As senior competition at the U.S. championships began Thursday, there was continued discussion of the long medal drought for American men and women at the world championships. The U.S. women have not won a medal since 2006 — a dry spell that is the longest since the first 11 years of the event, which began in 1906. American men have been shut out for the past six years.
U.S. Figure Skating President Samuel Auxier said Thursday that the organization is working to change that through better preparation. Auxier explained that coaches with the U.S. high performance team are working with junior- and senior-level skaters to improve their execution of the most difficult jumps, including the quad and the triple-triple combination. In addition, the organization is changing its rules to allow younger skaters to perform jumps that have not been allowed.
Juvenile and intermediate skaters now will be able to include more challenging jumps in their programs, and bonus points will be awarded to encourage them to take risks. Auxier said the U.S. high performance team also is adding an experienced coach who will be named after the U.S. championships.
"We absolutely agree, we have to have men and women that are at the top of the world rankings to really attract attention to the sport," Auxier said. "I'm a judge as well. I judge internationally, and I'm a little bit scared at the progress other countries have made. We have to catch up."
In countries such as Russia and Korea, very young skaters are trying and landing difficult jumps, accelerating their development into world and Olympic champions. Auxier said those countries do not restrict the jumps their youngest skaters can do, and they have urged them to push their limits.
Three-time U.S. women's champion Ashley Wagner mentioned one other issue: a cultural divide in the approaches that countries take with their youngsters.
"From a young age, [skating] is a job to Russian kids," she said. "They take it very seriously. Here in the States, I don't think we have a huge competitive mind-set from an early age, and I think that's kind of holding us back right now."
Auxier said U.S. Figure Skating has seen its membership increase for the third consecutive year, to more than 178,000 members. He added that the group will soon unveil updates to its image and its basic skills program to stay current.
Executive director David Raith said the organization has "come a long way" with sponsorship revenue, noting that the Xcel Energy Center dasher boards — now filled with ads — were blank in 2008, the last time the championships were held here.
• The Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus will perform the national anthem before the men's short program Friday. The group also will accompany Wagner for her exhibition performance at Sunday's Skating Spectacular at Xcel, singing John Lennon's "Imagine."
• Carly Gold, twin sister of 2014 women's champ Gracie Gold, made her U.S. championships debut Thursday. Carly and Gracie Gold are fraternal twins, with Carly younger by 40 minutes. Both train with coach Frank Carroll in El Segundo, Calif.