This year’s Nationals has a dark cloud hanging over it with the sudden death of former pairs skater, John Coughlin. The former two-time US pairs champion committed suicide over the weekend.
Coughlin was banned by US Figure Skating pending an investigation on alleged abuse. SafeSport, a non-profit organization designed to prevent abuse by coaches and trainers in sports, listed him as being “Interim Measure – Restriction”. The organization upgraded it on Friday to “interim suspension”, leading to USFSA’s ruling. The following afternoon, police were dispatched to his father’s home in Kansas City following a report of a suicide.
Coughlin was a huge contributor to the sport, participating in coaching and TV commentating. NBC had also banned him from commentating on this weekend’s Nationals. Coughlin won US pairs titles in 2011 with Caitlin Yankowskas, and in 2012 with Caydee Denney.
This year is also the 25th anniversary of the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, which also took place in Detroit. Tonya Harding eventually won US Nationals that year, but it was later revealed that her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly fostered a plot to sabotage Kerrigan’s chances at Nationals. Four people, were implicated including Gillooly, and sentenced to prison terms. Harding later admitted knowing about the plot to attack Kerrigan to FBI investigators. As a result, she was stripped of her 1994 US ladies title by US Figure Skating and banned from all skating sanctioned events for life. Kerrigan would win silver at the 94′ Olympics. Harding would end up in 7th.
There are many new faces at this year’s championships in Detroit. Here are our picks.
Full List of Competitors Here!
Men’s – This weekend is all on Nathan Chen’s watch. The two time US Champion goes for a third title after a successful Grand Prix season, winning his second title. Just how many quads will he pull off this weekend is the question everyone will be asking. Chen’s main competition will be from Jason Brown, who had a solid Grand Prix season despite not making the final. He had a 2nd place finish at Internationaux de France, but finished 6th at Skate Canada. Vincent Zhou had a bit of a step back in his second year as a senior skater. He was 4th at NHK and 5th at Skate America. He also finished 6th in the Winter Olympics at PyeongChang. Alex Krasnozhon had much promise last year, but finished 10th at Nationals last year. He looks to improve his standing this weekend.
Skaters to Watch: Camden Pulkinen won the US Junior championship last year and finished 6th at Junior Worlds. He makes his senior debut this weekend. Jimmy Ma and Sean Rabbitt also return to contend this weekend.
1. Nathan Chen
2. Jason Brown
3. Vincent Zhou
Ladies – The division has been decimated with injuries and retirements. Gone are Ashley Wagner, Mirai Nagasu, Karen Chen, Gracie Gold and Angela Wang. That leaves the field wide open, with reigning US Champion Bradie Tennell getting the opportunity to repeat. Tennell had a very good Grand Prix season, finishing third at Internationaux de France, but falling short of the podium at Skate America. The rest of the field consists promising young skaters. Mariah Bell looks to return to the podium after falling to 5th last year. Starr Andrews made an impressive debut at last year’s Nationals, but struggled in international competition, with her best finish being 7th at Skate Canada. Courtney Hicks has been skating under the radar for years, but this could be her best chance to make the podium. She was 9th last year and her best finish was in 2013, where she finished 4th.
Skaters to Watch: Keep your eye on Alysa Liu, who hit a triple axel in competition. She won her regional and sectional competitions and could make waves this weekend. Other skaters that will contend are Amber Glenn, Hannah Miller and Emmy Ma.
1. Bradie Tennell
2. Mariah Bell
3. Courtney Hicks
Pairs – The lineup of teams looking to contend could turn out to be a blessing for US pairs skating. Reigning pairs champs Alexa and Chris Knierim look to make it two in a row and three titles in their last four. They grabbed the podium at NHK (3rd), but missed out on the finals with a 4th place finish at Skate America. Former champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea look to prevent that from happening. They also missed out on the Grand Prix final with a 5th place finish at NHK, but finished 2nd at Internationaux de France. Ashley Cain and Tim LeDuc look to return to the podium after a 4th place finish at last year’s Nationals. They had their best showing in Grand Prix action with a 3rd place finish at Skate America this season. Haven Denney and Brandon Frasier fell off badly after winning the pairs title in 2017, finishing 5th. They will contend for the title, as well.
Teams to Watch: Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay are the wild card team this weekend. They were 3rd at Nationals last year and had modest success in Grand Prix action this season. Other teams contending include Jessica Calang and Brian Johnson, Erika Choi Smith and AJ Reiss & Chelsea Liu and Ian Meyh.
1. Alexa and Chris Knierim
2. Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea
3. Ashley Cain and Tim LeDuc
Ice Dance – Maia and Alex Shibutani will not participate at Nationals this season. But that doesn’t mean the US will be less competitive. You can bank on Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue to lead the way. They are the favorites to win this weekend. They’ve had the best streak of their careers this season, winning Skate America, Skate Canada and the Grand Prix Final. They go for their 2nd straight US title, but they’ll have strong competition. Madison Chock and Evan Bates return after a tough stretch where they finished 3rd at Nationals last season. Injuries also washed out their Grand Prix season. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-luc Baker made headlines winning their first Grand Prix competition at NHK Trophy and a berth in the Final, where they finished 6th. Lorraine McNamarra and Quinn Carpenter will be looking to better their 6th place finish at last year’s Nationals. They reached the podium in Helsinki and came up short at Skate America, finishing 4th.
Teams to Watch: The brother and sister team of Rachel and Michael Parsons are trying to find their place after a 5th place finish at Nationals last season. The former world junior champions are the most likely team to make a push for the podium. Another team to look at are Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko, who placed 3rd at Rostelecom Cup this season.
1. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue
2. Madison Chock and Evan Bates
3. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-luc Baker
Here are my picks in the Junior category.
Men – Ryan Dunk – He finished 4th at Junior Nationals last year and had a 5th place finish at the JGP Armenian Cup this season.
Ladies – Gabriella Izzo – She was 6th at Juniors last year and was 6th at JGP Canada this season.
Pairs – Kate Finster and Balazs Nagy – The only team with international experience, they were 9th at JGP Czech Skate and 2nd at Midwestern Sectionals.
Ice Dance – Eliana Gropman and Ian Somerville – The team was 4th at juniors last season and was 3rd at JGP Bratislava.
How did I do last week at Canadian Nationals?
Men – 0/3 – Nam Nguyen won his second Canadian Men’s title. Gogolev led after the short, but would fall to 2nd. The favorite, Messing would end up in third.
Ladies – 0/3 – I expected Alaine Chartrand to medal, but a 2nd championship was a huge surprise. Both Daleman and Austman would sit outside the podium.
Pairs – 2/3 – No surprises here.
1. Kristen Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro
2. Camile Ruest and Andrew Wolfe
Lori-Ann Matte and Thierry Ferland
Ice Dance – 1/3 – We knew all three teams would medal, and it was a close finish. But Weaver and Poje would squeeze a victory over Giles and Poirier.
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje
3. Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen
Juniors – 3/4
Men – Aleksa Rakic (CALLED IT!)
Ladies – Hannah Dawson (CALLED IT!)
Patricia Andrew and Paxton Fletcher Winners were Chloe Choinard & Mathieu Ostiguy.
Ice Dance – Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha (CALLED IT!)