Nathan Chen wins Skate America, apologizes (video)

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Nathan Chen nodded, shook a mini stuffed tiger and patted his coach on the back after seeing his worst free skate score in 13 months.

“I’m sorry, Raf,” Chen told his coach, gruff Armenian Rafael Arutyunyan. “The fall, it was stupid. I need to work harder.”

Chen, the 18-year-old wunderkind of U.S. figure skating, won Skate America on Saturday to remain the only undefeated male skater this Olympic season.

But he looked very beatable. Chen fell once (nearly twice), singled an Axel and winced after his 4-minute, 30-second free skate at Herb Brooks Arena.

“We’ve worked really hard, and I definitely did not show it tonight,” Chen said later. “So I apologized.”

His score: 171.46 points for the free skate.

Adam Rippon, the 2016 U.S. champion but not an Olympic medal favorite like Chen, outscored his training partner by 5.65 points on Saturday.

But Chen’s 15-point lead from Friday’s short program, where he scored a personal best, allowed him to hang on for the title, comfortably by nine points overall.

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Arutyunyan said Chen is skating through many challenges, according to

“Technique, and confidence, and blades and injuries, so many things around,” he said, according to the website. “We cannot talk about everything because it is very private, and we are working on it.”

Rippon incredibly hung on for silver after popping his dislocated right shoulder back into place following a near fall on his opening quadruple Lutz.

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Chen and Rippon are going to the Grand Prix Final in two weeks. There in Japan, the top six skaters per discipline from this fall’s Grand Prix series face off in the single biggest indicator of Olympic medal prospects.

They’ll be joined by world silver and bronze medalists Shoma Uno (Japan) and Jin Boyang (China), plus Russians Mikhail Kolyada and Sergey Voronov.

The men who won’t be at the Grand Prix Final are even more accomplished — all three 2014 Olympic medalists (including the injured Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada) and the 2015 and 2016 World champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

Chan and Fernandez each struggled in the first of their two scheduled Grand Prix starts, with Chan pulling out of his second.

Their absences further open the door for Chen, who was sixth at last season’s worlds with boot problems, to notch the biggest win of his young senior career.

Then in February, Chen can become the youngest individual Olympic male figure skating medalist since Viktor Petrenko in 1988. Or the youngest gold medalist since Dick Button in 1948.

VIDEO: Skater dislocates shoulder in Skate America fall

Rippon, meanwhile, looks like a favorite to make his first Olympic team at age 28, after qualifying for his second straight Grand Prix Final.

Rippon came back from a broken foot in January to make the podium in both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. He stayed on his feet Saturday after dislocating his shoulder while putting his arm down on the landing of an opening quadruple Lutz.

Rippon joked that if that had happened in practice, he would “stop and call 911.” It actually did happen in practice two months ago.

It felt so nauseous I thought I was going to black out [in practice],” said Rippon, who is trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie singles skater since 1936, according to Olympic historians. “Now that I’ve done it again, it’s just get back in there buddy.

“You know what, I love drama, so I said, you know what, I can make it through this. I wanted to show my character, that I’m really tough, and I’m up for the challenge of anything, including the Olympic Games.”

Chen and Rippon, along with Jason BrownVincent Zhou and Max Aaron, are the leading contenders for the three-man Olympic team that will be named after nationals in January.

The Olympic team will be chosen based not only off nationals results, but also via a committee dissecting performances from the last year.

Chen is assumed to be a lock. His rivals are not domestic but foreign. Hanyu, Uno, Fernandez, Jin.

Only Uno has scored higher than Chen this season. Only Hanyu and Uno scored higher last season.

All have had bad days this season. Now, Chen joins them.

“This is a totally new experience for me,” Chen said of struggling in competition. “It’s always a good experience for me to have bad moments like this so I know how to prepare better for the next event.”

Earlier Saturday, Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot won the pairs title, vaulting past two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada with a personal-best free skate score.

The Germans won with 223.13, followed by Chinese Yu Xiaoyu and Zhang Hao with 219.20. Duhamel and Radford, first after the short program, dropped to third with 215.68 after Duhamel fell on side-by-side jumps.

All three pairs qualified for the Grand Prix Final, where the clear favorites are Chinese world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong.

The top U.S. team was Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim in fifth. No U.S. pair made a Grand Prix podium this season for the first time since 2011.

The Knierims are the clear favorites for the U.S.’ one Olympic pairs spot going into nationals in January. The only previous time that fewer than two U.S. pairs competed at the Winter Olympics was at the first Winter Games in Chamonix, France, in 1924.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier‘s 20th-place finish at worlds last season dropped the U.S. from its usual two Olympic pairs spots to one.

The Knierims, who missed most of last season due to Alexa’s life-threatening abdominal condition, were the top-scoring U.S. pair this Grand Prix season by 15 points.

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Skate America
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 275.88
2. Adam Rippon (USA) — 266.45
3. Sergei Voronov (RUS) — 257.49
7. Ross Miner (USA) — 219.62

1. Aljona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 223.13
2. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 219.20
3. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 215.68
5. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 189.07
7. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 172.16
8. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay (USA) — 165.00

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.

PREVIEWS: MenWomen | Dance | Pairs | Nathan ChenMirai Nagasu | TV Schedule

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.”

PREVIEWS: MenWomen | Dance | Pairs | Nathan ChenMirai Nagasu | TV Schedule

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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