by Jacquelyn Thayer | Photos by Robin Ritoss

2014USNatsFor the first time since 2001 and the seventh time in all, Boston is the stage for the Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships. This year’s event serves as the Olympic send-off, which adds an extra level of tension to the week. Three senior teams—most likely the top three finishers—will be sent to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, while three additional high-finishing teams will likely be assigned to the 2014 Four Continent Championships, set to take place in Taipei later this month. The senior World Championships team, too, will be decided here, likely to overlap with the Olympic roster, contingent upon individual team decisions. At the junior level, the U.S. also holds three spots at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships, courtesy of last year’s strong results. With significant depth in the discipline at both levels, the contests to make these championship teams—or represent the nation on the sport’s biggest stage—will be especially fierce.

SENIORS

With five-time national champions Meryl Davis & Charlie White almost certain to pick up their record-breaking sixth title this week, the team’s focus is surely more on preparing for the Olympic Games. After establishing a full slate of ISU personal bests at December’s Grand Prix Final, including a total of 191.35 for their “My Fair Lady” short dance and “Scheherazade” free dance, the team can take aim at hitting their best Nationals results. Last season, they picked up a 79.02 in the short and 118.42 in the free dance, only a couple of points shy of the perfect marks of 81.00 and 119.50, and scores at this year’s outing will be interesting to watch. Davis & White’s major goal, however, will be to use this last opportunity for additional mileage, gearing up as more experienced Olympic contenders than they were four years ago. 

With early ties to the city, the Boston locale is a special one for Maia & Alex Shibutani. The siblings, who have long trained with Davis & White in Canton, Mich., enter as the second most-seasoned team in this field, having medaled nationally each year of their senior career – silver in 2011 and 2012 and bronze at the 2013 event. While last season saw the team grappling with a few technical glitches, their international totals this season are the second-highest among U.S. ice dance teams, including a season’s best of 157.58 at NHK Trophy, four points better than the highest marks for opponents Madison Chock & Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue. After a 2012-13 season that included injury and revisions to the short dance, this year the siblings have made a better case for their national position with solid element execution and a contrasting set of programs. Their Michael Bublé-scored short dance plays to their smoothness in ballroom rhythms, and their pop-inspired free dance to selections from Michael Jackson is a blast of energy. The race for Sochi is a close one, but with two clean performances, the Shibutanis should stand in very good position to claim one of those spots.

2013 silver medalists Madison Chock & Evan Bates enter after a decent fall season, marked by bronze medals at both Cup of China and Rostelecom Cup. Despite good finishes, however, the team, in their second year of training in Novi, Mich., has struggled with technical consistency, particularly in their “Hollywood” short dance: at both Grand Prix events, the second Finnstep pattern earned only a Level 1, while the no-touch step sequence and twizzles in each outing received Levels 2 and 3, respectively. Their free dance to “One Day More” from Les Misérables has been comparatively stronger, with their Cup of China TES of 47.43 the second-highest in that event’s segment. Component marks for both short and free dance have been consistently high, indicating international support. With a Grand Prix best of 153.37 virtually tying the Grand Prix totals from Hubbell & Donohue, however, Chock & Bates may really need those short dance levels to put them ahead.

M13CanManadison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue earned bronze at the U.S. Championships in their first season together in 2012, but slipped to fourth place last season with a particularly challenging pair of programs. This season, the couple from the Detroit Skating Club has demonstrated ease with both their swing short dance and lyrical “Nocturne into Bohemian Rhapsody” free dance, helping them to a good first half of the season that began with gold at Nebelhorn Trophy and wrapped with bronze at Skate Canada International, as well as a fourth-place finish one week earlier at Skate America. The major hurdle this year, however, comes in the form of injury; Hubbell is currently dealing with a labral tear, after struggles earlier in the year with a pre-season concussion and the general aches and pains arising from a compressed autumn schedule of three events in five weeks. Hubbell & Donohue’s scores this year have been solid, as the team set new ISU bests in all categories at Skate Canada International including a total of 153.20, and in both previous seasons together, their national totals have improved by about 20 points from the Grand Prix. Hubbell’s health, however, will be the major question mark for the team as they prepare to vie for an Olympic spot.

Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, who finished fifth at the 2013 U.S. Championships, enter as a somewhat unknown entity. The team, who relocated to Novi this summer, competed at September’s U.S. Figure Skating Classic and placed fourth, but they subsequently withdrew from November’s Ice Challenge due to a back injury for Kriengkrairut. They preserved a bye to Nationals courtesy of last year’s finish. Against the additional mileage picked up by the teams in the tight medal race, it is difficult to assess the national scoring potential for the couple’s programs, a short dance to “That Man” and “Jolie Coquine” and a classically-tinged “Spartacus” free dance, particularly given the possibility of program revision. Given their experience, another top five finish is well within reach, along with an assignment to their first championship event since 2007.  

Two-time junior national champions Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton will be competing for the first time at the senior national level. While the team’s transition to the senior international ranks has seen bumps, their fifth-place finish at Cup of China included a fourth-place result in the short dance. The team qualified for Nationals with a victory at Midwestern Sectionals. With a sharper outing for their Indian free dance in particular, the team should certainly be in the mix for a good placement at this event.

Rounding out the teams most likely to contend for an assignment to a later competition are 2013 sixth-place finishers Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus (pictured, left), for whom this Boston-based Nationals has special meaning. Though McManus has trained at the University of Delaware since 2008, he grew up in in the Boston area and represents the hosting Skating Club of Boston, where his father Jim serves as vice president. This season, the duo kicked off their autumn at September’s U.S. Figure Skating Classic, finishing eighth, and followed that up with a victory at Ice Challenge two months later. The team also saw their total score improve dramatically between events, progressing by over 20 points to a respectable 142.33 in Graz – 0.01 better than last year’s Nationals total.

JUNIORS

2013 silver medalists Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker enter as the favorites at this event, coming off victories at JGP Mexico Cup and JGP Baltic Cup and a silver medal at the JGP Final. While the team encountered level problems in their Final performances, including a Level 1 quickstep pattern in the short dance and uncharacteristic Level 1 rotational lift and Level 2 twizzles in their “Amélie” free dance, they achieved new international bests in PCS for both segments of the competition. A spot to Junior Worlds is all but assured given the team’s results to date, and with two cleaner outings, national gold is highly attainable.

2014MCCARPProviding the main competition for top spot will be Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter (pictured, right), bronze medalists at this year’s JGP Final as well as at the 2013 U.S. Championships. The JGP Final saw the team, who also captured gold at JGP Minsk and silver at JGP Riga Cup, finishing only four points behind Hawayek & Baker and achieving the second-highest TES with their “Sherlock Holmes” free dance. The young duo’s technical results improved with each Junior Grand Prix outing, and with a continuation of the trend, they may be in position to fight for gold and certainly for their second trip to Junior Worlds.

Siblings Rachel & Michael Parsons, training mates of McNamara & Carpenter’s at the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy, missed last year’s National Championships due to injury. This season the team has posted solid results, including silver at both JGP Kosice and JGP Czech Skate, and finished sixth at the JGP Final. Their JGP outings also resulted in new ISU personal bests, including a 59.54 for their “Funny Girl” short dance, the second-highest among U.S. juniors this season. Though the team suffered a fall and a few level snags in their JGP Final outing, a return to those earlier solid performances should put the team in good position to contend for the final spot to Junior Worlds.

2012 Novice champions Holly Moore & Daniel Klaber finished fourth at 2013 Nationals and completed a good JGP series, winning bronze at JGP Kosice and placing fourth—while setting new personal bests—at JGP Tallinn Cup. The team, training mates to Hawayek & Baker at the Detroit Skating Club, ultimately secured their Nationals spot with a big 35-point victory at Midwestern Sectionals. While their recent best total of 127.74 is seven points behind the Parsons’ best, with their years of experience together and by putting out two strong performances, Moore & Klaber can also vie for a spot on the podium and the Junior Worlds team.

Also appearing in the junior event are two other teams who competed on the JGP this season. Novi’s Chloe Lewis & Logan Bye, who won the novice title in 2013, made their début this year on the international circuit, finishing as high as fifth at JGP Mexico Cup. Wheaton students Elliana Pogrebinsky & Ross Gudis, who finished fifth at juniors in 2013, placed well in their second year on the JGP circuit, including a fourth-place result at JGP Riga Cup and new personal bests at JGP Baltic Cup.

Junior events kick off with the short dance on Tuesday, January 7, followed by the free dance on Thursday. Senior events follow, with the short dance scheduled for Friday, January 10, and the free dance—divided into two separate groups of two flights apiece—on Saturday.