World figure skating: where are the Americans?
The best figure skaters on the planet are in London, Ontario competing for the World Championship. It is the competition that will determine how many American skaters will make the Olympic Team next year. This is the type of event where the next Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi or Michell Kwan steps into the spotlight and becomes the next best thing on silver blades.
Can you say Gracie Gold?
I have to admit, that could be the best skating name ever. The question is, will anyone even remember it a year from now?
Gracie Gold is the current United States national silver medalist. My Olympic pair partner, Bill Fauver, calls her a “hot shot.” The Boston Globe’s John Powers agrees she has potential to enrapture the skating audience in way that Katerina Witt did back in the day. (Read: men will watch too.)
That is, if the skating audience comes back.
We are witnessing a different kind of spiral in American figure skating: a downward spiral. The recent struggles of USA figure skating are as perplexing to me as the sport’s judging system, which may be the root of the problem.
It all started when a French judge and Russian judge made a deal at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. It went down something like this:
“I will give your pair team my vote for the gold if your delegation returns the favor for my country’s dance team.”
That was followed by a little ‘footsie’ under the judging table, and the rest is history.
Suddenly we had two pair teams sharing the top tier of the Olympic podium in a “do-over” medal ceremony that took place days after the event.
It was a happy day for the Canadian pair team who traded their silver for gold. It was also the end of the 6.0 as we knew it.
I spent 15 years of my life in an ice rink, competed at the highest level of figure skating and to this day have not figured out the scoring system.
Falling on an attempted quadruple jump now earns a skater more points than a perfectly executed triple flip. It doesn’t make sense.
The fallout from the change in the scoring system meant the end of the repeat champion. Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, Scott Hamilton and Brian Boitano won multiple U.S. titles. This doesn’t happen anymore.
Still, scoring issues don’t fully explain why American skaters are not getting it done on the international stage. The U.S. dance team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White have an excellent chance of winning a world title this weekend. Other than that, the U.S pair teams and men skaters are out of the running after the short program. The favorites to win the ladies title are South Korea’s Kim Yu-Na, Japan’s Mao Asado, and Italy’s Carolina Kostner. U.S. National champion Ashley Wagner, who placed fourth at last year’s World Championships, could make some noise.
And although Gracie Gold has the perfect skating name, she is a long shot to win a medal which reflects her name this weekend in London, Ontario.
Things will have to change in a hurry for American skaters with the Sochi Winter Games less than a year away.