Sunday, January 22, 2017

AAPI figure-skaters dominate U.S. championships

A star is born - Karen Chen upset Olympic veterans to win the women's individual figure-skating championship.

ASIAN/AMERICANS will most likely be playing major roles when the U.S. figure skating team takes to the ice in the Winter Olympics next year.

Nathan Chen and Karen Chen, who are not related, won the men's and women's individual championships 
at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City Sunday (Jan. 22).

In addition, the brother-sister team of Maia and Alex Shibutani, will enter the Olympics as America's top team in the dance competition.

Nathan took all the mystery out of the men’s free skate at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City Sunday (Jan. 22).

With a record-setting score of 106.39 in the short program, his lead over second-place Ross Miner was nearly 18 points. It would’ve taken an utter catastrophe for Chen to lose the top spot of the podium.

RELATED: Nathan Chen - the future of U.S. figure skating
His free skate was far from a catastrophe. Landing a staggering five quadruple jumps – one in the second half of his program, a last-minute decision that ultimately earned him a scoring bonus – Chen posted an overall score of 318.47 to claim his first national title.

The 17-year-old’s performance was historic, as his free skate earned him 212.08. Not only did it demolish the prior record-high U.S. championships overall score of 274.98 and free skate score of 187.77, he is the first skater ever to land five quads in a single program. Though he trained his program with the additional quad – in competition it normally contains four – it was an all but game-time decision to include it in competition.

Sixteen-year-old Vincent Zhou walked away with his first career senior national medal, winning silver with a score of 263.03. 2014 Olympian Jason Brown took bronze, moving up from fourth place with a clean free skate to score 254.23 overall.

For Zhou, his medal signals his breakout onto the senior stage. Though not his cleanest performance, his free skate earned 175.18, good enough to move up from the third-place spot he held after the short program.

Brown’s medal marks his return from a foot injury that left him in a walking boot and unable to train for much of December. Having only began training his jumps again last week, he did not include a quad in either of his programs but looks to be back at full jumping strength should he be added to the World Figure Skating Championships or Four Continents Championships teams.

Ross Miner, in second after the short program, struggled through his free skate to finish fifth with 240.34.

Saturday, 17-year old Karen, became the new women’s U.S. Figure Skating Champion.

She dethroned 2016 champ Gracie Gold who struggled, as she has all year, at the championships held in Kansas City, MO.
Chen’s emergence has the U.S. already looking ahead to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeong Chang, South Korea.

She hails from Fremont, CA, the home of the last Asian/American Olympic gold medal women’s champion-Kristi Yamaguchi who won gold in 1992 in Albertville, France. Chen’s parents are from Taiwan.

“There was definitely a lot of pressure, knowing that I skated the short of my dreams,” Chen was quoted as saying by “I wanted to follow it up with a close-to-perfect long, and I put some pressure on myself knowing that winning this thing or even just getting on the podium was definitely a huge possibility. And I just wanted to chase after that thought and just kept pushing through.”

Ashley Wagner, who won gold in 2012, 2013 and 2015 took silver.

Chen ended – or at least interrupted – the Gold-Wagner dynasty, marking the first time since 2011 that neither Gracie Gold nor Ashley Wagner won the U.S. title.

“I’m just in complete shock,” Chen said of her win. “All of this just came together for me. It was a rough season. I spent the first couple months working out my boot problems and working with a new boot company trying to work out all the kinks. I’m happy with the progress and hope to keep getting better.”
“That’s awesome for figure skating,” Wagner said about Chen’s performance to the Mercury News. “I think we’re going to be seeing a very strong world team.”

Mariah Bell took the bronze.

Chen first got noticed on the national scene in 2015 when she took bronze in the U.S. championships, at the age of 15.

Earlier in the day, Maia and Alex Shibutani, won their second consecutive ice dance gold.

RELATED: Shibutani's win their first gold at U.S. Championships
“A year out from the Olympics, this is exactly where we want to be,” Maia Shibutani said to NBC. “I know we’ve improved so much.”

In the thick of what many call the golden age of U.S. ice dancing, Maia and Alex Shibutani made a clear statement at the 2017 U.S. championships: this is their moment.

Leading after the short dance, the Shibutanis scored 200.05 overall to earn their second consecutive national title.

“I’m so proud of how we skated this week,” Maia said. “We’ve built so much confidence since we won our first U.S. title, so really for us, with both of our programs, we feel that improvement, we feel that growth.”

Evan Bates and Madison La'akea Te-Lan Hall Chock, a Chinese/Hawaiian took silver, scoring 199.04, and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue took bronze with 191.42. 

However, before the trials for the Olympic teams begins next year, the Shibutai siblings, Chock and both Nathan Chen and Karen Chen will represent the U.S. in the March 29-April 2 world championships in Helsinki. (AsAm News contributed to this report.)