US Figure Skating Championships 2014: Complete Preview of Ice Dance Free Dance

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2014

US Figure Skating Championships 2014: Complete Preview of Ice Dance Free Dance

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    Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

    The 100th edition of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships is being held at the TD Garden in Boston, and the ice dancing competition is halfway done following Friday's short dance.

    The short dance scores will be added to Saturday's free dance results to determine the U.S. champion and other medalists, while those scores will also help the U.S. Olympic selection committee choose which three pairs are headed to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

    Five-time defending champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White appear headed for a sixth straight title, as they finished atop the leaderboard during the short dance and have a comfortable lead.

    Check out our preview of the ice dancing free dance, as well as our predictions of medal winners and who will be named Olympians.

What You Need to Know

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    The event: Ice dancing free dance

    The routine: The free dance provides competitors with a four-minute opportunity to perform whatever routine they want, provided they meet all the requirements for certain spins, lifts, steps and twizzles.

    The schedule: The 18 pairs competing in the U.S. championships will perform starting at 12:50 p.m. ET Saturday, with the top scorers hitting the ice at 4:30 p.m. ET.

    TV info: NBC will air the latter portion of the ice dancing free dance from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET.

What's Already Happened?

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    Here's how the top six spots look after Friday's short program:

    1. Meryl Davis and Charlie White (80.69)
    The five-time champs made it look too easy, breaking their own U.S. record while spinning and stepping in perfect rhythm to music from "My Fair Lady." The Michigan natives, who have worked together since 1997, appear poised to return to the Olympics and challenge for the gold after earning silver in 2010.

    2. Madison Chock and Evan Bates (73.41)
    The 2013 runners-up set a personal best with a routine that avoided some of the technical mistakes the pair has had in the past. They were in the lead for only a few minutes before Davis and White took over the top spot.

    3. Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (68.00)
    The talented brother-sister combo has finished no worse than third in each of the previous three U.S. championships, but they lost some valuable points early in their routine that could cost them in the overall standings. Alex lost his balance on a twizzle, but otherwise the dance was technically sound.

    4. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (66.69)
    This powerful duo put forth a clean and crisp performance, particularly with their twizzle moves. Third in 2012 and fourth last year, this pair is on the rise and will be given strong consideration for a spot on the Olympic team.

    5. Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton (63.71)
    The two-time junior national champions made a strong debut at the senior level, posting the highest score among the early pairs. The excitement and awe of competing for a possible Olympic bid didn't affect their performance one bit.

    6. Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giuletti-Schmitt (61.22)
    The pair showed off a playful flair with their routine, but a misstep by Kriengkrairut midway through cost them. They finished fourth in 2013, but it will take a near-perfect free dance to climb up the standings and get back onto the medal stand.

Top Storylines

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    Sixth time a charm?
    The ice dancing competition has traditionally been the one with the most repeat champions, and Meryl Davis and Charlie White are just the latest in a long line. Prior to their five-year run the U.S. title went to Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto for five straight years, while the five years prior to that saw Naomi Lang and Peter Tchnernyshev claim five titles in a row.

    If Davis and White take the title for a sixth consecutive time it would put them atop all those other pairs, as six in a row has never happened before. 

    A family affair in Sochi?
    Siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani sit in third place after the short dance, which puts them in strong position to medal at the championship level for the fourth year in a row. But a strong enough performance in the free dance could ice them a spot in Sochi, which would make them the first brother-sister duo to represent the U.S. in the Olympics in ice dancing.


Who's the Darkhorse Skater?

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    Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue

    They're in fourth place despite a hip injury that has slowed Hubbell for several months. The pain is always there, she told Ice Network earlier in the week, but it hasn't affected the pair's performance.

    Hubbell and Donohue have worked together for less than three years, ever since Hubbell stopped skating with her brother Kieffer after 10 years, yet you'd never be able to tell they're a relatively new pairing. Their routine is crisp and technically sound, and they're masterful at the twizzle moves that ice dancing is most known for.

    Hubbell and her brother were alternates for the 2010 Olympic team, but with Donohue she might finally get a chance to represent her country. To do so, though, they'll need to dance well enough in the free program to pass the Shibutani siblings into third place. While that won't guarantee them an Olympic berth, it might be just the push that gets the selection committee to choose them.


Who Will Win Gold?

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    Meryl Davis and Charlie White

    At this point, it will take numerous major mistakes for the five-time champions not to take home the U.S. title yet again. Their 7.28-point lead isn't insurmountable, but it's pretty darn close.

    Davis and White first teamed up when they were 10 and 9, respectively, and that incredibly long working relationship comes out in the way they perform together. It's almost become effortless when they're on the ice, yet over the years they've continued to change things up to keep their routines fresh and top-of-the-line.

    They have been and continue to be America's favorite ice dancing pair, and will once again please the championship crowd with another gold medal performance.

Complete Medal Predictions

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    Gold: Meryl Davis and Charlie White
    Why bet against the clear favorites, especially with how they looked in the short dance? The record sixth title is theirs to lose, and they won't do so. 

    Silver: Madison Chock and Evan Bates
    They're looking better than in 2013, when they finished second, and the only reason they're not going to end up on the top podium spot is the presence of the unbeatable Davis and White.

    Bronze: Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani
    The "Shib Sibs," as they've become to be known, are capable of doing much better than how they fared in the short dance. Look for them to step it up in the free dance to lock up no worse than third place and convince the U.S. Olympic committee to send them to Sochi.

    Pewter: Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue
    Only 1.31 points separates this pair from the third-place Shibutanis, and with three Olympic spots on the line you could see the fiercest battle between those duos. Hubbell and Donohue skate first, though, so they don't have the advantage of seeing what they need to beat.

Who Will Make the Olympic Team?

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    Meryl Davis and Charlie White
    The five-time U.S. champs earned the silver at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, finishing behind Canadian duo Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. They've been waiting a long time to get a chance to avenge that loss, and now it will come on neutral soil.

    Madison Chock and Evan Bates
    Bates was part of the 2010 Olympic contingent, pairing with Emily Samuelson to finish 11th. Chock was an alternate for Vancouncer with former partner Greg Zuerlein. Together they've gone from fifth in the U.S. in 2012 to second last season, and are deserving of an Olympic bid.

    Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani
    The siblings have climbed the ladder over the years at the national level, and now it's time for them to get a chance to show their stuff on the international stage. They've been to the World Championships, but were too young to make the Olympics in 2010. It's their time.