Some belated thoughts on the 2013 U.S. Nationals. I've had a few days to soak in what happened last weekend, some of which were quite shocking. I've taken a look at the finish in the ladies' competition between Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold, let's take a look at the other big stories of the event.
Building a reputation
Newly-crowned U.S. men's champion Max Aaron has a lot going for him (yes, I'm stating the obvious). What sets him apart from the current crop of top American men is one word, said three times - quad. He's the only guy we've got right now who is capable of consistently putting down a quad in the short and a least one, if not two, in the free.
And that's what got him to the title last week. He outjumped the competition and outscored them by a mile in the technical department. He can't however, do that internationally. The very top right now in the world are doing just as many quads, if not more. The usual suspects - Takahashi, Hanyu, Chan - they all do one in the short and two in the free. Fernandez does one in the short and three in the free, which cemented him as a legitimate contender for the World title. And what these four have that Aaron don't is the components mark, which will leave him in the dust.
The big thing for Aaron right now is reputation. He may not be able to find his inner artist in a couple of months, but he can sure do himself a lot of favors with a strong showing at Four Continents to keep his components mark in play. What he can't afford to do is dig himself into a hole with the international panel. A top ten finish at Worlds is very possible for Aaron, but first, he needs to not get buried in the component mark.
Gold needs to be Wagnerian
In a lot of ways, the same goes for the ladies' silver medalist. Gracie Gold has skated clean short programs and strong free skates this season, but she has yet to do both in one competition. She's still new on the scene, and the international panel has been fairly good to her so far. But her inconsistency earlier on this season didn't help her component mark.
If you remember this time last year, Wagner, then the newly-crowned U.S. champ, went into Four Continents with an inconsistent record internationally, which had translated into mediocre component scores. But once she hit that triple flip-triple toe in the short, her components got a boost. She beat Mao Asada at that event and her reputation internationally skyrocketed. A few more strong competitions under her belt after that and she hasn't batted an eye at components since.
Gold needs to be Wagnerian in that aspect. Her performance at Four Continents will set a base expectation in the eyes of the international judges for her debut at Worlds.
As we saw at Rostelecom Cup, she can net a 60+ short program internationally if she skates cleanly. With her technical prowess, she can realistically hit mid- to high-120s in her free skate internationally. Say what you will about her choreography and maturity - if she hits, she has a legitimate shot at top five at Worlds. But again, let's get past Four Continents first.
Abbott - almost
It was true, Jeremy Abbott didn't need to land a quad to win, but he did need to hit eight triples for gold (or seven for silver). After Aaron put down that superb free skate, Abbott had to find some way to crank out those triples. And it was going just fine. Triple check, check. Triple axel, check. Triple axel, check. Triple flip, check. Triple lutz-triple toe, check. But then, two of the easiest jumps in his program left him.
You just couldn't stop holding your breath during that free skate. I hate to say that I even alluded to the possibility of him doubling his loop and salchow during my predictions post, because it has happened before.
Abbott lost to Aaron by 5.67 and to Ross Miner by 1.96. The double loop cost him 3.63 in base value and the double salchow cost him 3.19. That's all she wrote.
Unheralded but spectacular
The seventh-place finisher was a skater who didn't even make it to the NBC telecast. Alexander Johnson skated one of the best programs of the day and pulled himself up from 12th to seventh overall. It was a spectacular program choreographically, cleanly skated with seven triples. Enjoy.