I don’t think anyone expected to be calling Karen Chen “National Champion,” or to start referring to Nathan Chen’s five-quad free skate, or see so many nervous falls in America’s best discipline. But US Nationals served up these surprises and more, including the incredible comebacks of Deanna Stellato and Dennis Phan and the disappointing performances of World team contenders (and 2016 top 10 World Championship finishers!) Max Aaron and Gracie Gold.
Thanks to the judges who sat at the table for US Nationals!
Bronwyn (@inabauers) | Lutz and Glory
Tell us a little about your experiences with figure skating or as a fan. Your friendly Detroit-area skating fan.
What’s your favorite grossly underscored skate of the last five years? Tatsuki Machida should have won 2014 Worlds.
Emily E. (@JoyofEmily)
Tell us a little about your experiences with figure skating or as a fan. Lifelong figure skater. Currently coaching teeny tiny Learn To Skate and Low Freestyle skaters, passing on my love of the Kerrigan spiral.
What’s your favorite grossly underscored skate of the last five years? Hubbell & Donohue’s 2015/16 Short Dance certainly did not receive the credit it was due all season.
Hannah C. (@hannahskates96) | A Skater’s Perspective
Tell us a little about your experiences with figure skating or as a fan. I started skating 13 years ago and have been competing for 10 years. I am currently at the Novice level and I literally spend all of my free time on skating. Literally. Watching skating, researching skating, dreaming about skating.
What’s your favorite grossly underscored skate of the last five years? Ashley Wagner’s 2016 Worlds Short Program. She should have been the leader.
Joseph K. (@thebrothaj)
Tell us a little about your experiences with figure skating or as a fan. Former novice level skater (Early ’80’s). Forever a fan of quality skating over quantity skating. Last competition attended was Skate America 2016.
What’s your favorite grossly underscored skate of the last five years? Carolina Kostner, 2014 Winter Olympics short & long programs.
Favorite grossly underscored skate of the last five years: Can I possibly do past six years because by a mile for me is Meryl and Charlie’s Samson and Delilah 2009 Worlds. It should have won the free dance. They should have medaled. I watched it every so often and every time I am still mad.
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Be honest: how much of this event did you *actually* watch?
Bronwyn: I watched almost all of the singles and missed some of pairs and dance. My weekend ended up being way busier than I planned!
Emily: 85%, I missed some of the earlier groups of Pairs and Mens.
Hannah: Everything that was broadcasted + most of the short programs
Joseph: I’m proud to say that I watched all Senior events (with the exception of the Pairs free programs & first groups of the free dance) live!
Lauren: Junior free dance, all the senior shorts, I may have skipped some early free skates across disciplines- a girl cannot subsist on arena food all weekend.
Who had the best performance of the event?
Bronwyn: I think everyone’s going to say Nathan or Karen, and so I’ll go with Maia and Alex Shibutani’s short dance. I don’t know dance, being real, but it seems to be the perfect blend of hip hop and the Midnight Blues without being too awkward (and actually looks like hip hop!). I love the low key shade of “We’re gonna skate to one song and one song only!” too.
Emily: Obviously, Nathan Chen was the star of the entire event. But I’ll give the performance of the event to Jimmy Ma and his Slim Shady SP. The only way I had ever envisioned Eminem on ice would have been a dance team using “Lose Yourself” in this seasons SD. Thank you Jimmy for thinking outside the box, way, WAY outside the box.
Hannah: #SLAYTHAN FREAKING CHEN. LIKE HOW. WHY. 5. QUADS. What is life? I’m still breathing heavily. Wow. Honorable mention to Ashley Swagner, the winner in my heart (although she’s always the winner in my heart…I’m weird). She was stunning, beautiful and solid. She managed to make me cry 3 times in the span of 2 hours. How.
Joseph: Is there really any question?! Nathan Chen’s short and long programs will be remembered forever as the moment(s) that US Men’s figure skating finally, “caught up.” Crazy as it may sound (considering the ridiculousness that was his five quad free skate), I actually preferred his short program as it showed an improved quality and style. This kid’s going places… 🙂
Lauren: The strongest performance of the event was clearly Nathan Chen and his 55 point margin of victory. There is simply not much to say that hasn’t been said. The 5 quad free skate is an instant legendary Nationals moment that commentators will still be talking about in 2047. One added bonus was that from my seat in the arena, I could see the media section and Phil Hersh’s increasing delight with each landed quad– it was almost like watching the end of The Grinch when his heart starts to double and triple in size. Honorable mentions to the Parsons in junior ice dance and Chock and Bates, who looked the best they have all season over both programs.
Who improved the most from the last time you watched them skate?
Bronwyn: Madison Chock and Evan Bates, though not my favorite team, skated an incredible FD, considering they finished last at the GPF. It was an incredibly well skated program, probably my favorite of theirs ever, and they skated with such attack that it was unsurprising that they won the FD.
Emily: I’ve been very skeptical of the Chock/Bates FD all season, but I found myself drawn in at Nationals and surprisingly not annoyed by Evan flinging Madison around the ice the whole time. Maybe it was the purple?
Hannah: Maia and Alex’s Short dance has been a program that I have loved all season, but the way they performed it here had me screaming “yaaaasssss!!” at the tv screen every time Maia made a face (which was a lot) and I was in a public place. Oops. They skated it with an abandon that I have not yet seen from them.
Joseph: Of course, Karen Chen. After her GP Series events, it was awesome to see her put out two AWESOME performances and be rewarded in the best possible way.
Lauren: Karen Chen. Again not much to say that hasn’t been said. If you told me a week ago that the teenager with perennial boot problems who was 7th at Golden Spin in December and 6th and 7th on the Grand Prix would defeat a non-imploding Ashley Wagner in both segments, I would have assumed you were high. Days later, I’m astonished that Karen, having had 48 hours to ponder her unlikely leader position after the short, not only held it together but laid it down, winning the free. Though she was great in the free in Greensboro two years ago, she showed up majorly here in both programs when it counted most.
Which performance was the most underscored?
Bronwyn: Is anyone truly underscored at U.S. Nationals? Jumps aside, I don’t understand how judges could give Alex Johnson only 7s in PCS in the SP. He truly is an exquisite skater and it was nice to see his PCS rise in the LP.
Emily: Caroline Zhang’s LP.
Hannah: Ok, here I go I am positively #triggered that Ashley Wagner, our very own WORLD SILVER MEDALIST was given the short end of the stick here. Look, I love Karen Chen and all but the < call on Ashley’s triple triple was waaaayyy out of line since they didn’t call Karen’s. And Ashley’s PCS were UNDER what she got at Worlds and this is Nationals where everyone gets Nationals Inflation (except Ashley Wagner of course). It’s almost like they needed to give someone else some reputation headed into worlds and Ashley already had it, so they gifted the title to Karen. #HannahsInsomniaConspiracyTheories
Joseph: I maybe would have bumped Alex Johnson’s free skate score up a point or two in components.
Lauren: This is NATIONALS so I side eye every judge that did not give our drought ending world medalist, Ashley Wagner, at least a 9 in all PCS components. Show a little more respect and patriotism, Judge 3.
Which performance was the most overscored?
Bronwyn: Mariah Bell’s LP, as much as I love her and love how strongly she finished the program, seemed to be a tad high for having botched two of her elements, including the 3Lz-3T.
Emily: The pairs event in general had a lot of inflation. Most of the programs put on the ice could not hold up internationally.
Hannah: El oh el at Jason almost hitting 80 in the short program. I love Jason but he was positively GIFTED with an < instead of << on that lutz. But it’s Jason Brown #favored
Joseph: For as “lit” as his free skate was, I maybe would have knocked Nathan Chen’s free skate down a point or two in components. I’m also not sure that the Shibs short dance was US record worthy.
Lauren: I apologize to their legions of fans but…the Shibs’ FD. While they’ve never been my team, I have always appreciated the way everything about their elements is usually so very pristine. That was not the case last weekend. The FD, in my opinion, was slow and nervy, which was especially surprising given their decent lead after the SD. It lacked the crispness and sharpness I’ve grown used to seeing from them and as a result, the majority of the program lacked excitement, as the music really doesn’t build until the very end.
Out of those skaters and teams who finished in the bottom half of their events, who had the best performance?
Bronwyn: Can I just say Jimmy Ma’s Eminem medley short program? Because honestly, that was amazing. I don’t think I need to explain when your step sequence is to “The Real Slim Shady”. Iconic honestly. Iconic.
Emily: Sean Rabbitt is comprised of 5% lanky limbs, 25% hair and 70% pure joy. Both his short and long (cue spanking his own bum) were a joy to watch.
Hannah: Sean Rabbit will probably always remember the night he beat out Max Aaron. He was totally on point and had everyone’s attention. Shoutout to the best commentary of the competition which belongs to Michael Weiss – “I think he just smacked his butt!!” (Said very enthusiastically)
Joseph: I really appreciated Livvy Shilling’s (Natalie Cole) short program… classy, elegant, sophisticated and very well done.
Lauren: Despite finishing 11th, Andrew Torgashev has an intangible factor that made me want to watch him and an ability to shake off mistakes that made me believe that his days in the bottom half are numbered.
Who has the most to gain at their next competition?
Bronwyn: A clean skate at Four Continents gives Karen Chen a huge opportunity to make an impact at Worlds, now that she has the national title behind her. If she can keep her momentum going, she might have a shot at top 5 considering how strong her elements are.
Emily: If Mariah Bell can put two solid programs on the ice, she could make a run for the podium.
Hannah: I think Karen Chen and Mariah Bell can really set themselves up well for being top names headed into the Olympic year. At 4cc, they have an opportunity to make a name for themselves headed in to Worlds, and then at Worlds they need to just skate their hearts out and put up some international scores they can be proud of. Also, now that Mirai is also going to 4cc, I have no doubt she will easily be on the podium again, and fight for an Olympic spot next year.
Joseph: Gotta go back to Nathan Chen, who (at Worlds) could absolutely position himself as a threat not just for a podium finish at Pyeongchang, but as the potential Olympic Champion.
Lauren: All the US pairs will have opportunities at 4CC and Worlds to show why they should be front-runners for the 2 Olympic spots. Strong performances and especially clean side-by-side jumps will be smiled upon by USFS and likely reflected in PCS at domestic events next year.
Who has the most to lose at their next competition?
Bronwyn: Well, the U.S. ladies in general could be in danger of losing the third spot considering all three of Karen, Ashley, and Mariah aren’t super consistent. All three have potential to place really well (obviously in Ashley’s case) but with the depth of the international field at the top, it could be really close.
Emily: Jason Brown being granted a spot on the World team holds the fate of the 3rd US Men’s Olympic spot in his hands, or more so on his stress fractured leg.
Hannah: As much as I hate to say it, Nathan Chen is going to have a HUGE amount of pressure, and everyone is going to expect him to go clean. He needs to keep skating clean, and he’ll be fine. But he has a lot of eyes on him, so hopefully he can handle it.
Joseph: My girl, La Divacita, Ashley Wagner. Since she’s skipping 4CC to train… it better be some of the most intense training she’s ever done, and she has to COME CORRECT at Worlds to position herself as a threat for the individual Olympic medal I know she wants so badly. Honorable mention here goes to Jason Brown. Everyone expects Nathan Chen to have (at worst) a top 5 finish at Worlds, and this leaves an injured Jason to put it all out there in the hopes of securing three men’s spots. I (for one), hope he exceeds everyone’s expectations.
Lauren: It will be many months before we see Gracie Gold in competition again. When we do, there is no doubt the spotlight will be bright and the pressure to erase judges’ memories of this season will be immense. I believe USFS would love nothing more than to have their golden girl back but to reestablish her rep after this disaster season and show she can be trusted in the Olympic spotlight, she’ll need to do something she’s really never done before- start the season strong and build on it with each subsequent competition.
What surprised you most about this event?
Bronwyn: I mean, IDK, I thought Karen Chen’s win was pretty surprising. Not because I thought she wasn’t talented, because she is SO well-rounded and has beautiful interpretation/elements/etc., but because I wasn’t quite expecting the judges to get behind her as much as they did. Pleasantly surprised though!
Emily: The stories of redemption and reinvention were everywhere at this event, which I found both surprising and inspiring. Deanna Stellato, coming out of super retirement, pairing up with Nathan Bartholomew to capture 4th place. Dennis Phan, coming out of retirement to skate inspired, beautiful programs. Caroline Zhang, back after a disastrous few years and major hip surgery, skating beautifully. Pulling a 3lo/3lo off that edge is rough on anyone’s hip, let alone a recently surgically repaired hip. Ashley Cain and Tim LeDuc, reinventing themselves in 7 months to clinch a medal.
Hannah: Probably Max Aaron and Courtney Hicks finishing as low as they did. They both put up a fight in the FS, but boy, was this a rough competition for them.
Joseph: Multiple falls… in Ice Dance?! How well the two new pairs teams did in their first Nationals together. That I was actually more interested in, and into, the Men’s final than the ladies
Lauren: Deanna Stellato. It is not every day (or any day) that a skater from your childhood returns in a new discipline after 17 years and looks like she completely belongs. But that’s what Deanna did. You could feel the joy radiating from both her and Nate in their short and from the audience after (the one good thing about the perennially low attendance for the Thursday afternoon pairs short was that the crowd was diehards who knew their story and responded appropriately). She looks like she was always meant to do pairs elements and Nate has grown as a performer in his time away from competition. I cannot wait to see them again and I am also thinking about which other Baby Ballerinas should mount comebacks in pairs.
Which skater/team selected to participate in 4CCs or Worlds will have the most success at those events?
Bronwyn: The Shibutanis should have great success at 4CC, considering they are the defending champions. Of course, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are the favorites for the title and should win barring complete disaster, but the Shibutanis are generally consistent, especially with that spectacular SD.
Emily: If the U.S. women can keep the mental aspects of their skating in check, all could doing very well at 4CC’s and Worlds. That being said…..
Hannah: I think Ashley and Nathan have set themselves up wonderfully for World Medals. Go #TeamRaf
Joseph: Nathan Chen has the most drive, momentum and buzz, so I expect that he will kill it… maybe not at 4CCs but it’s on at Worlds. I also think that Cain/Leduc will carry their upward momentum into 4CCs and do very well.
Lauren: Nathan seems unflappable and I think he’s likely to podium at Worlds. I hated saying rosaries in Catholic elementary school but I am willing to commit to nightly rosaries for his hip through the Olympics. Additionally, it goes pretty much without saying that our dance teams will put down impressive performances through the end of the season.
Which skater/team selected to participate in 4CCs or Worlds will have the least success at those events?
Bronwyn: It’ll be interesting to see how both Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim and Ashley Cain/Tim LeDuc do at 4CC. Since this is SK/K’s first competition of the season, I wouldn’t be surprised if they come out a bit rusty. That said, they do have to be ready in time for Worlds, so who knows? As for C/L, this is the first major international they’ve had together, and although they’ve been very successful so far, they’re still a new pair.
Emily: …the U.S. women could just as easily flop at both 4CC’s and Worlds, and not for any lack of talent.
Hannah: Oh US Pairs, please surprise me this year. Or don’t, whatever. It’s cool. (Not really.)
Joseph: As fabulous as she was here at Nationals, I’m not sure that Karen Chen is “there” yet in the eyes of the international judges to make real podium run at Worlds. With that said, strong skates like her two Nationals performances (and improved skates from Mariah Bell) could make a positive impact on maintaining three ladies spots.
Lauren: Though I was so impressed with Karen here, I’m worried about her and Mariah. Neither have reputations as rock solid competitors yet and the pressure to help keep 3 Olympic spots will be immense. I am already so nervous for their short programs as if they both make mistakes, I fear they could end up too far down to pull up. That said, I remain eternally hopeful when it comes to US ladies. I also wonder if the Knierims will be able to deliver. This is not the same as putting someone like Caydee Denney, who would always find away to land her jumps, on a team. This is an often headcasey, error-prone pair who has been away from competition for nearly a year. I find it hard to believe they won’t look AT BEST a little shaky.
The experts always get to make “bold predictions.” Make a bold prediction about something that will happen in the remainder of the season.
Bronwyn: Evgenia will not win Worlds. Go big or go home.
Emily: Cain/LeDuc will medal at 4CCs. Mirai Nagasu will medal at 4CCs as well.
Hannah: Ashley is gonna win Worlds. I believe it. She’s got this. Maia and Alex Shibutani are going to beat one of the top 2 teams and defend their silver medal at Worlds. Alexa and Chris are gonna land things. Haven is gonna single the axel in the freeskate again. Nathan Chen is gonna have 8 quads in the free skate at Worlds, including 2 quad-quad combinations, but Yuzuru Hanyu does 5 and still wins because of PCS. Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc win a medal at 4cc. The Russians don’t sweep ladies skating anymore (it’s boring).
Joseph: The US will get three men’s spots, but lose a ladies spot. Hubbell/Donahue will finish ahead of Chock/Bates at Worlds.
Lauren: Chock and Bates top the Shibs in the FD again at 4CC and then narrowly defeat them for bronze at Worlds. Nathan wins the short at Worlds and ends up with silver.
Bonus question! You get to unilaterally move one skater or team from this country to another country. Which skater/team do you pick, where do you send them, and why?
Bronwyn: Mirai Nagasu to a random European country without a top lady so she can be on the Worlds team forever and ever.
Emily: I hereby banish Andrew Torgashev’s whole team for given us his painful long program music. Who approved that music cut? I’m sending that program away….far away… Ok, serious answer, I’d send Marissa/Mervin to any country where they could both obtain citizenship and compete at the 2016 Olympics. I’d also send them anyplace that could possibly banish the demons from their side-by-side jumps.
Hannah: Let’s send Gracie to represent some small country (like Ireland) where she can win everything even with a program like that, and we don’t have to deal with the constant “she’s the best in the US by far.” Cause she isn’t. If she wants to be the best in her country, go somewhere else. #sass
Joseph: None of them! I think all of our skaters bring a much needed “US Swag” to the figure skating universe! An even exchange for a Russian pair team though? A definite maybe.
Lauren: I am sending Mervin and Marissa to wherever they can expedited citizenship for the Olympics. Iceland? Greenland? The fake country from the Princess Diaries? Unfortunately, I think the 4CC slight made clear they are a low priority for USFS.
Anything else to add about this event?
Bronwyn: I cried a lot.
Emily: Nationals just isn’t Nationals with out Adam Rippon.
Hannah: I HATE POLITICAL JUDGING. Gah. Grr. Mer. Meh. I’m shook. I missed Adam way too much. Way too much.
Joseph: A skater I’m keeping an eye on is Emmanuel Savary. As an African-American man, I remember having so few (if any) skating role models who looked like me back in the stone ages when I was a skater. I was THRILLED to watch both of Emmanuel’s performances and see an African-American male skater with so much promise. I sincerely hope that he maintains his love for the sport, his commitment to improving and the support he needs to do both.
Lauren: Charlie White chose this most holy skating weekend to become quite the political pundit on Twitter, something I enjoyed almost as much as Nationals itself. Rafael’s quotes in the mixed zone are everything. For example, when asked if he can help get Mariah to where he got Ashley, he responded, “”Why not? I have the skills.”” If only Gracie had one tenth of his confidence…
What did you think about this year’s US National Championships? How did our judges do? Leave us a comment to let us know, then sign up to judge a future event!