History will be made when the United States sends its five entries to the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final for Dec. 8-11 in Marseille, France. Coupled with last year’s six entries, the U.S. sets a record with 11 entries in consecutive years, breaking the total of 10 set in 2008 (four entries) and 2009 (a record six entries, which was matched in 2015).
Two men and three ice dance teams will comprise the American contingent in Marseilles, a talented group than features an intriguing blend of youth and experience.
Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon will make their senior Grand Prix Final debuts in the men’s event, while the teams of Maia and Alex Shibutani, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue will compete in the Grand Prix Final, repeating last year’s feat when their qualification marked the first time three ice dance teams from the same country made it to the Grand Prix Final.
Chen, 17, became the youngest American male to medal in a grand prix event with his silver medal at NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan. Coupled with a fourth-place finish at Trophee de France two weeks earlier, he earned 22 points and tied with Rippon, who won bronze medals in his two grand prix appearances, the season opener at Skate America and Trophee de France.
With its two entries, the U.S. snaps a four-year streak without a representative in the men’s division. The last time more than one American man took the ice in a Grand Prix Final was 2009, when Evan Lysacek, Jeremy Abbott and Johnny Weir made up half the field. Lysacek’s gold medal and the bronze won by Weir that year also mark the last time a U.S. male stood on the podium at the Grand Prix Final.
Chen, the junior champion at the 2015 Grand Prix Final, and Rippon, the reigning U.S. national champion, face a formidable challenge if they are to return the U.S. to the podium against a loaded men’s field. Two of the other finalists, Canada’s Patrick Chan and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, combined have taken five of the six golds at the event since Lysacek’s win. Hanyu, the reigning Olympic champion, has medaled at the past four Grand Prix Finals, including winning the last three. Javier Fernandez of Spain and Japan’s Shoma Uno, silver and bronze medalists at last year’s final, round out the men’s field.
Although Chock and Bates head to Marseilles as the twice-reigning Grand Prix Final silver medalists, the Shibutanis will be the American tandem with the targets on their backs. Pairing a victory at Skate America with another win at Cup of China, the siblings were the top American skaters on the qualifying table with 30 points. Looking to improve on their fourth-place finish in 2015, they will face a stiff challenge from reigning Olympic silver medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, who scored wins at Skate Canada International and NHK Trophy to earn their finals berth, as well as reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France.
This is the Shibutanis' fourth Grand Prix Final and they will seek their first medal at the event.
Chock and Bates racked up back-to-back silver medal performances to earn their finals spot, taking the podium at Skate Canada International and Rostelecom Cup in Moscow. Hubbell and Donohue were just as consistent, earning silver medals at Skate America and Trophee de France for their second-ever Grand Prix Final appearance. Papadakis and Cizeron, bronze medalists at the Grand Prix Final in 2014, and Russia’s Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev round out the ice dance field.
Ice dancing has become a reliable medal event for the United States at the Grand Prix Final in the past 15 years. Since Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto won bronze at the 2003 meet in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Americans have earned a total of 11 medals, including a string of five consecutive golds from 2009-13 by 2014 Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
In the ladies’ division, the U.S. finds itself on the outside looking in. After competing in the past four straight and five of the last seven Grand Prix Finals, Ashley Wagner fell just short of qualifying this time around. Ranked seventh with 20 points, the reigning worlds silver medalist is the first alternate and would be called in should any of the six finalists withdraw. This year is the first since 2008 that the ladies’ field will not include an American entry.
No American pairs teams earned a spot in Marseilles. The United States has had a representative in the division only five times, the most recent was last year, when Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim were part of a record-matching six U.S. entries. Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier are second alternates this year.