As I recover from my #SkateAmerica daze, I'm realizing that I could write for days (homophones intended) about the competition. But then I saw Skate Canada's tweet about Skate Canada (same words intended) starting this Thursday, and I made the decision to prioritize. I'll keep this down to two posts - with this, the first, being a look back at the three American women and their three divergent experiences in Chicago (... errr, Hoffman Estates) last weekend.
Gracie Gold: A marathon, not a sprint
Of the three U.S. women, Gold came in with the lowest confidence - quite possibly the lowest of her career. She noted on Ice Talk that she spent the summer away from skating, trying to get her mind off the disappointment at Worlds, and even contemplated skipping the Grand Prix. And she started the season with a free skate that was full of doubt at the Japan Open. So Skate America was not so much a forum for her to storm back, but a place for her to regain her footing.
A lot has been written and said about her showing here being yet another disappointment. But I'd counter that to say that it would be unreasonable to expect her to just flip the switch and come back to skate two clean programs after her rollercoaster few months. Her practices looked solid (though not perfect, as we've seen her in the past) throughout, and she made some strides - landed her lutz-toe in the short and improved her FS score by over ten points since Japan.
Yes, there were mistakes, but Skate America should be the next mile in the marathon for Gold. It doesn't make sense to judge her season outcome by this one outcome. It's up to her now to get mad and not skate scared - which was what she did after a shaky Grand Prix during the Olympic season three years ago. So don't be surprised if Trophee de France is where she makes that resurgence that many expected from her here.
Mariah Bell: A first breakthrough, not unexpected
We - or at least some of us - saw it coming. Bell was spectacular in her two openers this season - at Glacier Falls, a domestic club competition, and then at US Classic, where she won her first senior international medal. She followed that up with a subpar skate at Ondrej Nepela, but the promise was there, and she just had to capitalize on it. And that she did, scoring personal bests all around to win the surprise silver in her second Grand Prix ever - beating the likes of Gold, Mao Asada, and Gabrielle Daleman, all of whom were top 10 at Worlds last season.
Her free skate was most certainly the revelation, where she became only the fourth US woman ever to score over 130 (Gold, Wagner, and Sasha Cohen are the other three). It's amazing what one spectacular competition can do for a skater's career. She has all of a sudden inserted herself into the conversation for the World team this year.
Ashley Wagner: A different kind of pressure, not a problem
Of the three, Wagner was the one who had the most expected result. She came in as the favorite and left with the title - and it was a different kind of pressure that she's not used to, entering a Grand Prix as the World silver medalist. That said, her win was on the heels of a strong but not spectacular showing. Her short was the highlight of the two programs - a nod to Wagner as the strong protagonist (albeit one who is having a great time on the dance floor). And while there were moments where it bordered on too-exhibition - the two-foot shimmies and head-rolls before her loop, to be exact - the impact of that program is evident, even if the music in the arena wasn't loud enough.
As I had written before, her free skate is a choreographic departure for her - one that she pulls off very well. But the technical content at Skate America wasn't quite where it was at Japan Open, where she debuted the program. That said, I noticed that those underrotations were more in-program than in-practice - she demonstrated time and time again during the practices that she can land clean flip-toes and loop-sals. And her confidence and training regimen suggest that these issues will be resolved as the season matures.
And oh yes, I get the feeling her frustration with spin levels at Skate America is going to result in spins with a vengeance at the next comp.
But before I finish up, #TeamUSA's phenomenal performance
The Americans' seven-medal haul at Skate America was its largest at the event since 1988. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani made a very strong statement with two new dances that built on their success from last season. For me, no team this season is going to be more true to the hip-hop short dance theme than they are. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue had near-personal best scores, highlighted by an exquisite free dance that moved them up from third to second.
The Jason Brown-Adam Rippon rivalry is starting to heat up, with Brown landing a (questionably-underrotated) quad toe to take the silver over Rippon's bronze - it's the second time this season Brown has overtaken Rippon on the strength of the free skate. But both skated fantastically, and American skating fans all over are aching for them to get their quads at least somewhat consistent this season. I'll talk more about the pairs in the next post, but amazing to see Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier make their Grand Prix comeback with another Skate America silver.