US Figure Skating Championship 2014: The Biggest Winners and Losers in Boston
All the skaters who competed in the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, whether or not they medaled or managed to reach the full measure of their expectations, are world-class athletes worthy of praise.
Yet with both national championship medals and invitations to the U.S. Olympic figure skating team that will compete in Sochi next month on the line, there simply have to be winners and losers coming out of the event.
All the skaters who earned bids to the 2014 Winter Olympics undoubtedly feel like winners as they leave Boston behind. In varying degrees, those who didn't advance to Sochi are looking back and wondering what went wrong and what the future holds moving forward.
Some, like veteran skater Ashley Wagner, who earned a trip to the Olympics despite a relatively poor performance in the national championships, undoubtedly feel a mix of emotions that makes it difficult to put them in one category or another.
All that said, here are the athletes and performances that are worthy of note as winners and losers in the wake of a drama-filled U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Winner: Jeremy Abbott
On the strength of two classic performances in the men’s competition, which included a record short program score of 99.86, Jeremy Abbott is heading back to the Olympics as the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating men’s gold medalist.
Skating just a couple spots after an electric free skate performance by eventual silver medalist Jason Brown, Abbott’s experience and talent shone through Sunday in Boston as he edged his closest competitor by only four points.
While it wasn't a perfect free skate by any measure, the effort was more than enough to deliver gold with a combined total of 274.27 in the skater’s last-ever appearance in the national championships. Abbott now gets a second opportunity in the Winter Games after finishing ninth at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Loser: U.S. Ladies Figure Skating
After some relatively disappointing free skate performances from several of their top skaters, coupled with the controversy surrounding the final makeup of their three-member team going to Sochi, it was an uneven weekend at best for the U.S. figure skating ladies in Boston.
Several skaters in the top six heading into Saturday’s free skate fell to the ice, including two-time defending champion and gold-medal favorite Ashley Wagner, who went down twice.
Then, in the wake of those on-ice struggles, the selection committee surprised many by putting the fourth-place Wagner on the team over bronze medalist Mirai Nagasu. NBC reported Sunday afternoon that Nagasu was planning to appeal that decision, but had not yet officially done so.
It’s fair to say Wagner’s full body of work is Olympic-worthy, but leaving Nagasu, who finished fourth in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, off the team in her favor is a controversial move that could well stay with this team in the weeks leading up to Sochi.
Winner: Gracie Gold
The hype surrounding the 18-year-old rising star leading up to the national championships was deafening; her gold-medal performance in the ladies event was resounding.
Gracie Gold was nearly perfect in her short program on Thursday and was good enough in the free skate to distance herself from the rest of the field on Saturday.
As a result, the Massachusetts native heads to Sochi as the face of the U.S. Olympic figure skating team and with a legitimate chance to medal, provided the moment doesn't get too big for her.
Don’t be surprised if the precocious Gold leaves Sochi not only as the American star of the Winter Games, but also as an international sensation that transcends the sport.
Loser: Caydee Denney and John Coughlin
U.S. pairs team Caydee Denney and John Coughlin skated admirably in Boston, but ultimately missed out on their Olympic dream by a mere .29 in the final standings.
Despite winning Saturday’s pairs free skate, the duo finished in third place overall, just behind Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, and were left off the team in favor of the silver medalists.
Some believed the more experienced Denney and Coughlin, the 2012 national champions, would be awarded the second spot on the Sochi pairs team alongside U.S. gold medalists Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, but in the end, it wasn't meant to be.
While there’s certainly nothing Denney and Coughlin did on the ice to hang their heads about, the disappointment they feel must be significant.
Winner: Meryl Davis and Charlie White
The expectations for gold were off-the-charts high for Meryl Davis and Charlie White heading into the national championships. Still, the amazing ice dancing team managed to exceed them with their history-making performance in Boston.
The 2010 Olympic silver medalists became the first pair to win six consecutive U.S. ice dancing gold medals with their near 19-point victory following Saturday’s free dance.
Their performances in both the short program and free skate were nearly flawless, and the grace they showed gliding around the ice together was as mesmerizing as ever.
The two now set their sights on Sochi, where they’re not only the U.S. figure skating team’s top hopes to medal, but also the favorites to claim Olympic gold over Canadian rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. It would be the first ever Olympic ice dancing gold for the United States.
Loser: Mirai Nagasu
Given the quality of her national championship performance and her past Olympic experience, U.S. bronze medalist Nagasu must have been shocked to learn of her exclusion from the ladies team heading to Sochi.
After a third-place skate in the short program Thursday, Nagasu was among the few skaters in the top six with a solid free skate performance and appeared headed to her second Olympics. The selection committee, however, went in a different direction, and the 2008 U.S. champion ended up as the odd skater out on the three-person ladies team.
Earlier on Sunday, NBC reported Nagasu was appealing the decision, but the skater has since decided against such action.
It’s certainly a bitter pill for the American to swallow, yet while it’s likely of little consolation right now, she can be proud of her Boston performance without a doubt.
Winner: Jason Brown
Any doubt as to whether Jason Brown was up for the biggest performance of his life in Sunday’s men’s free skate competition went away under the spectacle of a wonderful showing that earned the dynamic skater a silver medal in the national championships.
Clearly having fun and hitting every jump and move he tried, Brown earned a 182.61 in a near-flawless performance that threatens to elevate him from rising star to the new face of men’s figure skating. As a reward for that effort, he captured one of the two spots available on the U.S. men’s team heading to Sochi and will make his first ever Olympic skate.
Given his lack of experience, Brown won’t be considered a medal favorite in Sochi, but if he skates there like he did at these national championships, he could leave Russia an absolute star.
Loser: Hopes for Multiple Gold Medals at Sochi Games
The U.S. Olympic figure skating team has long pinned its Sochi gold-medal ambitions on ice dancers Davis and White, but hopes that another strong candidate for a surprising Olympic victory would emerge in these national championships didn't necessarily materialize.
Yes, Gold lived up to her classic Olympic-worthy name in Boston this weekend, and Abbott and Brown absolutely dazzled on the men’s side, but given the general lack of experience and international accomplishments of the U.S. team that will skate in Sochi, it’s difficult to predict multiple gold medals.
While the potential for surprises from skaters like Gold, Wagner, Abbott and a select few others is there, anticipation that more than one gold medal will come from this team in Russia didn't exactly grow from these entertaining national championships.
Winner: Polina Edmunds
Despite her tender age of 15, Polina Edmunds was the surprise of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and is headed to Sochi on the strength of her silver-medal performance in Boston.
Making just her first senior skate in the national championships, Edmunds was poised beyond her years in both Thursday’s short program and then Saturday’s all-important free skate. While more experienced skaters were struggling around her, Edmunds delivered a graceful performance to protect her second-place standing heading into Saturday’s pressure-packed finale.
To expect a similar performance in Sochi might be asking a lot of the inexperienced teenager, but given the skates she delivered in these national championships, completely counting her out of medal contention isn't a good idea either.
Loser: Max Aaron
Max Aaron got off to an average start by his standards in Friday’s men’s short program, and despite a strong effort in the free skate on Sunday, he just couldn't make up enough ground to force his way onto the Sochi Olympic team.
The gold-medal favorite coming into these championships, Aaron entered Sunday in fourth place, but put down one of the best free skates of the competition in which he hit all his jumps and absolutely glided on the ice. Yet after the equally stirring performances by Abbott and Brown, he still found himself at the mercy of the selection committee for inclusion on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team as the bronze medalist.
The gold- and silver-medal winners were just too dominant, however, and the 2013 national champion just missed realizing his Olympic dream. He can be proud of the effort, especially in the free skate, but it just wasn't meant to be in Boston.
Winner: Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir
While there was doubt as to the identity of the second pairs team to make the U.S. Olympic figure skating team, there was no question Castelli and Shnapir would headline the Sochi squad after their gold-medal performance in the national championships.
Despite a shaky free skate in which Castelli hit the ice once, the pair easily defended their 2013 national title on the strength of a vibrant short program that stole the show in Boston on Friday. Overall, the pair bested silver medalists Zhang and Bartholomay by just under four points en route to the gold medal.
Although excited to be heading to Sochi, Castelli showed the mental makeup of a champion in assessing their free skate performance.
“We’re a little disappointed with ourselves today,” Castelli said on Saturday, per Gary Mihoces of USA Today. “I felt I could have brought some more power and energy. I’ve totally been doing that quad all week.”
That frustration aside, the pair is heading to Sochi, and that’s really all that matters.
Loser: Richard Dornbush
Two days after the skate of his life elevated him to Olympic hopeful, Richard Dornbush came back down to earth with a less-than-stellar performance in the men’s free skate competition on Sunday.
As a result, the skater had to settle for the pewter medal and will wonder what could have been when the 2014 Olympic Games begin next month
After brilliantly skating his way to a 92.04 in Friday’s short program, which was briefly a national championship record, Dornbush entered Sunday’s free skate in second place and entertaining real hopes of a trip to Sochi.
The skater struggled with several moves during his free skate performance, however, and fell outside the top three when the overall competition was completed.
While it was a disappointing close to a championship that held so much potential early on, Dornbush served notice he is a talent to be followed in U.S. men’s figure skating; it just won’t be in Sochi.