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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


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Vincent Zhou Interview: Figure Skaters Online

It’s almost time…U.S. Nationals starts next week! The competition is earlier than usual this year, since the Olympics kick off on Feb. 8. In the remaining days before the competition begins in San Jose, the stars of U.S. skating sat down for interview calls with the media, and I got to participate in a few of them with Figure Skaters Online.

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Image Source: Figure Skaters Online

Here’s an excerpt from my story on Vincent Zhou, defending silver medalist in the men’s event:

Vincent Zhou was riding high at the end of last season. The 2017 U.S. silver medalist and World Junior Champion, 16-year-old Zhou was turning heads with his arsenal of quad jumps and sparking talk of an Olympic berth.

But that momentum didn’t quite carry over into his first full senior season. His Grand Prix showings were inconsistent, with a fourth place at Cup of China followed by a ninth place finish at Internationaux de France. He was second in the free skate in China, climbing back from eighth place after the short. But overall, it wasn’t the strong, consistent Zhou we saw at the end of last season.

“We didn’t obsess over what went wrong, because that can lead to negativity and lots of stress,” Zhou said in a U.S. Figure Skating media call on Dec. 27. “We just discussed with a clear mind changes to make based on how I was feeling. We realized we were pushing too hard.”

Read the rest of the article on Figure Skaters Online to hear how Zhou has adjusted his training going into Nationals and his goals for the competition:

After an inconsistent Grand Prix campaign, Vincent Zhou retools training for Nationals


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My Picks for the U.S. Olympic Team: Pairs & Ice Dance

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:
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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.

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Image Source: Mercury News

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.

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The top 3 U.S. ice dance teams pictured at 2017 Nationals, along with pewter medalists Elliana Pogrebinskiy and Alex Benoit (far right). Image Source: IceNetwork

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!