Ashley Wagner

Skate America preview: U.S. champions to be tested in Grand Prix opener

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The Grand Prix figure skating season gets underway this weekend in Detroit with Skate America, which features all six reigning U.S. national champions.

Two-time world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White lead the ice dancing field, and Max Aaron and Ashley Wagner will be in medal contention in singles.

While Americans are led by Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir in pairs, the reigning world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov headline the field.

Aaron is the name to watch in men’s singles, which has suffered from two high-profile withdrawals. Last month, Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek pulled out of the event due to a hip injury, and Wednesday, Denis Ten, who won the silver medal at the 2013 World Championships, also withdrew, reportedly due to an illness.

It’s the first Grand Prix event for the 21-year-old Aaron, who was seventh at the World Championships following his national title in Omaha.

“I’m looking forward to skating with the best of them,” Aaron told reporters on a conference call last week. “I want to lay out these programs and compete with the best in the world. There’s no holding back for me.”

Aaron has three quadruple jumps planned for his free skate, as well as two triple axels for the second half of the program as he makes the leap — literally and figuratively — onto the international stage.

While he’s never skated against Lysacek, Aaron will get to compare himself to an Olympic medalist — Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi, who won bronze in Vancouver.

Aaron is joined by fellow Americans Adam Rippon and Jason Brown.

In women’s singles, the two-time reigning national champion Wagner will also face an Olympic medal winner from Japan in Mao Asada. Asada was second to Yuna Kim at the Vancouver Games and could factor in for one of the top three spots in Sochi.

Five-time French medalist Mae Berenice Meite will bring her athletic style to Detroit, and 14-year-old Elena Radionova, the reigning world junior champion, will also be in attendance. (Though, due to age-eligibility rules, she’s not able to compete in Sochi.) Samantha Cesario and Caroline Zhang will join Wagner as Americans in the field.

“I’m looking forward to Skate America to really get started,” said Wagner, who is working on a triple-triple combination for the season. “It helps establish me into another class of figure skaters, the elite of the elite. I want to be a part of that group.”

Davis and White start their Olympic campaign in the city they train. The Michigan natives were silver medalists at the Vancouver Games and are the favorites at Skate America in ice dancing, where Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the gold medalists in 2010, will not be in attendance.

Maia and Alex Shibutani, who also have Michigan ties (they’re both University of Michigan students), will open their season as well after missing the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic last month, where Davis and White were winners.

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy, who were fourth at the World Championships this year, should also factor in ice dance. Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue will also compete.

“We’re really where we want to be at this point in the season and just want to enjoy the process,” said Davis, who noted she and White hadn’t competed in Detroit in over 10 years. “It’s exciting for us to [skate at home] and both of us will have family and friends in the crowd and we want to put on a show for them.”

In pairs, reigning U.S. champs Castelli and Shnapir lead the American effort, which also figures in Caydee Denney and John Coughlin as well as Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay.

Reigning world champions Volosozhar and Trankov will be the favorites in pairs. The duo is Russia’s strongest hope for a gold medal in figure skating come Sochi.

The event gets underway Friday evening, with the men’s and dance competitions. Saturday sees the conclusion of those two events as ladies and pairs begin, both of which will end on Sunday. NBC will broadcast live from Detroit on Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET.

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Shaun White on Torino 2006, Andre Agassi, more

Shaun White
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Shaun White discussed myriad topics at the Forbes Under 30 Summit on Tuesday, including skateboarding at the Olympics and what’s next in snowboarding.

Check out his future Olympic thoughts (and more) here.

There was more from the 28-minute conversation. Here are other noteworthy tidbits from one of the greatest U.S. Winter Olympians:

On becoming a businessman: “The time came where they wanted me to do signature products. I’m thinking, wow, what do I do in this scenario? So I went to my older brother, a really talented artist, really great guy. He helped me with all those things. As you start to develop your own products, and you test them, you send them out there into the world. There’s some kid sitting there looking at this entire rack of clothing or goggles or whatever it is, and he picks your goggles. I mean, there’s something special about that connection to the fan, or to the consumer. For me, that’s when I really thought, wow, I spent so much time sitting here, trying to get this company to think the way that I do, it would be so much easier to cut out that middle man and do my own thing and do my own product lines.”

On the Torino 2006 Olympic title at age 19: “It was heavy. I don’t know. I think everything just changed. It went from me going outside to being kind of recognized, or maybe recognized, to I was going to get spotted. Somebody was going to say something to me. People had won before me, but there was something about the way I could talk to the audience, or my fans. I always felt like the same guy, just extraordinary things kept happening to me through hard work. Something about, I had huge red hair and all these things. So I was recognizable. It really took off for me.”

On White’s owned Air & Style brand versus the X Games or Dew Tour: “I just see us as such a completely different thing. We’re new. It’s fun. It’s fresh. We can be kind of nimble and do different things, where if you’re X Games, you’re embedded in this thing. Your name is extreme games. You’re stuck in this kind of playing field, where I feel like we can kind of dance between genres of art and music and fashion and all the things that kind of represent the sport. It’s kind of like taking an old brand that somebody already knows, and it’s like, ‘Wow, these are mom jeans, I don’t wear these jeans.’ You know what I mean? And then somebody trying to like revamp that company. It’s almost a lot harder to turn the ship around than just build a new one in that sense. At least that’s my take on it.”

White said he learned to play the bright yellow Fender Stratocaster guitar he won as a Winter X Games prize by practicing in hotels and airport lounges, but he kept it a secret from the media at first.

“I didn’t want somebody to like corrupt it in a sense and put me on stage with a guitar trying to do a really terrible cover of Led Zeppelin or something,” he said.

Also Tuesday, White repeated that losing in Sochi was one of the best things that could have happened to him. Video of that response here. He expressed similar sentiments in interviews around this time last year.

And finally, White praised 1996 Olympic tennis gold medalist Andre Agassi. The two are noted friends and have snowboarded together. White said he was inspired by reading Agassi’s autobiography, “Open.”

“He started to win when he really realized that tennis wasn’t his life,” White said. “It was just what he did. It allowed him to kind of go onto the court and leave it on the court. You know what I mean? He would do his match, and he’d be like, you know what, win or lose, I’m going home to my family and the people that care about me and my life. That really struck a chord with me, because that’s how I felt from the get-go. Well, I do snowboarding, but this is who I am, and this is what I’m about. And so for me to play music or for me to design clothing, or fashion, things like that, it’s not out of the wheelhouse for me, because this is who I really am.”

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U.S. women’s gymnastics World Championships team analysis

Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles
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The U.S. women’s gymnastics team that will try to win a fourth straight global title at the World Championships in three weeks in Glasgow, Scotland, is arguably the most accomplished in American history.

It’s the first time a U.S. men’s or women’s team for Worlds has included two past Olympic or World all-around champions — Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas.

It’s the first time a U.S. men’s or women’s team for Worlds has included any past individual Olympic champions — Douglas and Aly Raisman.

Biles, Douglas and Raisman were three of the seven women named to the team by USA Gymnastics following selection camp competition in Texas on Thursday night.

The others are 2014 World Championships team members MyKayla Skinner and Madison Kocian; Brenna Dowell, who traveled to the 2013 Worlds but didn’t compete, and Worlds rookie Maggie Nichols.

One of the seven women must be designated an alternate before Worlds, as nations can use a maximum of six in competition in Glasgow.

The team includes zero women under the age of 18, a first in U.S. gymnastics World Championships history. That hasn’t happened at the Olympics since 1952, according to

The U.S. roster is without Olympic team champions McKayla Maroney, who hasn’t competed since the 2013 Worlds, and Kyla Ross, who announced her withdrawal from Worlds team selection on Oct. 1 without citing a reason. The other member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, Jordyn Wieber, is retired.

At Worlds, the U.S.’ biggest competition will likely come from the other three women’s gymnastics powers — China, Romania and Russia. Russia’s early roster includes three members of its five-woman 2012 Olympic silver medal-winning team, including Viktoria Komova, the Olympic all-around silver medalist.

An interesting competition within the U.S. team could be which two women advance from Oct. 24 qualifying into the Worlds individual all-around final Oct. 29. If more than two U.S. women compete on all four events in qualifying, then the two with the highest overall scores advance to the all-around final.

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Here’s a look at the U.S. team and each gymnast’s credentials:

Simone Biles: The two-time reigning World all-around champion and three-time reigning U.S. champion. The 18-year-old Texan could become the first woman to win three straight World all-around titles. She could also break Alicia Sacramone‘s U.S. record for career Worlds medals. Sacramone earned 10 medals over five Worlds. Biles has nine in her first two, after bagging a U.S. women’s record five medals at a single Worlds in 2014. Biles has won nine straight all-around competitions, with her last defeat coming March 30, 2013.

Gabby Douglas: The Olympic all-around champion will compete at Worlds for the first time since her 2011 debut. She took 31 months off from competition after London 2012, returning in March. She’s finished fourth, second and fifth in three all-around competitions this year, with Biles winning all of those titles.

Aly Raisman: The Olympic floor exercise champion is also at Worlds for the first time since 2011 after taking a 31-month break following London 2012. She’s finished third, fifth and third in three all-arounds this year, all won by Biles. Raisman earned the P&G Championships floor exercise title in August over Biles, the two-time reigning World champion in the event.

Maggie Nichols: The Little Canada, Minn., native whose Twitter handle is @MagsGotSwag12, finished second in the P&G Championships all-around, behind Biles and ahead of Raisman and Douglas. She was third at the 2014 P&G Championships and looked destined for her first Worlds team then until dislocating her left kneecap the following week.

Madison Kocian: She’s the P&G champion on uneven bars, the only apparatus for which she was used in the 2014 World Championships team final. The last American to win an Olympic or Worlds uneven bars title was Nastia Liukin in 2005.

Brenna Dowell: She made the 2013 Worlds team and traveled to Antwerp, Belgium, but was designated the alternate with Biles, Ross and Maroney competing in the all-around in qualifying. At that Worlds (but not this one), a maximum of three women per country could compete per apparatus. She was also an alternate for the 2014 Worlds team and is strongest on uneven bars and floor exercise. Dowell, who is taking a year off from competing for Oklahoma University, is the first U.S. women’s gymnast with NCAA experience to make an Olympic or Worlds team since Sacramone in 2011.

MyKayla Skinner: Skinner finished third on vault and fourth on floor exercise at the 2014 Worlds and then second to Biles in the all-around at the American Cup on March 7. She was second on vault and third on floor at the P&G Championships in August.

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