Five takeaways from 2017 U.S. ChampionshipsNathan Chen's quad display was hot topic of conversation in Kansas City
The 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships are now in the books, and after yet another successful affair -- which saw Nathan Chen shatter numerous records en route to the senior men's gold medal, and the Shibutanis continue their U.S. dance reign -- here are five thoughts I have about the event in Kansas City.
1. The United States has a chance to do something rare in its recent figure skating history at the world championships in March: win medals in three separate events.
Those medals, should U.S. skaters earn them, would come from singles -- with Ashley Wagner and Nathan Chen -- and dance -- with Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani and/or Madison Chock and Evan Bates.
That has not happened since 2006, when it did in the same events. Kimmie Meissner and Sasha Cohen won gold and bronze, respectively, while Evan Lysacek earned the men's bronze medal, and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto received bronze in dance.
Considering the United States has won world medals in two events just once since 2006 (last year, with Wagner earning the silver, the Shibutanis winning silver and Chock and Bates picking up the bronze) and just one medal in singles since 2009, medals in three events would be quite impressive.
2. U.S. Figure Skating's international committee got it right on all the world team selections.
The committee had no choice but to bypass two-time U.S. champion Gracie Gold, notwithstanding her having ticked off higher marks in as many or more boxes on the selection criteria list than either new U.S. champion Karen Chen or bronze medalist Mariah Bell. Gold, who finished sixth at the U.S. championships, showed no signs all season of being able to perform remotely near her past excellence.
Would Mirai Nagasu, 10th at worlds last year, have been a better pick than Bell? Not based on Nagasu's uninspired free skate in Kansas City, with several under-rotations and negative Grades of Execution after a strong second in the short program. She had a world team place in her hands and let it slip away.
In men's, the choice of U.S. bronze medalist Jason Brown, a veteran with Olympic and world meet experience, over silver medalist Vincent Zhou was also justified if the goal is to get three Olympic spots for 2018. Zhou, 16, has yet to skate in a senior international event; as of now, he does not even have the technical minimums for worlds.
Granting the world team petition of Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim in pairs was also logical. Although they have been out of action all season because of Alexa's surgery, the Knierims are by far the most talented U.S. pair, and their record over the time period used in the selection criteria is far superior to that of any pair who competed in Kansas City.
The dance selection was easy. The three teams with the most noteworthy achievements, past and present, finished 1-2-3.
3. Odd as it seems, the U.S may have a greater chance at getting three Olympic singles spots in the men's event than the ladies.
To get three, the 2017 worlds placings of the top two finishers must add up to 13 or fewer: second and 11th, fifth and eighth, fourth and ninth, etc.
Although this is Chen's first senior worlds, he was second in the Grand Prix Final and should -- barring a few bad days in Helsinki -- finish no lower than fifth. Brown was fourth in the 2015 worlds and, even if he cannot manage a quad, has a good shot at eighth or better. After all, Adam Rippon finished sixth at worlds last year with no quads in the short program and an under-rotated one in the free skate.
Wagner, the reigning world silver medalist, probably needs to get another medal for the U.S. women to have a shot at three Olympic places. Senior worlds debutantes Chen and Bell have had completely unremarkable senior international careers so far, save for Bell's second-place finish at Skate America last October.
One of the aforementioned skaters will almost certainly have to break into the top 10 if the U.S. total is to stay under 14. With Wagner, three Russians, three Japanese skaters, two Canadians and Italy's Carolina Kostner favored (on paper) to finish ahead of Chen and Bell, that won't be easy.
4. Now that Gold and coach Frank Carroll have split, where will Gracie go next?
The best bet is back to Alex Ouriashev, who coached Gold until they suddenly split in September 2013. That would put Gold in the Chicago area, meaning it would be easy for her to also spend some time in Canton, Michigan, where artistry guru and ice dance coach Marina Zoueva attracts a rotating cavalcade of stars from all of figure skating's disciplines.
Big props to Gold for the way she publicly handled her disastrous season. She ducked no questions, offered no excuses and made no attempt to paint over the obvious holes in her performances this season.
Admitting problems is often a key step in solving them. One should be easy to overcome: Gold needs to get herself in better competitive condition before next season. Both Ouriashev and Carroll told me Gold was not in the same shape she had been in previous years. She clearly ran out of gas near the end of her free skate at the U.S. championships, and stumbled to a sixth-place finish because of it.
5. Over the past 37 years, I've had the good fortune of being a first-hand witness to several indelibly brilliant moments in figure skating, especially at the 32 United States championships I have covered.
The latest was being on hand to see what Nathan Chen did Friday and Sunday at the Sprint Center, especially from the stunning perspective provided by the Kansas City organizers and U.S. Figure Skating, who put the media in seats right next to the ice -- the closest-to-the-action seat I have ever had at the event.
Chen rolled off seven clean quads so effortlessly -- two in the short program, a history-making five in the free skate -- that the inclination was to think they were triples. At some point, as my jaw dropped to the floor, I found myself chuckling at just how easily he was doing what would be considered incredible by any standard of any sport you choose.
As Chen was first to admit, the program had lacunae on the presentation side, which he explained by saying, "Stuff happens when you're pushing the technical elements to the max."
It seems likely that he or others will reach that jumping max again -- or even top it. That will never lessen the awe and delight I had watching him do it for the first time, as witnessing greatness is unforgettable, a privilege and just plain fun.