Nathan Chen crushes U.S. Champs short program (video)

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Nathan Chen fell time and again in practice at the U.S. Championships.

Come competition Thursday night, he was every bit the skater that went undefeated in the fall Grand Prix season, boosting Olympic gold-medal hopes.

“My mind was not in the right place [Wednesday],” Chen told media in San Jose. “Having a day to recover and recalculate definitely helped a lot.”

The 18-year-old phenom landed two quadruple jumps and scored 104.45 points, the second-highest short program tally in nationals history.

The highest? Chen’s score last year, when he became the first man to land seven quads between two programs in one competition.

Chen is almost certainly two days away from being named to his first Olympic team. Who will join him in PyeongChang?

Adam Rippon and Jason Brown, the 2016 and 2015 U.S. champions, are in second and third with 96.52 and 93.23 points, respectively.

The men’s free skate is Saturday, live on NBCSN and streaming on NBCOlympics.com from 8-11 p.m. ET.

The three-man Olympic team — not necessarily the top three at nationals — will be named Sunday morning, chosen by a committee looking at results from the past year.

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Chen had one jumping error, stepping out of his triple Axel landing.

He struggled in practice and training recently, set back by illness, and changed a quad Lutz for an easier quad toe for Thursday’s skate.

“The circumstances going into this competition weren’t great,” he said on NBCSN. “I’ve struggled before with illness, with injury, and know that I can push through anything.”

Chen, Rippon and Brown were the top performing U.S. men in the fall Grand Prix season, in that order.

While Chen is known for his quads, neither Rippon nor Brown attempted a four-revolution jump Thursday. That difference is what makes Chen a gold-medal contender for PyeongChang and puts Rippon and Brown on the outside looking in.

However, Rippon and Brown have both trained quads, and Rippon has landed them clean in competition (though none this season).

Rippon, 28, was the cleanest skater Thursday night and is in position to become the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie singles skater since 1936. He missed the team in 2010 and 2014.

“I’m waiting for my day of reckoning,” Rippon said, noting that Saturday is exactly one year since he suffered a season-ending broken foot. “I’m here for that drama. This is the first step that I needed to take to have that amazing comeback that I felt like I was going to have.”

Brown, the only man in the field with Olympic experience, appeared to have trouble fully rotating his triple Axel but was given full credit. That allowed him to move ahead of fourth-place Grant Hochstein by 1.05 points.

Two other contenders who tried quads on Thursday struggled.

Vincent Zhou, the 2017 U.S. silver medalist and world junior champion, landed two quads, but placed fifth with 89.02 points, behind Grant Hochstein by 3.16.

That’s because one quad was under-rotated, and he fell on an under-rotated triple Axel. Still, Zhou improved over a disastrous Grand Prix season.

Max Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, conceded his Olympic hopes are dead after he scored 74.95 points for 12th place.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said on NBCSN. “After that, I knew my Olympic shot was over, could feel the tears rolling down my eyes.”

Aaron was flawed on all three of his jumping passes, including two quad attempts. Because of that, he didn’t have the required jumping combination, a crushing blow.

The 25-year-old was the third-highest-scoring American in the fall Grand Prix season.

Aaron is the only Skate America men’s winner not to make an Olympic team and one of three U.S. men’s champions in the last 55 years not to make an Olympics, assuming Chen and Rippon make this year’s team.

Aaron was third at the 2014 Nationals, when only two men could be picked for the Sochi Olympics (now-retired Jeremy Abbott and Brown).

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IOC: ‘More exciting initiatives’ for Korean unity in PyeongChang

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Olympic organizers on Friday welcomed an agreement between North and South Korea to unite athletes at the PyeongChang Winter Games and promised that “much more exciting initiatives” promoting Korean unity will emerge this weekend.

“Watch this space,” International Olympic Committee presidential spokesman Mark Adams told The Associated Press in an interview, a day before a crucial meeting of Korean delegations at Olympics headquarters in Lausanne.

He declined to elaborate, saying the decisions would come Saturday.

Referring to a detailed peace-making agreement between the rival countries announced Thursday by South Korea’s Unification Ministry, including a joint team in the women’s hockey tournament, Adams said it was “great … but these are discussions” — meaning the IOC had not yet given the deal the final green light.

“I can tell you that there will also be some much more exciting initiatives coming through as well tomorrow,” he added.

Provided that the IOC finalizes the deal, it would mark the first time the two National Olympic Committees would be competing together in a single team.

Some have questioned the fine print of the agreement announced by the two Koreas, saying it gives the combined hockey squad a far larger roster than any other national team.

Asked how the IOC planned to maintain the integrity of the sport, Adams said: “People would say that these are exceptional circumstances, and we need exceptional measures.”

“This is about the Olympic spirit,” Adams added. “And the Olympic spirit is about nations competing, athletes competing, and we will do our best make sure that it sends a signal that sport can improve the world.”

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Julia Mancuso skis final race dressed as Wonder Woman (video)

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Julia Mancuso bid farewell like only she could — with a tiara, cape and Wonder Woman suit.

The most decorated female U.S. Olympic skier with four medals announced Friday morning that today’s World Cup downhill in Cortina d’Ampezzo would be the last race of her career.

More on Mancuso’s retirement, career and immediate future here.

She raced Friday as her nickname — “Super Jules” — and coasted to the bottom 18 seconds slower than winner Sofia Goggia.

Afterward, U.S. Ski Team members sprayed her with champagne and lifted her up in the finish corral.

Mancuso chose an appropriate venue for her last race.

She notched her first World Cup podium in Cortina in January 2006, then won the Olympic giant slalom in Sestriere, Italy, four weeks later.

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