It's been a whirlwind of a week ... and we still have a whole men's free skate left to go. We already had some incredible skates and surprises so far at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and the lsat two days were no different. With three super free skates in the ladies' event, a record-breaking short program in the men's event, an uneven but still eventful pairs' e vent, and a very close race in ice dance, the last two days have been exciting. A quick look back before we head into the men's free this afternoon.
Time for the Chen-Chen headlines
We are one program away from having two skaters with the last name Chen win the singles' titles here in Kansas City. Karen Chen pulled off a stunning victory last night, defeating three-time champ Ashley Wagner to claim her first title. Karen Chen has shown progression in her consistency this season that she has yet to achieve in past seasons. She's had some strong individual performances this season, but this marks her first competition with two solid programs. It's a huge step forward for her, and her task now will be to continue this momentum into Four Continents, where two more strong performances can vault her into the picture for Worlds.
Wagner skated her best free skate of the season, but an underrotated triple toe and a singled double toe at the end of her program kept her from controlling her own destiny here. She's all about peaking at the right time, and this puts her in position for Worlds as her bronze did last year.
On the other Chen front, we had an incredible - and for many, completely expected - short program from Nathan Chen, who built a huge double-digit lead that makes him even more the odds-on favorite for his first title. And yes, you better believe his win will generate loads of Chen puns and Chen-Chen headlines.
Disappointments from familiar names
Former champion Max Aaron had a great shot at Worlds coming in, especially with two chief rivals ailing - Adam Rippon is out with a broken foot and Jason Brown is competing injured with watered-down programs. But a 12th-place short program obliterated his chances. He will need a flawless skate to even have a chance.
Another former champion, Mirai Nagasu, was in prime contention for the World team after a brilliant short program. But jitters in the free skate dropped her, once again, to fourth. She's looked better this season than she ever has, and many fans hope that it will continue into next season.
Two-time champ Gracie Gold continues to struggle this season with her confidence and consistency. And just like in the short, she started off brilliantly with her triple lutz-triple toe in the free skate, but fell apart in the rest of her program. Her sixth-place finish will give her time to regroup, rediscover, and refresh. There will certainly be a lot of soul-searching for her this year as she rebuilds for the Olympic season. From an outside-in perspective, there's a spark and a joy that she's been missing this season - there's a lot to be said about regaining the love of the sport again. And we all hope she does.