This year’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships was a whole experience to say the least. With lax COVID protocols, multiple withdrawals due to COVID, and questionable decisions when it came to Olympic team assignments, the drama was dialed up to the maximum.
Before the competition even began, it was clear that the lax, almost non-existent COVID protocols were going to wreak havoc. Alysa Liu and Amber Glenn both withdrew following the short program due to testing positive for COVID-19. Liu was named to the Olympic team despite not completing the free program. Being a heavy favorite coming into this event, it added to the sense that the necessity of having the National Championships at all in the middle of the surge of the Omicron variant was questionable at best. Harvard student Gabriella Izzo, who finished in fourth place, trains at the Skating Club of Boston. The same club requires universal masking at the facility, including on the ice. Clearly, there was much room for improvement.
Mariah Bell became the oldest skater to win the event in 95 years at the ripe old age of 25. I know you’re probably thinking, 25? But consider that particularly in an event where medalists have become dominated by teenagers pushed past their breaking points, this was a singular achievement. Gracie Gold, a former US National Champion, had a masterful short program and clearly held nothing back while skating for herself only. The silver medal went to Karen Chen, who was also named to the U.S. Olympic team. The bronze medal was awarded to Isabeau Levito.
Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier withdrew from the competition before it began due to Frazer testing positive for COVID-19 after experiencing severe symptoms. The pair was still named to the Olympic team, further evidence that having an event in a packed arena in the middle of a COVID-19 surge really wasn’t necessary. The silver medal was awarded to Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson. The bronze medal was awarded to Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov.
Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc achieved the gold medal, and a place on the U.S. Olympic team. LeDuc is non-binary, and they have been an advocate for shining a spotlight on queer athletes. They will be the first openly non-binary athlete to compete in an Olympic Winter Games. LeDuc has also commented on the human rights situation in China, and specifically acknowledged the Uyghur genocide, and stated that they also want to defend human rights in the United States.
In a season that has been characterized by rhythm dances that have been…creative, the U.S. National Championships did not disappoint. Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have been the top two U.S. teams and have chased each other for the U.S. title. This year, Chock and Bates came out with the gold medal with Hubbell and Donahue took the silver medal. Both were named to the U.S. Olympic team, again as expected.
The bronze medal went to Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Caroline Green and Michael Parsons finished the competition in fourth place. Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko finished seventh overall. Although their technical elements and performance are not quite at the level as those of their competitors, they are always a satisfying watch. Ponomarenko is the son Soviet World and Olympic ice dance champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko.
Nathan Chen continued his streak at Nationals by winning his sixth title in a row. After finishing just out of the medal standings at the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018, he has more to prove than ever. This year he’s in a very similar situation as he found himself going into the last Olympics. He has struggled through the season with his short program. However, at the Nationals he delivered two performances he needed to to bolster his confidence.
The silver medal went to Ilia Malinin, his best finish at the National Championships. He is the son of Uzbekistani figure skaters Tatiana Malinina and Roman Skorniakov. He did not earn a place on the U.S. Olympic team. Vincent Zhou, who is ranked 21st in the world, earned the second spot on the U.S. Olympic team, and the bronze medal at this competition. Jason Brown finished the competition in fourth place. Although his programs may not be at the technical level of some of his competitors, his program component scores and performances are among the best. Of note, he is currently ranked second in the world. Artur Dmitriev Jr., son of legendary Russian pairs skater Artur Dmitriev and rhythmic gymnast Tatiana Druchinina has switched countries after skating for Russia and now skates for the United States. At the age of 29, he flung himself through the air in an epic attempt at a quadruple axel, and it was truly the perfect capstone to this competition.
With the continued surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was unfortunate that so many people had to be put at risk of contracting the virus when the Olympic team was named with little surprise to who was expected. Hopefully, the sick skaters can recover and those who haven’t contracted COVID-19 can remain healthy to compete in Beijing. As we get closer to the 2022 Olympics, there is sure to be plenty of more drama in store for fans.