4:35 PM EST, February 13, 2012
By any measure, Alissa Czisny has been the best U.S. women's figure skater over the past two seasons.
Second and first at the last two U.S. Championships. Highest U.S. women's finisher at the 2011 worlds. Best U.S. finisher on the Grand Prix circuit last season (when she won the Grand Prix final) and this season (when she was the only U.S. women's qualifier for the final.)
Yet the great minds on U.S. Figure Skating's international committee somehow found a reason to deny Czisny a spot at the Four Continents Championship that ended Sunday in Colorado Springs.
When the three U.S. women for Four Continents were named after the national championships two weeks ago, I figured Czisny's absence simply owed to her wanting time off before beginning intense preparations for the World Championships Mar. 26 - April 1 in Nice, France.
But I learned Monday that Czisny wanted to compete at Four Continents so badly she began making tentative plans for the trip from her home in Detroit to Colorado Springs after attending a U.S. figure skating seminar called Champs Camp there last August. This was not hubris but a desire to be prepared if she merited a place in the competition. At the end of nationals, she let U.S. figure skating officials know of her feelings.
Imagine Czisny's reaction upon learning the USFS had picked the 3-4 finishers at nationals, Agnes Zawadzki and Caroline Zhang, instead of her.
"I was a little bit shocked," Czisny said Monday by telephone.
So was her coach, Jason Dungjen.
"They never gave me a reason," he said.
So I called Doug Williams, chair of the USFS international committee, to see what the reason could have been.
"We had a thorough committee discussion," Williams said. "We were looking at opportunities for all our ladies and at strategies for Sochi (the 2014 Olympics) and next year's Grand Prix (circuit) selection."
You will notice that was a non-answer answer. Because there could be none for the irrational decision not to let Czisny skate at Four Continents.
At this point, it is worth noting that anyone looking at the applicable USFS selection rule for Four Continents would say Czisny should have been the first choice for the team since the rule does not guarantee a place to the reigning national champion, even though Ashley Wagner was chosen.
Here is U.S. Figure Skating International Competition Rule 6:04 B, covering selection for Four Continents:
"The team will be selected from those athletes who are ISU senior age eligible. Selection to the U.S. Four Continents Team will be based upon the results of the two most recent U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the most recent World Championship, the most recent Four Continents Championship and all other international events; however, the International Committee may consider extenuating circumstances."
The only one of those criteria by which Czisny was not No. 1 is the 2011 Four Continents results, where she finished 5th, just behind the two other U.S. skaters, Rachael Flatt (4) and Mirai Nagasu (3). Neither Flatt for Nagasu was picked for this year's Four Continents, even if Nagasu's record in every area but the 2012 nationals was superior to that of Zhang, Zawadzki and even Wagner.
Nagasu's performance at the 2012 nationals was poor enough to justify giving someone else a chance. But Richard Dornbush was selected men's first alternate for Four Continents despite finishing a dismal 13th at nationals. He wound up competing when U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott withdrew because of an injury.
Dornbush was horrible again at Four Continents, finishing 13th once more.
Judging Dornbush's selection by the Rule 6.04 B criteria, his being chosen seems less willy-nilly than silly, since a guy who missed all three jumping passes in the short program at nationals doesn't deserve the reward of an international competition that the International Skating Union considers important.
It makes no difference that the three U.S. women at Four Continents did extremely well (Wagner, gold), surprisingly well (Zhang, bronze) and so-so (Zawadzki, 6th). Czisny deserved to go. The decision to snub her was simply ridiculous.
"Alissa definitely had priority in our discussions," Williams insisted. "She was not ignored or dropped off the chart. She probably will be attending a different international competition closer to worlds."
The only international competition on the ISU calendar between now and worlds is the International Challenge Cup Mar. 8-11 in the Netherlands. Not only would that be a much longer trip for Czisny, it comes at a time that almost would mean staying in Europe until worlds begin. On top of that, the event is so insignificant it was cancelled last year.
This being Alissa Czisny, one of the most gracious athletes anyone could know, she chose the high road when asked to elaborate on the USFS decision.
"This gave me a chance to lay a good base for worlds," she said.
By the way, Czisny laid some of that base last week in Colorado Springs. She went because both of her coaches were there with another of their athletes, Adam Rippon. She paid for her own airline ticket. She expects to be billed for her housing at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
She asked no favors from U.S. Figure Skating.
What she got instead was a stunning slap in the face.
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