Opinion: Olympic hopefuls must bail on figure skating nationals amid COVID spread

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As the news broke that two-time U.S. figure skating champion and almost certain 2022 Olympian Alysa Liu tested positive for COVID-19 Friday morning and withdrew from nationals, it became crystal clear what any skater who hopes to go to the Beijing Olympics must do:

Leave the national championships now — especially if you’re Nathan Chen, the country’s top figure skating Olympic gold medal contender at next month’s Winter Games.

Get out, and have U.S. Figure Skating put you on the Olympic team, which is a certainty for three-time world champion and five-time national champion Chen, the top two American ice dance teams and most likely Liu as well.

COVID has now officially permeated whatever semblance of a “bubble” U.S. Figure Skating (USFS) tried to construct at the nationals. On Wednesday night, it was defending U.S. pairs national champion Brandon Frazier testing positive and withdrawing from the national championships with pairs partner Alexa Knierim. They also are likely to be put on the Olympic team.

Starr Andrews skates during the short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Nashville.
Starr Andrews skates during the short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Nashville.

On Friday morning, it was Liu, 16, the up-and-coming U.S. star who won national titles in 2019 and 2020 and finished third in the short program Thursday night. She is the only American woman to attempt the difficult triple axel in her short program, a jump that’s necessary to have any chance to compete with the favored Russian women in Beijing.

Who will be next? There are only four disciplines in Olympic skating, and half of them have already been rocked by COVID here.

These nationals are reeling. The sad irony is that by holding the event designed to select 2022 Olympians as the omicron variant explodes in Tennessee and throughout the nation and world, USFS might actually be preventing top skaters from becoming Olympians.

Frazier is quarantining at the official USFS hotel, the Renaissance, where many guests have been maskless in elevators, hallways and the club lounge. Liu is not staying at the Renaissance.

The nationals, which double as an Olympic trials of sorts, are not the same as an NFL game, or a college basketball game. This is a once-in-lifetime, or, at best, once-every-four-years opportunity to go to the Olympics. A positive test now not only knocks the skater out of the rest of the national championships, but also could make it difficult to test negative in time to travel to Beijing in less than four weeks.

If the goal is to win medals at the Olympics, which it most certainly is, Chen needs to get out of town, now. So too do U.S. ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who are ranked near the top of their event internationally.

For that matter, other top male and female skaters should leave too. It’s crazy not to, and it’s better for U.S. chances in Beijing.

Anyone else who has no realistic chance to make the Olympic team might as well keep skating if they wish.

Skaters who can’t compete at the nationals can petition to be put on the Olympic team based on their body of work. In 2006, two-time Olympic medalist and nine-time national champion Michelle Kwan was injured and did not participate at the nationals, but was placed on the U.S. Olympic team anyway. She went to Torino but ended up having to withdraw and was replaced by Emily Hughes, who had been named to the team as an alternate.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US figure skating: Olympic hopefuls must leave amid COVID-19 spread