Figure skating’s autumn season climaxes next week with the Grand Prix Final, but it will not include any U.S. women’s singles skaters.
The next major senior competition for the top Americans will be the national championships in six weeks. After that, the three-woman Olympic team will be named by a committee, based on results over the previous year starting with 2021 Nationals.
Now that the six-event Grand Prix Series is finished, it’s an opportune time to gauge where everyone stands. A look at the contenders for Beijing:
Alysa Liu leads the pack
Liu, who in 2019 became the youngest national champion in history at age 13, is the clear leading U.S. woman this season. She has competed five times and posted five of the six best total scores among U.S. Olympic hopefuls, including the highest score by 8.89 points, according to SkatingScores.com.
That consistency makes Liu’s recent coaching change, two months before the Olympic team is named, less of a concern. Every American woman has question marks at this point.
Liu, in addition to her second coaching change in two years, hasn’t attempted a quadruple jump since taking bronze at the March 2020 World Junior Championships. She has tried five triple Axels this season. All but one were under-rotated or downgraded.
She doesn’t need a quad or a triple Axel to make the Olympic team — no other U.S. Olympic hopeful has landed either in competition — but she will to vie for a medal in Beijing (unless a Russian collapses). Liu ranks fifth in the world this season if taking out all of the Russians who won’t be at the Olympics.
Mariah Bell’s resurgence
Bell, in her sixth year among the handful of top Americans, had not shown anything this season to establish herself as an Olympic team favorite until this past weekend.
At the last Grand Prix Series event, she tallied 210.35 points for fourth place at Rostelecom Cup. Bell upped her season’s best score by 19.56 points and jumped from fifth to second in the domestic standings this autumn.
She was able to do that without a triple-triple combination. Among three competitions this season, Bell has landed one triple-triple (that was negatively graded). Bell landed triple-triples at most of her competitions in recent seasons. If she can get it back for nationals, you have to like her podium chances.
Bell is entered in a lower-level event in Croatia next week. At 25, she’s trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie female singles skater since 1920 (when figure skating was part of the Summer Games), according to Olympedia.org. One of her coaches, Adam Rippon, became in 2018 the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie male singles skater since 1936.
Bradie Tennell’s absence
Four years ago, Tennell entered the Olympic season as a nobody, won the national title and was the highest-placing American at the Olympics and world championships.
This season, the reigning national champion Tennell hasn’t competed at all, withdrawing before six scheduled starts and citing a foot injury. Last week, she pulled out of a lower-level event in Croatia three weeks ahead of time. There are no other significant international competitions between now and nationals.
No singles skater in the last 30 years made the Olympic team by making their season debut at nationals (though Michelle Kwan made the 2006 team without competing at all that season).
Karen Chen, Amber Glenn in the mix
After Liu and Bell, the third-best American this season is 14-year-old Isabeau Levito, who is too young for the Olympics.
After that, veterans Chen and Glenn are neck and neck. Chen’s best score is 202.49. Glenn’s is 201.02.
Chen, a 2018 Olympian, also boasts a fourth-place finish from last March’s world championships, which is among the competitions that the selection committee is supposed to include. Glenn and Chen also finished second and third at last season’s nationals, which boosts each’s profile.
Lindsay Thorngren the dark horse
Correction: A U.S. woman will be at the Grand Prix Final in Osaka, Japan, next week. Two, actually. Levito (again, too young for the Olympics) and Lindsay Thorngren qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final.
Thorngren, who turns 16 on Sunday and is age-eligible, scored at least 180 points in all of her events this season. The only other U.S. Olympic hopeful who can say that is Liu. Like Liu, Thorngren has tried triple Axels this season, though all three were downgraded.
Thorngren, who made her senior international debut two weeks ago, will look to follow the path set by Polina Edmunds, who made the 2014 Olympic team with zero senior international experience and Tennell, who had one senior international event under her belt before the 2018 season.
Thorngren won the 2020 U.S. junior title, then placed sixth in her senior nationals debut last season.
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