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Skate America: Who to watch

10/23/2014 03:26 EDT | Updated 12/23/2014 05:59 EST
The Grand Prix season gets underway with the Hilton Hhonours Skate America event in Chicago, Friday to Sunday.       

As much as I like the Grand Prix series, what I really like in the post-Olympic season is the opportunity to evaluate the field. Which of the current crop will stay afloat while which freshmen will rise to the top in time for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang Korea?

This year’s trend is for veteran skaters to keep their options open by not announcing their retirement, so skaters like Patrick Chan and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir remain as giant question marks.   Don’t worry though, even with the fan favourites sitting out, there are still great skaters to watch.

Of the events taking place in Chicago, the men’s event has the most star power:

Men to watch

- Nam Nguyen, Canada – I just saw him land a gorgeous quad Salchow in basically a clean free program at the Autumn Challenger event in Barrie last week. What made it cool is that he said he had just landed that jump for the first time just days before.

- Denis Ten, Kazakhstan – The charismatic 2014 Olympic Bronze medallist continues to evolve into one of the most well-rounded skaters with great technical prowess and amazing performance skills. I want to see what he was doing on his summer vacation.

- Jeremy Abbott, USA – Call me old school but I am a fan of Jeremy’s skating. His elegance, creativity and great skill are second to none. His nerves have often gotten in the way of the results that his potential would indicate. Hopefully Chicago will signal a new competitive slate for him.

Pairs

Canadian 2014 junior pairs champions Vanessa Grenier and Maxime Deschamps will be dipping their toes into the Grand Prix pool in Chicago. To say that this is a major accomplishment for a young team is an understatement. 

Here is what Grenier and Deschamps shared with me when they found out about their first ever GP assignment:

Gracie Gold should shine

When the Ladies take the ice, what I want to see is who means business. The two-time Junior world champion, Elena Radionova and team mate ElizavetaTuktamysheva are part of a relentless wave of talented Russian women. American champion Gracie Gold is the one I think will rise to the top although there is an outside chance that Georgian and former European champion EleneGedevanishvili could be in the mix.

American ice dancers look strong

American ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani and 2011 world bronze medallists are looking for a chance to reclaim their international footing in ice dance. They have six Grand Prix medals to their credit and need to take this opportunity at Skate America to break away from the pack if they want to ever get back on top. Fellow American rivals Madison Chock and Evan Bates are looking to do exactly the same thing. 

Russians Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov are back after a year off due to injury. I appreciate the tenacity of this two-time world bronze medallist pair team but honestly feel that their moment may have slipped past them. On the other hand, Chinese pair Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang are standouts. 

In 2013, Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier became the junior world champions. I got the chance to get to know these former roller skating champions in Barrie, Ont., last week. Take a look if you want to get to know them too:

Pj’s Podium Picks

- Men: Denis Ten, Kazakhstan

- Ladies: Gracie Gold, USA

- Pairs: Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang, China

- Dance: MaiaShibutani and Alex Shibutani, USA

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