Summer Skating: Men’s Roundup

Image via Johnny Weir’s Instagram.

The summer skating deluge continues, and like everyone else, I’m not remotely caught up. Canada held a series of summer regional meets, with most of the country’s top athletes showing up at one or more. There was a significant club competition in the United States every weekend from mid-July through mid-August. The season’s first senior B internationals, the Asian Open and Philadelphia Summer International, attracted athletes from a wider range of countries than ever before. South Korea held a qualifying event, showcasing its growing depth of talent and creating a pecking order of top contenders. Russia and China have both held test skates, too, although video wasn’t permitted at those events, perhaps in a quest to save fans’ sanity.

Meanwhile, some of us have jobs and families, not to mention new episodes of Game of Thrones to watch.

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6 More Things I Learned from the 2017 US National Figure Skating Championships

Madison Chock and Evan Bates perform their free dance at Nationals.

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.

Anyway. Also there was skating.

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2017 US Nationals Field Guide: Championship Men Part 2

Nathan Chen in his free skate at the 2016 Grand Prix Final.

2017 Nationals have begun! While juvenile and intermediate champions earn the first medals of the year, I’m hustling to finish guides to the top-level skaters who will compete next weekend. Since there are 21 men in this year’s senior field, I’ve split my men’s field guide into two posts. The first half of the alphabet is over here. For this guide only, I’m alphabetizing by first name, to spread out the top contenders more evenly between the two. If you’re interested in reading about juniors and/or ice dance, I also have the following guides ready to go:

  • Junior Ladies, with some of the biggest jumps you’ll see in any ladies’ event, performed by some of the smallest humans
  • Junior Men, with 11 new reasons to mix a cocktail and watch through your fingers (one of the dark horse competitors, William Hubbart, has unfortunately withdrawn)
  • Junior Ice Dance, with most of last season’s World Junior podium angling for a repeat
  • Championship Ice Dance, with most of last season’s World podium in a hip hop dance-off

I’m more invested in the men’s event than any other, so I have lots to say about all of these guys, from those at the top of the field to the ones who will be proud to not place last. Although I recognize that some are quite young, senior-level skaters should be able to handle brutal honesty, especially since it’s all delivered with a heavy dose of admiration for what they’re capable of. I don’t do predictions, but I’m willing to divide the competitors into five categories that reflect where I think they stand. The Front Runners are those most likely to win; Dark Horses have a strong shot at a medal, maybe even a gold one. Skaters On the Rise are looking to build for future seasons and get their moment on NBC, while the Just Happy to Be Here crowd are fulfilling their season goals just by qualifying to Nationals. The last group are the ones who are too unpredictable or too far outside the conventional order to predict. They are why I love this sport, but also Why I Drink.

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