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Highlights from the US International Classic

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The figure skating season officially kicked off this weekend with both the International Classic going on in Salt Lake and the Lombardia Trophy in Italy. This being the start of the season, most of the skaters performed with the intention of getting acquainted and comfortable with their new programs.

It is certainly not a regular season with the Olympics right around the corner, and for the US skaters in particular, how they perform at each event does hold more weight. Since the USFS (United States Figure Skating) has decided that the top two or three finishers at the US Championships will not necessarily receive a berth on the Olympic Team, they are now examining each performance that a skater gives throughout the season. They are making their decision based on an athlete’s full body of work, rather than just one competition. This has to add additional pressure for the skaters to always give their best at each performance, but keeping in mind that they do not want to peak too early in the season. It’s a delicate balance, which I’m sure that we’ll see some walk smoothly, while others may struggle.

This first competition of the season was an opportunity for skaters and for US skaters in particular, to begin making their case for the Olympic Team. Some of these athletes succeeded in making a statement, while others let this opportunity pass them by. 

Mirai Nagasu makes history, yet finishes in second place

There have only been seven women in the world who have landed the triple axel in international competition, and of those 7, only 1 is an American (Tonya Harding). After several previous attempts, Mirai Nagasu finally has her name written in the history books as she landed the triple axel in her short program and free skate. She received credit for both triple axels, though they were a bit two-footed on the landing. Regardless of where Mirai’s career goes from here, she will always be apart of a special legacy of women that have helped push the sport of ladies figure skating forward.

It is unfortunate that even with her triple axel in the short and free skate, Nagasu finished with the silver medal, almost 15 points behind Marin Honda. Six of Nagasu’s other jumps were called under-rotated in the free skate and she also had a fall. Though some of her jumps were clearly under-rotated,  others were not. It seems like the judges tend to judge Mirai’s jumps more strictly than some of the other skaters.

The base score value for a triple axel is 8.50, which is almost equivalent to a lady performing a triple-triple combination. The ISU is not making it worth it for these ladies to attempt more difficult jumps. The men have been pushing the envelope to an extreme level the last few seasons and yet we have not seen a significant progression within the ladies field. Sure, there are some ladies working on quads, but it seems like there should be more encouragement for the ladies to push the envelope as well. Hopefully with all of the talk about changes within the sport, this will be something that is addressed as well.

Regardless of Mirai’s score, this was a victory for her. There were three other U.S. ladies competing at this event and she overcame them all, including U.S. Champion Karen Chen. She will have to continue to fight for her place among the U.S. ladies, but she is off to a solid start.

Nathan Chen adds another quad to his expanding repertoire

It was clear at Stars on Ice that Nathan was coming into his own. Chen has taken more ownership of his style and is skating to Nemesis by Benjamin Clementine in his short and Mao’s Last Daner and The Rite of Spring for his free skate.  His packaging is different this season, but seems to fit him well and doesn’t feel at all forced.

Nathan surprised us all by landing his first quad loop in competition during his free skate. Chen is now the first man to land all 5 of the different types of quads (with the exception of the quad axel) in competition. I would hope that if he performed all 5 different types of quads in one performance that he would be nicely rewarded as it would be quite the feat.

Nathan is setting himself apart and sending a message to the rest of his competitors. He was more reserved and conservative than we have seen him in the past, but it would be almost concerning to see him go full force at the start of the season. Hopefully he can stay injury-free in the midst of pushing the boundaries of the sport.

Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim settle for silver

With only 1 U.S. pair team spot to be claimed for the Olympic Games, the fight for that spot has begun. There were three U.S. teams at this event and it was a chance for these teams to begin their quest to earn that spot. Sadly there did not seem to be a team that really stepped up and shined.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim were the top U.S. finishers at this event and they claimed the silver medal, despite several mistakes. They are still coming back from injury, but it was disappointing to see them continue to miss those side-by-side jumps. They are the favorites and they still did claim the silver, but they will need to fight for those jumps. It is early in the season and I’m sure that they are trying not to press too hard, but they will need to step it up if they want to claim that spot, otherwise a dark horse could easily come in and take it from them.

Max Aaron stays in the mix

For those of us who have watched Max Aaron throughout his senior career, it has been a turbulent journey.  He was initially one of the few American guys that could land a quad or two, but then his focus became artistry and things began to fall apart. Initially it was thought of as growing pains, but watching him get packaged a new way each season has had to have worn on him as it has worn on his fans.

This season Max is skating to Bring Him Home in his short and Phantom of the Opera in his free skate. Both of these selections are not the “perfect fit” for him, but they are not terrible either. They are a vehicle and if he uses them correctly could definitely work for him.

Max skated one of the best free skates I have seen from him in quite awhile at this event. He landed two solid quad toe-loops, but he was a bit shaky on some of his landings. Overall it was a strong showing for Max. He definitely sent a message that he’s ready to fight for his spot on the Olympic Team. It was one of those “don’t forget about me” moments. Hopefully he can continue this momentum.

Hubbell and Donohue rebound

It is certain that the fall at the World Championships will not be easily washed away for Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue‘s minds, but their performances at this competition revealed that they did put that incident behind them. Hubbell and Donohue looked clean, crisp and ready to attack this season. They dominated this competition by not only winning the gold, but finishing 25.25 points ahead of Hawayek and Baker who captured the silver.

Marin Honda shines brightly

With uncertainty surrounding Satoko Miyahara, there is no shortage of young ladies in Japan ready and willing to take her spot. Marin Honda could very well be a contender. Marin has such an effortless and elegant way about her, that makes her stand out. This event was Honda’s senior ladies debut and she easily won. Only 16-years old this young lady is expected to be the next Mao Asada.

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  1. Pingback: Figure Skating Articles for Thursday, September 21, 2017 | BLAZING BLADES II

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