by Liz Leamy
(18 January 2017) The top contenders in the U.S. Championship ladies division this year are certainly all forces to be reckoned with and the reason why this year’s competition ought to be one heck of a memorable one.
Leading this brigade is Ashley Wagner, the 2016 World silver medalist and three-time U.S. champion, who always seems to perform at optimal level in the competitive spotlight.
Then there is Gracie Gold, the reigning U.S. titlist and 2014 U.S. champion who was fourth at the 2015 and 2016 World Championships, who seems to be as determined and poised as ever to put out her best skating this week.
Meanwhile, Mirai Nagasu, the high-energy five-time U.S. medalist who was 10th at the 2016 Worlds with two solid back-to-back programs, is always one to rack up big points and also a huge crowd pleaser.
“I think going into this event, it’s an awesome Nationals and the door’s wide open for anyone,” said Wagner, 25, who trains in California with her coach, Rafael Arutyunyan.
This entire past year, Wagner is said to have been working harder than ever to make sure she has a stellar showing at main events like this one.
Over the past couple of months, in particular, Wagner said she has been working intensively on strengthening all of her elements and has focused on developing the quickness, strength and power of her triples and overall artistic composition in her programs.
“Mentally, I’m feeling very confident,” said Wagner. “At the end of the day, my job is to put everything out on the table.”
This season, Wagner, 25, is skating to ‘Sweet Dreams,’ the big 80s tune by the Eurythmics for the short and ‘Exogenesis- Symphony Part 3’ by Muse for the free program.
Gracie Gold, 21, has also been as focused as ever on pushing herself in preparation for this event.
The high-energy athlete, who trains with Frank Carroll in Los Angeles, said she even had recently spent two weeks at her former hometown rink in Springfield, Illinois, where she worked intensively with her former coach, Alex Ouriashev, on her triples to help further bolster her overall performance level.
“I feel like I’m at a pass that’s just going up,” said Gold. “I feel like I’m going to put out two strong performances in Kansas City.”
Gold is skating to ‘Assassin’s Tango’ by John Powell from the ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith’ film soundtrack for her short and Maurice Ravel’s ‘Daphnis et Chloe’ for her free program.
Nagasu, 23, is also said to be as geared up as ever for this event.
The Arcadia, California native who trains with Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs, has been working intensively on honing all of her elements this season, particularly her triples, which are said to be bigger, quicker and more fluid than ever.
Nagasu is skating to Frederic Chopin’s ‘Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor’ for her short and Sarah Dawn Finer’s version of ‘The Winner Takes It All’ for her free skate.
Another notable contender to keep an eye on in the ladies event is Mariah Bell, the 20 year-old Westminster, Colorado native who valiantly scored silver at Skate America last October.
Bell, who placed sixth at the 2015 U.S. Nationals and 11th at the 2016 U.S. Nationals, has been skating exceptionally well this season and could pull off a medal finish based upon the momentum she’s been building so far this year.