It's official: three U.S. women will be figure skating in PyeongChang.
How they got there was something of a surprise.
At the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki, Karen Chen finished an impressive fourth place with a total score of 199.29 in her worlds debut. Ashley Wagner, the 2016 world silver medalist, was seventh, scoring 193.54. Their placements add up to less than 13, guaranteeing three Olympic quota spots for U.S. women.
Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva won the world title for the second consecutive year, beating her own world record with a score of 233.41. Two Canadians rounded out the podium, with Kaetlyn Osmond winning silver with 218.13 and Gabrielle Dalemen bronze with 213.52, marking the first time two Canadian women were on a world or Olympic podium. Mariah Bell finished 12th with 187.23 at her first world championships.
“I accomplished what I came here to do," Chen said. "I feel very happy knowing that I skated my best. Obviously, there were a few mistakes, but I’m very happy with what I accomplished here.”
Chen was the surprise winner at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January after placing eighth in 2016. Named to her first Four Continents Championships team, she placed a disastrous 12th and needed to regroup before her first world championships. She skated a clean short program and was in fifth place heading into the free skate. Though she fell on her triple lutz and stepped out on the landing of the double axel, Chen set a new personal best free skate score, earning 129.31. Her total score was also a new personal best, good enough for a fourth-place debut.
“Before the warm up, I did see how the placement was looking so I definitely knew that I needed to skate pretty close to clean," Chen said. "Right after I had that thought, I blocked it out right away and just realized that I’m here and it’s my first time here and I wanted to enjoy this moment and I want to be relaxed and calm because that’s when I know I skate best.”
Wagner completed her free skate without a fall, but made a costly error that put the podium out of reach. She singled the toe loop on what should've been a triple flip-triple toe combination and under rotated several other jumps for a score of 124.50. Though it was certainly not the performance she wanted, it was enough to give the U.S. three Olympic quota spots.
Bell, in fact, scored higher than Wagner in the free skate, earning 126.21.
“It’s frustrating. I came to this competition very prepared," Wagner said. "In my practices, I have been the strongest that I’ve ever skated. So, today was one of those days where my head got in the way. I can be a very mental skater and I let myself be weak today and that’s very frustrating. This is the season to experience that though. I will always be a World silver medalist and I need to skate like a World silver medalist. Today, I just didn’t do that.”
Competition in Helsinki concludes on Saturday with the men's free skate and the free dance. In the pairs' competition, Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim finished 10th, while Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier were 20th.