Momentum for U.S. heading to worlds
Jan. 23: Tom Hammond, Sandra Bezic and Scott Hamilton look at the U.S. men's and women's figure skating teams for the world championships.
CLEVELAND - And the Americans thought there was pressure this week.
The Vancouver Olympics are still a year away, but they may as well be two months. That’s when the world figure skating championships will take place in Los Angeles, with results there determining how many skaters a country can send to Vancouver. Do well, and the Americans will have their usual small army. Do as poorly as they’ve done at the last few worlds, and the U.S. contingent will be about as big as Uzbekistan’s.
OK, that’s a bit harsh, but it could certainly wind up being as small as it was in 1994, the last time the Americans bottomed out at a pre-Olympics worlds. The United States sent only 12 skaters to Lillehammer: two women, two men, one dance team and three pairs.
Compare that with Turin, where the Americans had the maximum three in women’s, men’s and dance, and two pairs teams.
“Yes, I will feel a little bit of pressure to make sure we do have three spots at the Olympics, but I’m definitely not going to focus on that,” said reigning world junior champion Rachael Flatt, who earned her first trip to the big kids’ party with a second-place finish Saturday night.
“I’m going to focus on doing better programs than I did at nationals.”
She better. Most everybody else, too.
Sending three U.S. women to the Olympics is as much a given as Austrians contending in the downhill. Only once in the last 85 years have the Americans sent just two — in 1994, when Nancy Kerrigan won the silver medal and Tonya Harding was eighth.
But Flatt and new national champion Alissa Czisny will have to finish with a combined placement of 13 (fifth and eighth, for example) or better to keep those three spots, and that’s going to be a stretch. The American women have gone back-to-back years without a medal at worlds, the first time that’s happened since 1993-94.
Czisny is a gorgeous skater, and she finally made the most of her considerable talent here after a career of inconsistency. But for as lovely as her spins, spirals and footwork were, jumps do still matter and Czisny landed only three clean triples in her free skate. That might cut it against Carolina Kostner, but it won’t against the likes of Mao Asada and Kim Yu-na — even with the hometown discount.
“This is a learning experience,” Czisny said. “I think I can take what I did at this competition, learn from it and use it to improve at worlds.”
Flatt’s programs are more technically ambitious. She has a triple-triple combination, and she does a triple-double-double combo late in her program that gives her big bonus points. But if she wants to wow the international judges, she’s got to show a little more life.
The men are in much better shape.
Jeremy Abbott is on quite the roll, adding the U.S. title to the crown he won at the Grand Prix final last month. Evan Lysacek may have dropped to third after winning the last two U.S. titles, but he’s got plenty of street cred on the international scene with two bronze medals at the world championships.
Brandon Mroz is the newbie, finishing second in his very first year at the senior level. But the youngster — he just turned 18 in December — was second at the junior Grand Prix final the last two years, and fourth at the junior world championships.
“Overall, we’re probably the strongest country in the entire world for men’s skating,” Lysacek said. “... I would say that it’s looking really good for one of the U.S. team members to come in and win.”
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.