The most anticipated competition at this week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships is among the women, where a growing rivalry brews for gold and several skaters are in the picture to make the World Championships roster of three.
Icenetwork.com will stream the short program from Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday at 7:50 p.m. ET. NBC will air the free skate live on Saturday at 8 p.m.
Here’s a look at women’s skaters to watch, with takes from NBC figure skating analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir.
Hometown: Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Credentials: 2014 U.S. champion, fourth at 2014 Olympics, fifth at 2014 World Championships
Gold was the clear favorite to repeat since her maiden title last year, until Dec. 4, when she announced she had a small stress fracture in her foot and pulled out of the Grand Prix Final. She’s pronounced herself ready to go, but that injury plus Ashley Wagner‘s fantastic free skate at the Grand Prix Final raised doubt.
Lipinski’s Take: “After talking to them, Ashley seemed so hungry and so vicious. … When I talked to Gracie, she was a little more reserved. I almost could feel the fear, but she’s technically so good.”
Hometown: Los Angeles
Credentials: 2012-13 U.S. champion, seventh at 2014 Olympics, seventh at 2014 World Championships
Wagner is the oldest podium threat but has the most momentum. She won bronze in December at the Grand Prix Final, the biggest international competition of the season outside of the World Championships. She fought to earn a podium place with a strong free skate, jumping from sixth place out of six skaters after the short program. Her free skate score was six points higher than Gold’s total when she won the NHK Trophy in Japan two weeks earlier. Wagner can become the oldest U.S. champion since Michelle Kwan in 2005 and the first woman to win three titles since Kwan, who won nine.
Lipinski’s Take: “Ashley’s win of the bronze at the Grand Prix Final has elevated her back again into maybe the favorite for gold, whereas I feel before Gracie was still holding onto that position. That rivalry is going to be pretty intense, especially the short program, just because so much rides on that. I’m sure the energy in the building that night will be palpable.”
Hometown: San Jose, Calif.
Credentials: 2014 U.S. silver medalist, ninth at 2014 Olympics, eighth at 2014 World Championships
Edmunds shocked TD Garden when she finished second to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team last year, in her first senior U.S. Championships. She struggled to adapt to increased pressure and puberty in this follow-up season. Edmunds will finish sixth this week if all skaters repeat their best scores from the Grand Prix season. Edmunds hopes to become the youngest U.S. champion since Mirai Nagasu in 2008.
Lipinski’s Take: “I could probably relate most to what Polina is going through now. I grew an inch and a half, two inches every year. When I won Worlds [in 1997] and then the Olympics [in 1998], I definitely grew. You can feel the differences. Hopefully, speaking for Polina, even after talking to her, she has such a great base and technique for her triple [jumps]. I think that will hold her over, even if she is feeling some changes.”
Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Credentials: 2014 U.S. bronze medalist, 2008 U.S. champion, fourth at 2010 Olympics
Nagasu was left off the three-woman Sochi Olympic team despite finishing third at the 2014 U.S. Championships. That’s because fourth-place Wagner had much stronger results in the two years leading up to the Olympics, which also go into determining the Olympic team. This season, Nagasu has not skated well enough to make one believe she can win the U.S. title. However, she knows what it takes to perform well on the big stage, winning the 2008 U.S. title at age 14, the second-youngest ever behind Tara Lipinski. She hopes to return to Worlds for the first time since 2010.
Weir’s Take: “Certainly a year of renaissance for Mirai Nagasu with a new coaching team. We did see stronger performances on the Grand Prix, but not on the same level as Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold are giving.”
Hometown: Oceanside, N.Y.
Credentials: Fifth at 2014 U.S. Championships, fourth at 2014 Skate America
Cesario will finish third, and presumably make her first World Championships team, if all skaters repeat their best scores from the Grand Prix season. That would be a breakout for the New Yorker, who improved from eighth at the 2013 U.S. Championships to finish fifth last year, beating Wagner in the free skate.
Weir’s Take: “She has that razzle dazzle appeal of New York.”
Hometown: Chino Hills, Calif.
Credentials: Sixth at 2014 U.S. Championships, fourth at 2013 U.S. Championships
Hicks, a former U.S. junior champion, put herself in the Olympic conversation with the third-best free skate at the 2013 U.S. Championships. But her very next nationals program, the short in Boston in 2014, was 16th best, ending her Sochi hopes. She was fourth at both of her Grand Prix events this season, proving the most consistent American behind Wagner and Gold.
Lipinski’s Take: “Huge jumps.”