U.S. Figure Skating Championships men’s preview

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The U.S. Figure Skating Championships include zero men’s singles Olympians for the first time since 1968, providing opportunity for breakthroughs this weekend.

The field is without these skaters:

Jeremy Abbott, two-time Olympian and four-time U.S. champion (taking the season off)
Jason Brown, Sochi Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion (back injury)
Joshua Farris, 2015 U.S. bronze medalist (concussion)

“Hope is bubbling up,” 1998 Olympic champion and NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said. “Every skater is thinking, I have a shot now. … This is going to be the most wide-open men’s event that I’ve seen in a long time.”

Icenetwork.com will stream the short program from St. Paul, Minn., on Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET. NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air the free skate during coverage Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET.

The winner Sunday will earn a place in the World Championships in Boston in two months.

The other two Worlds team spots could go to the silver and bronze medalists, but a U.S. Figure Skating committee will make the final decision. Brown could also petition for a spot on the team, complicating the selection process.

Here’s the full competition and broadcast schedule.

Here’s a look at men’s skaters to watch:

Max Aaron
Age: 23
Hometown: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Credentials: 2013 U.S. champion; 2015 Skate America champion

Aaron is the favorite not only because he is the only past national champion in the field, but also because he won Skate America in October, becoming the first U.S. man since 2011 to take a Grand Prix title. However, Aaron was seventh in the short program in his last Grand Prix skate on Nov. 13, at Trophée Bompard in France before the free skate was canceled due to the Paris attacks.

Lipinski’s Take: “He’s the most prepared we’ve ever seen him. He’s always been athletic. He’s always had the quads, but he’s focusing so much on the artistic side, adding in that grace, which he needed … Skate America blew me away. He’s changed people’s minds with that performance.”

Adam Rippon
Age: 26
Hometown: Los Angeles
Credentials: 2012, ’15 U.S. silver medalist

Rippon, like friend and training partner Ashley Wagner, has questioned his place and future in the sport during ups and downs the last few years. The 2008 and 2009 World junior champion was eighth at the 2014 U.S. Championships but returned to the podium last year, which he described as a “scenic reborn.” He placed fourth in his two Grand Prix skates this season, with a best score 10.32 points shy of Aaron’s total at Skate America.

“When I was younger, I kind of felt the weight of the world,” Rippon said last week. “I came up in a time when it was [2010 Olympians] Johnny [Weir] and Evan [Lysacek] and Jeremy [Abbott]. I felt like the fourth or sometimes fifth wheel. … When Johnny and Evan retired, I kind of felt like it was my chance to push through. I put so much pressure on myself. … When it came down to it, and I was trying to get that Olympic spot, I put all those pressures on myself again.”

Lipinski’s Take: “Adam you can never count out. He has a quad Lutz in his repertoire. Who does a quad Lutz? If he skates clean, Max better watch out.”

Nathan Chen
Age: 16
Hometown: Irvine, Calif.
Credentials: 2014 U.S. junior champion; 2015 Junior Grand Prix Final champion

Chen came to the 2015 U.S. Championships as arguably the most intriguing skater, looking to become the youngest men’s medalist since 1973. He finished eighth but was dealing with back and heel injuries, according to International Figure Skating magazine.

Chen looks healthier this season after winning the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, attempting three quads in his free skate (falling on one and crashing on a triple Axel). Three men in this year’s field finished higher than Chen at last year’s Nationals.

Lipinski’s Take: “He’s still my dark horse. Undefeated all season. He may add four quads into his free skate.”

Ross Miner
Age: 24
Hometown: Boston
Credentials: Three-time U.S. medalist (2011-13)

Miner has finished in the top three at the U.S. Championships more than any other man in the field, but was seventh in 2014 and sixth last year. This season, Miner placed seventh at Skate America but rebounded for bronze at Rostelecom Cup with the second-best total score by a U.S. man this season (trailing only Aaron).

Grant Hochstein
Age: 25
Hometown: Artesia, Calif.
Credentials: Fourth at 2015 NHK Trophy and 2015 Cup of China

Hochstein, like Miner, brings confidence from the Grand Prix series. Before this season, he had one Grand Prix start, a 10th place at 2010 Skate Canada. His best Nationals finish was seventh in 2010, but his fall fourth-place results coupled with the depleted field could set Hochstein up for something special.

Vincent Zhou
Age: 15
Hometown: Palo Alto, Calif.
Credentials: 2013 U.S. junior champion; fourth at 2015 Junior Grand Prix Final

Zhou won national titles at the intermediate, novice and junior levels in 2011, 2012 and 2013 (youngest U.S. men’s junior champion ever) and then missed the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons due partly to injuries. He attempted quad Salchows throughout the Junior Grand Prix season.

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