Two words for NBC switching the men to Saturday primetime for the first time in who knows how long - Nathan Chen. He's one of the potential stars in PyeongChang and it will be his national title to lose this week. And so that leaves two spots on the Olympic team, two spots between three other former U.S. champions and the reigning U.S. silver medalist. Between these five men, they have five of the top 12 season best totals internationally - not too shabby for a U.S. men's field that has been (wrongly) characterized as not deep or competitive enough. Get ready for fireworks.
U.S. Championships predictions
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GOLD Nathan Chen - It's a no-brainer. The bigger question this week is how Chen will skate, new costumes and new haircut in tow. Last year, he blew the roof off with two fantastic programs. This year, he has the potential to do even more, especially as his main rivals internationally have all made mistakes at their respective national championships. Skating two clean or near-clean programs for Chen would not only do a lot for his confidence heading into PyeongChang, but also serve notice to the rest of the world that in a season of inconsistency, he may be inching closer to doing what he needs for Olympic gold.
SILVER Adam Rippon - The most consistent American man this season, Rippon has been all business (and, still, all play) for the past four months. Don't forget that this is the guy who missed last year's Nationals because of a broken foot, and there were so many unknowns coming into the summer as to whether he could regain the form that he had when he won his title in 2016. But he's certainly proved that and then some - there's a a confidence and a grit about him that we didn't see four years ago, and it's all thanks to his training and work ethic. Two more strong skates this week and he's on his way to PyeongChang.
BRONZE Max Aaron - How is this one going to play out for Aaron? Up until Internationaux de France, where he finished seventh, he was having his best season in quite a while, rediscovering the rhythm and consistency that brought him a national title in 2013 and three World Championships appearances. Four years ago, he missed out on the Olympic spot by one placement to the rising star of Jason Brown. This year, he will go all out with two quads in the short and three in the free in hopes of finally making that team.
4. Jason Brown - Nationals is where Jason Brown finds his rhythm. This was where he broke through four years ago to make the Olympic team in 2014, and this was also where he won a title three seasons ago and made a valiant return after a stress fracture to take bronze last season. But not unlike last season, he had a Grand Prix series that was uncharacteristically inconsistent. Likely without a quad this week, he's going to need to summon every bit of that magic that he can deliver. If his triple axel is inconsistent again this week like it was at NHK Trophy and Grand Prix Final, he will have a steep hill to climb.
5. Vincent Zhou - To say that this hasn't been the kind of senior debut season that Zhou was looking for is an understatement. He came in after a silver at last year's U.S. Championships and a Junior World title with all the momentum and hype, but his season has been just off-kilter. With the field as tough as it is, he's chosen a go-big-or-go-home strategy. He knows that playing it conservative can't make up for the component deficit that he has against the likes of Brown and Rippon, so the only way for him to control his own destiny is to put the big elements out there. It's certainly been a rough go during the fall - can he summon the magic that he had last year?
6. Alex Krasnozhon - It's not his year yet, but Krasnozhon has been showing all the potential for stardom for the next Olympic cycle. He swept through the Junior Grand Prix series in the fall, winning all three events, including the Final. And he comes in beaming with confidence and consistency. His biggest liability is the lack of a consistently-rotated quad - in his case, his go-to quad is the loop, which has gotten underrotation or downgrade calls pretty often. But if he does find it this week, watch for him to be the dark horse for a top five finish.
7. Alexander Johnson - Sixth the past two seasons at Nationals, Johnson had his strongest international competition to date earlier in the season, taking silver at Nebelhorn Trophy. Consistency isn't always his friend, but something has clicked this season for him, notwithstanding a so-so result at Golden Spin in December. But he has had a history of lighting up the arena at Nationals. Two clean skates, with his tremendous basic skating, will get him back in that top six.
8. Ross Miner - A skater who has tasted success at U.S. Nationals before, Miner won a silver and two bronze medals here earlier in his career. But his past four seasons have not been nearly as strong, often on the heels of strong short programs and mediocre free skates. Two clean skates and he becomes a part of the conversation for the post-season.
9. Timothy Dolensky - There's a great deal to love about Dolensky's skating, and he knows he can figure in with the top group of men here. He was seventh the past two years at Nationals, but his one international this season was not particularly strong, with a sixth-place finish at U.S. Classic.
10. Grant Hochstein - Fourth the past two seasons at Nationals, Hochstein once again comes in on the heels of a tough Grand Prix series. He's been incredibly unpredictable over the past couple of seasons, but the key for him is to rotate those quads. His tendency to double the quad toe implodes his base value, and he can't afford that in a field like this.
Others to watch:
Jordan Moeller - Moeller was tenth last season. He's got strong skating and could figure into the top ten if he can figure out the jumps.
Sean Rabbitt - Eighth last year, Rabbitt is always the crowd-pleaser. What he doesn't have is a consistent triple axel, and that keeps him from really being in the conversation. He's got top ten potential, especially if there is inconsistency to be had with his competitors.
Andrew Torgashev - One of the three American men to make it to the Junior Grand Prix Final, Torgashev has incredible potential. But mental lapses can get the best of him, as we saw at Junior Worlds last season and in his JGPF free skate last month. He was 11th here last season.