In a breakthrough performance that may have resurrected an always-promising international career, Alissa Czisny won the ladies event at the Grand Prix final in Beijing over the weekend. For years, Czisny, a 23-year-old Bowling Green grad, has been considered a brilliant artist with the tightest spins and most elegant turns in the sport. But she's also a capable jumper who would often crumble under the spotlight of competition. This weekend, she put together two strong efforts, taking the lead during the short program and maintaining the margin through the free skate.
As if to indicate that this performance would be cleaner and better, Czisny opened by landing a triple Lutz-double toe loop that was among her best. She landed another combination and stayed clean while skating to Winter and Spring by George Winston. Her combined score for the two programs of 180.75 points was a career best. Czisny had qualified for the six-woman final largely on the strength of her victory earlier this season at Skate Canada, but she needed to survive an error-filled long program at the Trophee Eric Bompard in France in order to reach the Grand Prix final.
"Last year, being in this spot was something I could only dream of," said Czisny, who left longtime coach Julianne Berlin after failing to make the Olympic team earlier this year and began working with Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen.
Three-time European champ Carolina Kostner of Italy placed second in Beijing. Japan's Miki Ando, the pre-event favorite, struggled in the short program and finished fifth, one spot ahead of Rachael Flatt of the U.S.
As expected, Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the ice dance competition and have become the clear No. 1 pair this season with Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir taking a year off from competition. Davis and White easily outdistanced Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France for the title.
Canada's Patrick Chan, the two-time world silver medalist, won the men's event, and Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy handily took the pairs competition.
"It's always been a dream of mine to do well here," said Chan, a Chinese-Canadian who was making his first visit to the land of his heritage.
On the heels of Qatar's successful and stunning bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, IOC President Jacques Rogge has openly encouraged Middle Eastern cities to bid for the Summer Olympics.
"We would welcome their bids," said Rogge, who did not name a specific candidate, but did say that a city from a region that has never hosted the Games would likely receive strong consideration.
With that in mind, don't expect the USOC to submit a U.S. bid for the 2020 Summer Games. After the poor showings of New York and Chicago at recent bid selections, the USOC wants to make sure it is on firm ground with the IOC members so that a U.S. bid would get fair consideration. Additionally, as the IOC looks to reach new markets with the Games, a U.S. city would be more likely to host an Olympics in winter, when geography would limit the IOC's options. If all hatchets are buried within the next couple of years, the USOC might well submit a bid to host the 2022 Winter Games, with Denver as an apparent front-runner.
In the meantime, Annecy, France, one of three cities bidding for the 2018 Winter Games, is in complete crisis after Edgar Grospiron, the bid's chief, resigned over uncertainty with the bid's budget. Grospiron was the Olympic moguls champ in 1992, the last time a French city, Albertville, hosted a Winter Olympics. His bid committee raised its budget from $24 million to $26 million after the government refused to provide additional funds and amid criticism from French IOC members Jean-Claude Killy and Guy Drut, also Olympic gold medalists. Annecy has also chosen to re-structure its venue plan after the IOC criticized the distance between sites.
Ted Ligety continues to roll. A week after his triumph on the Birds of Prey course in Aspen, Colo. Ligety captured his second straight giant slalom competition in Val d'Isere, France. This time, he beat the field by a full second, finishing 1.05 ahead of runner-up Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway.
Ligety called his effort, the seventh World Cup win of his career, "the hardest race I've had for a long time," because the conditions and the setting of the course created many more turns than in past years, including 2009, when Ligety won a world bronze medal at Val d'Isere. Twenty skiers failed to make it down the course successfully this year.
Though once considered a better skier on the faster GS courses, Ligety has established himself as a favorite under difficult, more technical and challenging conditions.
U.S. Ski Team head coach Sasha Rearick said of Ligety, "I've never seen him find this kind of confidence."
Shani Davis is human, after all. The two-time Olympic speed skating champ in the 1,000 meters lost for the first time in that distance since Jan. 25, 2009. Davis had won 12 straight races in the long sprint, but finished second to Germany's Samuel Schwarz at a race in Obihiro, Japan over the weekend by .17 of a second.
"I'm glad it's over," Davis said after the race. "I was hoping to improve today, but this will give me something work on when I go home."
The normally technically sound Davis made some uncharacteristic errors during the race.
"It wasn't the typical Shani we're use to today," said Ryan Shimabukuro, the U.S. long track coach. "He made some mistakes on the start and just rushed the whole way to make up for lost speed earlier in the race. He'll learn from it and bounce back strong."
With the world sprint championships a month away, rising star Heather Richardson fared better, winning her second consecutive World Cup race in the 1,000. Richardson finished in 1:17.27, a half second ahead of Japan's Nao Kodaira.