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Countdown to the US Figure Skating National Championships
The national competition is one of the most anticipated US figure skating events each year, and the January 2010 event holds special significance as it will determine the makeup of the figure skating contingent for the Vancouver Olympics in February 2010.
This year, the United States will only be able to send two skaters to the Olympics, due to qualifying for the 2009 World Championships. This fact will be much discussed in the media at the nationals and at the Olympics. The U.S. will send three men to the Olympics and two ice dance teams.
On the men’s side, Evan Lysacek, 4th place finisher at the 2006 Olympics, is the favorite heading into Vancouver. He won the 2009 World Championships and medaled in all three of his 2009-10 Grand Prix appearances, including gold in the final.
Another men’s favorite is Colorado Springs skater Ryan Bradley, who has finished 3rd and 4th in his two Grand Prix appearances this season. I recently had the pleasure of seeing Ryan in practice, and he looks pretty strong, as does fellow Broadmoor skater Brandon Mroz, who won silver at the 2009 US Nationals.
Johnny Weir is another Olympic competitor not to be counted out. Although he experienced a personally challenging season this year, he took home the bronze medal at this year’s Grand Prix final.
Jeremy Abbott rounds out the list of possible American men who will be heading to Vancouver. Jeremy had a breakout season in 2008-09, winning both the US National Championship and gold in the Grand Prix Final. In the 2009-10 season, he skated strongly under a new coach and placed first at Skate Canada and 4th in the Grand Prix Final.
The women’s side of US figure skating is currently in the throes of a tumultuous period. After decades of dominating international women’s figure skating, the U.S. is currently looking for a strong lead.
Alyssa Czisny, the reigning US national champion, has a long history of inconsistency in her skating. Alyssa is a seasoned veteran in the senior skating ranks and won her first gold in eight appearances at the US Senior Nationals in 2009. She placed 11th at the World Championships and placed 2nd and 4th in her two Grand Prix appearances this year season. She is a strong candidate for one of the two seats for Vancouver.
Ashley Wagner placed 4th at the 2009 US Nationals, 4th at the recent Grand Prix Final, and 2nd and 3rd at the Russian Cup and NHK Trophy, respectively. Ashley is also a veteran of the senior circuit and has produced some outstanding performances in her Grand Prix appearances. In many ways, she has been “on the bench” lately and has a good chance of making the Olympic team.
Emily Hughes, the younger sister of 2002 Olympic champion Sarah Hughes, has struggled the past few seasons, having to skate at the North Atlantic Regionals to earn a trip to the Nationals this year, where she placed 2nd. Due to Kimmy Meissner’s injuries, she skated at Skate America and placed 7th, a good outing for her in just her fourth international competition in three seasons. Emily was an emergency replacement for the injured Michelle Kwan at the 2006 Olympics, where she finished a respectable 7th. Emily did not skate at the 2009 U.S. Championships due to injury, but took a leave of absence from Harvard to train for nationals and the Olympics this year. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m a bit of an Emily Hughes fan and believe she has as much of a chance to make it to Vancouver as anyone.
Several other American ladies have had very bad off-seasons, due to various injuries and other issues. Mirai Nagasu, Caroline Zhang, Kimmie Meissner and Sasha Cohen (who is trying to get back into contention) all had tough seasons with little competition.
Probably America’s best medal hope on the women’s side in Vancouver is Broadmoor skater Rachel Flatt. Rachel has had the most consistent performances for Team USA in years. Rachel is currently ranked 9th in the ISU world rankings, the highest of any American figure skater. She was the 2008 World Junior Champion, a silver medalist in the USA in 2008 and 2009, and was 5th at the 2009 World Championships. She has finished 2nd and 4th in her Grand Prix assignments both of the last two seasons. Rachel has been working hard on her skating speed, something she has been criticized for the last few years, and is working on a triple axel, although I don’t know if it will be ready to compete this year. . Rachel is a very consistent jumper, and watching her in practice lately, she looked ready to compete. Yes, I’m a huge Rachel Flatt fan, and I have no problem admitting it, so it’s hard not to be biased!
With the Olympics just 6 weeks away and the US Nationals starting in two weeks, the heat is on for American figure skaters to polish their programs and show the world what they’ve got. It’s going to be an interesting next few weeks, that’s for sure. Go Team USA!
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