Friday’s major events
While the men’s field has been reduced by injuries, the ice dance field is rich with talent as those two disciplines begin competition Friday.
MEN’S SHORT PROGRAM
When: 7:30 p.m.
Defending champion: Jason Brown, who will miss the championships because of a back injury.
The top contenders: 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron, who was bronze medalist in 2014 and won the men’s title at Skate America last fall; two-time U.S. silver medalist Adam Rippon, who won silver at the 2015 Golden Spin; Nathan Chen, the Junior Grand Prix Final champion and fourth-place finisher at the junior world championships last spring; Ross Miner, who has a silver and two bronzes at nationals and was third at Rostelecom Cup last fall
Notable absences: Several of the country’s top men will miss the championships, leaving lots of opportunity for those still standing. Brown is recovering from a back injury, as is 2011 silver medalist Richard Dornbush. Four-time champ Jeremy Abbott is taking the season off. 2015 bronze medalist Joshua Farris is sidelined by a concussion. Aaron and Rippon are the favorites among the top contenders; Aaron has added greater artistry to go with his superb jumps, and Rippon—who won the 2008 U.S. junior title at Xcel—is a popular performer who has rededicated himself to the sport. Chen’s technical excellence could put him on the senior podium at nationals for the first time.
Local guys: The men’s competition includes the only Minnesotans in the senior field, Alex Johnson (Minnetonka) and Daniel Kulenkamp (Mahtomedi).
ICE DANCE, SHORT DANCE
When: 2:30 p.m.
Defending champion: Madison Chock and Evan Bates.
Top contenders: Chock and Bates, silver medalists at the 2015 world championships, come to nationals off an excellent Grand Prix season; they won Skate America and took silver at the Grand Prix Final and Cup of China. 2015 U.S. bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue medaled in both of their Grand Prix events and were sixth at the Grand Prix Final. The Shib Sibs — Maia and Alex Shibutani — also medaled twice on last fall’s Grand Prix circuit, finished fourth at the Grand Prix Final and were runners-up to Chock and Bates at the 2015 nationals.
So much depth: As American ice dancers began racking up medals at the world championships and Olympics, a flood of fresh talent has followed. All three U.S. teams finished in the top 10 at the 2015 worlds and have kept the momentum going through the fall. Chock and Bates have tinkered with their programs throughout the season and said they still have not put out a peak performance. The Shibutanis are charming crowd favorites; their free dance, to Coldplay’s “Fix You,’’ has repeatedly brought audiences to their feet. Even with Alex laid low by food poisoning, they just missed the podium at the Grand Prix Final. With so many closely matched teams, expect a thrilling competition.