Six-time US champion Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou are back at the Olympics, joined by longtime fan favorite Jason Brown on a strong and deep US contingent for next month’s Beijing Games.
A selection committee chose the Olympic team and had to add three skaters who did not complete the national championships: Alysa Liu in the women’s team and Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in pairs. Liu and Frazier have tested positive for COVID-19.
The rest of the roster includes United States champion Mariah Bell and Karen Chen in women; gold medalists Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc in pairs; the titlists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, as well as Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker in ice dancing.
Brown missed the podium at the national championships, finishing 0.38 points behind Zhou and nearly 13 points behind rising 17-year-old star Ilia Malinin. He was chosen as the first substitute despite his dazzling display of quads on Sunday.
Like most young skaters, Frazier had developed in his mind a carefully crafted image of what it would be like to learn that he had finally achieved his Olympic dreams.
The reality was very different.
There were no kissing family members. No tearful celebration with friends. Only a Facetime call with his couple’s partner, Alexa Knierim, while Frazier waited for negative COVID-19 tests that would finally free him from his hotel quarantine.
“I never imagined it like it really happened last night,” Frazier said on Sunday, four days after his positive test forced the pair to withdraw from the U.S. figure skating championships and apply for a up to the Winter Games.
“But that’s when I knew it meant the absolute world to me,” Frazier said, “because it meant so much to me.”
Gain-Gribble said she found out she was going after she finished “a huge pizza and cookie dough, so I was feeling pretty good.” LeDuc, the first non-binary Olympic athlete, got his call just as he arrived at his family’s Airbnb rental.
As for Frazier, sitting alone in his hotel room?
“I squeezed the shit out of that pillow,” he said with a Cheshire cat-like smile.
There was no drama in the three chosen dance teams. Chock and Bates will carry the momentum of a record national championship victory to their third Olympics; Hubbell and Donohue will look to improve their fourth place at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang; and Hawayek and Baker give the Americans a third team that could stand on the podium.
“It’s the honor of a lifetime. It’s the greatest honor we can get in our sport, ”said Bates, who will be making his fourth Olympic trip after going there in 2010 with his former partner Emily Samuelson. “We’re lucky to go back for the third or fourth time, but it never gets old, it’s always special every time.
Unlike their teammates, Hawayek and Baker will experience the Olympics for the first time. It has been a long and difficult road for both men, who both returned from concussions, including Hawayek’s last summer.
“Clearly, I had no idea what the development of the injury would look like as we entered the Olympic season. There was a lot of doubt as to whether we would be able to come back to a place ready for competition, ”she said. “I think we’ve prepared ourselves to continue to grow over the winter. “
The three American teams, friends as well as rivals and training partners, work under the watchful eye of Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer at the Gadbois Center in Montreal.
The 2018 Olympic silver medalists Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron also train there, the French ice dancers who had the top scorer of the Grand Prix season and probably their biggest competition in Beijing.
The three American dance teams plan to spend the next three weeks in Canada, to complete the work for Beijing. But like the rest of the US contingent, their biggest goal is not so much to refine performance but to make sure they stay healthy with the rampant COVID-19.
“We’re in our bubble, doing what we can control, and right now the # 1 concern for all of us over the next 20 days is being healthy,” Hubbell said. “We all have to travel and be on a plane and be around people, and COVID is definitely our # 1 concern. It’s the next thing that can stand in the way of all of our dreams. We’re going to be as diligent as possible to do this. to our best and represent the United States with honor.
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