So you think the Olympics are more nerve-racking than any event? Well, how about going to the games?
Three of America’s best skaters of yore – Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski, silver medalist Tanith White and three-time American champion Johnny Weir – say stress at nationals can be as excruciating as anything like the Games Olympic cause.
As American skaters, led by three-time world champion Nathan Chen, and exceptional ice dance pairs Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, prepare for the national championships in the first week of January in Nashville, they need to be aware of the pressure ahead.
âWhen you represent one of the great nations in skating, sometimes the national championships seem more important than the Olympics,â says Weir, who, along with Lipinski and Belbin, are leading analysts on NBC’s coverage of figure skating. âBecause you face very strong skaters for one of the three places. In terms of stress, the national championships in an Olympic year seemed to me like mini-Olympics. “
Adds Lipinski, the 1998 winner at the Nagano Games:
âThe game plan is always different during an Olympic year. There are many strategies used to plan a skater’s Olympic quad. You’re hoping to peak in the last season as you head into the games. The other seasons are used for preparing and experimenting with new elements or styles, all in the hope that you will become the best version of yourself for the big event.
âIf you’re a team favorite, the Nationals are the place to get that final boost of confidence ahead of the Olympics. If you are a hope, this is a very intense event where you have to put everything on the line; for many it is their last chance to realize their Olympic dream. The anticipation and anxiety of a national championship in an Olympic year is always at a palpable level. “
Maybe not so much for Chen or the two ice dance duos who are among the world’s elite. But a strong performance in Nashville would be a boost ahead of a month of preparation, training and strategy for Beijing.
Hubbell / Donohue, who narrowly missed the podium at the 2018 Olympics, and Chock / Bates have been fixtures on the international scene for years. White, skating as Tanith Belbin with Ben Agosto during his competitive career, believes they will still have to wrestle their nerves.
âPhysically my experience is that the preparations for the national championships are mostly the same during an Olympic season,â she says, âbut mentally it can be a much bigger challenge than the non-Olympic years. The pressure to not only do their best and rank well, but also to qualify for the Olympic team is immense, and there is no avoiding this tension during a championship weekend. In practice, behind the scenes, you can’t get away from it, so you need to make sure you come to the nationals equipped with the experienced mental tools to help you deal with this stress, rather than trying to avoid it.
The United States has no other likely contenders for the medals, but the mere possibility of competing in the Olympics is a tremendous incentive at a national championship. And there are several other Americans with Olympic experience: Bradie Tennell and Karen Chen among the women; Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown among the men; Alexa Knierim, who attended Pyeongchang as a couple with her husband Chris and now partner with Brandon Frazier.
Weir loves the look of the male field.
âThe three men who have proven themselves nationally and internationally, Chen, Zhou and Brown, in my opinion, are the top three skaters to represent the United States at the Olympics,â he said. âThey bring different strengths, qualities and personality to the event, and I think Chen and Zhou are definitely in the medal race. I would be shocked if anyone besides these three were on the team.
Lipinski considers the women’s event to be relatively open, especially with Tennell’s injuries.
“I think Alysa (Liu) is on the right track to win another title as her fairly consistent triple axel and very consistent triples give her the advantage,” she said of the two-time US champion. 16-year-old who has only done this season. was old enough to compete at the senior level. âThe next two places will be an exciting competition. There are pros and cons for all contenders.
âBradie Tennell has the qualities and the experience to easily make another team, but her injury has kept her from making the season. His return to top form is always a question mark. Mariah Bell had been waiting for this moment for so long. She has finally found consistency and her artistry and passion gives her the edge among some of her younger teammates. But her triple-triple has been inconsistent and she’ll need that element – a good one at that – at the nationals.
âKaren Chen has experience and work by her side. We saw how it helped him make the world team last year. Karen is in a league of their own when it comes to component art and scoring, so with a solid skate making the squad is very likely.
âAmber Glenn has the secret weapon of the Triple Axis, but it didn’t show up in competition as she had hoped. But if she manages that triple axis and delivers a clean skate, it might be difficult to let her out of a team again this year.
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports