Detroit is playing host to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships for the first time since 1994.
Though there are no Olympic berths on the line this week, athletes are competing for selection to the 2019 Four Continents and World Championships teams.
The ladies closed out the first day with a strong showing that ended with a handful of skaters in contention for a spot on the podium. Leading the way is defending champion Bradie Tennell, who is looking to become the first American lady to win back-to-back titles since Ashley Wagner in 2012 and 2013.
“I’m really happy with how I skated tonight,” said Tennell who earned 76.60 points. “It was super fun to get back out there on Championship ice — there’s nothing quite like it, and I’m really happy with how I performed.”
Chasing Tennell for the title is the new kid on the block, Alysa Liu, 13, who sits in second place with 73.89 points. The pint-sized San Francisco Bay Area native seemed nonplussed by the competition, and performed seemingly without a care in the world.
Liu opened with a triple Axel — the first by an American lady in a short program in this competition, and despite under-rotating the back half a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, she earned the highest technical score.
“I was really happy that I did my triple Axel in the short because it’s nationals. I am really happy,” Liu said after she skated. “I was so happy that I did everything I wanted to do. I was a little nervous, but I was just so excited to be here.”
Mariah Bell finished in third place with 70.30 points. The 22-year-old skated with passion and conviction in her “To Love You More” program, but failed to complete the rotation on the toe loop in her triple Lutz- triple toe loop combination.
“I really enjoyed my performance today. I had a little mistake obviously which I’m a little bummed about, but it’s an easy fix,” Bell said. “But it’s championship ice, so it was still really fun.”
Amber Glenn, the 2014 junior champion, finished in fourth place with 69.86 points. The 19-year-old opened with a triple flip-triple toe loop combination in her “Gravity” program, and performed each of her technical elements cleanly. However, Glenn did not receive full credit for her combination spin, as she did not get into the sit position low enough to earn full level credit on the element.
“Tomorrow I will be going over the sit position in practice to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” she said. “I finally skated how I know I can, so I am really happy.”
Fourth on the junior level last season, 15-year-old Hanna Harrell finished in fifth place with 68.16 points, while 18-year-old Emmy Ma sits in sixth with 65.13 points.
The pairs competition boasted a field of 13 teams, a handful of which are chasing the single berth on the World Championships team.
Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, the 2016 U.S. champions, claimed the lead in the short program with 71.83 points.
Kayne and O’Shea were one of the few teams to not make a major mistake, but did not take full advantage of levels — earning Level 2s for the opening death spiral and subsequent split twist. However, the team did perform a nice set of triple Salchows and a clean throw triple loop in their “Turning Page” program.
“We’re just very happy with our performance,” O’Shea said. “Tarah and I were talking earlier today about how we both wanted to throw up before we skated. We were pretty nervous going into today — it’s something that means a lot to the two of us. We’re very happy it went as well as it did.”
Despite spending the last month recovering from a concussion sustained at Golden Spin of Zagreb, Ashley Cain and her partner Timothy LeDuc finished in second place, a little more than a point behind the leaders (70.47).
The lone mistake in their “Bella Belle” program was an under rotation by Cain on the side-by-side triple loops at the start of the routine. Despite the mistake, the duo remained focused and checked off the rest of the elements. It was an adequate if not sterile performance for the usually effervescent entertainers.
“At this point, we’re just really happy to be here,” Cain said in the post-event press conference. “We didn’t think a month ago that we would even be here on that ice, so to have a performance like that gives us a lot of confidence in the training that we have done.
In third place, showing a hint of the promise that catapulted them to the 2017 U.S. title, are Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier (68.32 points). Performing to David Cook’s version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Denney and Frazier were solid in each of their technical elements. Though the duo did not make a major mistake, it earned Level 2s on three of the elements.
“I feel like we did our best today. I haven’t looked at the protocol sheets yet, but I have a feeling we didn’t get all of our levels to our potential,” Denney said. “But the biggest thing that I think we are proud of today is our fight and determination with the elements and carrying a good performance all the way through. I think that is what we will take away from today.”
Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Nathan Bartholomay sit in fourth place with 68.18 points, within striking distance of the podium.
Reigning champions, Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim had a less than stellar short program, opening with a near fall on their split triple twist attempt followed by a step-out by Scimeca on the triple Salchow. Overall, Knierim and Knierim appeared unprepared in their quest for a third U.S. title.