Nathan Chen, Ashley Wagner
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Nathan Chen, Ashley Wagner headline Skate America; preview, TV schedule

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Nathan ChenAshley Wagner and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani headline Skate America, live on NBC, NBCSN and the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA this weekend.

Chen, Wagner and the Shibutani siblings, all reigning U.S. champions, seek berths in December’s Grand Prix Final, the biggest competition ahead of February’s Olympics.

The competition in Lake Placid, N.Y., is spread across three days.

Skate America broadcast schedule (all times ET)
Friday

Pairs Short — 6:30-7:30 p.m. (Olympic Channel) | SKATE ORDER
Men’s Short — 8-9:30 p.m. (Olympic Channel) | SKATE ORDER

Saturday
Pairs Free — 2-3:30 p.m. (Olympic Channel)
Men’s Free — 4-6 p.m. (NBC)
Short Dance — 7:30-9 p.m. (Olympic Channel) | SKATE ORDER
Women’s Short — 9-11 p.m. (NBCSN) | SKATE ORDER

Sunday
Free Dance — 2-3:30 p.m. (Olympic Channel)
Women’s Free — 4-6 p.m. (NBC)

All broadcasts will stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. The Olympic Channel broadcasts will stream for subscribers on NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app, OlympicChannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Men
Chen, the world’s second-ranked skater this season, will qualify for the Grand Prix Final with a finish of fourth or better. That shouldn’t be a problem.

The 18-year-old won his first two competitions this season, including beating Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu at his Grand Prix opener in Russia last month.

He landed six quadruple jumps between two programs in Russia but has the ability to add one or two more. He’ll face another quad king — China’s Jin Boyang, the world bronze medalist — in Lake Placid.

Both Chen and Jin should qualify for the Grand Prix Final, which takes the top six skaters per discipline from the fall Grand Prix series. The Final will be the single best indicator of Olympic medal favorites of all pre-Olympic competitions.

Chen broke out at last season’s Grand Prix Final, winning the free skate and placing second overall in his debut at the event. As of now, he’s a medal favorite along with Japan’s Shoma Uno, the top-ranked man in the world this season.

Chen’s training partner, Adam Rippon, will join him at the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year with a top-three finish at Skate America. It would mark an incredible comeback for the 28-year-old who was unable to defend his national title last season due to a broken foot.

The Olympic team of three men will be named after the U.S. Championships in January. The selections will be based not only on nationals results, but also on a skater’s body of work over the last two seasons.

Chen has all but wrapped up his first Olympic berth. Rippon can really boost his case with a second Grand Prix Final.

Women
Wagner, who also trains with Chen and Rippon in Southern California, is in must-win mode. Five of the six women’s spots for the Grand Prix Final are spoken for, and it will take a victory for Wagner to pass the clubhouse leader for the last spot.

Wagner has struggled since winning Skate America last season — sixth, seventh and third at her three international events. But this week’s field lacks Olympic medal favorites. It’s wide open.

Surprise world bronze medalist Gabrielle Daleman of Canada was sixth in her first two events this season.

Japanese Satoko Miyahara, the world’s second-best female skater last fall, missed last season’s worlds with a hip injury and then was sixth at her comeback event two weeks ago.

Then there’s Karen Chen, the surprise U.S. champion last season who turned more heads by placing fourth at worlds. She was seventh at her opening Grand Prix last month and is out of the running for the Grand Prix Final.

Another skater to watch is the third American in the field. Bradie Tennell, the top U.S. woman at last season’s junior worlds in seventh place, makes her senior Grand Prix debut.

Tennell actually has the highest score of any U.S. woman this season, 196.70 points at a low-level event in Italy in September. If Tennell can match it this week, she arguably becomes a favorite to make the three-woman Olympic team. She is ineligible for the Grand Prix Final because she didn’t receive two Grand Prix series assignments.

Ice Dance
The Shibutani siblings will make the Grand Prix Final with a finish of fourth or better.

No problem. The Skate America field lacks all of the other Olympic medal contenders from the U.S., Canada and France.

The Shibutanis go into Skate America seeking a repeat title and to reclaim the top spot in the U.S. rankings for the season.

U.S. bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue‘s score of 189.43 at Skate Canada bettered the Shibutanis’ total from Rostelecom Cup by .19 of a point.

Both couples’ scores are more than 10 points shy of the Olympic gold- and silver-medal favorites, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

The U.S. Olympic team of three dance couples will be named after nationals. It would be a complete surprise if the team is anything different than the Shibutanis, Hubbell and Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates.

Those three U.S. couples should make up half of the Grand Prix Final field for a third straight year.

Pairs
Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot and Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are the class of this field.

Savchenko and Massot (a Frenchman attempting to gain German citizenship to compete in the Olympics) will make the Grand Prix Final with a top-two finish. They haven’t been lower than second in any event since the 2016 Worlds.

Duhamel and Radford, the 2015 and 2016 World champions who struggled last season, bounced back to win Skate Canada last month. A podium at Skate America would be enough to reach a seventh straight Grand Prix Final, the longest active streak across all disciplines.

Neither pair has been within 10 points this season of Chinese world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who aren’t competing at Skate America but will be the favorites at the Grand Prix Final.

A competition within the competition at Skate America will happen in U.S. pairs. The first- and fourth-place finishers at from last season’s nationals, plus the top U.S. pair from last season’s worlds, are all in this field.

The U.S. can send only one pair to the Olympics. Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim are in the driver’s seat despite missing last season’s nationals due to her life-threatening abdominal condition.

The Knierims are 10 points clear of any other U.S. pair this season.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who won the national title in the Knierims’ absence, struggled to a seventh-place finish at their opening Grand Prix last month.

Then there are Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay, who make a great story. Bartholomay is on his second partner since splitting with 2014 Olympic teammate Felicia Zhang.

Stellato, 34, is making her first Grand Prix appearance since 2000, when she was a singles skater in her only senior international season before injuries forced retirement.

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Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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