If Johnny Weir has said it once, he has said it a hundred times: “the Olympic hangover” had a huge effect on the figure skating world championships this year. Several of the top male competitors– including Weir– dropped out of the competition and the women– especially those on the younger side– appear to have cracked under the pressure of the final act to the Olympic season beginning a mere three weeks after closing ceremonies. After the free skates Tara Lipinski (who called the programs with Andrea Joyce and also provided commentary with Johnny Weir and Peter Carruthers in the so-called Universal Sports “loft”) exclaimed in exasperation, “These ladies need to learn to handle pressure!”
While the men’s championship was already a completely different beast from Olympic competition due to the absence of leaders Evan Lysacek and Evgeny Plushenko, the women’s field retained an almost full roster of high-ranking skaters, excluding bronze Olympian Joannie Rochette.
There were opportunities for redemption– as in the men’s competition–, titles to be defended and expectations to be met. There was potential for drama and drama was had.
The Short Programs:
Mirai Nagasu skated a downright spectacular short program, earning her a 70.04 point personal best providing the breakout performance of the competition. As analyst Peter Carruthers said: “Wow– did she just rock the place!”
Nagasu’s dreamy skate preceding the most shocking of the short programs: Olympic champion Kim Yu-Na delivered an oddly off performance of her James Bond routine, leaving the arena stunned silent upon receipt of her score: 60.03, ten points below Nagasu (who skated just before her) and a full eighteen points below her Olympic showing.
Coming off the ice Kim said something about a boot lace to her coach. She has also expressed having difficulty remaining focused and motivated after the emotional and physical strain of the Olympic games in Vancouver last month. She shortened a triple flip, had wobbly landings and some issues on a spiral sequence.
Neither fans nor commentators nor Kim herself seemed to have any idea what to do with such a result. Lipinski put it simply: “It’s so shocking.”
Weir continued with, “I think she’s so used to skating clean– it shocks not only us but it shocks her.”
One of the most shocking results of Kim’s short program is that she did not score high enough to warm up and skate with the last group for the long program. Her final placement for the short program was seventh position.
Due to Kim’s poor showing, Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada of Japan found herself in prime position to challenge the Olympic champion and defending World Champion Kim Yu-Na. Asada’s short program put her into second place just a few points behind Nagasu. Asada of course had been the Kim’s main rival over the years; this season found her more and more unable to catch up as Kim continued to excel at a meteoric rate. In fact, in the past two years Kim had only ceded once to the competition– that competition was Asada still fighting her end of a fading rivalry against a fierce opponent. After the short program Weir selected Asada as his pick for the top of the podium.
Laura Lepisto of Finland took third place after the short program, after having been somewhat discounted in Vancouver.
The Free Skate:
Kim Yu-Na delivered another lackluster performance for her free skate. As she came off the ice, Lipinski forecasted: “I know she wants to defend her title, but I’m not sure that’s going to be enough to win.” She suffered an unlikely fall, a scratched jump and substituted with a waltz jump, which– sidebar– Tara Lipinski declared is the jump you learn when you are three years old. Lipinski appeared to be quite frustrated with the inconsistency of the performances at these Worlds.
Surprisingly Kim’s free skate was scored the highest, allowing her to somewhat overcome her short program and land on the podium for the silver medal. I for one was shocked by the final standings, particularly when confronted by the utterly defeatist attitude that Kim took onto the ice. Weir even observed that it “looked like she was hating being out there,” and Lipinski commented on “the way she got up was so slow” after falling on a salchow.
Skating after Kim, Asada put in a strong performance that was somehow scored below Kim’s free skate but still placed Asada in first place when combined with her short program. Asada delivered her trademark triple axel twice, prompting Lipinski to exclaim,”Her jumps are just so smooth!”
A final declaration by Joyce: “Wow! What a terrific performance by Mao Asada and she knows it!”
Skating second to last, it seemed that Mirai Nagasu was well within reach of the podium, if not the top spot. Lipinski uttered ill-fated words: “These next four minutes could really change [Nagasu’s] career.” [Full recap of Nagasu at the Worlds]
Clearly there were a lot of nerves at stake given Nagasu’s unexpected ranking coming out of the short program and it appears that at the end of such a high-stress Olympic-year season the pressure was just too much. Instead of being bolstered by her short program performance, Nagasu caught herself a bunch of nerves and despite fighting her way through the entire program could not hang on and ended up in a disappointing seventh place.
Laura Lepisto again put in another solid skate, placing sixth in the free skate and holding on to her third place position overall for the bronze medal behind Kim Yu-Na in an unaccustomed number two position and Mao Asada claiming a deserved and hard-won gold at the top.
Weir, as usual, reflected on the subjectivity of judging in figure skating, saying that he felt Nagasu was overly punished for her mistakes. Regarding Lepisto he said that although she stated well, she only has doubles in her repertoire: “She didn’t have the jumps… It was disappointing for me to see that as a bronze medal performance,” which he thinks would have been more fairly awarded to Miki Ando of Japan.
I for one loved seeing the reality of competition in this ladies championship, especially after the Olympic where Kim Yu-Na was so unstoppable that the competition was downgraded to a fight for silver and bronze. Torino bore witness to the fierceness that is Mao Asada, the lady who lands multiple triple axels and who continued to challenge herself to challenge Kim Yu-Na for the gold– even at the Olympics.
Her triple axels even made Tara Lipinski’s ‘best moments’ list: “Watching Mao land a second triple axel, I just admire her so much!”
It really was a most exciting competition to watch; both more exciting and more devastating that the Olympics– a battle to the end. I give Mao Asada the Words to Bumble Fierce Award.