The road to Sochi runs through Boston, as nearly 100 skaters will take part in this year’s national championships. Skaters in the Championship divisions will compete for spots at the Winter Olympics in Russia. The rest will compete for slots in Grand Prix, Junior Grand Prix and World Championship competitions later this year.
Among the most noticeable absentees are 2010 Olympic Gold Medalist Evan Lysacek and two-time US national champion, Alissa Czisny. Lyacek was forced to withdraw from competition due to a torn labrum in his left hip. Lysacek told USA Today that the pain in recent months was excruciating. If he continued training, he would risk serious and permanent damage, his doctors told him. “With a warning like that, I felt I had no choice,” Lysacek said. He was vying to compete in his third Olympics, equaling Todd Eldridge (’92, ‘98, ‘02) and Brian Boitano (’84, ’88, ‘94).
Czisny’s withdrawl was even more heartbreaking, as she was returning from a broken hip last year. Alissa qualified at the Regional level, but was forced to withdraw from Sectionals. She told USFSA.org that it was a tough decision to pull out after coming so close. “…I’ve given my very best to make a full recovery and a successful comeback to competition, but I’m simply not yet completely prepared to be competitive.” Despite the high-profile losses, both the Men’s and Ladies division are stacked with impressive competition.
Analysis: The loss of Lysacek leaves a great big hole the US men’s team to get out of if they want to repeat as Gold medalists. US men’s skaters are currently ranked no higher than 13th in the ISU world standings. Despite the loss, the US does have some young talented skaters that can meet the challenge of making the podium. Reigning U.S. national medalists Max Aaron (shown left) will look to defend his crown. Silver and Bronze medalists Ross Miner and Jeremy Abbott look to challenge for positions. Joshua Farris, Adam Rippon, Richard Dornbush and Jason Brown round out the automatic slots. Representing the eastern sectionals are Stephen Carriere, Timothy Dolensky, Grant Hochstein, and Daniel Raad, while the Midwestern sectionals will send Scott Dyer, Lukas Kaugars, Brandon Mroz, and Robert Przepioski. Finally, winners from the Pacific coast sectionals include Keegan Messing, Sean Rabbitt, Douglas Razzano, and Philip Warren.
Skaters to Watch: One skater that’s a wild card this weekend is Brandon Mroz, who was successful as a junior, but has struggled on the senior level. Two skaters that figure to make a big splash are Richard Dornbush and Jason Brown (shown right). Both have had experience this fall with international competition, with Brown having the most success, finishing 3rd at Trophee Eric Bompard. Watch for Brown to surprise many this weekend!
Smooth’s Picks –
1. Jason Brown
2. Max Aaron
3. Ross Miner
Analysis: Last year, Ashley Wagner (shown left) was very fortunate to have won her second straight Ladies title, edging eventual silver medalist Gracie Gold by 2.27 points. Bronze medalist Agnes Zawadzki was unable to capitalize on a strong short program and fell to 3rd place. Mirai Nagasu, who was within striking distance to make the podium, had a horrible free skate and fell to 7th. Rounding out the rest of the automatic qualifiers are 2013 pewter medalist Courtney Hicks, Christina Gao; U.S. junior gold medalist Polina Edmunds; Samantha Cesario; and Angela Wang. The four women who qualified for nationals by placing in the top four at Eastern Sectionals include Kiri Baga, Franchesca Chiera, Joelle Forte and Yasmin Siraj. The Midwestern Sectionals’ top four finishers include Mariah Bell, Ashley Cain, Barbie Long and Hannah Miller. None of the four are strangers to U.S. nationals; Bell and Long are the reigning junior ladies’ silver and bronze medalists, while Cain and Miller took part in the 2013 senior competition. Finally, the top four finishers from Pacific Coast Sectionals are Vanessa Lam, Rachael Flatt, Leah Keiser and Caroline Zhang.
Skaters to Watch: 16-year old Franchesca Chiera took first place at sectionals by posting a personal best combined mark of 172.78. Though not quite ready for the spotlight, she should finish well. Rachael Flatt (shown right) has been juggling school and skating for the last two years. This weekend may be her “swan song”, along with veterans Mirai Nagasu (She represented the nation at the 2010 Vancouver Games, where she finished seventh.) and Joelle Forte. All three will try to make their final skates memorable. With this lineup being the deepest in talent, look for some surprises in at least two slots.
Smooth’s Picks –
1. Ashley Wagner
2. Gracie Gold
3. Christina Gao
Analysis: Two years ago, US champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin (shown left) were looking forward to defending their titles, when an injury by Coughlin ended their season. That allowed long time pairs team Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir to pick up their first national pairs title ahead of relatively new teams Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay & Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim. Among the other returning teams are Gretchen Donlan & Andrew Speroff, DeeDee Leng & Timothy LeDuc, Lindsay Davis & Rockne Brubaker and Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier. Jessica Noelle Calalang & Zack Sidhu
Will be making theor first appearance in the senoir circuit along with Tarah Kayne & Daniel O’Shea
Jessica Pfund & AJ Reiss and Alexandra Shaughnessy & James Morgan.
Skaters to Watch: It will be interesting to see if Denney and Coughlin have lost a step on the ice. A year away from competition is hard enough. What’s even more challenging are the teams looking to knock them off. One pairs squad to watch out for is Andrew Speroff and Gretchen Donlan, who have skated together since 2009 and have racked up several impressive medals in non-GP events. Another is Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier, who’ve had a couple of 5th place finished this fall in GP competition. The US is not expected to medal in Sochi, so a respectable top 10 finish is all the US will be gunning for.
Smooth’s Picks –
1. Caydee Denney and John Coughlin
2. Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir
3. Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim
Analysis: Since 1997, the ice dance team of Meryl Davis and Charles White have been setting the nation and the figure skating world on fire. They’ve dominated US ice dancing for the last 5 years and they’ll be going for their unprecedented 6th straight national title. The two big teams after Davis and White are last year’s silver medalists, Madison Chock & Evan Bates. The team is currently ranked 9th in the world and have done very well in international competition, finishing 3rd twice. The other challenger is the brother and sister team of Maia & Alex Shibutani (Ranked #11 by the ISU World rankings). They’ve also had a successful Grand Prix season, also finishing 3rd in both competitions. Returning this year are pewter medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donahue; Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulitti-Schmitt; Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus; and Gabriela Morrell Zucker & Andrejs Sitiks. Qualifying from the Eastern sectionals were Ginna Hoptman & Pavel Filchenkov and Isabella Cannuscio & Michael Bramante; Elicia Reynolds & Stephen Reynolds and Danielle Gamelin & Alexander Gamelin. From the Midwestern sectionals were Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton; Anastasia Olson & Ian Lorello; Kristen Nardozzi & Nick Traxler and Kseniya Ponomaryova & Oleg Altukhov. And finally, the Pacific Coast sectionals saw Alissandra Aronow & Collin Brubaker; Pauline Bynum & Jason Deveikis and Madeline Heritage & Nathaniel Fast come out of that competition.
Skaters to Watch: It’s just an afterthought that, barring an injury to Davis or White, is there anyone else will be able to challenge? Of all the teams that could make a major move in their careers, it would be Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton. They finished 5th in their first senior Grand Prix competition in Bejing this fall, so they have an outside chance at the podium. Also look for Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulitti-Schmitt to make a run, as well. Last year, the margin of victory for Davis and White against their 2nd place opponents was 21+ points. It will be interesting to see if they can hit the 200 point mark this weekend. That would make a large statement to Virtue & Moir, who also have their national competition this weekend in Ottawa.
Smooth’s Picks –
1. Meryl Davis and Charles White
2. Maia & Alex Shibutani
3. Madison Chock & Evan Bates
Here are my individual top selections in the Junior division.
Men’s – Nathan Chen
Ladies – Karen Chen
Pairs – Chelsea Liu & Devin Perini
Ice Dance – Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker
Good luck to everyone this week! Skate like a champion!