Decisions, Decisions, Decisions: How to Decide the US Men’s Olympic Team

And we all thought the US ladies selection process would be filled with drama…after some surprising results in the men’s event at US Nationals, the selection committee is left to decide which men will compete next month in Pyeongchang.

Nathan Chen will most certainly go after winning his second consecutive national title, hitting five quads, scoring over 300 points, winning the Grand Prix Final, and the list goes on.  This was the cleanest program he’s had all season and was a good stepping stone for him in his quest for the Olympic podium.

Ross Miner skated the free program of his life to take home the silver medal, beating Vincent Zhou by just over a half point.  He hit a quad salchow and skated clean with Level 4s and almost all positive GOEs.  It’s been a while since he has had international success, but he did win a Four Continents medal in 2012 and last went to Worlds in 2013.  However, he did not skate cleanly in practice all week and missed four quad salchows in the warmup.  It is really unclear if this was a turning point for him or if it was just the performance of his life and unlikely to be repeated.  At 26 (almost 27) years old, this is almost certainly his last shot at an Olympic team.

Vincent Zhou won the bronze medal with a five quad attempt free skate.  He had three of those quads judged under-rotated and one down-graded but it was one of his better programs this season.  Even with all those calls, he still beat Miner on the technical score in the free skate.  One of the higher criteria for the Olympic team is placement at 2017 Worlds and with a 2nd place finish at nationals last season, Zhou normally would have been sent to Worlds, but was only sent to Junior Worlds instead where he won the title.  He is only 17 years old and could have a chance at an Olympic Games four years from now, but this could also be a chance for him to gain some experience in preparation for that event.

Adam Rippon had some major errors in his free skate, dropping to 4th overall.  He went for his quad lutz as he has all season and fell and under-rotated it.  He also under-rotated a triple flip + triple toe combination plus singled a lutz and singled a salchow.  That is a lot of mistakes for one program, but he has been skating clean programs all season.  He was 5.5 points back from 3rd and 6 points back from 2nd.  He does not have scores from Worlds or Nationals last season, but he was injured.  He had qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and was the reigning National Champion, so there is reason to assume he would have done reasonably well at nationals.  At 28 years old, this is likely his final chance to make an Olympic team.

Grant Hochstein had the short program of his life to land himself in the final group, but made some mistakes in his free skate.  Finishing off the podium here and not having any major international results this year, likely takes him out of the conversation for the Olympic team.

Jason Brown tried to put the quad toe in his free skate for the first time since his early events this season.  It did not at all look competition ready and was downgraded.  He also had an under-rotated triple axel and triple loop.  Even with a quad toe in the program, his base value for jumps for his short program and free skate combined is still less than Vincent Zhou’s free skate alone.  He has to be absolutely perfect and even then he doesn’t have a chance to win or medal unless others make mistakes.  His technical score was very low at this event, and Chen in his first two jumps alone had half the technical score that Brown had in his entire program.  Brown finished a whopping 20 points off of third place, which likely will be taking him out of contention.  He went to the Olympics in Sochi but in four years hasn’t been able to develop a quad and it is unlikely to be there within the next five weeks.

Here are the criteria (note there is no weights or percentages given to determine how much each event counts toward the final decision):

2018 US Championships

2 18 Ross Miner, SC of Boston 6 88.91 2 185.60 274.51
3 16 Vincent Zhou, SC of San Francisco 5 89.02 3 184.81 273.83
4 19 Adam Rippon, SC of New York 2 96.52 4 171.82 268.34
5 17 Grant Hochstein, SC of New York 4 92.18 5 163.13 255.31
6 20 Jason Brown, Skokie Valley SC 3 93.23 6 160.45 253.68

 

2017 Grand Prix Final

5th: Adam Rippon (254.33)

6th: Jason Brown (253.81)

 

2017 World Championships

7th: Jason Brown

 

2017 Grand Prix Events

2nd NHK Trophy: Adam Rippon (261.99)

2nd Skate America: Adam Rippon (266.45)

2nd Skate Canada: Jason Brown (261.14)

4th Cup of China: Vincent Zhou (256.66)

4th NHK Trophy: Jason Brown (245.95)

6th Skate America: Ross Miner (219.62)

9th Internationaux de France: Vincent Zhou (222.21)

9th Cup of China: Grant Hochstein 216.44

11th Rostelecom Cup: Grant Hochstein (206.09)

 

2017 Four Continents

6th Jason Brown

9th Grant Hochstein

 

2017 Challenger Series

2nd Finlandia Trophy: Vincent Zhou

2nd Lombardia Trophy: Jason Brown

3rd Finlandia Trophy: Adam Rippon

4th Ondrej Nepela Trophy: Grant Hochstein

5th Finlandia Trophy: Ross Miner

6th Autumn Classic International: Ross Miner

 

2017 US Championships

2nd: Vincent Zhou

3rd: Jason Brown

4th: Grant Hochstein

5th: Ross Miner

WD: Adam Rippon

 

2017 World Junior Championships

1st: Vincent Zhou

 

I think it’s going to come down to Ross Miner, Vincent Zhou, and Adam Rippon for the final two spots.   Between these three, Rippon qualified for the Grand Prix Final, winning two silver medals on the Grand Prix circuit.  In head to head competition Rippon won silver at Skate America (beating Nathan Chen in the free skate) while Miner finished 6th (some 40 points back).  At Finlandia Trophy, Vincent Zhou finished 2nd, Adam Rippon finished 3rd, and Ross Miner finished 5th.

If you look at this season, Rippon has been consistent again and again with one bad performance at nationals while Miner has not had good performances and hasn’t hit the quad all season, but had a great performance here.  Based on his performances last season and the technical difficulty in his programs, I think Zhou is getting a spot on the team.  The only box he doesn’t check is the Grand Prix Final, and his Grand Prix scores are second only to Rippon and Brown (not including Nathan Chen).  He has the highest ceiling on his programs and even has more difficult planned than Nathan Chen.  If he can get these programs clean, the US will have a formidable 1-2 combination.

There is also the team event to consider.  Nathan Chen would seem like a shoo-in to send for both the short and long programs, however that is seven quads for him to execute before his own event begins and a lot of chances for him to be injured.  I would send Chen in the short program, let him get his legs underneath him and feel the Olympic ice and get a shot at a team medal.  The only other US skater with a quad in the short program is Zhou and he hasn’t skated a clean short all season.  However, several US men have top ten free skates and Rippon has the best score of the men in consideration.

However, with all of this being said, it has never been done before that a silver medalist has been skipped over for a team in favor of a 3rd and 4th place finisher.  It is much easier to argue that a 4th place finisher who was very close to 3rd but has a better resume should get to go, but skipping someone up two whole places is a lot to ask.  And it’s unclear how much the selection committee values nationals results over all other competitions.

While I love Miner and his skating and he definitely had the type of moment you dream of in an Olympic year, my gut says Chen, Zhou, Rippon.

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