It all starts for the women on Wednesday, with the ladies' short program kicking off competition at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. This event is potentially as unpredictable as the American women have been this season. But for me, the three spots for PyeongChang should come down to five skaters - it was four until just a month ago. There is no favorite for gold; there really aren't really clear-cut favorites for the podium. Get ready for a crazy few days in San Jose.
U.S. Championships predictions
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GOLD Mirai Nagasu - Ten years ago, Mirai Nagasu entered her very first U.S. Championships and won the whole thing. A fourth-place Olympic finish and loads of ups and downs later, she comes into her 11th Nationals looking the best she ever has in her jumps. She may have lost a bit of her spark with greater focus on her jumps, but her ticket to PyeongChang will be contingent on how well she can keep her focus. If she skates two programs like she does in practice, she's back on that Olympic team. And wouldn't it be something for her to win her second U.S. title a decade after winning her first?
SILVER Ashley Wagner - The three-time U.S. champion is in the mood to turn her season around. It's been a season of distractions, uncertainty, and changes for Wagner, who enters her 11th Nationals looking to make her second Olympic team. It's never about preparation or training for Wagner, rather it's always about how aggressive she is in her approach to her jumps in competition. She sounds refreshed and ready, and Wagner is always game to prove her doubters wrong.
BRONZE Bradie Tennell - Tennell's rise is long overdue. Her junior title in 2015 had promise written all over it, especially because of the kind of consistency she showed both in practice and in competition. And it is precisely her consistency, which is back this season, that has pushed her into the conversation in the American landscape of unpredictable skating. Her rise, and her potential to make the Olympic team in San Jose, will no doubt be bolstered by her bronze at Skate America last month and the accompanying highest international score from any American woman.
4. Karen Chen - After a bunch of program changes, the defending champion comes in on the heels of yet another mediocre fall season. Going back to her programs from last season could allow her to settle her mind a bit more - and her internal mind games are really the big factor for her performances. We know she is capable of winning this thing again. We should also not forget that just nine months ago, she finished fourth at Worlds. Which Karen Chen will we see in San Jose, on her home ice?
5. Mariah Bell - The surprise bronze medalist last season hasn't replicated the magic that brought her a silver at last year's Skate America and a top 12 finish at Worlds. Perhaps more than any of the other five who are in the conversation for the Olympic team, Bell needs to put down a clean short program to set herself up for success.
6. Angela Wang - Oh so close to having a breakthrough season, Wang's fourth-place at Finlandia Trophy earlier this season behind the likes of Sotskova, Kostner, and Tuktamysheva made a real statement there. But right when you thought she's figured out her consistency, she had a disappointing free skate at Tallinn Trophy a month ago. She's been underrated in the strength of her basics because of her inconsistency, but two clean programs this week can change that - and could put her in the running for her season to continue after San Jose.
7. Courtney Hicks - A disappointing 12th last season at Nationals took her away from the conversation for the Olympic team. But she's been flying under the radar this season so far. And she does have big technical content, so if she does have a strong short program, she could be a dark horse in San Jose.
8. Caroline Zhang - In her tenth U.S. Championships, the former World Junior Champion is a way long shot to make the Olympic team. And though her jump consistency has returned over the past few seasons, her components have not kept up. She will, as always, be a sentimental favorite for the crowd - watch for the support from the crowd to push her to put down a couple of great programs again this season.
9. Starr Andrews - The junior silver medalist here last season, Andrews makes her senior debut at the U.S. Championships and looks to establish herself as one of the breakout stars of the next Olympic quadrennium. Like Nagasu, she's got a triple axel, but we haven't seen her fully rotate it this season.
10. Polina Edmunds - Ninth at the Olympics four years ago, Edmunds has been trying to climb back from injury for the past two seasons. And though she's finally back and competing, she just hasn't had enough time to get her entire arsenal of jumps back. She showed some progress at Internationaux de France, but will need to be a whole lot better than that to get herself back on the Olympic team.
Others to watch:
Amber Glenn - Such a talent - the 2014 U.S. junior champion hasn't really seen the kind of consistency that you had expected from her since that strong season. She has had moments of brilliance, including a fourth place at Golden Spin last season, but her two international appearances did not go as she had hoped.
Tessa Hong - She was the new face last season, grabbing fourth in the short program. But she couldn't keep up the magic in the free and finished tenth. She was middling in her one Junior Grand Prix event, so there is little buzz for her coming in. But last year was certainly an indication of what she's capable of.