Winter preview: Figure skating

Ashley Wagner (Photo: U.S. Figure Skating)

Figure skating has one of the more interesting competition series, spreading out its best competitors over the course of a season and building toward a couple of big events with the big names. So the big names are frequently active (unlike swimming or gymnastics) but they’re not facing each other every week (unlike skiing World Cup circuits).

It seems that the big names aren’t as American as they used to be. The U.S. men are indeed overdue at the World Championships — they haven’t medaled in the past three, tying the longest drought since the 70s — but Evan Lysacek is the reigning Olympic champion. The women’s results are more shocking — when Kimmie Meissner and Sasha Cohen placed first and third at the 2006 World Championships, who could’ve imagined they’d be the last U.S. medalists of the decade? In 2010, the U.S. women were kept off the Olympic podium for the first time since 1964.

And yet the USA has somehow become a juggernaut in ice dancing, with Meryl Davis and Charlie White picking up the torch from Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto. The USA’s “A” team, which gets full funding, has one man, one woman, one pair and three ice dancing duos.


– Comebacks: Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, the ever-entertaining Johnny Weir. Between them and consistent Jeremy Abbott, can the U.S. men make some noise this year?

– The great North American ice dancing rivalry: Meryl Davis and Charlie White (USA) vs. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (Canada).

– Will China return to pairs podium? A decade of dominance ended suddenly at the 2012 Worlds.

– Some consistency from U.S. women? They’ve been through a cycle in which someone steps up, then fades. Then sometimes re-emerges. Meissner was only 16 when she won the 2006 world title. Mirai Nagasu was just 14 when she won the 2008 U.S. title, but she hasn’t won it since. Nagasu was fourth in the 2010 Games, with Rachael Flatt seventh.

The USA continues to have a steady parade of World Junior medalists, including sweeps in 2007 (Caroline Zhang, Nagasu, Ashley Wagner) and 2008 (Flatt, Zhang, Nagasu). Zhang and Wagner medaled again in 2009. Then Agnes Zawadzki took over for 2010 silver and 2011 bronze, followed by Gracie Gold in 2012.

A couple of other events have been kinder. The Four Continents Championship doesn’t have the strongest field, but the USA has managed several top-five finishes in the past five years, with Wagner winning last year. Alissa Czisny won the 2010 Grand Prix Final for the first U.S. podium in that event since 2003, and she was the only U.S. finalist last year.


Grand Prix
Oct. 19-21, Skate America, Kent/Seattle, Wash.
Oct. 26-28, Skate Canada, Windsor, Ontario
Nov. 2-4, Cup of China, Shanghai
Nov. 9-11,  Rostelecom Cup, Moscow
Nov. 16-18, Trophee Eric Bompard, Paris
Nov. 23-25, NHK Trophy, Miyagi, Japan

Dec. 6-9, Grand Prix Final, Sochi, Russia

U.S. Championships
Jan. 20-27, Omaha

World Championships
March 10-17, London, Ontario


For Grand Prix Final: A couple of skaters enter three of the six Grand Prix events, but most will enter two. Points are given for first, second, third, fourth, etc., and the skater’s top two performances are added up. Top six in each discipline make the final. The ISU makes this relatively easy to follow on its site.

For World Championships: The USA can send two men, two women (er, ladies, in figure skating terminology), two pairs and three ice dancing duos. U.S. Championship winners get automatic bids. The rest are selected by committee, based on recent performances in big events.

How to watch

Order a season pass at before Oct. 22, and you can get a discounted rate of $19.95 (down from $39.95). That’ll give you the Grand Prix events, U.S. championships and several other events — some live, some not, all on demand.

NBC also will have a lot of delayed coverage, including all the Grand Prix events, and the network will go live during the U.S. championships. If you’re lucky enough to get NBC affiliate Universal Sports, you’ll have more options to catch re-broadcasts. The folks at were kind enough to compile their schedule.

We don’t yet have broadcasting info for the World Championships.

We can only hope the broadcasts include this:

Names to know

Figure skating is one of the few sports to hold a World Championship the same year as the Olympics, sometimes diluting the talent pool at Worlds and letting some surprising names take world titles.


– Yu-Na Kim (South Korea): Olympic champion. Coming into 2012-13 season, had posted the three best scores of all time (or at least since the current scoring system went into effect): 228.56 in 2010 Olympics, 210.03 at 2009 Trophee Bompard, 207.71 at 2009 Worlds). For sake of comparison, Sasha Cohen holds the U.S. record at 197.60 in 2003. She has spent a good bit of time in North America, working for years with Canadian Brian Orser before splitting with him awkwardly. Went on hiatus but is coming back for another run. She’s still skipping the Grand Prix season.

– Mao Asada (Japan): Olympic silver medalist, two-time world champion (2008, 2010). Struggled last season after the death of her mother. Two Grand Prix events: Cup of China, NHK Trophy

– Joannie Rochette (Canada): Olympic bronze medalist in an unforgettable story, competing in her home country just a couple of days after her mother’s death. Hasn’t decided whether to return to competition.

– Carolina Kostner (Italy): World champion after years as a perennial contender. Also won 2011 Grand Prix Final after finishing elsewhere on podium for years. After all that, she plans to skip the 2012 Grand Prix season. Also had controversy in offseason when her boyfriend, former Olympic walking champion Alex Schwazer, tested positive for EPO at the Olympics.

– Ashley Wagner (USA): The only woman on the U.S. A team. 2012 U.S. champion (previous high was 3rd in 2008 and 2010). 2012 Four Continents champion. Qualified for 2009 Grand Prix Final, finished 4th. Like Alissa Czisny, she spins clockwise, a relative rarity in figure skating. Two Grand Prix events: Skate America, Trophee Bompard

– Mirai Nagasu (USA): 4th in 2010 Olympics. 7th in 2010 World Championships. U.S. Championships, 2008-2012: 1st, 5th, 2nd, 3rd, 7th. Switched coaches and training bases, moving away from Frank Carroll, to cut down on commute and get a change of scenery. One Grand Prix event: Cup of China

– Alissa Czisny (USA): 2010 Grand Prix Final champion, the last significant win by a U.S. skater. 2009 and 2011 U.S. champion (2nd in 2012, 10th in 2010). 5th in 2011 World Championships. Hindered by calf and hip injuries in the past year. One Grand Prix event: NHK Trophy

– Caroline Zhang (USA): 2007 world junior champion, then 2nd the next two years. U.S. Championships, 2008-2012: 4th, 3rd, 11th, 12th, 4th. Four Continents: 4th in 2009, 3rd in 2010 and 2012. Has a signature move called a pearl spinTwo Grand Prix events: Skate Canada, Rostelecom Cup 

– Agnes Zawadzki (USA): 2nd in 2010 World Junior Championships, 3rd in 2011. U.S. Championships, 2011-2012: 4th, 3rd. Two Grand Prix events: Rostelecom Cup, NHK Trophy

– Gracie Gold (USA): 2nd in 2012 World Junior Championships. Two Grand Prix events: Skate Canada, Rostelecom Cup

– Christina Gao (USA): 5th in three straight U.S. Championships. Harvard Class of 2016. Two Grand Prix events: Skate America, Trophee Bompard

– Rachael Flatt (USA): 2010 U.S. champion and Olympian (placed 7th). Successful in other U.S. Championships: 2nd in 2008/09/11, yet only on USA’s C-team. Has had some injury problems and was reprimanded and fined for not disclosing injury before 2011 World Championships. 6th in 2012 U.S. championships. Qualified for 2010 Grand Prix Final, finished 6th. Stanford studentOne Grand Prix event: Skate America

  • 2006 Olympics: Shizuka Arakawa (Japan), Sasha Cohen (USA), Irina Slutskaya (Russia)
  • 2006 Worlds: Kimmie Meissner (USA), Fumie Suguri (Japan), Cohen
  • 2007: Miki Ando (Japan), Mao Asada (Japan), Yu-Na Kim (South Korea)
  • 2008: Asada, Carolina Kostner (Italy), Kim
  • 2009: Kim, Joannie Rochette (Canada), Ando
  • 2010 Olympics: Kim, Asada, Rochette
  • 2010 Worlds: Asada, Kim, Laura Lepisto (Finland)
  • 2011: Ando, Kim, Kostner
  • 2012: Kostner, Alena Leonova (Russia), Akiko Suzuki (Japan)


– Patrick Chan (Canada): 2011 and 2012 world champion after two years as runner-up. Also two-time defending Grand Prix Final winner. Chinese-Canadian (born in Canada; parents from Hong Kong). Finished 5th in Vancouver. Has posted six of the best scores ever, including the record of 280.98 at the 2011 Worlds.

– Daisuke Takahashi (Japan): 2010 world champion and 2012 runner-up. Also second in Grand Prix Final last year. Three of the top 10 scores of all time.

– Evan Lysacek (USA): Olympic champion – the first U.S. skater to win Olympic gold since Brian Boitano in 1988. Hasn’t skated competitively since then. But he’s back. Also 2009 world champion, 2009 Grand Prix Final winner, 2007 and 2008 U.S. champion (medaled each year from 2005-2010). 4th in 2006 Olympics. Had been entered in Skate America but had to withdraw and might return in a smaller competition.

– Jeremy Abbott (USA): 9th in 2010 Olympics. U.S. champion in 2009, 2010 and 2012 (4th in 2007, 2008, 2011). 5th in 2010 World Championships (8th in 2012). Won 2008 Grand Prix Final. The only U.S. man on the A team, which means he gets full funding. Two Grand Prix events: Skate America, Trophee Bompard

– Johnny Weir (USA): Like Lysacek, making a comeback after a couple of seasons off that included a judging stint on Skating with the Stars. Two-time Olympian (5th in 2006, 6th in 2010). 3rd in 2008 World Championships. Three-time U.S. champion (2004-2006). Two Grand Prix events: Rostelecom Cup, Trophee Bompard

– Adam Rippon (USA): 2008 and 2009 world junior champion, 2010 Four Continents champion, 6th in 2010 Olympics. Best U.S. finish: 2nd in 2012. He can do the Rippon Lutz (watch his arms) and a donut spin. Two Grand Prix events: Cup of China, NHK Trophy

– Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan): 2012 bronze medalist. Did an exhibition skate to a remix of The Doors’ Hello I Love You. Two Grand Prix events: Skate America, NHK Trophy

– Brian Joubert (France): 2007 world champion and frequent world championship medalist, finishing in the top six each year from 2003 onward. Two Grand Prix events: Cup of China, Trophee Bompard

– Takahiko Kozuka (Japan): 2011 runner-up. Two Grand Prix events: Skate America, Rostelecom Cup

– Ross Miner (USA): 3rd in 2011 and 2012 U.S. Championships. 3rd in 2012 Four Continents. Two Grand Prix events: Skate Canada, NHK Trophy

– Richard Dornbush (USA): Big year in 2011: 2nd in U.S. Championships, 9th in Worlds. Two Grand Prix events: Rostelecom Cup, NHK Trophy

– Douglas Razzano (USA): A few years removed from juniors but made Grand Prix debut at last year’s Skate America. Best U.S. Championship: 5th in 2012. One Grand Prix event: Skate America

Breaking it down by year:

  • 2007: Joubert, Takahashi, Stephane Lambiel (Switzerland)
  • 2008: Jeffrey Buttle (Canada), Joubert, Weir
  • 2009: Lysacek, Chan, Joubert
  • 2010 Olympics: Lysacek, Evgeni Plushenko (Russia), Takahashi
  • 2010 Worlds: Takahashi, Chan, Joubert
  • 2011: Chan, Kozuka, Gachinski
  • 2012: Chan, Takahashi, Hanyu


– Aliana Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy (Germany): World champion in 2012, 2011, 2009 and 2008. World runners-up and Olympic bronze medalists in 2010. Stuck with coach Ingo Steuer while he was under scrutiny for past links to the Stasi. Savchenko formerly competed for Ukraine. Two Grand Prix events: Skate Canada, Trophee Bompard

– Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov (Russia): Two-time world runners-up after pairing up in 2010. Until then, Volosozhar competed for Ukraine. Two Grand Prix events: Skate America, Rostelecom Cup

– Caydee Denney/John Coughlin (USA): The only pair on the U.S. A team, returning for second season together. In first season, won U.S. Championships and placed 8th at Worlds. Denney skated at 2010 Olympics (13th) and won 2010 U.S. title with Jeremy Barrett. Coughlin won 2011 U.S. title and skated at 2011 Worlds (6th) with Caitlin Yankowskas.  Two Grand Prix events: Skate America, Rostelecom Cup

– Lindsay Davis/Mark Ladwig (USA): New pair, with 20-year-old Davis joining 32-year-old Ladwig. With Amanda Evora, Ladwig was a three-time U.S. medalist and 2010 Olympian (10th). Two Grand Prix events: Skate Canada, NHK Trophy

– Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir (USA): 5th in last two U.S. Championships; 3rd in 2009 World Juniors. Short program includes Stray Cat Strut, apparently the Brian Setzer Orchestra version. Two Grand Prix events: Skate America, NHK Trophy

– Tiffany Vise/Don Baldwin (USA): U.S. Championships since 2010: 8th, 6th, 9th. Also 6th at 2011 Skate America. A “mirror pair,” inclined to spin in opposite directionsTwo Grand Prix events: Skate Canada, Rostelecom Cup

– Caitlin Yankowskas/Joshua Reagan (USA): New pair. Yankowskas won 2011 U.S. title and skated at 2011 Worlds (6th) with John Coughlin. Reagan took a long break from skating after suffering an eye injuryTwo Grand Prix events: Cup of China, NHK Trophy

– Gretchen Donlan/Andrew Speroff (USA): Young pair; 4th in 2012 U.S. Championships. One Grand Prix event: Skate America

  • 2006 Olympics: Tatiana Totmianina/Maxim Marinin (Russia), Zhang Dan/Zhang Hao (China), Shen Xue/Zhao Hongbo (China)
  • 2006 Worlds: Pang Qing/Tang Jian (China), Zhang/Zhang, Maria Petrova/Alexei Tikhonov (Russia)
  • 2007: Shen/Zhao, Zhang/Zhang, Aliana Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy (Germany)
  • 2008: Savchenko/Szolkowy, Zhang/Zhang, Jessica Dube/Bryce Davison (Canada)
  • 2009: Savchenko/Szolkowy, Zhang/Zhang, Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov (Russia)
  • 2010 Olympics: Shen/Zhao, Pang/Tang, Savchenko/Szolkowy
  • 2010 Worlds: Pang/Tang, Savchenko/Szolkowy, Kavaguti/Smirnov
  • 2011: Savchenko/Szolkowy, Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov (Russia), Pang/Tang
  • 2012: Savchenko/Szolkowy, Volosozhar/Trankov, Narumi Takahashi/Mervin Tran (Japan)


– Meryl Davis/Charlie White (USA): Olympic silver medalist. 2011 World champions. 2010-12 Grand Prix Final champions; unbeaten in last two Grand Prix seasons. 2009-12 U.S. champions (4 times). Posted top three scores of all time and six of top 10. Two Grand Prix events: Skate America, NHK Trophy

– Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (Canada): Olympic and world champion, reclaiming the title from Davis/White last year. Posted four of the top 10 scores of all time. Two Grand Prix events: Skate Canada, Rostelecom Cup

– Madison Hubbell/Zach Donahue (USA): A-team. Second season together. Last year: 3rd in U.S. Championships, 10th in Worlds, 5th in Four Continents, 6th in Skate America. Two Grand Prix events: Skate Canada, Trophee Bompard

– Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA): A-team. Sister/brother duo was 2nd in 2009 World Juniors, 4th in 2010 World Juniors, then 3rdd at senior-level 2011 Worlds. Dropped to 8th in 2012. Also two-time U.S. runner-up (2011-12). Won 2011 NHK Trophy. Two Grand Prix events: Rostelecom Cup, NHK Trophy

– Anastasia Cannuscio/Colin McManus (USA): 7th in 2011 World Juniors; 6th in 2012 U.S. Championships. One Grand Prix event: Skate America

– Lynn Kreingkrairut/Logan Giuletti-Schmitt (USA): 4th in 2012 U.S. Championships; best finish to date. Competed in three Grand Prix events, finishing 6th in 2010 Skate America and 2011 NHK Trophy. One Grand Prix event: Skate America

– Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA): Second season together. Last year: 5th in U.S. Championships, 5th in Trophee Bompard, 4th in Skate Canada. Bates skated in 2010 Olympics (11th) with Emily Samuelson. One Grand Prix event: Cup of China


  • 2006 Olympics: Tatiana Navka/Roman Kostomarov (Russia), Tanith Belbin/Ben Agosto (USA), Elena Grushina/Ruslan Goncharov (Ukraine)
  • 2006 Worlds: Albena Denkova/Maxim Staviski (Bulgaria), Marie-France Dubreuil/Patrice Lauzon (Canada), Belbin/Agosto
  • 2007: Denkova/Staviski, Dubreuil/Lauzon, Belbin/Agosto
  • 2008: Isabelle Delobel/Olivier Schoenfelder (France), Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (Canada), Jana Khokhlova/Sergei Novitski (Russia)
  • 2009: Oksana Domnina/Maxim Shabalin (Russia), Belbin/Agosto, Virtue/Moir
  • 2010 Olympics: Virtue/Moir, Meryl Davis/Charlie White (USA), Domnina/Shabalin
  • 2010 Worlds: Virtue/Moir, Davis/White, Federica Faiella/Massimo Scali (Italy)
  • 2011: Davis/White, Virtue/Moir, Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA)
  • 2012: Virtue/Moir, Davis/White, Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat (France)


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Beau Dure

The guy who wrote a bunch of soccer books and now runs a Gen X-themed podcast while substitute teaching and continuing to write freelance stuff.

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