Amid all the attention on the Olympic selection, we forget that there was actual skating that happened. I took a look at that Olympic selection criteria in my last post, and I'll take a look at each of the four disciplines here.
So, Nathan Chen, eh?
It took Nathan Chen to be under the weather for him to put out his best free skate of the season. He had struggled with his quad lutz earlier in the week, and opted to take it out of both programs. But in some ways, it focused him more on the task at hand. Just like last year, he ended up landing seven clean quads in his two programs.
His nemesis (har har) triple axel? Well, he was zero for two. He's still getting used to the skid entry technique that is new to him this season, and the key to the skid is always to be patient on the edge as it rolls into the skid. His short program entry was better than his free skate one, which he rushed, but there's another month for him to get that in check, because he will absolutely need it, particularly to put himself in a strong position after the short.
In a season of inconsistency with the men, you have to think that this is a confidence boost for Chen. None of his rivals had strong national championship performances, though even Chen himself noted that for Shoma Uno and Mikhail Kolyada, their nationals were very close to the Grand Prix Final and it probably took a toll on them.
But really, a very honorable mention to Adam Rippon's short program. It was the showstopper that helped him stay competitive after the disastrous end to his free skate. A lot of people, including me, thought that this short program had already had its run and may not have been the best choice for him in an Olympic season. But boy, was I wrong on that - especially since he's continued to own this music and this program more and more. I am now convinced that no one else could skate to that music - or even come close to - the way that he does. His presence and ownership of that program made it the short program of the competition.
And whatever you think of the selection of the Olympic team, you can't forget the showstopper that was Ross Miner's free skate. After a couple of seasons of struggles to put down clean competitions, he made it work in San Jose, and it's worth another watch.
All of the tears
Emotions abound for the women. Bradie Tennell skated two clean programs, as expected, to win her first national title in the biggest, most high-pressure competition of her life so far. The biggest ovation, though, went to Mirai Nagasu, with everyone in the arena knowing her story and what happened four years ago. She still wasn't putting out the programs that she routinely hits in practice, but the difference between this year and the past few is that she kept her head together amid the enormous pressure she must have been feeling. Here's to that triple axel getting done at the Olympics.
The third spot for the Olympics really came down to Karen Chen and Ashley Wagner, each coming in to the free skate with different thoughts about how the night might turn out. Chen had the edge, particularly on components, and Wagner knew that she needed to be almost flawless to get back on the Olympic team. Chen was also coming in under the weather, and she had missed practice the day before because of it. In the end, Wagner's debut of her La La Land free skate just didn't do it for the judges, and she made one too many mistakes for it to happen for her.
The title and the sole Olympic spot went, as expected, to Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim. But what has been promising over the past few seasons is that the American pair teams are staying together and making strides. The top six pairs in the field in San Jose all have fantastic potential, though all could benefit from a dose or two of consistency if they are to make some noise internationally. All of them are looking to continue on the next four years, good news for those looking for some stability from the American pairs.
The comeback story of the week certainly goes to Tarah Kayne/Danny O'Shea, who had that disastrous short program last season that caused them to withdraw. Kayne ended up having surgery a couple months later and didn't get back to full strength until just about a month ago. And now they are off to the World Championships as the second American pair, looking better as a pair than they have ever looked.
An ice dance shakeup
I tweeted that the final group was possibly the best final group of ice dance I have ever seen at a U.S. Championships. And I wasn't kidding. When the dust settled, Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue took the upset win over Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani. After skating a stunning, career-best short dance, the Shibutanis made a visible error late in their free dance in their diagonal step sequence, which cost them valuable execution points. When the very best dance teams are getting +2s and +3s everywhere, it makes a huge difference. In the end, they lost 2-3 points in execution, and they ended up losing the title by 0.19.
Hubbell/Donohue shook off their disappointment from last season at Nationals and skated two of their strongest programs of the season. Their free dance really pack a punch when you watch it live - and of the three top teams' FDs, it's got the most power and connection. But lest we forget, it was Madison Chock/Evan Bates, the 2015 champs, who won the free dance with their best effort for the season. They know they have ground to make up in the short dance to be competitive for the podium in PyeongChang.
In the end, as with the Grand Prix Final, these three teams were separated by less than a point when it was all said and done. And though all three will be underdogs for the top two spots at the Olympics, they have set themselves up well for a great showdown going into next month.
But let's also remember the ethereal free dance from Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker - it was the skate of their career so far and redemption from last season, when they had two huge errors with the same free dance at Nationals. Their performances in San Jose will certainly give them a lot of confidence as they head into Four Continents likely as the favorites for gold there.
And I'll leave this here for you.