by Katie Tetzloff | Photos by Robin Ritoss

The 2016 Prudential U.S. National Figure Skating Championships will take place between January 16-24 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where the 2008 Championships were held. The senior level ice dance events will occur during the final weekend, on Friday, January 22nd and Saturday, January 23rd. What can we expect to see? This year’s event will feature 14 teams from across the United States, including the three U.S. teams that competed in the ISU Grand Prix Final in December.  In Saint Paul, the competition will be fierce!

The current national champions, Madison Chock & Evan Bates will strive to maintain their top spot after a very successful season on the Grand Prix circuit. Chock & Bates began their season at Skate America, where they went home with a gold medal, before earning silver at the Cup of China. These achievements qualified them for the Grand Prix Final, held in Barcelona, Spain late last year, where they came in second behind their Canadian rivals, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje; nevertheless, with their performance at this event, they earned a season’s best score of 177.55. With their foxtrot-ballroom themed short dance and their classical Sergei Rachmaninov concerto free dance, their success should continue next week in St. Paul.

Though favorites for silver, Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani (pictured) are five-time U.S. medalists and the gold is not out of reach.  This sibling duo’s Coppelia short dance and “Fix You” by Coldplay free dance have been well received by judges and fans alikek and earned them a silver medal at Skate Canada and a gold medal at NHK Trophy, allowing them to compete in the Grand Prix Final. In Barcelona, they just missed the podium with a fourth place finish (1.42), but made a new season’s best score of 174.92, less than three points behind Chock & Bates.

Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, the current national bronze medalists, relocated to Montreal, Canada last summer to train under Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer. After medaling at both of their Grand Prix events, Trophee Eric Bompard and NHK Trophy, they too qualified for the Final; it was their first appearance at the event, which was a huge stepping-stone in their international career.  Additionally, their qualification for this event marks the first time in history that the United States has had three teams qualify for the Grand Prix Final, demonstrating how strong the teams are this year and how tough the competition will be at the National Championships. Nevertheless, Hubbell & Donohue’s short dance is skated to a medley of the popular song “Hallelujah”, and their free dance, to a piece by Daft Punk; their season’s best score is 167.49.

Also striving to make a podium spot are Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker; this team has climbed up the ranks continuously since teaming up in 2012, culminating to their fourth place finish at the 2015 U.S. National Championships. This year, their short dance is Nutcracker-themed, and their free dance is from the motion-picture soundtrack of The Theory of Everything. After placing fourth at Skate America with these programs, they were forced to withdraw part way through their event at the Cup of China due to illness. They will definitely be a team to watch this year in Saint Paul.

Other teams that are expected to cluster right below the top three spots are Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus, Karina Manta & Joe Johnson, Danielle Thomas & Daniel Eaton, and Alexandra Aldridge & Matthew Blackmer. Cannusico & McManus finished last season with an all time high placement of fifth at the U.S. Championships, and they placed fifth at both Skate American and NHK Trophy in the 2015 Grand Prix Circuit, with a season’s best of 143.67. For Thomas & Eaton and Aldridge & Blackmer, this is their first season skating together, making this their first appearance at Nationals with their new partners. Aldridge & Eaton previously skated together, and placed sixth at the 2015 Championships. Furthermore, this will be Blackmer’s first nationals as an ice dancer, as he was previously a competitive pairs skater. Manta & Johnson won the bronze medal at the 2015 Autumn Classic International and have had a strong debut season at the senior level.

The remaining competitors include Alissandra Aronow & Collin Brubkaer, Charlotte Maxwell & Ryan Devereaux, Gabriela Morrell Zucker & Andrejs Sitiks, Tory Patsis & Nathanial Fast, Kseniya Ponomaryova & Oleg Altukhov, and Elicia Reynolds & Stephen Reynolds.

The Championship short dance event will take place on Friday, January 22nd at 2.30pm CST; the Championship free dance event will be split into two groups, with the first third of the teams competing at 9am CST and the remaining teams taking the ice at 1.30pm CST.