Friday, January 14, 2011

U.S. Nationals: A Preview

With U.S. Nationals coming up, I thought I'd take a look at who is competing and give my thoughts on who the medal contenders likely are and who I'm simply looking forward to seeing.

The ladies really are a wildcard event this year, so any guesses I attempt to make are very likely to be wrong. That said, if Alissa Czisny skates clean and rotates, her odds of winning are pretty high. That is a HUGE if though, as consistency is far from her strong suit. Rachael Flatt has been on the decline recently and been hampered by injury, but even when she skated clean this season, she still finished behind girls who had less difficult content or mistakes, so it'd likely take mistakes by others and her much heralded consistency  to defend her title. Christina Gao and Agnes Zawadzki are still relatively inexperienced, but if they can put together two solid programs, it may stand them in good stead, given the inconsistency of this field as a whole. Ashley Wagner didn't have as successful of a Grand Prix season as she did last year and her main challenge here will probably be to land on one foot and not blow the short program. I'm not sure if even skating clean will be enough for her to win without frontrunners making mistakes.

Caroline Zhang has recently changed coaches again, this time to Peter Oppegard. I'm not sure that is such a good idea with Nationals so close, but either way, unless she's improved an incredibly amount since Skate America, she probably won't be much of a factor here. Finally, Mirai Nagasu is definitely one of the girls I'm hoping will step up here (and easily my favorite of the U.S. ladies). She had a rough start at Cup of China, but skated much better at Trophee Eric Bompard to win the silver medal and hopefully, she'll look even more improved here. Mirai tends to skate well at Nationals and if that trend continues, I wouldn't be surprised to see her in the top two and on the World team.

Despite a somewhat disappointing Grand Prix season for both of them, Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon still appear to be the frontrunners for the men's title. Jeremy will again have the pressure on him to defend his prior titles, while Adam will be aiming for his first senior National medal and a spot on his second World team. Jeremy tends to skate really well at Nationals and if he is clean, I think he will be extremely tough for anyone to beat. Adam has yet to place better than fifth at Nationals on this level, but is usually a consistent competitor and is capable of getting big numbers ( He got over 166 points at the Japan Open, the highest score for any of the men). Like Jeremy, Brandon Mroz is coming off of silver and bronze medals from his Grand Prix, but in his case it wasn't entirely expected. While Brandon is pretty solid technically, his components are sorely lacking compared to Adam and Jeremy; in order to beat them, he's going to have to outjump them and while he has a fairly consistent quad which may assist him in that, he'll likely still need them to make mistakes.

Armin Mahbanoozadeh surprised just about everyone by placing third at Skate America, beating Adam in the process. His spins are among the best I've seen this season and his jumping ability is nothing to sneeze at either. If he has a clean short and free, Armin could definitely be a factor here. Meanwhile, Ryan Bradley's decision to compete has added another level of interest to the event; I'm really curious to see how he skates, and the fact that he has his quad and triple axel back along with his trademark charm could really put him in contention for a medal here. Lastly, Ross Miner, Grant Hochstein, and Richard Dornbush seem like good bets for finishing in the top 10 and may be able to sneak in for a medal if some of the more experienced men make mistakes.

Pairs this year is a tossup, with three teams being the most likely contenders. Defending champs Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett didn't have the results they were hoping for so far this season while Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig and Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin fared better, each grabbing a bronze at one of their respective Grand Prix events, with the latter team even being named as an alternate for the Grand Prix Final. Also of interest is the new team of Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker, who teamed up this past August. They don't have much competitive experience under their belts yet, but are reportedly showing a lot of promise for such a new pair and while I don't expect them to medal quite yet, I'm looking forward to seeing how they skate.

Ice Dance
It is needless to say that Meryl Davis and Charlie White are the heavy favorites for gold - it would probably take multiple falls in both programs to knock them from that top spot. With Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates out due to injury and Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto's retirement, the podium is free and clear for teams like the Shibutanis and Chock and Zuerlein to make their move. Both teams grabbed two bronze medals at their respective Grand Prix events, though the Shibutanis arguably had deeper fields at their events. I haven't gotten to watch Chock and Zuerlein myself yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing how they stack up against the Shibs head to head.

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