While there are plenty of variables and speculation in the men’s and ladies’ events at U.S. Nationals, the pairs and ice dance seems to be much more straightforward.
A reminder of the three tiers of selection criteria from U.S. Figure Skating, via Phil Hersh:
In pairs, Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim have earned the one U.S. spot. After a horrific year of injuries/illness last year (plus a few this year, too, with his knee problems), they are still working their way back to the top form that earned them a spot in the 2015 Grand Prix Final. They showed off a quad twist on Instagram recently and said on Ice Talk that they plan to add it back into the program for Nationals, so they are definitely getting there.
Scimeca Knierim and Knierim have the highest placements and scores of any U.S. pair team in any event of the three tiers, and are still the only U.S. pair to break 200 points internationally. While side-by-side jumps can be a problem, their pair elements are stunning. It won’t be enough for them to figure into the medal conversation, with the international pairs field as stacked as it is, but they could help the U.S. in their quest for a team medal. Hopefully they make it an easy choice and take their U.S. title back at Nationals, because a rough performance there could throw all of the above into question for casual viewers (a la the Wagner-Nagasu controversy of 2014).
In ice dance, Madison Chock/Evan Bates, Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue, and Maia/Alex Shibutani are, without a doubt, the U.S. Olympic team. I listed them in alphabetical order here because I think it is anyone’s game at Nationals. Yes, the Shibutanis had the most successful fall campaign, with two golds on the Grand Prix and a bronze at the final, but they didn’t have to skate against the two Olympic favorites, Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir or France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guilluame Cizeron, on the Grand Prix, like their U.S. counterparts did. And the three teams were separated by less than a point overall at the Grand Prix Final. The Shibs beat Hubbell and Donohue by 0.6, and Hubbell and Donohue were only 0.25 ahead of Chock and Bates.
I enjoy all these teams and think it will be an exciting dance event at U.S. Nationals — though I must say I’m pulling for Hubbell and Donohue this year, after their impressive rebound from disappointment at Worlds last year. Their skating is the best it’s ever been and it’s time for them to move up from that bronze medal position. I can’t wait to watch it all unfold in San Jose!