World champ Chen seeks third straight Skate America crown

Los Angeles (AFP) –


Two-time reigning world champion Nathan Chen goes for a third consecutive Skate America title when the opening event of the International Skating Union Grand Prix season begins Friday.

Las Vegas will play host to the event for the first time, with 20-year-old American Chen, a three-time US champion and two-time Grand Prix Final winner, favored for the men's crown.

"All the skaters prioritize the Grand Prix season," Chen said. "It's the start of the regular season. It's a chance to continue to learn, grow and put our best programs out there."

Chen figures to be tested by two-time world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China, who turned 22 just two weeks ago.

For many skaters, it will mark the competitive unveiling of new routines and the start of a campaign that culminates with next year's world championships in Montreal from March 18-21.

The six-event Grand Prix tour will also stop in Canada, France, China, Russia and Japan ahead of the Grand Prix Final in December in Turin, Italy.

Former US champion Jason Brown is coming back after a concussion suffered in a car accident in late August. He was forced to sit out for several weeks and battled headaches when he practiced spins at his home in Toronto.

"I'm going to be doing 80 percent of, hopefully, the finished program," Brown told figure skating podcast Ice Talk. "I feel good. I'm healthy."

Chen, a sophomore at Yale University, is trying to extend an unbeaten streak from the 2018 worlds after a fifth-place showing at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. He will show his new "Rocketman" free skate and "La Boeheme" short program.

In addition to Jin and Brown, Chen will be tested by Czech Michal Brezina -- last year's runner-up,as well as South Korea's Cha Jun-hwan and Canada's Keegan Messing.

Japan's Kaori Sakamoto, the 2017 and 2018 Skate America runner-up, and American Bradie Tennell, third at the 2017 Skate America, are among the women's favorites in a field that also includes Russian 15-year-old Anna Shcherbakova, her compatriot Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and South Korean Lim Eun-soo.

China's Peng Cheng and Jin Yang will be among the pairs contenders in a field that features Russia's Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin, reigning US champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc plus two-time Skate America medalists Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier.

Defending champion Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, third in this year's worlds, will compete on home ice but will be tested by Russia's Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, who were just behind them in fourth at worlds.