Pre and Post-Nationals News
Chinese and Ukrainian Nationals mostly confirm those countries’ Olympic teams; Russian and U.S. skaters talk to the press after and before their respective Nationals; France highest-profile of recently Olympic team announcements.
The Nationals season often peaks early in the Olympic year, with the U.S. and Canada holding their competitions earlier than usual. Canadian Nationals is week after next, and U.S. Nationals actually started yesterday with the juvenile and intermediate events, although the senior-level events don’t start until Wednesday. This when post-Russian Nationals news is still coming out, and we only just got the results of Chinese Nationals after the fact! They weren’t even the only country to hold Nationals in the shadow of Russian and Japanese Nationals; the Ukraine did so too. The Ukraine is also one of several countries that have newly announced their Olympic teams.
Chinese Nationals went on in Changchun alongside Russian and Japanese Nationals over Christmas, but it didn’t get the same kind of coverage. Scores in Chinese only came out this week after it was over, and so far, the only footage we’ve gotten are a handful of fan-recorded performances from the men’s event. That’s typical for Chinese Nationals, where often not much is even at stake. This year Olympic qualification was for the top skaters, except Boyang Jin and Wenjing Sui & Cong Han were already in from their Grand Prix results, and so both skipped. (It was good for Jin to rest his sprained ankles anyway.) And for most of the rest of the qualifiers, it was more or less a formality once they got through their programs. Officially qualification isn’t over yet, but all the races are now pretty much settled.
Jin’s absence meant Han Yan won his third title very easily once he mostly landed the easier jumps. He did stumble on the quad, single two axels, as well as the toe after the one he landed. But the only other skater even trying those jumps was He Zhang. He landed the axel in the short, but fumbled enough else to be fifth. He made some mistakes in the second half of his free program too, including underrotating and falling on his only axel attempt. But he landed two quads, which helped him get up to win silver:
A young Yudong Chen actually beat Yan technically in a second-place short, but a fall and weaker presentation scores in the free allowed Yan Hao to edge him out for bronze. He too mostly managed it on easier jumps, even as a lutz and flips gave him trouble.
The one competition where an Olympic berth remained in suspense was the ladies, and in claiming her first ever national title, Xiangning Li pretty much put it beyond anyone else’s reach. Her scoring sheets indicate that while she had no triple-triple combinations, she had everything else, including two clean skates and harder triples. Silver medalist Ziquan Zhao didn’t have those, though she did have an easy triple toe-triple toe in her short. She didn’t manage either that or her double axel-triple toe in the free, where she clearly fell on her solo axel as well. Hongyi Chen, the only other skater with hard triples, won bronze by a huge margin. She underrotated that triple-triple in the short but landed the double axel-triple toe and triple lutz three-jump in the free, before the second half of her program gave her more trouble.
With Sui & Han out, Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang needed only to hold off Cheng Peng & Yang Jin for their first national pairs title together. They did that, but not by much. Both pairs appeared to have skated clean shorts, and very good frees, Yu & Zhang hindered only by a clear fall on underrotated side by side triple salchows, while Peng & Jin had minor issues with those and a throw. It was likewise close for the bronze, with Xuehan Wang & Lei Wang finally returning to competition and coming back from fourth to edge out Yumeng Gao & Zhong Xie. They’d had trouble on two elements in the short, while Gao & Xie had it on only one. Both teams appear to have had at least minor issues on all their jump elements in the free, where the Wangs prevailed mostly on presentation scores.
The biggest winning margin, slightly bigger than Han Yan’s, was the one with which Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu took their second ice dance title. That was only expected; they’re known to be better than the rest of the teams, and the scoring protocols reflect that. They even got the highest technical tariff in both segments. Silver medalists Linshu Song & Zhouming Sun were actually put at a disadvantage there, with bronze medalists Wanqi Ning & Chao Wang getting a higher tariff than them in both segments. But the free dance presentation score difference alone would have made up for that. Apparent twizzle issues in Ning & Wang’s short dance probably didn’t help either.
Ukrainian Nationals also happened the week of Christmas, though it was the Monday and Tuesday before it. It was another one where most of the action was happening in singles, with a surprise win in the ladies. The men were more predictable, with Yaroslav Paniot winning his second national title over Ivan Pavlov. He landed the quad-triple in both programs, while Pavlov managed neither of his quads. Paniot also had much higher technical content in the free even when neither skated well there. Bronze medalist Ivan Shmuratko was far below them, and far above the other six men in the field. His free was a touch cleaner, though his short wasn’t. He didn’t even have the triple axel, but nor did anyone else outside the top two.
The ladies event saw a usurper, with Anastasiia Arkhipova winning her first national title only days before her fifteenth birthday. Not only that, but she did it by over forty points! This was mostly because silver medalist Anna Khnychenkova had a pair of painful skates, even falling three times in her free. Arkhipova had a couple problems there herself, but she had a clean short with an easier triple-triple and her free had a harder one. Khnychenkova was lucky that the other seven ladies had exactly one clean triple between them: a triple toe bronze medalist Anastasia Gozva rotated in her short program. Most of her other jumps went way wrong.
Technically there was a senior pairs competition and even a junior one, but each had only one entry. In the ice dance, Alexandra Nazarova & Maxim Nikitin did have two teams to win their third title against, but neither anywhere near their level. Things went well for them all together.
View full results here. With Arkhipova too young to go, Khnychenkova got to join Paniot and Nazarova & Nikitin to form the Olympic team generally thought most likely after both singles skaters earned their berths at Nebelhorn. The Ukraine has two dance berths at the European Championships, the second going to silver medalists Daria Popova & Vladimir Belikov.
Post-Russian Nationals News
Those skaters from Russia attending the Olympics may need to go through a special clearance process, but it seems the federation is hoping it can all get done after the European Championships. After Russian Nationals, they announced only who they’re sending there.
Aside from putting the injured Evgenia Medvedeva on the team, there was one place where it was possible they would deviate from the Nationals results, if they chose fourth-place Sergei Voronov over bronze medalist Dmitri Aliev, due to the former’s far better fall season. But ultimately, they went with Aliev anyway. That means probably the two men to the Olympics will be Mikhail Kolyada and whichever of Aliev and Alexander Samarin finishes higher at Europeans, unless they both skate badly enough to bring Voronov back into the conversation. Voronov knows very well that can happen. In 2010, he lost the second Olympic berth to a bad Europeans skate when there wasn’t a third Russian man at Europeans.
That’s the only way most of the rest of the Olympic team could conceivably be affected by the European results. Three ladies and pairs in both competitions means Evgenia Medvedeva, Alina Zagitova, Maria Sotskova, Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov, Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov, and Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert can’t take anything away from each other, only from themselves. And it’s likely Russian officials would overlook a bad Europeans from either of the first two ladies or the first two pairs. Things could get interesting for the two ice dance berths if Tiffani Zagorski & Jonatha Guerreiro beat either Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev or especially Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin, but it would be a huge shock if they did.
Sadly, there’s now little chance they’ll have to worry about what to do with Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov either. After being unable to finish their free dance, he went to the hospital, and it turns out he’s torn a ligament in his right ankle. That’s probably the end of their season. Now the question becomes whether they’ll want to come back for the next one.
We do have one ice dancer who probably won’t. Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev were asked about that, and confirmed what they’d already been indicating. Bobrova isn’t saying she’ll be done for certain after this season, but she’ll likely at least take a break. Which means Soloviev would have to move on to a new partner if he wants to compete next season, an event they’re both prepared to accept. When reminded of their coach Alexander Zhulin breaking down after their free dance, which was the most memorable moment of Russian Nationals, they noted he’d recently lost his father, so that might have not been just them.
Also, we’ve got one skater saying she’s going right on. Elena Radionova’s season ending early just means, she says, that’s she’s started preparing for next season. At 18, that’s certainly a reasonable thing to do, even in ultracompetitive Russia.
Pre U.S.-Nationals News
Meanwhile, even as their younger peers start the event, the higher-ranked American skaters have been doing their usual pre-National telephone press conferences, from which we get various pieces of news. Perhaps the skater most trying to put everyone’s mind at rest was Ashley Wagner, who talked about feeling refreshed by her free skate change, and also assured everyone her ankle is completely recovered from the infection that took her out of Skate America.
Adam Rippon might have caused the most stir, saying he knew he’d make the Olympic team, “unless other skater’s moms are on the selection committee.” That’s daring of him; he’s favored, but not nearly *that* favored. He also said he’s going for the quadruple lutz at Nationals because practicing the normally easier quad toe loop endangered his still-recovering ankle.
They’re certainly not the only one dealing with injuries. In his press conference, Vincent Zhou had to address his disastrous Grand Prix debut. He chalked it up to pushing himself too hard and noted he also had some shin issues in France he now no longer has. But instead, he revealed, he recently dislocated his shoulder, and in the last days before Nationals, wasn’t even able to train up to full capacity. He does expect to be able to skate up to full capacity next week, and will even attempt five quads in his free skate, but one imagines that won’t be good for him psychologically.
Quite a few skaters talked about program tweaks. Jason Brown, who didn’t skate as well this fall as he would’ve liked, has changed his element order in the free around a bit. Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier, who also had a rough fall, have done similar. Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue might have gotten a generally better reception to this year’s short dance than last year’s, but they’ve worked on the choreography of it anyway. Maia & Alex Shibutani too talked of tweaking their programs, but nothing they don’t usual do, they say. Perhaps the biggest news there comes from pairs favorites Alexa Scimeca Knierim & Chris Knierim: they’re bringing their signature split quadruple twist back.
Rippon might not have competed to his own singing in the end, but now one of the top juniors is doing it. Starr Andrews, silver medalist in the junior competition last year, starting her season skating to Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time.” But now she’s recorded her own version of it, and she’ll use that for Nationals, where she’ll skate in the senior competition for the first time. She even spoke once of going for the Olympics, but making the World Junior Championships again is more likely.
Various Olympic Teams
Russia might not be naming their Olympic team yet, but the aftermath of their National Championships, several countries have. France has done so partially. First they got the obvious out of the way, naming Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres and Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron. A little more surprisingly, they also named Chafik Besseghier, instead of demanding he prove himself again at Europeans. But while the French federation gave him a break, they continue to favor Laurine Lecavelier over Mae Berenice Meite. Beating her for the third time in a row wasn’t enough for them; it looks like she’s going to have to do again.
It’s confirmed, meanwhile, that the second dance berth will be decided after Europeans, courtesy Maie-Jade Lauriault & Romain le Gac’s Instagram. They and Angelique Abachkina & Louis Thauron are evenly matched enough for that call to be a fair one. Yesterday, Lauriault & le Gac also confirmed that she has received French citizenship, meaning both teams are eligible.
Two more countries confirmed the fate of their one berth in the games. Alexia Paganini was almost certain to fill Switzerland’s ladies spot from the time she earned it at Nebelhorn, and they’ve now made that official. She, Stephane Walker, pairs team Ioulia Chthetinina & Mikhail Akulov, and ice dance team Victoria Manni & Carlo Rothslisberger are also heading for Europeans, which is equally expected. Similarly, the aftermath of Austrian Nationals has made Mariam Ziegler & Severin Kiefer’s filling their Olympic berth in pairs official. But at Europeans they can be joined only by Natalie Klotz, who didn’t win at Nationals, but had the highest international scores from the fall. Austria doesn’t have a man with the required minimum tech scores.
Some of the smaller countries even have their entire Olympic team in all sports named. Belgium boasts of their biggest team since the 1930s, including singles skating siblings Jorik & Leona Hendrickx:
— Sport Vlaanderen (@SportVlaanderen) December 26, 2017