The senior ice dance event at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships is an embarrassment of riches. Two of the three teams from the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships podium highlight a field of skaters who possess too many medals to count. With relationships and former partnerships that intersect and intertwine more than the most elaborate spider’s web, the athletes on the roster this week in San Jose, Calif., will show the audience why ice dance has become the top discipline in the United States. The downside to all of this talent? Too many outstanding teams will go home without a national medal.
Barring disaster, reigning world and U.S. champions Meryl Davis & Charlie White (pictured, left) will almost certainly earn their fourth consecutive national title. Though both the short dance (music version 2.0) and the Die Fledermaus free dance have so far remained largely unchanged, the “break” between the Grand Prix and Nationals is always a prime opportunity for program adjustments. It will be most interesting to see if Davis & White have made any tweaks in preparation for the international contests to come.
With the top step of the podium probably a foregone conclusion (although did we learn nothing from the short dance last week at the Canadian Championships?), the rest of the medals are more difficult to predict.
Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani, who have continued to make great strides since last year’s breakout season by winning their first GP gold at NHK Trophy and earning their first trip to the senior Grand Prix Final, are the favorites to repeat as silver medalists. At last year’s event, the siblings posted an impressive 173.18, 12 points shy of Davis & White’s total. Although their international results have so far lagged several points behind that number, a pair of performances as technically strong as last season’s can easily launch the Shibutanis back to the 170+ range and close a bit of the gap with their training mates.
This year, thanks to the splits and new pairings that occurred in the spring and summer, the field is insanely unpredictable. It includes Olympians, World Junior champions, world team members, U.S. junior champions and senior medalists, many of whom are now competing against the partner who shared in their success.
Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates were 2010 Winter Olympians, 2008 World Junior champions, and won U.S. senior medals in silver, bronze, and pewter. They competed at two senior World Championships, finishing ninth in 2010. After missing the 2010-2011 season due to a training accident that severed Bates’ Achilles tendon, the team split up after more than a decade together.
Bates found a new partner first, teaming with Madison Chock. With now-retired partner Greg Zuerlein, Chock also won the World Junior title (2009) and also placed ninth at the senior World Championships (2011). Chock & Bates competed together in three international events during this autumn. Their first competition as a team was Finlandia Trophy, where they won bronze. They were offered two Grand Prix events, Skate Canada, where they placed fourth, and Trophée Eric Bompard, where they placed fifth. Chock & Bates bring plenty of energy to their short dance, so if they can avoid mistakes in that segment, they will set themselves up well for the free dance.
Samuelson found her new partner relatively late in the season. She teamed with Todd Gilles, who has two national titles to his name (novice in 2003 and junior in 2005) with former partner Trina Pratt and a bronze at Nebelhorn Trophy (2008) with Jane Summersett. Gilles had been away from competition since Summersett retired after the 2010 Four Continents Championships, and he had been working as a coach in Lake Placid, N.Y. Samuelson & Gilles tried out together and decided to become a team with an eye on qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Championships through the Pacific Coast Sectional Championships. However, their season unexpectedly kicked into high gear when they were selected as alternates to Cup of China. The challenging outing resulted in a last-place finish, but the early experience proved beneficial as the team proceeded to win Sectionals by a four-point margin and an astounding 30-point improvement on their Cup of China total.
After winning a second pewter medal at the 2011 U.S. Championships, siblings Madison & Keiffer Hubbell decided to end their decade-long partnership. Madison soon found a new partner in Zachary Donohue. As a team, the Hubbells had success right from the beginning, winning back-to-back national titles in juvenile (2003) and intermediate (2004) and the junior title in 2008. They were the Junior Grand Prix Final champions of the 2006-2007 season and took bronze at the 2010 Four Continents Championships. With former partner Piper Gilles (Todd’s younger sister), Donohue medaled in six of the seven major competitions the team entered.
Hubbell & Donohue had instant chemistry and instant success. After a gold and silver at Skate Detroit, they had the highest combined score at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, they won Nebelhorn Trophy, and then placed third in the free dance at Skate America. Midwestern Sectionals saw the duo take first by almost 30 points ahead of silver medalists Shannon Wingle & Timothy McKernan (who qualified for Nationals but have since split).
In this field rife with new partnerships, Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt enter with one of the longer tenures, having teamed up in 2006. Last season’s trip to Nationals was marred by an unfortunate fall late in the free dance, but their fifth-place finish was their highest to date in the event at the senior level. (Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmitt won bronze as juniors in 2007 behind Samuelson & Bates and the Hubbells.) After debuting this year’s programs to strong scores at Ontario’s Octoberfest club event, the team officially kicked off the season with a victory at November’s Ice Challenge in Graz, Austria, followed by a sixth-place finish at NHK Trophy the following week. The team’s jazzy free dance to “Walking in the Sand” plays to their rhythmic strengths, and an improvement on last season’s placement is certainly achievable.
In their second Nationals at the senior level, Isabella Cannuscio & Ian Lorello seek to secure a firm position in the upper ranks of the field. Over the summer, they topped Hubbell & Donohue in the free dance at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships by the smallest of margins (0.01). Though they finished seventh at Skate America, the team earned a new ISU personal best with their Les Miserables free dance. They went on to win the silver medal at Ice Challenge behind Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmitt and the gold at Eastern Sectionals with a total of 129.80.
Placing second at Easterns were Anastasia Cannuscio (Isabella’s sister) & Colin McManus. The teams train alongside each other at the University of Delaware. Cannuscio & McManus won junior bronze at last year’s Nationals, and this season will seek to join the competitive senior mix. This fall, they were sent to Ondrej Nepela Memorial for their first senior international event, and they finished fifth.
Anastasia Olson & Jordan Cowan are making their own transition to the senior level, having won pewter as juniors at last year’s Nationals. At Skate Detroit, they took gold ahead of Hubbell & Donohue. Their silver medal at Pacific Coast Sectionals was preceded by top three placements in both the short and free dances at Lake Placid, as well as a new ISU best score in a sixth-place finish at Nebelhorn Trophy. Their short dance is especially strong, taking first place at Pacific Coasts with a score of 55.06 to Samuelson & Gilles’ 54.08, and may give them an edge over the other up-and-coming competitors here.
The reigning junior national champions and World Junior bronze medalists, Charlotte Lichtman & Dean Copely, have struggled a bit since moving up to the senior ranks. After a seventh-place finish at Cup of China, the team won bronze at Pacific Coast Sectionals, where their 122.10 total was ten points behind that of silver medalists Olson & Cowan. With their championship experience and effervescent on-ice personality, however, Lichtman & Copely are capable of coming out here ready to fight.
Ginna Hoptman & Pasha Filchenkov (pictured, right), returning seniors, took first place in the free dance at Challenge Cup and won Pikes Peak Classic by a combined 21.09 points before earning bronze at Easterns. Coming behind them with the pewter were Meredith Zuber & Kyle Herring, competing in their second season together.
Brittany Schmucker & Adam Munday made the biggest leap of the new senior teams this year, moving up directly from novice and bypassing the junior level. The team placed sixth on the novice level at last year’s Nationals, and qualified this year with a fourth-place finish at Pacific Coasts.
Rounding out the roster of new seniors are Carina Glastris & Kevin Allison, who won bronze at the Midwestern Sectional Championships.
Senior teams take the ice with the short dance on Friday, January 27, wrapping it up with the free dance on Saturday, January 28.