Gracie Gold
AP

U.S. champions hope to end Skate America droughts

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It’s been three years since a U.S. woman won Skate America and six for the men, but Gracie GoldJason Brown and Max Aaron hope to end the drought for home skaters at the U.S.’ biggest annual international event this weekend.

Gold, Brown and Aaron, who all own U.S. titles, each seek their first Skate America crowns in Milwaukee. Short programs for all four disciplines are Friday. The long programs are all Saturday.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air coverage Saturday from 5-6 p.m. ET. NBCSN will air coverage Sunday from 10-11:30 p.m. ET.

Gold, 20, finished third last year, behind Russians Yelena Radionova and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who would go on to be the two most consistent women in the world in 2014-15 and take two places on the World Championships podium.

Gold’s chances in Milwaukee are boosted by the absence of top Russians this year. Yulia Lipnitskaya, the darling of the Sochi Olympic team event who dropped to ninth at last season’s Russian Championships, leads the Russian entries at Skate America.

Like Lipnitskaya, Gold has much to prove.

Though she’s been consistent on the major international championship stage — fourth at the 2014 Olympics and sixth, fifth and fourth at the last three Worlds — Gold relinquished her U.S. title to Ashley Wagner in January.

Then she struggled three weeks ago at the Japan Open team event, a free skate-only competition that’s closer to an exhibition than a Grand Prix like Skate America. Gold was last among a decorated six-skater field.

Another woman in the Skate America field, Japan’s World silver medalist Satoko Miyahara, outscored Gold by 20.14 points in the Japan Open.

If a non-American wins Skate America, it will match the longest U.S. women’s drought in the competition’s history.

MORE: Gracie Gold eyes rebound after crumbling in Japan

The men’s field is arguably deeper, with two of the last three U.S. champions in Brown and Aaron, plus Olympic and World bronze medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan.

But the most anticipated skater is Japan’s Shoma Uno, a 17-year-old making his Grand Prix Series debut. Uno swept the World Junior Championship and Junior Grand Prix Final last season and was second to Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu at Japan’s senior national championships.

Uno then dusted the field at the Japan Open, including World champions Javier Fernandez and Patrick Chan, with a program that included two quadruple jumps earlier this month.

Brown, who won last season’s U.S. Championships and was fourth at Worlds, re-added a quadruple toe loop to his program in winning a small event in Slovakia three weeks ago to open his season.

Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion who just missed the team for the 2014 Olympics and 2015 Worlds, has finished no better than third in his Grand Prix series career.

A win for either Brown or Aaron at Skate America would mark the first Grand Prix title for a U.S. man since Jeremy Abbott claimed the Cup of China in 2011.

If an American does not win for a sixth straight year, it will break the record for longest U.S. men’s drought at Skate America.

The U.S. entries also include defending Skate America ice dance champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who are the reigning World silver medalists.

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Dominik Paris, world champion skier, suffers season-ending injury

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Italian Dominik Paris, the reigning world champion in the super-G, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a training crash Tuesday ahead of this weekend’s speed races in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Paris crashed in super-G training not far from the hallowed World Cup venue, slipping into a curve and damaging his right knee. He also suffered a fibula microfracture, according to the Italian federation.

“My season ends here,” he said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “Unfortunately while I was sliding, the inside ski caught too much and the ligament broke. There is not much to add. In the next few days we will evaluate, together with the medical staff, how to proceed.”

Paris won his third Hahnenkamm downhill title last year and was one of the favorites for Saturday’s downhill, the most prestigious annual race in the sport. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage for “Snow Pass” subscribers at 5:30 a.m. ET.

Paris, 30, won a pair of downhills in Bormio in December among five total podiums this season.

In his absence, Swiss Beat Feuz and German Thomas Dressen lead the podium contenders.

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It’s Nathan Chen’s time at nationals for a feat 32 years in the making

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Nathan Chen can join Brian Boitano in U.S. figure skating history this week, a decade after holding Boitano in the palm of his hands with a program set to music from “Kung Fu Panda.”

Chen seeks a fourth straight national title in Greensboro, N.C. He would be the seventh man to do so since World War II. Five of the previous six won Olympic titles — Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins, David Jenkins, Scott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano from 1985-88.

Boitano remembered the first time he met Chen. He and Kristi Yamaguchi were compelled to leave their seats to find the teeny, tiny wunderkind who performed that program to the 2008 DreamWorks film.

“He was taking off his skates, and he probably came up to our waist,” Boitano said. “We knew when we saw him back then that he was going to be something special. He was really quiet. He’s still very quiet.”

In an interview last week, Chen focused on the present — coming back from a two-week cold or flu bug — rather than the perspective.

“I don’t like to typically think about that,” Chen said when asked about his streak. “It’s just different [from year to year]. It’s not really necessarily easier or harder.”

It is also different from previous eras. The last five men to win four in a row did it all in one Olympic cycle, then stepped away from competition after the Winter Games. That was back when turning professional meant the end of an Olympic career.

“It was kind of the norm back then,” Hamilton said. “After that it was kind of back and forth a lot [until Chen]. The business of skating changed so skaters could stay in a lot more, a lot longer. With all the money they brought in, they were able to prevent skaters from turning professional. So that brought in a different approach to nationals.”

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Both Hamilton and six-time (non-consecutive) U.S. champion Todd Eldredge could think of just one name to compare Chen’s dominance in the history of U.S. men’s skating: Button, who won the first seven national titles after World War II, plus two Olympic golds.

Button earned national and world titles as a Harvard student. Chen is on a two-season win streak while majoring in statistics and data science at Yale. Button was the first skater to land a double Axel and a triple jump of any kind. Chen was the first to land six quads in one free skate.

Eldredge coaches skaters at the same rink where Chen trains when Chen visits his Southern California-based coach Rafael Arutunian. He is awed by watching Chen working out. Though Eldredge owns more national titles, he never felt the massive favorite status that accompanies Chen.

Eldredge competed in the post-Hamilton/Boitano era, when national champions began competing over multiple Olympic cycles. Eldredge ebbed and flowed from his first national title in 1990, when compulsory figures were still around, to 2002, when he defeated Timothy Goebel, then known as the Quad King.

“Physically, the demands of the sport take their toll on your body,” Eldredge said. “It’s hard to maintain that same level for that length of period of time.

“[In] 12 years [since Chen’s first national title], when he’s 29 years old, is he going to be able to continue to sustain that?”

All of the recent top U.S. men competed in multiple Olympic cycles. The last multiple national champion was Jeremy Abbott, who earned two titles each in two different Olympic cycles. Abbott finished his career in a third Olympic cycle, placing fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships. Abbott didn’t remember that Chen made his senior nationals debut that year, finishing eighth at age 15.

“For me, winning the third and the fourth [titles] were harder because I started thinking about winning,” Abbott said. “After the second one, I was heading into a new quad and I was two-time U.S. champion. Then my focus was, oh, I’m expected to win. So that was a harder mental game rather than just focusing on making an Olympic team. The expectation now that I’ve done this twice in a row, I’m expected to win again and again and again.”

Abbott and Chen came up in the era of the points-based judging system instituted in 2004.

“Now with the way the scoring system is very different [from the old 6.0], cumulative points, if you have a bad day as a national champion, that’s it. You can’t get the points,” Eldredge said. “[In previous eras], if a certain skater was, I’ll say politically supposed to be the champion, you got a higher score, and rightfully so in most cases.”

Chen has the benefit of going into competitions knowing the kind of advantage he has in base value points from his jumping arsenal. He won last year’s national title by 58 points. This international season, he is 80 points clear of the next-highest-ranked U.S. man, Jason Brown.

“I don’t think that the try-to-push technique is necessarily my goal here,” at nationals, Chen said. “Hopefully just to maintain my body, maintain my health and try to prepare myself for the second half of the season.”

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As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.