2009 U.S. Nationals
Photos copyright 2009 by George S. Rossano
So it was off-script (yet not really unanticipated) when Jeremy Abbott became the story of the night.
Evan Lysacek opened the event at quarter past eight in the evening, separated from his principal rival by twelve skaters and two hours in a field of 19 men (compared to 23 senior ladies).
The reigning two-time champion, on the medal stand since 2005, skated his Tatiana Tarasova-choreographed program wearing black, with a large brown-bordered sparkling red cross across his chest, a reference to the film Bolero.
Looking intense, Lysacek opened with a big triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe, and triple flip. The Axel was given four -1 GoEs, but the huge Lutz combo earned 11.00 points, with all-positive GoEs. Lysacekís circular footwork, sit-change-sit spin, flying sit spin, and combination spin, all skated with passion, earned level fours.
The two-time world bronze medalist received 45.30 for Executed Elements, 38.29 for Program Components (all mid-to-high sevens), and 83.59 for the segment. Four large souvenir plastic balls hit the ice like the dots beneath exclamation points.
That brought Jeremy Abbott up to the plate. Fourth at the past two championships, Abbott cut a romantic figure in navy velour, interpreting "Adagio" by Albinoni with remarkable nuance, musicality and feeling. It was reminiscent of the beauty menís skating could achieve in the age of Curry and Cousins.
The winner of the 2009 Grand Prix Final jumped off with four high-quality elements: triple toe-triple toe, triple Axel, combination spin and triple Lutz. He received a lone -1 GoE, a great many twos and one three.
The audience was completely engaged as Abbott finished with a flying sit spin (level four), circular steps, straight-line steps, and a level four sit-change-sit spin. He received a huge standing ovation.
With marks of 46.79, 39.61 (8.00 for interpretation, 8.11 for performance) and 86.40 overall, Abbott edged ahead of Lysacek by nearly three points. It remained to be seen whether Weir could meet that challenge.
Performing fourteenth, the three-time US champion, on the podium since 2004, wore a colorful, arty costume to interpret "Sur les Ailes du Temps" by Saint-Preux (translation: on the wings of time).
The reigning world bronze medalist opened with a big triple Lutz-triple toe worth 11.29 points, then skated into heartbreak with a waxel, an open single Axel. He followed that up with a troubled triple flip, then finished in positive GoE territory.
His marks of 33.54, 37.22 and 70.76 would drop him all the way to seventh place, dicey but not insurmountable under the current judging system.
Into the breach flew Parker Pennington, a man clearly on a mission, buoyed by an enthusiastic hometown crowd. He was dressed like a matador in black and gold, with a red cummerbund, to interpret a Flamenco mix.
Pennington, who was eleventh last time out, had the skate of his life: triple Axel, triple Lutz-double toe loop, and triple flip for starters, then a succession of spins, spirals and steps all with neutral or positive GoEs.
The circular steps and combination spin in particular were offered with gusto, and the final sit-change-sit was rated level four. Pennington knew he was on a roll, and you could see coach Carol Heiss Jenkins grinning half an arena away.
The marks of 43.09, 33.08, and 76.17 put Pennington into third place going into the Free Skate.
Brandon Mroz, skating second to last, did a fine job of interpreting the character of "Till Eulenspiegelís Merry Pranks" and finished with the fourth-best Short Program.
The 18-year-old who was second in Juniors last year opened with a beautiful spreadeagle into triple Axel, then a nice triple Lutz-triple toe, a flying sit spin (level four, like the remaining two spins) and a very neat triple flip. All of the elements were smooth and in control until the camel opening of the final combination spin got slightly out of hand.
Mroz received marks of 42.91 and 31.97 (mid-sixes) for a total of 74.88.
Ryan Bradley, fifth overall in 2008, finished fifth on an evening that may have seen the highest overall quality of Menís short programs in memory.
Skating to an Elvis medley ("Jailhouse Rock," "Heartbreak Hotel," and "You Ainít Nothiní but a Hound Dog"), Bradley sailed into contention by nailing his quad toe-triple toe, then landing a high triple Axel.
The crowd loved Bradleyís great Elvis attitude and body language, even when he doubled his triple Lutz (all -3 GoEs) and was a little slow in the camel-change-camel (level one). Also level one: the appealing but relatively simple circular steps. The big-finish combination spin earned level four.
Bradley accrued 39.16 for elements, 34.89 for components (low of 6.18 for transitions, high of 7.57 for performance) and 74.05 overall.
Curran Oi, performing last, skated to Phantom of the Opera. The device whereby he put his white-and-black gloves together in front of his face to form a phantom mask was clever at first but became tedious with repetition. Still he pulled off a solid skate with very few negative GoEs. The opening triple Axel and triple flip-triple toe were the big point-getters, and component marks ranged from 5.93 for transitions to 6.46 for choreography.
Stephen Carriere, the 2008 bronze medalist for whom good things were hoped, two-footed his triple Axel and turned out of his triple flip-triple toe to finish eighth.
Scott Smith, sixth last year, fifth in 2006 and 2007, skated out onto the ice, apparently to perform, but then went to the referee and withdrew. He later told the press that he had been "battling injuries all season," first a groin injury and then a back problem. In practice on the day of the Short Program, he landed a triple Lutz and felt his back seize up. He hoped that adrenaline would carry the day, but in the end he judged it best to withdraw to fight another day. He said that he would spend the next twelve months "getting ready for a great skate next year."
Pressed to name a reason why the ladies have been eclipsed, he suggested, "I think it had a lot to do with Johnny [Weir] and I, with our rivalry being really publicized over the last few years. Itís pushed not just he and I, but itís pushed a lot of other competitors to come up and steal one of the spots."
And thatís exactly what had just happened, in a more dramatic way than almost anybody had expected. Even Tom Zakrajsek of the Broadmoor, the coach of the top-three Free Skate finishers, an historic three of four medalists from the same training program, probably hadnít foreseen how surely those three--a youngster, a warhorse and a late bloomer--would redraw the map.
After an announcement of the withdrawal of veteran skater Nicholas LaRoche, Jonathan Cassar set a nice tone for the event. A few skaters later, Tommy Steenburg posted 125.22 for the segment, a 184.99 event total, with some ambitious jump content, followed by Eliot Halverson who opened up his Axel to a single but actually integrated his jumps within the meaning of the music. Those two, skating one after the other, struck me as the yin and yang of the event. Steenburg would end up seventh for the segment, tenth overall; Halverson ninth for the segment, thirteenth overall.
The next serious challenge came from 2008 Junior champion Adam Rippon, who toted up 66.96 worth of elements including a triple flip-triple toe and a late-program triple Lutz-double Axel sequence, plus healthy enough components for the sixth-best free skate, seventh overall (193.76).
After Shaun Rogers fell on his quad toe, it was time for Johnny Weir to take the ice, right there in the middle of the second-to-last group. You could feel the tension in the house ratchet up several notches. Something didnít feel right, however, right from the opening pose. The body was there but the heart was not.
Proceeding carefully through the I. Fiamminghi score (the media guide erroneously listed Notre Dame de Pairs, but thatís another event), with the beautiful lines there but somehow deflated, Weir singled an Axel (it received some encouraging positive GoEs), then ripped off a triple Axel-double toe, a triple Salchow, andófor extra creditóa triple Lutz-triple toe-double toe that single-handedly accrued 13.29 points, the single highest point value in the event, followed by a triple Lutz-double toe and then a slip and fall.
Weir ended with a beautiful combination spin, one of two level-four elements. The World bronze medalist received 63.87 points for Executed Elements and 70.36 points for Program Components (from a low of 6.32 for transitions to a high of 7.54 for skating skills) for a segment total of 133.23 (fifth-best) and an overall score of 203.99 for fifth place in the championships. He was off the US podium for the first time since his withdrawal in 2003.
Next, Stephen Carriere posted 115.95, 185.31 overall, for a program that didnít fulfill the artistic promise of earlier seasons. Then Dennis Phan fell on his triple Axel but was fairly solid overall for 114.14, 183.25 for the event.
Curran Oi skated slowly into what turned out to be a double Axel, careful overall to the plaintive horns of On the Waterfront, but with a big finish and some serious jump content past the half-point. With 121.27 for the eighth-best free skate, he landed in sixth place, behind Weir by less than a point.
The feel-good highlight of the day occurred next as Brandon Mroz flew through Bachís familiar Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. His Red, white and black costume was a bit fussy, but clearly he was going for baroque. (Sorry. Had to do that.)
Quad toe! Spread-eagle to triple Axel-double toe! Triple flip-double toe-double loop. Level four spin. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Delivered with a nice combination of control and abandon. The jumps were whistle-clean except for turns out of a triple Axel. The artistry was somewhat concentrated in the footwork sequences, but letís not nit-pick this one. The audience was starting to rise with the penultimate element, a flying sit spin.
Mroz, an 18-year-old high school senior (Zakrajsekís youngster, see above) received a whopping 82.12 for elements, the high of the competition, plus 72.70 for components, all low-sevens, for 154.82 for the free skate, silver medal position. Heading for the Worlds now, Mroz was ebullient.
Skating next, Ryan Bradley, fifth in 2008, fifth after the short, Zakrajsekís warhorse in his ninth year as a senior at these championships, moved himself up to pewter medal status with the third-best free skate. Artistically, the humorous, dancey performance to a Latin medley wasnít a thing of beauty, but it was great fun thanks to Bradleyís expressive back, hips, and other moving parts. His fun-loving attitude canít be topped.
Quad toe (with negative GoEs), triple Axel-triple toe, two level-four spins, triple Axel: those were for starters. After the half-point came triple Lutz-double toe, triple loop, triple Lutz-double toe-double toe and triple flip. Bradley, who singled a Salchow, received scores of 76.85 and 70.50 (from 6.32 for transitions to 7.68 for performance) for a 147.35 segment total and 221.40 overall.
Next up, in blue velvet for Rhapsody in Blue: Evan Lysacek. The arena buzzed, and then held its breath. This was it, right? Quad toe, fall, a feeling that all was not going to be well. Nice triple Axel, severe lean on the Salchow, smooth but cautious. Footwork not really engaging. Triple Axel, turns out, to triple toe, big points after the mid-point but with deductions. Triple loop. Triple flip-double toe-double loop, confidence building, program on the rise. Triple Lutz, triple flip, level-four spins, big applause. It was over; and even before the scoreboard said so, there was a sense that Mroz had Lysacek on points.
The roll-the-dice quad would turn out to have been downgraded, so that risk was for naughtóat least for present purposes, though it might serve as a learning experience for the future.
Lysacek, gracious to his opponents, later acknowledged that it hadnít been his best performance. ("Not even close"). Sad at the loss of the national title that had meant so much to him, he couldnít pinpoint a reason for the sub-par performance and planned to go back to training as usual. For him, he said, "as usual" had meant maximum output with great sacrifice to other parts of his life.
Lysacek received 72.73 for elements and 73.78 for components (low- to mid-sevens) for a segment total of 145.51 and 229.10 overall for the bronze medal, rather than silver, by a scant six-tenths of one point.
Parker Pennington, whose Short Program had brought down the house, had the dubious honor of performing between Lysacek and Abbott, the final skater, and with a sore ankle that resulted from a mishap in the warm-up. Skating to a Tchaikovsky violin concerto,
he fell on the opening triple Axel, then downgraded a planned triple Lutz-triple toe to a double-triple combination, turned a planned triple Axel combination into a solo double, and later fell on a triple flip. All was not lost. A triple loop three-jump combination received 8.72 points and two spins were rated level four.
Pennington received marks of 55.19 and 63.12 for a tenth-ranked free skate, eighth overall (192.48).
All eyes were then on Jeremy Abbott, Short Program leader. The winner of the 2009 Grand Prix Final performed quietly, introspectively, to what might be called an intellectual rendition of Piazzollaís "Eight Seasons," nothing that would jazz up the crowd like a Ryan Bradley number but a piece that could be mesmerizing if skated with heart and fully in the moment.
That wasnít quite the case, yet it came close. Abbott, who said afterwards, "You have to find what drives you as your art," skated with his whole body, from the subtlest leg bend to the most eloquent hand gesture, feeling the music as none before had done.
Abbott opened with a triple Lutz (in lieu of an advertised quad toe);a triple flip, leaning in the air; a nice level-four flying sit spin; an excellent triple Axel; a triple Salchow; and a level-four change-foot sit spin. After the midpoint came a triple Axel-double toe (10.45 points); emotive circular steps; a triple Lutz-double toe-double toe, a popped loop, straight-line steps, double Axel-triple toe with hand down, and a well-done combination spin.
Zakrajsekís self-acknowledged late bloomer and sometime "head case" wasnít satisfied with the effort, saying that he had been unusually nervous and was able to keep himself in check thanks to the ministrations of his coaching staff.
"I felt awful leading up to this event," he said. "I felt awful today. I felt awful on the ice. I was able to control myself and do what I had to do. I wasn't happy with my performance, but I'm learning to compete and keep mistakes to a minimum."
Abbott is setting an awfully high bar, as those who gave him a standing ovation might acknowledge. He received marks of 75.49 for elements and an enormous 80.00 for components (from 7.89 for skating skills to 8.18 for interpretation) for a segment score of 155.49 and a handy win with 241.89 total points.
2009 Senior Men Medalists
Brandon Mroz, Jeremy Abbott, Evan Lysacek, Ryan Bradey
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