- Figure Skating
Storylines to watch at the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships
The U.S. Figure Skating Championships get underway Thursday afternoon at the TD Garden in Boston where skaters will compete with the goal of the Sochi Olympics on their mind. This year, the U.S. team will send 15 athletes to the Games: three ladies, two men, two pairs teams and three ice dance duos.
The U.S. Championships are not a true Olympic trials as the results in Boston will not dictate who is named to the teams Sunday. Instead, a selection committee will weigh the results from Nationals, along with international results and other deciding factors.
Below, a top-level breakdown of the must-watch storylines coming out of Boston.
Ashley Wagner will shoot for her third straight national title, though it would earn her just her first trip to the Olympics. The 22-year-old was third at the 2010 trials when the U.S. qualified just two ladies. Eighteen-year-old Gracie Gold (pictured, above) was second to Wagner at Nationals a year ago and is considered a factor in the Olympic conversation as well. A bevy of other skaters will also compete for a chance in Sochi, including two-time national medalist Agnes Zawadzki, Harvard student Christina Gao and 2010 Olympians Mirai Nagasu and Rachael Flatt.
Keep an eye on: Wagner's short program. The "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" Pink Floyd number is highlighted by Ashley's dramatic costume, high pony tail and aggressive, attacking skating.
Max Aaron may be the defending champion at the U.S. Championships, but he is no shoe-in for the Sochi team. Aaron struggled throughout the Grand Prix season this year (scaling back his quad count as a result), as did three-time U.S. champion and 2010 Olympian, veteran Jeremy Abbott. Meanwhile, two surprises have vaulted themselves into Olympic consideration with strong performances: 24-year-old Adam Rippon and teenager Jason Brown, whose family friend Arsenio Hall is among his most ardent supporters.
Boston strong: Ross Miner, who was second at the U.S. Championships a year ago, will skate his free program to the song "Glory" by Michael W. Smith as a tribute to the city of Boston's strength following the Boston Marathon bombings. Miner was in Watertown when the second bombing suspect was found.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Who's next? American men to watch
The U.S. will send just two pairs teams to Sochi, and has two former champion teams lead the way to fill those spots. The favorites are Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, the 2012 national champions who sat out this competition a year ago because of an injury to Coughlin's hip that required surgery. Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir won in Denney/Coughlin's absence, meaning they enter TD Garden as the defending champions. Castelli/Shnapir - like Gao - train in Boston, and a trip to Russia would be a return to the country where Simon was born.
Not so fast: There are several other strong pairs teams that could contend for one of those two Olympic spots, including Denney's younger sister, Haven and her partner Brandon Frazier. They got their start skating together over 10 years ago ... roller skating, that is.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White are perhaps the best ice dancing team in the world, having won two out of the last three World Championships titles after capturing silver at the 2010 Olympics. The two have been skating together since they were just kids (nearly 20 years) and train alongside their Canadian rivals in Michigan, whom they share a coach with. Maia and Alex Shibutani, who have strong Boston roots, figure to lead the charge behind Davis/White; the siblings are each other's first and only dance partner.
'Thrilling' performance: The Shibutanis - who have made a name for themselves on YouTube with over a million views on their "ShibSibs" channel - are dancing to a Michael Jackson medley in the free dance, which includes the '80s hit, "Thriller."
Competition begins Thursday at 4 p.m. with the pairs short program. See a full event schedule here.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Model Olympians: Meryl Davis and Charlie White
Best of Sochi