Adam Rippon

U.S. Olympic figure skating team looking at 3 medals in PyeongChang

Leave a comment

The face of U.S. women’s skating missed the Olympic team. The only male singles skater with prior Olympic experience is out, too.

And ice dance — usually the most predictable discipline — was the one event at the U.S. Championships with an underdog champion.

After a whirlwind few days in San Jose, the team is set with the same Olympic medal expectations as it had before nationals.

The U.S. is looking at three figure skating medals in PyeongChang — which would match its highest total in more than 50 years — though one of those three would come from the team event that debuted in 2014.

It’s very likely the U.S. gets at least a bronze in both the team event and ice dance.

Their overall team is clearly ahead of every nation except Canada and Russia, which may battle closely for gold in PyeongChang.

In dance, the U.S. arguably has the world’s third-, fourth- and fifth-best couples going to PyeongChang. If one falters, the biggest beneficiary would be another U.S. couple.

The third probable medal seems like Nathan Chen‘s destiny. He has the best shot at gold of U.S. skaters, but he also may be more likely than the team and the ice dancers to finish off the podium altogether given the strength of the men’s field.

A look at the U.S. figure skating team’s prospects at the Olympics:

Men
Nathan Chen
U.S. champion
Grand Prix Final champion
World ranking: 2

The lone Olympic medal contender among the U.S. singles skaters. Chen is also the only undefeated male singles skater in the world this season. But Chen significantly trails the other two Olympic medal favorites from Japan in highest international score this season (Shoma Uno‘s 319.84 to Chen’s 293.79) and all time (Yuzuru Hanyu‘s 330.43 to Chen’s 307.46).

Vincent Zhou
U.S. bronze medalist
World junior champion
World ranking: 12

The 17-year-old picked himself up after a disastrous fall Grand Prix season to land four quadruple jumps in his free skate Saturday, though three were judged under-rotated, losing some points. Zhou is the highest-scoring junior skater of all time and attempts Chen-like totals of quads but usually does not land them clean. That’s what keeps him out of the top tier of medal contenders.

Adam Rippon
U.S. fourth-place finisher
Skate America silver medalist
World ranking: 7

The oldest U.S. Olympic rookie singles skater since 1936 at 28 years old. Rippon made the team over U.S. silver medalist Ross Miner on the strength of his fall Grand Prix season — two silver medals and qualifying fifth overall in the world for the Grand Prix Final. Rippon, known for his artistry, hasn’t landed a clean, fully rotated quadruple jump in competition in more than one year. He won’t be in the medal conversation without one.

Women
Bradie Tennell
U.S. champion
Skate America bronze medalist
World ranking: 14

The 19-year-old breakthrough (ninth at last year’s nationals) is in a class of her own in the U.S. with regards to jumping. She received positive grades of execution on 28 of her 30 jumping passes in her main three competitions this season. But her best scores — the top two scores among U.S. women internationally this season — are still more than 10 points behind the Olympic medal favorites from Russia, Japan, Canada and Italy.

Mirai Nagasu
U.S. silver medalist
2010 Olympics fourth-place finisher
World ranking: 23

Nagasu has the potential to outscore Tennell thanks to her triple Axel. She’s the only woman in the world going to the Olympics who is performing that jump. But she has yet to land it clean with a positive grade of execution and has trouble fully rotating her easier jumps.

Karen Chen
U.S. bronze medalist
Worlds fourth-place finisher
World ranking: 36

Chen, unrelated to Nathan, has never finished better than fifth in a Grand Prix but has now made the podium at nationals three times in four years. Plus that incredible fourth-place finish at worlds last season. As strong as that was, her point total from worlds would rank her 10th this season among the 2018 Olympic field.

Ice Dance
Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
U.S. champions
Grand Prix Final fourth-place finishers
World ranking: 5

Hubbell and Donohue broke through at nationals after placing either third or fourth the previous six seasons. They upset the Shibutani siblings after losing to them in all 19 of their previous head-to-heads in significant competitions. Great timing, but does it make them the favorites for Olympic bronze behind French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir? Internationally, their personal best is still nearly five points shy of the Shibutanis. Still work to do.

Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani
U.S. silver medalists
Three-time world championships medalists
World ranking: 3

The Shibutanis lost nationals by .19 of a point with Maia’s slight trip during a free dance step sequence proving costly (though Hubbell and Donohue were flawed in the free dance, too). It marked the first time a couple other than Papadakis and Cizeron and Virtue and Moir beat them in more than two years. The Shibutanis could have laid clear claim as bronze-medal favorites with a nationals three-peat. Instead, it’s up for grabs.

Madison Chock/Evan Bates
U.S. bronze medalists
Two-time world championships medalists
World ranking: 6

Chock and Bates ascended to the top U.S. couple after Meryl Davis and Charlie White stepped away from competition following their Sochi gold medals. Two years ago, they were passed by the Shibutanis. Now, they’ve lost both head-to-heads with Hubbell and Donohue this season. They can take solace in their free dance, having topped both the Shibutanis and Hubbell and Donohue in that program at the last two nationals and last month’s Grand Prix Final.

Pairs
Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim
U.S. champions
World championships 10th-place finisher
World ranking: 16

The Knierims have been the top-scoring U.S. pairs team each of the last four seasons. In 2015, they became the first U.S. pair to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in eight years. But as their world ranking shows, the U.S. pairs medal drought should extend to 30 years next month. In fact, this is the first time since the first Winter Games in 1924 that the U.S. will not have multiple pairs at the Olympics.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Athletes qualified for U.S. Olympic team

U.S. Olympic team full of surprises, stars; what’s left for PyeongChang

2 Comments

Nearly half of the U.S. Olympic team was named last week. After several surprises, a few more big names look to clinch their spots in the coming days.

NBC’s coverage of the PyeongChang Winter Games begins in exactly one month on Feb. 8.

Here’s a look at where the U.S. Olympic team stands:

It will end up including more than 200 athletes. One week ago, there were 44 qualified athletes.

Now, there are 127 qualified athletes (full list here), including the entire figure skating and speed skating teams, plus the bulk of the hockey teams.

*****

Key storylines from qualifiers so far:

Nathan Chen (figure skating): The only undefeated male singles skater this season won by a whopping 40 points at nationals with seven quadruple jumps between two programs. The 19-year-old will go up against Japanese stars Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno as the medal favorites in PyeongChang.

Bradie Tennell (figure skating): Largely an unknown a few months ago, Tennell leaned on consistent jumping to win her first U.S. title, one year after placing ninth at nationals. She is unquestionably the best U.S. woman, but an individual Olympic medal will be a tall ask. She ranks 14th in the world this season.

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu (figure skating): These two veterans told incredible comeback stories to make the team. Rippon, at 28, is the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie singles skater since 1936. The only man to win two world junior titles waited eight years to make it to the Games. He barely qualified, being placed on the team over runner-up Ross Miner after placing fourth at nationals.

Nagasu won her first national title at age 14 in 2008. Then she finished fourth at the 2010 Olympics. She was third at the 2014 Nationals but left off that Olympic team for fourth-place Ashley Wagner. Nagasu wiped away the tears and added a new jump this season, becoming the second American after Tonya Harding to land a triple Axel in international competition. That move helped her get second at nationals and return to the Olympics.

Mikaela Shiffrin (Alpine skiing): Shiffrin became the youngest Olympic slalom champion in Sochi at age 18. She’s since blossomed into the world’s best all-around skier, including winning six of the last seven World Cup races. Shiffrin is now favored for three gold medals in PyeongChang, which would match the record for an Alpine skier at one Winter Games.

New-look hockey teams: The U.S. men’s hockey team includes no NHL players for the first time since 1994. That means a roster mixed with collegians, minor-leaguers and guys playing for European-league teams. The captain is Brian Gionta, the leading goal scorer on the 2006 Olympic team who is currently without a club team.

The U.S. women return 10 Olympians, but there are many changes from the team that lost to Canada in an overtime Olympic final four years ago. The new coach is 1990s NHL goalie Robb Stauber. All three goalies are rookie Olympians. The final two cuts were veterans from Sochi and several world championship teams.

Breaking barriers: Ghana-born 17-year-old Maame Biney is the first African-American woman to make an Olympic short track speed skating teamErin Jackson, a former roller derby skater, became the first African-American woman to make a long-track speed skating Olympic team, four months after picking up the sport full-timeJordan Greenway, a Boston College junior, is the first African-American hockey player to make the Olympic team.

*****

Athletes who surprisingly missed the Olympic team:

Ashley Wagner (figure skating): The three-time U.S. champion and 2016 World silver medalist finished fourth at the national championships last week. She was left off the three-woman Olympic team by a selection committee that didn’t feel she had strong enough results the past year to merit bumping one of the top three finishers from nationals.

Jason Brown (figure skating): The only man with Olympic experience at this year’s nationals had a disastrous free skate. Brown fell from third to sixth and out of the PyeongChang picture. The bubbly Brown was a sensation four years ago with his “Riverdance” free skate and was hoping to perform to the “Hamilton” soundtrack in South Korea.

Alex Carpenter (hockey): The last forward cut from the U.S. women’s hockey team. Carpenter, the daughter of longtime NHL forward Bobby Carpenter, led the U.S. with four goals in Sochi and scored the 2016 World Championship final game-winning goal in overtime against Canada. She played in the last four world championships.

*****

Remaining qualifying storylines:

Shaun White (snowboarding): The rest of the Olympic snowboarding team will be determined at qualifiers the next two weekends. White, the 2006 and 2010 halfpipe gold medalist, finished fourth in Sochi. Rededicated, he’s in strong position to automatically qualify at one of the last two qualifiers, despite needing 62 face stitches after a preseason crash. Even if he struggles, there is a safety net. The last spot on the team is chosen by a committee, and White certainly has a strong resume to state his case.

Lindsey Vonn (Alpine skiing): There’s no doubt the 33-year-old is going to PyeongChang. She can officially clinch her spot as early as this weekend with her first World Cup races since a holiday break. Known for crashing and winning, Vonn has done both this season and remains a favorite to become the oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist.

Gus Kenworthy (freestyle skiing): The world’s best freeskier hopes to make the Olympic team in both halfpipe and slopestyle (should be four men in each event). But it’s not an easy task. In slopestyle, Kenworthy is going up against two Olympic medalists (Joss Christensen and Nick Goepper), the world champion (McRae Williams) and another Sochi Olympian in Bobby Brown.

In halfpipe, Sochi gold medalist David WiseTorin Yater-Wallace and Alex Ferreira already have wins in qualifiers, and Winter X Games champ Aaron Blunck is also ahead of Kenworthy in the early qualifying standings.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Breakdown of NBC Olympics record 2,400 hours of programming

Adam Rippon makes Olympic figure skating team, completing journey

4 Comments

Adam Rippon was given a T-shirt two years ago emblazoned with what became his motto.

“I’m like a witch,” was Rippon’s famous quote after winning a breakthrough U.S. title in 2016, “and you can’t kill me.”

It’s been 10 years since Rippon won the first of back-to-back world junior titles. His time as a senior skater has been far less successful, but he took every failure and setback and kept on going.

The latest came Saturday night for the 28-year-old, the oldest man in the U.S. Championships field.

Rippon fell on a quadruple Lutz and singled the last two jumps of his free skate in San Jose, dropping from second after the short program to fourth place overall.

A committee picks the three-man Olympic team based on results from not only nationals but also the last year of competitions.

Those errors put Rippon’s spot in jeopardy, but he still had an argument as the second-best U.S. man behind Nathan Chen this fall.

The committee deliberated Saturday night.

They put Rippon on the team Sunday morning with Chen and U.S. bronze medalist Vincent Zhou. They left off Ross Miner, the man who came closest to Chen at nationals (albeit still more than 40 points behind).

Miner was a surprise podium finisher Saturday night and had no other strong results from the last two years. Zhou at least had the 2017 U.S. silver medal and world junior title to his name.

“Ross does amazing at U.S. Championships, but frankly he has struggled at some of the international competitions,” U.S. Figure Skating president Sam Auxier said. “We weren’t sure when we put him out at the Olympics that he would perform to the extent that there was a possibility for a medal.”

The first thing Rippon did upon finding out he was named to the team was text Miner. (One of Miner’s coaches, Mark Mitchell, was third at 1992 Nationals and left off that Olympic team for Todd Eldredge‘s injury waiver.)

Rippon said he was proud of the way Miner skated Saturday, and understands the ups and downs of a skating career — perhaps better than anyone.

“I knew that there was a criteria set to be selected for the Olympic team, and I feel like I have better criteria than second and third place here,” Rippon said Saturday night. “But that being said, Vincent and Ross skated well tonight, and no matter what the selection is I will be 100 percent OK and can handle that. My Grand Prixs are better than everybody’s except for Nathan’s.”

The week before nationals, Rippon was not confident. He was cocky.

“My mentality going into San Jose is that this is just going to be my coronation,” he said. “The only argument [against me] is if other competitors’ mothers are on the selection committee.”

Rippon missed the Olympic team in 2010, crashing into the boards at nationals and placing fifth. Fine, he was only 20 years old.

He missed the Olympic team in 2014, despite being the most consistent U.S. man that fall season. He was eighth at nationals.

Rippon considered quitting but returned to training that summer.

“My biggest fear was that I would get fat,” he said.

Working under gruff Armenian coach Rafael Arutyunyan in Southern California, Rippon went from pariah to performer over the next two seasons.

He defied what he felt were urges from those in skating for him to retire.

He earned U.S. silver in 2015 and gold in 2016, though still struggling to master a quadruple jump. (He hasn’t landed a clean, fully rotated quad in competition in more than one year.)

In October 2015, he came out in a U.S. Figure Skating magazine article.

“I want to be a relatable example,” Rippon, the oldest of six children, said in the article. “And I want to say something to the dad out there who might be concerned that his son is a figure skater. I mean look at me; I’m just a normal son from small-town Pennsylvania. Nothing changed.”

Saturday marked exactly one year since Rippon broke his foot in practice, an injury that forced him to miss last season’s nationals and worlds, two events that matter in U.S. Figure Skating’s selection criteria.

“I won’t take this lying down, which is, ironically, exactly what I’m doing right now,” Rippon said last January as he spent 12 weeks off the ice.

Rippon brought his hospital bracelet with him to San Jose this past week and reflected on it before Saturday’s program.

“I thought how far I had come in that whole year, and I thought, oh my God, this is my day of redemption,” he said. “Now I know every January 6, I will take a sabbatical. I will be on the Maldives on a yoga retreat.”

He came back this season to earn silver medals in both of his Grand Prix starts this fall.

Including at Skate America, where he dislocated his shoulder during his free skate, popped it back in and outscored Chen for the program (video).

“I love drama, so I said, you know what, I can make it through this,” Rippon said that night in Lake Placid, N.Y. “I wanted to show my character, that I’m really tough, and I’m up for the challenge of anything, including the Olympic Games.”

He joined Chen as the only U.S. men to qualify outright for December’s Grand Prix Final. That event takes the top six men in the world from the fall Grand Prix season. He was fifth there, but took confidence going into nationals.

“I take whatever situation I’m in, and I spin it like it’s the most positive thing that’s ever happened to me,” Rippon said Saturday night.

The committee helped with that on Sunday. Rippon is going to PyeongChang.

“I know sometimes everybody thinks I have a big mouth,” he said Sunday morning. “Sometimes I, like, put my foot in my mouth, but I wear my heart on my sleeve. I say those things because sometimes my sense of humor gets me through hard situations.

“I’m so grateful that, no matter what, I continue to skate because I’m such a stronger person, and I’m a lot braver than I thought I ever could be.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for PyeongChang Olympics