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Nathan Chen holds off Yuzuru Hanyu for Four Continents title

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Nathan Chen, the 17-year-old U.S. champion, faced the pressure of skating after Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu with a gold medal at stake on Sunday.

He met it, bagging the biggest title of his young career at the Four Continents Championships.

Chen did so at the 2018 Olympic venue, and with minor jumping mistakes, boosting hopes he can prevail at worlds next month and again in South Korea next year.

Chen landed five quadruple jumps — matching his record for a free skate — to total 307.46 points, the highest in the world this season.

Hanyu landed four quads — with a costly double Salchow, as he did in the short program — for 303.71. Another Japanese, Shoma Uno, took bronze with 288.05 points. Full results are here.

“There were some mistakes here and there,” said Chen, who became the first American to outscore Hanyu at an event in more than five years. “There are definitely things I need to work on, but I’m certainly happy with the way everything went.”

Hanyu skated before Chen and put down the highest free-skate and total scores in the world this season, despite those Salchow errors, and still more than 25 points shy of his world record from last season.

“A mistake is a mistake, and I’m happy I was able to show almost everything,” Hanyu said.

Chen, the last skater to go, waited to take the ice while several kids cleaned the ice of Winnie the Pooh bears tossed by adoring Hanyu fans. This has become routine when Hanyu skates.

“With the whole Winnie the Pooh situation, it’s something that I can’t change, but it was something I was expecting,” Chen said.

If Hanyu was near his best, he still beats Chen — for now — but Chen must have known that with a strong free skate, he could overcome the less-than-perfect Hanyu. Chen had a 6.08-point cushion over a flawed Hanyu from Friday’s short program.

Chen’s free skate was marvelous, but not quite his jumping showcase of the U.S. Championships in January. He turned out of one of his five quad landings and also had negative execution scores on both triple Axels (one in combination).

“I tried five quads today, and I landed three of the five solidly,” Chen said. “The other two were a little shaky, so that’s something that I need to improve on for worlds.”

Still, Chen scored 204.34 points for the free skate — his best in international competition by nearly seven points — after Hanyu tallied 206.67.

It’s the biggest win for a U.S. man since Evan Lysacek‘s Olympic title in 2010. The Four Continents field included every single Olympic medal contender except for two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

The victory marked the latest step in Chen’s incredible ascent since the start of 2016. He is fulfilling promise — and then some — since becoming the darling boy of the 2010 U.S. Championships.

In January 2016, Chen took bronze at nationals at 16, becoming the youngest man to finish in the top three since 1973.

He suffered a season-ending hip injury in the exhibition later that day but came back in the fall to beat Hanyu and Fernandez in the Grand Prix Final free skate, taking silver overall.

Last month, Chen shattered U.S. Championships scoring records en route to becoming the youngest U.S. men’s gold medalist since 1966.

Those last two competitions made Chen a world and Olympic medal contender. Now, he must be considered a medal favorite and a gold-medal contender going into worlds in six weeks, especially given the exceptional Hanyu’s inconsistency.

Hanyu sat off stage when Chen’s score came up Sunday afternoon. He learned it, scrunched his eyes and cupped his cheeks.

“Before going on to the podium I looked at Nathan,” Hanyu said, “and I felt envious. I wanted to win.”

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Matt, Becca Hamilton are first U.S. Olympic mixed doubles curling team

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A brother and sister from Wisconsin will be the busiest athletes at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

A month ago the Hamilton siblings, Matt and Becca, qualified to compete at the Olympics with the U.S. men’s and women’s curling teams, and today they also qualified to play as a mixed doubles team.

With a win over two of their teammates, John Shuster (skip of Matt’s four-man team) and Cory Christensen (alternate on Becca’s four-woman team), at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for mixed doubles curling, the Hamiltons earned the opportunity to curl on potentially every day of the Olympics.

The Hamiltons will start their Olympic competitions with the mixed doubles tournament on Thursday, Feb. 8, the day before the the Opening Ceremony marks the official beginning of the Olympics. When mixed doubles wraps up on Tuesday the 13th, they’ll start playing separately in the men’s and women’s tournaments on Wednesday the 14th. The traditional curling tournaments go until Sunday, Feb. 25, the day of the Closing Ceremony.

Of course, if one of their teams doesn’t advance past the round-robin rounds to the semifinals and medal games, they’ll have some time off. But if they do go all the way to the gold medal matches, it’ll mean 18 straight days of competition for the Hamiltons.

Matt and Becca showed their readiness during the Olympic Trials. They had the second-best record of the round-robin stage, 5-2, then beat Shuster and Christensen twice in two days to win the Olympic berth. The score of the final was 6-5.

After the match, the siblings–who say their partnership works because they can be brutally honest on the ice–had nothing but kind words for each other.

Becca, the younger Hamilton by a year and a half, said her older brother “taught me everything I know.”

Matt then said of Becca, “it’s been impressive to watch her grow up and become the superstar she is now.”

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Jessica Kooreman, Thomas Hong, Ryan Pivirotto earn last three spots on U.S. Olympic short track team

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Jessica Kooreman, Thomas Hong and Ryan Pivirotto grabbed the last three spots on the U.S. Olympic short track team on Sunday as competition wrapped up at the Olympic Trials.

Kooreman survived a fall in the last women’s race of the Trials, the 1000m #2 A Final, to finish second overall in the 1000m and earn a spot on the team that will race on Olympic ice in PyeongChang.

Kooreman, a 2014 Olympian, joined Lana Gehring, a 2010 Olympian and Maame Biney, a 17-year-old who will make her Olympic debut in 2018, on the U.S. Olympic women’s short track team.

At 34 years old, Kooreman will be the veteran of the team. Four years ago, she swept all three events at the 2014 U.S. Olympic Trials and then finished fourth in the 1000m at the Sochi Winter Games.

She struggled to breakthrough to the top spots at this Trials; she finished third overall in both the 1500m on Friday and 500m on Saturday.

Left off the team is Katherine-Reutter Adamek, a two-time Olympic medalist from Vancouver who retired in 2013 due to injuries before coming back in 2016 in hopes of making another Olympic team. Reutter is the American record holder and Olympic silver medalist in the 1000m, but her Olympic aspirations ended when she didn’t qualify for the 1000m #2 A Final today.

Hong, a native of South Korea who moved to the U.S. at 4 years old, finished fourth in the men’s 1000m #2 A Final, and fourth overall. Pivirotto didn’t qualify for that A Final, and had to watch from the sidelines as his Olympic fate was decided. Pivirotto clinched the fifth and final spot by finishing fifth overall across all distances.

The overall winner on the men’s side was John-Henry Krueger, who was nearly undefeated over the three days of racing and won four of six A Finals: both 1000m finals today, the 500m #2 final yesterday and the 1500m #2 final on Friday. 22-year-old Krueger was expected to make the Olympic team four years ago, but had to withdraw from some races at the 2014 U.S. Olympic Trials when he was diagnosed with swine flu.

J.R. Celski, the only member of the team with prior Olympic experience, had an uncharacteristically rough Trials with four falls in three days. However his results when he did stay on his skates were good enough to put him into second-place overall. The third overall men’s skater was Aaron Tran, who also make the Olympic team.

The U.S. Olympic short track team:

Lana Gehring
Maame Biney
Jessica Kooreman
John-Henry Krueger
J.R. Celski
Aaron Tran
Thomas Hong
Ryan Pivirotto

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MORE: J.R. Celski, Maame Biney join U.S. Olympic short track team