Courtney Hicks

U.S. Figure Skating Championships women’s preview

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For the last few years, the U.S. Championships has been all about the Ashley WagnerGracie Gold rivalry. While Wagner and Gold are both podium threats again this week, the individual story for each has taken interesting turns in the last year.

Recall that last year Wagner had to rally just to finish third at the U.S. Championships. But she followed that up with a silver medal at the world championships, becoming the first U.S. woman to earn an individual Olympic or worlds medal in a decade.

Then Wagner won Skate America in October. In her 10th senior season, Wagner seemed to have it figured out as much as ever. Until her next event in China in November, when Wagner finished sixth, her worst result in 25 career Grand Prix starts.

Which Wagner will show up in Kansas City?

Then there’s Gold, who won last year’s nationals with a magnificent free skate. Gold followed that by topping the short program at the 2016 World Championships, putting her in position to end the U.S. medal drought.

But Gold had the sixth-best free skate at worlds, stumbling to fourth place overall. The sting of that performance stayed with her for just about the rest of 2016. Gold struggled so much in the fall season that it wouldn’t be shocking to see her miss the nationals podium for the first time, and perhaps not make the three-woman world championships team.

Which Gold will show up in Kansas City?

Behind Wagner and Gold are skaters who have experienced up-and-down careers like 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Courtney Hicks as well as younger skaters who have developed in this Olympic cycle — Mariah BellKaren Chen and Amber Glenn.

Who knows how they will perform under the pressure of a U.S. Championships, one year before the Olympics.

“The ladies is a real mixed bag,” NBC Olympics analyst Johnny Weir said.

Thursday
Women’s short program — 9:30 p.m.-midnight ET, NBCSN | STREAM LINKSTART ORDER
Saturday
Women’s free skate — 8-11 p.m. ET, NBC | STREAM LINK

MORE: U.S. Championships broadcast schedule
PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Ashley Wagner
Age: 25
Hometown: Los Angeles
2016 World silver medalist
Three-time U.S. champion

Wagner can become the oldest U.S. women’s champion since 1927. If she skates like she did at Skate America, that should be enough. Wagner’s score there was the highest by an American woman this season by nearly five points, and she wasn’t even at her best. If she skates like she did last time out at Cup of China in November, Wagner will not win her fourth national title this week.

Johnny Weir’s Take: The clear favorite. She has had the most consistent and promising season of the U.S. ladies, despite the fact that she didn’t make the Grand Prix Final. Her consistency has been head-and-shoulders above that of Gracie Gold. If she skates the way Ashley Wagner skates, given Gracie Gold’s instability lately, it is her title to lose.

MORE: Wagner, Chen share ice, favorite status for U.S. Champs

Gracie Gold
Age: 21
Hometown: Los Angeles
Two-time U.S. champion
Fourth at 2014 Olympics, 2015 World Championships, 2016 World Championships

Gold mulled skipping the fall season, still depressed after falling off the worlds podium. After lacing up her skates, she finished fifth and eighth in her two Grand Prix starts, then a desultory sixth at a lower-level event in December that caused her to seek out an old coach for desperate help. Gold echoed renewed confidence in speaking to the media last week, but will it translate to her programs?

Tara Lipinski’s Take: You never really know which form Gracie is going to show up in. The only thing that’s really blocking her is the mind. That can always turn around very quickly. It’s much harder to turn around a technical problem.

MORE: Gold finally forgives herself for worlds failure

Mirai Nagasu
Age: 23
Hometown: Colorado Springs
2008 U.S. champion
Fourth at 2010 Olympics

With Gold’s struggles and the absence of Olympian Polina Edmunds, Nagasu is arguably a top-three favorite this week. Especially if she attempts and hits the triple Axel she’s been practicing. What a comeback it could be for Nagasu, who won her only U.S. title nine years ago and last qualified outright for a worlds team in 2010.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: She’s always the wild card. She’s been in it so long. She trains so hard, and she wants it so badly. When you look at her track record, it sort of seems that one competition she does well, the next one is a disaster.

Mariah Bell
Age: 20
Hometown: Lakewood, Calif.
2016 Skate America silver medalist

Bell is this year’s new face. She finished second to her new training partner Wagner at Skate America with the second-best total score by a U.S. woman this season. However, Bell scored 24 fewer points at her most recent competition in November.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: She’s flying under the radar. It’s all fitting together for her right now. This is a key chance for her to make her mark at nationals, especially depending on what Gracie skates like.

Courtney Hicks
Age: 21
Hometown: Aliso Viejo, Calif.
2016 Rostelecom Cup bronze medalist
2015 NHK Trophy silver medalist

Hicks is an annual name on the contender list but has never capitalized on her athleticism to land in the U.S. Championships top three in four appearances. Hicks and Wagner are the only U.S. women to make Grand Prix podiums in both of the last two seasons, but her top total score this season ranks sixth among U.S. women.

Karen Chen
Age: 17
Hometown: Riverside, Calif.
2015 U.S. bronze medalist

Chen stunned by taking bronze at nationals two years ago, becoming the youngest woman to finish that high since Nagasu took the title in 2008. Chen hasn’t followed that up with much international success, but she still has time to develop.

Amber Glenn
Age: 17
Hometown: Dallas
2014 U.S. junior champion

Glenn showed up on the radar by topping Gold at a lower-level event in December. Her score there ranks her No. 5 among U.S. women this season, and she’s the only contender on this list who hasn’t competed in the Grand Prix series. See how she fares with a little more attention this week.

MORE: Polina Edmunds’ injury keeps her out for a year … and counting

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U.S. Figure Skating Championships women’s preview

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Ashley Wagner can become the oldest U.S. women’s figure skating champion in 79 years this week. Standing in her way? Gracie Gold.

Wagner, 24, and Gold, 20, combined to win the last four national titles and finished within two places of each other at last three World Championships.

Each hopes to become the first U.S. woman to earn an individual Olympic or World Championships medal since 2006 at this spring’s Worlds in Boston.

“This event is going to be the best event at Nationals,” 1998 Olympic champion and NBC analyst Tara Lipinski said. “You have Gracie and Ashley technically evenly matched. They both struggle when it comes to actually competing and having that mental nerve when it counts.”

The winner automatically qualifies for Worlds. The other two women on the Worlds team will likely be the silver and bronze medalists but will be chosen by a committee following the U.S. Championships.

Icenetwork.com will stream the short program from St. Paul, Minn., on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET. NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air the free skate live on Saturday at 8 p.m.

Here’s the full competition and broadcast schedule.

Here’s a look at women’s skaters to watch:

Ashley Wagner
Age: 24
Hometown: Los Angeles
Credentials: 2012-13, ’15 U.S. champion, seventh at 2014 Olympics, fifth at 2015 World Championships

Last year, Wagner became the first woman to win three U.S. titles since Michelle Kwan (who won nine). This year, Wagner can become the oldest U.S. women’s champion since Maribel Vinson in 1937.

At 24, she’s still at or near the top of her game. She won Skate Canada in November and placed fourth at the Grand Prix Final in December, proving the best U.S. woman in fall competition (based on results, not necessarily scores, more on that in the Gold section).

Wagner’s goals go beyond national championships. Her best shot at a Worlds medal may come in two months, with home-ice advantage in Boston. She’s also looking to the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics, with a chance to better a seventh-place finish from Sochi.

Lipinski’s Take: “Ashley, to me, is a slightly stronger competitor [than Gold]. Mentally, when she goes out there, she gets mad, and she can really sell a performance.”

Ashley Wagner: ‘The end is in sight’

Gracie Gold
Age: 20
Hometown: Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Credentials: 2014 U.S. champion, fourth at 2014 Olympics and 2015 World Championships

Gold finished 15.48 points behind Wagner at the 2015 U.S. Championships, when Wagner shattered Gold’s records for highest Nationals women’s free skate and total scores. Gold competed then under less-than-ideal preparation, following a small stress fracture in her left foot late that fall.

She came back to better Wagner at the World Championships by 3.95 points two months later. They finished fourth and fifth.

This season, Gold posted better scores than Wagner in the Grand Prix series (by 2.59 in the short program; 5.62 in the free skate). But Wagner then beat Gold by 5.02 in the Grand Prix Final in December, making up a 6.48-point deficit from the short program. Again, they were fourth and fifth.

Lipinski’s Take: By far she is the best in the U.S. Technically, she is insane. When I watch her in practice, she hits triple, triple, triple, one after another, just like it’s nothing. She gives me chills. When I asked her what happens when you go out and have to compete, she just says she struggles to get into that zone.

“Even though she did not win last year, I still believe this is hers to lose.”

Gracie Gold discusses retirement

Karen Chen
Age: 16
Hometown: Fremont, Calif.
Credentials: 2015 U.S. bronze medalist

Chen’s third-place finish in her senior Nationals debut last year could have put her on the three-woman World Championships team, but she was too young for the event. So fourth-place Polina Edmunds went instead. Chen took eighth at Junior Worlds (after being ninth in 2014).

This season, her first as a senior international skater, Chen placed fifth at both Skate America and Cup of China. Edmunds and Courtney Hicks, two other contenders to make the Worlds team, posted better Grand Prix series scores than Chen.

Polina Edmunds
Age: 17
Hometown: San Jose, Calif.
Credentials: 2014 U.S. silver medalist, ninth at 2014 Olympics, eighth at 2014-15 World Championships

Edmunds joined Gold and Wagner as the third U.S. woman at the 2014 Olympics and 2014 and 2015 World Championships, but her hold on that place is very tenuous.

For one, she was fourth at last year’s Nationals behind Chen. She won the Four Continents Championship a month later over Gold and Japan’s best skaters, but did not follow that up this past fall. Edmunds was sixth at Skate Canada and fourth at Rostelecom Cup, though she would finish third this week if all skaters repeat their best Grand Prix scores.

Mirai Nagasu
Age: 22
Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Credentials: 2014 U.S. bronze medalist, 2008 U.S. champion, fourth at 2010 Olympics

The 2010 Olympian won the U.S. Championships the last time they were held in St. Paul in 2008 but was seventh or worse at Nationals three of the last four years. The outlier was her famous third-place finish in 2014, when fourth-place Wagner made the Olympic team instead.

Nagasu would finish sixth this week if all skaters repeat their best Grand Prix season scores, though Nagasu received one Grand Prix start, while most others got two.

Courtney Hicks
Age: 20
Hometown: Chino Hills, Calif.
Credentials: 2015 NHK Trophy silver medalist

Hicks, the 2011 U.S. junior champion, notched the best Grand Prix finish by a U.S. woman other than Wagner and Gold in more than three years with her silver at NHK Trophy in Japan in November.

She’s been known to practice a triple Axel, not done by a U.S. woman since 2006 World champion Kimmie Meissner, but did not perform it in her two Grand Prix starts in the fall. She’ll almost certainly need to beat her best U.S. senior Nationals finish — fourth in her 2013 debut — to make her first Worlds team.

VIDEO: Dorothy Hamill remembers 1976 Olympic figure skating title on TODAY

Hanyu, Miyahara into Grand Prix Final with wins at NHK Trophy

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Yuzuru Hanyu won the NHK Trophy in front of a home crowd in Japan in spectacular fashion – setting three world records – and qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the process.

He followed up his short program world record with a record setting free skate of 216.07 and a combined overall score record of 322.40.

China’s Boyang Jin finished second overall followed by Japan’s Takahito Mura. The U.S. Grant Hochstein finished fourth after an eighth-place finish in the short program.

Though the results are still unofficial, the men’s field in Barcelona will likely include no U.S. men, a streak that has continued since 2012. Max Aaron is eighth in the standings, but would be invited if he finished seventh overall. More on that the qualifying process here.

MORE: Fernandez into final with Rostelecom win

Japan’s Satoko Miyahara took the ladies’ competition over the U.S.’ Courtney Hicks, who finished second in her first career Grand Prix circuit medal, and countrywoman Mao Asada, who finished third.

 

Ashley Wagner was fourth, the lowest place she could have to give her a berth to Barcelona. Wagner has earned a medal at every Grand Prix Final since 2012 (silver in 2012, and bronzes in 2013 and 2014).

Again, the overall standings are unofficial, but Miyahara, Asada, and Wagner should join Gracie Gold, Evgenia Medvedeva, and Elena Radionova in the Grand Prix Final.

 

Russia finished off the podium entirely in the ladies’ field – Alena Leonova and Anna Pogorilaya finished eighth and ninth while Maria Artemieva finished 11th.

The last time no Russian women were on a Grand Prix podium – the final or otherwise – was in the 2012-13 season, where it happened a handful of times. Russian women have been featured on every Grand Prix circuit podium since the 2012-13 season, where they only missed out on Skate Canada, the Rostelecom Cup, the NHK Trophy, and the Grand Prix Final from that season. Names like Olympic gold medalists Adelina Sotnikova and Julia Lipnitskaya, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Elena Radionova, Pogorilaya, Leonova, and 2015 world junior champion Evgenia Medvedeva all contributed to that streak.

MORE: Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir practice dog handling skills before dog show

U.S. pairs champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim earned a trip to Barcelona with a bronze medal in Japan. Leading the field in their ninth straight international win was Canadian pair Meaghan Duhamel and Eric Radford followed China’s Yu Xiaoyu and Jin Yang.