There was a lot of talk about the one Olympic spot that the U.S. got for pairs after the World Championships. The short of it is that the U.S. technically qualified two spots and then technically got the second spot taken back because the ISU had given out its maximum 16 spots (full explanation here). That said, outside the Olympic spot, there are still two Worlds spots to be had here. One team looks to be the clear favorites, but it's pairs, so you never know what might happen.
U.S. Championships predictions
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GOLD Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim - There is no doubt that Knierim/Knierim are the favorites here. They have been the top U.S. pair internationally for this entire Olympic cycle, and they have the best pair skating in the field this week. They also are bringing back the quad twist for the first time since 2016 Worlds, but the question is always on their side-by-side jumps. They have shown that they can put them down in competition before - a couple of clean skates this week will do a lot for their confidence.
SILVER Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier - The reigning U.S. champions had a struggle at Worlds last year and are trying to bounce back from that disappointment. They looked strong in practice at Skate America but couldn't put it together in competition. That said, they are an improved pair from the one that won the title last season, but will need to be a lot more consistent than we've seen them in order to put up a fight for that Olympic spot.
BRONZE Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran - Even though they are not fighting for the Olympic spot this week (Tran does not have his American citizenship), Castelli/Tran have always had some of the strongest foundational skating among the U.S. pairs. They are putting the pieces together, as they have finally figured out their throw flip. And if they can figure out their side-by-side jumps here, they could have a shot at that title.
4. Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc - Bronze here in their debut last season, Cain/LeDuc haven't had the sophomore season that they had hoped for, in part because of illness and in part due to general inconsistency. When they are on, they light up the crowd. And given the strength of their higher-valued side-by-sides, they could really make a dent again this week.
5. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay - Like Cain/LeDuc, Stellato/Bartholomay had a fantastic debut last season, finishing fourth in their first Nationals. They started their season with guns blazing - quad salchow, side-by-side triple lutzes - but they have since backed off on technical content during the fall. A strong showing again this week will do a lot in propelling them for the next four years.
6. Tarah Kayne/Danny O'Shea - Perhaps the biggest question mark here is how the 2016 U.S. champions will fare. After a rough fall in the short took them out of last year's Nationals, and they were only able to make a comeback to competition a month ago at Golden Spin, where they took bronze. But at that competition, their big tricks were still in progress, and so with another month under their belt, you wonder how much more progress they have been able to make since then.
7. Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillan - Fifth last year at Nationals, Pfund/Santillan have put down some steady, consistent programs over their career. They could very well be a bit of a dark horse this week.
8. Jessica Calalang/Zack Sidhu - They have been fifth twice at Nationals, and they've had some solid results internationally over the past few seasons. They were sixth at Autumn Classic and seventh at Finlandia earlier this season.
9. Chelsea Liu/Brian Johnson - Liu/Johnson had a very strong start to their season with a bronze at U.S. Classic, but their second competition at Warsaw Cup in November was not as solid. They were sixth here last season.
10. Winter Deardorff/Max Settlage - Settlage is back at Nationals after missing it last season because he and Madeline Aaron split up. But he's here with Deardorff after teaming up with her earlier this year. They are pretty untested and have not been in competition since the summer, so we will see how much of the unexpected we can expect from this new team.