U.S. Figure Skating Championships men’s preview

Jason Brown, Jeremy Abbott, Max Aaron, Joshua Farris
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For the first time since 2011, the men will compete at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships for three spots at the World Championships, rather than two.

Any mix of veteran national champions, Olympians a 15-year-old newcomer or a resurgent former World junior champion can claim the berths this weekend.

Icenetwork.com will stream the short program from Greensboro, N.C., on Friday at 8:15 p.m. ET. NBC will air the free skate during coverage Sunday beginning at 4 p.m.

Here’s the start order. Here’s the full competition schedule.

Here’s a look at men’s skaters to watch, with takes from NBC figure skating analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir.

Jeremy Abbott
Age: 29
Hometown: Royal Oak, Mich.
Credentials: U.S. champion in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014; 12th at 2014 Olympics; fifth at 2014 World Championships

Only one man in the last 60 years won more than five national titles — Todd Eldredge with six*. Abbott can break his tie with Scott Hamilton and Brian Boitano if he can take No. 5 this week. Abbott is the defending champion, but last year’s runner-up, Jason Brown, outscored Abbott at both the Sochi Olympics and at Skate America in October. Abbott will be skating two weeks after the death of his father, who had been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.

Lipinski’s Take: “The biggest problem for Jeremy is the mental outlook. When I watch him skate, I get nervous.”

Jason Brown
Age: 20
Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Credentials: 2014 U.S. silver medalist; ninth at 2014 Olympics

The clear favorite. Brown’s two Grand Prix series totals (235.56, 234.17) were both higher than any other U.S. man’s performance over the six events. No other U.S. man scored more than 230 points in both of their events. Brown can win the title without a quadruple jump in his arsenal. If he does, he will become the youngest U.S. men’s champion since Johnny Weir won the first of three straight titles in 2004.

Weir’s Take: “I think that Jason Brown has it all, aside from the quad. … He spins amazingly. He skates intricate, beautiful performances. He’s got to land the jumps. I think if he does that, he’ll probably be our gold medalist.”

Jason Brown sets modest goal as U.S. Championships favorite

Max Aaron
Age: 22
Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Credentials: 2013 U.S. champion; 2014 U.S. bronze medalist; eighth at 2014 World Championships

Aaron stunned in 2013, winning the national title after finishing eighth the year before. He must have been disappointed to not make it to Sochi, but he rebounded by teaming with Abbott at March’s World Championships to earn the U.S. three spots at this year’s Worlds. Aaron had the best U.S. finish in the Grand Prix series other than Brown.

U.S. Figure Skating Championships women’s preview

Joshua Farris
Age: 20
Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Credentials: Fourth at 2013, 2014 U.S. Championships; 2013 World junior champion

Farris has yet to translate his World junior title into senior success. He withdrew from Cup of China in November with an ankle injury. He returned later in the month at NHK Trophy and finished 11th with falls and popped jumps in both programs. He must clean up his programs mightily to come close to the podium.

Nathan Chen
Age: 15
Hometown: Irvine, Calif.
Credentials: 2014 U.S. junior champion; 2014 World junior bronze medalist

Chen dismissed predictions he could make the podium in Greensboro by saying he’s “here for the experience.” But the hype remains. Chen plans up to three quads in his free skate alone but now has a reported heel injury to conquer as well. Chen can become the youngest man to win a nationals medal since 1973.

Lipinski’s Take: “He’s a little fireball. He’s my dark horse. If you’re looking on paper, no, it doesn’t look like he should be on the podium. But what he has planned, if you see him skate, he’s pretty consistent and the technical goods are there.”

Stephen Carriere
Age: 25
Hometown: Boston
Credentials: Fourth at 2014 Skate Canada; 10th at 2008 World Championships; 2007 World Junior champion

Carriere is definitely in the mix, despite finishing 10th at the last two U.S. Championships. His total score at Skate Canada was only lower than Brown and Aaron in the Grand Prix series, though he tumbled to ninth at Rostelecom Cup. Carriere was the U.S. bronze medalist at age 18 in 2008, behind Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir and ahead of Abbott. He hasn’t been better than sixth at nationals since.

Richard Dornbush
Age: 23
Hometown: Corona, Calif.
Credentials: Fifth at 2014 U.S. Championships; Third at 2014 Cup of China

Dornbush will repeat his fifth-place finish from last year if all U.S. men repeat their best Grand Prix series scores. Remember though, Dornbush placed second in the short program at the U.S. Championships last year. He was poised to make the U.S. Olympic team before tumbling with the eighth-best free skate.

Adam Rippon
Age: 25
Hometown: Los Angeles
Credentials: 2012 U.S. silver medalist; 2008, 2009 World junior champion

Rippon posted the worst Grand Prix series placements (fifth and 10th) in his seven-year career. But his fifth at Trophee Bompard, his more recent skate, was just six points off the third-best U.S. man in the Grand Prix season. He’s not out of the medal picture.

Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir’s predictions for U.S. Championships

*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that no man had won more than five national titles since Dick Button.

World Athletics Athletes of the Year: Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, Mondo Duplantis

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Mondo Duplantis were named World Athletics Athletes of the Year after world record-breaking performances in 2022.

McLaughlin-Levrone, who lowered her 400m hurdles world record twice this year, won the award for the first time. She became the first American to win Athlete of the Year since fellow 400m hurdler Dalilah Muhammad in 2019.

“I would describe 2022 for myself by just saying incredible,” McLaughlin-Levrone said. “Everything that we aimed to do we were able to accomplish.”

The other finalists were Nigeria’s Tobi Amusan, who broke the 100m hurdles world record en route to the world title; Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who won her fifth world 100m title; Peru’s Kimberly Garcia, who swept the 20km and 35km race walk world titles, and Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas, who broke her own triple jump world record and swept the indoor and outdoor world titles.

McLaughlin-Levrone has said she wants to add the flat 400m to her program in the coming years. She has never run that event at a senior championship meet, but showed her flat potential in the 4x400m relay at worlds in July. Her split — 47.91 seconds — made her the seventh-fastest relay performer in history and second-fastest in the last 33 years behind Allyson Felix.

At next summer’s world championships, the women’s 400m hurdles first round heats start 2 hours and 20 minutes before the women’s 400m semifinals. Top-level pros rarely race multiple times in one session in a distance longer than 200 meters at any meet.

Duplantis, the Louisiana-raised Swede, won the men’s award for the second time in three years. He upped his pole vault world record three times in 2022 and swept the world indoor and outdoor and Diamond League titles in the event.

“It’s probably been by far the best year that I’ve ever had,” Duplantis said.

The other men’s finalists were Moroccan steeplechaser Soufiane El Bakkali, who went undefeated in 2022; Norwegian runner Jakob Ingebrigtsen, the world outdoor 5000m champion who ran the world’s fastest mile in 21 years; Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own marathon world record by 30 seconds, and American Noah Lyles, who broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old national record in the 200m.

Duplantis will likely try to continue upping his world record one centimeter at a time like Ukraine legend Sergey Bubka did on an almost annual basis from 1984 through 1994. Duplantis’ current record is 6.21 meters. The next significant milestone is 6.25 meters, or 20 feet, 6 inches.

“We’ll so how high, but I want to push it higher than people think is even possible,” he said.

Erriyon Knighton became the first athlete to twice win the Rising Star award, given to the top U20 track and field athlete.

Knighton, 18, took 200m bronze at the world championships on July 21 in Eugene, Oregon, becoming the youngest individual sprint medalist in championships history. He was part of a U.S. medals sweep with Lyles and Kenny Bednarek.

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A wild Grand Prix Final has a quadruple Axel, the Brits and a figure skating tale for the ages

Ilia Malinin
Getty
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The world’s best figure skaters gather for the first time this season at this week’s Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy. The Who’s Who is a very different group than from February’s Olympics, as expected, with the fall Grand Prix Series also producing some unpredictable stories.

Of the 18 skaters who won Olympic medals outside of the team event, just two of them competed internationally this fall. As was known before the season, all Russians are banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine. China’s top skaters didn’t enter the Grand Prix Series. Nathan Chen and the French ice dance couple of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are on indefinite, possibly permanent breaks after winning long-awaited golds.

It is time for new stars to emerge. That happened. American Ilia Malinin, last year’s world junior champion at age 17, became the first skater to land a quadruple Axel in competition in September. Then he did it again in October, and again in November.

It is time for new stories to emerge. The Grand Prix Final is the most exclusive event in figure skating — taking the top six per discipline from the Grand Prix Series — since it was introduced in 1996. This year, Belgium and Great Britain qualified skaters for the first time in more than a decade. Japanese men who were seventh and eighth at their national championships last season are in the field. As is a 39-year-old pairs’ skater from Canada who competed against Michelle Kwan in the 6.0 scoring era.

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Broadcast Schedule

The U.S. qualified skaters into the Final in every discipline for the first time in 15 years. The team is led statistically by Malinin, the world No. 1 bidding to be the second-youngest man to win a Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko.

Malinin, whose mom won the 1999 Grand Prix Final, is one half of the most anticipated head-to-head showdown this week. He takes on Japan’s Shoma Uno for the first time since the world championships in March, when Uno won and Malinin placed ninth in his debut on that stage. This season, Malinin and Uno each won their two separate Grand Prix starts, with Malinin having the best total score by a scant 61 hundredths of a point.

NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir called Malinin the favorite for the Final and for March’s worlds (which could include Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama of Japan, who has been sidelined this fall due to leg and ankle injuries). But Weir also said that if Malinin and Uno skate clean this week, the 24-year-old Uno has the advantage.

“He’s had the longevity. He’s had the time in front of these top judges. And artistically, he’s so excellent,” Weir said.

The world’s highest-scoring women’s singles skater this season will compete at the Final, but in the junior division. Japan’s Mao Shimada won both of her junior Grand Prix starts. She is 14 years old, and with the age limit being raised in coming seasons will not be old enough for the next Olympics in 2026 (reminiscent of countrywoman Mao Asada, who was too young the last time Italy hosted the Winter Games in 2006).

Without Shimada, and without the Russians who dominated recent seasons, the women’s field is the most closely bunched at the Final. Mai Mihara, who missed the Olympics after placing fourth at Japan’s Nationals last December, was the lone woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this fall. Kaori Sakamoto, last season’s world champion in the Russians’ absence, has the top score this season among senior women (and a shout out from Janet Jackson). But the six skaters at the Final are separated by just 4.47 points in best scores this fall.

American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, is the youngest woman in the field by four years. NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said that Levito has a total package of jumps, artistry and competitive fire not seen in U.S. skating in many years. Levito, who has made short films, including “The Pickle Murder,” is reminiscent of Sasha Cohen, the last U.S. women’s singles skater to win an Olympic medal in 2006.

“There’s never a hand, finger, hair out of place when it comes to Isabeau’s skating,” Lipinski said. “Looking back at my first year as a senior, I was terrified. I looked like a junior coming up to the senior ranks. Isabeau, she’s gone past that phase.”

Pairs’ skating saw the highest turnover. The top five teams at the Olympics were Russian and Chinese, and none have competed internationally since. Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier took advantage at March’s worlds, becoming the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Knierim and Frazier won both of their Grand Prix starts this fall, but were flawed. Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who took silver at worlds, averaged 10 more points in their separate Grand Prix victories.

“Comparing people based on the scores that they accrue in different competitions is a nice way to see how people are faring in front of international panels, but it’s not a direct comparison between the two at all,” Weir said. “They’re very evenly matched.”

But the coolest story in pairs, and arguably in all of figure skating, is 39-year-old Canadian Deanna Stellato-Dudek. With partner Maxime Deschamps, she became the oldest Grand Prix podium finisher in October and the oldest champion in November. Stellato-Dudek, the 2000 World junior silver medalist in singles from Chicagoland, retired from figure skating in 2001 due to injuries, then came back in 2016 in pairs and switched nationality.

Weir recently came across photos of him with Stellato-Dudek when they competed at the same junior Grand Prix event in Norway in 1999.

“I’m pretty sure she was skating when I was skating, so that is a crazy feat in itself,” said Lipinski, whose last competition was winning the 1998 Olympics.

Ice dance, usually the most predictable of the four disciplines, sprung surprises this fall. Three-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates were the top returning couple based on results from last season’s Olympics and worlds, but the Americans rank outside the top three this fall by results and best total score.

Still, 2006 Olympic silver medalist Ben Agosto said they’re looking better than ever, having improved from their first Grand Prix to their second Grand Prix.

“The challenge for them is they’ve been so good for so long that they don’t want to get stale,” Agosto said of a couple that’s in their 12th season together. “They don’t want people to start to think, well, you know, two seasons ago was better than this, or five seasons ago was better than this. They want to always be reinventing, but then also capitalizing on their biggest strengths.”

Canadian veterans Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, ranked third among returning couples going into the fall, won both of their Grand Prix starts with the world’s top two scores across all events. Agosto believes that the field is closer than the point totals suggest and that some couples have been underscored, including Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who qualified into the Final in the sixth and last spot.

Agosto said that Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson, Great Britain’s first Grand Prix Final qualifiers since 2009, can “blow the roof off” with their Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez rhythm dance and Lady Gaga free dance.

“You can just feel the the intensity that everyone is bringing after their Olympic experience and coming back and feeling rejuvenated and maybe feeling the adrenaline effect of having a little bit more of an opportunity because Papadakis and Cizeron are not there, because the Russians are not there,” Agosto said. “I’ve really seen across the board this group stepping up from last season, so I don’t think that it would just be a clear OK, well, if those other teams were in the game this year, they would, by default, be on top.”

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