Brendan Kerry was just seven years old the last time an Australian man competed in the Grand Prix of Figure Skating, when Anthony Liu finished 4th at Skate Canada and 5th at the NHK Trophy during the 2001-2002 season.
Now, thirteen years later, the Australian flag will fly in the men’s division once more, this time in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when Kerry takes to the ice to compete at Skate America from October 23-25.
It will mark Kerry’s debut on the Senior Grand Prix, and the second time in two seasons that an Australian skater has made their first appearance on the Grand Prix at Skate America. Brooklee Han was also assigned Skate America for her maiden Grand Prix, where she finished 10th, and picked up a second assignment due to a withdrawal at Skate Canada, where she placed 8th.
It won’t be an easy assignment for Kerry, with a deep men’s field to take the ice in Milwaukee. The biggest name at this year’s event will be Denis Ten of Kazakhstan, who won this year’s Four Continents Champion and was the bronze medallist at the World Championships a month later. The Japanese skaters include Takahito Mura, last year’s Skate Canada winner, and Shoma Uno, the reigning Junior World Champion who is also making his Senior Grand Prix debut.
Jason Brown is the reigning US National Champion, and backed up by a 4th place finish at Worlds, will be looking to solidify his position among the US men. Max Aaron, the 2013 US National Champion, is ready to fire again after being left off the Olympic team and last season’s World team, and is heavily armed with big jumps. Konstantin Menshov is the old man of the Russian skating team, at 32, but is a highly talented and clever skater who is always in contention, while his teammate Aidan Pitkeev is the baby of the team at 17, returning for his second Skate America.
Han Yan of China was the bronze medallist at this year’s Four Continents, and will be looking to take the next step up to compete with the big guns. Florent Amodio of France is a fan-favourite, currently in a rebuilding phase after a lean couple of seasons, while Alexei Bychenko of Israel is another returning for his second Skate America, after a career-high 4th at the European Championships in January. And there is still one last spot to be determined, which will be chosen by the US Figure Skating federation later in the year.
Nevertheless, Kerry has the potential to spring an upset or two. His technical firepower is high-class: he is the only current Australian man to be able to land a quadruple jump, and last season attempted the quad toeloop in his short program and the quad Salchow in his long program. He can land the toeloop in combination, and the triple Axel also, while his deep knee bend on landing can get him out of trouble where other skaters might fall. His style of skating is best described as “charming”; with disarmingly casual movement, he creates a laid-back, very Australian feeling on the ice. It was these qualities that endeared him to many at the Four Continents Championship this year, including such luminaries as Swiss maestro Stephane Lambiel, who Tweeted effusively about his admiration of Kerry’s skating and his dissatisfaction with his placement.
Before then, however, Kerry will be busy with other events. He will take part in the inaugral Freezer Ice Aerial Challenge in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from June 25, where skaters will compete to see who can do the best, biggest, and hardest jumps, and where Kerry will have an early, jumps-only matchup with Brown and Aaron. There is also a backflip contest, in which Kerry will be undoubtedly be competitive, though the early favourite for that portion of the competition is his training mate, USA’s Ricky Dornbush.
For Australian fans who want to see Kerry in person – and I can assure you that it is a truly special experience – your best opportunity will be at the Australian National Championships, this year held at the Penrith Ice Palace from November 28 – December 4, with the Senior Men likely to be on the last two or three days. All of the superstars of Australian skating will be there, and a live, head-to-head battle for the Championship titles is something not to be missed.