AP

Stars on Ice back after pandemic with Olympic, world champs

Apr 13, 2022, 11:08 PM | Updated: 11:14 pm

FILE - Nathan Chen competes in the men's free skate program during the figure skating event at the ...

FILE - Nathan Chen competes in the men's free skate program during the figure skating event at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, in Beijing. Nathan Chen withdrew from the world championships on Wednesday, March 16, because of what he called a “nagging injury” that he’s been dealing with after winning at the Beijing Games. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

When Stars on Ice, uh, hits the ice Friday night in Estero, Florida, it will be for the first time in two years. Spicing up the tour: an Olympic gold medalist and two world champions.

The 24-city tour was idled by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it returns with Beijing winner Nathan Chen and pairs world champs Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in the cast. The skaters are as eager to entertain as figure skating fans are eager to watch.

“The whole cast is excited to be here,” says Chen, whose dominant Olympic performance climaxed a career including six U.S. titles and three at worlds. “It’s been a while since we’ve been able to do a show, and to be able to be together after two years of not — and to celebrate the work we all put in before and after the Olympics — it’s very exciting.”

A U.S. audience has yet to hear Chen introduced as an Olympic champion, and the same is true for Knierim and Frazier. Sure, they won a somewhat watered-down worlds with the Russians barred and the Chinese absent, but skaters still have to perform to their utmost regardless of the field. Knierim and Frazier, who teamed in 2021 after Alexa’s husband, Chris, retired after the 2020 season, were superb in Montpellier, France.

“I think for both of us there is a sense of giddiness,” Knierim says. “It’s phenomenal and remarkable to have that label. Even though after a few weeks it still does not feel real yet, especially because we have not had the opportunity to let it soak in. That moment when we are (introduced) is going to feel very exciting to both of us.”

Adds Frazier: “I don’t think it will be something I will be used to even by the last show we do in the states. I’m very humbled to receive that kind of introduction.”

Also in the cast are Beijing bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, who are retiring from competition; their long-time ice dance teammates and rivals, current world bronze winners Madison Chock and Evan Bates; U.S. women’s champions Mariah Bell, Karen Chen, Alysa Liu (now retired), and Mirai Nagasu; and men’s world bronze winner Vincent Zhou.

With no pressure to earn marks, the skaters let loose. So when Chen performs a reimagined version of his “Rocketman” short program, there’s an extra measure of fun added to the athleticism and artistry.

Chen, who also will skate to “Space Song” by Beach House in another solo routine, chuckles when asked if Elton John reached out after the Olympic triumph.

“He sent out a tweet after the competition, which was real sweet,” Chen says. “I personally did not even imagine he knows who I am.

“It is definitely one of the more meaningful programs I have skated. Earlier this season I was not planning to skate to it. After picking it up again, it definitely felt like the right fit. I’m glad I had the opportunity to bring it back and it was the vehicle that helped me.”

Perhaps the most entertaining and memorable show programs are the group numbers. Chen, for example, will skate in all four of them, to music by AC/DC, The Weeknd, Jon Batiste and, naturally, Elton John.

Knierim and Frazier, who will perform to “Fix You” by Coldplay, which they used at the Olympics and worlds, then “Tore My Heart” by OONA. They are particularly eager to do the group routines, too.

“The group numbers, we were working endlessly on them with the cast, and they are high energy and have great song choices, and the costumes are phenomenal,” says Knierim, not giving away what those outfits might be. “We have a pretty wide range of costumes for the finale — all of the skaters wear something very unique and custom made for themselves. It is very much a costume, like a piece of art.”

To Frazier, just being a part of a touring ice show with fans in the stands after two years of idleness is very special.

“Even without the pandemic, it is just an honor to be invited to these shows,” he says. “Being able to tour in shows and skating in front of a live audience, and with COVID seeming to be getting better, that’s an incredible experience. This has been very humbling. We are having the time of our lives.”

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Stars on Ice back after pandemic with Olympic, world champs