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Wagner, Chen, and Nagasu all looking like podium threats for the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships

Mirai Nagasu, Karen Chen, and Ashley Wagner
NBC Olympics

Wagner, Chen, and Nagasu all looking like podium threats for the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships

The U.S. can send three women to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

The women with U.S. national titles are in the field at this year’s championships in San Jose. Mirai Nagasu won at just 14 years old in 2008, Ashley Wagner owns three titles from 2012, 2013 and 2015, and Karen Chen arrives as the reigning champion from 2017.

The championships are not an official Olympic Trials event, but do count towards what U.S. Figure Skating Association calls a “body of work.” The Olympic selection committee will take into account the results of nationals, the fall 2017 Grand Prix Final and the series overall, plus additional competitions from the prior season. Based on all of this, the 2018 Olympic Figure Skating Team will be chosen to compete in PyeongChang, South Korea in February.

The U.S. can send three women to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

Here are six women to watch at Nationals:

How to watch the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships on NBCOlympics.com

The figure skating championships act as part of a tiered qualification system for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

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Ashley Wagner, 26

Credentials:

  • 2014 Olympian; won a bronze medal in the team event; seventh individually
  • 2016 World Championships silver medalist
  • Three-time national champion (2012, 2013, and 2015)

Buzz about Wagner: She’ll unveil a new free skate at nationals to the Academy Award-winning soundtrack to “La La Land.” Previously this season, she had been skating to selections from the “Moulin Rouge!” soundtrack. She used the music in two prior seasons.

Her season so far: Wagner captured a bronze medal at Skate Canada in the fall. At her other Grand Prix assignment, Skate America, Wagner withdrew with ankle pain halfway through her free skate.

Notes: Wagner is one of only two U.S. women who won a medal on the Grand Prix circuit this season. Despite some off-ice struggles (such as an intruder in her home and a freak accident where she partially tore a quad muscle in her leg in 2016) Wagner’s change to the “La La Land” free skate is keeping the sport fresh for her.

Mirai Nagasu, 24

Credentials:

  • 2010 Olympian; finished in fourth place
  • 2016 Four Continents silver medalist
  • 2008 national champion

Buzz about Nagasu: This season, Nagasu has been adding triple Axels – the most difficult jump in ladies’ skating – to her programs. Nagasu was also controversially left off the 2014 Olympic team and is looking for redemption in 2018.  

Her season so far: Nagasu earned a silver medal at the U.S. International Classic in September, but bottomed out at Rostelecom Cup. She also competed at NHK Trophy, where she bounced back into fourth place.

Notes: Nationals isn’t traditionally Nagasu’s strongest competition. The past two years she’s been fourth, but has had strong February competitions. At Four Continents in 2016 and 2017, she earned silver and bronze medals.

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Karen Chen, 18

Credentials:

  • 2017 national champion
  • 2017 World Championships: fourth place
  • 2015 national bronze medalist

Buzz about Chen: Most of her inconsistencies (such as winning nationals in 2017, before plummeting to 12th place at Four Continents, and then finishing fourth at Worlds) Chen attributes to boot issues. She also recently revealed in her new book that her “lower vertebrae sometimes slip forward and backward because the bones are slightly cracked” while she is arching her back for certain elements.

Her season so far: Chen started off strong as the U.S. International Classic in September. However, she finished seventh and eighth at her two Grand Prix assignments. She told NBCOlympics.com in November that she planned on “polishing” her programs ahead of nationals.

Notes: Chen has had four different free skates this season. She skated “Tosca” for about a week over the summer, then moved onto the figure skating classic “Carmen,” before trying out the soundtrack from “Slow Dancing in the Big City.” She originally had a “Tango de Roxanne” short program, from the “Moulin Rouge!” soundtrack. She finally settled on the “Jealousy Tango” for the free skate and “On Golden Pond” for the short program, which are what she used for the 2016-17 season.

A Bay Area-native, Chen sees these nationals as a home event for herself.

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Karen Chen’s book, “Finding the Edge,” is out Nov. 28.

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Mariah Bell, 21

Credentials:

  • 2017 national bronze medalist

Buzz about Bell: Bell trains with three-time national champion Ashley Wagner and says that doing so creates an elite, motivating training environment.

Her season so far: After a breakout season n 2016-17, Bell hasn’t seen the same success. She opened her season at the U.S. International Classic, where she finished fifth. She competed at two Grand Prix assignments, where she was sixth and ninth.

Polina Edmunds, 19

Credentials:

  • 2014 Olympian; finished ninth
  • 2015 Four Continents gold medalist
  • 2016 national silver medalist

Buzz about Edmunds: She is returning to the national stage for the first time since 2016, where she earned a silver medal. She didn’t compete for 20 months due to a bone bruise in her foot.

Her season so far: Edmunds competed twice on the international stage this season. At Finlandia Trophy, she finished 13th after three falls and eight under-rotation calls. She also competed at one Grand Prix assignment, the Internationaux de France, where she finished 10th. 

Notes: These national championships are home ice for her – she grew up in San Jose. While off the ice, Edmunds began college at Santa Clara University.

Who is Polina Edmunds?

Polina Edmunds was a 2014 Olympian and is back on the scene after sitting out with an injury

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Bradie Tennell, 19

Credentials:

  • 2015 national junior champion
  • 2017 Skate America bronze medalist

Buzz about Tennell: Tennell entered the Olympic conversation after capturing a bronze medal at Skate America over Thanksgiving weekend.

Her season so far: She started the season by winning the Philadelphia Summer International, and followed it up with a fourth place finish at Lombardia Trophy. Then, at her first-ever Grand Prix assignment, she captured bronze. With her score of 204.10 points, she notched the highest score by a U.S. woman in international competition since Wagner’s Worlds silver in 2016.

Notes: It’s hard to say where Tennell will stack up now that the spotlight is on her. She’s never been through a national championships in an Olympic year, something often termed a pressure cooker scenario. Also, her short program music is to the soundtrack from “Taeguki,” a South Korean film.

Other notable names in the ladies’ field at nationals:

Starr Andrews, 16: Second at junior nationals this time a year ago, Andrews has put triple Axels into her programs this season.

Vivian Le, 17: At the junior level, picked up silver and bronze medals at nationals the past two years. She also earned two bronze medals on the 2015 Junior Grand Prix series.

Rising Starr: Andrews shooting for a place among figure skating’s best

Starr Andrews hopes to go from red giant to supernova at this year’s figure skating national championships.

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