Getty Images

Nathan Chen holds off Yuzuru Hanyu for Four Continents title

Leave a comment

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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: PyeongChang 2018 daily schedule highlights

Alina Zagitova eyes more gold at worlds; women’s preview

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alina Zagitova hasn’t lost internationally in 18 months, and that doesn’t figure to change this week at the world championships in Milan.

The 15-year-old Russian is favored to become the youngest world gold medalist since Tara Lipinski (duplicating her feat from the Olympics) and make it five straight Olympic or world titles for Russian women, the longest streak for one country since American Carol Heiss won six straight Olympic/world titles from 1956 through 1960.

Zagitova would also become the first Olympic women’s champion to win worlds the following month since Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992. That’s largely because Olympic champions usually skip worlds in Olympic years. Since Yamaguchi, the only one to compete was Yuna Kim, who grabbed silver in 2010.

Zagitova may be young, but she may not have the longevity of Kim to make it to a second Olympics. Russia turns over a new class of elite women’s skaters every year.

Two weeks ago, 13-year-old Alexandra Trusova won the world junior title as the first woman to land two different quadruple jumps in one program. Trusova isn’t old enough to compete at the senior worlds until 2020.

Zagitova’s current rival and training partner, Olympic silver medalist and 2016 and 2017 World champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, withdrew from worlds due to injury.

WORLDS: TV Schedule | Pairs Preview | Nagasu’s Outlook

Which leaves the last two Olympic bronze medalists, Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada and Carolina Kostner of Italy, plus PyeongChang fourth-place finisher Satoko Miyahara of Japan as the top challengers this week.

None finished within seven points of Zagitova at any competition this season, the Russian’s first on the senior international level.

Zagitova set herself apart at the Olympics by putting all of her jumps in the second half of her programs for 10 percent bonuses and landing them all with positive grades of execution.

The U.S. contingent includes national champion Bradie Tennell, two-time Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Mariah Bell (replacement for 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen).

It is the end of a challenging season for U.S. women. In the autumn, none qualified for the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year (after at least one had done so each of the previous seven seasons).

In PyeongChang, no U.S. woman finished in the top six for the first time in Winter Games history. Tennell, who emerged this season after placing ninth at 2017 Nationals, was the top U.S. Olympic finisher in ninth.

Tennell goes into worlds as the top seeded American — seventh — by best international scores this season.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

Olympic golf qualifying, format largely unchanged for 2020

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic golf tournaments qualifying and format will remain largely the same as they were for the sport’s return to the Games in 2016, according to Golf Channel, citing a memo sent to PGA Tour players.

The format will again be four rounds of stroke play with 60 men and 60 women taken from the world rankings, according to the report.

The qualifying window to determine the rankings will be July 1, 2018 to June 22, 2020 for men and July 8, 2018 to June 29, 2020 for women. That’s a slight change, as for 2016 the dates were the same for men and women.

The 2016 process saw a maximum of two men and two women per country, or up to four if they were ranked in the top 15.

Then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said one month after the Rio Games that he hoped the Olympic golf format would be changed to have more medals awarded.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Michael Phelps lost money to Barack Obama in golf, actor says