American Max Aaron leads Skate America

MILWAUKEE (AP) Max Aaron took the lead in Skate America on Friday night, scoring a personal-best 86.67 points in a program to Nessun Dorma that included an opening quad salchow-triple toe loop.

”It’s nice to do something that I’ve trained and performed multiple times in practice and to do this at an event means a lot to me,” said Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion.

Aaron credited his improved mental approach to his skating as one of the main reasons for his success.

”My goal coming in here was to do two clean performances and I’m halfway there,” he said. ”I’m moving on to the long already and I’m excited.”

China’s Han Yan was second at 86.53, and Russia’s Konstantin Menshov followed at 86.15. U.S. champion and Olympian Jason Brown was eighth at 78.64 after popping the back end of a triple flip-triple toeloop.

Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva topped the women’s opening session at 70.92. U.S. Olympian Gracie Gold doubled a planned triple flip but otherwise was smooth in her short program, finishing second at 65.39.

Gold landed her opening triple lutz-triple toe loop combination and was cruising through her tango program when she popped the flip.

”I just lost a little bit of my attack,” Gold said. ”We were really working on coming out of the gate strong and I do clean shorts in practice all the time. I just think it was a slip-up. I feel really solid about the start to the Grand Prix and so far I’m right on track to hopefully do a killer long (program) tomorrow.”

U.S. pairs champions Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim channeled Metallica en route to the short program lead. Dressed in black leather, Scimeca and Knierim had a powerful program that included a soaring triple twist lift and a crisp throw triple flip. They earned 69.69 points.

”We’ve been working so hard in the mirror on expression and tension within the movements,” Scimeca said. ”It felt great to bring it today. I think we made everybody in the audience feel something, and that was the goal.”

The Chinese teams of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong Han (68.28) and Wang Xuehan and Wang Lei (64.95) followed. The Russian team of Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, the 2014 Olympic silver medalists, made several mistakes and ended up fifth at 63.41.

U.S. ice dance champions and Olympians Madison Chock and Evan Bates arrived in Milwaukee with a brand new short dance to ”More” by Andrea Bocelli and ”Unchained Melody” by II Divo.

And despite only having the program for two weeks, they turned in a riveting performance to take a nearly eight-point lead at 70.56 into the free dance. Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov were second at 62.76, and Canada’s Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier followed at 61.33.

”It was a very difficult two weeks, but I think the change is for the better and we really love this program,” Chock said. ”It’s so fun to perform it and when the music builds at the end, you really get emotionally invested.”

The world silver medalists and defending Skate America champions displayed great passion to the classic, romantic music.

”I think we were both a little anxious to get this first one finished,” Bates said. ”I think the feeling at the end of the program was just excitement, but also relief because it went well.”