A U.S. champion is in great position to end the home drought at Skate America, but it’s neither Gracie Gold nor Jason Brown.
Max Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion who just missed the Sochi Olympics, cleanly landed all of his jumps, including a quadruple toe loop in combination, to lead after the short program in Milwaukee on Friday.
“I’ve been waiting for it to happen,” Aaron said in a U.S. Figure Skating video. “I just changed my mental game around, my competing around. I want to be back on top. I want to make the World [Championships] team again. I want to be that guy that’s reliable.”
The Olympic team bronze medalists Gold and Brown erred on jumps and were second and eighth, respectively, in the women’s and men’s standings.
NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air the women’s free skate Saturday from 5-6 p.m. ET. The men’s free skate is later Saturday. NBCSN will air coverage Sunday from 10-11:30 p.m. ET.
Aaron scored a personal-best 86.67 points and leads by .14 of a point over China’s Han Yan in the Grand Prix series opener. It’s a step toward a comeback for the 23-year-old former hockey player.
Aaron set himself up to make his first Olympic team by winning the 2013 U.S. title but fell to third at the 2014 U.S. Championships, missing the two-man Sochi team, and fourth at last season’s U.S. Championships, missing the three-man World Championships team.
Now Aaron could notch the biggest international victory of his career and the first Grand Prix title for an American man since 2011. The last U.S. man to win Skate America was Evan Lysacek in 2009.
The pre-competition favorites all faltered in the men’s short program.
Shoma Uno, the World junior champion from Japan, and Denis Ten, the Olympic and World bronze medalist from Kazakhstan, both fell on quadruple toe loops and sit fourth and sixth, respectively.
Brown, the reigning U.S. champion who was fourth at Worlds, singled the second half of a jump combination and is in eighth place.
“I look at it as a learning experience,” Brown said in a U.S. Figure Skating video. “Now I’m going to take it with me.”
Gold doubled a planned triple flip and is 5.53 points behind reigning World junior champion Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia.
“I think maybe I just lost a little bit of my attack,” Gold told media. “Really been working on coming out of the gate strong. I do clean shorts in practice … just a slip-up.”
VIDEOS: Evgenia Medvedeva | Gracie Gold
World silver medalist Satoko Miyahara of Japan was third, followed by U.S. bronze medalist Karen Chen and Yulia Lipnitskaya, the Russian darling of the Sochi Olympic team event.
Gold, 20, and Chen, 16, are trying to become the first U.S. woman to win Skate America since Ashley Wagner in 2012.
The reigning Olympic and World champions on the men’s and women’s sides — Yuzuru Hanyu, Javier Fernandez, Adelina Sotnikova and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva — are not competing at Skate America.
MORE FIGURE SKATING: Full 2015-16 broadcast schedule