Flawless figure skater suffers agony of defeat
Last weekend I had the unique opportunity to witness various battles of human will played out on the ice at the TD Garden in Boston. The United States National Figure Skating Championships did not disappoint as stellar performances were carved out one after the other with the goal to be chosen for the 2014 Unites States Olympic Team.
Little did I know that I would be a witness to ” the human drama of athletic competition”, as the legendary sports announcer Jim McKay once said. The iconic quote took on a new meaning as I watched the skating live. Although my eyes told me one thing, I was to learn something else at a press conference the day after the ladies event. A mere twelve hours after the last of the ladies skated, we learned which three would be headed for Sochi in February.
In that moment at high noon this past Sunday, Miria Nagasu become the poster child for the “agony of defeat”, another one liner made famous by the spirited McKay. Her skating was eloquent and she covered the ice with the grace of a ballerina and the intensity of a prize fighter. Yet, it simply was not enough.
In an unforeseen move, the bronze medalist was not chosen to represent the United States next month in Sochi. Instead, 4th place finisher Ashley Wagner got the nod from the United States Figure Skating Association. In years past, an Olympic berth was based solely on a skater’s finish at the United States Championships or “Nationals” as it was once called .
The Olympic rings have served as a reminder of continuity, yet my enthusiasm and love of the Olympics became a bit confused after Sunday’s decision to place Nagasu out in the cold.
The decision that was handed down on Sunday for the ladies team was surprising to me at first, until I learned about another “new system.”
In 2004, the International Skating Union abandoned the 6.0 ordinal system of scoring in favor of a new system deemed the ” Code of Points.” The good news about the new scoring system is that it eliminates most of the subjectivity that skating judges used to be so well known for. What we learned last week, is that there is another panel, in another room, deciding on the best candidate to represent the United States at the Olympic games.
It was well known inside skating circles that Olympic Team placements would not necessarily go to the top two or three finishers in each division. A committee picked by the skating federation could take other factors into consideration aside from the skaters performance and placement at the National Championships.
In Wagner’s case, they favored her because of how well she has done in recent international competitions. Because of her strong finish at the World Championships last year, the U.S. women would send three skaters instead of two. Nagasu was unquestionably the better skater in the long program last week, and Wagner herself admitted it.
Forty eight hours after her brilliant short program, Nagasu skated another extraordinary program. Her four and an half minute long program was undeniably Olympic caliber. Anyone watching, be it in the building or on live television could see it was one of the top two performances of the night. Many believed she was better that Gold. Gracie Gold, that is.
Since her fourth place finish at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Nagasu has been all over the map with coaches and consistency. These are two of the factors that kept her off the team. She was also 11th at last year’s United States Championships- mostly due to an unlucky case of the flu.
The audience and viewers at home alike believed Nagasu was a lock for the Olympic team based on how she skated in Boston. In the end, it was up to a panel of officials who would make the decision behind closed doors. It didn’t matter to them that Ashley Wagner did not skate well the night before. In their minds she was the better candidate to represent the United States than Marai Nagasu.
There is a human element attached to a sport like figure skating. These skaters are not running against a clock, not jumping to a certain height, not getting down a mountain side or bobsled run at the fastest speed. No computer could ever decide which skater is the best. The new judging system takes the cheating out of the equation, but does not eliminate the emotional factor.
Most spectators did not realize that that the final scores of the night would not a guarantee a ticket to Sochi. Nagasu was fully aware that her fate could be decided off the ice. She was disappointed, but not completely shocked.
Like a class act, Nagasu came out and skated exhibition style Sunday night albeit with puffy eyes, and a heavy heart.
“I’m disappointed with the decision,” Nagasu said. “Though I may not agree with it, I have to respect the decision the Federation made.”
It has been stated that ” failure is not defeat- until you stop trying.” Nagasu was just handed a fresh stimulus that she will undoubtedly turn into a positive as she laces up her skates for the next competition.
She has already medaled in the eyes of many.