Saturday, 12 January
In the Senior Dance final, Naomi Lang & Peter Tchernyshev won their fourth consecutive dance title. They are the first U.S. dance team to win four consecutive titles since Judy Blumberg & Michael Seibert in 1982-1985. In winning the title, Lang & Tchernyshev qualified for their first Olympic Team. Because Tanith Belbin, who placed second with Benjamin Agosto, and Denis Petukhov, who placed third with Melissa Gregory, are not U.S. citizens, the fourth place team of Beata Handra & Charles Sinek earned the second spot on the U.S. Olympic team in ice dancing.
The Senior Ladies event concluded this evening with Michelle Kwan winning her sixth U.S. National title, tying her with Theresa Weld for the most U.S. ladies titles.
With the results of second through fourth place so close in the short program, the ladies were under intense pressure and tension was high for the last group of skaters in the free skating. During the warmup period there were several narrowly avoided collisions and it appeared that Sasha Cohen was engaging in the intimidation practices frequently seen from the men. When asked about it after the event the skaters all shrugged it off and made diplomatic statements about being focused on their own skating and the job they had to do, but according to reliable sources Kwan, Hughes, and Nikodinov were all pissed-off and remarked on what would happen if Cohen tried it on the Russian ladies at the Olympics. My guess is they would be scraping Cohen up off the ice.
The ladies final was the first and only section of the competition which nearly filled the Staples Center. For most of the other sessions the arena was half empty, or worse, with the other senior finals averaging 10,000 spectators or less. A sorry state of affairs for a National Championships in an Olympic year, but not surprising given the minmal effort that appears to have gone into advertising and promotion.
Friday, 12 January
The Junior events wrapped up with the skating of the pairs free skate and the ladies free skate. During these events, the arena was virtually deserted. For many years the organizing committees at Nationals have arranged for field trips from local schools and given away tickets to charitable organizations to get some people in the seats for the Novice and Junior events. No effort to do that was made here and so the younger skaters this year mainly performed for the judges and their parents. For the local skaters it was slightly better since their friends and clubmates could also make it to the competition.
In the evening the Senior Pairs finished up with the free skating. Kyoko Ina & John Zimmerman won their third consecutive pairs title. This year will be Ina's third Olympic competition and Zimmerman's first. In 1994 Ina placed ninth with Jason Dungjen and in 1998 they were fourth. Tiffany Scott & Philip Dulebohn moved up to second place to win their third consecutive silver medal. Stephanie Kalesavish & Aaron Parchem placed third winning their first senior level national medal. Danielle & Steve Hartsell who have been the heartbreak kidsof U.S. pairs skating since 2000 withdrew from the competition mid-way through their warmup due to injury (Steve's groin).
Thursday, 11 January
The Senior Ladies event kicked off in the afternoon with the skating of the short program. Michelle Kwan was the clear favorite of the panel; followed by Sasha Cohen, Sarah Hughes and Angela Nikodinov who received a mix of marks of first through fourth. Commenting on the event, John Nicks, who coaches Cohen said, "They were all wonderful. It was exciting. I think it just confirms the pre-eminent place of ladies figure skating in the world. We're the strongest, have the most depth, and whoever makes it, the United States is going to have a wonderful Olympic team."
It took over 150 minutes to work through the 48 minutes of skating presented by the 18 ladies competitors. A few years ago USFSA considered advancing only the top three placements from Sectionals to the National Championships but did not implement it. With all of the top senior competitors receiving byes to Nationals it is a policy that should be reconsidered for all the senior level events.
The Senior Men's event concluded in the evening with Todd Eldredge regaining the National Championship, dethroning Tim Goebel in the process. It was a well fought competition and following the event the three medalists presented contrasting responses to the outcome, with Eldredge looking sheepishly pleased, Goebel animated but annoyed, and Michael Weiss and coach Frank Carroll (who works with Goebel) looking like they had been sucking on rotten lemons. Carroll was clearly displeased with the results for obvious reasons, while Weiss may have been reacting to the booing of the results when he was placed ahead of Matthew Savoie, who finished fourth.
Wednesday, 9 January
Wednesday was the last day events in the Sports Arena, thank God. The Junior Dance event finished with the skating of the free dance and the Junior Ladies and Pairs did their short program. Afterwards it was another futile race to the Staples Center. This time 15 minutes was alloted to get from one arena to the other where the Senior Compulsory Dances were skated in the evening.
Following the compulsories, the Senior Pairs short program was skated. Kyoko Ina & John Zimmerman are on track to win their third consecutive pairs title while second and third place are a contest between Stephanie Kalesavish & Aaron Parchem and Tiffany Scott & Philip Dulebohn.
Tuesday, 8 January
The Junior events continued today at the L.A. Sports Arena while the Senior events kicked off in the evening with the Senior Men's short program. In an odd bit of scheduling for Nationals, the Juniors are skating half of their events in the Sports Arena and half in the Staples Center.
The Senior Men's event was preceded by the lamest opening ceremony in my 19 year memory of Nationals. Film clips of the winning performances from the 1972 Long Beach Nationals were shown and some of those competitors were introduced to the audience. In scripted remarks that sounded like bad Academy Awards acceptance speeches they thanked everyone from God, to their parents, to their family, to their little dog Spot. It was difficult to understand the announcer due to terrible acoustics, and the script was so incoherent it was difficult to follow who was being spoken about. During Janet Lynn's film clip, for example, her name was never even mentioned. People around me were unanimously confused and dumbfounded when it was over.
In the Senior Men's short program Todd Eldredge and Timothy Goebel ended up in a rare tie for first place with Matthew Savoie placing third. Michael Weiss, looking for a comeback season to make the Olympic Team placed fifth. By placing third in the free skate he can still make the team without needing help from anyone else, but his work is cut out for him.
Monday, 7 January
The Novice events concluded at the L.A. Sports Arena with free skating and free dance programs. The overall quality of the Novice events was quite good, with the level of difficulty attempted in programs continuing to improve.
Following the last of the Novice events it was a race to get over to the Staples center for the start of the Junior events scheduled to begin 30 minutes later. The organizers threw on some direct busses from one arena to the other at the last minute but it was too little too late, and with the rush hour traffic and the long delays passing security at Staples it proved a futile effort for those spectators who goal was to see it all and those photographers who goal was to shoot it all.
Sunday, 6 January
The novice events began today with the skating of the short programs and compulsory dances at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. These events finish up Monday, and the junior events begin at the Staples Center with the skating of the junior men's short program and junior compulsory dances.
The Sports Arena is a decrepit and dingy facility located adjacent to the L.A. Coliseum, but the competitors and audience ignored the surroundings and made the best of it. The building is undergoing earthquake strengthening and minor renovations, but construction activity has been mostly suspended during the event. A decent sized crowd cheered their efforts and the younger skaters were excited at having the opportunity to display their skating prowess as pigeons flew overhead through the arena and the house cat howled mournfully in the background.
Saturday, 5 January
The 2002 United States Figure Skating Championships began today under intense security. Practice sessions were held at the two competition arenas, the Staples Center and the Los Angeles Sports Arena, and the practice facility, Healthsouth in El Segundo.
Security arrangements are the most extensive in the history of the U.S. National Championships. At the hotel for the skaters and officials uniformed LAPD officers are on duty and plain cloths security personal are patrolling the building to insure only registered guests with room key have access to the guest rooms. Uniformed LAPD officers are also on duty on all the buses which are each escorted by two California Highway Patrol motorcycle officers. The hotel, buses and arenas are being regularly screened by bomb sniffing dogs. All packages, backpack, etc. are being searched at the entry to all facilities and the bomb squad is on standby. Any suspicious packages found by security personnel will result in clearing of the arenas for disposition by the bomb squad.
Yesterday, the Healthsouth training center was just another local skating rink. Today one local coach described it as a virtual "prison". About 20 uniformed Staples Center security personal were on duty this afternoon controlling access, and uniformed El Segundo police officers and CHP officers were patrolling the area. Spectators were only allowed in the limited seating area in one of the two rinks in El Segundo. Writers and photographers were also kept well away with the photographers told they could only shoot through two plate glass window and the hockey netting. A futile option no one exercised.
The senior men were practicing in El Segundo this afternoon. In three practice groups, a total of only five men were present. One of these was Todd Eldredge who had a good practice except for the lack of a successful quad. After the session his coach, Richard Callaghan, said that his short program tape had been adjusted to disguise the vocals that had resulted in a music deduction at the Grand Prix Final.
Yesterday, on a non-competition practice session at Healthsouth, Timothy Goebel and Angela Nikodinov were both skating well. Goebel appears to have a lock on the men's event baring some disaster and Nikodinov was landing all her triples. She certainly has a good shot for the bronze medal here and a place on the Olympic Team, but that battle will be decided more by her head than her feet. Following Nationals, Goebel and coach Frank Carroll (and Nikodinov if she makes the team) will be heading to Colorado Springs the last week of January for altitude training in preparations for the Olympics.
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