6 More Things I Learned from the 2017 US National Figure Skating Championships

Madison Chock and Evan Bates perform their free dance at Nationals.

What’s a blogger to do when she wants to say everything about Nationals? Someone with more restraint – or an editor – might just skip stuff, but skating fans hate it when you skip stuff. As it does almost every year, NBC blacked out the live performances of a number of ladies and ice dancers in the earlier warm-up groups, and Twitter threw a fit. So I’m going to indulge my completist tendencies and cover everything I have an opinion about. If you haven’t read the first part of my Nationals recap, start there. This is a continuation of that post, not a stand-alone sequel.

It’s been an ugly couple of weeks in the United States, and watching figure skating has given me some emotional relief from current events. At the same time, Nationals have reminded me that America’s strength comes from the diversity of its citizens and residents, and that my country has a long track record of undermining that strength. From the 1880’s until the end of World War II, Chinese-Americans like Nathan Chen, Karen Chen, and Vincent Zhou endured laws that restricted immigration, curtailed civil rights, and stoked anti-Chinese sentiment, using rhetoric that will sound familiar to anyone following the news lately. In the 1940’s, Japanese-Americans like Mirai Nagasu, Maia Shibutani, and Alex Shibutani were stripped of their livelihoods and property and forced to live in internment camps, while European Jews, like Jason Brown’s ancestors (and my own), were turned away from American borders despite facing almost certain death in their countries of origin. In the 1950’s, Americans of many backgrounds were targeted in anti-Communist inquisitions, but Russian immigrants and their descendants – people like Alex Krasnozhon and Anthony Ponomarenko – became particularly vulnerable to interrogation, imprisonment, and professional blacklisting. In retrospect, none of these violations of civil and human rights made America safer, and several harmed the United States economically. In this, as in most things, sports are a microcosm of society, and an illustration of what we have to lose through ignorance, paranoia, and bullying.

Anyway. Also there was skating.

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2017 US Nationals Field Guide: Championship Ladies Part 1

Gracie Gold skates her free program at the 2016 Trophee de France.

At long last – and with one day to go until they take the ice – we’ve reached what for most fans is the marquee event. From the casuals who only tune into NBC once a year to the lifers on the message boards who will wait eternally for the next Michelle Kwan, most people are in it for the ladies. Even if, like me, you’re a bigger nerd for other disciplines, the hype and excitement that surround the senior ladies make them more or less unskippable. And that makes it all the more important to know who all 19 of this season’s competitors are.

Since it’s likely you’re one of those casuals who googled your way in (and if you are, you’re an important part of why figure skating airs on network TV, so please stick around), you should know I’ve written a full set of field guides for the junior and senior competitors in ladies, men, and ice dance:

  • Championship Men Part 1 and Championship Men Part 2, the event I’m most emotionally over-invested in, with Nathan Chen planning some of the biggest jumps in the world and a herd of dark horses ready to swoop in if he falls on them
  • Championship Ice Dance, the most talent-rich field in American figure skating, and the USA’s best hopes for a World Championships medal
  • Junior Ladies, full of potential future stars, and jumps as difficult as what you’ll see at the senior level
  • Junior Men, a scrappy and quirky field that will feature this week’s only quadruple loop attempt
  • Junior Ice Dance, a field as stacked as the senior one, and possibly even more entertaining and unpredictable

This season’s Championship Ladies event features most of the big names, but it’s marked by a number of notable withdrawals. There are more top skaters missing here than in any other event. Polina Edmunds, the 2016 silver medalist and 2014 Olympian, has been out with injuries all year, and she has not recovered in time to compete. Tyler Pierce, who was 5th last year, has also been injured all season, as has Vivian Le, who would have made her senior Nationals debut after an accomplished junior-level career. The 2016 Junior National Champion, Emily Chan, had a disastrous free skate at Midwestern Sectionals and didn’t qualify for Nationals. An especially competitive field at Pacific Coast Sectionals meant that hyper-talented athletes like Olivia Serafini and Vanna Giang didn’t make the cut, either. Even more than most years, the technical ability of the 12 ladies who reached Nationals via successes at Regionals and Sectionals is exceptionally high, and several have a real shot at a medal.

As in my other field guides, I’m going to shy away from making exact predictions about how everyone will fare. Instead, I’m placing each skater in one of five categories. Four of those categories are a rating scale, with Front Runners most likely to contend for gold, Dark Horses with the podium (and maybe a title) in sight, On the Rise athletes looking for their turn on NBC and a spot in the international selection pool, and the Just Happy to Be Here crowd, for whom it’s an honor to reach this level of competition. The fifth group are the true wildcards, the ones who make this sport both pleasurable and stressful. Some have an excellent shot at a medal – and some are among my favorite American ladies – but I have no idea where they’ll end up in the final standings. Those skaters are Why I Drink.

Since there are 19 competitors in the senior ladies’ event, I’ve divided this field guide into two posts. This one features the first 9 skaters, alphabetically by last name. I promise to have the second one up before Thursday night.

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