Some of the best figure skaters in this world have been written off at one point or another in their careers. In 1997, World Champion Lu Chen didn't even qualify for the free skate at the World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland. A year later, she was celebrating a second Olympic medal. Likewise, Philippe Candeloro was in the same boat. He won the bronze medal in Lillehammer, and after a 9th place finish at Worlds in 1996 and not competing at the 1997 World Championships, his second Olympic medal certainly would not have necessarily been predicted two years previous.
That's the thing about the sport. Things change. A couple of rough skates or even a couple of rough seasons and suddenly a skater is written off by fans and even their own federation at times as a skater who doesn't have what it takes to medal again. The fact of the matter is it comes down to what you do on the ice when you're in that competition, not what you've done at previous ones or in practice.
A year ago, Russia's Alena Leonova won medals at two Grand Prix events, the ISU Grand Prix Final, her national championships and the World Championships, where she convincingly won the short program ahead of skaters like Carolina Kostner, Mao Asada, Ashley Wagner, Akiko Suzuki and a host of other talented skaters favoured to succeed at this year's World Championships, which are days away. She demonstrated that she has the potential in her to do that and I cannot remember the last time people have written of a reigning World medallist so dismissively.
Now, to be fair, this season has indeed been a challenging one for Alena. She finished off the podium at both of her Grand Prix assignments, failed to medal at her national championships and thus was excluded from Russia's team at the Europeans. That said, she recently rebounded with good skates at an internal competition in Russia and secured a spot on Russia's world team.
But why has the skating community so quickly written off a skater who has proven she is more than capable of competing with the very best? Her Personal Best Score of 184.28 from last year's World Championships is still certainly very competitive with the world's best and is higher than the Personal Best Scores of Kanako Murakami, Kaetlyn Osmond and Gracie Gold, all members of ladies skating's upper echelon. Even her Season's Best score, which is a considerably lower 157.27, is not reflective of the marked improvement that was shown in her skates at the recent Russian Cup. Her Bollywood inspired short program featured a very solid triple toe/triple toe combination, a big double axel and fiesty choreography; her free skate showcased a triple lutz, 2 triple flips, a triple loop, a triple salchow, a double axel and clearly improved stamina. Her score at this event was a much improved 171.91, which is certainly more competitive with this season's medal favourites.
So, the moral of this story is that once again, if a skater has proven they are capable of delivering, the fair thing to do is give them a chance to prove if they can or not before we jump the gun and write them off. As Malcomb Gladwell said, "we prematurely write off people as failures. We are too much in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail." I sincerely hope Alena proves the naysayers wrong at Worlds. She most certainly has the potential to, that's for damn sure. There's something to be said for an adult among girls. This is ladies skating after all. Can I get an mmmhmm?
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