Figure Skating

Nathan Chen seeks third national title at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

The other defending champions Bradie Tennell, Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, are also back to defend their titles in Detroit.

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships begin this week in Detroit (22-27 January 2019), but Olympic stars Adam Rippon, Mirai Nagasu and Maia and Alex Shibutani will be missing.

Despite their absences, the championships, which are headlined by 2018 World champion Nathan Chen, will see all the reigning champions of all four disciplines involved.

Figure skating fans can keep up with all the action from the Motor City, including exclusive interviews and more, right here on

Return of the 'Quad King'

Chen has won nine of his last 10 competitions. The only – and biggest – exception was, of course, the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

His 2018/19 season has included wins at Skate America, Internationaux de France and the Grand Prix Final.

But none of that means much to Chen, who is solely looking forward.

“Every single competition you come in fresh, you come in not having won that exact same competition,” he said in a pre-event teleconference call.

“I don’t really want to carry my past mistakes and successes into the future.”

Nathan Chen (USA) - 5th Place | Men's Free Skating

The men's free skating competition took place at the Gangneung Ice Arena on...

Chen has had plenty of both. His 2018 Olympics included a nightmare of a short program that left him in 17th place.

But he rebounded in the free skate to deliver the top score and climb his way to a fifth-place finish. A month later at the World Championships in Milan, he took the gold medal.

This season, he’s been balancing school – as a freshman at Yale University – with training across the country from coach Rafael Arutyunyan.

Although Chen has spent much of the last month training with Arutyunyan in California, he will return to Yale to start the semester just before the U.S. Championships begin.

It’s an arrangement Chen sees continuing for at least another season.

“I still want to continue at Yale, and I definitely will for the next semester,” the 19-year-old Olympic team bronze medallist said.

“Then I will sort of re-evaluate after this year. I think I will definitely continue for another year, and then kind of go from there and see if it’s still possible to maintain the two or if the better call is to come back.”

Ladies’ title up for grabs

It could be a comeback story on the women’s side for Mariah Bell, who burst on to the scene with a second place finish at Skate America in 2016 but was just second alternate for the 2018 Olympics.

Though 2018 Olympic team bronze medallist Bradie Tennell is the defending champion and has the highest U.S. score internationally – a 206.41 in her season opener at the Autumn Classic – Bell has the highest score of any American woman at a Grand Prix event.

She earned a 198.96 during the NHK Trophy, just ahead of Tennell’s 197.78 at the Internationaux de France, setting up a battle in Detroit.

“Looking back on what I’ve done so far, it’s been a pretty steady climb which is very exciting,” Bell said.

“Honestly, I think I’ve been able to do that because I’ve been really in the moment for each competition.”

She believes her impressive results are the result of the long-term vision of Arutyunyan, who she began working with before the start of that breakout 2016-17 season.

“I attribute the difference in the year from a year ago to honestly the time that I’ve had to train with Rafael and maybe a different mindset, realising that I belong here,” she said.

“Just believing in it. Believing in it when I train and believing in it when I compete.”

Bradie Tennell (USA) - 9th Place | Women's Free Skating

The women's single free figure skating competition was held at the Gangneun...

For the always technically-steady Tennell, it’s been a year focused on growing her performance quality.

“In Croatia [at the Golden Spin Challenger Series event], I was a little disappointed with my performance on the artistic side. I think it was a little lacklustre, in my opinion.

“But I think that having all this time to train it and really work on it, I’m really hoping to see some improvement at nationals.”

It takes two

In the pairs and ice dance competitions, defending champs Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, respectively, are the favourites to repeat in Detroit.

But both will face stiff competition.

The Knierims, two-time U.S. champions, recently began training under the fellow husband-and-wife team of Todd Sand and Jenni Meno.

“They understand the difference between going up to the rink and seeing your partner for four hours a day and then separating versus seeing partner 24/7,” Scimeca-Knierim said of the new coaching arrangement.

“We’re in a really good head space right now.”

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim of the United States compete during the Pair Skating Short Program on day five of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics at Gangneung Ice Arena on February 14, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Hubbell and Donohue are the couple to beat in ice dance. After finishing fourth at PyeongChang 2018, they won Worlds silver in March and took the Grand Prix Final gold medal in December.

“Regardless of our past competitive history, U.S. Championships or otherwise, we’re going to approach it in the same way. There’s no one to be counted out,” Donohue said.

“Madi and Evan are looking incredible.”

Madi and Evan are Madison Chock and Evan Bates. The duo made their return to competition in early January 2019 after taking time off following PyeongChang, where they finished 12th.

“It gave us a bit of a different perspective when we came back. It just kind of reignited our passion for skating,” Chock reflected on the couple’s time away from the ice.

“I think that so often we can take things that we love for granted, and for me, I think skating was one of those things.

“I had a really long, nice chance to miss skating. When I came back, there was so much more joy and a pureness.”

Hubbell and Donohue (USA) - 4th Place | Free Ice Dance

The free ice dance competition took place at the Gangneung Ice Arena on Tue...

Delayed return for Gold

Sochi 2014 Olympic team bronze medallist Gracie Gold had planned on returning to the U.S. Championships after missing the event last season as she stepped aside from skating to focus on treatment for what she called a “mental health crisis.”

But then on 9 January, Gold made an emotional post on Instagram telling fans she intends to “trust in the process” as she continues toward her goal of competing at Beijing 2022.

“I have decided it is in my best interest to withdraw from the 2019 championships,” Gold said in her post. “This was an incredibly difficult decision, but ultimately the right one.

“This is a great opportunity for me to get a jump start on the season. I want to thank everyone for their support this past season, as the feedback I have received has been quite tremendous. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”