By Lois Elfman
As the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships unfold in the coming week in Greensboro, North Carolina, skaters from Northern Virginia will be well represented. The Washington Figure Skating Club, which is comprised of rinks in Northern Virginia, Washington, DC and Maryland, was a force at the Eastern Championships.
The year after an Olympic Winter Games is typically a time of change in figure skating, but all of the medalists in the senior men’s and ladies events are returning to compete for spots on the podium and berths in the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships that will take place in Shanghai, China at the end of March. Among the senior ladies competitors are two skaters who train at the Ashburn Ice House, Madison Vinci and Maria Yang, both making their senior national debuts.
“I’m most looking forward to skating in senior and competing against the best in the country,” said Yang, 17, who competed at Nationals twice in the junior division. “Nationals is always such a busy event and it’s so exciting to just get caught up in it all.”
“I’m aiming to soak up the whole experience and really enjoy it, but my main goal is to go out and give performances that I can be happy with, pride myself and not have any regrets,” said Vinci, 18, who won the South Atlantic regional and Eastern sectional titles.
Championship pairs are the first senior event to get underway. Both teams that represented the U.S. at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi split up, leaving a wide open field. Teams to look out for are Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim and Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage. Aaron is the younger sister of 2013 U.S. Men’s Champion Max Aaron and it is entirely possible they could both be on the World team.
“I love it!” said 2002 Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes, whose younger sister, Emily, was also an Olympian, but Emily only entered the senior ranks after Sarah had retired. “I love how supportive Maddie and Max are of each other.”
With six-time U.S. Champions, Olympic gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White sitting out this season, new champions will be crowned in ice dancing. The battle for gold will likely be between Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Maia and Alex Shibutani. Both teams did well on the Grand Prix circuit last fall, with Chock and Bates winning Skate America and Rostelecom Cup and finishing second at the Grand Prix Final and the Shibutanis taking silver at Skate America and Cup of China and placing fourth at the Grand Prix Final. Also, in the medal hunt are Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who earned bronze medals at Skate Canada and Trophée Eric Bompard.
Although not likely to land on the podium, Alexandria native Ginna Hoptman and partner Pavel Filchenkov head back to Greenboro, where they made their senior national debut in 2011, with high hopes. Beset by injury at the beginning of the season, the duo is now in a groove.
“From September until now, we’ve been able to really get things going,” said Hoptman, 25. “We feel we’re ready to compete.”
They will perform paso doble and flamenco for their short dance and their free dance is set to three cuts of music from Édith Piaf, which portrays a range of emotions. The duo hopes to move up in the standings and be in line for international competitions.
“If we can go into Nationals and have two programs that I feel great about and we move up, then I couldn’t ask for more than that,” said Hoptman.
The ladies event will include longtime NoVa resident, two-time U.S. Ladies Champion Ashley Wagner, who now trains in Los Angeles, 2014 Champion Gracie Gold, who said the stress fracture in her left foot that knocked her out of the Grand Prix Final is healed, and last year’s silver medalist Polina Edmunds.
“Polina was really the surprise last year. This year, she’s no longer the surprise,” noted Hughes. “People know that she’s there and she’s serious. She spent a lot of time working on her second mark, which she got a lot of feedback for last year.”
Vinci, who lives in Leesburg, admitted she’s a bit intimidated by the thought of performing in front of big crowds, but she’s ready to seize the moment.
“There’s a little bit of terror when you think about the sheer number of people that are going to be watching you,” said Vinci, who will be wearing a new costume from designer Brad Griffies. “At the same time, it’s so exciting and surreal to think that the National Championships, the competition I’ve watched on TV since I was really little, I’m going to be a part of it now. It’s an amazing feeling.”
The men will close the competition. Four-time U.S. Men’s Champion Jeremy Abbott decided to return to compete despite saying he would retire after the Olympic season. He’ll battle Aaron, last year’s crowd dazzler Jason Brown, former World team members Richard Dornbush, Ross Miner and Adam Rippon and rising young talents Joshua Farris and Douglas Razzano.
“I’ve seen Jeremy’s maturity,” said Hughes. “He’s in a different stage of his life and he’s more appreciative of being able to compete. I don’t think he’s feeling so much of the pressure that he needs to win or coming back as the defending champion. It’s a different approach when you feel like you have the weight of the world versus when you’re feeling that this is something that you’re really enjoying.”
With the U.S. Championships now including all divisions, including juvenile and intermediate, it will be a vibrant and exciting nine days in Greensboro.
“I feed off that energy and it really builds my own excitement,” said Yang. “One of the coolest things about Nationals is getting to see the biggest names in skating throughout the ages. It’s not just current competitors, but everyone comes together for this event.
“That makes this competition really special,” she added. “So many people are able to come together over a love for skating.”