US Nationals – Foreword

The United States Figure Skating Championships is figure skating competition held annually to crown the national champions of the United States. The competition is organized by U.S. Figure Skating. In the U.S. skating community, the event is often referred to informally as “Nationals”.

Skaters compete in three levels: Senior, Junior, and Novice. Medals are awarded in four disciplines: Ladies singles, Men’s singles, Pairs, and Ice dance. Medals are given out in four colors: gold (first), silver (second), bronze (third), and pewter (fourth).

In addition to determining the United States champions, the event is used to determine the U.S. teams for the World Figure Skating Championships, World Junior Figure Skating Championships, the Four Continents Championships, and de-facto for the Winter Olympics.

Unlike in other countries, such as Japan and Russia, where the “Junior National Championships” refers to the National Championships on the Junior level, in the United States, Junior-level skaters compete at the U.S. Championships. Juvenile and Intermediate-level skaters are the skaters who compete at the “U.S. Junior Championships“. The similar names for the events can cause confusion when Juvenile and Intermediate level skaters receive local media attention. Junior-level skaters compete at the “U.S. Championships on the Junior-level”, whereas Juvenile and Intermediate skaters compete at the “U.S. Junior Championships”.

In that vein, the “Junior national champion” is a skater who won Nationals on the Junior level, not a skater who won an event at the U.S. Junior Championships. Those skaters would be the Juvenile and Intermediate national champions.

Qualification for the U.S. Championships begins at one of nine regional competitions. The regions are New England, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Upper Great Lakes, Eastern Great Lakes, Southwestern, Northwest Pacific, Central Pacific, and Southwest Pacific. The top four finishers in each regional advance to one of three sectional competitions (Eastern, Midwestern, and Pacific Coast). Skaters who place in the top four at sectionals advance to the U.S. Championships.

Skaters can also receive byes to the competition. Skaters can earn the right at the U.S. Championships without qualifying through a sectional championship byplacing first through fifth in each discipline at the previous national championships on the senior level:

1.winning a medal at the immediately previous World Championships (e.g., the 2009 World Championships were the immediately previous World Championships for the 2010 U.S. Championships)

2.winning a medal at the immediately previous Olympic Winter Games (e.g., the 2006 Winter Olympics were the immediately previous Olympic Games for the 2010 U.S. Championships)

3.qualifying for the Junior or the Senior Grand Prix Final. A skater competing in two disciplines will receive a bye only in the discipline in which he or she qualified to the Junior or Senior Grand Prix Final.

Skaters may also receive byes through a qualifying competition if they compete in an international event during the time that qualifying event is to take place. For example, if a skater is competing at an event at the same time as his or her regional competition, that skater would receive a bye to the corresponding sectional competition. If a skater is competing at an event at the same time as his or her sectional competition, that skater would qualify for the national event without having had to compete at a sectional championship.

Skaters may not compete in the same discipline at different levels in the same National Championship, but may compete in different disciplines at different levels. For example, a skater could not compete in both the junior ladies and senior ladies event, but could compete in both the junior ladies and the novice pairs event. Skaters are also not permitted to regress a level; if a skater has competed in senior ladies, she may not compete in junior ladies in any subsequent year.

There are no age limits to competing. The terms “novice“, “junior“, and “senior” refer to the level of skating, not the age of the competitors. Therefore, competitors on the senior level do not have to be old enough to compete internationally on the senior level, and competitors on the junior level do not have to be young enough to compete internationally on the junior level.

Note that the qualifying rules for the U.S. Championships have varied greatly over the history of the event. The regional qualifying event structure was not uniformly put in place until the 1966-67 season. Also, prior to this time, at sectional qualifying events skaters competed at one level above their national level, so (for instance) senior sectional champions qualified to skate at the junior, rather than senior, national level. Qualification for the senior national championship was through a separate set of rules, essentially based on results from the previous season. There have also been changes at various times to the number of skaters qualifying through sectionals, and to policies for byes.

The 2011 Championships will be held from January 22 through January 30, 2011 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Ladies

Alissa Czisny is the top contender for the gold medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships thanks to a successful Grand Prix season.

Thanks to wonderful skated performances earlier in the season, resulting in a win at the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, China in December, Czisny is ranked first in the world for the current skating season by the ISU. Czisny hit two opening combinations, a triple Lutz/double toe loop and triple flip/double toe loop in her free skate. She followed that with four more triples, although stepping out of a double Axel.

Czisny won the gold medal at Skate Canada and a bronze at Trophée Eric Bompard to qualify her for the Grand Prix Final for the second time in her career. She is also the 2009 U.S. National Champion.

2010 Ladies Champion Rachael Flatt is looking to make a comeback from a disasterous free skate at the Grand Prix final where she placed sixth after an uncharacteristic mistake-laden free skate that included a fall on a triple Lutz and four under rotated jumps. At the time, however, Flatt was recovering from a foot injury sustained just before Skate America, where she won a silver medal. She also placed second at the NHK Trophy in Japan. Flatt placed 7th at the 2010 Winter Olympics and 9th at the 2010 World Championships.

After narrowly missing the podium at the 2010 Olympics with a fourth place finish, Mirai Nagasu is hoping to improve on her silver medal at the 2010 U.S. Championships. Nigasu, who is coached by Frank Carroll and Ken Congemi at Lake Arrowhead in California, is also a former U.S. Champion, having won the title in 2008.

As the 2008 and 2010 U.S. bronze medalist, Ashley Wagner hopes to improve on her position. She has had a steady, if unspectacular Grand Prix season, winning a bronze at the Rostelecom Cup and placing 5th at the NHK Trophy. Her current ISU ranking is 16th.

Although not expected to medal, watch out for 2010 Junior Ladies Champion Agnes Zawadzki, who is also the 2010 World Junior Silver Medalist. The 15-year-old, originally from the Chicago area, is currently ranked 23rd for the current competitive season by the ISU.

Pairs

The top two contenders for the pairs’ title are defending champions Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett and Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig. In a twist fit for a Lifetime movie, Barrett and Evora, a long-time couple, became engaged on Christmas Eve. The two pairs used to train together, but Denney and Barrett changed coaches last summer, and are now working with former U.S. Champion John Zimmerman.

Neither team appeared outstanding on the Grand Prix circuit, but Evora and Ladwig did win a bronze medal at Cup of Russia. Former two-time champion, Rockne Brubaker, returns with a new partner.

There are two berths for the World Championships on the line.

Men

After delivering spectacular performances to win the 2010 U.S. Championships, Jeremy Abbott faltered at the Olympics in Vancouver and finished ninth. He skated much better at the 2010 World Championships, and his fifth-place finish along with Adam Rippon‘s sixth-place enabled the U.S. to retain three men’s berths for 2011 Worlds.

While Abbott, 25, and Rippon, 21, appear the likely candidates to battle it out for the title. Also, Brandon Mroz will be in the hunt.

Alexandria native Armin Mahbanoozadeh, 19, hopes to challenge for a spot on the podium.

Ice Dancing

The main contenders for the gold medal in ice dancing are the two-time U.S. Ice Dance Champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White. They won gold at NHK Trophy, Skate America and the Grand Prix Final. At this time, they are far outclass theirs rivals such as Maia and Alex Shibutani.

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