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2013 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships Preview

For the first time since 1967, Omaha, Nebraska will play host to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. New this year will be the integration of the juvenile and intermediate skaters, making for a very full week and a half as teams try to "steak" their claim on the coveted national titles. While ice dance includes some undisputed favorites, the overall contest this year is shaping up to be an exciting one.

Senior

On the line are three spots to next month's Four Continents Championships in Osaka, Japan. More importantly, the 2013 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario, Canada also holds three slots for American teams. The results from Worlds will determine the number of competitors each country receives for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Four-time national champions Meryl Davis & Charlie White are, barring the unexpected, preparing to capture their fifth consecutive national title in Omaha. The team is coming off a record-setting fourth consecutive Grand Prix Final victory, which included new season's best scores in all categories. Given the success of both their Giselle short dance and Notre Dame du Paris free dance, it seems unlikely that the team will have made any significant alterations to either program. The U.S. Championships will also give Davis & White another opportunity to improve on footwork levels. Straight level 4s in the SD has not been happening on the international circuit this season. Canadians Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir just managed the feat at the Canadian Championships, and their rivals look to equal that in Omaha.

Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani, silver medalists in 2011 and 2012, stand in good stead to repeat, but the race this year may be tighter than in past seasons. The team's original short dance plans were scrapped after Champs Camp, leaving the team to create and train a new program, now set to Andean folk selections, late in the pre-season. During their Memoirs of a Geisha free dance at Rostelecom Cup, the Shibutanis had to stop the program because of a quad injury to Alex, and after a delayed re-start, were not able to reach the podium. However, the Shibutanis were still able to earn bronze – and a second-place finish in the short dance – at NHK Trophy, and their score there bested those from last season's more successful Grand Prix outings. The siblings have also typically put out some of their strongest season performances at the national championships. The Shibutanis have not competed since November 24, so it will be exciting to see the improvements the last two months have generated.

2012 bronze medalists Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue enter with positive Grand Prix results, including a fourth-place finish (second in the free dance) at Trophee Eric Bompard, where they also set a new personal best total score of 145.23. However, the couple faces stiff competition this year to defend their podium position. While they have continued to make great progress since a successful first season together, they have also elected to challenge themselves with a flamenco free dance, a program that can rack up high marks when competed successfully, but also leaves little room for error. Hubbell & Donohue can make a strong case for the third berth to Worlds – and possibly even for a silver medal – but will need to put out their best work.

Madison Chock & Evan Bates finished fifth at last year's event, but seem positioned to make a bigger statement this year. Like Hubbell & Donohue the previous season, Chock & Bates saw strong early season results with a victory at Nebelhorn Trophy. In their sole Grand Prix assignment at Cup of China, they finished fourth and set new personal bests in all categories along the way. Their total there of 149.54 was also four points ahead of Hubbell & Donohue's best, and while scores cannot be easily compared across panels, the differential does suggest that the battle for the podium may be especially intense this year.

2012 pewter medalists Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt enter with some of their best international results to date, including bronze at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic – ahead of Chock & Bates, who suffered a fall in the free dance – a fourth-place finish at Skate America, and a second consecutive gold at Ice Challenge. But while the team's programs and work this season have been fairly well-received, the similar progress of the other teams here will make their push for a national medal more challenging.

Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus kicked off the season with a gold and silver in the short dance and free dance, respectively, at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. This earned the team a spot at the 2012 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic and their senior Grand Prix debut as the host pick for Skate America. Although they were disappointed with their performances in the autumn events, the team gained valuable experience to take with them for the rest of their season.

One team making their U.S. Championships debut (together) is Anastasia Olson & Keiffer Hubbell, who paired up this past spring. This will mark only their third event together, after Lake Placid in July and November's Ice Challenge in Austria. Each, however, brings with them additional recent national experience. Olson placed seventh in 2012 with former partner Jordan Cowan and fourth at the junior level in 2011. Keiffer's numerous achievements with sister Madison include a pewter medal in 2011, and national titles at the junior, intermediate, and juvenile levels. The elder Hubbell sat out last season completely after ending a 10-year partnership with Madison.

Isabella Cannuscio & Michael Bramante teamed up in June, seeing quick success in the first months of their partnership, including victories at Eastern Sectionals – ahead of younger sister Anastasia Cannuscio & McManus – and Challenge Cup. Both partners competed at the 2012 U.S. Championships, Cannuscio finishing ninth with Ian Lorello and Bramante sixth in the junior event with Kaitlin Hawayek.

Alissandra Aronow & Collin Brubaker, also making their U.S. Championships debut together, train with the event's top teams in Canton, Michigan. The new team won Midwestern Sectionals and also saw decent results this summer, finishing third in their short dance group and fifth in their free dance group at Lake Placid. Brubaker in particular brings considerable national and international experience to the partnership, including junior silver at the 2009 U.S. Championships with Rachel Tibbetts. Aronow previously competed at the U.S. Championships in 2011 with Zachary Donohue.

Fifteen senior teams have practice beginning Wednesday, January 23. The short dance will be held Friday afternoon and the free dance takes place Saturday.

Junior

This year's junior field sees the return of several of last year's top young couples as well as one new success story. The teams here will be competing not only for national hardware, but also a berth to the World Junior Championships in Milan, Italy. Thanks to the success of last year's competitors, the U.S. has once again qualified three entries to the event, making achievement here even more significant.

2012's national junior champions and World Junior bronze medalists Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton are also the clear favorites at this year's event. The team wrapped a very successful Junior Grand Prix series, taking gold at both JGPs Lake Placid and JGP Slovenia as well as bronze at the JGP Final. It is unusual, but not unprecedented, for a junior dance champion to compete at the same level the following season. They have room to improve in their short dance this season, especially, and try for the level 4s that they will need to beat the extremely strong Russian dance teams at Junior Worlds.

Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker only teamed up in June, but made a swift impact on the scene, beginning with first place results in both their short and free dance groups at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, and following that with a fifth place finish at JGP Bosphorus Cup and silver at JGP Chemnitz. They qualified for Nationals with a victory at Midwestern Sectionals. Both skaters' previous bests at the U.S. Championships came in the form of sixth place at the junior level: Hawayek and Michael Bramante in 2012 and Baker with Joylyn Yang in 2011.

Unfortunately, one contending junior team, Rachel & Michael Parsons, were forced to withdraw from the event due to an ankle injury to Michael. The siblings, who finished fourth at the 2012 event, competed two Junior Grand Prix events this year, finishing sixth in Linz and subsequently winning bronze at JGP Croatia Cup. Their absence does, however, make the medal race even more competitive.

Though among the youngest competitors in the junior event, Lorraine McNamara (13) & Quinn Carpenter (16) hold one of the longest partnerships and have earned some impressive results in recent seasons. The 2012 national junior bronze medalists made their JGP debut this season, placing sixth at JGP Courchevel and fourth at JGP Bosphorus Cup. The team also won Eastern Sectionals in a close victory over the Parsons. While their personal best of 128.16 is ten points below that of Hawayek & Baker, the team's continuing development and strong record suggests that another medal is well within reach.

2012 novice champions Holly Moore & Daniel Klaber also made their JGP debut this year, finishing eighth at JGP Courchevel. The team also took silver at Midwestern Sectionals behind Hawayek & Baker. While their international results were not as strong as those of their immediate competitors here, their scores were relatively close, with, for example, only a five-point differential separating them from McNamara & Carpenter in Courchevel in August. Given the additional months of training time and Moore & Klaber's past achievements, they are certainly in the running for a podium finish.

Elliana Pogrebinsky & Ross Gudis may be another team shaking up the contest. They finished first in their free dance group at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, and competed two JGP events, placing sixth at JGP Lake Placid and eleventh in Slovenia. The two also finished third at Eastern Sectionals, several points ahead of Whitney Miller & Kyle MacMillan. Though they finished eighth at the 2012 U.S. Championships, the additional experience the young pair has obtained this year with entry to the international scene should help them to better results.

Additional JGP competitors will also be looking to make a statement here. Fifth-place finishers at 2012's event, Madeline Heritage & Nathaniel Fast, competed their second year on the JGP circuit, placing seventh at JGP Lake Placid. The team qualified here with a victory at Pacific Coast Sectionals. Silver medalists at the novice level in 2012, Whitney Miller & Kyle MacMillan made a nice debut on the junior circuit, placing fifth and fourth in their short and free dance groups at Lake Placid and finishing middle of the pack in their first international event at JGP Linz.

Twelve teams will compete for the junior podium. Practice begins Sunday, January 20, with the short dance and free dance being contested on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Novice

Of the 12 teams on the novice roster, only three teams from the 2012 championships return to compete at the same level in 2013, including 2012 pewter medalists Chloe Lewis & Logan Bye, Sierra Chadwick & Alexander Martin (eighth), and Rebecca Lucas & Yan Kazansky (10th).
This past summer, Lewis & Bye competed at the junior level at the Lake Placid Ice Dancing Championships and placed respectably but made the decision to stay at the novice level for the season. Their total score of 104.16 at the Pacific Coast Sectional Championships was the highest novice dance total among all sections and just over 16 points higher than the silver medalists, Sarah Feng & Anthony Ponomarenko. Feng & Ponomarenko have an adorable free dance from the musical Cats and are coached by 1992 Olympic Gold Medalist Marina Klimova, Ponomarenko's mother. Lauren Leonesio, who finished 11th in 2012 with Dustin Perini, returns to Nationals with Quinn Chambers. Vivian Luo & Darrell Cheung are competing at their first National Championships at the novice level after finishing 11th at the intermediate level in 2012.
Sierra Chadwick & Alexander Martin have a more mature look this season, skating to a tango for their free dance, and are one of many teams representing the Detroit Skating Club at this year's event. The 2013 Midwestern Sectional Champions scored 94.68, besting Tori Patsis & Joseph Johnson by just .23. A new team in 2012, Patsis & Johnson have consistently performed and scored well through the season. 2012 intermediate pewter medalists, Kimberly Berkovich & Micah Jaffe, will also compete at their first Nationals as novice. The Cleveland, OH team trains with Jackie Miles and Chip Rossbach. Ashlyn Gaughan & Cody Lithco, who are training partners of Patsis & Joseph, round out the qualifiers from Midwestern Sectionals.

Four teams competed at the Eastern Sectional Championships, so all qualified for Nationals. The 2012 intermediate champions, Gigi Becker & Luca Becker will lead the charge from the East. The Becker siblings have an entertaining free dance to music from Rio and are one of several teams from the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy who are Omaha bound. Just 1.72 separated them from Katherine Gourianova & Alexander Petrov, who are a new team this season. Petrov finished second behind the Beckers at the 2012 U.S. junior national championships with former partner Julia Biechler. Gourianova finished eighth at the same event with Caleb Wein. Finishing in third by less than a point were 2012 intermediate bronze medalists Sammi Wren & Alexey Shchepetov of the Philadelphia Skating Club & Humane Society. Lucas & Kazansky round out the contingent from the East.

Novice ice dance teams had the honor of the first practice of the entire 2013 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships, with a 9 a.m. session Saturday, January 19. They also kick off the competitions with the pattern dances (Paso Doble and Starlight Waltz) on Sunday morning, and the free dances on Monday morning will determine the first medalists of these nine days in Omaha.

Juvenile & Intermediate
For the first time ever, juvenile and intermediate competitors will compete during the same week and location as novice through senior level skaters, essentially combining all levels into one national championships event.  Juvenile and intermediate adopted the same qualification system with the top four from each section advancing to Nationals.  Pattern dances for both levels will take place on Friday and the free dances on Sunday. 

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