Where the US team’s figure skaters stand in mid-season ahead of the Olympic Winter Games
(LR) Yuma Kagiyama of Japan, Nathan Chen of the United States and Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan pose for a photo during the medal ceremony for the men’s short program and men’s free skating at the World Figure Skating Championships in ISU on March 27, 2021 in Stockholm.
Questions swirl around Hanyu
It has long been assumed that the biggest threat to Chen’s gold in Beijing was two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. But the Japanese star has retired from his Grand Prix races with a right ankle injury and has yet to compete this season. He may participate in the Japan Figure Skating Championships, if this event takes place as scheduled from December 22 to 26; or, Japan could nominate him for Beijing without a qualifying competition. Hanyu, however, has yet to announce whether he will seek a third consecutive Olympic title.
In his absence, his Japanese team-mates Kagiyama, a rising 18-year-old who won his two Grand Prix events this fall, and resurgent 2018 Olympic silver medalist Uno appear to be Chen’s most likely international challengers. .
Russian women still dominant
It’s an old story, but still convincing: Russian women crush their international rivals. They have dominated this Grand Prix season, winning five of six events and clinching five places in the Grand Prix final (Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto won the NHK trophy, where no Russian woman competed).
This season’s star is just 15-year-old Kamila Valiyeva, who scored a record 272.71 points in winning the Rostelecom Cup last month, including three quadruple jumps in her free skate. His score was more than six points higher than that of Georgian Morisi Kvitelashvili, winner of the men’s event in Rostelecom. Women cannot include quads in their short programs, otherwise Valiyeva’s score would probably have been even higher.
Valiyeva has a lot of Russian teammates: Anna Shcherbakova, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Maliya Khromykh, Alena Kostornaia and Alexandra Trusova are all seen as Olympic medal threats. All except Tuktamysheva train at the Eteri Tutberidze school in Moscow; Tuktamysheva is coached by Alexei Mishin, who coached 2006 Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko.
Americans excluded from Grand Prix medals
For the first time ever, no American has qualified for the Grand Prix final and none has won a Grand Prix medal this fall. The top performers were two-time US champion Alysa Liu, who placed fifth at Skate Canada and fourth at the NHK Trophy, and Mariah Bell, who scored an impressive 210.35 points to finish fourth at Rostelecom.
Both skaters have made significant adjustments this season. Liu, looking to improve the consistency of his triple Axel and regain his Lutz quad, moved to Colorado Springs, Colo., To train with a team led by acclaimed jump technician Christine Krall. Bell has changed both of its schedules, including a return to its 2019/2020 free skate, tuned to kd lang’s rendition of “Hallelujah”.
Another great American prospect, two-time American champion Bradie Tennell, withdrew from his fall events due to a lingering foot injury. Karen Chen, fourth in the world last season, suffered an irregular fall, placing 10th at Skate Canada but improving to fifth at the French Open.
With several other women in the mix – and three spots available for Beijing – a lot will be played out at next month’s US Championships.
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue perform in the exhibit program at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating – Skate America on October 24, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
American ice dancers are in the mix for the Beijing podium
America’s top two ice dance teams – Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates – have had strong Grand Prix seasons, advancing to the Grand Prix Final.
The greatest history of ice dancing, however, is the successful return of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron from France. The four-time world champions, who did not compete last season, easily won their two Grand Prix races, beating Hubbell and Donohue at the Gran Premio d’Italia. After a narrow loss to Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in PyeongChang four years ago, the pair appear strong for gold in Beijing.
Reigning world champions Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia beat Chock and Bates to the NHK Trophy, with the US team settling for silver. With the two best American and Canadian couples Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, they will probably fight for the podium in Beijing.
Almost failed Grand Prix season for Knierim and Frazier
US pairs champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier put in strong performances in their Grand Prix events, narrowly missing the podium at Skate America and taking bronze at the French Open. They qualified as second substitutes for the Grand Prix final.
2019 US Champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc also performed well, winning bronze at Skate Canada and setting a personal best freestyle at the NHK Trophy, where they placed fourth.
Still, the highest score of the American pairs – a personal best 202.97 points, achieved by Knierim and Frazier at Skate America – was well behind that of reigning world champions Russia, Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, as well. than the double world champions of China. Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, as well as several other prominent Russian pairs.