Skating expert Hannah Robbins delivers a summary of Skate America’s figure skating competition and how the rule changes have affected the results.
This weekend’s Skate America opened the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series for senior skaters in Everett, Washington. The Grand Prix Series has skaters compete in two of the six Grand Prix events with their placing in those events determining if they qualify as one of the top six skaters in their discipline, which means a trip to the Grand Prix Finals. Earning third place or lower in their first competition might not count a skater out of the running, but placing high is essential to earning a spot in the Grand Prix Final in December.
As the first major competition of the season, this was a chance to see how skaters have revamped their programs to adapt to the rule changes the International Skating Union made after the 2018 Winter Olympics. The first rule change allows only the last two jumping passes in the second half of the program to receive a 10 percent bonus, making those jumps worth 110 percent of the base value. This is a change from the previous rule, where all jumps after the halfway point receive this bonus, which is referred to as backloading.
If you watched the 2018 Winter Olympics you might remember Alina Zagitova backloading all seven of her jumps in the free program, allowing her to edge out Evgenia Medvedeva for the gold medal.
The other rule change that affected skaters here states that only one quadruple jump is allowed to be repeated in a program, down from two last season. This will mostly affect skaters like Nathan Chen, who was able to complete six quadruple jumps, repeating two quadruple flips and two quadruple toe loop jumps in his free program last season in his World Championships win.
The headliner for the men’s competition was Chen, who is juggling being a freshman at Yale with competing internationally. His only competition was fellow American and Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and Sergei Voronov, the Russian who placed third at Skate America last year.
After a short program full of under-rotated jumps by Zhou (which leads to a reduced base value for those jumps) left him in fifth place and struggles on jumps by Voronov left him in fourth place, the top spots were wide open. This gave Michal Brezina from Czechoslovakia the opportunity to surge to second place even with an invalidated jump. When Chen put a clean program on the ice, even though it was less difficult than past programs, he placed first.
Despite Zhou, Voronov and Brezina’s best efforts, not much changed in the free program. Zhou put the third-best free program on the ice (despite continuing to be plagued by under-rotations), but couldn’t overcome his short program score, finishing fourth. Brezina put a clean program on the ice to end a surprise second, and Voronov’s fourth place free program landed him in third.
After another solid performance from Chen in the free, he solidified his spot in first place, winning by the largest margin in Skate America history, 41.06 points.
The pairs competition was full of few surprises with the silver medalists in the World Championships. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov from Russia finishing first by 25.87 points. The only surprise was the struggles of Olympic bronze medalists in the team competition, Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim who after a fall in the short program ended up in fifth behind fellow Americans Ashley Cain and Timothy Leduc.
Continued struggles by the Knierims and a clean free program by Cain/Leduc led to the Knierims finishing fourth to Cain/Leduc’s third with Russians Alisa Efimova and Alexander Korovin finishing second.
Due to the schedule of the ladies’ free program and ice dance’s free dance, only the ladies short program and ice dance rhythm dance were completed by the time of writing.
Last year’s Skate America was the moment Bradie Tennell, the 20-year-old from Illinois, first came onto the international scene. Her third-place finish after Japanese skaters Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Satamoto, while Karen Chen finished eighth and Ashley Wagner withdrew, was the first hint to her place as the top U.S. qualifier for the 2018 Winter Olympics, but that was not the case on Saturday.
Tennell placed fifth, 12 points off the leader Miyahara after a disastrous first jumping pass where she ended with 2.95 points. This is significantly lower than the 12.57 she earned earlier this season at the Autumn Classic on the same jump combination.
Combine this with poor performances by the fellow Americans Megan Wessenberg and Starr Andrews in their Grand Prix debut, and the Americans look to be in trouble if they want to continue to be competitive on the international stage.
Miyahara and Sakamoto placed first and second respectively in the short program, and they look to be on the cusp of reprising their placing from last year’s Skate America. In ice dance, Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue seem to be on the brink of winning the ice dance competition in a field without competitors that have placed highly in international competition.