Yesterday was the start of what most people think of as Nationals as the first Championship events were competed. Coming to the arena, you could feel and see the difference. First, when we pulled into the parking lot, it seemed full of cars. It turns out that some people had sensibly parked near the exit so they could get out earlier and there was plenty of room just past them, but there were easily twice as many cars as any other day we attended.
The second thing I noticed was that the arena had gotten fancier. There were balloon arches everywhere in USFSA colors (red, white & blue just like 20 million other sporting agencies and clubs). There were pretty vinyl stickers on the risers of the concrete steps advertising one of the sponsors.
But the most important change is that more than the generic arena concession stand was open. Yeah! Unfortunately, it became clear that Armadillo Willy's would never open as it's trapped behind some TV broadcasting area but at least we've got Sonoma Chicken Coop and Gordon Biersch to try out.
Oh, you want to know about the skating...
The first event was Pairs. As with all Short Programs, the order of the skate was done by random draw. This can make it interesting as you might see the eventual winner in the first group and sometimes one group is full of medal contenders and other times they are more spread out.
Vise & Baldwin were first up and did not have a good skate. They ended up in the high 40s which is not a good score at all. This does not bode well for the future of this team. What surprised me, though, is that Baldwin has turned into the strength of that team. When they first paired up, Vise was the one with all the experience.
I had noticed Bautista & Young in warm-up. There are some skaters who your eyes are just drawn too and these were the team in this warm-up group. Then I realized they were skating to Slumdog Millionaire. Score! My notes are quite enthusiastic about their skate but they only got 42.16 for it so I assume the technical stuff wasn't there. For example, their Side-by-Side (SBS) jumps were doubles and not triples.
Dolan & Speroff were last and they had nice costumes (I want her dress as a cocktail dress!) and an excellent skate with a score that put them in the mix for a medal just behind the top three.
The second group of three teams was interesting. On the one hand, we had Fehr & Biver which are a coach skating with his student. The idea is that she gets more pairs experience and maybe can find a pattern as she can now say she's been to Nationals. A good idea in theory, but he really didn't present her well (and skated with his mouth open, which is not pleasant to watch) and they are in last place. I thought she was adorable though so hopefully some potential partner or their coach was in the stands and noticed her.
Denney & Coughlin are two former National champions with other partners. There has been some controversy about this team since Coughlin won Nationals just last year with his last partner and people were hailing them as the future of US Pairs and then -- BOOM -- they split up and -- BOOM -- he was with Denney. What I don't understand is why people seem fixated on demonizing her though. Her partnership broke up because her partner got injured and decided he didn't want to skate competitively any more as he's getting older. It was a natural break up that wasn't mystifying or her fault at all. Plus, I just adore her. She's spunky and I like that in a Pair Girl. I also really like this pairing. I think they are more naturally a physical match for each other as neither is super-elegant and John's last partner is super-elegant and I always found that a bit jarring.
They started out with a huge triple twist and nice SBS jumps. They looked happy through most of the skate even though she fell on the throw jump. Their score was quite high due to the quality of what they did do (vs. the fall) and they are in third place going into the final.
The other team in the group, Poapst & Knierim had a reasonable skate and end up in 6th.
The next group of three ended up 8-10 and in the order they skated. I liked Zhang & Bartholomay in warm up by not so much when they did their program. They all had both good and bad aspects of their skating and they all ended up above Vise & Baldwin who were expected to possibly vie for a medal or at least a top six finish.
The last group had four teams and three of them were medal contenders. First up where Marly & Brubaker. This team paired late last season and I saw them in their first competition ever when they had only been together 1-2 months. They were quite good even then, in spite of the fact that she'd never done pairs before, and managed to get to Nationals and ended up fourth which is just amazing. I was really looking forward to them skate and they did not disappoint. They posted a score higher than last year's highest SP score and are currently in first place!
Next up were Castelli & Shnapir another team expected to vie for the podium. They had a very nice skate even if it was to Phantom of the Opera (can't stand that music) and when their skate was done, I thought "that was really close to Denney & Coughlin but I bet they don't quite pass them. I was too insecure to tweet this though. I didn't want to look like a fool when the scores were posted and I was dead wrong. Too bad because their store was 60.56 only .32 points behind. So I would have looked like a genius if I'd stuck my neck out!
Evora & Ladwig have been around for a long time and many have been saying it's "their year." I am not one of them however and I think that either Denney & Coughlin or Marly & Brubaker are going to win. See, I've decided to stick my neck out after all.
Jumps are often an issue with this team and I noticed that their steps leading into the jump had him doing twice as much as her and I wondered if that was so she could concentrate more on the jump. And just as I thought that, they did the jumps and she fell. Overall, I thought the skate was pretty sloppy and was surprised they ended up in second. I would have had them behind Denny & Coughlin and Castelli & Shnapir. However less than a point separates all three of these teams so I think it's just a matter of personal preference and the vagaries of the scoring system.
The last team of the night was Cain & Reagan. Yes, that Ashley Cain who came in second in Junior Ladies just last night and whom I called the Mirinda Cafree of Junior Ladies. She and her partner had a nice skate which started out with some moves very reminiscent of a Pattern Dance. Of course, ice dance fan that I am, I loved that. They are in 7th place which has promoted some people to say she should stick to singles but I think it's just a reflection of how strong our Pairs are this year.
During the break between Pairs and Ladies, I decided to buy a Skatebug. This a receiver that lets you listen in on different audio feeds in the arena. Since I had bought a program earlier they sold it to me for $15 and it was totally worth it. I used it for Ladies and was so sorry not to use it for Pairs. I listened to Channel A which is the technical controller channel. You don't listen to the actual TC but to someone is who a TC in other events. And they can see the scoring computer that the judges see and their tell you what each element is that was performed, what level it got and whether it will be reviewed during the skate. That's it. No inane babbling about how this skater started skating at age 4 because her older sister played hockey and she was at the rink a lot and no inane comments such as "she just fell on that throw" (really, I didn't realize that's what happened) or "she's really feeling the music." They do talk in between skates but it's all technically focused. They will explain why they think an element is being reviewed and explain why the skater got the Program Component Scores they did or how this stuff works in general or why certain moves give you certain levels.
It's EXACTLY what I want to be hearing when I watch skating.
But, if you like banter of the tv broadcast, there are two other channels: IceNetwork which has commentary for their internet broadcasts and NBC for the stuff they are broadcasting (usually just the finals). Me, I'll stick to the Technical Controller channel for now.
It's most time for me to leave for the arena for today's events so I think I'll post this and do the Senior Ladies Short Program later.