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Thread: American Girls--what's wrong?

  1. #1
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    American Girls--what's wrong?

    I mean the skaters, not the dolls or the song.
    But seriously--as the US enters another year with only two skaters qualifying, and probably a slim chance at a world or GPF medal, I'm beginning to wonder if there is an explanation for it.

    The upsurge in interest in skating in Japan is certainly a contributing factor--the top of the leader board is filled with excellent Japanese "ladies," whom I don't have to name, I'm sure we all know them. There is definitely a deeper field because of that, and it would be harder to get a medal due to competition.

    But that can't explain everything. It's like skater after skater just can't break past some barrier, whether it's mental, physical, or something else.

    In 2006, when Kimmie had her surprise win, I thought she would become the next American star to replace Sasha, and a worthy competitor against then- newcomers YuNa and Mao. I was looking forward to her doing her triple axel, and improving her artistry. I thought she'd be in the mix for medals for years to come. Instead-she collapsed.

    But OK, there was Caroline. She made the GPF and even came in 2nd at the short program. She would be the next "one." Barring some dramatic comeback--it doesn 't look like it.

    Yes, but Alissa Czisny was a latebloomer. She would be a potential world medalist. Nope--although I hope for a comeback for her, too. (At least she can win small competitions.)

    But what about Rachael and Ashley? Ashley is inconsistent, and Rachael is no judges' favorite, even when she skates clean.

    So that leaves us with Mirai. Mirai wins every short program, then falls apart so badly in the long, she doesn't only lose the gold medal--she falls 10 miles off the podium. I know, she was great at the Olympics, but there have been too many instances of what can only be described as choking. She hasn't even medaled at a small competition in the Grand Prix, at an age when many have already won world and Olympic medals.

    So does anyone know why such a formerly dominating country can't produce a serious contender in five years? Is it just more competition from different countries (maybe the ladies are better than I give them credit for?) Is it a change in American teen culture--maybe it's harder to find kids willing to give up the fun stuff to train than it was years ago? (I'm a HS teacher, and I've seen a change the last few years.) Or is it just one of those things? And if it is just a run of "less than star quality skaters," is there anyone on the horizon to break the "curse?"

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    Well, I think we should give Mirai some time. I think this year is really her year to prove us she can handle the pressure.

    The other girls I don't have much hope due to various reasons that I rather not list.

    As for young rising stars, there's Agnes and Gao both whom have a lot of hype recently. And there's also the lesser known Nina Jiang, whom I think has great potential. But time will tell.

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    Quote Originally Posted by miki88 View Post
    Well, I think we should give Mirai some time. I think this year is really her year to prove us she can handle the pressure.

    The other girls I don't have much hope due to various reasons that I rather not list.

    As for young rising stars, there's Agnes and Gao both whom have a lot of hype recently. And there's also the lesser known Nina Jiang, whom I think has great potential. But time will tell.
    I agree. Mirai's only dropped from first to off the podium three times (it seems like more, doesn't it?). She's still young and still has a lot to learn, so hopefully, she can somehow bring it together this season.

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    Christina Gao will be our savior.

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    Um ...... does the savior have to be a lady?

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    Quote Originally Posted by PolymerBob View Post
    Um ...... does the savior have to be a lady?
    If you're talking about ladies' figure skating, then ... yeah.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Poodlepal View Post
    It's like skater after skater just can't break past some barrier, whether it's mental, physical, or something else.
    Actually, there is a good reason that various American girls have failed to breakout. Frank Carroll has been the one to explain it. The young skating phenoms are initially successful with their jumping technique but growth spurts/physical changes/nerves and pressure eventually reveal that technique to be insufficient and faulty. In Mirai's case, Frank worked at teaching her a better jump technique that would withstand the test of time. Kimmie Meissner and Caroline Zhang also set about relearning their jumps.

    Now take all three of them - Nagasu, Meissner, and Zhang - and imagine that many years ago, their coaches forced them to abandon whatever jumping habits they had then and replace them with new habits that would serve them better in the long term. If that had happened, there's quite a good chance that all three would have scored several Grand Prix wins over the last couple of years and would have made the Worlds team to place in the top 7.

    Now, our American girls aren't the only ones who started out with a bad jump technique that had the potential to cripple them. Tuktamysheva did as well. When Mishin saw her skating before she was his student, her jumping skills impressed him but he thought that "her technique was so incomplete and she jumped in such a strange way that I was consulting with my wife and we decided not to invite her in our group."

    Of course, he probably had the chance to teach her to jump according to his specifications because, according to him, "she belongs to the rare category of athletes that exactly fulfill the instructions of their coach."

    I keep thinking how wonderful it would have been had Kimmie Meissner, back in her days as a junior skater, would have started training with someone like Mishin who would have imposed his technique on her. (Of course, I have no idea what Meissner's jumping issues were.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by krenseby View Post
    Actually, there is a good reason that various American girls have failed to breakout. Frank Carroll has been the one to explain it. The young skating phenoms are initially successful with their jumping technique but growth spurts/physical changes/nerves and pressure eventually reveal that technique to be insufficient and faulty. In Mirai's case, Frank worked at teaching her a better jump technique that would withstand the test of time. Kimmie Meissner and Caroline Zhang also set about relearning their jumps.

    Now take all three of them - Nagasu, Meissner, and Zhang - and imagine that many years ago, their coaches forced them to abandon whatever jumping habits they had then and replace them with new habits that would serve them better in the long term. If that had happened, there's quite a good chance that all three would have scored several Grand Prix wins over the last couple of years and would have made the Worlds team to place in the top 7.

    Now, our American girls aren't the only ones who started out with a bad jump technique that had the potential to cripple them. Tuktamysheva did as well. When Mishin saw her skating before she was his student, her jumping skills impressed him but he thought that "her technique was so incomplete and she jumped in such a strange way that I was consulting with my wife and we decided not to invite her in our group."

    Of course, he probably had the chance to teach her to jump according to his specifications because, according to him, "she belongs to the rare category of athletes that exactly fulfill the instructions of their coach."

    I keep thinking how wonderful it would have been had Kimmie Meissner, back in her days as a junior skater, would have started training with someone like Mishin who would have imposed his technique on her. (Of course, I have no idea what Meissner's jumping issues were.)

    This is what occurs to me as well. I think of Michelle and recall that, except for that one year where she choked a few times, 1997, she had a pretty astonishing run of consistency, and it was due to her steadiness of technique. (And even when she faltered, she dropped to silver, not fourth or fifth place.) She never lost her jumps in any significant way. But more than that, remember that her international career went back to when she was thirteen. (In those days, the age limit hadn't been imposed.) She won the silver at 1994 Nationals and was the alternate to the Olympics (because we had only two spots and Harding, by then under suspicion for the attack on Kerrigan, hijacked one of them). Kwan was ready for prime time even then. A few weeks later, at the Worlds, when neither Nancy nor Tonya were present, Michelle carried the U.S. ladies' program on her back. She came in eighth, securing two spots for the U.S. all by herself for 1995, if I recall correctly. My point is that she wasn't a choker either as an untried youngster or as an older skater with the pressures of being the champ weighing on her. A lot of that was her thorough training. I do hope we can count on that kind of training in the ladies singles skater of the near future. (Hope springs eternal!)
    Last edited by Olympia; 11-09-2010 at 09:38 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Olympia View Post
    My point is that she wasn't a choker either as an untried youngster or as an older skater with the pressures of being the champ weighing on her. A lot of that was her thorough training. I do hope we can count on that kind of training in the ladies singles skater of the near future. (Hope springs eternal!)
    I also trust that her technique was rock solid and that's why it never seemed like she would totally lose her jumps. However, she had the fortune of training with Frank Carroll early on. What would help other American junior ladies is the assistance of coaches that insist on good technique like he does. The problem is, a lot of coaches allow their charges to keep whatever technique they are already skating with for fear of rocking the boat or simply because they don't have feel confident that they have the authority to force the student to do things the coach's way.

    (By the way: I apologize for the turn that this thread has taken. A discussion about the problems of current U.S. skaters has turned into a praise session of Michelle Kwan. But we are using her to make a point about how great jump technique, especially when learned early, can make for a stunning career in skating.)
    Last edited by krenseby; 11-09-2010 at 10:03 PM.

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    I have to wonder if the american lifestyle, diet, and focus on education has anything to do with why we see so many skaters phase in and out. I mean, in general a lot of kids are involved in too many activities, the american diet is unhealthy and it seems like the nation is full of people who are either obese or suffering from eating disorders, and then education is so stressed in american societies, for most kids, not going to college is not an option, and therefore the highschool years are very stressful. Drinking and drug use is also all too common among american highschool and college students. Kids who have devoted their lives to skating in the US are obviously aware of what's going on around them, and so it must be hard to stay focused on skating and not lose interest.

    I mean in Japan, figure skating is really popular, it's probably the equivalent to soccer or basketball in the US, so there are just that many more people skating. The combination of this larger selection pool and more attention/resources likely explains why there are so many great skaters in Japan. Also, it seems college is not as stressed in Japan, I mean Miki went to college and Mao is in college but I believe they can major in physical education and just skate all day. Highschools also seem to be more flexible, Kanako goes to highschool and still trains. In the US it seems like most serious skaters are home/online schooled, or they go to school for a half day and end up missing lots of school.

    In Russia, the training expenses for the top echelon of skaters are covered by the government, which makes a huge difference.

    I know USFSA provides funding and some skaters have endorsements but that still doesn't make up for the fact that figure skating is a really, really expensive sport. I mean, I've heard several times about the sacrifices Alissa and Mirai's families have made so that their daughters can skate, Alissa on Ice Diaries said her family has never owned a home, and Mirai has to wear hand me down clothes and her parents couldn't take time off to watch her skate at the Olympics because they had to work. These are the sacrifices made by families with 1 and 2 kids who are receiving funding from the USFSA, can you imagine what this must be like for families with 4 or 5 kids? Most parents don't have the time to be shuttling their kid to and from ice rinks for hours a day, every day and many families don't have the money to get their kid their own car so that their kids can get themselves to and from the rink.

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    In general Asian cultures value education a lot, students in Japan attend academic tutoring programs after school in addition to extra-curriculum activities. And although skating is popular as a spectator sport, I doubt ice time is readily available in Japan.

    If I had to take a wild guess to answer OP's question, I'd say the decline in popularity for figure skating and lack of scholarship opportunities.

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    Quote Originally Posted by krenseby View Post
    I also trust that her technique was rock solid and that's why it never seemed like she would totally lose her jumps. However, she had the fortune of training with Frank Carroll early on. What would help other American junior ladies is the assistance of coaches that insist on good technique like he does. The problem is, a lot of coaches allow their charges to keep whatever technique they are already skating with for fear of rocking the boat or simply because they don't have feel confident that they have the authority to force the student to do things the coach's way.

    (By the way: I apologize for the turn that this thread has taken. A discussion about the problems of current U.S. skaters has turned into a praise session of Michelle Kwan. But we are using her to make a point about how great jump technique, especially when learned early, can make for a stunning career in skating.)
    It was largely my fault that this turned into a "praise session of Michelle." As you point out, I'm doing this to look back at one of the last American skaters who had a complete career, both early and mature, and who was successful at getting on the world podium consistently. Leaving aside her extraordinary talent, what did she have that could be replicated? One factor is the solid training in technique. The other "non-negotiable" is mental strength. Alas, this leaves out one of my favorite skaters, Alissa. I don't know what to make of Mirai right now in terms of mental strength, because as we've pointed out here and elsewhere, she can be in the number 1 position after the short and still end up totally off the podium. I'm reserving judgment since she's just starting to work with Carroll, and she was injured and off the ice this summer. But what about the others American front runners?

    The most consistent is Rachael. But compared to skaters from other countries, she doesn't seem to get any respect out in the world. Here's an interesting question: if Rachael's rivals out in the world were a miraculously revived group of earlier American skaters such as BeBe Liang, Angela Nikodinov, Jennifer Kirk, and so forth, where would she rank? And why? In other words, is Rachael one of our best shots currently because we're in a drought, or is she a top American skater in some absolute sense?

    As for skaters such as Caroline Z., why don't they have coaches who can teach basic skills? She didn't grow up in some skating backwater such as Mississippi, Wyoming, or New Mexico. She grew up in California. How did she end up with such undependable jump skills?

    Is it possible that one other factor in American skating is that skaters hire coaches, so that coaches are seen as somehow subordinate, whereas in Russia and China coaches take students on, so that the coaches are seen as absolute bosses? But if that is so, how did people like Dorothy Hamill, Janet Lynn, Caryn Kadavy, Rosalynn Sumners, and even tough little Elaine Zayak grow up with impeccable jumps? Were they more subservient than girls today?
    Last edited by Olympia; 11-10-2010 at 12:06 AM.

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    American men have solid jump technique, so it is not coaching problem. Even in Japan, only few women use correct jump technique. Even Mao is now suffering from poor technique. I think triple jumps are basically not easy for women to execute. In my (non-American) opinion, there is nothing wrong in US ladies. Just, you don't have the very top lady (like YuNa Kim) after Kwan. Kwan and YuNa Kim are very rare talents. Perhaps, you have to wait a few years more for another Kwan. After YuNa, I don't know how long we have to wait another YuNa in Korea.
    Last edited by cosmos; 11-10-2010 at 01:52 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmos View Post
    American men have solid jump technique, so it is not coaching problem. Even in Japan, only few women use correct jump technique. Even Mao is now suffering from poor technique. I think triple jumps are basically not easy for women to execute. In my (non-American) opinion, there is nothing wrong in US ladies. Just, you don't have the very top lady (like YuNa) after Kwan. Perhaps, you have to wait a few years more.
    I must agree the current Ladies' situation is really lamentable. A skater who can't do the 3loop can be "the very top" or anything. At Torino worlds, only two ladies (Suzuki and Leonova) landed 5 different triples in the FS, and both of them were out of the top 10.

    I think Asada's real problems are overconfidence and obsession to the perfection. She never cares about the judges and audiences. According to a hearsay, Asada's real motive of "fixing jumps" is to break the score of the "very best" someone at the Olympics. Perhaps, you have to wait how her ambitions turn out.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmos View Post
    I think triple jumps are basically not easy for women to execute.
    After YuNa, I don't know how long we have to wait another YuNa in Korea.
    Agreed. In the COP era, FS seems to firmly ask ladies to perform with correct technique more than before. Without good technique and skills, nobody cannot develop true performance ability. Fans always say I like/don't like this/that performance, A is more graceful/beautiful than B... But I think many people are getting more and more familiar with what the correct technique is. The more correct techniques tend to be more beautiful.

    FS is not exactly an artwork but a sports and always is a judged one. People's judgement and COP will never be perfect but judges and the representatives of the sports should make the rule as fair as possible. If they have to somewhat compramise artistry in order to measure skaters' performances in numbers, let them do.

    Seeing ladies' programs this season, it is disappointing that we cannot see very good 3Lz and 3F, fine 3/3s many times. Good quality jumps are needed. Yuna's jumps are good quality and she is not just a fine jumper as you know. A few certain posters repeatedly accuse Yuna of not having 3Lo as if it is a crime or something. I know Lepisto got the highest GOD with this jump at the olys and also has very good succees rate with 3Lo. I think when it's successful, Yuna's 3Lo is technically as good as Laura's. If I am wrong, please correct me.

    US has many more competitive ladies than Korea and most of the world. If one or two American lady excecute really good quality jumps and spins(well, America already has the best spinners), the infulence will be all good for the US and the world. Yamaguchi already showed it.

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