Monday, February 24, 2014

Tonichelle's Top 10 Teams of Iditarod 2014

This year I feel at a loss on how to choose teams with any real "authority" on how they will do. With the awful weather we've had this winter and most of the late season races being cancelled it's hard to pick the top teams with any confidence. Even teams that were fantastic last season may not be quite as strong this year (due to retirements of different dogs, training time, etc). Without much info to go on with how most trained, let's just say these are guesses based on bias and past results... and what little knowledge I think I have about the sport.

1. Aliy Zirkle - the SPKennel has been one that doesn't seem to be affected by adverse trail conditions this year. Not that the races they ran were rough and tumble, but they were definitely challenging. Aliy will once again be running their A-team, and considering her second place finishes the last two years, I really really really hope this is her year.

2. Martin Buser - so long as he doesn't try something completely outside of the box, Martin should do fairly well this year. He typically does well in years where teams have to be "babied" a little more than normal, and his team's done pretty well under the care of his son Rohn. It will really come to musher mentality, IMO, over team capabilities. Because the dogs seem more than capable of going all the way for a win!

3. Dallas Seavey - this could go either way. Last year he was running a team filled with a lot of newbie dogs. Pups he's raised in his kennel. Now they're coming in as veterans, but there's no real way to judge how they will do in the conditions being reported currently on the trail.

4. Mitch Seavey - reigning champion, he's planning on taking quite a few of last year's team with him to Nome. Tanner will once again lead his team, hopefully to another victory. He's been training all over when there's been snow, and if they've trained at all in the Sterling area as well then they'll have a lot of dry land training in as well. Mitch does well with a "slower" trail, so it will come down to strategy and skill, both of which he excels at.

5. Jeff King - there's some rumor going around that he's planning to withdraw, but until I see it I'll keep him on my top 10 list. He's a four time Iditarod Champion. His dogs have been learning the ropes quickly (though they quit before Nome). I have faith.

6. Ray Redington Jr. - He made a statement last year with the way he drove his team, I have no doubt he will be in the mix again this year. The Redingtons need a Champion at some point in this race, don't you think? Ray seems to be the one who agrees with me! ha ha!

7. Robert Sorlie - he has a pretty good Iditarod track record, but he's coming back from a long hiatus from the race (though I believe his team has been very active in races in Europe). Still, he has good a chance - if not better - than anyone. I am not going to count Team Norway out!

8. Jake Berkowitz - Jake's got the team, he just have to really go for it. I have no doubt he can, but with the trail conditions being what they reportedly are, we could see him pull back or even pull out. We'll see, but I have high hopes for Jake!

9. The Smyth brothers - don't make me choose between Cim and Ramey. Either one of them can come whipping practically out of nowhere to make the race very interesting. Normally it's Ramey, but, we'll see. I just can't in good faith leave them out of my top 10. In the Iditarod nearly anything is possible.

10. Paul Gebhardt - I've been waffling between several teams, but something keeps pulling me back to the Gebhardt ticket. He is a consistent "also ran" and it would be a huge upset, but there again...

Honestly I think I should've just gone with five, I really can't figure out if my picks are good or not. I just don't know enough about the teams this year. I just hope for a good race, and an awesome trail. Good luck to all of the teams!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Iditarod ReStart safe in Willow!

After a series of meetings that lasted far longer than officials originally planned, the media learned only moments ago that the ReStart for Iditarod 2014 will remain in Willow. Poor snow and trail conditions were a concern for race officials and mushers alike. Parts of the trail between Willow and the Yukon were unpassable. However, with the reports from the Iron Dog as well as aerial survelience and people on the ground Iditarod is officially underway as it's always been.

Stay tuned for more of my ramblings as we get closer to the race!

Skating & Mushing Come Together!

Pretty sure my dreams just came true. In support of Dew Claw Kennels there will be a skating event going on today in Anchorage. Wish I could be there. Skating and Iditarod?! What could be better?!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Iditarod Willow ReStart in jeopardy

With the unseasonably warm weather of January, talk for the last several weeks has surrounded around the Iditarod and what the trail would be like - or if there was even enough snow to put on the race. February has been significantly colder in most parts of Alaska, but no snow has followed. It prompted a lot of rumors that the Iditarod would relocate to Fairbanks as it did in 2003. The Iditarod Trail Committee (ITC) took to facebook answering the questions late in January to say that it was too soon to make a decision. It didn't stop the rumors and talk, but fans at least had an official answer to go with.

The ITC went to facebook once again to make the announcement Saturday morning that the Ceremonial start will be in Anchorage. At this time, they said, they are still planning to go to Willow for the restart. However, while Anchorage and Willow have enough snow, the early part of the trail is causing concern. The ITC will monitor the situation and make an announcement mid-February as to whether or not they will need to move the race north.

Their post follows:

RACE PLANNING UPDATE: The Ceremonial Start of Iditarod XLII will be held in Anchorage on Saturday, March 1, beginning at 10:00 am as planned. At this time we are planning to stage the Restart in Willow on Sunday, March 2 beginning at 2:00 pm, also as planned. We do have trail concerns, particularly from the top of Rainy Pass to Nikolai. If conditions are not deemed acceptable by February 17, we will stage the Restart in Fairbanks on Monday, March 3, time yet to be determined.

Should they move the restart to Fairbanks, this will be the second time in race history that the Iditarod starts anywhere other than South Central Alaska.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

No surprises so far in Team Event

A Russian Cinderella story on ice.
Photo by Ivan Sekretarev/AP
People who are surprised with the results after the first day of Team Competition in Sochi are the ones that don't follow the sport, pure and simple. That the US media has done such a poor job of being realistic has not helped people understand or prepare for the idea that the rest of the world has caught us up.

As I stated in my previous post (Let the Games begin!), Team USA is going to be fighting for a podium placement, but it will not be gold. After the first two disiplines results for the team event - USA will be lucky to make the podium at all. But there are still more chances to win points, and we have the best coming up.

The skating events started (early morning for those of us in North America) Thursday with the men of the ten countries represented. Over all it was a well skated event, though many came crashing down at least once. By far the most talked about skater going into today was Evgeni Plushenko of Russia. Plushenko is the elder statesman in the event being 31, and this is his fourth Olympics. Should Team Russia make the podium - a good possibility - Plushenko will have medaled in all four games - which would seal his name in the record books. Plushenko has been absent from the sport for some time as he battled with injuries and surgeries, but he battled back to make the team. Russia had one spot in the men's event, and it was highly controversial that they went with Plushenko who had rough competitions at nationals and did not compete at the European Championships.

However, Plushenko showed the world he is not to be written off so easily. While visibly slow and scratchy on landings and spins, and obviously winded at the end of his short program, Plushenko found himself finishing 2nd out of 10. Not too shabby for the "grandpa".

Evgeny Plushenko showed emotion
after he finished his program.
Photo by Ivan Sekretarev/AP
Also, unsurprising, Patrick Chan and Yuzuru Hanyu are also in the top three, with Hanyu on top. Helping Japan secure the (very temporary) lead, which is well needed since Japan's pairs and dance teams are their weak links. Hanyu was nearly flawless in his short program, while Canada's Patrick Chan had some minor issues. If there's one thing to be surprised about - it's that the judging seems quite fair so far in these Winter Olympic Games. And, in of all places, RUSSIA.

On the not so great end of things, Jeremy Abbott once again reminded fans and viewers alike why he's the skater that is so great - who's never won anything of actual substance internationally. Abbott's done this to us before - four years ago in Vancouver. And he repeatedly does as he did Thursday. Abbott went out and wiped the ice. You could tell as he took his starting position that he was nervous, and that the nerves would take over. With the fall on the quad you could see in his face it was done, and for the next two minutes Abbot and skating fans alike let out a collective groan. So much talent in a skater who just was not made for competition.

The pairs short program also had a lack of surprises. Russia was clearly the front runner going into this event, and it showed. Canada and China join the Russians for the top three. And, in a good effort the US pair managed a fifth place finish after the short program. They had an issue on their side by side jumps, but overall had a great performance and were rewarded for it. That helped Team USA a bit, but there's a giant hole for the team to dig out of if they hope to make it to the final.

As it stands, the points after day one of Team Event are as follows:

1 - Russia - 19 points
2 - Canada - 17 points
3 - China - 15 points
4 - Japan - 13 points
5 - Germany - 10 points
6 - France - 10 points
7 - USA - 10 points
8 - Italy - 8 points
9 - Ukraine - 5 points
10 - Great Britain - 3 points

Tomorrow there is no competition for the skaters as it will be the Opening Ceremonies. Skating resumes Saturday with the Short Dance and Ladies' short program. the USA should make a big jump up in the standings after the dance portion, but it's anyone's guess if Ashley can shake off the results at nationals - and all the naysayers and haters that followed - and take on the pressure put on her to make the final. She has the ability to be great, but she has to have a handle on the nerves. Otherwise we'll see another skate like Abbott's. And there'll be no way to stop the hate.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Let the Games begin!

Photos from
The 2014 Winter Olympic Games kicks off this weekend in Sochi, Russia. The Opening Ceremonies are on Friday (tape delayed for the US, of course), but there are events happening the day before - and they're awesome.

Anyone who's followed my blog for any length of time knows that I'm a figure skating fan. I'm not one that know every rule, every technical term, or what not - but I've followed the sport for *gulp* 25 years. I won't ever meet the requirements for ISU judge, but that doesn't stop me from having predictions that have at least a little knowledge behind them.

This is the first Olympics that there's a TEAM figure skating event. Don't confuse it with synchronized skating - this ain't it. The ISU has been toying around with the concept for a few years, and they've recently implemented it in their line up of competitions - it typically is after the World Championships.

Apparently the different skating federations have decided that choosing the skaters to represent in the team event is to be closely guarded for strategy. I'm not sure how or why that works, but the teams are being named as close to competition as possible. The Team consists of one skater or team per discipline per country. Two substitutes per country can be added/switched for the long programs. Skaters for the Team Event must also have qualified for the Individual Event of their discipline at both their Federation and the International Skating Union (ISU) level.

Skating fans have been discussing for weeks now as to who will be skating in what portion of the team event. The skaters for Thursday's competition have been named, and there's no surprise on the list. The Sochi Official site does not have any info past the Men's and Pair's short program entrants, and only a few teams have gone on to list their entire team. Team USA made statements throughout Wednesday naming who they planned to send out for the short programs, with some news reports also listing the long (a lot of contradictions).

Here's what we know about Team USA going into the Team Event:

Men's Short - Jeremy Abbot
Pairs Short & Long - Castelli & Shnapir
Ladies Short - Ashley Wagner
Dance Short & Long - Davis & White

It's rumored that Gracie Gold will take the Ladies Long. One should also safely assume that Jeremy Abbot will get to skate both short and long, however fans are hoping Jason Brown gets to skate his long to River Dance in the team event.

Looking at rosters, it's a good chance that Team USA will be on the podium, but they're not a lock for gold. Russia has a strong team with several skaters looking at medals in the individual events which bodes well for a team event (Pairs, Mens is possible with Evgeny Plushenko, though he is not unbeatable). Couple that with them skating in their Home Country and it's a good bet that they're looking at a gold. Team Canada is also incredibly strong (Mens & Dance). Team Japan have strong ladies and men, but don't come close in pairs or dance. USA has only one discipline where we realistically have a chance to win and that's ice dance. Our pairs are mediocre at best (when it comes to the best in the world), and our ladies and men are good skaters when they're on... but they aren't always on.

The US media, and NBC in particular will breeze over this fact... but don't let them fool you. USA *could* win, but it will take a lot of determination on the part of the team - and faltering from other skaters - to make it happen. It's possible, but not likely. Still, I expect them on the podium.

I look at Russia or Canada taking gold.