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2016 Skate America Preview

by Klaus Reinhold Kany





2016/17 Grand Prix Starts Off at Skate America 2016

Two years ago Skate America took place in the Sears Arena in Hoffman Estates, a town which is situated about 35 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. It was so successful that U.S. Figure Skating decided in May 2016 to go there again this year. Especially hundreds of children and teenagers from several big skating clubs in the Chicago area are invited to come again. In 2014, the official (Hilton) hotel was 30 to 45 minutes away from the rink by bus and near the Chicago O’Hare airport. Hilton no longer being the title sponsor now, the skaters and officials are in a hotel only one mile from the rink.

This year like in most years, Skate America is the first Grand Prix of the season. Only in Olympic seasons, US Figure Skating sometimes wants the Grand Prix as last one. For next year this request was fulfilled and therefore the next Skate America will be in Lake Placid at the end of November 2017. In each of the four categories there are two full groups of skaters performing, which means 12 ladies, 12 men, 8 pairs and 10 ice dance teams, two more dance couples than in the last few years.


In the strong men’s competition seven or eight skaters have a chance to win a medal. Shoma Uno from Japan, seventh at the World Championships in Boston, seems to be the favorite after winning the Lombardia Trophy in Italy in mid-September although his three quad flips were not successful. But he landed this jumps cleanly at Japan Open in early October and beat the reigning world champion Javier Fernandez from Spain. However, the competition is quite open. In Italy, Uno beat Jason Brown only by two points because the American could not land his quad toe loops there, but was otherwise excellent. Brown had reveled a new free program there which was different from the one in the summer. Another medal candidate is US champion Adam Rippon who was sixth at Worlds half a year ago and third in the Salt Lake City competition in September. He also changed his long program after Champs Camp and revamped a Coldplay exhibition program.

With strong jumps, including a quad lutz, and more choreography by the newly hired Lori Nichol, the Chinese skater Boyang Jin, sixth in Boston, also hopes for a place on the podium in Hoffman Estates. The two Russian skaters are also strong enough for a top position. Sergei Voronov won the Ondrei Nepela Memorial in Slovakia in early October with two quads and without any of his coaches on his side. He even had to pay his flight from Moscow, hotel and entry fee on his own because the Russian federation is lacking of money and his main coach Elena Buianova had no time for him. After his competition he criticized his federation in an interview for the federation website and was criticized for doing that. The second Russian skater Maxim Kovtun showed a good short program at the Finlandia Trophy two weeks ago. But like often before he popped and missed several jumps in his free program. There, he is very political this season by using some parts of Charles Chaplin’s famous anti-fascist speech from the 1940 film „The Great Dictator“. He denied wanting to make allusions to anybody in the present.

Outsider for a medal seems to be Canadian Nam Nguyen who had a bad last season and switched coaches, moving from Brian Orser to the coaches of Polina Edmunds in San Jose. He was fifth in Salt Lake City in September and not yet in top shape. The same outsider position might have Daisuke Murakami who was fourth at the Nepela Memorial. But Japanese skaters are often very good at Skate America.

[Note:  Murakami withdrew Thursday before the draw due to a foot injury.]

The third American Timothy Dolensky excelled by a good style and excellent spins at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany in September. But his jumps are not consistent, especially in the second half of the program. Jorik Hendricks from Belgium has no quad but is often consistent. The Australian Brendan Kerry, who trains in Southern California, has excellent quad toe loops, but his style is not top class.

Olympic Bronze medalist Denis Ten is more or less injured every fall. This summer he had not trained in California at all, but was in Kazakhstan all the time. He withdrew from Skate America four days before the event after travelling to the Ondrej Nepela Memorial in Slovakia in early October in vain and having to cancel this competition after an injury aggravated in practice. US Figure Skating did not invite anybody instead. They are not obliged to do this if a skater withdraws so late, but there would have certainly been some skaters who would have liked to come quickly.


There are five clear medal candidates in the ladies competition: World silver medalist Ashley Wagner is a kind of favorite escpecially as she was quite good at Japan Open three weeks ago. Gracie Gold, fourth in Boston, has the better and more elegant style, but in Japan like often before missed some elements and therefore has hardly ever reached her potential yet. Mao Asada was second at the Finlandia Trophy (behind Kaetlyn Osmond) and did not show a triple axel nor a triple triple combination there, but promised to do it later in the season. Gabrielle Daleman from Canada gave a strong impression at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany.

The two Japanese ladies might also be in a top position. Mai Mihara was the surprise winner of the Nebelhorn Trophy, gaining there 178 points. Kanako Murakami was sixth at the Lombardia Trophy with a "so-so" performance, but she hoped to be in much better shape some weeks later. Serafima Sakhanovich from Russia had an excellent season 2014/2015 with the second place at Junior Worlds, but had puberty problems last season. In her two competitions in Germany and Finland this season, she has not regained her shape from two years ago. Angelina Kuchvalska from Latvia is a strong jumper, but her style is not as good. So Youn Park from South Korea, fourth at the Nebelhorn Trophy, has a good style, but is not always consistent.

Roberta Rodeghiero from Italy, fourth at the Lombardia Trophy, is no medal candidate. Mariah Bell was nominated as third American lady just a week ago when it was announced that Angela Wang still has not recovered from a right ankle injury. Julia Lipnitskaia withdrew from Skate America on Monday before the competition after not having been in very good shape at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial. Here she under-rotated several jumps and an old foot injury got worse. No alternate was nominated.

Ice Dance

World silver medalists Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani are the favorites in the ice dance competition although they are one of very few top skaters who have not done any competition in this season yet. Maybe because they changed their music and choreography in the summer and early fall. The second U.S. team of Madison Hubbell & Donohue Zachary are a candidate for the second place although they were beaten by the young Russians Stepanova & Bukin at the Finlandia Trophy because of lower levels. The Russian team of Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev also has an eye on the silver medal at Skate America, especially after they beat World bronze medalists Madison Chock & Evan Bates at the Nepela Memorial three weeks ago.

The other teams seem to have little medal chances, except of serious mistakes by the top three teams. Israei skaters Isabelle Tobias & Ilia Tkachenko, U.S. dancers Elliana Pogrebinsky & Alex Benoit, Italians Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri as well as the Japanese couple of Kana Muramoto & Chris Reed might fight for the places four to seven. But we will see if Russians Elena Ilinykh & Rusland Zhiganshin, who have trained in Russia again in the last six weeks, have regained their shape from last season. Yura Min & Alexander Gamelin, who skate for South Korea, gave a strong performance at the Nebelhorn Trophy (6th place). They are alternates for their countrymen Kim & Minov who split this summer. The Turkish couple Alisa Agafonova & Alper Ucar hopes not to be last.


The pair competition seems not to have the same high level as the three others. Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov from the Russian school of Nina Mozer were fifth at the World Championships 2016 and are also coached by German world champion Robin Szolkowy. They are kind of favorites after winning the Ondrej Nepela Memorial with the newly learnt quad twist. Hot medal candidates are also the Canadians Julianne Séguin & Charlie Bilodeau who did not compete at the World championships 2016 due to her foot injury, but were eighth at Worlds in 2015 and won the Autumn Classic in Montreal with strong performances and 208 points three weeks ago. Vanessa James & Morgan Ciprès from France train with John Zimmerman in Florida now and were second in Montreal (198 points) and also hope for a medal.

The three U.S. pairs were not too strong up to now and a medal at Skate America would be a surprise. Tarah Kayne & Daniel O‘Shea were fifth in Finland with 158 points after having problems with their jumps and throws. Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier are alternates for Madeline Aaron & Max Settlage who finished their career together in the summer. They were fourth at the Nepela Memorial with 172 points.

Marissa Castelli & Mervin Tran won bronze in Montreal with 173 points. Outsiders for a top position are the second Russian pair of Kristina Astakhova & Alexei Rogonov after being second at the Finlandia Trophy with 169 points.

The Chinese world silver medalists Sui & Han who were originally nominated as top team at Skate America, withdrew in September because Wenjing Sui has not recovered yet from her surgery at both of her feet in May. The Italian pair of Valentina Marchei & Hondrej Hotarek were invited as alternates.