Event kicks off season that concludes with World Championships in March
KENT — It’s been a good year in Seattle for watching elite athletes in pre-Olympic action:
March: Before winning the all-around gold medal at the London Olympic Games, Gabby Douglas prepped for the Olympic stage in Everett at the biannual Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships. “Fab Five” teammate Jordyn Wieber won the all-around that weekend.
June: In Federal Way, David Boudia took first in men’s platform diving at the U.S. Diving Olympic trials at the King County Aquatic Center, then won gold in London.
Now comes Skate America, the first stop of an annual six-stage competition called the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series. It brings 52 aspiring Olympians, including some past medalists, to Kent’s ShoWare Center Friday through Sunday.
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The event features men’s singles, ladies singles, pairs and ice dancing, and all four reigning U.S. champions in each discipline are scheduled to compete.
While not on par with the U.S. Championships (late January in Omaha, Neb.) or the Worlds (mid-March in London, Ontario), it’s an important stage-setter for those competitions, particularly in this warm-up season for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
The American team was to include Evan Lysacek, the reigning men’s gold medalist from the 2010 Vancouver Games and “Dancing With The Stars” alum. Lysacek, though, has withdrawn due to a groin injury. This was to be his first skating competition since the Olympics.
That makes Jeremy Abbott, the reigning U.S. champion (a title he also claimed in 2009 and 2010), the field’s top American male.
As most skaters at ShoWare, Abbott will introduce new short and long programs for the upcoming skating season. Both of Abbott’s programs will include challenging quadruple jumps.
“I’m really happy with the choreography and the layout,” he said after practice Thursday. “For me, the goal here is to put out the quad in both programs and just be solid on everything else.”
Ashley Wagner (U.S. champ) and Rachael Flatt (2010 Olympian; eighth place in ladies’ free skate) highlight the women’s roster.
Ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, silver medalists at Vancouver, are ascending global stars. In 2011, the four-time U.S. champions became America’s first ice-dancing team to win at Worlds.
In pairs, Caydee Denney and John Coughlin are 2012 U.S. champs.
Top international talent competing include Russia’s Alena Leonova, a 2010 Olympian and the silver medalist at the 2012 Worlds. She and Wagner might duel for gold in 2014.
A top-flight pairs field includes China’s Qing Pang and Jian Ton, 2010 Olympic silver medalists and two-time World champions (2006, 2010), and Russia’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, silver medalists at 2012 and 2011 Worlds.
• NBC televises the ladies free skate and dance finals Sunday.
• Two champions from 2011 Skate America are returning: Michael Brezina of the Czech Republic (men’s singles); Davis and White (ice dancing).
• Five weekly Grand Prix competitions follow Skate America, with competitions in Canada, China, Russia, France and Japan. Skaters, who are assigned to Grand Prix competitions by their home country, may appear in no more than two events. The six highest scorers in each category at each event qualify for Grand Prix Final (Dec. 6-9) in Sochi.
• Skate America’s largest crowds have all occurred in the Northwest: Everett in 2008 (29,477), Spokane in 2002 (28,644) and Portland in 2010 (23,362). The ShoWare Center’s capacity is 3,940.