Every sport has those stories. You know, the new athlete enters the mix and is hyped up to the extreme which usually means they are destined to fail, sometimes though, they end up surprising us. At the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships that were held in Omaha, NE this past week this is exactly what happened.
Two names that were repeated almost ad naseam leading up to the championships were Gracie Gold and Joshua Farris. For both, this competition was their first on the Senior level. Though both had excelled on the Junior level, and proved themselves on the Senior (Gold placing second in women’s and Farris placing fourth in men’s), what was unusual is that nearly everyone knew their names and believed they would perform amazingly without much proof of how they would adjust to skating in a senior level competition.
For those who don’t know how skating works, here’s a short breakdown. Skaters, just like any other sport, work up through the various levels (novice, junior, senior, etc.) based off of skills and testing. As you increase in levels, the more difficult jumps, spins and choreography is required of you as well as longer programs. The reason why it’s unusual to even hear about a junior level competitor moving up to senior is because in their first year, they usually do poorly.
The longer programs and more skill required is very tiring, especially if not used to it. But another hindrance is what they call the “first time jitters.” You go from near anonymity on the junior level to being in the spotlight with the skaters who have competed at the Olympics and sometimes are household names.
Now to bring it back to Gold and Farris. As I mentioned before, both did very well on the Junior level. But my question is, why did everyone care about them this year? It’s not that they were bad, but because they were the underdogs. With big names such as Jeremy Abbott who was competing for his fourth national title and Ashley Wagner who was going for her second, many wanted fresh faces to challenge them.
Gold’s remarkable comeback from 9th after the short program to second in the final shocked most, but with all the hype, the story became greater. Sure, she didn’t defeat Wagner, but she got more attention, making for a better story.
Farris’ story was a little different. To be honest, I don’t think anyone expected him to win, but he placed fourth. The best example to see how unusual this is, is to look at the champion of the men’s event this year, Max Aaron. Last year was Aaron’s first year competing on the Senior level. He placed 8th. Needless to say, I had never heard of him before this year.
Not only did he perform admirably, but managed to know Jeremy Abbott off of his pedestal in the long program. Aaron, essentially, was the typical underdog. No one payed him much attention until he threw down a performance with two quadruple jumps and several triples.
Why were Gold and Farris hyped so much? It remains to be seen, but hopefully, they will continue to live up to it.