Figure skating: What SHOULD happen in Spokane

Editor's note: Dan Majerle is a longtime friend of Outsports and hard-core figure skating fan. His posts will appear throughout the skating season.

7 Days, 13 Hours, 14 minutes and 07 seconds says the countdown widget on spokane2010.com – the official website of the 2010 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships – and this skating fan cannot wait.

I for one got hooked just like everybody else in the wake of the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan scandal, the only difference with me being that as a gay 13-year-old I was in it for the long haul. I continued to watch television coverage outside of the Olympic Games as the years went by; the national championships, the world championships, the occasional Grand Prix event and of course the pointless ‘skating spectaculars’ that with few big jumps and daredevil stunts failed to amuse me. I missed a fraternity pledge meeting in 2002 to watch Sarah Hughes run away with the gold, and in 2006 I watched the Games from the comfort of my first New York City apartment with my first New York City boyfriend.

Fast forward to the present day where from the relative comfort of my Harlem apartment I have spent the past few months glued to my brand new Vizio 32” TV and the cable networks that I finally had the cash to spring for watching figure skating drama unfold as the Grand Prix events went by. Though the drama of course is not exclusively American this time around I’d like to focus my first blog on the men’s event in upcoming U.S. National Championships.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Nationals in the United States doubles as the Olympic Trials for figure skating. The number of skaters that the U.S. is permitted to send to the Olympic Games is contingent on overall national showing at the World Championships the previous year. The American women traditionally fare well at Worlds and therefore almost always earn 3 spots for the Olympics; no such luck this year. After a shaky performance by the top American women, we’ve got two. The men, on the other hand, earned 3 spots when Evan Lysacek won gold in Los Angeles and teammates Brandon Mroz and Jeremy Abbot came in 9th and 11th, respectively.

So we’ve got three spots for the men, and the spots will go to the gold, silver and bronze medalists at Nationals.

As a skating fan I find it almost impossible to choose a personal favorite among the American men. And why should I have to? Figure skating is an individual sport with competitors who come and go in the blink of an eye; skaters who haven’t spent the last several years earning my trust and adoration are only as good as their last long program, as far as I’m concerned. I found myself throughout the Grand Prix season as a passionate and vocal supporter of at least 6 American men competing on the senior level. However, come the Olympic Games I’m sure that I, like many skating fans, would much prefer that America be represented by its three strongest competitors with consistency demonstrated over a period longer than the 7 minutes or so on the ice at Nationals (in other words, those that have earned our trust).

*A 20-year-old in his first season as a senior is simply not ready for the Olympics, no matter how well he did last year on the Junior circuit, how many hands he throws above his head on a lutz jump or how skates in Spokane.

*A charismatic skater with fun, crowd-pleasing programs but without the substance to stand up against the top competitors in the world even on a good night should not represent the U.S. internationally.

*An up-and-comer who burst onto the scene in his first senior Nationals last year and has failed to deliver on the world scene ever since is not an ideal choice for Vancouver.

In my opinion, here is who SHOULD represent the United States in Vancouver and why.

Evan Lysacek

As the 2009 World Champion Evan Lysacek is a no-brainer to represent the U.S. in Vancouver. Not only did he ‘earn’ his spot in Vancouver at Worlds, but he recently wrapped up a phenomenal season on the Grand Prix circuit which he capped off with a gold medal at the Grand Prix Final. His consistency in all 3 events this season was outstanding and it has been a pleasure to watch him skate with the confidence of a world champion. The best part though? Lysacek WORKS the new scoring system like no other skater. His scores rise with every competition as he and coach Frank Carroll find ways to improve his point totals. He even posted a personal best score at the Grand Prix Final with a long program that included no quad and a popped triple axel. He is by far the American man most likely to medal in Vancouver.

Jeremy Abbott

After sub-par performances at the 2009 World Championships and the NHK trophy this Fall, defending national champion Abbott seems to be getting it together. He won gold this season at Skate Canada and came in 4th at the highly competitive Grand Prix final. His short program for ‘A Day In The Life’ is beautifully designed and earned him a phenomenal 79 points at Skate Canada. In his free program at the Grand Prix Final in Tokyo Abbott fell on his opening quad toe loop and skated flawlessly for the rest of the program. If he can execute a clean quad at Nationals he will not only challenge Lysacek for gold in Spokane, but he will find himself in podium contention in Vancouver.

Johnny Weir

Don’t let the glitter distract you; Johnny Weir is really, really good. The 3-time U.S. National Champion has more international skating experience under his belt than any other American man with 1 world and 14 Grand Prix medals, including a silver at the NHK Trophy and a bronze at the Grand Prix Final this season. In both performances he demonstrated the technical consistency and artistic prowess that we have become accustomed to. The only concern is that even when Weir is skating at his best, his point totals still tend to come up short of Lysacek and Abbott. Assuming that all 3 skate perfectly, he will need to dig up about another 10 points or so to compete for gold, though a clean skate in Spokane should earn him a ticket to Vancouver.

To conclude, much love to the competition (Adam Rippon, Ryan Bradley and Brandon Mroz)—we’ll see you in Sochi in 2014. Let’s send the big boys to the big show.

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