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U.S. Figure Skating Championships Day 3 preview: Men's short, pairs free and free dance

U.S. Figure Skating Championships Day 3 preview: Men's short, pairs free and free dance
Posted at 11:50 AM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-08 11:39:03-05

Men's short

Nathan Chen! 

No, wait.

NATHAN CHEN!

The five-over U.S. Figure Skating Championships gold medalist returns to demonstrate one last time why he deserves to punch his ticket to the 2022 Winter Olympics. All eyes are on the world No. 3 figure skater in his final competition before the Games.

Barring any unforeseen disaster, the only question surrounding Chen is: Who will also stand on the podium?   

Watch out for 2021 Skate America winner, Vincent Zhou. Zhou is a three-time runner-up at the U.S. nationals who finished sixth at the PyeongChang Games. Despite a poor showing at March’s 2021 World Championships, Zhou ended the year with two Grand Prix medals.

Jason Brown, a Los Angeles native who won the tournament's 2015 edition, should also be on your radar. The seven-time Grand Prix medalist has hovered within the world rankings’ top 10 for the better part of a decade. Currently, he stands as the world No. 2 male figure skater. 

Men's short program kicks off Saturday at 4 PM on NBC, NBCOlympics.com and PeacockCheck out the full U.S. Figure Skating Championships results here.

SEE MORE: Vincent Zhou: 2021 Skate America win 'super hard to believe'

PAIRS FREE

On Thursday, Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc stunned the audience at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. Their twisting, looping short program -- complete with clean, fully rotated landings -- made for an especially compelling watch. 

"That was a national skate," chimed commentator Tara Lipinski.

The duo earned 79.39 points, breaking the national record for the second time in a single night: Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson raised eyebrows earlier with their 77.48-point routine. Even the latter routine was 10 points higher than third-place Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov's 68.11 points.

With Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier out of nationals -- Frazier contracted COVID, and displayed symptoms the night before competition -- it's still unclear who will earn the two available pairs spots for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Considering Knierim/Frazier may very well win a petition process through U.S. Figure Skating, each pairs duo must perform as if the competition is winner-takes-all.  

Cain-Gribble/LeDuc and Calalang/Johnson have their work cut out for them in Saturday's pairs free. One team will likely win gold, and with it, a trip to the Olympics. As for the second place finishers: Who knows if that's enough to qualify?  

Pairs wraps up Saturday at 7 PM on USA Network, NBCOlympics.com and PeacockCheck out the full U.S. Figure Skating Championships results here.

SEE MORE: U.S. Nationals: Pair Cain-Gribble and LeDuc break short record

SEE MORE: Podcast: Timothy LeDuc, alongside partner Ashley Cain-Gribble, delivers unique take on pairs skating

FREE DANCE

Point: Madison Chock and Evan Bates. Actually, make that 2.55 points. 

Chock and Bates bested their rivals Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue with a record-breaking 91.94-point performance to close out Friday night's rhythm dance event. Set to moody, sensual Billie Eilish songs, the pair performed a highly technical routine with elements that were almost exactly in unison -- and consistently achieved near-perfect scores.

Hubbell/Donohue executed a passionate skate set to a medley of Janet Jackson songs earlier in the night. Though they managed many brilliant elements, Hubbell's nerves led to a series of minor errors -- most significantly, completing just three of four rotations on her second twizzle. 

Those two and a half points may not mean much following Saturday's free dance, which will determine the combined total, the event's medalists, and most likely, which teams receive the three available 2022 Winter Olympic berths. Chock/Bates and Hubbell/Donohue are as close to a lock as possible. But the athletes fighting for the third berth face a much tougher path to the podium, and the Games.

As it stands, Caroline Green and Michael Parsons are in third place with a rhythm dance that earned 80.85 points. They are 1.46 points above Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who are only 1.49 points above fifth-place finishers Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko.

It's anyone's (third place) skate, but the stakes couldn't be higher.        

Ice dance wraps up Saturday at 7 PM on USA Network, NBCOlympics.com and PeacockCheck out the full U.S. Figure Skating Championships results here.

 

SEE MORE: Meet the Athletes: Madison Chock and Evan Bates