Nathan Chen debuts new jump, wins Olympic season opener (video)

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Only three quadruple jumps for Nathan Chen this week, yet the U.S. champion still made history.

The 18-year-old phenom landed his first quad loop in competition, becoming the first skater to master five different four-revolution jumps minus the one quad no man can land — the Axel.

Chen isn’t ready to unleash them all in one competition yet, though. He landed a quad flip and quad Lutz in addition to the loop between two programs at the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City on Thursday and Friday.

Chen won his Olympic season debut at the rink where he began skating as a toddler.

He tallied 275.04 points, distancing 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron by 13.48 points at a lower-level event featuring none of the sport’s international contenders. Full scores are here.

Chen scored 18.58 more points than his season debut last year, when he attempted seven quads and fell on three. But he wasn’t fully satisfied, lamenting doubling a planned quad toe loop Friday.

Afterward, he reportedly shot down chatter that he could attempt seven quads in one free skate later this season.

“That’s a little crazy talk, I think,” Chen said, according to the Deseret News. “I think that there’s a lot of potential with the programs that I have right now. Adding a bunch of quads is not really the main priority. It’s building back to where I was, and to keep on evolving the rest of the program.”

Where was Chen last winter? In a class by himself in number of quads.

He landed a record seven quads at the U.S. Championships in January and again at the Four Continents Championships at the PyeongChang Olympic venue in February, when he beat Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. He was sixth at the world championships, attempting a record six quads in the free skate alone but falling twice.

Chen is preparing for the bigger events this fall and winter, starting with his Grand Prix debut at Rostelecom Cup in Russia in a month.

Earlier Friday, Japan’s Marin Honda topped the women’s short program in Salt Lake City. The 16-year-old world junior champion from 2016 landed all of her jumps cleanly for 66.90 points.

Three of the top four women from last season’s U.S. Championships also skated in an early preview of competition for three Olympic spots. The team will be chosen after nationals in January.

U.S. champion Karen Chen, silver medalist Mariah Bell and fourth-place finisher Mirai Nagasu each struggled with jumps Friday.

Chen, no relation to Nathan, put her hand down on a triple loop, under-rotated a triple toe loop and scored 66.18 points.

“There was a few minor mistakes, but overall I’m very happy that I was able to stand up on everything,” she said.

Bell fell on the second half of a jumping combination and tallied 60.68.

“I have a lot of improving to do,” Bell said. “It definitely was not my best, by far, but it’s an OK place to start [the season].”

Nagasu attempted a triple Axel — rarely seen in women’s skating — but two-footed the landing, stepped out of another jump and performed a triple-double combination rather than a triple-triple. She still bettered Bell with 63.81 points.

“I’ve been nailing that triple Axel in practice; I really wanted to land it,” Nagasu said. “I’m like mad, but proud of myself at the same time.”

The women’s free skate in Salt Lake City is Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET, streamed on for subscribers.

Also Friday, Russian Alina Zagitova won the lower-level Lombardia Trophy in Italy with a point total that ranks her fourth all-time — 218.46.

Only world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva (Zagitova’s training partner) and the last two Olympic champions — Adelina Sotnikova and Yuna Kim — have scored higher under the system in place since 2003.

It’s impressive that Zagitova, the 2017 World junior champion, posted that score so early in a season. And that she did it in her senior international debut.

She edged Japanese Wakaba Higuchi by .83 of a point. Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner was third, 20.1 points behind.

The Lombardia Trophy men’s free skate — with world silver medalist Shoma Uno leading U.S. Olympian Jason Brown by 21.86 points — is Saturday. The event is streamed live here.

The figure skating season continues next week with the last two male world champions — training partners Hanyu and Javier Fernandez — facing off at the Autumn Classic in Montreal. Medvedeva also makes her international season debut in Slovakia.

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New generation of male figure skaters owns spotlight at worlds; preview

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Nobody in the men’s field at figure skating worlds owns an Olympic or world title for the first time since 1985. This could lead to the best U.S. men’s results in years.

Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan combined to win every gold medal since 2011, but all of them ended their seasons at the Olympics.

This week in Milan, the four leading men, who just competed in their first Olympics, are all 20 years or younger. And that includes two Americans.

Nathan Chen can become the first world singles champion from the U.S. since Evan Lysacek in 2009. Chen and Vincent Zhou could be the first U.S. men to finish in the top five together since Lysacek and Johnny Weir in 2005. Chen, Zhou and Max Aaron could make up the best U.S. trio at a worlds in more than 20 years.

Start with Chen. The 18-year-old said he planned to compete this week regardless of what happened at the Olympics, but after his struggles in the team event and individual short programs, the quad master nailed his free skate, came home to California and said he took maybe one day off of training before this event.

Chen is one of three men in the gold-medal hunt, along with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China. While Chen largely struggled at the 2017 Worlds and in PyeongChang, Uno and Jin each made the podium at both events. And each can come close to or equal Chen in quad numbers.

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Zhou, 17, has a chance to become the youngest man to earn a world medal since Hanyu in 2012. Or the first man to win the world junior title one season and make the world senior podium the next since Yevgeny Plushenko in 1997-98.

Zhou is riding momentum. He struggled in the fall and entered nationals in January ranked fifth among Americans for the season. He placed third to make the Olympic team and then landed three clean quads in his Olympic free skate to jump from 12th to sixth.

“I did better there than a lot of people thought I would,” Zhou told NBC Sports research last week. “I knew I was capable of that all season.

“I want to reach my ultimate goal of being Olympic champion, and my best chance is in 2022 … because by 2026 I will probably be old and creaky with four prosthetic limbs.”

Aaron made it to Milan after Olympian Adam Rippon gave up his spot, and the top two alternates (Jason Brown and Ross Miner) both declined. Still, Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, is seeded seventh in the men’s field based on top scores this season.

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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Carolina Kostner the sentimental favorite at figure skating worlds

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova is without question the favorite at this week’s world figure skating championships, especially after the sprightly Russian’s training partner and rival Yevgenia Medvedeva withdrew because of injury.

She won’t be the sentimental favorite, though.

That would be Carolina Kostner, the ageless Italian star who could be competing at worlds for the last time on home soil. The 2012 champion and six-time world medalist seemed to indicate that retirement could be looming after she finished fifth at the PyeongChang Games, where she was chosen to carry the Italian flag at the Closing Ceremony.

Kostner will have a huge home crowd behind her when the event begins Wednesday in Milan.

“Decisions like that should never be taken in a hot moment. It will come naturally,” said Kostner, who no longer can compete with the sport’s high-fliers when it comes to technical marks, but whose elegant artistry and presentation often make up the difference.

“She is an example of perseverance, of a long-lasting athlete,” Medvedeva said. “I have trouble imagining how someone can stay in that shape for a very long time. When you see people like Carolina, you understand that if she can do something, then that something is possible. If you love what you do, you put all of yourself into it, like Carolina Kostner.”

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When asked about retirement, Kostner brought up her cousin, Isolde Kostner, who won three Olympic Alpine skiing medals before deciding to step away from competition.

“She stopped skiing shortly before the (2006) Olympics in Italy,” Caroline Kostner said. “Many did not understand why she wouldn’t pull through because it was her home country, and she said, ‘You will feel strongly when it is time to stop.’ And I haven’t felt it yet.”

The biggest story at the world championships in an Olympic year tends to be who is missing rather than who shows up. The grind of competing for an entire season builds toward the quadrennial event, and athletes who medal or intend to retire rarely press on to worlds. Then there are the injuries, which accumulate during the year.

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