A number of talented U.S. teenagers will be making their senior debuts at Skate America, which begins today in Everett, Wash. at the Comcast Arena. With plenty of veterans in the mix, it should be a thrilling competition.
The ladies race at the event should be a high-level one. The field is headlined by two-time World bronze medalist Yu-Na Kim of South Korea. Kimmie Meissner, the 2007 U.S. champion and 2006 World champion, will also compete in Everett. She won the Skate America title last year, beating out Japan's Miki Ando for the top spot on the podium. Ando, the 2006 Skate America champion and 2007 World champion, returns for her third Skate America. Reigning World junior champion Rachael Flatt, 16, and reigning U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu, 15, will be competing for the first time at the international senior level.
American Caroline Zhang, 15, the 2008 U.S. pewter medalist, took home the bronze at this event last season. She opens her season at Skate Canada.
“All the Grand Prix events will be tough,” said Flatt who trains in Colorado Springs, Colo. Her primary coach is Tom Zakrajsek whose advice to the young champion is to have confidence in her training. “He tells me I have been training very well and that everything has been going great, so to just skate and have fun,” Flatt said.
Flatt added that despite competing as a senior at the international ranks this season, it was pretty much business as usual this past summer. “The training was very rigorous. That pretty normal,” she said. “It is also nice to have one program that is the same. Last year I had one junior and one senior length (free) program. My mindset is to go there with my new programs and be free and have fun.”
Meanwhile for Meissner, this summer was anything but normal. Last season, Meissner made a late season coaching switch. She left long-time coach Pam Gregory to work with Richard Callahan. The arrangement was temporary but now Meissner has moved from Bel Air, Maryland (where lived with her family) to an apartment in Southern Florida. She trains at the incredible ICE facility, in Coral Springs.
“It was a big change moving to Florida. It really took me awhile to learn to live on my own,” the 2006 World champion said. Her mother originally stayed with her and visits her 19-year-old daughter often.
As far as her coaching change, that has obviously agreed with Meissner, who said Callahan and Todd Eldredge, with whom she also works, have changed her technique. “That has helped me a lot,” said Meissner who slipped to seventh at the 2008 U.S. Championships and was also seventh at last season’s World Championships.
Working on edges has been constant. “We do figures forever,” said Meissner. “I never had to do figure before. I will ask, ‘Can we do jumps now?’”
Meissner was enthusiastic about competing in Washington again where she won her U.S. title in 2007. “It feels great going back,” she said. “They definitely treated us like rock stars. I was excited to perform for them because they were excited to see us perform. They appreciate every thing we do.”
On the men’s side, reigning and two-time U.S. champion Evan Lysacek will look to claim the top spot at Skate America after his silver medal at last year's event. Lysacek also won silver in 2006 at Skate America. The 23-year-old claimed his first national title in Washington in 2007 and is a two-time (2005-06) World bronze medalist.
It will not be an easy climb to the top for Lysacek as he has one rival standing squarely in his way: 2008 World bronze medalist Johnny Weir will be competing at Skate America for the first time. The event also marks he first time Weir (the U.S. champion from 2004-06) and Lysacek have competed against each other since the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Saint Paul, Minn. The star skaters finished that competition with a numerical tie but Lysacek won the gold on the tie-breaker, the free skate.
Reigning U.S. junior and World Junior champion Adam Rippon is making his senior debut in Everett.
In pairs, the front-runners are reigning Grand Prix Final, European and World champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany. They are making their Skate America debut. Russians Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov, the silver medalists at the 2008 European Championships, are also top contenders as are reigning U.S. champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker. This is the second season the 2007 World Junior champions have competed as seniors on the Grand Prix circuit. McLaughlin and Brubaker won silver at both the Cup of China and the NHK Trophy last season.
This is the fourth appearance at Skate America for 2008 U.S. silver medalists Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, who won gold in their last Skate America appearance, in 2006.
Reigning and five-time U.S. ice dance champions and 2006 Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto looking to repeat last year's gold-medal finish at Skate America. They will go against reigning World champions Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France. Five-time British national champions Sinead and John Kerr should be in the mix as are U.S. competitors Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates who won the World junior title season. They’re making their debut at the international level at the event.
Skate America marks the first of six events in six countries, concluding in Goyang City, Republic of Korea, with the Grand Prix Final. Skaters can compete in two of the six events, and the top six point-earners in the four disciplines will earn a spot at the Grand Prix Final.
Athletes will compete for $180,000 at Skate America and more than $1.35 million in prize money throughout the series and the Grand Prix Final.