“The Inside Edge” is a column by Faith Bonds about figure skating.
The first Grand Prix competition of the year promises drama, great skating and a potential outlook on the 2019–20 season. The packed Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. will host Olympians, national champions and newcomers to international competition. Gladly, I’ll be there live in Sin City to take in all the action.
There will be equal focus on new programs and costumes as well as on technical innovation. This outing sets the stage for many international skaters’ upcoming competitions, establishing who the judges think can reign over the season. Of course, I’ve put plenty of thought into who might claim those top spots.
Here’s what to look for this weekend at Skate America.
The ladies event here looks to be nothing short of a bloodbath. With three competitors from each of skating’s powerhouse countries—Japan and Russia—as well as young talent from the US, Kazakhstan, Korea and Canada, greatness defines the ladies schedule.
The storyline to pay attention to comes from a Russian rivalry: 15-year-old Anna Scherbakova beat 2015 World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva at the Lombardia Trophy last month, and Skate America will serve as a rematch for these two dominant skaters. Each has the technical firepower to win; Scherbakova is the first woman to land a quad lutz (the most difficult jump in skating at this time) in senior competition, while Tuktamysheva plans three triple axels in her arsenal. Clean jumps, levels (awarded difficulty) on spins and footwork and grades of execution (GOE) will define who takes the title home to Russia.
There are several other ladies fighting for a spot on the podium. Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, who’s skated beautifully to second place in 2017 and 2018 at this event, remains a threat to the top two Russians. With choreography from Shae-Lynn Bourne in the short program and Benoît Richaud in the free, I expect high presentation marks from this skater.
Elizabet Tursynbaeva from Kazakhstan, who trains under Eteri Tutberidze (also Scherbakova’s coach) in Moscow, could put up big numbers as well. Though her artistry isn’t as developed, this 19-year-old is a major technical competitor. If she executes a quad salchow as planned and follows it up with her stunning spins and clean triple jumps, she could find herself in medal contention. Tutberidze is used to training skaters who sweep podiums, and Tursynbaeva’s success would bring a welcome continuation to that trend.
The only American with a chance to bring home hardware in this event is Bradie Tennell. The reigning national silver medalist brings consistency and solid technical content to the table, but her programs lack the flair required for top results at the international level. She’s in the wings in case the major contenders falter, which proves crucial in such an unpredictable sport as skating. Look for her to provide a nice, but simple, performance.
An honorable mention goes to 16-year-old Korean skater Eunsoo Lim. Though her consistency in competition still has far to go, Lim’s divine skating style is nearly unparalleled on the international circuit. Last year’s “Chicago” free skate provided a breath of fresh air in the skating community, and I look forward to seeing her new programs in person.
Gold: Anna Scherbakova (RUS)
Silver: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS)
Bronze: Kaori Sakamoto (JPN)
The men’s competition will basically be Nathan Chen against everyone else. The 20-year-old American hasn’t lost a competition since the 2018 Olympics, and his new Elton John free skate is sure to turn heads in Vegas. Though we’re not quite sure how much firepower the Quad King plans to bring, we can bet pretty safely on his gold medal here.
The battle for silver will be between beauty and brawn. This weekend, Jason Brown will finally debut his much anticipated “Schindler’s List” program. Though many skaters before him have used this music, teasers from Instagram promise a unique, meaningful interpretation. Brown lacks the technical capabilities—namely quads—to keep pace with the top skaters in the world, but his high-quality skating and perfectly executed elements melt audiences and judges alike.
Boyang Jin’s skating has the opposite effect. The Chinese athlete’s massive jumps merit insane scores, and one can't help but gasp every time he lands. Whereas Brown’s skating allows the spectator to sit back and enjoy the performance, Jin’s programs keep us on the edge of our seats. His placement will depend on how many technical feats he can pull off between the short and long programs.
What remains is a mixed bag.
Korean Junhwan Cha, student of former Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, could put up a medal-worthy performance. His tango-themed short program features captivating choreography and two planned quads, making him a threat if other skaters fall short.
American Alexei Krasnozhan gave a formidable performance at the US Figure Skating Classic in September, featuring a quad loop and two triple axels. Though these teenagers don’t pose much of a threat to the top contenders, their performances here could set them up for promising international seasons.
My honorable mention in this event goes to Dmitri Aliev from Russia. Much like Eunsoo Lim, this skater can never quite seem to put all the pieces together, but he always gives us beautiful extension and musicality. Seeing his programs will be one of the highlights of my weekend.
Gold: Nathan Chen (USA)
Silver: Boyang Jin (CHN)
Bronze: Jason Brown (USA)
Gold: Zabiiako/Enbert (RUS)
Silver: Peng/Jin (CHN)
Bronze: Cain/LeDuc (USA)
Honorable Mention: Denney/Frazier (USA)
Gold: Hubbell/Donohue (USA)
Silver: Stepanova/Bukin (RUS)
Bronze: Zagorski/Guerrero (RUS)
Honorable Mention: Smart/Diaz (ESP)
Regardless of the outcome, I'm excited to see how the skaters and their new programs stack up at Skate America. In the Entertainment Capital of the World, this event is sure to bring excitement and drama all weekend long.
“The Inside Edge” runs every Wednesday.