Nathan Chen, top U.S. women open figure skating season

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Nathan Chen opens his season, while three of the top female contenders for the U.S. Olympic team also compete at the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City starting Thursday.

The lower-level event will stream live on Icenetwork.com for subscribers (all times Eastern):

Pairs short program — Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
Men’s short program — Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
Short dance — Friday, 3:20 p.m.
Women’s short program — Friday, 5 p.m.
Pairs free skate — Friday, 6:50 p.m.
Men’s free skate — Friday, 9 p.m.
Free dance — Saturday, 6:30 p.m.
Women’s free skate — Saturday, 8:30 p.m.

Chen, the 18-year-old who landed a record seven quadruple jumps en route to the U.S. title in January, is the headliner. He is expected to ease into the season, attempting fewer quads on Thursday and Friday in his hometown.

It would be surprising if Chen doesn’t win, even with watered-down programs. The field also includes 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron, who was ninth at last year’s nationals, and Japanese bronze medalist Takahito Mura.

Picking a women’s winner is not as clear-cut.

Three of the top four women from January’s U.S. Championships face off in an early test ahead of the fall Grand Prix series and nationals in January. The U.S. Olympic team (three men, three women, three dance couples, one pair) will be selected by a committee after nationals, taking into account results in the Grand Prix series.

So Karen ChenMariah Bell and Mirai Nagasu have greater incentive to be in strong form this week. An early win against countrywomen could set the tone to make it to PyeongChang.

Chen, the surprise U.S. champion, fell twice in her short program in this event last year and finished third, behind Japanese star Satoko Miyahara and Bell.

Bell is coming off a surprise year where she finished third at nationals. But she struggled with nerves at worlds in the early spring and ended up 12th.

Then there’s Nagasu, the 2010 Olympian who finished fourth at the last two nationals. She has been training a triple Axel and even without it could leap past Chen and Bell this week given her international experience.

An interested onlooker may be Ashley Wagner, the U.S. silver medalist who is expected to make her international season debut next month.

But the favorite this week could be Japanese Marin Honda, a 16-year-old world junior champion making her senior international debut. Honda owns the top personal-best score in the field.

The pairs field includes the top two American couples from last season — Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier.

U.S. bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue lead the ice dance entrants.

Also this weekend, U.S. Olympian Jason Brown takes on world silver medalist Shoma Uno at the Lombardia Trophy in Italy.

Brown finished third at last year’s nationals and seventh at worlds after overcoming a stress fracture in his right fibula. Nathan Chen, Brown, Vincent Zhou and Adam Rippon are the frontrunners for the three Olympic men’s spots.

Lombardia Trophy will also mark the senior international debut of Russian Alina Zagitova, the reigning world junior champion and a training partner of Olympic gold-medal favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva.

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MORE: Five storylines for figure skating season

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier top pairs’ short at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the pairs’ short program in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California. The top three teams from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and ice dancer Madison Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Nationals continue with the rhythm dance and women’s short program later Thursday.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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