Ashley Wagner

Preview: Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold headline Ladies’ field at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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Four years after they represented the U.S. at the Vancouver Games, Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu return to the U.S. Championships this week in Boston for another shot at the Olympics, but they aren’t the headliners in the chase for the team’s three spots in Sochi.

Instead, such distinction belongs to reigning and two-time national champion Ashley Wagner, who just missed out on the Vancouver team by placing third in 2010, and teenager Gracie Gold, who vaulted to a second-place finish at Nationals a year ago in her senior debut.

The ladies skate Thursday and Saturday nights at TD Garden with the Olympic selections being announced Sunday at a noon press conference.

“I’ve been training really hard going into Nationals, which is obviously such an important event this year,” said Wagner, who at age 22 is the favorite for a third straight U.S. title. “I want to do everything that I can do make sure I’m ready.”

U.S. Figure Skating Championships Previews: Men | Women | Ice Dance | Pairs | Schedule

Gold will look to do the same after her first season on the senior Grand Prix circuit. A year ago at Nationals she was ninth after the short program – beset by nerves – before she won the free skate, launching her to a silver-medal finish.

“The senior ladies – this is a big event,” Gold told reporters last week on a conference call. “I just need to trust my training in order to have a steadier Nationals this year, but with the same great outcome.”

Any color of medal for the girl called Gold would put Gracie in a strong position to be named to one of the three spots on the U.S. team this year after she won bronze at Skate Canada and placed fourth at the Grand Prix stop in Tokyo.

But nothing is certain for Wagner or Gold as a flurry of talented skater nip at their boots for the chance to head to Russia.

Agnes Zawadzki is one of them, the 19-year-old Chicago native having placed third at the last two U.S. Championships.

Zawadzki had struggles through the Grand Prix season, however, placing sixth and seventh at two events after changing back to her old coach, Tom Zakrajsek, in October, who also works with reigning U.S. men’s champion Max Aaron.

“I felt like that definitely was not what I wanted to present for the season, especially with the Olympics approaching,” Zawadzki said in an interview with “But I sat I’ve felt more consistent and confident with Tom and he’s kicking my butt. We’re working so hard.”

Boston-based Christina Gao also had difficulty at her Grand Prix assignments, placing fourth at Skate Canada and eighth in Paris. She’s taken the year off from Harvard to focus on her Olympic quest, but will need to snap a streak of four straight fifth-place finishes at Nationals in order to have a chance to make the team.

“[The Boston skaters] have such great programs this year that when we’re training together it’s such a good energy prior to the Olympics,” Gao said. “I can only imagine what it will feel like inside TD Garden. I’m really excited because I have a ton of friends at Harvard who I’ve told need to come and get tickets so they can come and watch.”

But there are other skaters for fans – and competitors – to watch, as well. Nagasu is perhaps the most notable, having been fourth at the 2010 Olympics and recently placing third at the Cup of Russia in November, the season’s final Grand Prix stop. Like Gao, she’ll need to up a string of two-straight seventh-place finishes to earn a shot at Sochi.

Injuries have derailed Flatt’s efforts, the 2010 national champion now making a comeback of sorts at 21 years old. The Stanford junior qualified via regional and sectional events and – always known as a steady skater – will look to deliver two reliable programs in Boston.

Courtney Hicks, fourth at Nationals a year ago, is coming off a solid season in which she won two Senior B events, just a step below the Grand Prix level. The 18-year-old beat Gold at the season-opening U.S. Figure Skating Classic in September in Salt Lake City and was fifth at Skate Canada.

Samantha Cesario, 20, aims to build off of two top-five finishes on the Grand Prix circuit from the year while Polina Edmunds, the reigning U.S. junior champion, won two junior Grand Prix gold medals this season and looks to make a splash at the age of 15.

Two-time U.S. champion Alissa Czisny ended her Olympic bid earlier this season with an ongoing injury, while two-time U.S. medalist Caroline Zhang struggled to a 10th-place finish at Skate America in October.

Wagner, who has placed fourth (2012) and fifth (2013) at the last two World Championships, says that the third-place finish that left her off the team in 2010 at Nationals has certainly motivated her.

“2010 absolutely still drives me,” she told reporters last week. “I owe it to myself for everything that I’ve given up – the sacrifices, the struggles – to make it onto this Olympic team and to do everything that I possibly can to make it onto the podium.”

NBC will air live coverage of the Ladies’ free skate Saturday night from 8 to 11 p.m. Eastern, as well as host a livestream of the event on

Scott Hamilton diagnosed with brain tumor for third time

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 03:  Former figure skater and Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton onstage during A Capitol Fourth - Rehearsals at U.S. Capitol, West Lawn, on July 3, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts)
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Olympic figure skating champion Scott Hamilton said he was diagnosed with a benign pituitary brain tumor for a third time.

Hamilton, who took gold in Sarajevo in 1984, underwent chemotherapy to treat testicular cancer in 1997 and was twice previously diagnosed with brain tumors and had surgery, in 2004 and 2010.

“I didn’t have any symptoms, I just went in for my normal check-up, and they found the beginnings of the brain tumor coming back,” the 58-year-old Hamilton said. “I have a unique hobby of collecting life-threatening illness. … It’s six years later, and it decided that it wanted an encore.”

From People magazine:

Hamilton learned of the tumor at a routine check-up and is currently exploring all his treatment options before symptoms begin presenting.

“I’ll tell anybody that will listen: If you’re ever facing anything, get as many diagnoses as you possibly can,” he says. “The more you truly understand what you’re up against, the better decision you’re going to make.”

Hamilton was in New York on Friday to promote U.S. Figure Skating’s “Get Up” campaign.

“It’s all about shrugging it off, whatever’s going on, whether it be bullying at school, whether it be a setback in health, you just get up,” Hamilton said. “Not only to bring the young people that love skating together, but to bring the broader population into the fold.”

Hamilton said that surviving cancer was the moment in his life that he most associated with the “Get Up” campaign.

“Chemotherapy for months was devastating, but it’s endurable,” Hamilton said. “I don’t want to scare anybody from being treated for cancer, because I’m here, 20 years later, but the surgery afterwards was 38 staples, and I’m a little person. Getting up, getting back on the ice and performing again, quickly, was kind of my ‘Get Up’ moment.”

MORE: 2016-17 figure skating season broadcast schedule

Michelle Kwan works long hours for Hillary Clinton campaign

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 02:  Michelle Kwan presents the award for Female Athlete of the Paraylmpic Games at the USOC Olympic Committee Best of U.S. Awards Show at the Warner Theatre on April 2, 2014 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for the USOC)
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Michelle Kwan says the first time she met Hillary Clinton was April 29, 1998, visiting the White House with the U.S. Olympic team, two months after the Nagano Winter Games.

Now, more than 18 years later, the two-time Olympic figure skating medalist is in the final days of trying to help get Clinton back to the White House.

She joined the campaign 16 months ago as a surrogate outreach coordinator, working with celebrity and politician endorsers. The list includes Katy Perry, Barbra Streisand, John Legend and Magic Johnson. If Kwan hasn’t spoken to them personally, she’s been in touch with their managers.

“Long hours,” Kwan said while rushing through the red carpet of the Women’s Sports Foundation awards in New York City on Wednesday.

Kwan, 36, appeared at the awards with other female sports stars such as Billie Jean King, Laila Ali and a host of Olympic champions. She had to jet early, however, to attend a watch party for the third and final presidential debate between Clinton and Donald Trump.

Clinton has a unique relationship with the Olympics.

She sat next to Florence Griffith-Joyner in the frozen stands in Kvitfjell, Norway, at the Lillehammer 1994 men’s downhill. Clinton attended the start of the 1996 Olympic torch relay in Olympia, Greece. And she gave a speech for the failed New York City 2012 Olympic bid at an International Olympic Committee session in Singapore in 2005.

In 2006, Kwan was appointed the first U.S. public diplomacy envoy by then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Kwan continued in that role when Clinton succeeded Rice and then got what she called her “first real job” with the State Department, senior adviser for public diplomacy and public affairs, after earning her master’s degree in 2011.

She helped her husband, Clay Pell, in his 2014 Democratic bid for the Governor of Rhode Island. Pell finished third in his primary.

In the last year-plus, Kwan stumped for Clinton in at least 18 states, according to her social media logs. In speeches at universities or forums, she breaks the ice by remembering her experiences performing at nearby arenas. She knocks on doors and works the phones.

“Super fun,” Kwan has said, “and nerve-racking.”

Kwan hosted the Periscope of Clinton’s first campaign rally on Roosevelt Island just off Manhattan, not far from Kwan’s campaign headquarters desk in Brooklyn, on June 13, 2015.

“It really comes into play the skills that you learn in figure skating about determination, hard work, perseverance,” Kwan said on The Skating Lesson. “I think the schedule itself is kind of what was like training for the Olympic Games, the world championships. You wake up in the morning, determined, you have a set of goals, you organize, you’re just at it and you’re taking one day at a time. And then, before you know, it’s 7 o’clock at night.”

Kwan is documenting the last 100 days of the campaign on her Instagram. Where will she be posting from on Nov. 8?

“I can’t tell you that,” she said, smiling, on the red carpet Wednesday night.

MORE: 2016-17 figure skating season broadcast schedule