The event is noted especially for its catastrophic aftermath, in which most of the U.S. team died in the crash of Sabena Flight 548 on their way to the World Championships in Prague. Because many of the top American figure skaters (including Carol Heiss and David Jenkins) had retired from the sport after the 1960 Winter Olympics, new champions were crowned in all four disciplines.
The men's competition was won by Bradley Lord, likewise in a come-from-behind victory in the free skating after having been second to Gregory Kelley in the compulsory figures. In the ladies' event, Stephanie Westerfeld had a narrow lead over Laurence Owen after the compulsory figures and performed well enough in the free skating that she might have won the competition. However, Owen followed with a superior effort in the free skate and won the title on a 4-1 split of the first-place ordinals. Maribel Owen / Dudley Richards, the silver medalists from the previous year, were the clear winners of the pairs event, while Diane Sherbloom / Larry Pierce—skating in their first season together—took the ice dance championship.
A notable feature of this event is that it was the first time the United States Figure Skating Championships were covered on national television, with a modest rights fee being paid by CBS. Sportscaster Bud Palmer provided the "play-by-play", and Dick Button provided the commentary for the event, a role Button continued to perform for decades after the Championships broadcasts were picked up by ABC Sports in subsequent years.
Following the U.S. Championships, all the top skaters with the exception of Brown (who was ill; his place was taken by fourth-place finisher Ramsay) took part in the North American Figure Skating Championships in Philadelphia, where Owen captured the ladies title. The team then immediately departed for the World Figure Skating Championships in Prague on February 14, 1961, on board Sabena Flight 548. However, they never arrived; their flight crashed near Brussels, Belgium the next morning, killing all on board (including coaches, officials, and family members). The few team members who had not made the trip included skater Brown, and coach Ronald Ludington (who was unable to afford the travel expenses).
The U.S. Figure Skating Memorial Fund was established eight days after the crash by F. Ritter Shumway, then-president of the USFSA, and the fund has continued to this day. Its purpose is to provide help to promising skaters who lack funding for equipment. Peggy Fleming and Scott Hamilton are among future champions who have credited the memorial fund with being vital to their careers. RISE, a documentary film about the 1961 team, was released on February 17, 2011, two days after the 50th anniversary of the crash.