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Team USA Looks Great (2/28/13)

johnny weir
Competing at 2005 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, where I
won gold

johnny weir
My bronze medal at the 2007 national championships
johnny weir
Competing at 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

One year away from the start of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games and the prospects of U.S. Figure Skating’s elite are great!  The team has been winning medals internationally all season, and we saw many breathtaking performances at the recent U.S. Championships.

In the men’s competition we saw a showdown, as always, between the youth in the sport as well as seasoned veterans.  The newly crowned national champion Max Aaron displayed impressive technical skills that have been unmatched in the U.S. in the past decade.  Landing two quadruple Salchows and jumping his way to the crown, Max Aaron shows how important the quad is now in men’s skating.  If you can’t land it, you can’t win.  Max will be joined on the world team hoping to secure three spots for Sochi by Ross Miner, who himself landed a quad Salchow and showed a wonderful stylized refinement on the ice, which scores well with international judges.  The only Olympic veteran in the field was three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, who, despite having a rough performance, will be one of the country’s great hopes going into Sochi.  Notably missing from the field were 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek and yours truly.  Of the field hoping for a berth on the Olympic team, Lysacek and I are the only American men who have won world or Olympic medals in the past decade.  The men’s competition will be hard-fought next year in Boston, between the veterans and the amazing young talent making themselves known.

The ladies event was thrilling.  Figure skating in America’s popularity always seems to rest on the women.  Jill Trenary and Nicole Bobek gave America bombshells on ice while Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan gave us the consistent championship winners who graced their way to the top, while Sasha Cohen and Alyssa Czisny were the unpredictable artists that everyone could root for.  This year’s championship was won by Ashley Wagner, the first female American skater to win back to back titles since Michelle Kwan’s unbeatable era.  Wagner is probably the most well-rounded of the U.S. ladies, with wonderful athletic jumps, pure skating style and finesse, as well as incredible poise and humor in the public eye.  She is undoubtedly our best chance for an Olympic medal in Sochi.  Nipping at her heels is 2012 junior champion Gracie Gold, whose performance last month in Omaha, live on NBC, made her an instant favorite around the country.  Landing difficult jumps with ease and learning who she is artistically in major events will make her another strong contender for a spot at the Olympics.  Missing this year was Alyssa Czisny who most likely would have fought for a top spot if she hadn’t been out of the competition due to injury.  The ladies, like everyone else, are relying on strong performances next month at the World Championships to secure the maximum three spots for the Olympic team.

The American pair teams are always quite unpredictable, and given the absence of clear favorites Caydee Denney and John Coughlin in Omaha, it was time to shine for young new teams.  Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir won their first national title and, along with Denney and Coughlin, seem to be the most likely representatives of the U.S. in Sochi.  Both teams are dynamic and complete the most complicated elements in the world, but the consistency of the German, Russian and Chinese teams will be a tough act to go up against in Sochi.

Surprisingly, ice dancing is arguably the United States strongest discipline at the moment.  2010 Olympic silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White won yet another U.S. title earning mainly 10.0 scores for their artistic presentation to “Notre Dame de Paris,” and earlier this month the couple defeated reigning Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir from Canada at the Four Continents Championships.  The team’s work ethic and utter on-ice devotion to one another and being successful is a sight to behold.  If you wanted to bet on someone from the U.S. winning a medal in Sochi, it would have to be for Davis and White.  Following them are three talented teams, one of which will stay home from Sochi: Madison Chock and Evan Bates, Maia and Alex Shibutani, and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.  Each team has something different to bring to the table and it will be a sure fight to earn a spot with Davis and White in Sochi.

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships were something to behold with talent in every discipline, something rare for any country.  Having strong representatives in each discipline makes the U.S. a favorite for a medal in the newly founded team event in Sochi as well as in the separate four disciplines.  Next month, the World Figure Skating Championships go to Canada where every nation will fight for its number of entries into next year’s Olympics.  The U.S. team, sending veterans and new-comers, has a great chance to show promise to the world of Olympic glory in the coming year.