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Top 5 “WOW” Moments at the 2020 U.S. Championships

After looking back at my Top 5 Standing Ovation-Worthy Moments at the 2020 U.S. Championships, now I’m sharing my Top 5 “WOW” moments. There was plenty of great skating at this event in all four disciplines, but these five moments each earned a “wow,” from me, though not all in the same way. Some were in awe, some in surprise.

1. Nathan Chen’s performances in light of limited training during recovery from the flu
Since we’re talking about Nathan Chen, I’m going to use the word “only” in front of the phrase “four quads.” Yes, Chen only did four quads in his free skate here, and we know he is capable of six. But he honestly didn’t even have to do that many to guarantee a win here — he is that far ahead of the pack. We might not have been able to say that if Vincent Zhou was at the same form that won him a World bronze medal last season, but he took the fall off while attending Brown University and sorting out his training schedule, which meant he only had one quad here. Chen pushed himself even when the title was all but guaranteed, and even though he was recovering from a nasty bout with the flu, as we learned in this NBC Olympics article by Phil Hersh. Impressive.

2. Gracie Gold’s triple lutz-triple toe combo in practice
Gracie Gold’s performances in the competition were emotional moments for her and fans alike. But it was a moment in practice that wowed me: her triple lutz-triple toe loop combination of old is back. It may not be ready for the pressure situation of a competition yet, but to see her do it while watching the practice feeds on NBC Sports Gold was really cool. Good for her.

3. K. Chen and Zhou stay in contention — and in school (for now)
I was impressed by both Karen Chen and Vincent Zhou staying in contention here, even as they figure out how to balance Ivy League college schedules with training. To be fair, Zhou has already announced a break from Brown University, and Chen is apparently entertaining the idea of a break from Cornell after her strong showing here. Neither were at their peak, of course, but they did enough to earn assignments for the second half of the season and set themselves up well for fall assignments, too. It sounds like school might have to go on the back burner if they want to reach their previous heights, but we can’t all be Nathan Chen, right? Regardless, their showing here made a statement.

4. Hubbell and Donohue skate in the wrong direction
In the press conference after the free dance, Hubbell and Donohue said they got turned around in their spin and skated the rest of their program facing the wrong way. To non-skaters, this might sound weird/unlikely/unimportant, but as the excellent podcasters of Flutzes and Waxels explained in their 2020 U.S. Nationals Ice Dance recap, all the elements should be oriented towards the judges’ side of the arena, and in this case, you could see that Hubbell and Donohue’s were not. Maybe not impactful for a casual observer, but it isn’t ideal for the judges and can be disorienting for a skater. I think most of us skaters could say we’ve experienced something similar while skating in an unfamiliar rink or arena. Once, in an intercollegiate competition at the University of Michigan, I did my whole program with the elements facing the “wrong” way and didn’t even realize it until I hit my ending pose and it clicked that I wasn’t facing the judges. Something about Yost Arena was just disorienting to me, and I hadn’t had the opportunity for pre-competition practice ice. In this case, it is a pretty unusual occurrence, because Hubbell and Donohue had been practicing in the arena all week. So this one gets a “wow” for rarity.

5. The Knierims’ throw triple loop


This video is on the NBC Sports official channel, so fingers crossed it does not somehow get removed, because everyone should marvel at their throw triple loop here in the free skate. They have been posting this element looking good on Instagram, so my expectations were high for it in competition. The quality is just superb. It reminds me of Shen and Zhou’s incredible throws back in the early 2000s — so high and such a confident landing. Definitely a “wow moment” in their program.

So here’s my top 5 — which moments at Nationals impressed you or surprised you or led to an audible “Wow!”? Comment and share!


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Top 5 Standing Ovation-Worthy Moments at 2020 U.S. Nationals

Back in 2015 on this old blog, I ranked top five moments at U.S. Nationals in a variety of categories: tearjerkers, wow moments, standing ovation-worthy, etc., etc. I thought I’d revisit that format five years later, while simultaneously wondering how five years have passed so quickly. But with 2020 Nationals already in the rearview mirror and Four Continents upon us, it’s time for me to stop wondering and get posting. Here are my Top 5 Standing Ovation-Worthy Moments from 2020 U.S. Nationals in Greensboro, NC:

  1. Mariah Bell’s long program
    Of course, this one got a literal standing ovation from the crowd, as well as tears and a standing ovation from me in my living room. If Dick Button were still commentating for NBC, he would have been shouting “look at her heart on her sleeve!” into his headset, because the emotion was flowing in the choreo sequence at the end of that program. It was really special to see her nail her final triple lutz here, after a costly miss on the triple lutz in her long at Nationals last year.
  2. Alysa Liu keeping her cool
    Mariah’s performance blew the roof off the building, and defending champion Alysa Liu had to skate right after her, last in the final flight. Not an easy situation, but Liu proved her mental toughness by delivering one of her best performances, including two triple axels (I can’t count that quad lutz…it was too underrotated) and two triple-triples in the second half of the program. In situations like this, skaters can either get intimidated, or harness the positive energy in the building for their own skate, and Liu did the latter. Pretty rare for someone so young, and valuable experience that she’ll take with her as her career continues.
  3. Madison Chock and Evan Bates getting the job done
    Chock and Bates have been building momentum since they won the crowd (in my opinion) at last year’s U.S. Nationals. Their free dance has been a hit with fans and judges all season, and the speculation was that they would take the title here, in the same building where they won their first in 2015. They could have let pressure or expectations get the best of them, especially after a little slip in their Finnstep pattern in the rhythm dance here. But they didn’t, and earned the title and my literal and figurative standing ovation.
  4. The Knierims in the short program
    This pair rebounded from a tough performance at Nationals last year to reclaim their title, also in the same building where they won their first, much like Chock and Bates. Seeing them nail their side-by-side triples here (especially after what looked like some rough practices) was really exciting — much like her reaction at the end of the program.
  5. The entire final flight of the men’s long program
    As I was watching the final six men in this competition, I was just wowed by the quality of skating — the great jumps we were seeing, the artistry, the different styles. Not everyone was perfect, but they all really rose to the occasion and made it a compelling final group. They earned my at-home standing ovation.

You’ll notice I didn’t link videos with my list. In going back to my 2015 posts, I saw that nearly all the videos had been removed from YouTube for copyright, which is a bummer for fans who want to relive these great performances. (Though possibly good for my productivity…I have been known to disappear into a vacuum of watching old skating videos on YouTube). Most of these programs either didn’t make it to YouTube or were taken down. So words only it is! Next up: my Top 5 Wow/Surprise Moments.


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Ting Cui Rides Nationals Momentum to Four Continents: Figure Skaters Online

What a privilege it was to attend the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships as a member of the media with Figure Skaters Online. One of my top moments (of which there were many!) was watching Ting Cui, ladies 5th place finisher, deliver an incredible free skate after a tough short program. I caught up with her in the mixed zone after her performance and wrote a story about her for FSO:

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Photo by Robin Ritoss for Figure Skaters Online

 

Ting Cui rides momentum of stellar Nationals free skate to late-season assignments

Ting Cui is going to have a busy second half of the season. She’ll be competing at the Four Continents Championships and attending U.S. Figure Skating’s 2019 World Junior Team Camp, plus she’s the first alternate for the senior World Championships team.

Such an outcome seemed all but impossible on Thursday, Jan.24, when she fell twice and failed to complete a combination in the women’s short program at the U.S. Championships. She was in 12th place heading into the long program.

But she climbed up to fifth place with a near-flawless free skate that earned a standing ovation from the crowd at the Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit.

Read the rest of the story—including how this performance will help her throughout the rest of the season and her connection to 2006 World Champion Kimmie Meissner—on Figure Skater’s Online!

And some bonus links:


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Hawayek and Baker 2019 U.S. Nationals Preview

The 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships kick off in less than a week, and I’m counting the days until I head to Detroit to cover the event with Figure Skaters Online.

Leading up to the event, I called in for Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker’s media teleconference and wrote a preview piece for ice-dance.com.

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Photo by Robin Ritoss, courtesy of ice-dance.com

Hawayek and Baker Aim to Continue Breakthrough Season at U.S. Nationals

When American ice dancer Jean-Luc Baker suffered a concussion during preseason training in August, his season with partner Kaitlin Hawayek could easily have gone off the rails. They lost training time and weren’t able to compete before their first Grand Prix event of the season, NHK Trophy in Japan in November.

But instead, after a careful recovery, the team went on to have a breakout season on the Grand Prix, winning gold at NHK and qualifying for their first Grand Prix Final.

“Once we were able to start training again, it was training as quick as possible to get ready for NHK, then we had [Internationeaux de] France a week later, and the next thing you know, we made the Final,” Baker said.

For more on their year of firsts and the team’s goals heading into Nationals, read the full article on ice-dance.com!


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2018 U.S. Nationals Debrief: The Good & The Bad

The good, the bad, the happy, the sad…that’s me singing some Al Green after a crazy 2018 Nationals. Despite all the drama, I’ll stick with skating forever.

Watching the 2018 U.S. Nationals was more of an emotional viewing experience than I bargained for. I needed some time to digest, hence, why this post is coming almost two weeks after the event. I was so excited for the senior events to get started, and then was emotionally exhausted by the time it all wrapped up on Sunday night. Here’s why:

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Hubbell/Donohue Interview: Figure Skaters Online

Before the senior events at U.S. Nationals get going in San Jose tomorrow, one more preview article from Figure Skaters Online, with ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue:

For the past three years, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have been the bronze medalists in the ice dance event at the U.S. Championships.

They finished third in the short dance at Worlds in 2017 before a disastrous fall on a twizzle in the free dance took them out of the medals.

They have qualified for the Grand Prix Final three years in a row, but missed the podium by less than a point in December.

This year, Hubbell and Donohue have had it with “almost.”

“I’m not here to get third place for the fifth time at Nationals, that’s not an option,” Donohue told reporters in a U.S. Figure Skating media call on Dec. 28.

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Image Source: Figure Skaters Online

Read the rest of the article on Figure Skaters Online for how Hubbell and Donohue plan to reach their goals at Nationals, and how they’ve changed their programs since the Grand Prix Final:

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue Set Sights on First U.S. Title