Thursday, February 06, 2014

Sean's Olympic Figure Skating Preview (With Help From Friends Who Are Figure Skating Fans)

I don't know much about figure skating. Sure, I watched the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding drama closely in 1994 and I often ask What Would Brian Boitano Do, but I don't follow the sport closely enough to have an informed opinion about any of the 2014 Sochi Olympics competitors. Fortunately, I have two good friends, who we will call Kelly and Marino for their love of the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins respectively, that are as big figure skating fans as they are football fans. This is Kelly & Marino's second appearance on Sean's Ramblings after we discussed whether figure skaters ever got upset at not having the opportunity to win multiple medals like their gymnastics, swimming and track counterparts. Turns out that the International Olympic Committee agreed with me.

Anyway, with the Olympics starting tonight, here is everything you need to know about the figure skating events.

Sean: Despite finishing fourth at the U.S. Championship, Ashley Wagner was one of the three figure skaters selected by U.S. Figure Skating to represent the United States in Sochi. Can you explain this to someone who doesn't understand why the top three skaters didn't make it?

Marino: Basically, there is selection criteria that is used to select the skaters going to the Olympics. Unlike other disciplines, the US Skating Nationals are NOT an Olympic Trials. Therefore, they don't have to place top 3 to automatically qualify. I think Ashley Wagner's far superior international record came into play, in addition to likely pressure by NBC and other sponsors already advertising Ashley as headed to the Olympics.

Sean: So despite finishing third at the US Skating Nationals and ahead of Wagner, Mirai Nagasu, who also finished fourth at the Vancouver Olympics, doesn't get to go to Sochi. If anyone has the right to contact Jeff Gillooly for assistance, it has to be Nagasu, right?



Sean: Since neither of you replied to my Nagasu/Jeff Gillooly question, I guess I should change subjects. Gracie Gold won the U.S. figure skating championship. What are her chances of winning in Sochi? In a related question, is Gracie Gold any relation to Tracey Gold of Growing Pains fame?

Kelly: I feel that if the USFSA was going to take the unprecedented step of putting Ashley Wagner on the Olympic Team, then they ought to have replaced that 15 year old who won the silver, NOT Marai. Because if you use the rationale that jumping junior earned her spot, well, then Marai earned her spot, too.

I do think Gracie Gold has a shot at a medal. She'll probably need a little help, but I think that's one of the attractions of figure skating (not so different than NASCAR, eh?)

No clue if there's a connection to Tracey Gold. (Sean's note - I'm going with yes, Gracie Gold is related to Tracey Gold.)

Sean: I don't understand your figure skating/NASCAR comparison. What do you mean by that? Regarding the rest of the women's field, besides Gold, who are favorites to medal? Do you have any personal favorites or women we should root for? Are Katarina Witt or Oksana Baiul still competing?

Marino: Witt and Baiul have been retired for a long time. Please tell me you knew that! (Sean's note: I did!)

Yu-Na Kim is the favorite for the ladies, she won gold at the last Olympics. She is from Korea. It will likely be her, Mao Asada from Japan and either a younger Russian upstart or Caroline Kostner from Italy that will medal. The US has little hope in both Men's and Women's this cycle. The new event is the team one, which is new to this Olympics and will be cool to see. I think it's one competitor or competitors from each discipline (Pairs, Dance, Men's and Women's).

We should root for the US of course! We also like Javier Fernandez from Spain in the Men's event. And I have a soft spot for Kostner, that we call 'falls on head' because she did that at a competition once.

Kelly: It should be a showdown between Yu-Na Kim and Mao Asada for the gold. Yu-Na is trying to overcome a foot injury this season, so it's tough to gauge where she stands against the rest of the field. I do think Gracie Gold has a shot. Falls On Head did not look that strong at Europeans (this nickname was earned because despite falling all over the place, her scores will be upheld by the judges - drives me nuts). Both she and our American "gifted Olympian" Ashley Wagner are reprising their Long Programs from last season. I think this is a good move for Ashley, I don't feel her LP this year was an improvement. But overall I do think this is a bit of a cop out. I'm more excited for the men's event, I think our US Champ Jeremy Abbott can turn the competition on its head. It'll be very interesting to see how former Russian champ Yvgeny Plushenko does after not competing for, like, 4 years. I was a little disappointed with Javier's program choice this year, after having such awesome character pieces, I didn't feel his Mission Impossible (or whatever) show was "Olympic." (BTW, I feel the same way for the Shibutani's - Michael Jackson? In an Olympic year?)

Sean: I'm now rooting for Falls On Head to win the gold. That's an amazing nickname, although since she's from Italy, perhaps we can say it in an Italian accent. She's basically the Greg Louganis of figure skating! By the way, you both now mentioned Caroline Kostner of Italy (that doesn't sound at all Italian) and Javier Fernandez of Spain. Have those countries always competed in figure skating? I always thought the favorites were from Russia (or a former USSR country), the US, Korea, Japan, or Canada. Where are the Canadians?

As for the men's event, who else is representing the USA? Do they have a chance to medal?

Kelly, what is a Shibutani and why is skating to Michael Jackson in an Olympic year a bad thing? Should he perform to t.A.T.u. instead since he's performing in Russia?

Marino, I actually heard about the new team event. This is figure skating's way to have their athletes try to get more medals like gymnastics, right?

Marino: Yes, the team event is similar to gymnastics. Right on Sean! There is a brother/sister team representing us in Ice Dance called the Shibutanis. I am with Kelly that using Michael Jackson in your Olympic year is not a good idea.

You are right about the traditional 'favorites' coming from Canada, the US and the USSR with a few stars from Canada. In the past 10 years, Europe had had more contenders. The advent of the new scoring system helped bring this about.

Sean: Prediction time: Who will win the gold in both the men's and women's events? (I'm not going to ask about the new Ice Capades events.)

Marino: Women's - Yu-Na Kim or Mao Asada. Men's - Too difficult to call

Sean: Marino, I have to say that I'm a little disappointed in your predictions. You gave two options for women's and none for men's.

Marino: Too hard to pick Sean.

Kelly: My picks for Olympic Gold are Mao Asada from Japan and, unfortunately, Yvgeny Plushenko from Russia. However, I will be rooting against the odds for Gracie Gold (probably will need others to falter for her to win, even if she skates her best) and Jeremy Abbott because, yes, I am a homer, and when it comes to international competition, 'murica first.

Sean: I really want Falls on Head to win the gold! (I feel like this was a character in Dancing with Wolves.)

Kelly: I think her time is passed. But as I said before, you never know in figure skating who is going to be the last one standing! And she has proven even when she Falls on Head she can still rack up enough points to do well. I watched some of that NBC Olympic preview last night, I'm excited to watch the Games! Here's hoping they can get thru the event without any B.S. (I bet NY breathed a sigh of relief when the game was done on Sunday.)

Marino: Falls on Head is a sentimental favorite, that's for sure! I don't think Plushenko will smell the podium, if Patrick Chan can skate close to clean, he will win. He is from Oh Canada Sean. I think Mao Asada too like Kelly for Women's.

And go USA! Maybe Jeremy Abbott will surprise and lay it down for the good ole USA!!

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