have a shot at the World team this season. She is an elegant skater and is just beautiful to watch when she is "on". The key for Ashley will be the short program because she considers herself a "free skater" as that is her stronger program usually. She will have to have the short program of her life in Greensboro to stay at the top, especially if other top ladies can put together two clean programs.
Other ladies who can make a splash include 2010 US Junior champion and Junior World silver medalist Agnes Zawadzki who put up two stellar short programs in her senior Grand Prix debut. Christina Gao won two Junior Grand Prix silver medals this year and qualified for the final. Her score of 167.14 from the JGP of Austria ranks her 3rd among US ladies internationally. Kiri Baga, Kristiene Gong, and Yasmin Siraj also qualified for the Junior Grand Prix final and will be making senior debuts at Nationals, as well as Vanessa Lam who also put up big scores on the Junior Grand Prix. Then there is longtime favorite Caroline Zhang who has struggled since her success as a Junior and we are all pulling for her to make a comeback.

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