I'm sorry it took me until Tuesday to post this. But obviously big events in the world have taken precedence and you've got to take things as they come. But if you thought for a hot second I was going to let any of these other bloggers beat me to the punch on this weekend's US Figure Skating Championships, you've got another thing coming.
What a difference 10 months can make. It was early last April, following Worlds, that I was beside myself about the ability of Team USA to compete on the world stage:
I’m just going to come right out and say it. No sugarcoating. Just straight talk, saying what needs to be said. America is in trouble. ... I can’t sit here and fiddle while U.S. Figure Skating Rome burns.
Well I'm happy to say, things are looking up after the performances in Greensboro this past week. And I'm feeling much, much more confident than I was last year.
Let me start, not with a Gold medal winner, but the Ladies Silver winner, Mariah Bell. The 23-year-old with the face of Daisy Ridley, the elegance of Kristi Yamaguchi and the fearsomeness of prime Mike Tyson took to the ice and put the planet on notice there will be a reckoning at Worlds in Montreal this March. Skating to this year's program of Britney Spears's "Radar" and "Work Bitch" in her Short Program and K.D. Lang's version of "Hallelujah" in the Free Skate, she was a perfect blend of sublime skater and stone cold killer:
North Carolina should be grateful the arena was still standing after. Mariah herself said, "I had not had (an ovation) like that before in my career, so it was very special." And her choreographer Adam Rippon - a fierce competitor in his own right - seemed to agree with the Greensboro crowd:
At this point, I understand if you're saying out loud, "That's all well and good, Jerry. But aren't we forgetting about Alysa Liu?" And yes, she did win Gold. That's to her credit and she deserves a mention. It takes a lot of courage and tenacity for a 14-year-old to step onto that ice with the weight of the world on her shoulders and perform the way she did. But therein lies the problem. She's 14. She's not eligible for Senior Worlds. She's getting by on being just the fourth American woman to land a Triple Axel in competition and the first to land a Quadruple Lutz. But let's see if she can do that when she matures to 16 or 17, which will be the age she hits when the next Winter Olympics roll around. If she can, she'll be our nation's biggest hope. But we've seen far too many Russian ladies peak before they're even 18. (Don't even get me started on Alina Zagitova.) So yes, while the Gold belongs to Alysa and always will, the night belonged to Mariah, our best shot at the podium in Quebec.
Speaking of winning at Worlds, our naton can turn its lonely eyes once again to Nathan Chen, the man who cleaned up in 2019 and continues to dominate his sport like no athlete in the world right now. Four straight Nationals titles, the most since Brian Boitano in the late 80s. The highest career winning percentage (74%) since Dick Button in the early 50s. Three straight Grand Prix titles. Records for combined score and Free Skate. And his current programs of "La Boheme" and the "Rocketman" movie medley, have him poised to keep this roll going in 2020:
Watching Chen so calmly and (if you'll pardon the ice pun) coolly step into the white hot spot light and deliver in crunch time on Sunday, it was hard not to think of another transcendent champion. I see I wasn't the only one who made the comparison:
Mamba mentality. Perfect. And hopefully all of Team USA will carry that mind set into Montreal and beyond. Fortunately, thanks to Chen's title last year, the US Men get to send three representatives, so he'll be joined by Jason Brown and Vincent Zhou.
On the Ladies' side, Bell will be joined by Bronze winner Bradie Tennell. They'll still have their work cut out for them. And a lot of countries haven't even announced their teams yet. But in a tough time to be an American, with a lot going on and not much of it good, they've given us hope. And we could use some of that right now.