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Category: World Figure Skating Championships

Philip Hersh: World Figure Skating Championships unlikely to produce a big haul for U.S.

Men

One medal.

That's what the United States figures to get at the March World Figure Skating Championships.

That's all that the results -- and quality of skating -- from the U.S. Championships that ended  Sunday would augur.

One medal would be the same as last year, when the outlook was better, even if you don't include eventual Olympic champion Evan Lysacek  (who skipped worlds) in the equation.

It would be the fourth time in five years dating to 2007 that Team USA has won just one medal.  That lone bronze medal in 2007 had been the lowest U.S. total at worlds since 1994.

The difference is the one medal this year could be special, since Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who earned the sole prize (silver) in 2010,  have a shot at the first ice dance gold in U.S. history.

Whether they can get it should be clearer after next month's Four Continents Championship, where reigning world and Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada plan a season debut delayed by her injury.

Davis If Davis and White can't beat the Canadians at Four Continents , it's unlikely they will do it at worlds a month later in Tokyo.

And here is the outlook in the other three disciplines:

MEN -- The story here will be whether the United States can hold onto a third spot for the 2012 worlds.  To do that, the top two U.S. finishes have to add up to 13 or fewer points.

It doesn't look good.

Since he did not come out of retirement until October, new U.S. champion Ryan Bradley has not done any international events this season.  The last memory international judges have of Bradley is that of an injured skater who staggered to 18th at the 2010 worlds.  He was 15th at his other world appearance in 2007.

While Bradley's victory at nationals was deserved, his free skate was sloppy, and he skated much of it at about 2 miles per hour.  The two months between now and worlds should give him a chance to build stamina that was lacking because he began serious training so late.

The other two members of the team for Tokyo, world meet rookies Richard Dornbush and Ross Miner, could surprise if a) each feels as little pressure as he did as a podium longshot at nationals; and b) each skates an error-free program as he did at nationals.

Realistically, though, either would succeed by breaking into the top 10 at worlds.

After all, Dornbush still was on the Junior Grand Prix circuit this season, and Miner finished seventh and ninth in his two senior Grand Prix appearances, where each field included only about one-third of the world's top men.

WOMEN -- The U.S. medal drought in the women's event at worlds, four years, already is the longest since Hedy Stenuf's bronze in 1938 ended a seven-year shutout.

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Jennifer Kirk: Kim is in her own field of gold

Jennifer Kirk, who finished third at the U.S. figure skating championships in 2004 and fourth in 2005, will Jenniferkirk write a weekly blog for The Times providing insights into the skating world during the final months leading into the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Since retiring from figure skating in 2005, Kirk, 25, has been working on obtaining a college degree in broadcast journalism and has spent the last few months blogging about skating at Trueslant.com/jenniferkirk.

World Champion Kim Yu-Na's skating at last weekend’s Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris made a bold statement: Olympic gold is mine to lose.

Picking off where she left off at the World Championships last spring, Kim blew away the field of 10 in Paris.  Debuting two new, more sophisticated programs, Kim skated with a level of ease rarely seen in skaters so early in the season.

Even her addition of a more difficult combination -- the triple lutz-triple toe loop -- to both her short and long programs didn’t seem to faze “Queen Yu-Na,” as she’s referred to by her fans, and she easily smashed the previous world record (set by her), scoring a combined total of 210.03 points.

If Kim continues to deliver as she has in the last few events, it will be nearly impossible for any lady to snatch gold away from her in Vancouver. This reality must sit heavy with 2008 world champion Mao Asada, who has played the role of Kim’s closest rival over the last few seasons.

Kim-ap-204x300  Asada defeated Kim at the 2008 World Championships and again at last year’s Grand Prix final, setting herself up in a great position to defend her world title last March in Los Angeles. However, after missing her triple lutz in her short program and crashing on the landing of her second triple axel in her long program, Asada was left to watch Kim become skating’s newest leading lady and was left without a medal in an international event for the first time in her career.

Unfortunately, Asada’s performance quality at Trophee Bompard seemed to mimic that seen at last season’s World Championships.  It appears that Asada has come to realize that the only way that she’ll be able to contend with Kim’s exceptional consistency and technical abilities is to capitalize on the one element that Kim does not have in her arsenal: the triple axel. Asada reportedly spent most of her practice time in Paris with a myopic focus on her triple axel, choosing to abandon the training of her triple lutz and triple-triple combination.

While Asada has had fleeting success with the triple axel in her long program at past events, this season she’s made the bold move of putting it in as part of her short program combination. This isn’t smart. Asada’s triple axel is nowhere near consistent enough to rely on as a short program combination, and by attempting the axel, Asada is only increasing the odds that she will make a mistake in the first phase of the competition.

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Lysacek and the Lakers: Just a bunch of champions

Evan Lysacek and the Lakers practice in the same facility, the Toyota Center in El Segundo. They've won major titles as the result of their performances at Staples Center, where the Lakers won three NBA championships and Lysacek last month claimed the world figure skating championship.

So it makes sense for Lysacek, an Illinois native who has enthusiastically adopted Los Angeles as his home, to share the floor with the Lakers -- if only briefly -- before they resume their first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz.

Lysacek will be introduced at the game Monday and will present the game ball for the opening tipoff, a well-deserved honor. It will also be a rare occasion when he's surrounded by athletes who are taller than he is: He's about 6 foot 1, extremely tall for a figure skater.

-- Helene Elliott

Jeffrey Buttle's wish for the next figure skating champion

Jeffrey Buttle of Canada won't be trying for a second successive title when the World Figure Skating Championships take place this week at Staples Center.

In a thoughtful essay now on our website, he explains why he retired.

--Helene Elliott

Brian Orser heads list of World Figure Skating Hall of Fame inductees

The World Figure Skating Hall of Fame announced its class of 2009, whose members will be inducted during the upcoming World Figure Skating Championships in Los Angeles.

The group includes people who made an impact on the sport on and off the ice. The hall itself is located in Colorado Springs, but the ceremony will take place March 28 at Staples Center.

It will be followed by a reception at the Wilshire Grand, with tickets set at $50. For more information,  click here or check at the U.S. Figure Skating booth on the main level at Staples Center during the championships.

Probably the most familiar honoree is Brian Orser, the two-time Olympic silver medalist from Canada who also won the 1987 world title as well as four silver and one bronze medal at the world championships. The timing is quite convenient for him: he'd be here, anyway, because he coaches South Korean skater Kim Yu-Na, one of the favorites to win the women's title.

Another name familiar to those of a certain generation is Aja Zanova, now Vrzanova, who became the first world champion to defect from a Soviet bloc country when she left Czechoslovakia in 1950. A three-time European champion and two-time world champion, she's credited with being the first woman to land a double lutz jump in competition, at the 1949 World Championships.

She spent many years skating in Ice Follies and Ice Capades before becoming an Ice Capades talent scout from 1968-90.

Also to be honored in the category of outstanding competitors are Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini of Canada, two-time Olympic pairs competitors and the 1984 world champions.

In the category of outstanding contributors making a significant impact on the sport in a non-skating role, the Hall of Fame will honor Joyce Hisey, a 1952 ice dance silver medalist who later became a judge. She's also from Canada. (Hey, Canada gave us Wayne Gretzky. The least we can do is honor a few Canadians during the world championships).

In the category of outstanding contributors with a creative/professional impact on figure skating, the honoree is Willy Bietak, a former Austrian pairs champion who became head of a production company in Santa Monica that specializes in family entertainment. His company, Willy Bietak Productions, also provides portable ice skating rinks for the public and ice surfaces for special events, including the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2002 Olympics.

Honored for contributing to the above categories before 1939 is the late Nikolai Panin-Kolomenkin (1871-1956). He was a six-time Russian champion, 1903 world silver medalist and two-time European medalist (1904, 1908). Using a pseudonym because skating was then frowned upon, he won a gold medal at the 1908 Olympics for special figures. He later was banned from continued competition by national authorities. Among his students was two-time Olympic pairs champion Oleg Protopopov.

--Helene Elliott

Ice dance champs won't defend title in L.A.

Figure skaters Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France, who won the ice dance world title last year, withdrew from this year's championships, which begin March 22 at Staples Center.

Delobel hasn't fully recovered right shoulder surgery she underwent in January. The duo said at a news conference in France that although they regret having to make the decision, they believe their preparation for next year's Winter Olympics is better served by skipping this competition.

To read the recount of their news conference in the French sports publication L'Equipe, click here. Thanks to my seventh grade French teacher (and five subsequent years of French classes) for teaching me about all those irregular verbs and helping me understand the L'Equipe story.

--Helene Elliott

Belbin and Agosto ready for testing

Benjamin Agosto and Tanith Belbin skate in the pair's ice dance final at the Skate America figure skating competition in Everett, Wash. Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, the best U.S. figure skating ice-dance team over the last five years, will make their second, and final, appearance before a panel of judges Thursday at their home rink in Aston, Pa., outside Philadelphia to show that Agosto has fully recovered from a back injury that kept the team out of U.S. Nationals and unable to qualify for the March 22-29 World Figure Skating Championships at Staples Center.

The five-time U.S. champions performed limited portions of their programs for judges last Thursday.

Belbin said she and Agosto were expected to do three complete programs Thursday, and besides a panel of judges, Agosto's doctor, who has treated his back injury, will be on hand. "The judges need to see all three of our programs on the same day," Belbin said. "That shouldn't be a problem."

Agosto said that because he and Belbin missed nationals and a chance to skate under the pressure that comes with needing to qualify for the world team, it was worthwhile to skate in front of judges, even in an empty arena, to earn their spot to worlds.

"We don't have a full audience, of course, but it is good to have extra pressure," Agosto said. "We have to do our job and in the mode of competition."

Short of Agosto's back collapsing, it seems unlikely the pair won't be skating in Los Angeles. The results of the world championships determine how many spots each country gets for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, and Belbin and Agosto are the defending Olympic silver medalists.

-- Diane Pucin

Photo: Ben Agosto and Tanith Belbin skate in the pairs ice-dance final at the Skate America  competition in Everett, Wash. Credit: Kevin P. Casey / Associated Press

Evan Lysacek blog: Adding yoga to his program

Two-time U.S. figure skating champion Evan Lysacek is an occasional contributor to The Fabulous Forum. Here are some of his thoughts as he gets ready for the World Championships, to be held March 22-29 at Staples Center.

With the World Championships, the premier event of the skating season, right around the corner, all of the world's elite skaters are in their last couple weeks of preparation.

For me, this year holds heightened importance as it is the year before the 2010 Olympic season. All eyes will be on this 2009 Championships, looking for the faces and favorites of the  Vancouver Olympics.

The more personal reason that this Championship is so exciting for me is because it is in Los Angeles, my hometown. I always love performing at Staples Center, and the opportunity to have my friends and family cheering me on will make it an unforgettable experience.

After competing at the Four Continents Championship in February, and a couple weeks of touring with Smuckers Stars on Ice, I decided to find the quietest place I could to prepare for the Worlds: Richmond Hill, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. I have spent this week training and fine tuning with Lori Nichol. It has been an extremely productive week of training, and adding some yoga to my training day has helped me stay centered.

I've been through so much diversity in my skating career, and I've always found that staying calm is the best way to stay confident. I still have two weeks to drill my technique, but as I return to my home training base, Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, I have a strong sense of mental preparedness.

I am going to spend the next couple weeks slipping back into my L.A. groove. Morning bike rides to Joan's on Third for breakfast, training all day, Yoga at sunset, and relaxing dinner with friends. I love Los Angeles!

Michelle Kwan's diplomatic skills

A change in the White House hasn't changed Michelle Kwan's status as a U.S. public diplomacy envoy.

Kwan, the five-time world figure skating champion and nine-time U.S. champion, got the diplomacy appointment during the George W. Bush administration. Although he's out of office, she's still serving, and her blog discusses her latest trip for the State Department.

The blog has links to some photos and to reports on her previous State Department visits to Russia and Argentina.

Kwan, who has left open the possibility that she will try to compete in the Vancouver Olympics in February, is having a busy month. As our Chicago Tribune colleague, Phil Hersh, noted recently, Kwan will be part of the broadcast team on NBC's telecasts of the World Figure Skating Championships, coming up in less than three weeks at Staples Center.

-- Helene Elliott

Alissa Czisny still battling nerves

Alissa Czisny It's not difficult for U.S. figure skating champion Alissa Czisny to perform two error-free programs -- when she's practicing.

When she's competing -- that's a different story.

Czisny, 21, skated an exceptionally good short program and less-than-sensational long program while winning her first U.S. title last month in Cleveland. She struggled in both programs last week at the Four Continents championships in Vancouver, Canada, site of the 2010 Olympics, where she finished ninth.

However, she said she learned from that experience and hoped to use that knowledge to improve her performance at the world championships next month in Los Angeles.

"Sometimes I start a little bit in competition with nerves," she said, "and that's what I've been working on all season and I hope I continue to improve that."

Not "staying in the moment" while preparing for jumps has been her downfall, she said. She has tried to improve her focus by working with a sports psychologist, and has added another advisor to the nearly dozen coaches, choreographers and other helpers who work with her.

"Right now I'm working with a performance coach, and that's really been helping me this year," she told reporters Wednesday during a conference call. "I've competed a lot this season to try to work on that problem and I think it's improved a lot and I'm going to continue to make that stronger."

Czisny also said she might tinker with her long program before the world championships to add more "content" that would enable her to earn a higher score. Every point will count: the placements at the world championships will determine the number of entries each country can send to the Vancouver Olympics.

"I think winning the nationals and having that title behind me should give me confidence going into worlds," she said.

Her top competitors at the world championships figure to be Kim Yu-Na of South Korea, winner of the Four Continents event, and Mao Asada of Japan, who finished third in that competition.

Czisny said she especially admires Kim because "her skating quality is lovely. Her jumps are good. I've been watching her through the years and her artistic [components], she's obviously worked a lot on that and improved. I've seen both of their jump qualities are very good, very consistent, something that I hope to have also."

-- Helene Elliott

Photo: Alissa Czisny poses with her gold medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 24 in Cleveland. Credit: Elsa / Getty Images

No wins, but gains for skaters Lysacek and Zhang

Zhang_300Ten things I know, and you should, as Vancouver, Canada, nears its Thursday festivities marking one year from the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Preface to the first five items:  it is impossible to get a completely accurate picture of a figure skating competition from a 60-inch high-def television, let alone a computer screen image about the size of an index card.  You don't see the speed or ice coverage or emotion that comes across live, especially from the judges' standpoint.  With that caveat, here are a few observations (from the computer screen. via icenetwork.com) of what I saw at the Four Continents championships that ended Saturday in Vancouver. 

1.  Caroline Zhang's free skate could be a transformational moment in her senior-level career.  No matter how you looked at it, the 15-year-old Californian (pictured at left) moved with far more confidence and speed than she had at any event since her brilliant 2007 junior season.  This may have been good enough only for fourth, behind three contenders for world medals, but it was a big step up for Zhang, especially after her slow, robotic performances at the U.S. championships.  Zhang finally seemed able to let herself go.

2.  Great to see a successful quad back in Evan Lysacek's free skate.  Yes, Patrick Chan of Canada won without one, but the quad is a key part of Lysacek's arsenal.  Now if Lysacek can remaster his triple axel -- it was both downgraded to a double and downgraded for execution -- he is right back in the hunt for a world medal after a disappointing third at the U.S. championships.  Lysacek lost the Four Continents free skate to Chan by 4.79 points; he lost by 7.90 points to Chan on the triple axel alone.

3.  What kind of sport goes backward technically?  The last three Olympic champions all landed quads (yes, I know that was before the nitpick age of judging) but Canada's Jeffrey Buttle won worlds without one last year, and it appears the only world title contenders this year with quads are France's Brian Joubert, who hits the jump consistently, and Lysacek, who does not.

4.  An upset win by Meryl Davis and Charlie White means the best chance for a U.S. medal at the upcoming Los Angeles worlds is in ice dance.  (Pardon while I yawn.)  Ice dancers are terrific athletes, and their discipline is technically demanding, but it's no more a sport than ballet is.  And the over-the-top costumes many ice dancers favor make it even more impossible to take the event seriously.  Extremely hard to do it well, definitely.  Sometimes beautiful to watch, yes.  Sports competition, no.

5.  Mao Asada of Japan and Kim Yu-Na of South Korea are exceptional skaters who almost certainly will finish one-two, in some order, at worlds.   But I would get a lot more excited about both were they to get through a competition without a major error.

Kim won the Four Continents title despite falling in the free skate.  Asada finished third because she fell in the short program and then won the free skate even though she turned an individual triple toe loop into a double -- to an elite skater, a double toe loop not at the end of a combination is ridiculous -- and a double axel into a single.  Asada won last year's world title after recovering brilliantly from a complete splat on the first jump in her free skate; Kim wound up with the bronze because she fell in the short program.

On to other wintry matters:

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