The discipline with the greatest chance of a shake-up, there is no clear favorite for the women’s gold and podium positions very up for grabs.
Bell or Tennell
The most likely contenders for the gold medal are Mariah Bell and Bradie Tennell. Tennell is the 2018 national champion and has the better international record, but she is still adjusting to a new coaching environment and Bell has some serious PR behind her at the moment. Bell also came out ahead at nationals last year and, more controversially, at Skate America this year, so U.S. judges are clearly behind her right now. That said, both of them have looked a bit shaky in competition appearances so far (which is not unusual given the circumstances), so if they both make mistakes, the door could be open for a surprise champion.
Picking up the pieces
Karen Chen is the 2017 national champion and finished as high as fourth at the World Championships, but has been off of her peak form since a stress fracture in her right foot kept her out of most of the 2018-2019 season. In her comeback season last year, she finished fourth at nationals and also finished fourth at Skate America this year. She can be prone to underrotations in her triple-triple combo, which can be especially costly in the short program, but has arguably the best spins and artistry of the entire US field.
Amber Glenn got lots of attention over the summer posting viral skating videos on TikTok, and by sharing videos of herself successfully landing triple Axels. She did not attempt the triple Axel at Skate America and finished fifth there with a number of errors, but clean skates or a successful triple Axel (or both) could see her easily compete for the podium, or even a surprise win. Glenn came out as bisexual/pansexual last December, making her the only openly LGBTQ+ women’s figure skater on Team USA, and I believe if she medaled here, she would be the first openly queer American woman to do so. (Ice dancer Karina Manta was the first American female figure skater to come out in 2018, but she never reached the podium at Nationals.)
Sixteen-year-old Audrey Shin was originally only supposed to compete at the junior level this year, but won a surprise bronze medal at Skate America after skating two squeaky-clean programs. That will certainly give her a boost going into nationals, but she will still have to skate clean with others making mistakes in order to make the podium. She is reportedly training a triple Axel and quad toe loop, but hasn’t indicated that she will attempt either at this competition, and has a goal to challenge for the Olympic team next season.
What about Alysa?
The 2019 and 2020 national champion, Alysa Liu, will also be competing this year, but has been very honest that she isn’t going for her third title. Now fifteen years old, Liu was the first American female skater to land a quad jump internationally and the third to land a triple Axel, but has yet to restore those high-difficulty elements after a considerable growth spurt over the summer. Alysa has openly said that she will not be attempting those elements at this competition and that she isn’t concerned with placements this year, so hopefully the event commentators can take the note and be kind with her even though on paper it will look like she has taken a step back. According to her coaching team, Alysa has been mainly focusing on improving her artistry and skating skills, which she and others have noted as weak points in the past.
It will be very interesting to see where US judges place her without those elements; if they still score her generously (as they did when the American fed wanted to push her as a challenge to the young Russian champions) then she could still have a chance for the podium with clean skates. If they drop her immediately, then US Figure Skating will have even more to answer for in overhyping and burning through a promising young talent, a troubling trend in women’s skating all over the world.
- The women’s short program begins at 9:30pm EST on Thursday, January 14th. Peacock Premium will be streaming the event in full, with NBCSN coverage beginning at 10pm and joining live 50 minutes in.
- The women’s free skate will air Friday, January 15th at 8pm EST on NBCSN and streaming on Peacock Premium.