When Nathan Chen hit his final pose center ice at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships on Saturday in Saitama, Japan, it signaled the end – for the most part – of the 2018-19 competitive figure skating season. All men’s, women’s, ice dance and pairs competitions have ended, though the ISU World Team Trophy will close the season out in two weeks, with the top six nations from the season competing.
It was poetic, then, that Chen, who minutes later was crowned world champion for a second consecutive year, outstretched his arm in that final position, in a way pointing to what’s to come. For figure skating fans out there, a lot is to be taken from this past season and applied to 2019-20, when the Olympics draw another year closer and worlds comes back to North America, set for Montreal late next March.
Here, we offer 10 keys to watch for in the season to come. But the first thing you have to exhibit is some patience: The ISU Challenger Series doesn’t start up again until September, with Skate America being the first grand prix stop, set for Oct. 18-20 in Las Vegas.
Nathan Chen Aims For A Three-peat
Nathan Chen applauds fans before the men's medal ceremony at the 2019 ISU World Figure Skating Championships on March 23, 2019 in Saitama, Japan.
It was eye-popping enough to watch Chen, 19, repeat as world champ, but he also did so over rival Yuzuru Hanyu, while skating in Hanyu-mad Japan and having to follow Hanyu’s roof-blasting free skate just prior to him. The Yale freshman did all that to cap an undefeated season, which also included a third national title and three more grand prix golds.
“I don’t even know what the plan is going for next season,” Chen admitted to reporters after his win in Saitama.
In the year after the Olympics, Chen has impressed with his schedule at school in New Haven, Connecticut, while getting video coaching from Rafael Arutunian via video conferencing several times a week. But will he continue with the same routine in the season(s) to come? Guess we (and he!) will find out.
Should Chen win worlds for a third year in a row, he’d be the first man to go back-to-back-to-back since Canada’s Patrick Chan in 2011-13.
Tennell, Bell And The Chase For Liu
Bradie Tennell applauds fans at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships on March 22, 2019 in Saitama, Japan.
While Alysa Liu was a historic women’s champion at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January (more on her below), 2018 U.S. champ Bradie Tennell and two-time U.S. medalist Mariah Bell will lead the senior field internationally, both aiming to climb the global ranks while solidifying themselves as mainstays as the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 draw closer.
Tennell, seventh, and Bell, ninth, will want to improve their world championship finishes should they make it to Montreal, particularly to earn the U.S. a third spot at worlds for 2021, making it more likely Team USA has three women’s spots for Beijing. (To do so, they’ll need a combined finish of 13, versus the 16 [7th + 9th] they earned at worlds last weekend.)
Tennell, who focused on her artistry this season, wants to make better her already-strong technical prowess, while Bell hinted at triple axel training, as well as a triple-triple combo, which she doesn’t currently possess.
Cain/LeDuc Try To Buck A (Pairs) Trend
Ashley Cain and Timothy Leduc compete at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships on March 20, 2019 in Saitama, Japan.
Not since Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir did so in 2013-14 has a pairs team repeated as national champions, but first-time winners Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc will try and do so as the race for the two worlds spots in pairs is sure to heat up throughout the season.
The pairs field is growing deeper for Team USA (more on that below), but Cain and LeDuc will no doubt have a target on their backs after a national title and ninth-place finish at worlds this season, which earned back that second worlds spot. How will they handle the pressure as the team to beat? One tactic is with famed international coach Nina Mozer at their side, who this season LeDuc said was integral in helping them finish in the top 10 at worlds and continue to grow internationally.
Hubbell/Donohue Are Front-Runners Again
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue compete at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships on March 22, 2019 in Saitama, Japan.
While it’s a new role for Cain and LeDuc as the No. 1 team in their discipline, it’s old hat for Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who defended their U.S. title in January and then won their second consecutive world medal in Saitama – a bronze.
The challenge for the Montreal-based duo will be to: A) maintain that top U.S. status (with training mates Madison Chock and Evan Bates snipping at their skate boots), and B) figure out not only how to stay in the top three globally, but perhaps go even higher. Can anyone catch four-time world champs Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France? Hubbell and Donohue are certainly going to try.
Alysa Liu Eligible For Junior CircuitAlysa Liu competes at the Geico U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 25, 2019 in Detroit.
While Alysa Liu, 13, won’t be age-eligible for the senior international circuit until the 2021-22 season, she *will* be able to skate internationally at the junior level, though how much she does so will be up to her Bay Area-based team and U.S. officials.
The youngest skater ever to win the U.S. women’s senior title wasn’t old enough for the world junior championships this season and headed back to Oakland after her win at the U.S. championships – of course following a press tour that included appearances on “TODAY” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
She’ll continue to hone that triple axel that helped her win gold in Detroit, and also the quadruple Lutz (if not other quad jumps, as well), having set aside the jump for her national title win after she was attempting it for much of the fall season.
Zhou, Brown And The Rest Of The U.S. Men
Vincent Zhou competes at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 27, 2019 in Detroit.
If you’re antsy to pencil in Chen, Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown as the Olympic team in 2022, not so fast. This next season will certainly include Zhou and Brown on Chen’s coattails, but a host of young Americans will look to make their mark, too.
They’re led by 19-year-old Tomoki Hiwatashi, who was fourth at the U.S. championships and then won the junior world title.
Youth Olympian Camden Pulkinen, Alex Krasnozhon and Andrew Torgashev would like to factor into the leading-man conversation, as well. All four men, including Hiwatashi, are still in their teens. (As are Chen and Zhou, too.)
Zhou should look to continue to improve his artistry and get full-rotation calls on his quads next season, while Brown will continue his work with Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson in Toronto, which started prior to this season. Can he find a consistent quad? That’s the big question.
Gracie Gold Eyes A Comeback
Gracie Gold skates at NBC's TODAY Show on Feb. 8, 2017 in New York City.
“The Beijing Games in 2022 would be the ultimate dream,” Gold, the two-time U.S. champion told “TODAY” last month. “If I could win a world medal… winning a world medal might be more important to me than getting to another Olympics.”
Those are big aspirations for Gold, who left the sport to deal with depression and an eating disorder in the fall of 2017. But the 2014 Olympian has been training in Pennsylvania with coach Vincent Restencourt since last spring. A few days ago, Restencourt posted a video of Gold doing a double axel in practice.
Gold pulled out of her only grand prix assignment mid-competition this past fall, and subsequently the U.S. championships. But should she make a serious run at the top of U.S. skating again, she could capture the imagination of the skating public.
While Gracie might garner the headlines should she come back, Ting Cui will build off of her junior worlds bronze and Hanna Harrell off her fourth-place finish at the U.S. championships, Cui just 16 and Harrell only 15.
Also watch for: Amber Glenn, Starr Andrews and Emmy Ma, all teens who have showed flashes of greatness. And it’s a longshot, but Ashley Wagner, the three-time U.S. champ, still hasn’t officially stepped away from the sport. Just saying…
Dance, Dance Revolution…Continues
Madison Chock and Evan Bates compete at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 5, 2018 in San Jose, Calif.
While Hubbell and Donohue continue their role as top U.S. team, Chock and Bates are close behind, especially after a blessing-in-disguise injury gave them much of the summer and fall to relax more than they would if they were competing. Along with Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, the top three (current) U.S. teams are based in Montreal.
But 2019-20 could get even more crowded in ice dance: Whispers are aplenty that Maia and Alex Shibutani, the 2018 Olympic bronze medalists, are considering a comeback, having taken the season away. Meanwhile, teams like Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter, Rachel and Michael Parsons, and Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko are all jockeying to be noticed in what has become Team USA’s deepest discipline. Five different U.S. teams medaled on the grand prix series this season – a first for any nation.
A Crowded Pairs Field
Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim compete at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 9, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.
While the U.S. hasn’t had the same international success in pairs as it has in dance, Cain and LeDuc will lead a field that is growing in numbers and talent, particularly after a strong pairs U.S. championships and Four Continents.
Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, and Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim are all former U.S. champions… and all grappling for that top spot. Four national-title-winning teams competing in one season? Unprecedented.
But it’s hard to count out Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay, this year’s third-place team from nationals, or Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, as well as Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov, who were the 2018 U.S. junior pairs winners and placed fifth at worlds. Also to watch for: Sarah Feng and T.J. Nyman, who were fifth at junior worlds in 2018 also made last fall’s junior Grand Prix Final.
The biggest factor any of these teams can build on is to stay together and build on success, bit by bit, if they want to grow Team USA’s reputation in pairs internationally.
What Happens In Vegas…
Exterior photo of the New York-New York Hotel & Casino Feb. 1, 2006 in Las Vegas.
Stays in Vegas? Well, not when skating’s first major competition heads to town in late October, with Skate America kicking off the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series once again. Chen will look to defend his title, as will Hubbell and Donohue, while Cain and LeDuc will look to improve upon their bronze from the same event in 2018.
That starts (in full) another season, which inches skating closer to the 2022 Beijing Games. Greensboro, North Carolina, will host the U.S. championships in late January, then worlds are set for Montreal at the end of March.
It will no doubt be a summer of coaching changes and program revelations, but for now, the skating obsessed have a little reprieve: World Team Trophy, the semi-annual event, starts April 11 in Japan.
Who said figure skating had to have an off-season?