I pretend to be more invested in men and dance than ladies, but tell me I have to narrow things down to ten great performances, and I turn into a gesticulating mass of feelings. I enlisted my friends to help me whittle things down, but they left me to my own devices for too long afterward. The “Wait! What about…?” list grew and grew. I decided to leave them all on the list, because what skating fan doesn’t want to watch 14 stellar ladies’ performances from throughout the season, and then subtweet me about how I am so obviously wrong?
Here they are, more or less alphabetically, with consideration taken for athleticism, artistry, and how much it hurt when I tried to convince myself to take them off the list.
What’s a blogger to do when she wants to say everything about Nationals? Someone with more restraint – or an editor – might just skip stuff, but skating fans hate it when you skip stuff. As it does almost every year, NBC blacked out the live performances of a number of ladies and ice dancers in the earlier warm-up groups, and Twitter threw a fit. So I’m going to indulge my completist tendencies and cover everything I have an opinion about. If you haven’t read the first part of my Nationals recap, start there. This is a continuation of that post, not a stand-alone sequel.
It’s been an ugly couple of weeks in the United States, and watching figure skating has given me some emotional relief from current events. At the same time, Nationals have reminded me that America’s strength comes from the diversity of its citizens and residents, and that my country has a long track record of undermining that strength. From the 1880’s until the end of World War II, Chinese-Americans like Nathan Chen, Karen Chen, and Vincent Zhou endured laws that restricted immigration, curtailed civil rights, and stoked anti-Chinese sentiment, using rhetoric that will sound familiar to anyone following the news lately. In the 1940’s, Japanese-Americans like Mirai Nagasu, Maia Shibutani, and Alex Shibutani were stripped of their livelihoods and property and forced to live in internment camps, while European Jews, like Jason Brown’s ancestors (and my own), were turned away from American borders despite facing almost certain death in their countries of origin. In the 1950’s, Americans of many backgrounds were targeted in anti-Communist inquisitions, but Russian immigrants and their descendants – people like Alex Krasnozhon and Anthony Ponomarenko – became particularly vulnerable to interrogation, imprisonment, and professional blacklisting. In retrospect, none of these violations of civil and human rights made America safer, and several harmed the United States economically. In this, as in most things, sports are a microcosm of society, and an illustration of what we have to lose through ignorance, paranoia, and bullying.
The senior ladies skate their short program tonight, and I’m here right under the wire with the second part of my field guide. If you’re looking for the first half of the alphabet, here’s part 1 of my Championship Ladies’ Guide. And if you’re really just joining us, I’ve written a full set of field guides for junior and senior ladies, men, and ice dance:
Championship Men Part 1 and Part 2, beginning their quad-off on Friday night
Junior Ice Dance, almost as good as the seniors, skating their free dance Friday morning
Junior Men, already full of surprises in the short program, and competing in the free skate Friday afternoon
Junior Ladies, with more promise at this level than we’ve seen in a few years and a free skate battle on Friday morning
Of the 19 ladies scheduled to compete at Nationals this year, this field guide covers the 10 in the second half of the alphabet. At the senior level, skaters are accustomed to a certain level of scrutiny (or need to learn to be), so I’m not shy with the sarcasm – but it always comes from a place of love. This year’s ladies’ field is especially volatile, so I don’t see any point in making predictions. Still, I’ve divided the skaters into five categories that give a sense of where they stand. Front Runners are the most likely to contend for a gold medal. Dark Horses are aiming for the podium and have a chance at stealing gold. Skaters On the Rise will push for a top 10 finish, a live free skate on NBC, and international competition assignments in the fall. Beyond that, there are plenty of athletes who worked hard to qualify to Nationals and are Just Happy to Be Here. The fifth category is for the skaters too difficult to rank: the inconsistent and unconventional, and the ones having uncharacteristic seasons. Those skaters are a big part of the fun of figure skating, and they’re Why I Drink.