At the start of any post-Olympic Grand Prix season, the question always is about the new names of skaters who could leapfrog to the head of the pack.
"The post-Olympic season is always full of change," says four-time world champion and three-time Olympian Kurt Browning. "New, young talented skaters and new rule changes as well. They ask, 'How do I fit in?' A game plan is needed that not only gets you through this year but, hopefully, sets you up for the quadrennial. And, as always, skate well."
In the case of Skate America, I already know who the front-runners should be. What I don't know, based on early season outings, is what that will mean in the long run.
With Kurt Browning's "skate well" ringing in my ears, here's my take on the men's field:
Nathan Chen, the two-time American and current world champion, is head and shoulders above the rest of the rest of the pack headed to Everett, Wash.
I would have thought that this competition would be a walk in the park for Chen, but his first outing at the Japan Open where he faltered and wound up fourth of six skaters, leaves me wondering.
Could this be the moment for Canadian Nam Nguyen to take his place on the podium for the first time since 2014, when he won bronze at Skate America, his first ISU Grand Prix event.
CBC's Jacqueline Doorey explains changes to scoring:
The International Skating Union has made some rule changes to reflect the evolution of the sport, making sure no one else will turn a jumping loophole into an Olympic gold medal. 2:18
It should be noted that Nguyen won his first pre-season event at the US International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City over three skaters he will see at Skate America. That win could give Nguyen the push for a winning streak.
On the women's side, American champion Bradie Tennell's skating and style has been enriched and enhanced over the course of the off-season to present a much more mature package.
I was impressed with her win over Olympic silver medallist Evgenia Medvedeva at the Autumn Classic. From the jumps, to the spins, to the choreography, I see this event as Tennell's to lose.
Her biggest threats at Skate America will be coming from Japanese skaters Satoko Miyahara, the current world bronze medallist, and teammate Kaori Sakamoto, who took silver ahead of Tennell's fourth-place finish at the recent Japan Open.
In pairs, the Russian team of Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are on the brink of becoming legendary. They have such huge potential that has yet to be fully realized but I am predicting that this will be their year.
They opened their season with a gold medal-winning performance at Finlandia Trophy, where their beautiful classical style has been updated into something fresh and modern which they perform with ease.
American ice dance champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue last season began to earn the international respect that has been due them, grabbing a fourth-place finish at the PyeongChang Olympics and a subsequent silver medal at the world championships.
Their progress since moving to coaches Marie-France Dubreuil and husband Patrice Lauzon in Montreal in 2015 has been marked with dogged determination, tenacity and a work ethic that is second to none. Expect their star to continue to rise at Skate America.
Pj's Podium Picks:
- Men: Nathan Chen, USA
- Ladies: Bradie Tennell, USA
- Pairs: Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, RUS
- Ice Dance: Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, USA
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