Thursday, January 9, 2014

2014 U.S. Nationals Preview & Predictions

With it being an Olympic year, and U.S. Nationals consequentially happening a couple weeks ahead of 2013, I didn’t get the time to assemble a multi-day preview & predictions list this time around. But in case there are some new eyes checking out the blog this week—eyes that are more likely to re-visit figure skating every four years around this time—it’s probably best I keep things kind of to-the-point anyway.

Before I get going, it’s worth a mention that the Senior Nationals schedules for both IceNetwork and NBC can be found in the January 7 post, just below this one.

Oh, and I have not heard of any new withdrawals, for medical reasons or otherwise... but if YOU have, please share!

How many: 12
How many Olympic Spots: 2

Who’s new: 3 teams, all graduating from Junior Nats last year:
Shaughnessy/Morgan, Calalang/Sidhu, and Pfund/Reiss.

Who’s returned: 2012 Champs Denney/Coughlin, who missed the second half of last season due to injury. Also the “new” pair of Davis/BrubakerDavis came in 4th last year with former partner Mark Ladwig; Brubaker finished 2nd in 2012 with former partner Mary Beth Marley (not to mention won this event in 2008-09 with Keauna McLaughlin).

Who’s missing: Simpson/Blackmer, who won Junior Nats last year... but announced the end of their partnership about a month ago.

Who’s noteworthy: Denney/Coughlin were the only U.S. pair to medal at any of the Grand Prix events earlier this season (bronze, at Trophee Eric Bompard). Castelli/Shnapir, the reigning U.S. champs, are the only pair that will be attempting a throw quad salchow. Also worth noting there are TWO “Denneys” in this event—Caydee (paired with Coughlin) and younger sister Haven (paired with Brandon Frazier); the latter finished 5th in 2013.


Dark Horse? Donlan/Speroff

How many: 21
How many Olympic Spots: 3

Who’s new: The top three finishers from last year’s Junior Ladies event: Polina Edmunds, Mariah Bell, and Barbie Long. Who’s really new: 16 year-old Franchesca Chiera, who didn’t get out of Novice Regionals last year yet skated well enough to win Eastern Sectionals this year at the Senior level (never competed in Juniors).

Who’s returned: Three ladies we last saw here in 2012... 2010 Olympian and National Champ Rachael Flatt (who finished 6th in ’12), as well as Vanessa Lam (finished 9th in ’12) and Leah Keiser (finished 12th in ’12).

Who’s missing: 2009 and 2011 National Champ Alissa Czisny, who had to bow out earlier in the season due to injury. (No word yet on whether she will continue competing next season.)

Who’s noteworthy: The front-runner is definitely reigning, 2-time champ Ashley Wagner, the only U.S. lady to make it to the Grand Prix Final this season (finishing 3rd). Gracie Gold, last year’s silver medalist, and 2008 Champ Mirai Nagasu were the only other U.S. ladies to medal on the GP circuit this year. As for those planning the most difficult combo in this discipline—the triple lutz/triple toe—look to at least Gold, Edmunds and Angela Wang (9th last year) for those, with several others attempting triple flip/triple toes instead.

Wagner and Gold secured that elusive “third spot” for the U.S. ladies, but who will get it? Agnes Zawadzki has won bronze at this event for the past two years, but she faces stiff competition from Courtney Hicks (#4 last year), Christina Gao (#5 the past four years) and Samantha Cesario-- #8 last year, but did some truly impressive work on the GP circuit earlier this season. Nagasu can never be ruled out; neither should 17 year-old Yasmin Siraj, who quietly finished a very strong 6th last year.

GOLD—Ashley Wagner
SILVER—Gracie Gold
BRONZE—Christina Gao

Dark Horse? Samantha Cesario

Also in the Top 10: Edmunds, Hicks, Nagasu, Siraj, Wang, Zawadzki

How many: 18
How many Olympic Spots: 3

Who’s new: 6 teams—2 are graduates from Juniors (Aldridge/Eaton, who won at that level, and Heritage/Fast, who finished 7th )... 3 I know nothing about (Zucker/Sitiks, Bynum/Deveikis, and Reynolds/Reynolds)... 1 is a new pairing of previous senior dance competitors (Olson/Lorello).

Who’s noteworthy: Davis/White have won everything they’ve set blades to—including and especially this event—for quite a while now. They’re not likely to disappoint here. Determining 2nd, 3rd and even 4th place is a much bigger challenge, but the Shib Sibs appear to be rising above the muck of their past couple of seasons with this year’s Michael Jackson FD. (And they’ve reportedly replaced the “Ben” section of their music with “Man in the Mirror,” which will probably make it even stronger.) Their scores from their autumn GP events put them a few ticks ahead of both Chock/Bates (who repeatedly edged them out last season), as well as Hubbell/Donohue (3rd here in ’12; 4th last year). So that leaves the biggest nail-biter to be between C/B and H/D. The former is free-dancing to Les Miz; the latter to the instrumental Bohemian Rhapsody that’s become pretty popular in recent seasons. Take your pick. Flip a coin. Draw straws! It’s that close.

SILVER— Shibutani/Shibutani
BRONZE— Chock/Bates

Dark Horse? Hubbell/Donohue

How many: 19
How many Olympic Spots: 2

Who’s new: 2 graduates from Juniors—Tim Dolensky, who was 2nd in ’12 but (I think) was injured last season, and Lukas Kaugars, who was 11th last year at that level. Also new is Robert Przepioski, who was last seen competing at the National level in 2012 (in Novice Pairs).

Who’s returned: Daniel Raad and Scott Dyer, both of whom competed at this level in 2012 but missed the mark last year. Dyer finished 10th in ’12; Raad was 20th.

Who’s missing: Evan Lysacek did everything in his power to try and return to this event in an effort to make a third Olympic team (finished 4th in ’06; won the OGM in ’10)... but only last month gave up that effort in order to avoid permanent hip damage.

Who’s noteworthy: My first instinct is to say “who isn’t??”—kind of ironic, given how difficult it has been of late for any of these guys to succeed in a lasting (read: hardware) way on the international level. We have Max Aaron, a surprise defending champ suffering a bit of a sophomore slump, but still one of the best jumpers in the event. We have Jeremy Abbott (in his final season, at age 28), a glorious skater and intermittently fierce competitor, with a FS that still leaves me breathless with its beauty when he skates it well. We have the ponytail power of Jason Brown, who is quadless-but-who-cares-he-is-THAT-good. We have reigning silver medalist (and hometown fave) Ross Miner delivering a free skate tribute to “Boston Strong” in the face of last year’s Marathon bombings. We have 2012’s silver medalist, Adam Rippon, skating with more assuredness and strength than we’ve seen in a number of years. We have dark horses to the dark horses—Joshua Farris (4th last year), Douglas Razzano (5th in ’12), and Richard Dornbush (2nd in ’11) are ALL capable of making a big move. Do you sense awesomeness unfolding once again in this event, heightened all the more by the Olympic hunt? Me too.
GOLD— Jeremy Abbott
SILVER—Adam Rippon
BRONZE— Max Aaron

Dark Horse? Jason Brown

Also in the Top 10: Farris, Dornbush, Hochstein, Miner, Mroz, Razzano

There you have it! While I’m not likely to post blog updates until next week (AFTER U.S. Nats ends), I’ll be live Tweeting as much as possible during the senior events... follow me at @KLBSt8ofSk8... or check out my posts at the Facebook page for SkatingOn Air... 

Happy viewing, everyone, and best of luck to ALL the skaters trying to do their best in a tough Olympic season. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Comparatively, Hubbell and Donohue are the better matched team, in terms of skating skills and physical proportions, than Chock/Bates. They create a balanced picture, with movement and presence that caters to the essence of ice dance. My concern is whether USFS will uphold these values in their judging. It's hard to be optimistic.