Perhaps the most anticipated matchup at Skate America this week - at least for observers of American skating - is in the ladies' event, where the Gracie Gold-Ashley Wagner rivalry continues this week. By my recollection, it's the earliest non-Japan-Open meeting that the two have ever had. But it's not all about these two, though, because you've got three-time World champ Mao Asada looking for her 24th (!!!) career Grand Prix medal.
Note: Julia Lipnitskaia withdrew with an injury today (10/17), no replacement has been named
Skate America predictions
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GOLD Ashley Wagner USA - Coming off a very strong opener at Japan Open three weeks ago, Wagner will step onto Skate America ice as the reigning World silver medalist. She's no stranger to winning this thing, as she did that four years ago. You just get the sense that the World medal marked yet another turning point in her career, and her Japan Open performance showed that she has embraced her position in the skating world rather than recoil from it. That said, the interesting thing to see for Wagner is always her short program - that will set the tone for whether or not she can notch her fifth career Grand Prix win this week.
SILVER Gracie Gold USA - Gold has been trying to do everything to get her brain off of the free skate that took her completely off the podium for a second fourth-place showing in a row at Worlds. There was a long vacation in the off-season, and advertising photoshoots, and lots of non-skating activities to reset her mind. But her Japan Open free skate was just brutal - but a strong short program is what she will need to pull herself out of the funk that she's in. Like Wagner, Gold needs to skate a clean short, but she needs it for different reasons. Getting that competition confidence back under her belt is exactly what she will need to jumpstart her season.
BRONZE Mai Mihara JPN - WHO?? As I alluded to during the first episode of the Ice Talk podcast, Mihara may turn out to be the surprise of the season. Of course, we have just one data point, but it was quite a good one - she won Nebelhorn Trophy over Elizaveta Tuktamysheva a few weeks back in her first senior international competition ever. No easy feat. What you can expect from her is consistent and difficult jumps, but her components will be what keeps her from being competitive for the title. But it's early in the season, and the jumps from the other women may not be in top form yet - and that's what may make Mihara the super surprise of the competition.
4. Mariah Bell USA - We've seen two different Bells this season so far - the one with World team potential who placed second at US Classic and the one with inconsistent jumps who placed third at Ondrej Nepela. If we chalk the second one up to international travel, then there is a lot of upside to her late-entry appearance this week at Skate America. Bell was, of course, the recipient of the third spot after Angela Wang withdrew last week with an ankle injury. She's coming in on the same coaching team as Wagner, so some familiarity in having a training mate compete with you may be a good boost to her confidence.
5. Mao Asada JPN - I'm gonna get oh-so-many side-eyes on this one. And my placement here is less about Asada being down and out and more about her not starting the season particularly strongly - and perhaps intentionally. We saw it at Finlandia, where she did not attempt her trademark triple axel, and her free skate had way too many errors for her to be where many expect her to be. That said, this is Asada's 11th season on the Grand Prix, and it may very well be that she and her team are opting to not peak too early. Two clean triple axel-less programs will get her on the podium, but I'm betting that the best Asada this season will come in a few months.
6. Gabrielle Daleman CAN - Top 10 at Worlds last year for the first time, Daleman finally established herself as a skater who has the potential to compete with the best of the best. When they are on, her jumps have unbelievable amplitude. It's just amazing to watch her launch her toe jumps. But like many before her who had huge jumps, she sometimes can't control the power. That said, she's got an outside shot at the podium this week and could be a surprise.
7. So Youn Park KOR - With strong junior skaters chasing her at home, Park has somewhat regained her footing since her 18th-place finish at Worlds last season. That said, she will need to be clean in both programs to even have a chance to be in the top five.
8. Kanako Murakami JPN - With a sixth-place finish at Lombardia Trophy to start her season, Murakami continues to soldier on with competing despite dispensing with her triple lutz and knowing that her best jumping days seem to be behind her. A strong short program, though, will keep her in contention, and that's what she's known for.
9. Roberta Rodeghiero ITA - The last time Rodeghiero started off a Grand Prix series, she found herself in the surprise third position (at Trophee Bompard) after the short program. She's got the goods to compete this week. Like many others, consistency will be key.
10. Serafima Sakhanovich RUS - When she placed fourth at Russian Nationals four years ago, a lot of people were seeing huge things in her future. But last season was just not there for Sakhanovich, who struggled to keep her difficult technical content consistent. We have seen that again this season already, where she's sometimes really on and sometimes just way off.
11. Angelina Kuchvalska LAT - After a brilliant fourth at Europeans last season, she opened this season with a disappointing 12th place at Ondrej Nepela. She will need to do tons better than that to even have a chance at getting into the conversation this week.