This is the first part of a 4-part series where I'll look back at the top 12 ladies from U.S. Nationals (I don't really have anything to say about the other 8), 3 at a time. A lot happened, including many controversial scores and placements, so I'm going to voice my personal opinions about everything here, and if you don't agree, that's fine, but let me know your opinions!
Ok. So many thoughts are going through my head about what happened here. Now, I fully expected Ashley to win this, which she did, but I didn't think it was going to happen with two falls and a bunch of tight jumps and spins. When Ashley fell on the Lutz, I had the same reaction as when Mckayla fell on her 2nd vault at the Olympic vault final - I gasped, my hand flew to my mouth, and my brain tried to process what had just happened. I'm not a particularly big fan of Ashley's programs; I think her LP dress is ugly, and I don't really like her choreography. I also don't like how she tells us about her programs, her character in it, and the story in every single interview. Like, if she needs to remind us every time, perhaps she should choose a less vague and abstract theme.
I've also been debating whether Ashley or Gracie actually deserved this title, and I think the answer is no. Yes, Ashley had a great SP and Gracie had a great LP, but both of them had two MAJOR mistakes in one of their programs, and there were several skaters ranked lower who put together two great programs and were marked lower because they didn't have as big of a "name." The USFSA wants their big names skaters to be on the World team, so that their scores get a boost, but there were many people (who I'll talk about later) who frankly, put two much better programs together, and were significantly underscored.
This is just dull. I applaud the effort to improve her performance ability by choosing a tango and doing fun choreography, but she just has this focused expression on her face the whole time instead of playing with facial expressions (like Sasha Cohen did), which takes away all of the fun and doesn't engage the audience. For instance, at around :20, when she glides forward and then kicks her leg up, there's no emotion in it; it just looks like another day at practice, doing another repetition. It's a fun piece of music, and she needs to have fun with it.
I love the music, especially the ending music, I think it's very pretty, but the skating/performance just doesn't match/connect with the music. She has a pretty body line on the ice, but the whole thing is just.....stiff. As the fabulous commentators from EuroSport said, "her arms...never go below the waist. There's never...a low movement...there's this presenting 'up" all the time." Her whole body is just so stiff, her arms are nicely extended, but they stay stiffly extended, and just wave around as her upper body moves. Her transitions are also extremely weak - she doesn't move seamlessly from each element to another. After each jump, there's awkward stroking to get back into the program. The jumps are gorgeous, especially the triple lutz-triple toe, but that's only part of the program. She also needs to work on some of her spin positions. At this level and at her age, there's really no excuse for not doing either a y-spin or an i-spin. Like Sandra Bezic said, all the ingredients are there, but she needs to refine her skating and continue working on her performance skills. Sending her to Marina Zueva was a genius move on her coach's part, and I can see the improvement from the fall to Nationals, but it still seriously needs more work. While she'll never be a Sasha Cohen, there's a decent amount of artistic potential that can easily be developed with the right choreographer.
Finally, I don't know where this label of Gracie being the most consistent American has come from. Out of ALL of her competitions from this season and last season, she has not put two clean programs together in one competition. At JGP Estonia, she singled the loop in her long. At Jr Nationals, she fell on her Axel. At Jr Worlds, she doubled the loop. At the World Team Trophy, it was mistakes galore, including a Waxel. At Skate Canada, it was mistakes galore again in both programs. At Rostelecom Cup, there were several problems in her LP, including an issue on the loop, which is clearly her nemesis jump. At Nationals, she fell on her combo and singled the axel in her SP. At 4CC, there were again multiple issues in both her SP and her LP. As The Skating Lesson pointed out, she's treading dangerously close to the headcase label, and that's a hard label to shake off.
If she falters at Worlds, I would most likely begin to label her as a headcase, because similar to Alissa Czisny, she seems to struggle when expectation and pressure are put on her.
Agnes has really come a long way in the last year. This re-choreographed Rhapsody in Blue program is a big improvement, and she's really grown in terms of her artistry and maturity. I also love the new dress - the dark, cobalt blue is very pretty. Her jumps, although they have always been fabulous, look even better this season. The triple Lutz and triple toe-triple toe were great, as always, and I think the double flip may have just been a mental slip. The second triple Lutz looked just a bit off in the air, which I think caused the fall. Still, her jumps looked higher, tighter, and cleaner here at Nationals. She did a good job here, and in a night where everyone was also great, she should be very proud of that bronze medal. Seriously, though, that triple Lutz is a thing of beauty - she picks, and then just launches herself into the air. It's tight, clean, and there's never any doubt about whether it's fully rotated. I'm curious to see what she brings in terms of consistency and programs next year, and whether she can nab herself an Olympic berth. She's really improved over the last few seasons, and I'm excited to see her grow and improve more.
4th, 5th, and 6th places (Hicks, Gao, and Siraj) are next! Stay tuned!