So...it's that time of year where the next skating season is fast approaching us, and it is time to take a look at the state of the American ladies and, upon seeing early results, evaluate their chances at US Nationals, and perhaps even a world medal. So- who have we got?
First, we've got Agnes Zawadzki, Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner who have debuted programs at summer comps and/or shows, and have established themselves as perhaps front-runners early on. Let's go through them one by one.
Zawadzki: She's coming off a bittersweet ending to her season, with a superb SP at Nationals followed by a mediocre FS and a disappointing 3rd place, just missing the world team (even though it was a step up from 4th in 2011). Then, she went to Four Continents and at least managed to hold on in the FS, which was a triumph for her considering she was struggling with it all season long. Definitely, a top 10 finish in a relatively strong field is commendable. Fast forward to last week, where she made her 2012-13 competitive debut at the US Skating Challenge in SLC. Simply amazing SP, scoring 65 pts and leading the field which included Miss Gold. Normally, this would be a cause of concern for Zawadzki fans because she simply cannot hold on to an SP lead for long- she lets her nerves take over. Well, not this time. Her FS wasn't perfect, but it wasn't a disaster, either. She held on, skated respectably and earned the win. I think this is a big stepping stone for her- let's see if it will carry over into her GPs, and most importantly, 2013 Nationals. I seriously think she has a shot at the title if she follows this trajectory.
Gold: After breaking out at Junior Nats last season, many people wanted to put her on the world team, perhaps at the expense of Czisny. But, she lacked senior experience and would have been a wildcard or a risk at best. However, she got the opportunity to make her senior debut at the World Team Trophy - on short notice after Czisny declined an invitation by USFS. Even though she didn't have a senior FS ready, she went out and held her own against the best. The big thing I picked up about her was while she had the jumps, she was still young and hadn't really developed the presentation yet...so it was more like skate, jump, jump, skate, jump. I think that is about to change, however. At the US Skating Challenge I saw a different Gold. A slightly more grown up, more mature Gold on the ice. I can tell she is trying to develop the presentation specifically in her SP and I'm curious to see how it progresses over the course of the season. Now, she had mistakes, and was edged out by Zawadzki in the standings, but I don't expect her to be perfect at this point in time. Don't want to peak too soon. I think she will easily be one of the top contenders for the 2013 world team (assuming good health, etc.) Be on the lookout.
Wagner: After what could be well described as a breakout season for Wagner last year, picking up a national title and a 4th place finish at worlds, expectations for her are likely higher than ever before. This season will be a huge test for her, as it will determine how she handles the pressure of being one of the top skaters in the world, and perhaps set her up for the Olympic season. It already seems like she is well-prepared, as she's got a killer SP that further improves upon last year (yes, the chatter you've been hearing on Twitter is true - I saw her debut at the Weiss show and this could be a big one if she performs it to spec). Wagner is typically a freeskater, meaning she shines in the FS, so if she can really bring the SP up to that same level, she will undoubtedly be the top American with a shot at a world medal. I think the biggest challenges for her will be to keep nerves under control, to remain healthy, and to avoid peaking too early.
Then, we've got the others- Alissa Czisny, Caroline Zhang, and Mirai Nagasu.
Czisny: After the disappointment that was 2010, she seemingly reinvented herself and seemed to develop a newfound consistency in her skating that was sorely lacking for nearly a decade. This "new and improved" Czisny, or Czisny 2.0 as some called her, was good enough for GPF and national titles, and a 5th place finish at worlds after two previous finishes outside the top 10. Her mission last season was to try to buck the "roller-coaster" trend that has plagued her career...she seemed to be OK at SA and Nationals, if a bit off her game. But then we all know what happened - she came undone in spectacular fashion at Worlds. She later claimed injury at the time- careful not to make the same mistake Flatt did in 2011- and then went into surgery. I think it's going to take her some time to recover and thus I don't expect her to be a real factor this season. Even if she was at her best, it would still be tough- she will be challenged by Wagner and Zawadzki who will go for 3-3s in the SP. And now you've got Gold in the mix...unfortunately for Czisny, the sport is not going to wait for her to recover.
Zhang: She was the "comeback kid" last season, coming out of almost nowhere to place a surprising 4th last year at US Nationals, and went on to win a medal at 4CCs. But it will not get any easier for her. She will need to be at her absolute best AND rely on mistakes from a few others to have a chance. Perhaps she could have taken advantage of one less contender at the top (Czisny), but then in comes another one to take her place (Gold). Still, after what happened last year I wouldn't count her out for a medal at nationals. I still think making the world team will be a tall order, though (not impossible, however!). BUT - we need to see her in action this season before we know much more about where she stands.
Nagasu: A very disappointing end to her season with a 7th place finish at Nationals, and only 1 GP event this season. She definitely has the talent and skill set to challenge at the very top, but she might need the jumps to fend off the likes of Zawadzki et al. I will need to see her in action before I can say much more. She looked to be in ok shape at Weiss's show earlier in the month, but that was only an exhibition.
That should be wraps for now. What do you guys think? Also, usual disclaimer at the end of post- as the season goes on, opinions/thoughts subject to change (perhaps dramatically).
Also feel free to add thoughts about other American skaters I did not mention above.