If you weren't inspired by the first day of competition at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, I don't know what you would be inspired by. The pairs and ladies opened the senior events at Nationals yesterday, and the top of the leaderboards were packed with surprises, comebacks, and familiar names. A quick look at what transpired before we head into the perfect storm that is Day 2 of US Nationals and Day 1 of Canadians.
Two new teams steal the show
Coming in to Kansas City this week, many eyes were on former silver medalists Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier to take their first title. But a couple of errors in their short opened the door early for other teams to walk through. The two teams who took full advantage were two new teams with four very familiar names. Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc, who have both had success at Nationals in pairs, teamed up just over half a year ago and grabbed the lead with a stunning debut. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay, also making their first appearance together at the U.S. Championships, are third just behind Denney/Frazier after their clean performance.
The surprise was not in their potential but in how fast they've been able to gel as pairs. Cain/LeDuc attributed their rise to having international assignments during the fall to push them to improve and upgrade at an accelerated pace. Stellato, who retired from singles skating over a decade ago and is brand new to pairs skating, returned to Nationals for the first time in 16 years with Bartholomay, the 2014 Olympian. Thanks in part to Bartholomay's prowess as a seasoned pair skater and in part to Stellato's (ridiculously) quick learning, Stellato/Bartholomay look like a pair who has been skating for years together already.
Reigning champions Tarah Kayne/Daniel O'Shea dealt with a scary fall on their throw lutz, with Kayne barely avoiding hitting her head and face on the ice. They sit in fifth behind reigning bronze medalists Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran. When it was all said and done, first and fifth were less than eight points apart, and in the unpredictable field that is pair skating, a lot can happen tomorrow in the free skate.
Chen, Nagasu in top form
A lot of people expected Mirai Nagasu to bring in a strong performance after the season that she has had so far. But fewer expected to see former U.S. bronze medalist Karen Chen to make the kind of splash that she did. Chen skated the short program of her career to lead the way into the free skate. What always sets both Chen and Nagasu apart are their spins, which made up their disadvantage to Ashley Wagner in components.
Wagner hit her triple-triple but had a hold-your-breath moment on her double axel, which cost her the lead. Even she was surprised that her axel was not called underrotated. But depending on the camera angle, there was a case to be made for full rotation. The top three are separated by less than two points, and it would not be a surprise to see some movement in the free.
Relief for Gold
It was not perfection for Gracie Gold, the reigning champion. But you can sense that there was a breath of relief after her short program, where she fought to hit her lutz-toe but doubled her flip. After a rough season, it's not a performance that's going to flip the switch for her, but it's also not a performance that will continue to sap her confidence. Her practices this week have looked strong, but it will certainly be about how her mindset is in-program.
Gold finds herself just a fraction of a point behind the potential breakthrough skater of this competition, Tessa Hong. Hong skated early in the groups and put down a clean and difficult short that vaulted her to the front until Chen skated. Saturday's free skate is going to be exciting.