Skate America, the first of the International Skating Union's six-event Grand Prix series, opens in Everett on Oct. 19, and will feature a star studded lineup with numerous U.S. champions.
For the season following an Olympics, when the world’s best figure skaters tend to take a break, Skate America certainly is packed with top U.S. competitors.
The six-event Grand Prix series begins in Everett on Friday with all six American champions in action: world gold medalist Nathan Chen, U.S. women’s champ Bradie Tennell, ice dance world silver winners Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and pairs national champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim.
The Americans by far have the strongest contingent, something that will change as the series moves to Canada, Finland, Japan, Russia and France before the top six in each discipline qualify for the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver in December. Two-time men’s gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, Olympic women’s champion Alina Zagitova of Russia and world ice dance winners Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France will join the fray along the way.
Typical of a post-Olympic year, though, have been the defections from competition. Gone is the most accomplished couple in ice dance history, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, who own three Olympic golds and two silvers, plus three world championships. Also gone are Canada’s Patrick Chan, a three-time world champion, Pyeongchang pairs champs Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany — who are taking “an indefinite break” — and women’s world champ Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada, an Olympic bronze medalist who is also on hiatus.
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The path to the top for some Americans is more open now. They have experienced the crucible of an Olympic cycle, competed well under such pressure — Chen, Tennell and the Knierims helped win the team bronze in Pyeongchang — and learned from it.
Skate America brings particularly good vibes for Tennell, who burst to the top of U.S. skating at just the right time. In her first Grand Prix event last November, she shook up the list of contenders for the Winter Games by coming in third at Lake Placid. The 2015 junior national champion had battled injuries for a while but used Skate America as a springboard to the national title in January.
“Yeah, I can’t wait for Skate America,” the 20-year-old Tennell said. “It has a lot of good memories from last year and I can’t wait to build on that.
“I remember standing at the door for free program and looking into the arena and … ‘Oh, it feels a bit like nationals,’ because of just the atmosphere and it being in America. I didn’t really consider (to) myself it was my first Grand Prix, I went out there and I had fun.”
Tennell also had some fun in a preseason event, winning the Autumn Classic in Salt Lake City last month, when she upset Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Elena Medvedeva.
“It was great for the first competition of the season,” she said. “I was extremely happy with how it went and I think it was a great confidence builder for me, and it was just a great atmosphere for me to get my programs out there for the first time and kind of show them to the world.”
Tennell is intent on upgrading her artistry because technically she is solid — there tend to be gasps when she actually misses an element, particularly a jump, even if they are not as spectacular as what Zagitova and Medvedeva have shown.
“I think it’s going really well,” Tennell said of her new programs, including “Romeo and Juliet” for her free skate — music that many competitors have turned to this season.
“I got a lot of positive feedback from the judges and from the fans as well,” she added. “It is really rewarding to hear that the work I have put into that is paying off.”
Tennell’s main competition in Everett figures to come from Japan and Russia.
That’s hardly a surprise.
World bronze medalist Satoko Miyahara leads the Japanese team, while Elena Radionova is the top Russian. Zagitova won’t get started in the Grand Prix series until Helsinki, while Medvedeva will go at Skate Canada next week after switching coaches to Brian Orser in Toronto.
Chen’s main challengers likely will be teammate American teammate Vincent Zhou and Russia’s Sergei Voronov in a so-so men’s field. Hanyu’s first event also is Helsinki.
Hubbell and Donohue, who won their first U.S. title in January by edging eventual Olympic bronze medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani, will be heavy favorites at Skate America.
The Knierims will push Russia’s strong pair of Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.