US Figure Skating Championship 2014: Meet Team USA's Olympic Hopefuls

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistJanuary 10, 2014

US Figure Skating Championship 2014: Meet Team USA's Olympic Hopefuls

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    The U.S. Figure Skating National Championships are in Boston this weekend, and by Sunday afternoon all of the medals will be handed out and the Olympic team will be named.

    Overall, three women, two men, two pairs and three ice-dance teams will be a part of Team USA, who will be competing for individual and team medals in Sochi next month.

    Here's a look at some of the standouts who are fighting to earn their spot on the team. 

Max Aaron

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    The men's competition is wide open this year, but Max Aaron might be the closest thing to a favorite there is. The 21-year-old was the 2013 U.S. National Champion, and will be looking to defend his title and book his spot in Sochi this weekend.

    Aaron was a stand-out hockey player until he broke his back when he was 16 and decided to focus on figure skating. He still brings that feisty attitude to the rink. 

    Aaron made waves last year when he attempted and successfully completed two quads to vault him to his surprise national championship, and he considers his fearlessness his best asset on the ice—although, according to an AP report, he has pulled back on his quads a bit after struggling this season.

Ross Miner

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    Ross Miner, 22, won the silver medal at last year's Nationals, and will be a huge crowd favorite this year in his hometown of Boston.

    Miner, who began skating at the age of three, lives in Watertown, Massachusetts and was on lockdown during the manhunt after the Boston Marathon bombing. Alice Cook of reports that Minor has dedicated his long program to the terror caused by the bombings and the resiliency shown by Boston in the aftermath.


Jeremy Abbott

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    Jeremy Abbott, 28, is one of the veteran skaters at the championships, and has already announced that he plans to retire at the end of this season. He just wants to make one more Olympic team first.

    Abbott has won the U.S. Championships three times in his career, most recently in 2012, and was a member of the 2010 Olympic team in Vancouver, where he finished in ninth place. 

    In order to make the most of his last shot at Olympic glory, Abbott has been working with a sports psychologist and has gotten into what he considers the best shape of his life. A fourth U.S. Championship would be nice, but his main goal is just a spot in Sochi. 


Mirai Nagasu

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    2010 Vancouver Olympian Mirai Nagasu is off to a strong start in her bid for her second Olympic team, standing in third place after a strong short program. 

    Nagasu, 20, placed just off the podium in fourth place in Vancouver, and has struggled ever since. But even though she's now overshadowed by many of her younger peers, her excellent start to the U.S. Championships puts her in a strong position to get the up-for-grabs third spot on the Sochi team.

    In this case, her experience could really pay off under Olympic-sized pressure.

Christina Gao

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    Christina Gao, 19, might be a bit of an underdog in these championships, but she has the brains and the talent to prove people wrong.

    Besides being an elite athlete in the hunt for an Olympic spot, Gao also studies at Harvard, although she has taken time off this year to (hopefully) follow through on her dream of becoming an Olympian.

    Gao is currently in sixth place after her short program, but with her college friends cheering her on and a breakthrough season in her rear-view mirror, Gao is one to keep an eye on headed into the weekend. 

Ashley Wagner

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    Twenty-two year-old Ashley Wagner, the favorite headed into the competition, certainly has the perspective of a champion. Four years ago she was only four points away from making the Olympic team, but she used the disappointment as fuel to get better. 

    Wagner has won the last two U.S. Championships, and she uses her experience and maturity in her skating, with edgy and flirty routines that set her apart from her more youthful competition. 

    She's in fourth place after the short program, but still feels confident about her position. After watching from her couch four years ago, Wagner determined to help Team USA get back on the Olympic podium this year.

Gracie Gold

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    She certainly has the perfect name for an Olympian! On Thursday, 18-year-old Gold set herself up as the one to beat, skating one of the best short programs of her life to leap into a commanding first-place lead

    Gold jumps high and brings unbridled energy and athleticism to her skating programs. She has the right team around her, too. Last year, Gold started training with Frank Carroll, who took Michelle Kwan and Evan Lysacek to Olympic glory.

    Gold was an underdog behind Wagner heading into the event, but she just has to get through her long program without any bobbles, and she might just have a medal to match her name.

Caydee Denney and John Coughlin (Pairs)

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    Caydee Denney and John Coughlin and are looking to get back to the top of the pairs world where they think they belong, according to Nicholas McCarvel of NBC Sports.

    After both having success with previous partners on the U.S. circuit, they teamed up in 2011, and together they won the U.S. Championships in 2012. Unfortunately, they had to miss the competition last year due to injury. 

    They were in fourth place after their short program, but moved to third place after their free skate on Saturday, less than a point away from Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, who were surprise second-place finishers.

    With only two teams going to Sochi, Denney and Coughlin will have to wait until the official announcements on Sunday at 12:00 EST to find out if their experience and prior success are enough to get them onto the team.

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir (Pairs)

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    Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, who have been together since 2006, successfully defended their U.S. Championship title on Saturday.

    After a disappointing Grand Prix season, the intense but fun-loving pair—who happen to share the same birthday—turned it on in front of their friends and family in their training town of Boston.

    Their spotless first-place short program included a strong throw triple Salchow, as well as clean side-by-side triple Salchows, that earned them a career-best score. Despite a fall by Castelli on a throw quadruple Salchow during their long program, they were able to finish in first place and, presumably, book a trip to Sochi. 

Meryl Davis and Charlie White (Ice Dance)

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    The best bet for a Team USA figure-skating gold in Sochi comes from Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the best ice dancers in the world. 

    Davis and White won their sixth U.S. Championship on Saturday, a phenomenal feat. With White's curly blond hair, Davis's elegance and their undeniable chemistry, the two are fan favorites wherever they go.

    The pair won a silver medal in Vancouver, and, with their fifth-straight national title under their belt, they'll be headed to Sochi looking to turn silver into gold.