Five things to watch at U.S. championship

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Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the current world champions, will be overwhelming favorites in the ever-popular ice dancing.

It has been 16 years since the U.S. figure skating championships were in San Jose, Calif., a historic event in which hometown star Rudy Galindo was crowned men's champion. This year's championships open Thursday with senior-level competition at HP Pavilion. What are the big stories for 2012?

1. Ice dancing, the "it" event. The United States is currently the dominant force in ice dancing, which quickly has become one of the sport's most popular events. This is a high-caliber field featuring current world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White and world bronze medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani dueling for the national title. Davis and White, the first Americans to win the world title, head into this competition having won nine straight events and were undefeated in the 2010-11 season. They will be the overwhelming favorites of both the crowd and the judges. The Shibutanis train on the same ice as and are close friends with Davis and White.

2. A champions duel. The ladies' field is littered with former national champions, as the past three have returned to compete here. Alissa Czisny, whom some thought would retire after last season, won the U.S. title in 2009 and 2011. Rachael Flatt, who is settling into her second quarter as a full-time student at Stanford, won the 2010 national title. Mirai Nagasu, now 18, won the 2008 championship when she was 14 and finished fourth in the Vancouver Olympics. But it is widely regarded that Nagasu hasn't skated to her potential. Could the title be decided among the three veterans? Or is it time for Ashley Wagner, who has proved to be a very talented, if streaky, skater (third and fourth place in Grand Prix events this year)? Leah Keiser could be a surprise medalist after turning in strong scores in qualifying events. She is just 14.

3. A new pairing. John Coughlin and Caydee Denney have won U.S. pairs championships with different partners. Now they will try it together and are likely the favorites in perhaps the most frustrating category for U.S. Figure Skating. The past three U.S. pairs champions have ended their partnerships soon after winning the national title. Coughlin won last year's title with former partner Caitlin Yankowskas, who ended their four-year partnership last year. Denney skated with Jeremy Barrett in the 2010 Olympics, but that partnership dissolved in 2011. The U.S. has but one skating team ranked among the top 20 in the world: two-time U.S. silver medalists Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig. They might be ready to take their shot at gold, hoping that consistency is the key to a national championship.

4. Men's club. The men's field is more notable for who is not there than for who is. Last year's champion, Ryan Bradley, has retired. Reigning Olympic champion Evan Lysacek said no. Johnny Weir is making a comeback for 2014, but not in time for this event. That leaves Jeremy Abbott, a former U.S. champion, as the biggest name in this event. But that doesn't mean it won't be interesting. Brandon Mroz, who finished second at the U.S championships in 2009, has been polishing his quadruple jumps -- he landed a quadruple lutz in competition in October and November -- and could well be busting them out on the ice at HP Pavilion. Adam Rippon also is a potential challenger.

5. A lot can change in two years. We are halfway to the next Winter Olympics, in 2014. This competition may not necessarily decide who the U.S. team's best hopes are for Sochi because things change a lot in skating in a two-year span. If the batch of new young stars competing in the junior levels of this event excel, if comeback stories pan out and new partnerships flourish, it could be a whole new world in 2014.

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