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Nathan Chen, Ashley Wagner
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Nathan Chen, Ashley Wagner headline Skate America; preview, TV schedule

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Nathan ChenAshley Wagner and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani headline Skate America, live on NBC, NBCSN and the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA this weekend.

Chen, Wagner and the Shibutani siblings, all reigning U.S. champions, seek berths in December’s Grand Prix Final, the biggest competition ahead of February’s Olympics.

The competition in Lake Placid, N.Y., is spread across three days.

Skate America broadcast schedule (all times ET)
Friday

Pairs Short — 6:30-7:30 p.m. (Olympic Channel)
Men’s Short — 8-9:30 p.m. (Olympic Channel)

Saturday
Pairs Free — 2-3:30 p.m. (Olympic Channel)
Men’s Free — 4-6 p.m. (NBC)
Short Dance — 7:30-9 p.m. (Olympic Channel)
Women’s Short — 9-11 p.m. (NBCSN)

Sunday
Free Dance — 2-3:30 p.m. (Olympic Channel)
Women’s Free — 4-6 p.m. (NBC)

All broadcasts will stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. The Olympic Channel broadcasts will stream for subscribers on NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app, OlympicChannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Men
Chen, the world’s second-ranked skater this season, will qualify for the Grand Prix Final with a finish of fourth or better. That shouldn’t be a problem.

The 18-year-old won his first two competitions this season, including beating Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu at his Grand Prix opener in Russia last month.

He landed six quadruple jumps between two programs in Russia but has the ability to add one or two more. He’ll face another quad king — China’s Jin Boyang, the world bronze medalist — in Lake Placid.

Both Chen and Jin should qualify for the Grand Prix Final, which takes the top six skaters per discipline from the fall Grand Prix series. The Final will be the single best indicator of Olympic medal favorites of all pre-Olympic competitions.

Chen broke out at last season’s Grand Prix Final, winning the free skate and placing second overall in his debut at the event. As of now, he’s a medal favorite along with Japan’s Shoma Uno, the top-ranked man in the world this season.

Chen’s training partner, Adam Rippon, will join him at the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year with a top-three finish at Skate America. It would mark an incredible comeback for the 28-year-old who was unable to defend his national title last season due to a broken foot.

The Olympic team of three men will be named after the U.S. Championships in January. The selections will be based not only on nationals results, but also on a skater’s body of work over the last two seasons.

Chen has all but wrapped up his first Olympic berth. Rippon can really boost his case with a second Grand Prix Final.

Women
Wagner, who also trains with Chen and Rippon in Southern California, is in must-win mode. Five of the six women’s spots for the Grand Prix Final are spoken for, and it will take a victory for Wagner to pass the clubhouse leader for the last spot.

Wagner has struggled since winning Skate America last season — sixth, seventh and third at her three international events. But this week’s field lacks Olympic medal favorites. It’s wide open.

Surprise world bronze medalist Gabrielle Daleman of Canada was sixth in her first two events this season.

Japanese Satoko Miyahara, the world’s second-best female skater last fall, missed last season’s worlds with a hip injury and then was sixth at her comeback event two weeks ago.

Then there’s Karen Chen, the surprise U.S. champion last season who turned more heads by placing fourth at worlds. She was seventh at her opening Grand Prix last month and is out of the running for the Grand Prix Final.

Another skater to watch is the third American in the field. Bradie Tennell, the top U.S. woman at last season’s junior worlds in seventh place, makes her senior Grand Prix debut.

Tennell actually has the highest score of any U.S. woman this season, 196.70 points at a low-level event in Italy in September. If Tennell can match it this week, she arguably becomes a favorite to make the three-woman Olympic team. She is ineligible for the Grand Prix Final because she didn’t receive two Grand Prix series assignments.

Ice Dance
The Shibutani siblings will make the Grand Prix Final with a finish of fourth or better.

No problem. The Skate America field lacks all of the other Olympic medal contenders from the U.S., Canada and France.

The Shibutanis go into Skate America seeking a repeat title and to reclaim the top spot in the U.S. rankings for the season.

U.S. bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue‘s score of 189.43 at Skate Canada bettered the Shibutanis’ total from Rostelecom Cup by .19 of a point.

Both couples’ scores are more than 10 points shy of the Olympic gold- and silver-medal favorites, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

The U.S. Olympic team of three dance couples will be named after nationals. It would be a complete surprise if the team is anything different than the Shibutanis, Hubbell and Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates.

Those three U.S. couples should make up half of the Grand Prix Final field for a third straight year.

Pairs
Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot and Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are the class of this field.

Savchenko and Massot (a Frenchman attempting to gain German citizenship to compete in the Olympics) will make the Grand Prix Final with a top-two finish. They haven’t been lower than second in any event since the 2016 Worlds.

Duhamel and Radford, the 2015 and 2016 World champions who struggled last season, bounced back to win Skate Canada last month. A podium at Skate America would be enough to reach a seventh straight Grand Prix Final, the longest active streak across all disciplines.

Neither pair has been within 10 points this season of Chinese world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who aren’t competing at Skate America but will be the favorites at the Grand Prix Final.

A competition within the competition at Skate America will happen in U.S. pairs. The first- and fourth-place finishers at from last season’s nationals, plus the top U.S. pair from last season’s worlds, are all in this field.

The U.S. can send only one pair to the Olympics. Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim are in the driver’s seat despite missing last season’s nationals due to her life-threatening abdominal condition.

The Knierims are 10 points clear of any other U.S. pair this season.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who won the national title in the Knierims’ absence, struggled to a seventh-place finish at their opening Grand Prix last month.

Then there are Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay, who make a great story. Bartholomay is on his second partner since splitting with 2014 Olympic teammate Felicia Zhang.

Stellato, 34, is making her first Grand Prix appearance since 2000, when she was a singles skater in her only senior international season before injuries forced retirement.

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U.S. Olympic figure skating picture at Grand Prix season midpoint

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Five figure skating storylines at the halfway point of the Grand Prix season …

1. Nathan Chen can win gold, but which men will join him on the U.S. Olympic team?

The 18-year-old wunderkind has the second-highest score of all men among the first three of six Grand Prix events, trailing only world silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan (scroll for full standings). Chen should qualify for December’s six-man Grand Prix Final with a top-three finish at Skate America on Thanksgiving weekend.

Perhaps a bit surprisingly, there’s a great chance for another U.S. man to join Chen at the Grand Prix Final. That’s because Jason Brown and Max Aaron finished second and third, respectively, in their first of two Grand Prix starts.

The Olympic team of three men will be announced after the U.S. Championships in January. A selection committee will choose the skaters based not only on nationals results, but also performances from the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons.

Qualifying for the Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual competition outside of worlds, would be a huge resume booster. So big that a skater could finish outside the top three at nationals and be put on the Olympic team on the merit of that sort of international accomplishment.

Brown or Aaron could make his first Grand Prix Final with another podium finish this week (Brown in Japan) and next (Aaron in France).

Brown, who made the 2014 Olympic team at age 19 and finished ninth in Sochi, struggled with injuries the last two seasons and has not cleanly landed a fully rotated quadruple jump in competition. He makes up for it with artistic marks, which helped him take bronze at nationals (one month after a stress fracture in his right fibula) and seventh at worlds last season.

Aaron was not favored to make the Olympic team coming into this season. He was ninth at last year’s nationals — after being top four each of the previous four years. But Aaron had a personal-best free skate at Cup of China on Saturday, landing three quads, and is now firmly in the Olympic discussion.

U.S. silver medalist Vincent Zhou, who won the world junior title in March, fell three times between two programs at his Grand Prix debut last week. He was still fourth and just 3.03 points behind Aaron.

Then there is Adam Rippon, who joined Chen at last year’s Grand Prix Final. Rippon was then unable to defend his title at nationals (broken foot). Rippon skates at his first Grand Prix in Japan this week, followed by Skate America two weeks later. He could make another Grand Prix Final with two podiums.

2. U.S. women still bunched

None of the top four U.S. women — vying for three Olympic spots — from last season distinguished themselves from the pack in their Grand Prix debuts.

U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell had the highest score of the group, good enough for sixth place at Rostelecom Cup and 15th overall so far this season. Ashley Wagner‘s bronze-medal effort at Skate Canada was actually 4.62 points shy of Bell’s total.

U.S. champion Karen Chen was seventh at Skate Canada, while Mirai Nagasu was ninth at Rostelecom Cup.

Russia and Japan each have four women who rank higher than the best American so far this season, which shows where the power lies in women’s skating.

Could any other Americans step up? Courtney Hicks, whose best nationals finish was fourth in 2013, nearly beat Wagner at Skate Canada in her only Grand Prix assignment.

Then there is Polina Edmunds, the 2014 Olympian who is slated for her first Grand Prix in two years next week in France. She will look to massively improve on a 13th-place finish in a lower-level event a month ago.

The highest-scoring U.S. woman this season has zero Grand Prix experience. That’s Bradie Tennell, who was fourth at a small event in Italy in September. Her Grand Prix debut at Skate America could shake things up.

3. For three U.S. couples, the dance resumes

There is little doubt who will fill the three U.S. Olympic spots in ice dance.

Maia Shibutani and Alex ShibutaniMadison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have been the top three couples at nationals, in some order, each of the last five years (excluding Sochi gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who are not active).

Only once in that span have Hubbell and Donohue beaten the Shibtuanis or Chock and Bates in any competition. Which makes their scores in three separate Grand Prix events this fall so interesting.

Hubbell and Donohue have the highest U.S. score (by .19 over the Shibutanis) after each couple’s opening Grand Prix.

For the remainder of the Grand Prix series, the three U.S. couples are again separated. Hubbell and Donohue go in Japan this week, followed by Chock and Bates in France next week and then the Shibutanis at Skate America.

They’re all in line to qualify for the Grand Prix Final, which would make a great nationals preview.

Meanwhile, the favorites for Olympic gold and silver remain French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who traded world records the last two weeks in separate competitions.

4. Top U.S. pairs team set for Grand Prix return

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim remain the favorites for the one U.S. Olympic pairs spot heading into their first Grand Prix since 2015 this week.

Though the Knierims missed most of last season due to her life-threatening abdominal condition, they came back to place 10th at worlds.

The U.S. champions in their absence, Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, were 20th at worlds and opened their Grand Prix season with their worst result (seventh at Skate Canada) in seven career starts.

5. Canada loses its grip on team event

Pressure is on Patrick Chan to find his form, or Canada may be beaten by Russia again in the Olympic team event.

Chan, the world champion in 2011, 2012 and 2013 who took a year off after silver in Sochi, bombed in the Skate Canada free skate and then pulled out of this week’s Grand Prix in Japan.

Canada is strong in the other disciplines — world champions in ice dance, world silver and bronze medalists in the women’s event and the 2015 and 2016 World champions in pairs. But Chan has been its only reliable man in recent seasons.

This season, Chan ranks 20th in the world. Canada needs him.

Russia, meanwhile, may have finally found its successor to Yevgeny PlushenkoMikhail Kolyada was fourth at 2016 Worlds and then won Cup of China on Saturday.

Kolyada outscoring Chen in both programs of an Olympic team event could completely swing the standings in Russia’s favor.

Russia has the world’s best female skater in Yevgenia Medvedeva (plus the world junior champion), the world bronze medalists in pairs and a respectable ice dance couple in Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev that should place no worse than fourth in the team event.

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Grand Prix Season Top Scores
Men
1. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 301.10 (Skate Canada)
2. Nathan Chen (USA) — 293.79 (Rostelecom Cup)
3. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 290.77 (Rostelecom Cup)
4. Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 279.38 (Cup of China)
5. Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 271.06 (Rostelecom Cup)
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 264.48 (Cup of China)
7. Jason Brown (USA) — 261.14 (Skate Canada)
8. Max Aaron (USA) — 259.69 (Cup of China)
9. Vincent Zhou (USA) — 256.66 (Cup of China)
10. Misha Ge (UZB) — 255.33 (Rostelecom Cup)

Women
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 231.21 (Rostelecom Cup)
2. Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 215.98 (Rostelecom Cup)
3. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 213.88 (Cup of China)
4. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 212.91 (Skate Canada)
5. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 212.52 (Cup of China)
6. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 207.17 (Rostelecom Cup)
7. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 206.82 (Cup of China)
8. Mai Mihara (JPN) — 206.07 (Cup of China)
9. Marin Honda (JPN) — 198.32 (Cup of China)
10. Gabrielle Daleman (CAN) — 196.83 (Cup of China)
15. Mariah Bell (USA) — 188.56 (Rostelecom Cup)
18. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 183.94 (Skate Canada)
19. Courtney Hicks (USA) — 182.57 (Skate Canada)
20. Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 178.25 (Rostelecom Cup)
24. Karen Chen (USA) — 170.40 (Skate Canada)

Ice Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 200.43 (Cup of China)
2. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 199.86 (Skate Canada)
3. Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 190.01 (Skate Canada)
4. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 189.43 (Skate Canada)
5. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 189.24 (Rostelecom Cup)
6. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 184.74 (Rostelecom Cup)
7. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 184.50 (Cup of China)

Pairs
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 231.07 (Cup of China)
2. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 224.25 (Rostelecom Cup)
3. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 222.22 (Skate Canada)
4. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 215.66 (Skate Canada)
5. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 214.37 (Skate Canada)
18. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 172.95 (Skate Canada)

Grand Prix figure skating: Five ice dance couples to watch

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Five ice dance couples to watch this fall as the Grand Prix season starts this week …

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir
Canada
2017 World champions, 2010 Olympic champions
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, Japan

Hoping this season to become the second couple to win multiple Olympic titles. Virtue and Moir took two seasons off after taking silver behind Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White in Sochi (Davis and White won’t defend their Olympic title). They returned last year for one more Olympic run and went undefeated en route to a third world title.

Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron
France
Two-time world champions
Grand Prix Starts: China, France

Went from 13th at the 2014 Worlds to winning in 2015, becoming the youngest world champs in the event in 40 years. Repeated in 2016. Went head-to-head with Virtue and Moir three times last season and were beaten every time. Train with Virtue and Moir in Montreal.

Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani
U.S.
Two-time world medalists
Grand Prix Starts: Russia, U.S.

The siblings were the top U.S. couple the last two seasons — world silver in 2016 and bronze in 2017 — after placing ninth at their first Olympics in Sochi. But they have also been challenged — and outscored at times — by two domestic rivals detailed below. And they have never beaten Virtue and Moir. The Shibutanis don’t have to face any of the other four couples listed here in their two Grand Prix assignments.

Grand Prix Capsules: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance | TV Schedule

Madison Chock/Evan Bates
U.S.
Two-time world medalists
Grand Prix Starts: China, France

Succeeded Davis and White as the top U.S. couple in 2015, grabbing world silver behind the French. But dropped to second behind the Shibutanis (former training partners) at the last two nationals and were seventh at last season’s worlds after Bates’ big mistake on twizzles in the free dance.

Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
U.S.
Top U.S. couple in 2017 Worlds short dance
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, Japan

Generated buzz at worlds by placing third in the short dance behind the favored Canadians and French. They were in line to beat Chock and Bates for the first time in five years and the Shibutanis for the first time ever. But Donohue fell in the free dance (after Hubbell fell at nationals), and they plummeted to ninth. The U.S. has three Olympic ice dance spots available, and the couples listed above are heavy favorites to be the trio named after nationals in January.

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