Japan’s Tatsuki Machida topped both U.S. Olympians in the Skate America short program in Hoffman Estates, Ill., on Friday night. He can become the first repeat men’s champion at the Grand Prix series event in 13 years on Saturday.
Machida, who was fifth at the Sochi Olympics and second at the World Championships in March, landed all of his jumps cleanly — unlike the other leading men — and scored 93.39 points.
The four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott turned out of his triple Axel landing and scored 81.82 points for second place. Abbott, 29, skated with facial hair, wearing a tie and to Sam Smith‘s “Lay Me Down,” accompanied by Smith’s vocal lyrics, allowed under a new rule this season.
Jason Brown fell on his opening triple Axel and scored 79.75 points for third place. Brown, 19, won his first senior international competition in Germany last month after placing ninth at the Sochi Olympics.
Sochi Olympic bronze medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan fell on his opening quadruple jump, and into the Sears Centre boards. He’s in fourth with 77.18 points.
The last man to win two straight Skate America titles was American Tim Goebel in 2000 and 2001. Goebel won Olympic bronze in 2002.
A Japanese man won Skate America seven of the previous nine years. Vancouver Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek was the only American men’s champ in that stretch, in 2009.
Earlier, U.S. Olympians Madison Chock and Evan Bates took the ice dance lead with 68.96 points in the short dance. Sochi teammates Maia and Alex Shibutani were second with 64.14.
The Sochi Olympic ice dance gold and silver medalists — Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir — are taking the season off. The Sochi bronze medalists and fourth-place couple are also not skating together this season.
Chock and Bates and the Shibutani siblings were eighth and ninth, respectively, in Sochi.
Skate America continues Saturday with the pairs short program (1 p.m. ET), women’s short program (2:30), free dance (8) and men’s free skate (9:30).
NBC will air coverage of the women’s free skate Sunday (4-6 ET).