The opening day of the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships ended with the defending ladies and pairs champions falling in the short, unexpected leaders in the two events going into the free, and a lot of skating fans doing some combination of scratching their heads, sighing, and wondering what the rest of the weekend is going to entail.
The closeness of the competition between Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner was something that a lot of people expected. They are separated by less than a tenth going into the free skate. But few expected their SP scores to be in the low 60s. Much like what happened at the Grand Prix Final, both Gold and Wagner made mistakes in their short programs. What was unusual, though, was that neither skater – at least to my knowledge – botched their combination that badly in practice.
And that seemed to be the theme of the day in the pairs’ and ladies’ short programs.
Earlier in the day, the pairs had an overall underwhelming set of short programs. Tarah Kayne/Daniel O’Shea took advantage of the others’ mistakes and delivered the only clean skate in the pairs’ short. But defending champs Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim, whose side-by-side triple salchows looked great in practice and warmup, opened the door for Kayne/O’Shea when Knierim fell on his solo salchow. Same goes for Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran, who also left their side-by-sides in practice – Castelli doubled hers. The three teams are separated by just about five points, which could mean some movement in the free skate.
With the ladies, both Gold and Wagner practiced well all day, with Gold looking the strongest of anyone in the field, really. She hadn’t even missed a triple lutz-triple toe (let alone just a solo triple lutz) all day until she singled the lutz in the short. And sure, Wagner had some issues with the flip-toe during practice, but the toe was underrotated at most and the mistakes were stepouts, not falls. Both fought back and righted the ship for the rest of their programs, but the damage was done.
It ended up being the very under-the-radar Polina Edmunds who skated a clean short to take the lead by a bit more than seven points over the two skaters who hold the last four National titles. Insert another surprise, Tyler Pierce, between Gold and Wagner and you got your top four.
Pre-competition podium favorites Courtney Hicks and Karen Chen both fell twice in their short programs and are in 11th and 12th, respectively. Unless some really crazy things happen, they won’t be seeing that World team in their futures.
Mirai Nagasu, the U.S. champion when Nationals was last held in St. Paul eight years ago, still has a fighting chance in fifth place. Her deficit right now has everything to do with her combo – where her triple flip got an edge call and she doubled the intended triple toe. And talk about bad luck – she also ripped her skating boot during her short program. The latest is that the boot is not fixable, which means that she will likely have to break in a new boot (or boots?) during the next two days.
Boot aside – it was interesting to see that Nagasu got an edge call on her flip and no one else in the event even got an unclear edge, which is unusual to see. Edmunds, Gold, and Bell have had edge calls in the past (Edmunds and Gold on their flips and Bell on her lutz), and Wagner has had the edge issue with her lutz, though she doesn’t do it in the short. Going through frame-by-frame on those jumps, Edmunds, Gold, and Nagasu looked unclear (Bell’s lutz looked to be on the outside edge).
But of course, what we don’t know is what camera angle(s) the technical panel is using and what they are seeing and calling, so it’s tough to determine how they got to their final calls. Track and field shows you their photo finishes, maybe it’s time for figure skating to show their edge and underrotation calls?