Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Nathan Chen, shown last month, is a favorite to make the US Olympic team during this week's national championships in San Jose, Calif.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018 1:00 am

Skaters competing for Olympic dream

BARRY WILNER | Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Imagine working for years, targeting one of the most elusive goals in sports.

Then recognizing that all of those practices and training and competitions lead to four minutes or so when you must be at your best. Or else the dream collapses.

That's how American figure skaters approach this week's national championships, which serve as the United States' qualifier for the Pyeongchang Olympics in February and begin today.

“I definitely think there is additional pressure,” defending men's champion Nathan Chen said. “But it is reassuring. I am happy with the way things have gone, happy I am in this position. This is what I wanted for a long time. I personally remind myself to embrace it.”

America could embrace Chen, who comes off a Grand Prix Final victory and, with his five quadruple jumps in his free skate, has ratcheted up the technical level for all men. He'll be a heavy favorite to make the Olympic squad, and a strong contender for a medal in South Korea.

“Every competition is different, regardless of how you prepare yourself or how you look at it, it always will be a little bit different,” said the 18-year-old from Salt Lake City who trains in Lakewood, California. “Through all the experiences I have had so far, I kind of know what to expect from a pressure standpoint, and the pressure is always pretty similar. And it really helps me approach the competition from a skating aspect better; I know how to get myself physically ready. So when the competition happens, I can turn to more mental things.

“Honestly, I have not done any major changes, just kind of rely on that when I get to the competition my training will come through.”

Jason Brown, a 2014 bronze medalist in the team competition at the Sochi Games, Adam Rippon and Vincent Zhou figure to be the main contenders for the other two U.S. spots in Pyeongchang.

There's no overwhelming favorite in the women's event, which could come down to the experience of three-time national champion Ashley Wagner, also a Sochi bronze winner in the team event, and 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu. Defending champion Karen Chen has had a difficult season.

There's no Michelle Kwan or Tara Lipinski around who could push aside the Russians or Japanese who form the strength of the women's division.

“The constant struggle in our sport always is finding the balance between artistry and the technical side, the athletic side of the sport,” Lipinski said, adding she doesn't see any of the American women being on the same level as the Russians, in particular. “But I think that's what makes skating so magical is because everyone does have their own different preferences and opinions. It's definitely a bit more interesting than a sport that has a finish line.”

The finish line in ice dance could include an American couple on the Olympic podium. Maia and Alex Shibutani have followed in the skate steps of Sochi champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The sister-brother combo is a strong choice to win a third U.S. title; the Shibutanis also own three world medals.