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Category: Rachael Flatt

Mirai Nagasu not on par with Rachel Flatt? Huh?

I am trying to figure out how U.S. Figure Skating decided Mirai Nagasu does not belong on the same level as Rachael Flatt in the "team envelopes" for the 2010-11 season that USFS announced Friday.

That means Nagasu will get lower funding than Flatt.

According to U.S. Figure Skating, the criteria for tier placement are "primarily determined by the athlete's performance in international and U.S. Figure Skating competitions during the previous season.''

Flatt, 17, the U.S. champion, is Tier One.  Nagasu, who finished second at nationals, went on to beat Flatt at both the Olympics (fourth to Flatt's seventh) and worlds (seventh to ninth), but she is Tier Two.

Flatt did better on the Grand Prix circuit, even if she failed to make the final, but those results are inconsequential, anyway, compared to Olympics or worlds.

But U.S. Figure Skating has this illogical standard for determining Tier One:

A U.S. championship combined with a top-10 finish at Olympics puts a skater in Tier One.  (So do medals at Olympics or worlds or a top-three standing in the world rankings at the end of the season, but neither Flatt nor Nagasu meets any of those criteria.)

So Flatt, whose season went downhill after nationals, somehow is ranked higher than Nagasu.
Flatt, an exceptional student, has chosen Stanford from a laundry list of acceptances at elite universities but will defer matriculation for a year to see what would happen to her skating career by devoting full time to the sport.

Should Flatt decide to continue competing once she gets to Stanford, she will almost certainly have to find a new coach, since her current coach, Tom Zakrajsek, is based in Colorado Springs.  Even in this age of infinite forms of communication, coaching a skater by e-mail, Twitter, video and the like does not seem workable.

Here's some unsolicited advice for Flatt:

If your international results aren't better next season than they were in 2010, think long and hard about what you might gain and what you may lose by continuing.  You might gain the opportunity to skate in another Olympics.  You may lose the opportunity to experience the full richness of life at Stanford because you will have to train off campus (fighting area traffic) and travel far to compete.  While Stanford intercollegiate athletes also travel, they have a university support system to make all that easier.

Flatt has spoken with Dr. Debi Thomas, now an orthopedic surgeon, who combined skating and Stanford.  Thomas took a leave from Stanford after two years to train for the 1988 Olympics, where Thomas won the bronze medal.  She is one of the few skaters in the past 25 years to have significant success in both school and the sport, but Thomas had stopped competing before her final three years at Stanford, and it took six years to get her degree in general engineering.

Two-time Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan tried UCLA and skating during the 2001 season, then left school to prepare for the 2002 Olympics.  She became a full-time student at Denver University after her final Olympic effort in 2006 ended in an injury withdrawal two days after the Opening Ceremony.  Kwan, like Thomas, has gone on to serious academic pursuits as a master's student at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts.

Paul Wylie, the 1992 Olympic silver medalist, fulfilled his potential as a skater only after he graduated from Harvard after five years of college in 1991.  At the 1991 worlds, Wylie had finished 11th after barely qualifying for the free skate.

This is what Wylie told me several years ago about the difficulties of being at an elite university and trying to be an elite skater:

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No tears, but Nagasu still must get past fears


At least there was no big crying jag for Mirai Nagasu this time.

Nagasu has made substantial overall improvement since that episode at November's Cup of China, yet she still must learn to cope with what caused it: the pressure of being first after the short program at an international competition. Call it fear of flying high.

As Mao Asada of Japan won her second world title in three seasons, helped by a second straight badly flawed performance by reigning Olympic champion Kim Yuna of South Korea, short program winner Nagasu came undone in the free skate Saturday at Turin, Italy.

The 16-year-old from Arcadia, Calif., made three significant errors and plummeted to 7th overall with an 11th in the free skate. "Coming off the Olympics, where I was fourth, finishing seventh here is a really big blow," Nagasu said. "I feel really bad." Reigning U.S. champion Rachael Flatt was 9th, four places below her 2009 finish.

Nagasu's coach, Frank Carroll, had insisted she shed "no more tears'' after the China event, when she dropped to 5th after the free skate. Despite some snuffling in her voice, Nagasu kept a mostly stiff upper lip in an interview with Universal Sports after Saturday's poor performance.

Prior to Saturday, she had put together five straight strong performances -- three short programs, two free skates -- at major events: the U.S. Championships, Olympics and worlds. That was big step up from last season, when a growth spurt, a foot injury and teenage angst left her a very tearful fifth at nationals -- a year after her surprising U.S. title at age 14 -- and prompted the coaching change that brought her to Carroll. 

She always has been hard on herself, and Saturday was no exception. "I told myself last year that I wouldn't feel like this any more, so it's really a bummer to feel like this again," Nagasu said. "It took a lot to get me out of the pits last year, and I sort of feel like I'm there again now. I'm going to go home and try to get ready for next season and just take it one step at a time." 

Nagasu started badly in the free skate, with a stepout on her first triple lutz that kept her from doing a combination. Then she had a two-footed landing on her second triple lutz, which was downgraded to a double, and a fall on a double axel, which was called a single.  Her final planned triple, an easy toe loop, also was downgraded.

"Sorry," Nagasu said to Carroll after coming off the ice. An hour later, she was trying to talk a U.S. figure skating official into going for ice cream at a nearby mall. The only positive about the free skate came in the component (or artistry) scores, where Nagasu ranked a more presentable 6th. 

Kim's chances of retaining her 2009 world title disappeared when she botched two of her final three jumps. Kim's score, 130.49, was nearly 20 points below the record total (150.06) she amassed in her Olympic victory last month. It was good enough to win the free skate, but well short of overcoming the eight-point lead Asada had over Kim after the short program, when the South Korean made mistakes on three different elements.

Asada, the Olympic silver medalist, finished with 197.58 to 190.79 for Kim. Extremely generous scoring for a program filled with double jumps (eight doubles to just three triples) gave Laura Lepisto 178.62, allowing her to hang onto third by .8 over Japan's Miki Ando and become the first Finnish woman to win a world medal. HugDamienMeyerGettyNagasu had 175.48, Flatt, 167.44.

Kim fell on a triple salchow and popped a double axel.  She also lacked spark throughout the 4-minute program. "My short program and the morning practice was not good, and I was worried," Kim said. "I am glad I was able to overcome the difficulties."

Kim's free skate score was still more than respectable. Only three other women (Asada, Joannie Rochette and Sasha Cohen) have scored higher. Kim, 19, said she would wait until after taking a break before deciding about competing next season. She was the first woman to skate at worlds in the same season she won the Olympic title since Kristi Yamaguchi of the U.S. in 1992.

Upon arriving in Turin, Kim said she had struggled with finding the motivation for worlds. "The Olympic Games were the biggest goal in my life," Kim said Saturday. "After winning the gold medal, I thought there was nothing more." 

Asada was second in 2007, first in 2008, then fourth last year, when Kim began to dominate the women's competition. "It has been a long time that I felt I had to work harder because of her (Kim)," Asada said. "Thanks to her, I grow as a skater, and I will be encouraged to work harder even from now on."

Asada, 19, gave every indication she will continue competing.  She is looking for a new coach after two seasons with Russia's Tatiana Tarasova.

-- Philip Hersh

Top photo: A dejected Mirai Nagasu, with coach Frank Carroll, after hearing her free skate scores. Credit: Clive Rose / Getty Images. Bottom photo: World champion Mao Asada of Japan congratulates silver medalist Kim Yuna of South Korea before the medal presentation Saturday. Credit: Damien Meyer / Getty Images

Sarah D. Morris: A figure skating competition worth remembering

Skating The ladies figure skating in the Vancouver Olympic Games was the greatest competition ever. Although for the first time since 1968 no American earned a medal, the two American teenagers did our country proud. Kim Yuna won the gold medal, the first Korean to medal in figure skating. Mao Asada of Japan landed at least two triple axels during the Olympic competition, becoming the first woman to do so in the Olympics.  Overcoming personal tragedy, Joannie Rochette of Canada earned the bronze. Mirai Nagasu from Arcadia, California, skated her personal best to finish in fourth place.

I have watched ladies' figure skating all of my life, and I don't remember seeing such a flawless and emotionally-charged Olympic competition. Falls usually mar and destroy the feeling of awe in the Olympic figure skating. However, every lady in the top group displayed the incredible combination of athletic expertise and graceful beauty.No one could take their eyes off the beautiful skating. 

Coming into the competition, the marquee event of every Winter Olympics, everyone expected Yu-Na to win the gold. In South Korea, she has become a national hero and selling everything.  If she didn't win, many people would have been disappointed and her country would have seen her as a failure. 

Yuna, coached by two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, performed beautifully. The reining the World Champion handled the incredible probably unfair pressure well and gave one of the greatest long programs in the history of the sport. She landed every jump on one foot with elegance. While her athleticism was apparent, she didn't ignore the spins or the footwork. She skated third in the last group.  However, as soon as she finished, everyone knew Yuna accomplished her goal and still is a Korean national hero.
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Women's figure skating short program results

In setting a world record for a short program, Kim Yuna equaled or bested the scores of her two closest competitors in six of eight required elements, plus the program component category.

Philip Hersh: Rachael Flatt deserved systematic victory, but fans deserved an explanation

Some final thoughts on the women's result at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships:

Evan Lysacek, both a friend and training partner of Mirai Nagasu, was sitting among the press for the end of the women's free skate Saturday.  When Nagasu, last to skate, had finished, I asked Evan what he thought. "She was a million miles better,'' Lysacek said, meaning Nagasu had outdistanced Rachael Flatt.

Nearly everyone in the Spokane Arena -- including NBC TV commentators Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic, which means their audience as well -- shared the essence of Lysacek's opinion: Nagasu would win the free skate and, since she also had won the short program, would be the national champion.Getprev

The score sheets said otherwise, making Flatt the free skate and overall winner by some 12 points.  That opinion was right as well, given the parameters of the code-of-points judging and scoring system being used.

This time, the problem was the system, not the judging.  And, as I have frequently noted in this blog since the 2008 Skate America, it isn't as much a fault with the system itself as much as with the decision to use it negatively that took effect two seasons ago.

So Nagasu was penalized for under-rotating three triple jumps, which meant she did not make at least 2 3/4 turns in the air.  Justification for the downgrades came from video replay using only one camera, which many times will not give the right angle to provide irrefutable evidence (the National Football League's replay system uses multiple camera angles, and even that frequently does not provide conclusive reasons to change the call made on the field.)

In figure skating, an official known as the technical specialist, who is part of a three-member technical panel, calls out the elements as a program progresses and notes which ones need review. (The calls are heard by the technical panel.)

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Webcasts no longer doomsday for figure skating

Almost exactly three years ago, I wrote a story about the state of figure skating as a TV property in which I said, "The forecast is so ominous that it could turn figure skating into primarily an Internet sport as a broadcast commodity, barely a decade after its over-the-air network TV ratings and income were sky high."

This is what Eddie Einhorn, a U.S. figure skating TV consultant, told me at the time:

"Will we stay on TV? It depends what you mean by TV.  I see a combination of over-the-air, cable and Internet/new media.  It will likely switch mostly to new media as years go by.

"Getting a big rights fee from television is the old game. Smaller sports are going to have to find other ways to get broadcast time."

Although Einhorn's words and my prediction have been borne out, as further evidenced by this week's announcement of a new deal (actually an extension) between Universal Sports and the International Skating Union, I would like to temper a few parts of it based on what I have seen since the story appeared Dec. 12, 2006.

1. There is nothing really ominous about figure skating -- and here I am referring mainly to live coverage -- being primarily on the Internet if the sport wants to attract a new generation of fans, most of whom already use their computers to watch TV shows, movies and all sorts of other video. Quality of these live Web streams is getting better and better; I hooked up my computer to my TV monitor to watch some of the icenetwork.com coverage during this Grand Prix season.

2. The Internet is giving fans more live coverage of the sport than ever before. Judging from the running commentary on the live action in posts to skating newsgroups like Figure Skating Universe, fans will get up (or stay up) in the middle of the night to watch live coverage of an event like last week's Grand Prix Final in Japan.

3. Yes, the sport is getting a lot less TV money -- probably some 20% of what it received at the apogee in the late 1990s -- but the sponsors paying for rink board ads still are getting exposure, which is critical to keeping that revenue stream.

The new Universal-ISU deal, which runs through 2013, assures coverage of the World Championships, European Championships, World Junior Championships, World Synchro Championships and all Grand Prix events but Skate America (a U.S. Figure Skating property, sold to NBC/Universal Sports through 2014).

I had several questions about the deal, and Universal Sports CEO Claude Ruibal answered them by saying most were TBD,  "to be determined."

Q. Does this mean Ice Network (owned by the U.S. federation) won't be live streaming Grand Prix events in the future?

A. Not necessarily.  That is TBD.

Q. Will there be any coverage of [senior] worlds on NBC or will Universal be the only TV outlet?

A. Again, that's a TBD.  It might make sense to have some TV coverage of worlds on the NBC network and some on Universal Sports.

Q. Will the [foreign] Grand Prix events on TV be mostly live or delayed.?

A. Where we can pick up a live signal from abroad of high-enough quality, we will go with it live.  If we're not as comfortable with it live, we will at worst do it on a same-day delay. Our preference is to make this available live, certainly online, and then maybe have higher production qualities on a slightly delayed basis for TV.

To those who have problems in getting Universal Sports: the network is becoming available on more and more cable systems nationwide. Those viewers without cable, for economic or other reasons, rightfully feel shortchanged because some of these broadcasts used to be on over-the-air TV, but the market doesn't support that anymore.

I have asked Universal producers why they can't show the stuff in hi-def, and the answers have to do with cost, bandwidth, and availability of high-def broadcasts.

Memo to Universal: figure it out.  A live Internet stream followed by a delayed broadcast in hi-def would be a pretty nice combination -- and likely as good as figure skating fans can hope for unless another Michelle Kwan or Tonya Harding comes along to regenerate interest in the sport beyond its hard-core faithful. I would also like commentary on the webcasts, currently accompanied only by the skater's music.

Of course, this all could change with the Comcast purchase of NBC Universal. If Comcast wants to make its Versus network a rival to ESPN, the man-cave network, maybe Comcast will shift some live skating to Versus when the deal goes through.

Speaking of skating and NBC:  Rachael Flatt, the leading U.S. woman singles skater this season, is among the athletes who took part in a 16-part NBC Universal series called "The Science of the Olympic Winter Games."

A collaborative effort among NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News; NBC Olympics; and the National Science Foundation produced a series that will answer such questions as, "How does angular momentum help Flatt achieve the perfect triple toe loop?" and "How does elastic collision help three-time Olympic hockey player Julie Chu convert a game-winning slapshot?"

The series will be available Wednesday on nbcolympics.com/science and will also be offered to schools as an educational tool. The Wednesday "Today Show" will air one of the pieces.

-- Philip Hersh



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