This week, everyone will know the way to San Jose, as 144 skaters will look to follow their Olympic dreams. For some this is the end of their season, others will look to gain important international assignment. This is the second time US Nationals made their way to the South Bay. The first event was in 2012.
Nathan Chen looks to dominate the field on his way to Pyongchang in February.
Men: Three spots to Pyeongchang will be decided beginning on January 4th when 21 skaters go for their Olympic dreams. The overwhelming favorite is current national champion Nathan Chen. This season, Chen blew away the completion, capturing Rostelecom Cup and Stake America on his way to a Grand Prix title. He’s the favorite to medal in Korea, but will there be any American looking to challenge his dominance. One skater could be Adam Rippon, who has two 2nd place finishes at NHK and Skate America. He finished 5th at the Grand Prix Final and is a former national champion, having won in 2016. Jason Brown is not too far behind, with a 3rd place finish last season at nationals. He was 2nd at Skate Canada and had a 4th place finish at NHK to qualify for the Gran Prix Final (6th). Max Aaron looks to return to the podium after a disastrous 9th place finish last season. He was 3rd at Cup of Canada and 7th at Internationaux de France.
Skaters to Watch: Last year’s 2nd place winner Vincent Zhou spent much of this season looking to improve is international standing, having placed 4th at Cup of China and a disappointing 9th Internationaux de France. He’s still a force to deal with this weekend. Grant Hochstein was 4th last year and will look to improve, as well. However his international skating still needs improvement having finished 11th at Rostelecom Cup and 9th at Cup of China. Alexei Krasnozhon makes his senior debut this weekend and could turn heads with the judges. He’s a former Junior National champion and also captured the Junior Grand Prix title this season. Other skaters looking to make the podium are Ross Miner and Andrew Torgashev. Sectional skaters to especially watch for are Timothy Dolensky who dominated Easterns and Alexander Johnson, who performed an outstanding short program en-route to a win at Midwesterns.
Smooth’s Pick – It’s Chen, then its everyone else.
1. Nathan Chen
2. Adam Rippon
3. Jason Brown
Will Bradie Tennell pull of a stunning upset of this competitive ladies field?
Ladies: The short program begins on January 3rd with 22 skaters hoping to live their Olympic dream. Only three slots will be available for Pyeongchang with at least one spot up for grabs. All eyes will be on Ashley Wagner. The “grand old lady” of figure skating will make this year her final grab for Olympic gold. Wagner was gunning for the Grand Prix Final after a 3rd place finish at Skate Canada when she was forced to withdraw due to injury. How she recovers will determine if she’ll be part of the team. Mirai Nagasu continues to dazzle and surprise her critics. She’s determined to make the Olympic team and had added a triple axel to her routine. Disappointing finishes at Rostelecom Cup (9th) and NHK Trophy (4th) leaves it uncertain if she will make it happen. Defending champion Karen Chen has had a rough Grand Prix season with a 7th place finish at Skate Canada and an 8th place showing at Skate America. But if there’s a time to recover, now would be the time with a new routine. Mariah Bell looks to improve on her 3rd place finish from last season. Her 6th place finish at Rostelecom Cup was a chance to improve her standing internationally and she’s a definite contender for the podium.
Skaters to Watch: The only consistent skater this season has been Bradie Tennell. She made her senior Grand Prix debut in place of Gracie Gold and made the best of the opportunity, finishing 3rd at Skate America. 2014 Olympian Polina Edmunds has battled injuries over the last year. But she’s back and will be a threat to all skaters this weekend. Courtney Hicks is a dark horse, skating under the radar and has one Grand Prix event under her belt, a 4th place finish at Skate Canada. Amber Glenn, Angela Wang and Caroline Zhang round out the contenders. Other skaters also to look out for are Starr Andrews and Tessa Hong, who put up outstanding numbers at Pacific Sectionals.
Smooth’s Pick – Tough pickings this year! My money is on “grand old lady”!
1. Ashley Wagner
2. Mirai Nagasu
3. Bradie Tennell
Alexa & Chris Knierim looks to get back to the top of the pairs podium.
Pairs: For the first time in nearly 50 years, the United States will only have 1 spot in pairs. This was a result of its poor showing at last year’s World Championships. Because of that, this year’s competition will be fierce. At the top of the list is the husband and wife team of Alexa & Chris Knierim. After a year of dealing with a serious injury to Alexa, the former national pairs champs looks to get back on top. They have a couple of 5th place finishes in Grand Prix completion this season (NHK and Skate America). Their top rivals are Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, the current national champs. In Grand Prix events this season, they finished 7th at Skate Canada and Skate America. 2016 national champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea also figure to compete for the top spot, despite not having any Grand Prix assignments due to injury, however they did compete at the Golden Spin of Zagreb, finishing 3rd. Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran look to improve on their 2nd place finish at last year’s nationals. They finished in the middle of the pack in Grand Prix competition (6th at Internationaux de France, 7th at Rostelecom Cup).
Skaters to Watch: Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc were 3rd at their first nationals as a team. They look to make an impact this weekend, but will need to do better internationally, as they placed 6th at Cup of China. Jessica Pfund and Joshua Santillan also look to improve from their 5th place finish in last year’s nationals. They have 8th place finishes at Cup of China and at Skate America. Jessica Calalang & Zack Sidhu skate in their seventh nationals, third as a senior pair, where their best finish was 5th in 2016. Deanna Stellato-Dudek & Nathan Bartholomay may be the most intriguing team this week. They were 4th at nationals last year and are looking at the podium and beyond. Other teams to watch out for are Chelsea Liu & Brian Johnson and Erika Choi Smith & AJ Reiss.
Smooth’s Pick – Pretty tough to decide, but I give the edge to the married couple!
1. Alexa & Chris Knierim
2. Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea
3. Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier
Maia and Alex Shibutani leads a competitive field in the ice dance division.
Ice Dance: This will be an exciting competition with many talented teams, 13, in all, vying for three spots at the Winter Olympics this February. Right now, the current two-time national champions, Maia and Alex Shibutani, have the edge going into this weekend. They were previously unbeaten in Grand Prix competition until finishing 3rd in Nagoya at the Grand Prix Final. But one team that may give them a run for their money are Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. Their fortunes continue to grow, as they qualified for their 3rd Grand Prix Final, finishing 4th. They were also 3rd for the third straight year at nationals last season. Madison Chock & Evan Bates are close behind as two time national runner-ups. They were 2nd at Internationaux de France and Cup of China. Rachel & Michael Parsons are former Junior World champions and will compete in their first nationals on the senior level. Their senior campaign got off to a rough start, with a 7th place finish at Rostelecom Cup and a 9th place showing at Stake America.
Skaters to Watch: Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker have skated as a team since 2012 and their best nationals finish was 4th in 2015. Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter brings their rivalry with Rachel & Michael Parsons to the senior level this season. They are two-time junior champs, and have a 5th place finish at Cup of China this season. Elliana Pogrebinsky & Alex Benoit were 4th at last year’s nationals and were 7th in their Grand Prix entries this season (Internationaux de France and Cup of China). Sectional teams to look out for are Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton, who had to qualify to make nationals by winning Midwesterns.
Smooth’s Pick – A very competitive Ice Dance, the ShibShibs will have the advantage.
1. Maia and Alex Shibutani
2. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue
3. Madison Chock & Evan Bates
Men: Camden Pulkinen – He had his highest score at this year’s Junior Grand Prix, where he finished 2nd.
Ladies: Hanna Harrell – She dominated the field at Midwesterns with the highest total in Sectionals.
Pairs: Sarah Feng & TJ Nyman – Their top score at Pacific Sectionals was a personal best, as well as with all three qualifiers.
Ice Dance: Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko – The most accomplished of the field, they finished 2nd at Junior Grand Prix this season.
Next Week, Canadian Nationals 2018!
“Skate like a champion!”