Meet The 2022 U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team
by Lynn Rutherford
The 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships that wrapped up Sunday in Nashville had a little bit of everything: an iconic champion winning his sixth straight U.S. crown; mature athletes fighting to hold off up-and-coming challengers; long-time rivals squaring off one more time.
Results from the event were an important — but not the only — factor in selecting the team that will compete next month at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. U.S. Figure Skating also considered international scores of the athletes, whether those tallies were consistent and what placement range they would potentially achieve at the Games.
Nathan Chen enters Beijing favored for gold, but he is by no means a shoo-in: the American will have to fend off a talented Japanese squad, including two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. Two ice dance teams, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, have realistic shots at the podium. Russian women, with their ever-growing number of quadruple jumps and triple axels, will make it difficult for any other country — including the U.S. — to break through for the podium. Russia and China dominate the pairs discipline.
The figure skating team event will be contested first in Beijing. After winning bronze medals in Sochi and PyeongChang, Team USA is expected to battle Russia and Japan for podium spots in Beijing.
Here’s a look at the 16 figure skaters who will compete for Team USA in February.
Jason Brown poses for a portrait during the Team USA Beijing 2022 Olympic shoot on Sept. 12, 2021 in Irvine, California.
A matchless artist on the ice, Brown, 27, has had his ups and downs. The Chicagoan burst on to the scene in 2014 with his famed River Dance program, which went viral on YouTube with 4 million hits. The next season, he won a U.S. silver medal and Olympic team bronze at the Sochi Games. In 2015, he claimed the U.S. title. A low came in 2018, when a sixth-place finish at the U.S. championships kept him off of the PyeongChang Olympic team. Brown fought back, moving to Toronto to train under Tracy Wilson and Brian Orser, and has since won another three U.S. medals.
Vincent Zhou poses for a portrait during the Team USA Beijing 2022 Olympic shoot on Sept. 12, 2021 in Irvine, California.
Like Chen, Zhou made his mark early. The Palo Alto, California, native became the youngest U.S. junior champion in 2013 and won the world junior title in 2017. He made his U.S. senior debut in 2016, placing eighth at the U.S. championships, and has since won three silver and two bronze medals there. In 2019, he landed on the world championships podium, winning bronze. Along the way, the 21-year-old has matured from a self-described “kid with quads” to a sophisticated and entertaining performer.
Mariah Bell poses for a portrait during the Team USA Beijing 2022 Olympic shoot on Sept. 12, 2021 in Irvine, California.
In a sport dominated internationally by teenagers, Bell won her first U.S. title in January at age 25, becoming the oldest U.S. women’s champion since 1927. Known for her effervescent personality on and off the ice, the Monument, Colorado, native’s greatest strengths are her elegance and charismatic performance ability, rather than her jumps. In Beijing, she will look to challenge younger skaters with the quality of her elements as well as mature presentation. Bell makes her Olympic debut in Beijing but is no novice on the world scene, having competed at the world championships three times and also won three Grand Prix medals.
Karen Chen poses for a portrait during the Team USA Beijing 2022 Olympic shoot on Sept. 12, 2021 in Irvine, California.
Chen competed at the 2018 Olympics, placing 11th, but the 2017 U.S. champion says she left those Games dissatisfied, feeling she could have skated better. So, the 22-year-old from Fremont, California, took an academic break from Cornell University to make a push for a second Olympic team. Her fourth-place finish at the 2021 world championships helped Team USA clinch three women’s spots in Beijing, and with a silver medal at the 2022 U.S. championships, Chen put her name on one of them. A “skater’s skater,” Chen’s speed, powerful stroking and lovely spins are her greatest weapons.
Alysa Liu skates in the Ladies Short Program during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 6, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.
In 2019, the Clovis, California-born Liu became the youngest U.S. champion ever at age 13, and in 2020, she became the youngest ever two-time champion. The 2021-22 season is the first on the senior international circuit. She is the first woman ever to land a triple axel and quadruple jump in the same program, a feat accomplished at the 2019 Junior Grand Prix in Lake Placid, New York. Like many skaters, puberty affected her jumps, but the now-16-year-old skater has added elegance and performance quality to her arsenal, which includes strong triple-triple jump combinations. In November 2021, Liu moved to a new coaching team in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and is training to regain consistency on her triple axel in time for Beijing.
Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier pose for a portrait during the Team USA Beijing 2022 Olympic shoot on Sept. 12, 2021 in Irvine, California.
Knierim, a 30-year-old Illinois native, and Frazier, a 29-year-old born in Phoenix, joined forces in April 2020, after long careers with other partners: Frazier won the 2017 U.S. title with Haven Denney, and Knierim won three U.S. crowns and a 2018 Olympic team bronze medal with her husband, Chris Knierim, who is now a member of the skaters’ coaching team in Irvine, California, along with two-time Olympic pair Jenni Meno and Todd Sand.
The skaters gelled quickly due to their shared work ethic and commitment to open and honest communication. They met with immediate competitive success, winning 2020 Skate America and the 2021 U.S. title with strong lifts and solid triple throws, we well as fine musicality and presentation.
Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc react after competing in the pairs free skate program during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the Orleans Arena on Jan. 16, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
When they teamed up in 2016, both Cain-Gribble and LeDuc had both been out of competitive pairs’ skating for several years, with Cain-Gribble pursuing a singles career and LeDuc skating in shows. But right from the start, the Plano, Texas, duo — who are coached by Cain-Gribble’s parents, Darlene and Peter Cain, a 1980 Australian Olympian — made their mark with strong individual skating skills and programs that emphasized their long, elegant lines. They won their first U.S. title in 2019 and recaptured the crown in January.
LeDuc is the first out, non-binary person to win a U.S. figure skating title. In Beijing, LeDuc, who uses they/them pronouns, is poised to make history as the first out non-binary Winter Olympic athlete.
“My hope is it shifts to that queer people can be both open and successful in sports,” LeDuc said. “Queer people have always been here, we’ve always been part of this sport, we’ve always been part of other sports. It’s not always been possible to be open. ... I stand on the shoulders of so many amazing queer people.”
Madison Chock and Evan Bates react to their scores after the Free Dance during the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 25, 2020 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
No U.S. figure skater in history has more experience than the 32-year-old Bates; Beijing will be the Ann Arbor, Michigan, native’s fourth Games. He began his Olympic career in Vancouver in 2010, where he placed 11th with Emily Samuelson. He and the California-born Chock, 29, teamed up in 2011 and won the first of their 10 U.S. medals, a silver, in 2013. In more than a decade together, the on- and off-ice couple have competed at two Olympics (2014, 2018) and amassed three U.S. titles (2015, 2020, 2022), two world championships medals and two Four Continents crowns. Famed for their stunning lifts and inventive choreography, the couple trains at the renowned Ice Academy of Montreal (I.AM).
In Beijing, Chock and Bates will perform their “Lovers from Outer Space” free dance, the story of an astronaut who falls in love with an inhabitant of another planet. Said Chock: “As we go to the (Beijing) Games next month, we just want to remind everyone that you can find love with someone that is different than you, and from a different place.”
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue pose for a portrait during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Orleans Arena on Jan. 17, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Power, speed and finesse are hallmarks of Hubbell and Donohue’s decade-long partnership, along with undeniable personal chemistry. The Lansing, Michigan, born Hubbell, 30, began skating with the 31-year-old Donohue, who hails from Madison, Connecticut, in 2011, and met with immediate success. The duo owns three U.S. titles (2018-19, 2021) and four Skate America crowns (2018-2021), as well as three world championships medals. They arrive in Beijing as reigning world silver medalists.
At their first Olympics in 2018, the couple was in medal position after the short dance, but fell in their free dance and placed fourth. Over the past four seasons training at I.AM, they have added consistency and focus under pressure to their strengths.
Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker pose for a portrait during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Orleans Arena on Jan. 17, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The 25-year-old Hawayek, a Buffalo, New York native, teamed with Baker, 28 and from Seattle, in 2012. The duo won the 2014 World Junior Figure Skating Championships and have placed in the top ten all three times they have competed at the world championships. For the past four seasons, they have won the bronze medal at the U.S. championships.
During their near decade-long partnership, the exceptionally creative skaters have performed programs to everything from a flamenco guitar version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, to “Singin’ in the Rain,” to a rousing disco medley. Beijing is their first Olympic experience. Baker’s mother, Sharon Jones, is a four-time British ice dance champion who competed at the 1988 Olympics. Like the other two top U.S. ice dance teams, Hawayek and Baker train at I.AM.