At the end of the women's short program Thursday at the World Figure Skating Championships in Nice, France, an old quote attributed to the Dutch Renaissance philosopher Erasmus kept popping into my head.
How else to explain Russia's Alena Leonova being in first place than this:
"In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."
But even in this (b)land of mediocrity, the two U.S. women couldn't see their way even to the level of worthy vassals.
So it looks like another year without three women's places at the world meet.
Serfs up again.
The best thing one can say about the U.S. performances is reigning national champion Ashley Wagner didn't fall apart after botching her opening jump. She finished eighth, still within reach of a medal -- even if that seems unlikely.
There is simply nothing good to say about two-time U.S. champion Alissa Czisny after she fell on her first two jumps and wound up 16th.
I'm going to blame U.S. Figure Skating for messing with Czisny's always fragile psyche by irrationally denying her request to skate in February's Four Continents Championships at Colorado Springs and sending her on an odyssey that gave her two round-trips to Europe in the past three weeks. That was my story earlier this month, and I'm sticking to it.
(Yes, I know Czisny could have declined the competition in the Netherlands, where she landed zero clean triple jumps in the free skate. But that undoubtedly would created more of a mess with her clueless federation.)
Anyway, this is the situation: The two U.S. women need to have their final places add up to 13 or fewer to regain the third place they have not had since 2008. The odds of that happening now are about the same as those of buying one ticket and having it win the Mega Millions lottery.
Can someone get dazzling U.S. junior champion Gracie Gold to Nice in time to put on a disguise and sub for Czisny in Saturday's free skate? After all, unless the two U.S. finishes add up to 28 or fewer, they will have just ONE spot next year.
Leonova, who could also have won a speedskating competition as she flew willy-nilly around the ice, is first with a personal best 64.61 points. Kanako Murakami of Japan, who was underscored, stands second at 62.67, with Carolina Kostner of Italy third at 61.
"I showed my maximum today," said Leonova, who took 7th at this year's European Championships.
Which is another way of saying, "Is that all there is?"
Two-time world champion Mao Asada of Japan is fourth at 59.49 after falling on her opening triple axel. Wagner's tentative performance earned her 56.42. Czisny had 48.31, thanks mainly to her "artistic" or component scores, since her technical score ranked 25th of the 30 women in the field.
This was not the Czisny who finished a solid fifth last year. This was the Czisny who finished 11th and 15th in her other two world meet appearances, 2009 and 2007, with equally disastrous short programs (14th and 18th). She actually had a better score in that 18th-place performance (49.43) than she did Thursday, when all three of her jumping passes got negative grades.
"I don’t really know what happened," Czisny said. "The jumps weren’t there.''
Wagner rallied after stepping out of the landing of her first jump, a triple flip, and omitting the second planned jump of a triple-triple combination. She did the required combination by tacking an unplanned second jump onto her next triple.
"Today wasn't my strongest performance, but I was thinking on my feet and skated smart, and I think that is the most important thing for a skater to be able to do," Wagner said.
She attributed the mistake on the opening jump to the 33-minute wait between the warmup and the time she took the ice as the last skater in the penultimate group.
"My body cooled off. . .but I think I came back extremely strong considering the level of pressure and the level of competition," Wagner said. "A clean free skate is going to get me where I want to be."
That would certainly be far above where she finished in her only other world meet, 16th in 2008.
No matter how she and Czisny do in Saturday's free skate, it almost certainly can't clean up the mess that U.S. women's skating finds itself in for the fifth straight year.
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