Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Submit News | News | Local News | Contact Us | Home RSS

Drama unfolds as US selects Olympic teams

January 10, 2018
By CHRISTIE SAUSA - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - The first week of January brought in not only a new year, but two figure skating competitions of varying levels: one, the Lake Placid ISI Championships, a competition for all ages and abilities, focused on the joy and competition of recreational skating; and the other, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, a qualifying event for American figure skaters hoping to compete on the Olympic and World stage.

There are two organizations in figure skating. The Ice Skating Institute is the recreational arm of the sport, originally a resource organization for ice rink owners, which also aspires to introduce prospective skaters to the lighter side of figure skating.

US Figure Skating is the official governing body of the sport as recognized by the International Skating Union, granting them the authority to host qualifying competitions to help choose skaters to represent the United States in national and international competition.

Article Photos

Bradie Tennell competes in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships last weekend in San Jose, California.
Provided photo — Jay Adeff/U.S. Figure Skating


ISI Championships in Lake Placid

The organization that brings the greatest range of options for participation and competition is ISI, and the Lake Placid ISI Championships is one of the highlights of the ISI competition calendar.

Not only can skaters compete in more traditional events like free skate and ice dance, but they can also explore other creative ways to express themselves in skating through events such as footwork, artistic, rhythmic (like gymnastics but on skates) and theater production, where groups of skaters incorporate props and costumes to tell a story.

In some cases, clubs even put together group programs to perform in the event.

The Lake Placid ISI Championships also allows clubs participating to earn points with each participant's performance and placement, and team awards are given to the teams with the highest accumulated points. This competition component increases camaraderie among the club members, and is one of the reasons the event continues to be so popular.

Overall, the ISI Championships gives competitors and spectators the opportunity to see a broader side of figure skating, and how skaters of all ages and abilities are encouraged to participate.



As usual, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California were filled with surprises and drama throughout the process of selecting figure skaters for Team USA in the 2018 Olympics. Although US Figure Skating utilizes certain criteria for selecting the Olympic team of which their Nationals performance is only one factor, there was still shock, controversy and vindication following the selections of the team.


Ladies Final

Drama, elegance and excitement seemed to permeate the entire ladies final, and there were several surprises.

Perhaps the greatest was the winning performance of Bradie Tennell, the breakout star of the season. She began her amazing season with a bronze medal at her first international event at Skate America in Lake Placid Nov. 24-26, and now the 19-year-old will be going to the Olympic Games.

Skating a magical free skate to the score from Disney's "Cinderella" film at both Skate America and the National Championships, it appears that dreams did come true for Tennell.

There was some redemption in the final as well. Mirai Nagasu, a 2010 Olympian who was left off the 2014 Olympic team, blazed through a stunning program to earn a silver medal, and a spot on the 2018 Olympic team.

Nagasu is known for her poised skating style and career longevity. She was also the third American woman to ever land a triple axel jump. Now she will have a chance to continue her redemptive streak in Pyeongchang alongside the greatest skaters in the world.

Third place was claimed by 2017 national champion Karen Chen, an 18-year-old who rebounded after illness the Thursday before her performance. After a difficult season, Chen skated well with only one flaw toward the end of her program. The performance earned her the third spot on the team.

One notable name missing is that of 2014 Olympian and bronze medalist in the 2014 team event: Ashley Wagner, who did not make the Olympic team after her fourth-place Nationals finish. In an interesting twist, Wagner was chosen to represent the US at the 2014 Olympics after placing fourth at Nationals behind Nagasu, who took third. The decision of the selection committee to leave her off the team angered Wagner, who defended her right to question her scores and her absence from the team.

"I'm furious. I am absolutely furious. I know when I go and I lay it down. I absolutely left one jump on the table, but for me to put out two programs like I did at this competition, as solid as I skated, and to get those scores, I am furious," Wagner told reporters in an interview after the event. "And I think deservedly so.

"This is how I feel and I feel like I need to stick up for myself. I delivered when I really needed to," Wagner maintained. "I want to be on that Olympic team and I'm really mad that I'm in this position again."

Wagner was named first alternate, and her anger and outrage would soon be mirrored by many fans on behalf of another skater's perceived snub.


Men's Final

As expected, Nathan Chen, the 2017 National champion and Team USA's greatest hope for a men's figure skating gold medal at the Olympics, delivered to win the 2018 National title and a spot on the Olympic team.

Chen has been excelling throughout the season, winning the 2017 Skate America in Lake Placid and the Grand Prix Final. Landing five quad jumps, the most difficult in the sport, the 18-year-old also earned three perfect marks for performance and musical interpretation his winning long program, encouraging signs for the upcoming Games.

What wasn't expected was veteran national and international competitor Ross Miner's stellar performance, second-place finish and surprising Olympic team snub.

Miner is considered a local favorite in Lake Placid. Born in Burlington, Vermont, Miner trained and competed in Lake Placid frequently early in his career before relocating to Boston as a 12-year-old to take his training to the next level. He still competes in the Lake Placid Figure Skating Championships and stars in Saturday Night Ice Shows nearly every summer.

Skating to a medley of Queen songs, Miner skated a technically demanding program, entertaining the audience in what also happened to be one of his best performances in recent history. So, skating fans were shocked and upset when he did not receive a spot on the Olympic team, a place which instead went to fourth-place finisher Adam Rippon.

Rounding out the Olympic team with Chen and Rippon was National bronze medalist Vincent Zhou, a 17-year-old who is still relatively inexperienced but nevertheless has impressive technical content in his programs.

The decision to omit Miner from the team after skating the performance of his life when it counted the most rankled, but the selection committee had a reason for the controversial decision. Although the National championships are indeed one criterion for determining who is selected for an Olympic team, in figure skating there are more factors to consider.

As explained by Elliott Almond in the San Jose Mercury News, selection committee members follow a three-tier format to determine who qualifies for the Olympic team, including results from the previous season as well.

However, as pointed out by Phil Hersh of IceNetwork, "The selection committee (also) wound up using evidence not spelled out in the criteria, such as head-to-head results and comparative scores."

Understandably, one of Miner's coaches, Mark Mitchell, spoke out on the topic.

"I feel like if U.S. Figure Skating knew they weren't going to send Ross, it's really gutless of them to not tell him in advance," he said in an interview Sunday, Jan. 7, as reported by USA Today. "You let him spend all this money and time and energy to try and achieve his dream. If you knew he couldn't make it, why did we fly here, why did we pay for a hotel, why did we pay for training if it was decided already?"

At a press conference announcing the committee's decision, US Figure Skating President Sam Auxier defended the choice.

"The overarching theme is to select the team that will give us the best chance at medals ... the key was not looking at one great performance. ... We had to look at the body of work. Ross (Miner) has struggled at international competitions."

Perhaps the outcry was not just wasted energy. USFS President Auxier told IceNetwork's Phil Hersh, "We will review at least weighting tiers next year and look at different models longer term, (possibly) based on body of work over 12-18 months."

While that is encouraging for the future, for Miner, it is still the loss of a dream.


Pairs and ice dance

While still exciting, the ice dance and pairs events brought more positive drama than negative, crowning a deserving pair and team as national champions and bringing forth the announcement of the Olympic team selections.

Claiming the national title in pairs, the husband and wife team of Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim were thrilled and relieved after their skate. The team had skated at the Lake Placid Skate America as well, finishing fifth, so it was vindicating to see their winning performance at Nationals, despite a few small errors.

"The feeling after when you know you've nailed your program and you just feel like so alive inside, and you just want to just like celebrate, because I knew all the mistakes we left on the table it was disappointing," Alexa told USA Today. "So when we skated over to get our marks, I was unsure how the rest of our elements would be scored, and would it hold up to keep us at the top when we lost so many points on the jumps. So I was concerned whether we would win or not in that moment.

"I came here really wanting to make the Olympic team obviously, but to say I didn't care if we were the champions or not would be a lie. It was very important to me to win again. And in that moment I was a little doubtful."

It turned out there was little reason to be doubtful. Not only did they win the National title, but also earned a spot on the Olympic team, the only spot available to the US after difficult pairs placements in years past.

The silver medal was claimed by Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea, and Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Nathan Bartholomay, who had competed in the 2014 Sochi Olympics with a different partner, placed third. Both pairs will be first and second alternates, respectively.

The third alternate pair will be Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc. Cain's name might be familiar to those who follow the Lake Placid skating scene, having starred in several Saturday Night Ice Shows during the summer as a singles skater.

In ice dance, two-time national champions Maia and Alex Shibutani, who claimed gold at both Skate America and the Grand Prix Final, were surpassed by new national champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. The team pulled ahead after being a few points behind the Shibutanis in the short dance to win the title after a strong free dance, and earn a spot on the Olympic Team. This will be their first Olympic Games. They will be joined by second-place finishers the Shibutanis and the third place team of Madison Chock and Evan Bates, both of whom competed in previous Olympic Games.

All three teams have competed in the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, and/or starred in Lake Placid Saturday Night Ice Shows. In fact, the new national champions and future Olympians Hubbell and Donohue last starred in the Saturday Night Ice Show in August 2017, and were feeling positive about this upcoming season.

"We felt like last season (2016-17) went well; we had a good momentum that built from the beginning to the end," Hubbell told the Lake Placid News. "I definitely think that we kind of showed the world with some of our performances that we belong at the top, and that's the momentum we kept through this off season."


Looking ahead

The next figure skating event in Lake Placid is the Empire State Winter Games, February 1-4. For more information, visit their site at

Of course, the most important international skating event will be the Olympic Games February 9-25, where the skaters above will be competing for the title of Olympic champion.



I am looking for:
News, Blogs & Events Web