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Countdown to the US Figure Skating National Championships

The National Championships are one of the most anticipated events in American figure skating each year, and the January 2010 event holds special significance as it will determine the composition of the figure skating contingent at the Vancouver Olympics in February 2010.

This year, the United States will only be able to send two skaters to the Olympics, due to placements in the World Championships in 2009. This fact will be much discussed in the media during the national championships and the Olympics. The United States will send three men to the Olympics and two ice dance teams.

Among the men, Evan Lysacek, 4th at the 2006 Olympic Games, is one of the favorites ahead of Vancouver. He won the 2009 World Championship and won medals in his three Grand Prix appearances from 2009-2010, including gold in the final.

Another favorite for the men is Colorado Springs skater Ryan Bradley, who earned 3rd and 4th place finishes in his two Grand Prix appearances this season. I recently had the pleasure of seeing Ryan in practice, and he looks pretty strong, as does fellow countryman Brandon Mroz, who won silver at the 2009 US Nationals.

Johnny Weir is another Olympic contender who shouldn’t be discounted. Although he had a personally difficult season this year, he won a bronze medal in this year’s Grand Prix Final.

Jeremy Abbott completes the list of American men likely to be on their way to Vancouver. Jeremy had a breakout season in 2008-09, winning both the US National Championship and gold at the Grand Prix Final. In 2009-2010 he skated strong under a new coach and finished first at Skate Canada and 4th at the Grand Prix Final.

The women’s side of American figure skating is currently going through a tumultuous time. After dominating international women’s figure skating for decades, the United States is now looking for strong leadership.

Alyssa Czisny, the reigning US National Champion, has a long history of inconsistency in her skating. Alyssa is a seasoned veteran in the senior skating ranks and captured her first gold medal after eight appearances at the US National Championships at the senior level in 2009. She placed 11th at the World Championships and finished 2nd and 4th at of his two Grand Prix appearances this season. . She is a strong contender for one of two spots for Vancouver.

Ashley Wagner took 4th place at the 2009 US Nationals, 4th at the recent Grand Prix Final, and 2nd and 3rd at the Russian Cup and NHK Trophy, respectively. Ashley is also a veteran of the senior circuit and has put in outstanding performances in her Grand Prix appearances. In many ways, she’s kind of been “on a roll” lately and has a good chance of making the Olympic team.

Emily Hughes, the younger sister of 2002 Olympic champion Sarah Hughes, has fallen on hard times the past two seasons and had to skate at the North Atlantic regionals in order to earn a trip to the nationals this year, where she placed 2nd. Due to Kimmie Meissner’s injuries, she skated at Skate America and took 7th place, which was a good outing for her in only her fourth international event in three seasons. Emily was an emergency replacement for an injured Michelle Kwan at the 2006 Olympics, where she took a respectable 7th place finish. Emily sat out the 2009 U.S. Championships due to injury, but took leave from Harvard to train for Nationals and the Olympics this year. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being a bit of an Emily Hughes fan and I think she’s as likely to make it to Vancouver as anyone else.

Several other American ladies had very off seasons, due to various injuries and other issues. Mirai Nagasu, Caroline Zhang, Kimmie Meissner and Sasha Cohen (who is trying to make a competitive comeback) have all had tough seasons with little competition.

Perhaps the best hope for an American medal in the women’s game in Vancouver is Broadmoor skater Rachael Flatt. Rachael has had the most consistent performances for Team USA over the past two years. Rachael is currently ranked 9th in the ISU World Rankings, the highest of any American female skater. She was the 2008 World Junior Champion, U.S. silver medalist in 2008 and 2009, and placed 5th at the 2009 World Championships. She has taken 2nd and 4th places in her Grand Prix assignments for the past two seasons . Rachael has been working diligently to work on her skating speed, something she has been constantly criticized for over the past few years, and she is working on a triple Axel, although I don’t know if that will be competition ready this year. . Rachael is a very consistent jumper, and seeing her in training recently, she looked ready for competition. Yes, I’m a huge Rachael Flatt fan, and I have no qualms about admitting it, so it’s hard not to be biased!

With the Olympics just 6 weeks away and the US National Championships starting in two weeks, American figure skaters are under pressure to polish their programs and show the world what they’ve got. The next few weeks will be interesting, that’s for sure. Go Team USA!

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