With just over 100 days to go until the Olympic Games Beijing 2022, the figure skating season shifts into full throttle with the Grand Prix Series getting underway this weekend (22-24 October 2021) at Skate America.

The first of six stops on the Series ahead of the Grand Prix Final 9-12 December in Osaka, Japan, the American Grand Prix will be held at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas for the third consecutive year, this time with fans permitted. (The 2020 event was held without fans.)

Three-time and reigning world champion Nathan Chen looks to win his third title in said building – and fifth Skate America in a row, dating back to his 2017 win ahead of PyeongChang 2018.

Now 22, Chen is aiming for an individual medal in Beijing come February, having placed fifth four years ago in South Korea.

He’s one of many medal contenders – and hopefuls – set to skate this weekend, including reigning world bronze medallist Alexandra Trusova of Russia (pictured above); her compatriots, pairs teams Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii and Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov; and American ice dance teams Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates; each of which are respective favourites in their disciplines.

MORE: Previewing the Olympic figure skating season | Grand Prix Series schedule

Here, a preview of what to watch for as the skaters take to the ice in a city known for its high stakes – and big rewards.

Men: Nathan Chen eyes historic five-peat

Chen equalled Todd Eldredge (1994-97) with a fourth consecutive Skate America win last year, but no singles skater – man or woman – has won five in a row at the Grand Prix stop. Michelle Kwan has seven wins here, but not consecutively.

“This is a very big season; it’s the Olympic season,” Chen told Olympics.com last month in an exclusive interview. “Of course, [it] only happens once every four years, so all of the skaters are very excited and ready for the season to start.”

“Every competition leading up to the Olympics is a good opportunity to learn and get better so that by the time Olympics happens, [you] can hopefully be at your peak. We’re trying to do the very best we can [to prepare for] the Olympics.”

The men’s field has exceptional depth, including 2018 Olympic silver medallist Uno Shoma of Japan, 2019 world bronze medallist Vincent Zhou of the U.S. and skaters to keep an eye on this season, including Japan’s Sato Shun, Kevin Aymoz of France and Russian Artur Danielian.

Also featured are familiar names Nam Nguyen (Canada), Michal Brezina (Czech Republic), Adam Siao Him Fa (France), Daniel Grassl (Italy) and crowd favourite Jimmy Ma (U.S.).

The men’s short program is set for Friday evening (1800 PT local), following the pairs short.

Women: Trusova favoured in intriguing field

Chen, Uno, Zhou and co. are not the only quadruple jump show in town, with Trusova bringing her stack of quads into Vegas.

The 17-year-old has the highest technical ceiling among the women here, but execution is key in her risk-taking programs. She won at the U.S. International Classic last month in Boston, her opening ISU Challenger event of the year.

Though Trusova is favoured, she’s got heavy competition, including Japan’s Sakamoto Kaori and Miyahara Satoko, both 2018 Olympians. South Korea’s You Young, the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games champion, as well as Kim Yelim will factor into the conversation, as will Trusova’s teenage countrywoman in Daria Usacheva, the 2020 world junior silver medallist.

The Americans are without reigning U.S. champ Bradie Tennell, who withdrew due to a foot injury, so will be led by reigning national silver medallist Amber Glenn, as well as Audrey Shin and Starr Andrews.

Pairs: Russians jockey for early-season win

While the race among the Russian women in singles this season is fierce for just three ROC team spots at Beijing 2022, the domestic pairs competition is nearly as crowded.

2020 European champions Boikova/Kozlovskii looked in prime position to capture their first world title earlier this year, only to falter in the free skate and settle for bronze. They’ll go head-to-head with fellow Russians Tarasova/Morozov, the veterans who just missed the podium at PyeongChang 2018.

While those two teams will likely go 1-2 in Vegas, Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier look to continue their momentum from a strong debut season in 2020-21, while Japan’s Miura Riku and Kihara Ryuichi are coming off an impressive win at Autumn Classic in Montreal last month.

Also to watch: Americans Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, Knierim/Frazier’s training partners, who will be in the race to claim one of two U.S. spots this Olympics.

Ice dance: All-American battle features past two U.S. champs

While the men and pairs will compete Friday-Saturday, it’s the women and ice dancers who will go Saturday-Sunday, and the dance will mark the true start of a season-long back and forth between two former Skate America and U.S. national title-winners in Hubbell/Donohue and Chock/Bates – two teams which train together in Montreal.

Both duos are aiming to finish on the Olympic podium in February, Hubbell/Donohue having placed fourth in 2018 and Chock/Bates ninth. Hubbell/Donohue are the reigning U.S. champs and have three Skate America wins in a row, but Chock/Bates appear healthy and confident after a series of setbacks over the previous two seasons.

Their Montreal training mates in Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen (Canada) and Olivia Smart and Adrian Diaz (Spain) look to round out the top four in dance.

Skate America: What else to know including schedule and how to watch

Skate America is the first of six Grand Prix stops this season as skaters compete to qualify for the Grand Prix Final, which hosts just the six best skaters from each discipline in mid-December 2021.

Skate Canada is to follow, set for 29 & 30 October in Vancouver.

The ISU Grand Prix events can also be key for Olympic team selections. These are done by each nation individually, based on quota spots earned for Beijing 2022. Most teams are named in late December or early January following national championship events prior to the Games. Many governing bodies take into account a skater or team’s “body of work”, especially internationally, meaning each and every event leading up to Beijing carries its own importance.

Schedule of Skate America 2021

You can find the full schedule for Skate America here (all times U.S. Pacific time zone):

Friday, 22 Oct.

1800 Pairs Short Program & Men’s Short Program

Saturday, 23 Oct.

1340 Rhythm Dance & Women’s Short Program

1815 Pairs Free Skate & Men’s Free Skate

Sunday, 24 Oct.

1100 Free Dance & Women’s Free Skate

1830 Exhibition gala

TV tune-in information is here:

For views in the U.S., a full schedule is here. The ISU’s list of international broadcasters is here.

Follow our full coverage of the event on Olympics.com, as well as across social media platforms on @Olympics.

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