IT'S HERE!!! Our first Grand Prix of the season and my first Grand Prix preview of the season! And I just happen to pick the event that is likely the hardest to predict this week to start us off. The men's field in Chicago this week for Skate America is both deep and completely unwieldy. Every one of the 12 men in this competition have potential to finish in the top half, which just means that so much of this event will hinge on consistency.
Skate America preview
Official hashtag: #SkateAmerica
GOLD Shoma Uno JPN - Defeating Javier Fernandez is no easy feat, but Uno did just that at the free-skate-only Japan Open to start off October. With quad flip in tow, Uno comes into Skate America as the clear favorite, with a slight change in technique on his landings that make his jumps look smoother than ever. It's no longer about whether or not he belongs, it's about how he positions himself to be in the conversation for a podium finish at Worlds next March.
SILVER Boyang Jin CHN - The history-maker from last season is back and looking to show that he's more than just jumps. His team has enlisted Lori Nichol to provide choreography for him this season, and it will be interesting to see how his skating has grown. And of course, it will be interesting to see whether or not he can continue to jump and be consistent like he was last season. The consistency on those quads will be the major X factor for Jin and his podium chances this week.
BRONZE Jason Brown USA - This week's Skate America may very well be a first for Jason Brown - as in the first time he lands a quad in competition. That, of course, has been the major roadblock for him for the past few seasons as he attempts to break into the very top of the skating world. We saw a couple of very smooth quad toes from him during the warmups in his first two competitions. And really, it's just a matter of time, and it's a matter of a mental breakthrough for him.
4. Adam Rippon USA - Coming off a career-best season where he won the US title and finished 6th at Worlds, Rippon is skating with all sorts of confidence. You see it in the way he skates and the way he projects to the audience, the result of the training that has gotten him to not have to worry about the triples as much as he used to and focus on the quads. Two potential bits of unpredictability for him this week, though, will be his free skate and the quad. Rippon just announced that he will be scrapping his earlier free skate and replacing it with a revamped version of his Coldplay exhibition from last season. He also noted that he will be doing the quad toe in the free skate, which he has had success with in the past. Two clean skates can put him on the podium.
5. Sergei Voronov RUS - Left off the World team last season, Voronov is pushing on and trying to return to the form that we saw a couple of seasons ago, when he finished third at the Grand Prix Final. And he started off his season well with a win at Ondrej Nepela, and really, it's going to be the consistent quad toe that is going to keep him afloat this week more than anything else.
6. Daisuke Murakami JPN (WD as of 10/20) - There's something about Murakami and the Grand Prix series - he seems to bring his best at these competitions, even winning one two seasons ago. We saw a decent outing from him at Ondrej Nepela a couple weeks ago, but that quad salchow is going to need to be a lot more *there* for him to challenge for the podium again.
7. Maxim Kovtun RUS - The three-time Russian champ has really given himself the title of short program skater. The past couple of seasons have been an exercise of compounding mistakes in the free skate, which we saw very recently at Finlandia (though not nearly as dramatically as we have seen it in the past). Podium possibility? Yes. The first two jumps in each program will tell you whether or not that'll happen.
8. Denis Ten KAZ (withdrew as of 10/17) - [Disclaimer: I HAVE NO IDEA.] There's rarely anything as unpredictable as Denis Ten in competitions. He was supposed to have started his season at Ondrej Nepela at the beginning of this month, but he withdrew. As decorated as he is in major competitions (Olympic bronze and two World medals), he has medaled only once in 13 appearances on the Grand Prix. To be perfectly honest, if Denis Ten finished first, it wouldn't surprise me; if he finished 12th, it wouldn't surprise me. So there you go.
9. Jorik Hendrickx BEL - The Belgian champ has been making steady strides the past couple of seasons, particularly in his consistency in competition. His silver at Nebelhorn earlier in the season was definitely the biggest international medal of his career, and he is hoping to carry that momentum into his second Skate America.
10. Nam Nguyen CAN - A disastrous Worlds last season led to a coaching change over the summer and perhaps renewed confidence for the former World junior champion. Nguyen was fifth at US Classic in September and looking stronger already since his big tricks abandoned him for the bulk of last season. Skate America will look to be part of the rebuilding for Nguyen - it will definitely be interesting to see where his confidence is this week.
11. Timothy Dolensky USA - Dolensky is stepping it up a notch this season, with the quad sal planned in both his short and his free - and we saw that in his debut at Nebelhorn earlier in the season. His triple axel also looks to be at its all-time best, and so a clean Dolensky can certainly be in the top 6 or 7 here. But it's a matter of whether or not he can get his head around the less difficult elements that he has the tendency to flub in competition.
12. Brendan Kerry AUS - His fourth at US Classic a few weeks back came as a result of his best free skate performance in quite a long time. That said, Kerry has not had a history of great performances at Grand Prix events - and he really could be anywhere from 7th to 12th this week.