By Joanne C. Gerstner | Jan. 23, 2019, 1 p.m. (ET)


The top American figure skaters are coming together this week in Detroit for the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity, with the senior competitions running from Thursday through Sunday. The championships held the year after an Olympic cycle always lends to some convergence of new stars emerging and current champions looking to maintain their crowns.

Here are seven storylines to watch:

1) Is Jason Brown On The Right Path?
Jason Brown reacts after he competes at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 6, 2018 in San Jose, Calif. 

Brown, the former U.S. champion and 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist, has made big changes in his life, triggered by not making the U.S. team for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. He finished sixth at the 2018 U.S. championships and decided to reboot his skating life. Brown has brought in a new coaching team (Olympic medalists Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson), a new training city (Toronto) and, by his own words, a whole new approach to his skating. The quad jump has been Brown’s nemesis, but with a retool in technique, he hopes to land one in Detroit. But as Brown openly cautions, his changes are in progress, and with the aim of the new goal: qualifying for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.

2) Will Pairs Champions Alexa Scimeca-Knierim And Chris Knierim Repeat?

Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim compete at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 14, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.

The two-time U.S. champions and 2018 Olympic team bronze medalists are working through a roller-coaster season. In May, they moved to Obersdorf, Germany to work with 2018 Olympic champion Aljona Savchenko. But by October, they decided change again and moved to California to be under three-time U.S. champs Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, who, like the Knierims, are married. The Knierims look like they are getting a bit stronger as the season progresses, bouncing back from fourth at Skate America to finish third at NHK Trophy and second at Golden Spin of Zagreb.

3) Can Hubbell And Donohue Continue Their Dominant Season In Ice Dance?

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue compete at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 20, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.

After finishing fourth at their Olympic debut PyeongChang, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have upgraded their programs for this season with more lifts. The result has produced their first Grand Prix Final gold medal and four international victories so far this season. Hubbell and Donohue have familiar company and competition at their training base Montreal, as Olympians and two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates moved from the Detroit area to train there this past offseason, as did 2018 NHK Trophy champs Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Chock and Bates only just made their season debut earlier this month, as Chock has been recovering from an ankle injury sustained at the Olympics.

4) Changing Of The Stars?

Adam Rippon waves to the crowd at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 12, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.

U.S. championships mainstays like the ice dance team of Maia and Alex Shibutani (taking year off), Mirai Nagasu (out for season with hip injury), Adam Rippon (retired) and Gracie Gold (withdrew for health reasons) will not be in Detroit, making room for lesser-known athletes to potentially steal the spotlight. The Shibutanis, Nagasu and Gold are leaving the door open for future competitions.

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5) How Can Anyone Forget About World Champion Nathan Chen

Nathan Chen competes at the ISU Grand Prix on Oct. 20, 2018 in Everett, Wash.

His resumé — and array of quads — is off the charts. He is the reigning world and Grand Prix Final champion, a 2018 Olympic team bronze medalist and boasts a lot more hardware. Chen, now a student at Yale, is trying to mix high-level skating with his education. He’s making his two endeavors work so far, winning Skate America, Internationaux de France and then successfully defending his title at the 2018 Grand Prix Final. He’s had some falls on quads and a blown combination along the way, but overcame it.

6) Women’s Field Is Packed, With Bradie Tennell Leading The Way

Bradie Tennell competes at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 3, 2018 in San Jose, Calif. 

Tennell, the defending U.S. champion and a 2018 Olympian, has tried to build on her international breakout in 2018, with a new triple lutz-loop combination. She’s been able to consistently land it in competition so far, winning the Golden Spin of Zagreb and Autumn Classic International. Tennell will have to be strong, as challenges for her title are expected by Mariah Bell and 2018 U.S. junior champion Alysa Liu. Bell, who is known for the remarkable personality in her skating, is hitting quads and bringing a free skate program choreographed by Rippon. Liu, who is only 13, is making her senior level debut.

7) The Big Return Of Nationals To Motown

Meryl Davis and Charlie White react after competing at Skate America on Oct. 18, 2013 in Detroit.

Detroit has long been more than Hockeytown, also serving as a big figure skating hub, thanks to the host Detroit Skating Club and other big local clubs. The area has produced a roster of Olympic talent such as gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and transplant stars such as Tara Lipinski, Todd Eldredge, Tanith Belbin White and Ben Agosto, and the Shib sibs. However, the last time Detroit hosted the U.S. championships was in 1994, when Nancy Kerrigan was attacked after leaving the practice ice. Detroit is looking to move on from being a footnote in skating history and will showcasing championship performances for the first time in the new Little Caesars Arena in its revived downtown.


Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for the New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.