Part Three: Revenge of the ice

Ups, downs, highs, lows…  just a part of life. And definitely a part of figure skating.

Thursday — Day 2 of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose — had plenty of both. The lows were mostly in the Pairs Short program. There were several clean(ish) programs. But, for me, the competish had few decidedly WOW-worthy moments. Not really. The final rankings, deservedly, were Alexa  ScimecaKnierim and husband Chris Knierim (2015 gold medalists) in first; Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea (2016 Gold medalists) in second and  Deanna StellatoDudek and Nathan Bartholomay rounding out the top three. Left behind were Team Texas’ Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc who finished a disappointing 8th. Having had great success and winning Bronze at 2017 Nationals after being a team for less than eight months, this set-back stings. I talked with LeDuc after the SP during the draw for start orders for the free program (they will skate 10th out of 15 — not a bad draw). He wasn’t happy. Cain wasn’t happy. Their coaches (and Cain’s parents), Darlene and Peter Cain, weren’t happy. Ashley Cain had a slight touchdown on the throw-triple-flip and LeDuc took a rare and costly fall on the side-by-side triple loops. It was a bitter pill to swallow; he’s been competing since 2008 and has never once fallen at Nationals. But folks, it’s ice… anything can happen. Disappointed, but taking it in stride, LeDuc, an optimistic realist, assured me: “Careers have peaks and valleys — today was a valley; we’ll get back to the peaks.” Cain and LeDuc’s chance comes Saturday afternoon with the Long Program. They have sparks in their eyes and fire in their hearts.  They’ll be back to battle.

On the opposite end of the spectrum were the magnificent highs provided by the Men’s Short Program in which the 21 competitors seemed to seize on each others  momentum and skate clean, exciting programs back to back. Coaches Peter and Darlene Cain were breathing a bit easier as Team Texas men Jimmy Ma, Alexsei  Krasnozhan and Timothy Dolensky, each turned in solid performances and placed 11, 8th and 7th respectively. 

When the final spin was finished and the final jump completed the astounding Nathan Chen (the only undefeated man in the world this year and a contender for Olympic gold), along with beloved crowd favorite Jason Brown, had brought the folks at the SAP Center to their sensibly shoe’d feet… and placed 1st and 3rd. It was thrilling. 

Okay. Here’s the deal: Yes, there’s shade and snark in skating, but it’s just a known quantity that the highest highs in any competition come when each competitor skates their best and leaves everything on the ice. Yesterday was such a competition. The skaters were ablaze and so was the crowd in the arena. Yep — a total win/win.

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned the subject of yesterday’s column, Adam Rippon. Well let’s just say the San Jose SAP Center is still smoldering and Rippon lit the fuse (see Robin Ritoss’ pic above for proof). From a broken foot a year ago to a phoenix rising last night, the ashes are real and from the heart.

With Rippon, Brown and Chen skating last in Saturday night’s final (airing live on NBC), expect the barn to burn, the arson squad to be called and an APB alert to be put out on Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. Call 911.

— Coy Covington