Friday sees the first event in ice dance at the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships: rhythm dance. Expect veterans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, as well as Madison Chock and Evan Bates, to dazzle with their most recent routines.
Since 2019, either Hubbell/Donohue or Chock/Bates has finished first at nationals. Hubbell/Donohue has won the title twice, including at the most recent competition. History will likely repeat itself this year, and both teams should easily reach the national podium before qualifying for the upcoming at the 2022 Winter Olympics; if he earns a berth, it will be Bates' fourth Games -- a record in American figure skating.
The (friendly) rivalry may take center stage, but the United States has qualified a third berth for ice dance. The most likely rookies: Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who've earned bronze at every Championship since 2019. Caroline Green and Michael Parsons are a bit fresh for the Games, but could conceivably land a spot on the national podium -- and Olympic roster.
Look for a new face to emerge Friday afternoon at the rhythm dance from 4:30 to 6 PM, being simul-streamed on USA Network, NBCOlympics.com and Peacock. Saturday's free dance takes place from 7 to 10pm on the same channel, site and streaming service.
SEE MORE: 2021 Skate America: Hubbell, Donohue win 4th straight title
SEE MORE: Meet the Athletes: Madison Chock and Evan Bates
After Friday's free skate program performances (and combined results), it will be up to the U.S. Figure Skating committee to decide who heads to the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Mariah Bell and Karen Chen both dazzled in Nashville on Thursday night, posting scores just one point apart: Bell now leads with 75.55. Meanwhile, last year's singles champ Alysa Liu practically sleepwalked through a tight performance that included a nasty fall. Liu currently places third with 71.42 points. Bell, Chen, and Liu were the projected podium picks this year, though not necessarily in that order. Strong enough free skates should secure a medal for each of them, barring lackluster performances or something special from 14-year-old Isabeau Levito (fourth place, 71.00 points) or 16-year-old Lindsay Thorngren (fifth place, 70.22 points).
UPDATE: Alysa Liu is out of the night's competition due to a positive COVID test.
SEE MORE: U.S. Championships: Karen Chen's tremendous short program
The free skate airs from 8 to 11pm on NBC, NBCOlympics.com and Peacock.
Check out the full U.S. Figure Skating Championships results here.