2015 US National Figure Skating Championships - Ice Dance: A Battle Wages
With Olympic Gold Medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White out indefinitely, there is going to be a new National Champion in Ice Dance for the first time since 2009. There are two main teams who are going to be fighting it out for gold, and one that has a significant advantage coming in here.
Let's go over the favorites, the main bronze medal contender and any dark horses that could make a splash here. The competition for the gold medal for the Senior Ice Dancers takes place on Friday the 23rd and Saturday the 24th. But for now, let's discuss the competition.
Madison Chock and Evan Bates
As I mentioned above, there are two real favorites for gold here. One has significantly pulled ahead of the other and has a significant advantage coming here, bur realistically, either could win.
Madison Chock and Evan Bates - They have been silver the past two years to Davis and White, and have definitely stepped up in their absence. They won both of their Grand Prix events and were silver at the Grand Prix Final behind new rivals Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada. It's hard to see the losing here, and if they do everything that they can do, they should win easily. However, mistakes, like they made in their Short Dance at the Grand Prix, could open up the door for the other top team here.
The key to them winning here will simply be doing what they have been all season. If they do that, they should dance away with the title here.
Maia and Alex Shibutani - They were silver medalists to Davis and White for two years, but have taken a backseat to Chock and Bates for the past two years. They are also former World Bronze medalists - back in 2011 in their debut at Worlds. However, they have not been at that level since, and it's hard to see them winning here. They are fully capable, though, and any mistakes by Chock and Bates can be capitalized upon. Their performance at the Ice Challenge - a b competition - was closer to what they need to win here, but they couldn't capitalize on it in the Grand Prix Final, and were fourth.
The key to them having a shot here will be the Free Dance. If they can capitalize on their Short Dance, and keep their Free Dance score up they could win here.
Maia and Alex Shibutani
Bronze Medal Contender
Yes, there's only one real contender for bronze here, and no matter what happens at the top, the third place finisher should be the same.
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donahue - They were third back in 2012 and placed tenth at Worlds that year, but with the rise of Chock and Bates, they have been fourth the past two years. With Davis and White out, there's no reason why they shouldn't move up onto to the podium again. They medalled in both of their Grand Prix events but shouldn't challenge the Shibutani's for second place, though if the Shibutani's make mistakes they could move up a bit, but I don't see that happening. If they do what they're capable of, they should be a solid silver.
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donahue
There are some dark horses who could make a splash here though they are not real medal contenders. They are definitely ones to watch, though.
Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luck Baker - They are the reigning US Junior Champions and the reigning Junior World Champions. They had a good season, placing sixth at the Rostelecom Cup and third at the NHK Trophy. If they do well here, they should be a solid fourth. They don't have quite the maturity of the top three, so there's not really a challenge there. They're a very good up and coming team, though, and they are definitely one that you want to watch going into the next four years.
Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton - They are also a very promising team. They were third at Four Continents last year, but they have not had a good season so far. They had two below fifth place finishes - sixth and seventh - in their two Grand Prix events. They are definitely top-five material here, regardless, but I don't think that they have what it takes this year to challenge for top four. They are definitely capable of it, though. The key for them, to do any better, is to do better than they have all season, and I don't see that happening.
That's it! Without Davis and White, the field may look a bit thin, but there is a lot of talent here. It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out and who is truly going to take the mantle with the Olympic Champs out. Here are my predictions:
Gold: Madison Chock and Evan Bates - It's hard to see them losing here, and if they do everything they can do, they should be US Champions.
Silver: Maia and Alex Shibutani - I don't see them being any lower than second unless they make major mistakes, and they could challenge for gold.
Bronze: Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donahue - They should be earning themselves another trip to Worlds this year, and another bronze looks very likely for them.
Pewter: Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker - They have had a good season and should continue that by placing fourth at Nationals. They could challenge Hubbell and Donahue for bronze, but I don't see that happening.
5th: Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton - They have not had a good season, but with the field the way it is, I don't see them placing any lower than fifth here, and they could challenge for fourth if they can pick things up from what they have been doing.
Below, I have put a poll for you to vote for your pick as Champion. The competition is Friday and Saturday for the Senior Ice Dancers. I have also put in a video that I found via YouTube of the Free Dance of gold medal favorites Madison Chock and Evan Bates. Check it out, and tell me what you think in the comments below.