Saturday, February 18, 2017

"So Special Already:" Cain and LeDuc Turn Heads at the U.S. Championships

Well, I guess I haven't been keeping up with my resolution to write more in my blog this year. I've been a busy year, as expected, and though skating has been on my mind, it hasn't quite translated into blog posts. This morning I was watching an episode of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. Sully called Dr. Quinn his "heart song." As lame as this sounds, this is exactly how I feel about figure skating. It is my "heart song." It makes me sad that life pulls me in so any different directions and I try to be so many things to so many people, but at the end of the day, I'm not being who I want to be for myself. I recently had an opportunity to pursue a dream job and I let it slip away. Why? I was being realistic. I have a new job here in Philadelphia that has given me all the things that I thought I wanted--and no doubt need-- but while the opportunity is the best situation I can possibly think of having here, my heart is pulling me elsewhere. I think we all try to be who we think we should be, and do what we think we should do, but are we fighting who we actually are, and what we actually should do?

All I can say is that I'm grateful for my current situation, but I don't think it's the end of the road for me. It's only a stepping stone. What it is a stepping stone to is up to me and that decision has to begin today.

This brings me to talking about Nationals. I didn't write about it at the time, but I still have many lingering thoughts.

First, this is the most excited I've been about the pair event in awhile.

Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay were the first time that stirred me. I didn't see their short program (though I heard they were radiant), and while their freeskate had errors, their joy was evident. Their story is inspiring. Deanna, who had success as a junior skater back in the early 2000s has been away from the ice for 16 years and has now returned to skate with Bartholomay for the sheer love of the sport. Nathan, who I enjoyed watching a few years back with Felicia Zhangis a fine partner to the ebullient Stellato and together they bring something different to U.S. figure skating

Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran. Hmmm, all I can say about them is that they could have been national champions. In theory, they were probably the most capable given their lack of injury and Marissa's success as a 2-time National pairs champ with her former partner, but they blew it, I hate to say. I don' think they had any good reason for their myriad mistakes, other than that their head wasn't in the game. I liked the concept of their program to set Journey songs, but by the end, I was frustrated wit all their errors and left wondering how good the program could have been if they actually skated well. It's not like they are a band new team, so I can't think of why they struggled so much. They have a smooth style and could be good, so I hope they figure out how to get there.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc. Finally. The U.S. pairs team that we've all been waiting for. This team could be "the team." They could be "the ones." I cannot tell you the last time I've felt so excited about a U.S. pair. (Okay, to be fair, I actually felt super excited last season watching Danny O'Shea and Tarah Kayne. They were beautiful and free in their skating last year. Unfortunately, this year, Tarah hit her head on a fall in the short program and got a concussion. It's very exciting then to think about next year when O'Shea and Kayne return along with Cain and LeDuc, another team who skates with freedom and joy).

Can and LeDuc skated to "The Prayer" and exuded a kind of artistry and connection that is rare. Their jump combinations were impressive, their musicality was heartfelt and their side-by-side falling leaves gave me chills. I LOVED this team and the emotion that they brought to the championship. They weren't perfect, but I feel they were under-marked. Even so, what a great first outing at the U.S. Championships and I cannot wait to see them again! As Johnny Weir commented, they are "so special already." I thank you, Cain and LeDuc, for making me feel the kind of emotion that I look forward to at the U.S. Championships.

Haven Denney and Brendan Frazier. Is there anything a Denny sister can't do? Haven is just as tough as her sister, 2-time pairs champion, Caydee, and it was so nice to see her and Fraser return to the national arena. Haven was off the ice for 8 months after a devastating knee injury. I really enjoyed their "Lion King" program from two years ago, and while I wasn't particularly attached to this "Somewhere in Time" program, they still proved just how tough they are. They made mistakes, but overall, they had the strongest program of the night and I'm happy that they won. I'd like to see them get music that they can relate to more--something that displays their athleticism--but I'm confident that their technical ability can make them competitive on the world-stage.

Overall, the pairs event, though not a clean one, had the most interest and intrigue in recent years. I look forward to seeing what these teams can do in the future!

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