To kick off these season, I've polled some of my favorite figure skating bloggers & tweeters to get their thoughts and predictions for the 2011-2012 Figure Skating season. You'll hear from @RequiredElement @icemusings @skating102 @Waxeled @mz734_FS @FromTheBoards and ImaginaryPogue from Goldenskate.com, with a bit of my commentary thrown in as well. Don't forget to follow my friends up here for all of your skating news this season. Happy reading & here's to a great season!
1) Which skater or team are you most excited to see this season?
RE: Rachael Flatt- how new coaching will effect her and if her 2011 Worlds injury and subsequent fine will have a lasting effect on her reputation with USFSA and international judges
IM: The Shibutanis-there will be more pressure on them to maintain their level of performance as they are World medalists and the packaging of their short dance will be key
S102: Jeremy Abbott-I'd like to see if he can shake off last season's troubles
WAX: Mao Asada-will we see the real Mao or the pale shadow we saw last season; this season is hers for the taking without Kim or Ando on the scene
MZ: Ashley Wagner-the past few seasons she has stagnated while her competitors have caught up or passed her; her coaching change to John Nicks will be key to see if she can overcome her issues with the short program
FTB: Denney/Coughlin-the potential is there and they will have enormously high expectations; their pair elements are strong and they need to find consistency
IP: Virtue/Moir-I'm most curious to see how they adapt last year's free into a Short Dance and where the compulsory steps will slip in
BSB: Alissa Czisny-I'm hoping continues to build on what she accomplished last season and push the technical envelope
2) Who do you expect to make the biggest splash in their Senior Grand Prix debut?
RE: Volosozhar/Trankov-they already won a World medal so I expect great things from them on the Grand Prix
IM: Adelina Sotnikova & Elizaveta Tuktamisheva-no lady has ever won gold in her senior Grand Prix debut and one of these ladies may pull it off
S102: Volosozhar/Trankov-I have a feeling they'll be the new "it" team
WAX: The Russian ladies-that's who the media will follow, they will be the desired interviews
MZ-Sotnikova & Tuktamisheva-will they move seamlessly to the senior ranks like Yuna Kim or fizzle out like Caroline Zhang
FTB: Christina Gao-I expect to see great things from her on the senior level
BSB: Lichtman/Copely-I can't wait to see if they'll have an average Senior GP debut like Chock/Zuerlein in 2009 or if they'll shock us all like the Shibutanis in 2010
3) What do you think about the new Grand Prix Format (cutting the field to 10 in Men/Ladies and 8 in Pairs/Dance while allowing the top 6 from Worlds to skate 3 events)?
IM: Up and coming skaters now have less opportunities to earn season's best scores, ranking points, and international experience
WAX: The ranking/selection process is very confusing; I'm not sure the top skaters need to deal with a 3rd competition in a 6-week time span
MZ: I feel it will help skating in the long run if more people can see "big names" perform
IP: Hate it with a vituperative vengeance that most furies couldn't imagine
BSB: It limits the unpredictability of the sport because there is less chance of an upset if all the competitors are top-notch and compete against one another so often
4) Will Denney & Coughlin live up to the pre-season hype?
RE: most of the hype is coming from U.S. Figure Skating and they'll hopefully find success on the Grand Prix and at Nationals but no, they're not Savchenko & Szolkowy yet
IM: A top 10 finish at Worlds is realistic, but if they start pulling quad twists and throws it may be a different story
WAX: They'll be good, but no better than any other US team
MZ: They say the're out for the National title this year and I think they're capable if they stay healthy
FTB: I anticipate they'll be a factor but won't take down any big names right off the bat; look for them to be in the medal hunt all season
IM: I think they're working hard and if they can place top 10 at Worlds, they should be proud
BSB: I agree that they looked strong at their summer competitions, but I think they'll pale in comparison to the International field
5) Who has the potential to beat Virtue & Moir or Davis & White?
RE: Pechalat & Bourzat have a shot at contending but I think they're a tiny bit below, plus we don't know what's happened with them in the off-season
IM: No one right now, they are head and tails above the rest of the field and they have a good competitive vibe which will push them further in each practice
WAX: Pechalat & Bourzat have a shot if they can avoid the major mistake(s) they had at Worlds
FTB: The Shibutanis are on the climb; they have a World medal to live up to now but they're hot on their teammates' heels
IP: No one, at least not this season
BSB: I too would say nobody has a shot at them this season as long as they stay healthy
6) Does it help or hurt Ice Dance as a discipline when one coaching team (Zoueva/Shpilband) dominates most competitions?
RE: It's important to note that other teams still have a chance to medal when Z/S teams are on the ice; other coaches' teams have won plenty of World titles in recent years
IM: Z/S do an amazing job packaging each team and playing to their strengths; it's also important to note that the Shibutanis wouldn't have medaled at Worlds if not for Pechalat & Bourzat's fall
FTB: The Z/S teams have brilliant instruction on their side and it's up to the other coaches to do the same homework and the skaters to put in the same hours; in theory it creates a goal to live up to which should elevate the level of ice dance
IP: The best we can hope for is that other coaches get in gear, gain a better understanding of the Code of Points, and created a better training environment (Zhulin & Morosov I'm looking at you)
BSB: Ice Dance is constantly changing and the Canton teams are currently setting the bar because they adhere to the judging system and use it to their advantage; this is something that every coach and team has an equal opportunity to do
7) How critical is 2011-2012 in the grand scheme of things?
RE: For younger skaters this is the year to gain experience; for older skaters without much International success, (Abbott, Nagasu, Flatt, etc) each year they go without it is a bit more glaring
IM: For new pairs and dance teams it will be a year to get settled and see where they fit; other skaters will use this year to see if they want to continue; Worlds placements and seasons's best scores will be crucial this year as they'll determine GP assignments and the 2012 GP Final will be held in the Sochi Olympic venue
WAX: For the young Russian girls moving up from Junior to Senior, this year is huge!
MZ: Every year is a stepping stone and coaching changes will be key for US ladies, especially a new coaching staff does for Wagner & Flat what it did for Czisny
IP: We'll see what Chan's strategy will be like to build to Sochi; I think it will be like Tarasova's strategy for Kulik, building difficulty to near impossible levels and then stepping back to ace the Olympics
8) Who will be this year's Alissa Czisny and defy expectation to have a stellar season?
RE: Czisny was a former National Champion known for sloppy mistakes coming back strong after extreme disappointment; I could see Jeremy Abbott doing something similar this season
IM: In the US I think it will be Christina Gao, who overcame a huge growth spurt and is now quite elegant and polished
S201: This could be a great year for Ricky Dornbush
WAX: Ashley Wagner- I think the coastal change has done her some good
FTB: Mirai Nagasu-she has the complete package and coach Frank Carroll seems to think she finally has her head in the game
IP: Javier Fernandez
BSB: I've always been a supporter of Rachael Flatt and I think coaching change could revive her career after the 2011 Worlds fiasco
9) Which skaters are you concerned for in the upcoming season?
IM: I'm interested to see how Rachael Flatt balances top-level skating with an Engineering program at Stamford
S102: Denney & Coughlin
WAX: Joubert, Verner, Kostner
MZ: I can't help but wonder if Alissa Czisny's great season was simply another peak in her roller-coaster of a career or if it was truly an upward climb
FTB: I love Ashley Wagner but she's fallen pretty far behind the other American girls unless her coaching change has caused major improvements
IP: Lawrence/Swiegers-they're focusing on PCS and GOE marks while other Canadian pairs are adding technical difficulty, including flips and lutzes from Duhamel/Radford
BSB: Chock/Bates-coming from two formerly successful teams and training under the current top coaches still doesn't guarantee them a spot at Worlds as Ice Dance is so strong in the US, particularly with Lichtman/Copely coming up from the junior ranks and the early success of Hubbell/Donohue
10) If the World Team Trophy takes place this season, who will win?
RE: If Gachinski is not a fluke and the Russian ladies pan out, I'd give the edge to Russia, but the US and Canada will be right there as well
IM: 1st-Japan, 2nd USA, 3rd-Russia, 4th-Canada, 5th-France, 6th-China
FTB: An event like this challenges all-around strength and I'd give that edge to Canada
IP: Russia-they have 3 disciplines with 3 spots at Worlds and were top 6 in every event in 2011; USA 2nd and Canada & Japan battling for 3rd
BSB: I'm loving Mother Russia right now!
Thanks so much to all who contributed to this article!