Meryl Davis and Charlie White celebrate with their gold medals at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 on Feb. 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
Meryl Davis is an iconic figure skater whose resume includes a 2014 Olympic gold medal in ice dance – the first-ever for Team USA – a 2010 Olympic silver in ice dance and 2014 Olympic bronze in the team event. She and partner Charlie White also won two world titles, two world silver medals, five Grand Prix Final medals and six U.S. titles. Davis will be writing for TeamUSA.org throughout the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
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It’s hard to believe that the 2018 Olympic Winter Games are upon us! Truthfully, I’m still having to correct myself as I write checks and fill out paperwork with the instinctive ‘2017’. While it has, indeed, been four years since I was last on the competitive stage with my ice dance partner, Charlie White, I can say with virtual certainty that the athletes competing in these Games are much more keenly aware of the significance of this calendar year.
As one of the oldest and most popular sports of the Winter Games, the U.S. figure skating team is often a large part of the buzz surrounding this all-important event. Whether you’re an avid skating fan or in need a quick catch-up since your last check-in, here’s what you need to know about the figure skaters of Team USA and some of the other big names of winter’s most elegant sport.
Regardless of your position on the figure skating fan spectrum, you’ve probably heard the name Nathan Chen by now. If not, you must have missed his impressive feature with NBC Olympics during the Super Bowl. Quickly becoming one of the most familiar faces of American winter sports, 18-year-old Chen is perhaps America’s best hope for figure skating gold in PyeongChang. As the two-time and reigning U.S. champion, the young phenom is changing the face of men’s figure skating. Known as the “Quad King,” Chen is the first man ever to land five quadruple jumps (that’s four rotations in the air) in one competitive program.
After performing a self-proclaimed “watered down” free skate at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Chen ran away with his second U.S. title to continue his season-long winning streak. To top it all off, the young skater comes across as an all-around nice guy with a good head on his shoulders. Certainly, that level head will come in handy in dealing with the pressure of being a potential favorite for Olympic gold.
Joining Chen on the U.S. men’s figure skating team are the 2016 national champion, Adam Rippon, and 17-year-old Vincent Zhou. Rippon, proudly representing the U.S. at his first Games as the first openly gay U.S. winter Olympian (along with skier Gus Kenworthy), actually missed the podium with a fourth-place finish at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. With a strong competitive history and standout artistic quality, Rippon, along with Zhou, adds great strength to this impressive men’s team.
The American men, of course, will face formidable competition from a deep field of international athletes. In particular, the reigning Olympic champion, Yuzuru Hanyu, and 2017 Grand Prix Final silver medalist, Shoma Uno, of Japan.
The Ice Dancers
The big story in the ice dance field is the showdown between Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. To be honest, I feel ridiculous using the word “showdown,” but that’s exactly what it is. The 2010 Canadian Olympic champions returned from a two-year hiatus in 2016 to win their third world title in 2017, solidifying their status as legends of the sport. Still, the Canadians’ quest for a second Olympic gold is strongly challenged by two-time world champions Papadakis and Cizeron who have been credited with making their own mark on the world of ice dance. With their iconic and beautifully artistic style, the French team bested the Canadians at the 2017 Grand Prix Final, making it difficult to label a favorite between the two teams heading into these Games.
With a strong case for bronze and an outside chance at silver or gold, the three teams making up the American ice dance contingent make for an exceptionally strong group. In fact, the collective strength of the three teams is nothing short of unprecedented. Maia and Alex Shibutani, three-time world medalists, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, two-time world medalists, and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, reigning U.S. champions, have each stood atop the U.S. podium. With their many successes over the last four years, there really isn’t a clear frontrunner among this stellar group. It’s true, I may have a slight bias, but these are the three teams who’ve best positioned themselves for bronze and are best equipped to challenge the aforementioned top two teams.
Notably missing from the U.S. Olympic Women’s Figure Skating Team is 2016 world silver medalist and three-time U.S. champion, Ashley Wagner. After a disappointing fourth place finish at the U.S. championships, one of the most familiar faces in ladies’ figure skating will not return to a second Olympic Games. Rather, the 2018 women’s Olympic figure skating team is made-up of 20-year-old Bradie Tennell, fan favorite Mirai Nagusu and 2017 U.S. champion, Karen Chen. Nagasu, in fact, makes a triumphant return to the Games after being left off of the 2014 Olympic team. With a fourth place finish at the 2010 Games at the young age of 16, Nagasu has worked her way back onto the U.S. Olympic Team for a second Olympic berth, winning the hearts of fans along the way.
New to the skater’s repertoire since her last Olympic moment eight years ago is an impressive triple axel. Perhaps the most asked question of any figure skater, “can you do a triple axel?” Nagasu remains in an extraordinarily elite group of female athletes able to answer “yes” to the popular question.
Still, the talented ladies will have a hard time challenging the international frontrunners. Among the leaders of the field are two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva and 2017 Grand Prix Final champion Alina Zagitova of Russia. Each of these ladies, along with the rest of the Russian team, will be competing under a neutral flag as a result of the highly publicized, systematic doping scandal coming out of the 2014 Games. The Russian team is set to be known as ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’ and will hear the Olympic anthem rather than that of their home country should they stand atop a podium in PyeongChang. Among the other contenders are Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman and Kaetlyn Osmond, Italy’s Carolina Kostner, and Japan’s Satoko Miyahara.
Among the favorites for the pairs podium in PyeongChang are Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong and Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. While Sui and Han stood atop the podium at last year’s World Figure Skating Championships, it was the German team wearing gold at the 2017 Grand Prix Final in December.
Another notable absence from the figure skating contingency set to appear in PyeongChang is Russia’s Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, 2014 Olympic pairs silver medalists. There has been some lack of specificity regarding Stolbova’s ban from the 2018 Games but the skater’s name was not listed among the names of Russian athletes cleared to compete by the IOC.
The Americans representing the U.S. pairs field are Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim, 2015 and 2018 U.S. champions and the first married pair from the United States to make the figure skating team since 1998. After taking some time away from competition to address Scimeca-Knierim’s life-threatening gastrointestinal condition, the pair earned their second national title in January of 2018 to make their first Olympic team. The couple holds the only spot for an American pair team at these Games.
Figure skating coverage begins Feb. 8 on NBC and continues Feb. 9 with the Opening Ceremony at 8 p.m. ET. Enjoy watching the Games, everyone!
As always, I hope this special event brings us together as a country and as a community. Throughout the Games, let us admire the work, discipline and tremendous efforts of these athletes. Many of these Olympians, American and otherwise, have put a lifetime of effort into these few moments we see on television.
This is the opportunity of a lifetime and something these individuals have dreamt about since they were small children. Don’t be afraid to show your team spirit and support! The athletes are so proud to represent us all on the world’s largest stage and will certainly appreciate your encouragement! Go Team USA!