By Brandon Penny | Jan. 22, 2017, 8:58 p.m. (ET)


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Veterans, newbies, world medalists, teenagers, injuries – the U.S. team headed to the World Figure Skating Championships has it all. 

After four intense days of competition where 84 senior-level skaters competed, four national champions were crowned and the 15-member world team was determined.

While Maia and Alex Shibutani successfully defended their ice dance title, three new champions were discovered in Nathan Chen (men), Karen Chen (ladies) and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier (pairs).

Meanwhile, the team competing at the March 29-April 2 world championships in Helsinki ranges in age from 17 to 29. It features five past world medalists, three athletes going to their first worlds, a set of siblings and even a married couple in Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim.

All eyes will be on the event as athletes work to secure quota spots for their country at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Team USA has three ladies, three ice dance teams, two men and two pairs teams at this year’s worlds, and will earn three spots for the Olympics in any discipline where the top two finishers’ results equal 13 or less. If the placements equal 14 to 28, the U.S. will earn two Olympic spots in that discipline.

Here’s everything you need to know about the 15 athletes competing in Helsinki:

Ladies:

Mariah Bell

Hometown: Monument, Colorado

Training town: Lakewood, California

Age during world championships: 20

Helsinki will mark: First world championships

Major accomplishments: Silver at 2016 Skate America; Silver at 2016 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic; Bronze at 2016 Ondrej Nepela Memorial; Bronze at 2017 U.S. championships

Why she stands out: Bell became one to watch when she won the free skate at October’s Skate America, her only grand prix of the season, taking silver at the event after placing sixth in the short program. She once again proved the strength of her free skate at the 2017 U.S. championships, moving up from sixth to earn bronze.

On competing under pressure at nationals: “Obviously there was a little more talk after Skate America, and that was kind of a buzz here and something that I’ve never had in my career yet. Just being able to come in and skate performances that I’m really proud of under more pressure than I’ve felt is something I’m really, really proud of.”


Karen Chen

Hometown: Fremont, California

Training town: Riverside, California

Age during world championships: 17

Helsinki will mark: First world championships

Major accomplishments: Gold at 2017 U.S. championships; Bronze at 2016 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic; Bronze at 2015 Golden Spin; Bronze at 2015 U.S. championships

Why she stands out: Chen topped a competitive field at the 2017 U.S. championships, including beating three Olympians who are all past national champions. She surprised everyone to win both the short program and free skate, setting a new national record in the former of 72.82. Too young to compete at the 2015 world championships when she won bronze at nationals, Chen will look to make a splash at her worlds debut.

On winning nationals: “I’m just in complete shock. All of this just came together for me. It was a rough season. I spent the first couple months working out my boot problems and working with a new boot company trying to work out all the kinks. I’m happy with the progress and hope to keep getting better.”


Ashley Wagner

Hometown: Alexandria, Virginia

Training town: Lakewood, California

Age during world championships: 25

Helsinki will mark: Seventh world championships (2008, ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16)

Major accomplishments: Silver at 2016 world championships; 13 grand prix event medals (five golds, three silvers, five bronzes); Silver at 2013 Grand Prix Final; Bronze at 2014 and ’15 Grand Prix Finals; Gold at 2012 Four Continents Championships; Fourth at 2012 world championships; Seventh at 2014 Olympics; Gold at 2012, ’13 and ’15 U.S. championships; Bronze at 2014 Olympic team event

Why she stands out: There is no doubt that Wagner is favored to lead the U.S. women in Helsinki. Not only is she the only one of the three to have previous worlds experience, but she took silver at the event last year, becoming the first U.S. woman to medal at either the world championships or Olympics in a decade. The oldest competitor at the 2017 U.S. championships – her 10th senior nationals – by two years, her silver medal made her the oldest U.S. ladies medalist since World War II.

On being a veteran of the sport: “I choose to view the word veteran as experienced, and experience is never a bad thing, because I've gone through the good experiences and the brutally, terribly awful experiences. I think that this sport focuses on age too much. I'm so sick of hearing about my age, I'm so sick of it, you guys. If anyone asks me one more question about my age, I'll just stop talking to them, it's ridiculous.”


Men:

Jason Brown

Hometown: Highland Park, Illinois

Training town: Monument, Colorado

Age during world championships: 22

Helsinki will mark: Second world championships (2015)

Major accomplishments: Fourth at 2015 world championships; Silver at 2016 Skate America; Silver at 2014 Skate America; Bronze at 2015 Skate America; Bronze at 2013 Trophee Bompard; Ninth at 2014 Olympics; Gold at 2015 U.S. championships; Silver at 2014 U.S. championships; Bronze at 2017 U.S. championships; Bronze at 2014 Olympic team event

Why he stands out: Brown missed last year’s national and world championships with a back injury. But having finished just off the podium in fourth at his first and, to date, only worlds appearance, Brown will be eager to leave his mark when he returns to the worlds stage. He has spent part of this season dealing with a stress fracture in his right fibula, but still managed to finish third at nationals, and expects to be healthy by worlds.

On his free skate performance at nationals: “It’s been a tough week. I’ve been pushing through and I’m really proud of that. Injuries are really kind of big eye-opening experiences to go through. I think you learn so much from every experience along the way. You learn about yourself, you learn about perseverance and mental toughness. And I think that’s something that I have been able to take into performances and into the season. You know where you started, you know how far you’ve come. You have a great background of people helping you out along the way and through that. And you kind of feel that support system along the way and they are there fighting for you the whole way. And you are there pushing yourself, so I think every injury that I’ve gone through I’ve learned something from it, I’ve grown from it and it’s launched me to do better things and push myself further than I thought, and I hope this one will do the same.”


Nathan Chen

Hometown: Irvine, California

Training town: Lakewood, California/Canton, Michigan

Age during world championships: 17

Helsinki will mark: First world championships

Major accomplishments: Silver at 2016 Grand Prix Final; Silver at 2016 NHK Trophy; Gold at 2016 Finlandia Trophy; Bronze at 2014 junior world championships; Gold at 2017 U.S. championships; Bronze at 2016 U.S. championships

Why he stands out: Chen has been making history left and right this season. He became the youngest American man ever to medal at a grand prix when he took silver at NHK Trophy. After becoming the first U.S. man in seven years to qualify for the Grand Prix Final, he earned silver there as well and became the second-youngest man to medal there. Then at the U.S. championships, in addition to winning his first senior title, he blew away all three U.S. records and became the first skater of any nation to land five quadruple jumps in his free skate. That performance came just one year after he left the event in a wheelchair after suffering a hip injury during the exhibition.

On whether he can win Olympic gold next year: “I believe it’s possible. It’s still in the distance for me and there’s so much room that I have to improve to make myself at that level, but I think it’s definitely possible.”


Ice Dance

Madison Chock and Evan Bates

Hometowns: Novi, Michigan (Chock); Ann Arbor, Michigan (Bates)

Training town: Novi, Michigan

Age during world championships: 24 (Chock); 28 (Bates – born Feb. 23)

Helsinki will mark: Sixth world championships for Chock (2011 w/ Greg Zuerlein; 2013-16 w/ Bates); Seventh world championships for Bates (2009-10 w/ Emily Samuelson)

Major accomplishments: Silver at 2015 world championships; Bronze at 2016 world championships; Eight grand prix event medals (three golds, three silvers, two bronzes); Silver at 2014 and ’15 Grand Prix Finals; Silver at 2015 and ’16 Four Continents Championships; Eighth at 2014 Olympics; Gold at 2015 U.S. championships; Silver at 2013, ’14-17 U.S. championships

Why they stand out: Chock and Bates have been incredibly successful the past three seasons, medaling at 16 of 17 international assignments. With medals at the past two world championships, they have their sights dead set on a third in Helsinki.

On the mixed results they have had this season: “I think a lot of times we get hung up on results and it doesn’t really truly reflect how our skating has grown and our partnership has evolved,” Bates said. “I think if we watch the progression of our skating over the last, even 12 months, we’d be really pleased with it. I think this was our best competition probably to date, and it feels really good to be sitting up here having accomplished that.”


Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue

Hometowns: Okemos, Michigan (Hubbell); Madison, Connecticut (Donohue)

Training town: Montreal

Age during world championships: 26 (Hubbell – born Feb. 24); 26 (Donohue)

Helsinki will mark: Fourth world championships (2012, ’15, ‘16)

Major accomplishments: Seven grand prix medals (one gold, two silvers, four bronzes); Gold at 2014 Four Continents Championships; Fifth at 2016 Grand Prix Final; Sixth at 2016 world championships; Sixth at 2015 Grand Prix Final; Third at 2012, ’15-17 U.S. championships

Why they stand out: Hubbell and Donohue proved that their partnership was meant to be right from the start, finishing third at their first U.S. championships together in 2012. They have remained on the podium every year since and became international threats when they won their first of seven grand prix medals in 2013. Each of the last two seasons, they were one of six teams to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. However, with four nationals bronze medals and having continuously finished behind Chock and Bates and Maia and Alex Shibutani the past five seasons, they are eager to finally overcome their teammates.

On finishing third at nationals for the third time in a row: “We came in here with the goal of moving up, ending our bronze run circuit,” Donohue said. “So no, no consolation there at all. But we’re determined going into Four Continents and worlds that this is the last time we’ll be defeated like this and we’re going to come back stronger.”


Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani

Hometowns: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Training town: Canton, Michigan

Age during world championships: 22 (Maia); 25 (Alex)

Helsinki will mark: Seventh world championships (2011-16)

Major accomplishments: Silver at 2016 world championships; Bronze at 2011 world championships; 13 grand prix event medals (four golds, four silvers, five bronzes); Bronze at 2016 Grand Prix Final; Gold at 2016 Four Continents Championships; Silver at 2011 Four Continents Championships; Bronze at 2015 Four Continents Championships; Ninth at 2014 Olympics; Gold at 2016-17 U.S. championships; Silver at 2011, ’12 and ’15 U.S. championships

Why they stand out: The Shibutani siblings are known to improve as the season goes on and that’s exactly what they plan to do to defend – or improve – their world silver medal from last year. They are coming off a very successful first half of the season, which started with wins at both their grand prix assignment, followed by their first Grand Prix Final medal (bronze) and a second straight national title, and hope to ride that straight to the worlds podium.

On the progression of their programs thus far this season: “We're very pleased with the progression that both programs have made over the course of the last several months,” Alex said. “Particularly between Grand Prix Final and this competition, there's a solid chunk of time where we were really focused on making sure that we could really grow the energy in both of our programs, and we're very pleased with how we were able to accomplish that this week.”


Pairs

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier

Hometowns: Ocala, Florida (Denney); Colorado Springs, Colorado (Frazier)

Training town: Geneva, Illinois

Age during world championships: 21 (Denney); 24 (Frazier)

Helsinki will mark: Second world championships (2015)

Major accomplishments: Silver at 2014 and ‘16 Skate America; Gold at 2014 Lombardia Trophy; Silver at 2014 Autumn Classic; Gold at 2017 U.S. championships; Silver at 2015 U.S. championships; Gold at 2013 junior world championships

Why they stand out: Denney and Frazier are in the middle of their comeback season, and oh what a comeback it has been. After missing an entire season while Denney rehabbed a torn ACL, LCL and meniscus in her right knee, the longtime partners came back to win silver at Skate America and place fourth at their other grand prix, Skate Canada, before winning their first national title. Having won the junior world title in 2013, they are steadily working toward reaching the senior worlds podium

On winning their first senior U.S. title: “Oh my gosh. I’m just so proud of where we are right now,” Denney said. “We’ve worked so hard through our ups and downs and everything. I’m just very, very blessed and appreciative to be here.”


Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim

Hometowns: Addison, Illinois (Scimeca Knierim); San Diego, California (Knierim)

Training town: Colorado Springs, Colorado

Age during world championships: 25 (Scimeca Knierim); 29 (Knierim)

Helsinki will mark: Fourth world championships (2013, ‘15-16)

Major accomplishments:Silver at 2016 Four Continents Championships; Bronze at 2014 Four Continents Championships; Silver at 2015 Skate America; Bronze at 2015 NHK Trophy; Seventh at 2015 world championships; Seventh at 2015 Grand Prix Final; Gold at 2015 U.S. championships; Silver at 2013 and ’16 U.S. championships

Why they stand out: Scimeca Knierim and Knierim, who married in June 2016, are perhaps the biggest mystery on this year’s U.S. world team as they have not yet competed this season; Four Continents in February, followed by worlds, will be their first competition since last year’s worlds. Scimeca Knierim became ill in April 2016 and had stomach surgery in September. They chose to withdraw from both grand prix assignments and the 2017 U.S. championships while they returned to full training, but petitioned to be on the world team.

On being named to the world team: “Don't worry everyone we are going to be ready,” Knierim tweeted.