Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018 U.S. Nationals Preview & Predictions: LADIES

Well here we are again at the crossroads of U.S. figure skating… where all-the-other-factors determining the makeup of this year’s Olympic team meet up against NATIONALS. The mother of competitions, at least in this country. (And Canada, and Japan, and Russia, and maybe a few others.)

First up this time are the LADIES… 22 in all this year, vying for three spots on the team. Who’s up to the task? I didn’t have time in this abbreviated, just-after-holidays season to do a full preview of all the skaters as I’ve done in the past. But based on what I know… also based a little on what I’ve heard about (thanks Twitter, especially Jackie Wong!)… here’s my “long list” of who’s likely to finish in the top half of the standings (alphabetical order):

Starr Andrews
Mariah Bell
Karen Chen
Polina Edmunds
Amber Glenn
Courtney Hicks
Mirai Nagasu
Bradie Tennell
Ashley Wagner
Angela Wang
Caroline Zhang

Then comes my “short list”—Top six, aka best medal contenders:

Bell—last year’s bronze medalist; struggling so far this season
Chen—last year’s gold medalist; also struggling
Nagasu—2008 U.S. Champ, 4th last year, triple axels loaded and ready
Tennell— Top 10 finish last 2 years, (surprise) Bronze at Skate America this year
Wagner—former U.S. champ and multiple medal-winner; 2016 World Silver Medalist
Zhang—three-time national medalist, 5th last year

Here’s what I’ve ended up with, and let me preface this by saying I had one set of predictions earlier in the day and then changed my mind:

GOLD: Mirai Nagasu
SILVER: Ashley Wagner
BRONZE: Bradie Tennell

DARK HORSE (for making the top 6, not to necessarily medal): Starr Andrews

I’ve been torn between these two veterans for the top spot, but not all for good reasons…

Both have been inconsistent of late.
Nagasu historically underdelivers if she manages a strong short program.
Wagner may be a couple years past her best work.
Nagasu now has a triple axel, but still struggles to get full credit for it (to say nothing for her other jumps).
Wagner is debuting a new skate at Nationals—not sure she’s ever done that before.

BUT, all things being equal, I think Nagasu’s got the edge. Yeah, it would be an extra-sweet thing to happen 10 years after her first U.S. title. Yes, it’d also be a nice “answer” to the controversy that surrounded the 2014 Olympic selections. But sentiment aside, I’m sticking with my story. Also because I don't know that any of the other ladies can defeat them this year. There hasn't been a lot of guns-ablazin' skating among the U.S. ladies lately, I'm sorry to say...

Having said that: I think bronze goes to Tennell because I don’t think she’s had time yet to feel any pressure of expectations. Unfortunately, it’s hard to say the same about Bell and Chen right now. (Zhang, by the way, is a sentimental favorite of mine who has logged nearly as much time at Nats as Nagasu and Wagner… I don’t think she can medal, but it would be very exciting if she did!)

One more important note: IF Tennell wins bronze and Chen gets, say, pewter (4th), I wouldn’t be shocked if Chen was chosen for the team over Tennell. She is, after all, last year’s champ who finished the highest of the U.S. ladies at Worlds last year (4th).

Watch this space tomorrow for pairs and men’s predictions!

Also check out my polls about Nationals—the newest one will be pinned to the top of my Twitter feed (@KLBSt8ofSk8).

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