It continues to get better! After a shaky start to the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on the first day, the competition has just continued to build more and more. Yesterday's short dance and men's short were superb, and today's marathon of pairs' free, free dance, and ladies' free were outstanding. And three events in, we now have three national champions who weren't national champions last year. And with Jason Brown not here, we are guaranteed to have four different faces on the US Figure Skating homepage banner.
The come-from-behind mentality
Both the champion, Gracie Gold, and the bronze medalist (and last year's champion), Ashley Wagner, did what they do best today - they turned a disappointing short program into a super free skate. It was what they did last year at Worlds to finish fourth and fifth. But like everyone and their mother have been saying, a World medal is within reach for both of them, but they will need to get out of come-from-behind mode and put down two clean skates to do it.
Wagner was a triple lutz away from taking silver. And her free skate was going splendidly until that last lutz, which she uncharacteristically popped into a single. Gold skated her best program of the season and one of her best efforts ever to overcome a seven-plus point deficit to beat Polina Edmunds, who led after the short program.
Edmunds was fantastic in her own right, and though her free skate is not the vehicle that her short program is, she fixed a lot of those underrotation problems that plagued her internationally this season. She got one loop called underrotated but was otherwise clean. And all of a sudden, we are (likely) sending the same three women to Worlds for a third year in a row. Of course, I say "likely" because the committee still has to make an official announcement - expected by noon tomorrow - but the chances they will choose another combination are almost zero.
The Shibutanis' unexpected journey
After they won the World bronze in 2011, many expected Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani's star to just rise. But their trajectory since has been more U-shaped and a straight line up, and they have become vastly better ice dancers for it. In a lot of ways, this path has pushed them, and they in turn have pushed themselves relentlessly to improve and get back into the conversation.
Perhaps more than any other top tier team in the world, the Shibutanis have made the biggest strides. So in a lot of ways, the results setbacks after the World bronze have been a blessing in disguise, of sorts. You have to remember that in 2014, they made the Olympic team by a margin of just two points over Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue, another team that has made huge strides of their own. It remains to be seen how much of a contender they will be with the international panels at Worlds, but it's for certain that they continue to build momentum this season, anchored by their brilliant free dance.
And so the Shibutanis take their first U.S. title in their sixth appearance on the senior level, it sure goes nicely with their 2010 junior title and their 2007 novice title. And wow, who would've predicted it? Oh right, I did.
Kayne/O'Shea break through
In a lot of ways Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim were the pretty solid favorites coming into Nationals. They qualified for Grand Prix Final and had the best results internationally, while Tarah Kayne/Daniel O'Shea have been trying to find their stride. But Kayne/O'Shea were like an accelerating train, and they delivered the two best programs of their lives to beat the reigning champions, who made mistakes in both the short and the free. That said, Scimeca/Knierim had their best free skate effort of the season, and there is still plenty of good to take away from this competition for them.
For Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran, there was a bit of a missed opportunity there. Two clean programs would have likely grabbed the silver for them. But like Scimeca/Knierim, they made mistakes in both. That said, it's still a season of growth for them, and they will be able to end it with their first appearance at Four Continents, where Tran did not medal with Narumi Takahashi and Castelli took bronze in 2013 with Simon Shnapir.
And, of course, this. Good night, everyone!