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 Icenetwork.com.

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

Pairs
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

Canada in control of hockey rivalry going into Olympics

AP
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Four years ago, the U.S. women’s hockey team rode a four-game winning streak over rival Canada into the Olympics, then lost both games in Sochi, including a gut-wrenching overtime final.

This time, Canada goes into the Winter Games having won four straight.

The Canadians beat the Americans 2-1 in overtime in Edmonton on Sunday night, taking their pre-Olympic series 5-3 overall.

“I don’t think it was our best performance,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said. “There’s still more work to do.”

The Canadians were led by their stalwarts — captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored in regulation, Sochi gold medalist Jennifer Wakefield scored 26 seconds into overtime and longtime goalie Shannon Szabados stopped 34 of 35 shots.

Hilary Knight netted the U.S. goal, with Maddie Rooney making 24 saves.

“The goal for us is to be hitting on all cylinders in February,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said.

The U.S. appeared to be in that kind of form until about two weeks ago.

Before this losing streak, the U.S. had a 12-4 record against Canada since the start of 2015, including taking the last three world championship finals.

At one point, the U.S. won six straight games over a 12-month stretch, its longest streak over Canada since it famously won eight straight going into the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics then lost the gold-medal game.

Canada also beat the U.S. in their last four meetings before the 2006 Olympics and five straight going into the 2010 Olympics.

The U.S. Olympic team will be announced Jan. 1. The national-team roster is at 25 players (22 skaters, three goalies), but the Olympic roster is 23 (20 skaters, three goalies).

“Can’t live in the past, can’t live in the future, so tonight we were worried about this game,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said, according to the Canadian Press. “We weren’t looking ahead to February.”

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Yuzuru Hanyu to miss Japan Figure Skating Championships

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning Olympic and world figure skating champion, will miss his national championships this week due to ankle and knee injuries suffered in a Nov. 9 practice fall, according to Japanese media citing the Japan Skating Federation.

Hanyu can (and very likely will) be named to Japan’s three-man Olympic team despite missing nationals.

Hanyu has reportedly been off the ice for more than one month since the fall.

“It is an important selection competition, and the Olympics are a big goal, so with that in mind we would like to think things through together,” Japan Skating Federation director Yoshiko Kobayashi said last week, according to Kyodo News.

Hanyu, who turned 23 on Dec. 7, fell on a quadruple Lutz attempted and then favored his right ankle in a Nov. 9 practice at a Grand Prix event (video here).

He skated the run-through for his free skate, although he elected not to do any more jumps.

“I have been told by the doctor that I need 10 days of complete rest,” Hanyu said in a statement on Nov. 12, according to Kyodo. “Following that, it will take three to four weeks to return and get back to where I was.”

Hanyu and world silver medalist Shoma Uno are favored to lead Japan’s Olympic men’s figure skating team. The third spot is likely to go to Takahito Mura or Keiji Tanaka.

Hanyu competed twice this season.

He posted a world-record short program score in his debut at a small September event in Canada, but struggled to fifth place in the free skate and finished second overall behind two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

He then finished second to U.S. champion Nathan Chen at the first Grand Prix event of the season in Moscow in October.

Chen is the only undefeated male singles skater this season.

Hanyu won four straight national titles before missing last season’s event with the flu.

He was still named to Japan’s team for worlds, where he won his second title in four years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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