by Liz Leamy
Media at work in the arena
(15 January 2022) Last week, the U.S.’s premier skaters convened in Nashville, Tennessee, the self-proclaimed music capital of the world, to face off at the U.S. Championships in hopes of clinching a medal or perhaps even a coveted berth on the 2022 U.S. Olympic Team.
All of the athletes competing at this premier skating event, held at the Bridgestone Arena in the heart of the city, staged a memorable competition that was an affair to remember as they powered through their programs with phenomenal skill, command and artistry.
Time and time again, the skaters delivered the goods in both the junior and senior divisions at this event.
Kai Kovar, the newly crowned Junior Men’s Champion from Ogden, Utah reeled off a big triple Axel and other jumps that were incredible to watch in terms of their height, air position and flow.
Then there was Claire Seo, the 2022 Junior Ladies titlist from Colorado Springs who skated with tremendous speed and attack on her triples and other jumps. Meanwhile, Karen Shen from California won the junior ladies free skate, pulling up from eighth in the free skate to fourth overall, with a lovely program in which she reeled off the entire library of triples through the Lutz with remarkable power and speed.
Sonia Baram & Daniel Tioumentsev seized gold in the junior pairs showdown by a 26-point lead with their huge throw jumps, terrific lifts and superb balletic style. Baram, meanwhile, was doing double time at this Nationals by competing in the junior ladies competition, in which she finished 13th.
Leah Neset & Artem Markelov scored gold in the Junior Dance with their stirring ‘My Immortal’ free dance in which they performed their turns, steps, edges, lifts and other sequences with tremendous technical acumen.
Arena interior during practice session
Of course, there were non-stop highlights among the skaters in the championship division with perhaps the most prominent being the fact that Nathan Chen, often described as the Michael Jordan of figure skating, scored his sixth consecutive U.S. title with memorable programs in which he knocked out his signature series of quads and triple Axels with his standard gold level of command, ease and ownership.
Ilia Malinin, the Virginia-based stunner, jumped into the sport’s center spotlight upon clinching silver with his textbook-like quads that he reeled off with the understanding, skill and expertise of a premier world contender.
Vincent Zhou was also amazing and racked up bronze with his soaring quads and triples, most of which he executed in exceptional fashion and with lightning-like rotation.
Jason Brown wowed the Bridgestone Arena crowd, meanwhile, with his stunning technique and brilliant artistry.
Mariah Bell triumphed in the women’s competition and clinched her first U.S. Championship Title in triumphant style, soaring around the rink with speed speed and accelerating into all of her huge triples with courage, determination and laser-like focus.
Bell, one of the biggest favorites with the Nashville audience, also earned huge applause for her spirals and spins, which, like her jumps, reflected a superior standard.
Karen Chen, the 2017 U.S. Champion, was a standout with her gigantic double Axel and other exceptional triple jumps.
Isabeau Levito, the 2021 U.S. Junior Ladies Champion from New Jersey, was also another contender who stole the show in Nashville, captivating the crowd with her balletic-infused artistry, textbook-like triples and optimally positioned spins.
Right at the outset of the ladies competition, this talented 14 year-old catapulted into the top portion of the leaderboard with her spectacular ‘Swan’ short program.
In it, Levito reeled off all of her required elements with ease and acumen and reflected the assuredness and command of a seasoned championship level contender.
Ashley Cain-Gribble & Timothy LeDuc were another big story to emerge from this event as they victoriously reclaimed the U.S. Pairs title after winning it back in 2019.
This Texas-based team earned roaring applause from the Nashville crowd for their compelling free skate that they had dedicated to ‘those people who think they don’t fit in,’ which was moving to hear and also relatable.
Madison Chock & Evan Bates claimed their third U.S. title with an electric free dance with music from Deadmaus in which they told the story of a human and alien connecting together, a narrative that went over huge with the audience.
Madison Hubble & Zachary Donohue, Chock and Bates’ training colleagues and main competition in this event, scored silver for their series of memorable, power-charged programs that were defined by great speed, technical acumen and command.
Keywords for the top finishers
Chen: star power/stealth/warrior spirit
Nashville Sings for the Country’s Top Skaters
Nashville, the capital of Tennessee and renowned national and global country music hub, welcomed America’s premier skaters in grand fashion, cheering them on as if this were a National Football League Super Bowl game, something that made this event memorable in every regard.
Throughout the week, the energy and enthusiasm of the Nashville audience was palpable, as they would clap loudly for all of the competitors at the expansive Bridgestone Arena, efforts that were very much appreciated by the skaters, especially Nathan Chen who gave this contingent a shout out during the men’s final press conference.
Even during unexpected moments when one skater stopped during his program due to an equipment/lace malfunction, the crowd was right there cheering him on, which was heartwarming.
The Bridgestone Arena, located in the heart of the city, is a massive, yet comfortable and warm space with its staff members being of a genial, patient and kind nature, which made the week a bright one.
This modern venue is situated on Broadway, a major thoroughfare in downtown Nashville that features a multitude of honkytonks and restaurants with live music, stores and other sites that are lively, to say the least. This thoroughfare is such a hot spot, in fact, that on weekends it is completely coned off so that revelers can party there.
On this particular week, the winter weather was also lively in Nashville, an area that is said to have a minimum of one snowstorm per year.
On Thursday, the first night of the championship events, Nashville happened to be hit with a major storm that covered the city and its surrounding areas with more than four inches of snow and ice.
Although this major storm did manage to transform the city into a winter wonderland, it did cause the city to cease momentarily its usual modus operandi .
As a result, many of its restaurants, museums, stores and suburban shopping centers were shut down for several days during the days of the championship competition, which was a bit frustrating.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, a massive complex across the street from the Bridgestone Arena, was closed for several days, yet did reopen that Saturday to the delight of tourists.
Further, the Glen Campbell Museum on Broadway had also shut its doors for a few days, as did the historic RCA Victor Studio B venue on Music Row where Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley had recorded some of their biggest hits (Elvis recorded ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ there).
In spite of these disappointing shutdowns, the Johnny Cash Museum, located two blocks from the arena, was one hotspot that did manage to keep its doors open during the days of the storm, which was a welcome respite with what was happening.
This jewel of a museum, dedicated to the life, music and work of the venerable Johnny Cash, lived up to its reputation in every way as it featured extensive displays of his gold and platinum records, guitars, boots, letters, statues, jewelry and other memorabilia, a spectacle was fascinating to see in person.
Still, the snow made the city fun and interesting to traipse around, as it is a place that is relatively easy to navigate and exciting to be in as it has been undergoing a major revitalization over the past 10 years. There is construction going on everywhere.
Meanwhile, in the media area of the arena, pandemic protocols were strictly adhered to for everyone in attendance, which was comforting to see and be part of.
Upon arriving at the venue, all media members had to show proof of a negative PCR test. In addition, everyone had to wear masks at all times and maintain six feet distance from one another as a means to protect themselves and of course, the athletes and their coaches.
Eating, something that is usually a constant among most individuals at Nationals was also not a big priority due to the potential spread of germs through that process.
Instead, most members of the media would go back to their hotel rooms where they would enjoy lunch, snacks or dinner alone in order to keep themselves and everyone else safe throughout the week.
In addition, interviews and press conferences were conducted with the same enforcement level as athletes, their factions and members of the press wore masks and kept safe distance from one another during these occurrences.
The 2022 U.S. Championships in Nashville turned out one heck of a week to remember with all of the unforgettable skating of the athletes, terrific hospitality of everyone in the city along with the kindness and graciousness of those at the Bridgestone Arena and the unexpected beauty of the big snowfall.