The 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Team USA's last major figure skating competition ahead of the upcoming Winter Games, begin this Monday and last through Sunday. A committee will then name 16 athletes to the Olympic team no later than Monday, January 10th. All the action from the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee can be seen LIVE on the networks of NBC and streamed on NBCOlympics.com.
SEE MORE: Figure Skating 101: Who's Qualified for Team USA
The Championships are not Olympic Trials: A skater's performance does not automatically qualify (or disqualify) him or her to represent Team USA at the Games. Olympic berths are designated based on performances from all major competitions dating back to the 2021 Nationals. Three berths are available for each discipline with the exception of pairs, for which the U.S. earned only two spots.
As Olympic veterans like ice dancers Madison Chock/Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue impress with their latest routines, fresh faces such as 16-year-old Alysa Liu will showcase the future of U.S. figure skating by flipping, looping, and Lutzing to the best of their abilities. However, all eyes will undoubtedly be on world No. 3 skater Nathan Chen, widely considered a gold medal contender at the 2022 Winter Olympics. He seeks redemption after a slippery short program performance at PyeongChang 2018 sunk his shot at a singles medal.
But to compete at the upcoming Games, Chen must first excel at nationals. He is just one of many talented skaters to watch next week – and, possibly, this February.
SEE MORE: Nathan Chen reflects on highs and lows of 2018 Olympics
On February 16th, 2018, a nervous, 18-year-old Nathan Chen fell against the ice and into 17th place during his men’s singles short program performance at the PyeongChang Olympics. He returned to the Gangneung Ice Arena the following day for his free skate routine and scored an Olympic record-worthy 215.08 points – elevating him to fifth place overall.
That March, Chen earned gold at the World Figure Skating Championships. For the next three and a half years (and 13 senior-level events), he remained undefeated – until he finished third at Skate America this October.
“I’m human, I make mistakes,” Chen said after that recent event’s disappointing short program. “Just learn from it, grow from it.”
SEE MORE: Meet the Athletes: Nathan Chen
The Salt Lake City native is heavily favored at this year’s U.S. Championships -- after all, he’s won the tournament five times. Barring some unexpected disaster, the only question surrounding Chen is: Who will also stand on the podium?
Two years before Chen began dominating the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, a Los Angeles native named Jason Brown won the tournament's 2015 edition. Brown had previously finished ninth in singles at the 2014 Sochi Games, and helped the U.S. earn a bronze medal in the team event. Though he was selected only as an alternate for the 2018 PyeongChang Games, the seven-time Grand Prix medalist has hovered within the world rankings’ top 10 for the better part of a decade. Currently, he stands as the world No. 2 male figure skater.
“I just know that it's still a work in progress, it's still marinating,” Brown said of his program this past March, reflecting on his athletic growth since summer 2020 and the impact the pandemic had on his skating. “But it's just going to get better and stronger and more intricate. And I think that you'll be able to see it looking just really seasoned in a year.”
SEE MORE: Meet the Athletes: Jason Brown
Another possible medalist is the 2021 Skate America winner, Vincent Zhou. Zhou is a three-time runner-up at the U.S. nationals who finished sixth at the PyeongChang Games. Despite a poor showing at March’s 2021 World Championships, Zhou ended the year with two Grand Prix medals.
Even if he’s not as consistent as Brown, Zhou boasts a better combined total: Zhou earned 299.01 points at the 2019 World Team Trophy, while Brown achieved his highest score, a 274.82, at the 2020 Four Continents.
New Jersey’s Tomoki Hiwatashi, who earned bronze at the 2020 U.S. Nationals, and Arizona’s Camden Pulkinen, the 2017 Junior Grand Prix Final silver medalist, may not bask in the national spotlight quite yet. But at just 20 years old each, they’ll have plenty of time to learn and grow.
Unlike the men’s singles event, the women’s competition is a little more fluid.
16-year-old Alysa Liu has already established herself a leader: She won back-to-back golds at the 2019 and 2020 Championships before claiming bronze at this year’s competition. Liu clinched her first national title at only 13 years old, setting a record for youngest champion. (Check outher post-victory interview on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, in which she demonstrates her pre-race ritual.)
The California native placed fifth in her senior Grand Prix debut at the 2021 Skate Canada International, then climbed to a fourth place finish at her second assignment, the NHK Trophy. She also earned a personal best this September, with a 219.24 combined total at the CS Lombardia Trophy; to put that number into perspective, Russia’s Elizaveta Tuktamysheva earned silver at March’s world championships with a 220.46 total.
Liu isn’t Team USA’s only female skater to achieve such a high total, even if her results are arguably the most consistent. Bradie Tennell, who finished ninth in singles at PyeongChang and helped the U.S. take home Olympic bronze in the team event, scored a whopping 225.64 at the 2019 World Team Trophy. Though she’s the reigning U.S. national champion, Tennell withdrew from all of her assignments this season due to a nagging foot injury. She stated in late December that she was feeling optimistic and would return for the U.S. Championships, but pulled out shortly afterward -- ruling her out of Olympic consideration, unless she petitions.
SEE MORE: 2021 NHK Trophy: U.S. teen Alysa Liu third in free skate
Olympian Karen Chen could make a statement. After placing 11th in PyeongChang, she suffered a foot fracture that took her out of competition for close to 18 months. Recently, Chen has been on the comeback trail. The 22-year-old earned bronze at January’s U.S. Championships, then placed fourth at March’s World Championships with a 208.63 total.
Keep an eye out for Mariah Bell and Amber Glenn. Bell, 25, finished with a disappointing fifth place at the last U.S. Championships. However, she showed promise in the free skate at both her Grand Prix assignments this fall, finishing fourth at the Rostelecom Cup. Bell also achieved her highest-ever total at this year’s worlds with 208.63 points.
Glenn performed much better at January’s Championships, taking silver over Karen Chen by just 0.35 points. Her top total of 201.02 at October’s Skate America landed her in sixth place at that competition.
The United States has qualified only two berths for pair skating at the 2022 Winter Games; the last time an American duo stepped onto an Olympic podium for this event, Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard earned bronze at the 1988 Calgary Games.
Alexa Knierim has the most prestigious pedigree: She and former partner, husband Chris, finished 15th at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics in their chosen discipline (and helped the U.S. earn a bronze in the team event). Though Chris retired two years ago, Knierim quickly teamed up with Brandon Frazier. It’s proven successful: At nationals in January 2021, Knierim/Frazier topped the platform, and at the world championships two months later, the duo placed seventh. Knierim/Frazier even earned a bronze at their second Grand Prix assignment this past November, the Internationaux de France.
SEE MORE: Meet the Athletes: Alexa Knierim
Knierim/Frazier are a hot pick for the podium at this year’s nationals, as well as an Olympic berth. However, they will face fierce competition in Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, the 2019 U.S. champions who earned bronze at Skate Canada in October and finished fourth at their second Grand Prix event, November’s NHK Trophy. Two-time reigning U.S. Championships pairs silver medalists Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson could also return to the national podium – and possibly nab a spot at the 2022 Winter Olympics. Calalang/Johnson were only five points behind Knierim/Frazier at Skate America in October, although they lack world championship experience and have not competed in many senior international events.
The podium at the 2018 Nationals’ ice dance competition, held about a month before the PyeongChang Olympics, was decided by half a point: Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue defeated siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani by less than 0.2, while the Shibutanis bested third-place finishers Madison Chock and Evan Bates by just 0.3. A month later, the brother-and-sister duo proved themselves as the strongest American team at the 2018 Winter Games, scooping up bronze medals in ice dance and the team event. The Shibutanis effectively retired from competitive figure skating after their success.
Hubbell/Donohue (now 30 years old) and Chock/Bates (29 and 32) finished fourth and ninth at PyeongChang, respectively. Each duo decided they still had one more Olympic cycle in them, though Hubbell/Donohue recently stated the 2021-22 season would be their last. Either Hubbell/Donohue or Chock/Bates has finished first at nationals since 2019, with Hubbell/Donohue earning the title twice (including at the most recent competition). History will likely repeat itself this year, and both teams should easily qualify for the upcoming Winter Games. Hubbell/Donohue has enjoyed the stronger year: They clinched silver at the world championships (compared to Chock/Bates landing in fourth place), and outperformed their rival compatriots at Skate America by 1.3 points for another one-two finish.
SEE MORE: Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue win final Skate America of their careers
However, the U.S. has qualified a third Olympic berth for ice dance. Kaitlin Hawayek and partner Jean-Luc Baker have won three consecutive bronze medals at nationals, and finished ninth overall at the 2021 World Championships. Expect Hawayek/Baker to four-peat for third place in Nashville. But keep an eye on 18-year-old Caroline Green and her partner, 26-year-old Michael Parsons, who finished fourth and fifth overall at their two Grand Prix assignments this fall. Green, in particular, may represent the future of U.S. ice dancing, having won the 2019 U.S. national junior title alongside her brother, Gordon.
Sessions will be televised live on either USA Network or NBC and will be streamed live on NBCOlympics.com.
HOW TO WATCH
|Date||Event||Time (ET), Network, Link|
|Thursday, Jan. 6||Pairs Short||5-7p, USA, STREAM LINK|
|Thursday, Jan. 6||Women’s Short||8:30-10:30p, USA, STREAM LINK|
|Friday, Jan. 7||Rhythm Dance||4-6p, USA, STREAM LINK|
|Friday, Jan. 7||Women’s Free||8-11p, NBC, STREAM LINK|
|Saturday, Jan. 8||Men’s Short||4-6p, NBC, STREAM LINK|
|Saturday, Jan. 8||Pairs Free & Free Dance||7-10p, USA, STREAM LINK|
|Sunday, Jan. 9||Men’s Free||2-4p, NBC, STREAM LINK|
Peacock will also stream coverage of every skate throughout the 2021-22 season.
Olympic Team Named
The U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team will be announced on or before Jan. 10, 2022.