How the U.S. figure skating team is chosen for Olympic team event

Nathan Chen, Bradie Tennell
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U.S. Figure Skating said its roster for the Olympic team event will be chosen in the same process as in 2014, which is a little complicated.

Basically, U.S. Figure Skating creates four sets of rankings.

First, a ranking of the four disciplines based on overall strength. That would likely be ice dance, then men, then women and finally pairs.

Then, a ranking is created within each discipline of each of the three individual skaters and dance couples, using the criteria for Olympic team selection earlier this month. (There is no ranking for pairs, because the U.S. only has one pair in PyeongChang)

This means that the U.S. champions in each discipline won’t necessarily get first choice on which team event program(s) they would like to skate.

U.S. Figure Skating could, for example, determine that national ice dance silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani have a better overall resumé than gold medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.

Using those rankings, which U.S. Figure Skating does not make public, skaters pick the team event short and long programs, with input from team officials.

Keep in mind that the U.S. can sub out skaters between the short and long programs in two of the three disciplines other than pairs (U.S. pairs champs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim must skate both programs).

Use 2014 as an example. Skaters from that team detailed the selection process in interviews last spring.

Ice dance was the highest-ranked of the disciplines. The top ice dance couple was Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the world champions who chose to skate both programs.

“We had our best chance if we did not swap out our dance teams,” Gracie Gold said last spring. “We needed Meryl and Charlie [for medal hopes].”

The next highest-ranked discipline was the women, led by the U.S. champion Gold.

“They were like, we would have you do both [team event programs, but] we think that’s a lot for you to do, Opening Ceremonies, then both [team event programs] and have a week and a half and do both again [in the individual event],” Gold said. “They said, we want you to do the long program. So I said yes. That made sense for me.”

Who would skate the women’s short program in the team event? Surprise U.S. silver medalist Polina Edmunds or Ashley Wagner, who finished fourth at nationals but was the top American internationally that season?

Wagner. She skated the short program.

Then came the men. U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott chose the short program but left the free skate open.

“So then they asked me, Jeremy wants to do the short, will you do long?” U.S. silver medalist Jason Brown said. “Obviously, I wasn’t going to say no.”

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir skated both pairs programs.

The U.S. earned bronze behind Russia and Canada. The U.S. is expected to take bronze again next week, with Russia and Canada battling for gold.

Some obvious questions:

If ice dance is again the top-ranked discipline, which couple gets first choice? Hubbell and Donohue after their first national title, or the three-time world medalists Shibutani siblings?

Will Nathan Chen choose to skate both programs or to rest up for the men’s competition the following week? If Chen doesn’t skate both, who is the second-ranked man – U.S. bronze medalist Vincent Zhou in his first senior international season or fourth-place Adam Rippon, a veteran?

The U.S. women’s rankings might also differ from nationals results since gold medalist Bradie Tennell has little senior international experience, while teammates Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen finished fourth at previous Olympics and world championships, respectively.

Answers come next week.

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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