Adam Rippon isn’t shy about saying a good performance at the U.S. Figure Skating championships should guarantee him one of three men’s singles berths on the Pyeongchang Olympic team. “I think the only argument is if other competitors’ mothers are on the selection committee,” said Rippon, the 2016 men’s champion.
Karen Chen, the defending women’s champion, is taking a quietly confident approach in her pursuit of one of three women’s spots. “I should really believe in myself and I’m truly capable of doing all these things I set my mind to do,” said Chen, who is from Fremont, Calif., but trains in Riverside. “And just kind of keep reinforcing that into my mind and telling myself that I’m going to do this, and I will do this.”
When the U.S. championships begin Wednesday at SAP Center, Rippon’s mission will be to dethrone Nathan Chen (no relation to Karen), who won the 2017 U.S. title and is unbeaten this season. Karen Chen faces a field that became open after the withdrawal of 2014 Olympian Gracie Gold, who has been undergoing treatment for anxiety, depression, and an eating disorder. To further muddle the picture, three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner had to withdraw from her final Grand Prix event because of an infected foot, though Wagner said last week she feels better.
“I’ve put in the training mentally and physically. I’ve got the run-throughs under me and I’m feeling very calm,” said Wagner, 26. “I know what I have to do and I know I’m more than capable of doing it.”
The women’s event begins Wednesday, the men and pairs start Thursday, and the ice dancers start Friday. The U.S. earned only one pairs berth in Pyeongchang based on the results of previous world championships; Alexa Scimeca Knierim and husband Chris Knierim are favored here but aren’t Olympic contenders. Three ice dance teams will go, likely led by siblings and potential Olympic medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani.
Wagner finished fourth at the 2014 U.S championships but was chosen for the Sochi team over third-place finisher Marai Nagasu, who has been ripping off triple axel jumps in practice here and could pile up a lot of points if she cleanly executes that difficult 3 1/2-rotation jump. Nagasu won the title as a 14-year-old sprite in 2008 but hasn’t cracked the top three since 2014.
U.S. Figure Skating, the sport’s national governing body, created an international committee that will select the team members based on skaters’ performances in key events. The most important of those events are this year’s U.S. championships, the 2017 Grand Prix Final (which includes the top performers in the six Grand Prix series events), the 2017 World Championships, 2017 Grand Prix series results, 2017 Four Continents Championships and the 2017 U.S. Championships.
Nathan Chen, who won the Grand Prix Final, two Grand Prix events and the Four Continents championships, and the Shibutanis, who won bronze medals at the 2017 World Championships and Grand Prix Final in addition to winning two Grand Prix events, have done well enough at the key events to have an Olympic berth within easy reach if they stay generally upright here. It’s more complicated for the women, none of whom qualified for the 2017 Grand Prix final.
Karen Chen, Wagner, Nagasu, 2017 Skate America bronze medalist Bradie Tennell, and 2017 U.S. third-place finisher Mariah Bell figure to compete for the three Olympic spots. Among the men, Nathan Chen (who plans two quadruple jumps for his short program and five in his long program), Rippon, Vincent Zhou, and 2014 Olympian Jason Brown likely will lead the field.
“You look at the criteria and I really do fill a lot of those bubbles,” said Brown, who was sixth at the Grand Prix final. “I have continued to prove myself and make a name for myself in U.S. figure skating and make a name for myself in the world standings and fill in those bubbles. But I do believe it’s also about as an athlete, you can’t exactly rely on what you’ve done in the past.”
Rippon, who missed last year’s U.S. championships because of a broken leg, said he’s ready for his “coronation” and an Olympic berth. “I think besides Nathan Chen I have the best criteria,” he said, citing his 2016 title, medals at his last four Grand Prix events and participation in the last two Grand Prix finals. “I’m just going to San Jose to do my job, do exactly what I do every day, and there is absolutely no reason I shouldn’t be on the Olympic team. And if anybody has a reason, I’d love to hear it.”