Skating journalist Hannah Robbins discusses Gracie Gold, Nathan Chen and the fight for the top spot in the ice dance competition.
This week in Greensboro, North Carolina the best U.S. figure skaters competed in the national championships. Among the upsets came redemption, and some old faces returned on their own path to the 2022 Olympics. America loves a comeback and an underdog, and both had successes and failures this weekend.
In the ladies competition, Gracie Gold made her first nationals appearance since 2017. In her time away from the sport, she worked on recovery from an eating disorder and depression. While this year’s nationals left her in 12th place, her strength in coming back to the competition shows she will have a future in the coming years. Karen Chen also returned after a year away, and her fourth place finish put her back in contention, even though she had a rough pair of skates. Maybe Chen’s multitasking with her academics at Cornell and skating left her slightly underprepared for the event.
Alysa Liu was back this year, and the now 14-year-old reprised her victory from last year. After finishing in second in the Grand Prix Final, Liu put a decent performance on the ice, though she did have her mishaps. The surprise on the ladies side was Mariah Bell, who beat the Grand Prix Final competitor Bradie Tennell handily. Bell finally showed some of the consistency she’s lacked in the past, and her fall during her step sequence was simply a mental lapse. Tennell seemed uncharacteristically shaky, falling at the end of her free program. Hopefully she’ll get her groove back for the rest of the season.
On the pairs stage, Olympians Alexa and Christopher Knierim seemed to get their groove back after rough competitions in the past several years, but falters in their free program left them barely with the lead. These two need to be more consistent, or newcomers Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson might snag their spot in two years.
The free dance competition was fierce, but Madison Chock and Evan Bates were able to capitalize on their place in the Grand Prix final to edge out back-to-back national champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donahue. Chock and Bates’ snake themed free dance was able to hit hard in a way that Hubbell and Donahue just couldn’t match. This begs the question: are Hubbell and Donahue on the decline? They seem to be playing second fiddle among the American teams more and more, and this isn’t the result they want going into the world championships.
As the men’s competition was not finished at the time of writing, it’s hard to say how it will go, but Nathan Chen seems poised to claim a third national title in a row after leading the short program by 13 points. Jason Brown seems like he could also place; his second place finish in the short leaves him in a good position, but he does not have the technical chops the rest of the skaters do.
As usual, U.S. Nationals is full of ups and downs, but the competitors that are on top seem to have a chance to represent America well in the rest of the season.