Max Aaron became the first U.S. man to win Skate America in six years, when he struck gold Saturday night in Milwaukee with a total score of 258.95 to close out the first event of the 2015 Grand Prix of Figure Skating series. 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek last won Skate America for the host nation in 2009, when it was held in Lake Placid, New York.
It also marked the first time a U.S. man won a grand prix event in four years. Two-time Olympian Jeremy Abbott won the 2011 Cup of China. Since then, the top spot on the podium has been dominated by the Japanese men, with occasional appearances from Canada’s Patrick Chan, Spain’s Javier Fernandez, Russia’s Maxim Kovtun and China’s Han Yan.
“This win is amazing,” Aaron said after his free skate. “It’s my first big win in a while. I’m not going to think about it a lot. I want this to be the start of a lot of things. I wish I could enjoy it a lot more than I can, but I hope this is the first of many. I can’t wait to see where I can go in the future.”
Aaron’s win was both a resurgence for U.S. men on the grand prix stage and for Aaron himself. He was a favorite to make the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team after his surprise win at the 2013 U.S. championships, but Aaron just missed the two-person men’s team, finishing third at the 2014 U.S. championships.
Since 2013, he’s failed to live up to the expectations that came with his big win, finishing fourth at last year’s nationals and earning two grand prix bronze medals in the past two seasons. His only wins have come at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, a B-level event.
“I felt like I got lost along the way after feeling the pressure of being under the lights and representing my country at a world level,” Aaron said after his short program, where he scored 86.67 and led the field. “I feel like now I’m getting back to myself and wrapping my head around that. I’m learning how to up my mental game, up my components. I want to become a different skater. I want to be one that’s reliable and one who can win some medals for the U.S.”
Joining 23-year-old Aaron on the podium was reigning U.S. champion Jason Brown, who took bronze with 238.47 behind Japan’s Shoma Uno with 257.43.
Brown rebounded from an eighth-place finish in the short program after popping a triple toe loop into a single.
“I look at it as a learning experience, OK that happened, and it’s early on in the season and now I’m going to take it with me and grow from it,” Brown said.
Ross Miner finished seventh in the 12-man field.
Also taking home a win for Team USA Saturday night was the ice dance team of Madison Chock and Evan Bates. It marked the seventh consecutive Skate America win for U.S. ice dance teams and the 11th in 13 years. Five of those victories were from 2006 Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, four from 2014 Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White and now two from reigning world silver medalists Chock and Bates.
With a score of 173.22, Chock and Bates finished 11.01 points ahead of silver medalists Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia and 15.64 ahead of Canada’s Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier.
Two U.S. ice dance teams rounded out the top five: 2014 junior world champions Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, and Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus.
Earlier in the day, the U.S. won silver medals in pairs and ladies.
Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim were in first after Friday’s short program, with a shot at being the first U.S. pairs team to win grand prix gold in nine years, but they fell to second after the free skate. The result was still significant, marking their first grand prix medal.
“We are very fortunate to get the silver medal,” Knierim said. “We knew it was going to be a tough competition with the teams that were slotted to skate. We are super happy, there’s still lots we can work on. It was kind of a learning experience to skate last in the long because we really haven’t done that yet.”
Scimeca and Knierim were engaged in April 2014 and plan to wed in June 2016.
China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won with 202.00 ahead of Scimeca and Knierim’s 191.97 and Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau of Canada’s 189.49.
Americans Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, and Jessica Pfund and Joshua Santillan were sixth and eighth in both teams’ grand prix debuts.
Gracie Gold’s season started poorly earlier this month when she finished sixth out of six in a star-studded field at the Japan Open. She recovered from what she called a “speed bump” to take silver at Skate America, improving upon her third-place finish at last year’s event.
“I’m happy with how the competition went,” Gold said. “I had a really good short program and a very solid long program, which has been harder for me in the past to put two together. One usually burns really bright and then one might fizzle out. So we’ve been working really hard all summer on putting two programs together and I want to continue doing that all season.”
Gold is determined to win the U.S. women their first medal at a world championships in 10 years, when the event is held in Boston on March 28-April 3. She previously finished sixth, fifth and fourth at worlds.
Outperforming Gold in Milwaukee was Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva, who scored 206.01 points to Gold’s 202.80. Japan’s Satoko Miyahara took bronze with 188.07.
U.S. bronze medalist Karen Chen and Mariah Bell were fifth and eighth in their grand prix debuts.