‘A little bit surreal’: First-time Olympians shine at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

China 2022

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – JANUARY 08: Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc pose on the medals podium after winning the Pairs competition during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Bridgestone Arena on January 08, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – This past week, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships were full of heartbreak and triumph. But for sixteen skaters, the honor went beyond bronze, silver, or gold. It extended all the way to red, white, and blue. The colors they’ll be wearing on behalf of the United States in Beijing in a matter of weeks.

Three women were chosen in the ladies’ singles category, starting with Mariah Bell. This will be Bell’s first Olympic Games, and as a 25-year-old, she’ll be the oldest of the three women competing from the USA. She cruised to an Olympic bid after an inspiring win this past week.

“I decided that this was something that I completely was capable of, and I wasn’t going to let this dream slip away,” Bell said on Saturday. “I just really leaned into my support system. And I’m so grateful for all the highs, all the lows. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Bell will be accompanied by Karen Chen, who has made the Olympic team for the second time, and Alysa Liu, another Olympic rookie. Liu had to withdraw from the US Championships after contracting COVID-19.

That was also the situation for Brandon Frazier, who has been chosen to represent America in pairs skating with his partner, Alexa Knierim. They’ll be heading to Beijing alongside Ashley Cain-Gribble, and Timothy LeDuc, who stood at the top of the podium at the end of the National Championships this week. This will be Cain-Gribble and LeDuc’s first time at the Olympic games.

After an electric performance this past week, ice dancers Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker will also be representing the country at the Olympics for the first time.

“Those are the moments we really live for,” Baker said in a press conference on Sunday.

“It is a little bit surreal, in a way. It’s something we’ve been working on and working towards for the last ten years of our skating career,” Hawayek added.

They’ll be joined by two powerhouse ice dance teams — Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock & Evan Bates. Bates already has a significant Olympic legacy — this will be his fourth time at the games and his third with his partner on the ice and in life, Madison Chock.

The final decision on Team USA’s figure skaters was for the three skaters in the men’s singles event. It was a no-brainer that the first man selected was six-time national champion, and king of the quads, Nathan Chen.

“I think this team is incredible. Just the amount of experience that we all have,” Chen said after the selection was announced. “The amount of work that we put in. Regardless of anything, we’re going to be able to have great skates there.”

Chen will be joined by two other veterans in the international figure skating circuit — Jason Brown and Vincent Zhou. All three men will be skating in their second Olympic games, making this the only figure skating event where Team USA doesn’t have any Olympic rookies competing.

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