Figure Skating·Blog

Skate America kicks off Grand Prix season in 4 special ways

This weekend's Skate America event kicks off the 2015-16 figure skating season — and four key words sum up what to expect in each of the four competition categories.

Youth, drive to be on full display in 2015-16 season opener

Canadian ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier hope to improve upon their sixth-place finish at the 2015 world championships with a strong 2015-16 season start at this weekend's Skate America event in Milwaukee, Wis. (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images)

For an ISU Grand Prix season opener, Skate America's lineup in Milwaukee, Wis., this weekend is a good one.

As with every season, the six-event Grand Prix series is the chance for skaters and fans alike to start sizing up the competition. Ultimately, the top six in each discipline will go to the ISU Grand Prix Final in Barcelona in December.

Looking at the lineups of skaters, four words come to mind for the four categories: Drive, Youth, Unpredictable and Innovation.

Pairs: DRIVE

You want drive? Look no further than Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, of China. The 2015 world silver medallists are pair legends in the making, with three junior world titles already under their belts.

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov (Russia): This dazzling team wasn't able to convert silver medals in Olympics, and European and world championships in 2014 into gold in 2015. They sat out the 2015 worlds to improve their technical elements. Will that risk pay off?

Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau (Canada): A team with an amazing on-ice connection that complements their solid technical elements. This winning combination produced a silver medal at junior worlds and an eighth-place finish at senior worlds in the same 2014/2015 season.

Who will win?: Sui and Han, for staying the course rather than trying to make the leap to champion.

Ladies: YOUTH

Check out these ages:

Satoko Miyahara (Japan), the silver medallist at the 2015 world championships and new Japanese national champion: age 17.

Evgenia Medvedeva (Russia), 2015 junior world champion: age 15. The transition from junior champion to Senior is never an easy one with very few able to duplicate their early success. This is her senior Grand Prix debut.

Julia Lipnitskaia (Russia), 2014 Olympic team gold and world silver: age 17. She set the world on fire in the 2014 Olympics team event but didn't get out of Russia to worlds in 2015. Is this her comeback?

Elizabet Tursynbaeva (Kazakhstan), fourth place at 2015 junior worlds who won the Autumn Classic International last week: age 15. She is competing a lot and gaining valuable senior experience and creating a well-deserved buzz.

Who will win?: American Gracie Gold on the strength of competitive success, maturity and home ice advantage. She is fourth in the world and needs to finally put her inconsistency to rest. (Oh, and she's 20.)

Men: UNPREDICTABLE

To be secure competitively, the men need a quad jump in the short program and two in the free skate. Doing it isn't easy in the glare of the spotlight.

Denis Ten (Kazakhstan): 2015 Four Continents champion and world bronze medallist. He is totally compelling to watch with all of the technical elements in place, but needs to be healthy and prepared.

Jason Brown (USA): Fourth-place finish at the 2015 worlds with outstanding choreography and musical interpretation. He hasn't ever competed successfully with a quad jump and, all things being equal, may be left behind as a result.

Shoma Uno (Japan): 2015 junior world champion. A jumping force to be reckoned with — but will he be intimidated in his senior Grand Prix debut?

Who will win?: Ten, on the strength of superior programs, outstanding skating skills and an accessible style that draws the spectator in.

Ice Dance: INNOVATION

Madison Chock and Evan Bates (USA): What the 2015 world silver medallists occasionally lack in substance they make up for in sizzle.

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (Canada): This team is perfecting the long game. In their three-year plan, they are looking to close the gap both at home and internationally after placing sixth at the 2015 Worlds.

Who will win?: Chock and Bates, thanks to confidence, training and a reputation for great performances in competition.

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