With all of the selectors’ emphasis on the candidates’ “body of work,” is the United States sending its best figure skating team to the Olympics in terms of medal chances?
In dance, undoubtedly. In the women’s event, probably. In men’s and pairs, likely not.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the reigning global champs, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Maia and Alex Shibutani clearly are the country’s top three dance couples. Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds are obviously the top two women in terms of the rigor of their programs. Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir are two-time pairs champs. And Jeremy Abbott, who won his fourth men’s national crown, couldn’t be denied. The questions involve the second man, third woman, and second pair.
While Jason Brown has a charming and creative long program, he doesn’t have a quadruple jump.
“Most guys in the top eight have two,” observed Elvis Stojko, the two-time Olympic medalist who was here for the US championships at TD Garden. “If you don’t attempt one, are you going to crack the top 10?”
Max Aaron, who finished third after winning last year, has the most difficult free skate, including a quadruple salchow-triple toe combination plus a solo quad sal, and it’s crammed with bonus-point triples in the second half.
“That is incredibly difficult,” said Stojko.
When the judges hung Aaron with hockey-player scores for choreography and interpretation, they kept him off the team, but he’s the only Yank with enough game to sky with Canadian world champ Patrick Chan and the Japanese.
Since no US woman has made a global podium since 2006, it won’t matter who the third entrant is. You can argue whether Mirai Nagasu, who skated cleanly on Causeway Street, should have been picked ahead of Ashley Wagner, the two-time titlist who had a horrific night.
But the truth is that neither of them has the technical chops to hang with the Asians and Russians. Nagasu had a strong Olympics four years ago but has done little since. Wagner is more consistent. Neither figured to make the Sochi podium.
The most complicated decision might well have been the pairs, where former champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin finished just 29-hundredths of a point behind Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay after winning the long program and were passed over. Denney competed at the Vancouver Games and Coughlin has finished in the top eight at two world championships with different partners. He and Denney not only have better credentials, they’ve had a better season. That said, they weren’t going to make the podium, either.
Unless Gold has the skate of her life in Sochi, the American men and women both will miss the medal stand for the first time since 1936. The best chances are with Davis and White, who are favored for a breakthrough gold, and in the new team event. The US is better across all four disciplines than most countries and good enough for a medal. The entrants will be selected by Feb. 5.
When Nagasu won the 2008 US title but was too young (at 14) to compete at the world championships, who went in her place? Wagner, who was the only one of the top four finishers who met the age requirement. Kimmie Meissner, Bebe Liang, and she skated in Sweden and finished 7-10-16, losing the customary third entry that wasn’t reclaimed until Wagner and Gold got it back last year.
While Nagasu also was bypassed for the March world championships in Japan, she’ll get a trip to Taipei City for next week’s Four Continents Championships, which is where the federation sends the also-rans. For company, Nagasu will have Samantha Cesario and Courtney Hicks plus Richard Dornbush, Joshua Farris, and Adam Rippon, pairs Alexa Scimeca-Christopher Knierim, Haven Denney-Brandon Frazier, and Tarah Kayne-Danny O’Shea, and dancers Alexandra Aldridge-Daniel Eaton, Madison Hubbell-Zachary Donohue, and Lynn Kriengkrairut-Logan Giulietti-Schmitt.
Boston, which has never staged the World Figure Skating Championships, will play host in 2016 at the Garden, the first time the event will have been held in the States since 2009 in Los Angeles. This year’s post-Olympic event will be held in Saitama, Japan, and next year’s in Shanghai. For the next two nationals, the USFSA will return to familiar venues in Greensboro, N.C., (the 2011 venue) and St. Paul (2008) . . . Since seven-time champion Evgeni Plushenko won’t be competing in this week’s European figure skating championships in Budapest, he and teenager Maxim Kovtun, who beat the former Olympic titlist at the nationals, won’t go head-to-head again for Russia’s one men’s spot at the Games. Instead the 31-year-old Plushenko will have a monitored private skate next week to determine whether he’d be the better contender. Meanwhile a trio of Russian women — Julia Lipnitskaia, Adelina Sotnikova, and Alena Leonova — will be vying to knock off Italian five-time titlist Carolina Kostner to become their country’s first victor since Irina Slutskaya in 2006.
Canada’s Olympic men’s ice hockey team, looking to be the first champion to repeat since the Unified Team (i.e. Soviet Union) in 1992, returns 11 members of the 2010 squad, most notably golden boy Sidney Crosby, goalie Roberto Luongo, Bruin Patrice Bergeron, and recent Cup winners Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, and Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks. The women’s squad, which is gunning for four straight golds, not only has a dozen members from the 2010 team and six from 2006 but also three from 2002 in forwards Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, and Caroline Ouellette . . . With Olympic champ Lindsey Vonn out of commission and no other speed racer stepping to the podium since, teenager Mikaela Shiffrin is shaping up as the sole US hope for a women’s Alpine medal in Sochi. Shiffrin, who leads the World Cup slalom standings, is favored to become the first American to win the event at the Games since Barbara Cochran in 1972. Though Ted Ligety had a DNF in Adelboden last weekend, the world champ still is favored to make the podium in the men’s giant slalom.
The German lugers had everything but a keg party at last weekend’s World Cup stop on their Oberhof ice track, winning eight of the nine medals and sweeping the men’s event as Felix Loch won for the fourth time in seven races. Tatjana Huefner ended Natalie Geisenberger’s perfect run on the women’s side amid another sweep while the Teutonic men went 1-2 in the double. Another rough week for the Americans, with the double of Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman the only top 10 finishers. Chris Mazdzer, who rolled an ankle playing soccer, was 18th on the heels of a 21st place in Koenigssee. The Germans figure to clean up again this weekend in Altenberg, where the Yanks will have to start piling up points if they want to earn decent seeds for the Olympics, where the ice will be soft for later starters if the weather turns warm, as it often does in Sochi . . . The US bobsledders’ woes on overseas ice continued last weekend in St. Moritz, where top pilot Steve Holcomb placed fifth in the two-man and seventh in the four-man, where teammate Nick Cunningham crashed, while the women missed the World Cup podium for the first time all season as Jamie Greubel and Emily Azevedo were fourth by a tenth of a second. With the final two pre-Games events in Igls, Austria, and Koenigssee this weekend and next, the US males will have to get up to speed if they hope to make the Olympic podium again. The skeleton sledders, meanwhile, had a lovely Swiss visit as Noelle Pikus-Pace won her third women’s crown and Matt Antoine collected a bronze. Her controversial disqualification for sled handle tape in the Calgary season opener likely will cost Pikus-Pace the overall title since Briton rival Lizzy Yarnold is 210 points ahead . . . The four Olympic champions elected this month to the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Hall of Fame have seven gold medals among them. Soviet teammates Andrei Khomutov (1984, ’88, ’92) and Vyacheslav Bykov (1988, ’92) played for the Big Red Machine. Steve Yzerman was part of Canada’s winning team at Salt Lake City in 2002, and Nicklas Lidstrom, his successor as Red Wings captain, scored the decisive goal for Sweden in 2006.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Material from Olympic committees, sports federations, interviews, and wire services was used in this report.