On Pacific Coast Sectionals
November 30, 2013 § Leave a comment
Sitting in refrigerator-like conditions for 7 hours will change a man. Primarily, it just makes him wish he brought a pair of gloves, a heavier-duty jacket, and a blanket to make the cold a little more tolerable.
Anyway, I caught the last 7 hours of the 2014 Pacific Coast Sectionals at Oakland Ice, where the top 4 placing skaters in each event secure trips to Boston for the 2014 US Figure Skating Championships. The junior and senior pairs, the junior and senior men, and the junior and senior ladies finish up their chance to show why they should move on. Here are the results page for the 2014 Pacific Coast Sectionals.
Depending on how many competitors are in the event, there can be up to four to five skaters on the ice for 5 minute warm-ups at a time. The first couple of things I notice from these higher-level skaters during their group warm-ups are their ice awareness and self-confidence.
Each of these skaters who have made it this far in the qualifying stages have been skating for a very long time. They don’t need to rely on their sight to know where their arms and legs are. Instead, these athletes rely on muscle memory and the feel of how they’ve practiced their jumps, spins and footwork to successfully complete their routines.
It isn’t as if the skaters are ignoring what they see completely. They just won’t keep their gaze affixed on the ice beneath them. Nope, nothing interesting down there. Instead, they will set their eyes on where they will skate next to anticipate where other competitors are going.
Speaking of where competitors are going, these skaters are fearless. They will each practice their portions of their routine, coming within a yard of each other at certain areas of the ice. These close encounters would freak out a new skater who isn’t used to such a welcoming.
These junior and senior skaters will give physical body cues that tell other skaters when a jump or spin will occur. Competitors will defer space to those jumping and spinning before navigating around them and getting ready for jumps/spins of their own. They have great spatial awareness, honed by practicing on crowded sessions at home, that allow everyone to avoid collisions and injuries altogether.
If the same skaters you see during warm-ups are feeling the nerves and the gravity of the stakes at hand, you can’t immediately tell.
At this level of skating where everyone has the same jumps, it comes down to the mental side of things to determine who lands those jumps flawlessly. When triples are necessary to get the highest possible scores, now isn’t the time to waver over whether or not you can land the jump.
“Regardless of whether everything is perfect before the jump takeoff, I will land this f___ing jump” dominates the mental thoughts. It’s what ensures that the muscle memory repeats every little detail that the skater practiced in the training sessions. The crowd cheers on successfully landed jumps, whether the skaters landed perfectly or salvaged things from going wrong. They groan when skaters just miss making all 1080 degrees of rotation.
In 7th place after the short program with 45.43 points due to a fall on a triple flip, Laney Diggs was within striking distance of making top 4 in the standings. In a ladies long program marred by falls and aborted jumps, Diggs stood tall.
Skating 5th out of 14 skaters, Diggs dug deep and produced a beautiful performance, relying on a cleaner skate than populating her performance full of triples. She successfully lands the triple flip this time, mixing in two more triple salchows (one not rotated all the way) and two double axel-double toe loop combinations.
A sixth trip to the national championships, this time in Boston sadly wasn’t meant to be. Vanessa Lam, Rachael Flatt, Leah Keiser and Caroline Zhang maintained their leads over Diggs in the short program, leaving her in 5th place and first-alternate in case anything should prevent Lam, Flatt, Keiser or Zhang from competing at Nationals.
Should she decide not to compete with UC Berkeley’s intercollegiate team this year and not continue with skating after this year, it’s a bittersweet ending to the season and career for Laney Diggs. Sure, it would have been great to see her get to Boston but if you have watched her skate as a teammate or a fan, her performances have been a treat to watch. I wish nothing but the best for her heading into her final year of college.