In the marquee event of the championship, the ladies field promises lots of drama, highlighted by the heated rivalry of past champions Gracie Gold (2014) and Ashley Wagner (2012, 2013, 2015). Outside of the top two, the battle for bronze and for the top five is really wide open, with several ladies capable of making a splash.
Gracie Gold Season Average: 198.80 Season Best: 202.80 On paper, Gold is the clear favorite for the title: she has stronger technical elements and average GOE than Wagner and gets rewarded with high PCS. Overall, the programs she competed this season are stronger than past ones, in terms of content and execution. In reality, Gracie struggles with confidence and can fall apart under pressure. In recent years, we’ve rarely seen her compete two clean programs at the same event and she’s coming off a big disappointment at the Grand Prix Final. Her competitive issues all seem to be mental. I believe she knows she can beat Wagner in technical elements, but she fails to capture an audience like her rival. Will see her competing with confidence-- or with nerves?
Ashley Wagner Season Average: 193.89 Season Best: 202.52 Reigning champion Ashley Wagner is entering Nationals much as she did last year, coming off a great performance at the Grand Prix Final, and with better chances of winning another title than many would’ve given her earlier in the year. Even a later stage in her career, Ashley has made big improvements in her skating since the Sochi Olympics and posted personal bests in all three categories (SP, LP, Total) in competition this season. However, Ashley can easily take herself out of the gold medal race if she cannot complete a 3-3 in her programs, which she has struggled with this season. She must be technically close to perfect to keep herself near what Gold can score in TES. A completed 3-3 (3 of them, to be exact) is what Ashley will need to grab that third title.
Polina Edmunds Season Average: 175.95 Season Best: 183.2 Perhaps at an “growing pains” point in her career, Polina has struggled to get the placements she wants on the Grand Prix this year. The international judges seem to be unimpressed with what Polina is putting on the ice, but she tends to score better in the U.S. than overseas. What she has going for her is consistency under pressure, but she suffered from jump calls in the Grand Prix that cost major points. In my opinion, the content of her programs are lacking in performance value and she’s still struggling with connecting to her music on the ice. Last year, she was lucky enough to go to Worlds after a fourth place finish because Karen Chen went to junior Worlds, but Polina can’t count on that this season. This is a big year for her, as she looks to solidify her spot as the U.S.’s third lady looking towards 2018.
Karen Chen Season Average:170.75 Season Best: 175.93 Karen Chen had a rough start this season, with a 159.18 at the U.S. Classic and reported issues with several pairs of skating boots. I feel Karen gets underscored internationally, but she may be better rewarded at home. Technically, Karen can struggle on the jumps at times and let mistakes pile up. Karen earned two top five finishes in her first year on the Grand Prix circuit and a medal at Golden Spin. Please note that if you take the low U.S. Classic score out of her season average equation, it ends up being much closer to Edmunds’ at 174.61. The quality of her spins and spiral should not be overlooked, nor her great facial expression and connection to her music. By this point in the season, I would think her boot issues have been resolved and you know she’s hungry to repeat her podium finish from last year.
Courtney Hicks Season Average:170.66 Season Best: 183.12 Also not to be counted out, Courtney Hicks won a breakthrough medal on the Grand Prix this season and enters Nationals on a high note. Courtney is known for her powerful jumps, though at times her power gets the best of her consistency on the ice. After experimenting with the triple axel unsuccessfully early in the season, I don’t think we’ll see her attempt it in St. Paul. Courtney did share we would be seeing a new free skate costume though : ) Her jumps can stand out amongst the field, but Courtney’s other technical elements and PCS are lacking in quality for me. She can certainly take advantage of other’s mistakes though, if she can contain those jumps.
Mirai Nagasu Season Average: 168.23 Season Best: 175.64 Mirai Nagasu seems to be skating with a renewed freedom and joy this season. Her jumps are looking improved and she had a top five finish at her Grand Prix event and won an international Challenger event. She’s coming into Nationals with a bit of momentum and with a strong set of skates behind her. Her spins and spirals are also at the top of the field. Mirai tends to be underscored and is judged harshly on her jump rotations. Technically, she can let a performance get away from her if too many mistakes pile up. Mirai needs to have a *moment* at Nationals to insert herself back onto the Worlds team and in the international conversation.
Predictions: Okay, it’s really a toss up between the top two for the gold medal and I can really see it going either way. Ashley is going to need to stay on her feet for all 3 of her planned 3-3s to stay close to Gracie’s technical score. In addition, I think Ashley needs Gracie to make a mistake (which isn’t really all that unlikely IMO) or to create *A MOMENT* like she did at Nationals last year to win again. Considering that Ashley is scoring higher than she ever has in her career, my gut tells me Ashley Wagner will be the one to have the grit to pull out good performances under pressure. I expect Gracie Gold to skate well, perhaps very well, in one segment of the competition but I don’t trust her to put two great skates together.
Chen, Hicks and Nagasu are my picks for the rest of the top five. It’s a tight race between these three, and I’m really struggling to pick amongst them. Intuition is telling me that Karen and Mirai will have a good event and their season best scores are separated by less than a point. Because of everything she has been through, I can see an audience really rallying behind Mirai Nagasu and her fresh start this season. I think she’ll have a moment and edge Karen Chen for third. Like Gold, I don’t expect Courtney Hicks to put down two clean skates, but be consistent enough for a top five finish.
It seems harsh to put Polina Edmunds all the way in sixth, considering her past placements, but I feel like her programs this season don’t have the spark she needs to stand out in the field. I think she will be consistent but unmemorable and get a few jump calls. I am excited to see Angela Wang compete and I would love to see her skate well for 7th. Hannah Miller, Tyler Pierce and Mariah Bell should round out your top ten.
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