The post-Olympic figure skating season begins in earnest this weekend at Skate America, the first of seven events in the Grand Prix series.
Here’s a look at the men’s and women’s fields in Hoffman Estates, Ill., with analysis from NBC Olympic figure skating analysts Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski. (NBC will have live coverage of the women’s free skate Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET)
Men (short program — Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET; free skate — Saturday, 9:40 p.m.)
Both U.S. Sochi Olympians are in the field — Jason Brown and Jeremy Abbott, who were ninth and 12th at the Olympics, respectively.
Brown, 19, made his Grand Prix debut at Skate America last year and finished fifth, filling in for 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek.
Brown, the youngest U.S. Olympic men’s singles skater since 1976, won his first senior international title at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, in his season debut in September. He did so without a quadruple jump, which he hopes to add to his arsenal once he’s more comfortable with it.
Weir said the quad is important for Brown to grab the reins as a leading man as the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics approach. Lipinski echoed how vital the four-revolution jump is.
“I feel among the judges no one has really taken [Brown] that seriously as a technical threat to other skaters, because the quad is what everyone is looking for,” Lipinski said.
Abbott, who is 10 years older than Brown, planned to retire after the 2013-14 season but felt reinvigorated after finishing fifth at the World Championships in March. The four-time U.S. champion is back for another season, in part, to try to win his first World Championships medal in March.
“I find it very endearing and charming just the way that he’s looking at the rest of his career,” Lipinski said. “He just really wants to do it for himself. I wonder how that will change his performance and how he changes as a competitor with a new outlook.”
Brown and Abbott’s biggest competition at Skate America will come from Sochi Olympic bronze medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan and Japan’s Tatsuki Machida, who won Skate America last year, finished second at the World Championships and fifth at the Olympics.
“My personal favorite of the field is Machida,” Weir said of the 24-year-old. “He is so strong technically. He’s growing as an artist. He really does something interesting every time he’s on the ice.”
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Women (short program — Saturday, 2:30 p.m.; free skate — Sunday, 4 p.m.)
U.S. champion Gracie Gold seeks her first senior international title and a better performance than her third-place effort at Nebelhorn last month. Gold was fourth at the Olympics and fifth at the World Championships, better results than anybody else in this weekend’s Skate America field.
“I know [Gold] had sort of a rough offseason this summer, maybe some growing pains, and just troubles with her consistency,” Lipinski said. “But obviously she is the top American to beat. And coming into this event of Skate America there’s no reason she shouldn’t walk away with the gold.”
The other Americans are 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Samantha Cesario, who was fifth at the 2014 U.S. Championships. But Gold’s biggest threat appears to be Russian Elena Radionova, the two-time reigning World junior champion who was third at Skate America as a 14-year-old last year.
Radionova was too young to compete in Sochi, but she took part in the post-competition exhibition gala. That’s where Lipinski saw her skate live for the first time and nudged Weir, saying this would be the woman to watch moving forward.
“We say that every year there’s a new little Russian, but this one is really, really good,” Lipinski said. “She has this fire, and she’s consistent. And it’s going to be hard, obviously, as she grows into her body. She’s very limby. She has this little deer look with she’s out on the ice.”
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The pairs field includes Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, the only U.S. pair competing this season with Olympics or World Championships experience, and Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Aleksander Smirnov, who were fourth at the 2010 Olympics.
The ice dance field includes Sochi Olympians Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the top U.S. couples with Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White taking the season off.
NBC figure skating broadcast schedule