by Liz Leamy
(24 January 2012) This week, the country’s finest are said to be ready to stage a riveting showdown at the 2013 U.S. National Championships in Omaha, Nebraska as they battle it out against one another for a coveted spot on the World team and also hope to make an impression with fans and officials with the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi looming on the horizon.
This year’s roster of Championship men is diverse, driven and determined and has, in recent seasons, been earning a reputation as one of the most formidable and promising international contingents around.
Jeremy Abbott, the three-time U.S. titlist who represents the Detroit Skating Club at the helm of this skilled brigade, seems as poised as ever to clinch his fourth American title, so long as he can maintain his cool and put together two strong, clean performances.
This past fall, Abbott, who trains with Yuka Sato, earned major accolades for his short program to ‘Spy,’ but faced some technical issues in the free skate to ‘Bring Him Home’ from ‘Les Miserables.’ He placed fifth at Skate America but then rebounded with silver at the Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris.
Abbott, 27, is reputed to be one of the most spectacular skaters in the world when he is on top of his game and here, ought to be good for a strong showing here in seeing that over the past few seasons, he has been consistent at this event.
Ross Miner, 22, the effervescent two-time U.S. National bronze medalist coached by Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson at the Skating Club of Boston, ought to stage another medal-worthy series of performances here.
Last fall, Miner clinched bronze at the NHK Trophy with a flawless free skate and this season, has incorporated a quad Sow into his technical regimen, a jump he is said to hit consistently.
Miner, who is using Rachmaninoff’s ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’ for his short and ‘Captain Blood’ for his free skate, could in fact, be in the hunt for his first U.S. title if he can put out some top-tier programs.
Adam Rippon, the 2012 U.S. silver medalist, also ought to be good for a medal-worthy performance. This talented contender, who represents the Skating Club of New York and trains with Rafael Artyunyan in Lake Arrowhead, California, is reputed to be one of the most elegant and appealing skaters around and when he performs at optimal level, is a formidable opponent.
This season, Rippon is using ‘Nessun Dorma’ by Puccini for the short and music from ‘The Incredibles’ for the free skate.
Max Aaron, 20, represents the Broadmoor Skating Club and is known for his gigantic jumps, and is another medal contender here.
Aaron trains with Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs and was the 2012 International Classic winner with a program that generated a great deal of buzz throughout the skating community. Last year, he was eighth at the U.S. Nationals. He will be skating to ‘Tron’ by Daft Punk for the short and ‘West Side Story’ for the long program.
Richard Dornbush, the 2011 U.S. National silver medalist, is said to be ready to rebound from his disappointing 13th place finish at this event last year. So far, he seems true to his word, as he scored silver at the Finlandia trophy earlier this year.
Dornbush, 21, is coached by Tammy Gambill in Riverside, California and represents the All Year Figure Skating Club. He is skating to ‘With or Without You’ by U2 for the short and ‘The Wild Ones, Harlem Nocturnes’ and ‘Rooftops’ for the long program.
Joshua Farris, 18, the 2012 World Junior silver medalist, also represents the Broadmoor Skating Club like Aaron and is another serious contender. Farris, who is coached by Christy Krall and Damon Allen, is known for his exceptional jumping ability and has been said to hit his quad on a consistent basis. This year, he is using music by Yo-Yo Ma for the short and ‘Piano Concerto No. 2 and Op. 18 III’s Allegro Scherzando’ for the free skate.
This year, the ladies faction is characterized by talented, experienced skaters who have in the past few seasons, become internationally acclaimed for their superior technical acumen. In fact, more than half of the qualifiers at this competition have scored medals at International Skating Union events over the past several years, something that bodes particularly well for the U.S as the 2014 Olympics begin to approach.
Ashley Wagner, 21, America’s reigning skating queen, is the undisputable forerunner in this event and is said to be as primed as ever to claim a second consecutive U.S. National title.
Wagner, who represents the Skating Club of Wilmington, seems to be on a golden roll. Last season, she claimed the U.S. title and placed fourth at the World Championships. This past fall, she won two golds at Skate America and the Trophee Eric Bompard and in December, she scored silver at the ISU Championship Grand Prix finals, trailing Mao Asada, the formidable Japanese contender.
In the past few years, Wagner, who is currently ranked second in the ISU ladies standings, has flourished under the tutelage of coach John Nicks, with who she began working with in 2011. The two, who train together in Mission Alejo, California, have a unique dynamic and seems to bring out the best in one another.
“She [Ashley] said I was her Yoda, and some had to tell me Yoda was a character from ‘Star Wars,’ said Nicks, a veteran World and Olympic coach when he was awarded with the 2012 Professional Skaters Association prestigious Coach of the Year honor last spring.
“If it wasn’t for Ashley I wouldn’t be here,” he added. In his long career, Nicks has coached numerous U.S. Olympic and World medalists, including Sasha Cohen, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist.
This season, Wagner is using the ‘Red Violin’ film score for her short program and ‘Bacchanale’ from ‘Samson and Delilah’ for her free skate. Both of these programs were choreographed by Philip Mills, and so far, have been acknowledged as excellent compliments to Wagner’s skating.
Last year, Mills’ memorable ‘Swan Lake’ program for Wagner earned vociferous kudos from fans and industry insiders alike for its innovation, theatricality and artistic depth.
Gracie Gold, the 17-year old Chicago blonde powerhouse who catapulted to the forefront of the sport last season after winning silver at the 2012 World Junior Championships and the 2012 U.S. junior crown, is also a seriouis medal contender here.
Although Gold kicked off this year’s Championship Grand Prix season with a disappointing seventh-place finish at Skate Canada, she rebounded with silver at the Rostelecom Cup several weeks later, showing a fierce and resilient competitive spirit.
Gold represents the Wagon Wheel Figure Skating Club and is coached by Alexander Ouriashev, Oleg Epstein and Toni Hickey. Since her last competitive outing, she has been rumored to have been working like crazy and in turn, ought to fare well here in Omaha as long as she can stand up to the pressure of the spotlight.
This season, Gold is using ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ for her short program and the ‘Life is Beautiful’ film soundtrack for her free skate.
Agnes Zawadzki, 18, also hails from Illinois and is another serious podium contender here. Known for her electrifying triples, Zawadzki placed third at the 2012 U.S. Nationals and was the first alternate for the American World team.
Zawadzki represents the Broadmoor Skating Club and works with David Santee, a nine-time U.S. men’s medalist and the 1981 World silver medalist in Oak Park, Illinois.
This year, she placed third at the Rostelecom Cup and fifth at the NHK Trophy Championship Grand Prix events.
Zawadzki is a two-time Junior World medalist known for her consistency in the short program and is said to have been working harder than ever to achieve the same level of dependability in the free skate, which ought to help her garner high scores.
She will be using music from the ‘Sex and the City 2’ film score for her short and ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ for the free skate.
Christina Gao, the lithe brunette who trains with Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson at the Skating Club of Boston, is another top contender here.
Last fall, Gao, who represents the Skating Club of Boston, came up second at Skate America (right behind Wagner), was fourth at the 2012 Trophee Eric Bompard and then placed sixth at the Championship Grand Prix finals, where as a first alternate, she had only been invited to join just two weeks prior.
Gao is a full-time student at Harvard University in Cambridge and is using ‘Close Without Touching’ for her short and ‘Libertango’ for her long program. Last year, she was fifth at U.S. Nationals.
Mirai Nagasu, the 19 year-old spinning wonderkind, is another serious contender here. This talented skater, who was the 2008 U.S. titlist and 2010 U.S. silver medalist, finished a disappointing seventh at last year’s Nationals, but certainly has the goods to make a memorable showing here at this event.
Last fall, Nagasu, who is coached by Wendy Olson and Amy Evidente and represents the Peninsula Figure Skating Club in California, clinched bronze at the NHK Trophy and also at the Finlandia Cup.
This season, Nagasu is using ‘Downhill Special’ by the Benny Goodman Orchestra for her short and ‘Symphony No. 3 in C Minor’ by Saint Saens for her free skate.