Happy new year! Though the last few weeks have been relatively quiet in figure skating news, this week, social media is blowing up with coverage. AND the reality that this event starts *NEXT WEEK* (a.k.a. the panic has started to set in).
This will be an interesting nationals, with some major players out with injuries (Rippon, Edmunds, Scimeca Knieirm) and all eyes looking towards the 2018 season. Much of what we see this year is skaters setting themselves up for the Olympic year by rehabbing injuries, trying out new elements and jockeying for position. More important than what happens in Kansas City this week is what happens at Worlds this year or what I like to call "White Knuckling Olympic Spots". Here is a look at the storylines I will be keeping my eye on in Kansas City:
1. Which pair can be the most consistent?
The pairs field is so wide open that you may as well draw names to pick a winner. While reigning champions Tarah Kayne/Danny O'Shea have the best programs of this event IMO, Tarah has been dealing with a knee injury and not feeling her best. When they won their first title last year, it was their consistency in the side-by-side jumps that won them the title and they haven't been able to find that yet this season.
Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier have been the most consistent team so far, achieving a third and fourth place in the Grand Prix. They're coming off a huge injury to Denney, so I give them credit for doing as well as they have, but I have to say I find their programs forgettable. Possibly my favorite U.S. pair team is Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran, who have incredible potential as a team, but struggle with the consistency of their elements. I am also excited for the Nationals debut of Ashley Cain/Tim LeDuc.
2. Which U.S. lady is most motivated for a comeback?
Let's be real, the U.S. ladies were an absolute disaster this fall. Despite medals from Ashley Wagner, Mariah Bell and Courtney Hicks, the inconsistency of the U.S. ladies ran rampant in the Grand Prix. For the fifth year in a row, it will be the Ashley v. Gracie storyline playing out for the top two. While Ashley Wagner has had a somewhat typical for her up-and-down fall season, Gracie Gold has been scoring far below even her worst of performances from her senior career. While both are promising a comeback, it's an entirely other thing to put it on the ice.
Regardless of whether you're Team Ashley or Team Gracie, you're gonna want BOTH of them to skate well and get on that World team. In my opinion, we need to send World- level experienced skaters who have to have any hope of getting three spots for South Korea. With Edmunds out, that means I'm also looking for a big performance out of Mirai Nagasu in Kansas City. While I'm not sure how the uncertainty of the triple axel will effect her, she has great programs and I'm hoping she peaks here. I will also have my eye on Mariah Bell, Karen Chen, Angela Wang and Caroline Zhang as skaters who can make a statement here.
In the next post, I'll preview the men and dance, and follow up with a predictions/fantasy picks post early next week. I'm trying to keep these short and sweet : )
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Reviews, predictions and opinions in the magical, sparkly and dramatic field of figure skating.