There will be a new team standing on the top step of the U.S. ice dance podium this year for the first time since 2009. Olympics Champions and six-time U.S. Champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White are taking this year off, and the race to fill their shoes has been on since the start of this skating season. The two teams that joined Davis and White in Sochi at the Olympics, Madison Chock and Evan Bates and the Shibutanis, are each vying to claim the crown. Here’s how I think it will go:
- Madison Chock and Evan Bates
- Maia and Alex Shibutani
- Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue
- Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker
Chock and Bates have the edge after the Grand Prix season, with two gold medals on the circuit and a silver medal at the Final. The Shibutanis finished second to their teammates at Skate America and 4th at the Grand Prix Final and have looked a little defeated when receiving their scores in the kiss and cry this year. They were able to grab two gold medals–at the Ondrej Nepela Trophy and the Ice Challenge–but Chock and Bates didn’t compete at either of those events. It is safe to say the Shibutanis will give it their all, but it seems like Chock and Bates are the heirs apparent to the title. Even the emails from U.S. Figure Skating and all the advertisements I’ve seen focus on Chock and Bates rather than the Shibutanis. You hate to see an event decided before anyone even takes the ice, so let’s hope for two great performances and a close decision.
I think the margin between the 3rd and 4th place teams will be close. Their scores on the Grand Prix were within two or three points of each other. Hawayek and Baker are riding a wave of momentum—they are last year’s U.S. and World Junior Champions and are coming off a bronze medal performance at the NHK Trophy. Davis has also spoken highly of their potential in an article about this team in one of the issues of Skating Magazine from the summer of 2014.
Hubbell and Donohue had a strong finish to the first part of the season with a win at the Golden Spin competition in December. That said, I’m not entirely sure about their free dance—it looks slow (though that could be because I’m not watching it live, sometimes speed and presentation are really lost over a video feed) and sort of plods along. They are skating to dance-pop songs from the 2013 Great Gatsby movie and I’d love to see them let loose a bit more to give this program some life. I ultimately put them in 3rd place over Hawayek and Baker because they have more experience and I also get the sense that they want to prove themselves after not qualifying for Sochi last year.
Predictions for the men’s event are up next. Much like the pairs, I think that one is going to be anyone’s game. I’ll be back with my best guesses!