With the major exception of Canada, most of the powerhouse skating countries have concluded their national championships. I think now is a good time then to discuss what each skater/team needs to do before the continental and world championships. I'll start with the US team because US Nationals just concluded.
From the start, Belbin and Agosto seemed the best prepared elite team or skater the US has to offer. Their free dance to Shadritsa - Gypsy Dance has a more mature and sophisticated feel than their previous two attempts, and they have continually improved on the program's difficulty and flow throughout the year. They are in excellent shape to win 4CC again and possibly a medal at Worlds if their success in the Grand Prix is a harbinger. More polish and refinement in their positions and transitions would be nice, but you don't acheive that of Navka and Kostomarov in two months.
On the other hand, Gregory and Petukhov appeared strangely ill at ease at nationals, with a rather large number of mistakes and somewhat slow and not as inspired skates, as their free dance Friday to Pink Floyd shows.. Someone more in teknik might be able to offer more concrete suggestions, but they must skate with more conviction at worlds to be a top 10 team.
Johnny Weir has a solid foundation in his preparation for 4CC (if he's going) and worlds, with superb spins and nice, solid jumps with good entrances. While I appreciate his style of skating, I wish he will look more inspired than he did on Saturday; the way he skated the already weighty Otonal with a look of mild ennui will do no more than make a nice counterpoint to Plushenko's bravado. Weir will probably be win 5 points of Plushenko after the short program at worlds, but the key for Johnny is adding that elusive quad into the picture. Top 5 is almost a guarantee, but the rest will depend on the state of Goebel and the European men's quads.
Timothy Goebel has improved artistically over the past year. However, he still remains a skater more like Chengjiang Li who depends on solid jumps and especially quads to win the day. Therein lies Tim's trouble. The choreography does have interesting moments, but Goebel's chances rest on getting his quad-triple and triple axel-triple combos back up to snuff. Then again, who other than Plushenko and Li has solid, dependable quads right now?
Evan Lysacek has also improved since last year. His long program to Singing in the Rain is likeable if he is on with jumps (youthful charisma does go a certain way). The big question is will his hip hold on; if he remains uninjured, he may be close to cracking the top 10.
Michelle Kwan.The doomsday predictions for Michelle Kwan have hit a feverish pitch: Bolero doesn't and can't work and Kwan will be buried under CoP. The truth is that while her long program didn't particularly sing on Saturday, it was still a solid performance and is repairable for worlds. The truth also is that her component scores will likely be high. This is not to say that Michelle can just relax; she needs work and she knows it. Spartacus is great but needs some tweaking in the spins and pre-jump footwork to compete with Slutskaya's powerhouse Shostakovitch SP. Bolero demands surrender into the music withmore transitions. I do not think she needs to go to 4CC provided that her team takes the demands of CoP seriously. Before Worlds she needs to:High flying, adored! What happens now? Where do you go from here? For someone on top of the world/ the view's not exactly clear...
-from "High Flying, Adored" from the musical Evita (inspired by the ice dancers)
* add a 3-3, a 3-2-2, and a 3loop to the LP and skate cleanly
* raise her SP spins to level 2 and at least 2 LP spins to level 2 and preferably have 1 at level 3.
* have more complicated footwork into about a third of the jumps for the LP and preferably before all 3 in the SP
* have a couple more MITF and transitions
Again, a lot of work, and some was taken out at Nationals compared to worlds, which seems like an odd strategy. We'll see.
Sasha Cohen faces yet another year of trying to prove to herself and her critics that she can deliver when the pressure's on, especially after another coaching change and a few mistakes at nationals. I don't think that her programs this year are as good as previous years. However, Sasha's spins are glorious, and her Nutcracker LP is quite good from the spiral sequence onwards. What she needs to do depends on her goals for the year; it may be good enough to skate cleanly and see what happens. If she wants to be on the podium again, see the list for Michelle
Jennifer Kirk's problem remains that nothing sets her apart from the others. Michelle jumps better, Sasha spins better, and both sell their programs more with better choreography. The fact that her long program to Beatles Concerto sounds more like muzak does not help her cause. The key to her success would be to get back the 3toe-3toe and actually land her jumps.
Orscher and Lucash-What a personal victory for them, finally standing on top of the podium after 2 years of second best and completing the throw triple twist. The key for them is to take advantage of the momentum from Portland and apply it to 4CC and Worlds. They also need help with projecting some charisma and more security during the lifts from Garrett.
Inoue and Baldwin-They have the opposite problem; while they are able to project a mood better, technically they have been inconsistent all year. In particular, John needs to stop doubling lutzes, and they need more security on their lifts. Both teams will be good enough to get 2 spots for next year's Olympics and Worlds, and I predict one will be (barely) in the top 10.