The 2017 World Championships was a mixed bag for the United States. Overall, the quality and cleanness of the performances from the Americans weren't as strong as they were last year - and after three medals last year, they finished with one (bronze in dance from Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani). But the silver lining is that they came away with what they wanted and needed for the Olympics next year - save for a technicality.
Spots achieved (mostly)
For all skating federations, there are two goals to Worlds - one is medals and the other is qualification of spots to next year's Worlds. As far as the latter is concerned, the pre-Olympics Worlds is even more important because this is where countries qualify their spots for the Olympics as well as for Worlds next season.
For the Olympics, the US came into Helsinki looking to maintain their three spots in ladies and dance, maintain their two spots in pairs, and add a third spot for the men. And with the American skaters' finishes, they did just that, except a technicality in the pairs' event kept them from getting the second spot that they actually qualified. Is there any way for them to find that second spot? The chances seem slim, but I looked at a possible scenario in another post a few days ago.
Strong showings in each discipline
The Shibutanis led the way with their bronze in ice dance, giving them a third career World medal. But even with the medal, their scores were not what they had expected - a level two step sequence cost them valuable base value points and was the difference for them between fifth and second. Their free dance at Worlds was one of the strongest skates that they had all season, yet they received their lowest FD score of the season in international season.
Unexpectedly, it was Karen Chen who led the way for the women and ensured that the Americans would maintain their third spot after Ashley Wagner surprisingly faltered in the free skate. There were doubts about her readiness after Four Continents (including from yours truly) but she shut all of those doubts down with a superb short program and a free skate that was better than the one she skated at the US Championships. Mariah Bell had a respectable debut in her first Worlds, figuring out how to compete on the big stage.
For the men, Jason Brown did his job exactly as he needed to, with two strong programs that put him in seventh. Without the technical content to contend for top six, this was as good as he could have hoped for. And in pairs, Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim closed their very short season with two solid skates and a 200+ total score. Only the Knierims have ever scored over 200 for the Americans in international competition.
Uncharacteristic errors brought down others
There were uncharacteristic mistakes across the board as well that kept this from being a banner Worlds for the US. Wagner's issues in the free skate took many by surprise, especially considering how well her practices went during the week. As a skater who loves the comeback role, her seventh-place short program standing looked to be the perfect place for her to launch another surge to the top. But it was not to be, and her hesitation began straight from the warmup. I have not seen her skate with that kind of tightness since the 2014 US Championships, but she fought through to keep the third spot afloat for Chen to clinch.
The other two US dance teams took themselves out of contention, both with major errors on their twizzle sequences. Madison Chock/Evan Bates had their twizzles called a level 1 after Bates botched his, dropping their score by over four points. But more severely, Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue had to count a fall and an invalidated twizzle sequence as they were about a minute and a half away from their first World medal. It was a heartbreaking turn of events for them after a breakthrough short dance that landed them in third.
Nathan Chen had medal hopes written all over his season, especially coming in as the Four Continents champion and upgrading his free skate once again. But it wasn't to be, as his inconsistency last week, exacerbated by his boot problems, took him to sixth. Like Wagner, he held it together enough to get the three spots for the US, and another skater with flimsier mental fortitude could have spiraled into an all-out disaster.
Good news for these skaters? Well, the Olympics is yet to come.