The 2018 U.S. Olympic figure skating trials have become a two-act play. There's the competition, then the committee meeting. Only after both are complete is the final story of the event told.
For the women, the committee simply followed what happened in the competition, selecting the top three finishers. It was easy.
But the men. The men! After a night of mistakes on the slippery ice, the committee was left to sort out one big mess in order to pick the three men who will represent the United States in Pyeongchang next month. The decision was being made Saturday night at a closed-door meeting after the men's long program and was to be announced Sunday at 8:15 a.m. PT.
One member of the team is a certainty: 18-year-old quad king Nathan Chen, who finished first with 315.23 points. He landed five quadruple jumps in the long program at the national championships for the second consecutive time to win back-to-back titles and is now roaring head-first into the Olympics with the chance to win a medal, perhaps even gold.
After that, things got complicated. A totally unexpected contender landed in second place: 26-year-old Ross Miner, a veteran with a resume filled with modest success, including competing at the 2011 and 2013 world championships, where he failed to crack the top 10.
But Miner had the night of his career, becoming the only man in the field to skate both a clean short and long program, landing one quad and amassing 274.51 points.
“I had one of the most fun nights I've ever had on the ice,” he said. “It was so fun to put it out there on the big game show.”
Vincent Zhou, the 17-year-old who attempted five quads but received negative grades of execution on four of them, including one fall, found himself in third place, just barely, with 273.83 points.
I know what you're wondering right about now. What happened to Adam Rippon and Jason Brown? That's a great question. What happened to them, indeed?
Rippon, the supremely confident 28-year-old veteran trying for his first Olympic team, fell on his first jump, a quad lutz, recovered through the middle of his program, then weirdly popped two consecutive planned triples into single jumps for a score of 268.34, good for fourth place. He left the ice shaking his head. No one saw this coming.
“What I did today I take full responsibility,” he said. “I felt really good this whole week. I think over the past few years I've had one bad skate -- not even in competition. On the first quad lutz, I just kind of felt like I was losing my right foot a little bit. I just let that feeling get the best of me towards the end. I just sort of felt like it was gone.”
Then Rippon had a laugh. “I actually broke my foot a year ago today. And I skated a little bit like it was still broken.”
Coming in sixth with 253.68 points was Brown, 23, a 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist who had an even more dreadful evening than Rippon. He fell on his quad toe to start the program, then under-rotated two triples, then made a couple more mistakes before the whole thing was over.
“I am disappointed,” Brown said. “It's that simple. I came in knowing that I am capable of so much more. The warm-up felt great, and I am definitely disappointed in the skate that I put out.”
So who goes to the Olympics? Chen for sure, and Zhou looks solid. That's the future of U.S. men's skating, but also its present.
But then? Will the committee go 1-2-3 as it did for the women's event and put Miner on the team? Knowing everything was on the line Saturday night, Miner outshone Rippon.
Or will it replace Miner with Rippon, who has had a far better Grand Prix season? For instance, both competed at Skate America over Thanksgiving weekend. Miner finished sixth, while Rippon was second. Meanwhile, it was all but a certainty that Brown was out, his hopes for a second Olympic trip dashed.
The committee could weigh the various criteria any number of ways. Miner-Rippon? Rippon-Minor? Any way you looked at it, an evening of underwhelming skating was going to have a very strange ending.