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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Kristi Yamaguchi tells Nancy Kerrigan to ‘break a leg’ on ‘Dancing with the Stars’

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Kristi Yamaguchi told Nancy Kerrigan to “break a leg” on her “Dancing with the Stars” debut in an innocent good-luck tweet between friends that generated plenty of reaction.

“So excited for you @NancyAKerrigan ! Can’t wait to see you grace that ballroom floor, break a leg! #DWTS,” was posted on Yamaguchi’s account Monday morning.

It generated more than 6,000 likes, 3,000 retweets and 1,000 replies, many referencing the horrible attack on Kerrigan before the 1994 U.S. Championships (where Kerrigan’s knee was bruised, but not broken).

Yamaguchi’s spokeswoman says in a statement that “Kristi loves Nancy” and “no ill will was intended,” according to The Associated Press.

The tweet conjured memories of T-shirts sold leading up to the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics with the words “Harding-Kerrigan” on the front and “Norway ’94, Break a Leg!!!” on the back, reported by major media 23 years ago.

Yamaguchi and Kerrigan shared world championships and Olympic podiums in 1991 and 1992 (Yamaguchi winning both times; Kerrigan with bronze).

They remain friends. Kerrigan said she spoke with Yamaguchi, a past “Dancing with the Stars” winner, about the experience, according to TeamUSA.org.

“I said to Kristi, ‘You’ve seen me at shows, Kris, how demanding is it?’” Kerrigan said, according to the report. “She said it’s very demanding, but you have to do it. She’s like, ‘You’ve been through worse, you have to do it, it’s such a great experience.’”

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VIDEO: Nancy Kerrigan’s first ‘Dancing with the Stars’ waltz

World Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule

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NBC Sports will air coverage of every event at the World Figure Skating Championships starting Wednesday in Helsinki, Finland.

The U.S. could have its best world team in more than a decade, led by 17-year-old phenom Nathan Chen, 2016 World silver medalist Ashley Wagner and the past two world silver medalists in ice dance.

Results in Helsinki are key, given they determine how many entries each nation gets for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

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Chen, the youngest U.S. champion in 51 years, has the highest total score in the world this season, achieved at the most recent top-level event, February’s Four Continents Championships at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea.

He’s a threat to become the first U.S. men’s medalist since Evan Lysacek took gold in 2009. The field is perhaps the deepest of all time, featuring Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain and three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada.

Wagner’s goal is to make the podium against a women’s field that includes Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, trying to become the first woman to repeat as world champion since Michelle Kwan in 2001.

In ice dance, 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada are the favorites in their first worlds appearance since 2013. Two U.S. couples, Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, finished second and third at worlds last season and are again medal contenders in Helsinki.

In pairs, Canada has the two-time reigning world champions in Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, but they were beaten at their last two international events. Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim hope to become the first U.S. pair to finish in the top six since 2011.

All broadcast coverage on NBC and NBCSN will stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Date Time (ET) Program Network
Wednesday, March 29 4:40 a.m. Women’s Short Icenetwork.com*
12 p.m. Women’s Short NBCSN, Streaming
2 p.m. Pairs Short NBCSN, Streaming
Thursday, March 30 6:10 a.m. Men’s Short Icenetwork.com*
11 a.m. Men’s Short NBCSN, Streaming
1 p.m. Pairs Free NBCSN, Streaming
Friday, March 31 5 a.m. Short Dance Icenetwork.com*
1 p.m. Women’s Free NBCSN, Streaming
8 p.m. Short Dance NBCSN, Streaming
Saturday, April 1 4:50 a.m. Men’s Free Icenetwork.com*
10:35 a.m. Free Dance Icenetwork.com*
12:30 p.m. Men’s Free NBCSN, Streaming
2:30 p.m. Free Dance NBCSN, Streaming
8 p.m. Women’s Free NBC, Streaming
Sunday, April 2 2 p.m. Exhibition Gala NBCSN, Streaming
Sunday, April 9 3 p.m. Recap NBC, Streaming

*For Icenetwork.com subscribers.