Karen Chen

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

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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.

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Bradie Tennell leads Olympic figure skating team; Ashley Wagner left off

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U.S. champion Bradie TennellMirai Nagasu and Karen Chen are going to PyeongChang. Ashley Wagner was left off the Olympic team.

A U.S. Figure Skating committee chose the three-woman Olympic team after the national championships free skate on Friday night.

The committee went with the top three finishers from nationals, though it could have strayed based on this criteria. Wagner was fourth and one of three Olympic alternates.

Tennell, 19, leads the team after winning her first senior national title as part of a breakout season.

The Chicagoland native was nearly flawless with jumps in San Jose, topping the short program and free skate one year after placing ninth at nationals.

“I knew it was an Olympic year, and I knew that somebody has to go, so I just kind of kept it in the back of my mind all season,” Tennell, who missed six months between the last two years due to back injuries, said Friday night. “The first time it entered my mind was when I won my junior title back in 2015, and probably the reason I thought that is that a lot of previous Olympic team members have won junior titles, so I thought, ‘Ooh, this is the first step to making the Olympics.’”

Tennell is the top U.S. woman overall this season, ranking 14th in the world. A U.S. women’s medal in PyeongChang against the top skaters from Russia, Japan, Canada and Italy would be a tall ask.

Nagasu is going back to the Olympics eight years after she finished fourth in Vancouver and 10 years after her national title as a 14-year-old.

Nagasu bawled Friday night, and for good reason.

She was tearfully left off the 2014 Olympic team of three women, despite finishing third at nationals. A committee put fourth-place Wagner on the Sochi team because of the aforementioned criteria.

“I’m aware that I’m the oldest here tonight, but I really feel like the comeback kid,” Nagasu, whose two programs at nationals were highlighted by triple Axels (though with messy landings), said Friday night. “I cannot wait for the decision to come out because I cannot wait to be that 5-year-old girl who began this journey.”

Chen, the youngest team member at 18, edged Wagner for bronze by 2.4 points on Friday night.

The 2017 U.S. champion and fourth-place finisher at 2017 Worlds said she was bedridden by sickness all Thursday.

“I’m just so proud of myself that I was able to forget about all the pain I was in and just keep reminding myself that I trained so hard for this moment and I’m not going to let some stupid sickness win,” Chen said.

Wagner, a three-time U.S. champion and the only American woman to win an individual Olympic or world medal in the last decade.

The 2016 World silver medalist tried to rally from a fifth-place short program with a brand-new free skate to “La La Land” but struggled with jumps and was given lower-than-usual artistic scores overall.

Afterward, Wagner said she was underscored and criticized judges (video here). She said she deserved to be put on the team like she was in 2014.

U.S. Figure Skating president Sam Auxier disagreed and said the 13 committee members’ decision was unanimous.

“We’d be having a different conversation if she had done a clean [triple-triple] combination in the short and hit the level four spin [in the free skate],” said Auxier, who was part of the committee. “She’s a great athlete, and hopefully she will stay in the sport.”

The committee looked at results from the last year in picking the team, and Wagner is coming off her two worst seasons in several years. Chen’s better results from 2017 Nationals and Worlds boosted her case.

“Clearly, Bradie and Mirai with their scores and their performances were easy one and two,” Auxier said. “The discussion between Karen and Ashley was pretty academic. Karen was fourth at worlds last year; Ashley seventh. Then third versus fourth at this U.S. Championships. So it was very straightforward, clear criteria for selecting Karen as the third member of the team.”

Wagner was named to the team for the Four Continents Championships in three weeks.

“As an athlete, I’m allowed to be mad,” was posted on Wagner’s social media after the Olympic team was named. “As a senior competitor with over 10 years of experience, I’m allowed to question things. At the end of the day, I laid out my best and I’m going home proud! Congrats to the lovely ladies of the team, you’ve got me in your cheering squad now!”

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday with the pairs’ and men’s free skates. A full broadcast schedule is here.

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Bradie Tennell wins U.S. title; Mirai Nagasu 2nd; Ashley Wagner 4th

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Bradie Tennell is your U.S. champion. Silver medalist Mirai Nagasu appears headed back to the Olympics after tearfully being left off the 2014 team.

And bronze medalist Karen Chen will round out the three-woman U.S. Olympic team over fourth-place Ashley Wagner, should a committee stick to the standings from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Friday night.

But that’s not a sure thing.

Wagner, the three-time national champion and face of U.S. women’s skating, placed fourth for the second straight nationals in an Olympic year.

In 2014, Wagner was placed on the Olympic team over third-place Nagasu. Will a committee using this criteria of results from the past year put Wagner on the team again?

Wagner said she was underscored and deserved a spot on the Olympic team.

VIDEO: Wagner ‘furious’ about nationals scores

The Olympic team of three women — again, not necessarily the top three at nationals — will be announced Saturday at 8 a.m. ET on TODAY.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday with the pairs and men’s free skates on NBC and NBCSN and streaming on NBCOlympics.com.

NATIONALS: Full Results | TV Schedule

Tennell, 19, has been a revelation since placing ninth at the 2017 Nationals. She took bronze in her Grand Prix debut at Skate America on Thanksgiving weekend and entered nationals with the two highest scores among Americans this season.

Tennell’s jumping was nearly impeccable in both programs where every other top U.S. woman had struggles.

She topped the short program by seven tenths of a point and the free skate by nearly five points, with Nagasu runner-up both nights.

“I can’t believe it,” Tennell, the 2015 U.S. junior champion, said on NBC. “I can’t put it into words. … I think the sky’s the limit for me.”

Nagasu, 24, matched her best finish at nationals since winning her only title in 2008. She made the 2010 Olympic team, was fourth at those Winter Games, and topped the 2010 Worlds short program but never reached those levels internationally again.

Her most memorable skate may have been the 2014 U.S. Championships exhibition, when she tearfully performed hours after she was left off the Olympic team in favor of Wagner.

She added the triple Axel this season and landed it messy in both programs but was given credit for the jump. Quite the longevity for the Californian who fell on a double Axel in her 2008 Nationals free skate.

Chen won last year’s national title and was fourth at the 2017 Worlds, two results that boost her resume in the eyes of the selection committee.

In 2014, Wagner had the credentials as defending U.S. champion and top U.S. woman in international competition. She has not been at that level in more than one year.

Wagner, in her first time competing her “La La Land” free skate on Friday, singled a planned triple Salchow as part of a combination. She also under-rotated a late triple Lutz, two-footing the landing.

When she received her score, lower than her free skate at the last three nationals, Wagner shook her head from left to right and raised her eyebrows in concern.

Wagner was in danger after placing fifth in Wednesday’s short program. She has had two poor seasons — by her standards — since winning the 2016 World silver medal.

It may have been her final competition.

It appears none of the Sochi Olympians will make it back for PyeongChang.

Gracie Gold, the top U.S. woman in Sochi, is sitting out nationals after receiving treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. Gold is in San Jose to support the competing skaters and tweeting up a storm.

The third 2014 U.S. Olympian, Polina Edmunds, withdrew before the free skate due to right foot pain, according to her social media.

Edmunds, the youngest U.S. competitor across all sports in Sochi, was seventh in the short program. She missed the entire 2016-17 season due to a bone bruise in her right foot and was ranked 13th among U.S. women this season going into nationals.

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