Nathan Chen wins U.S. figure skating title on path to Olympics

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Nathan Chen was the one singles skater who had nothing to prove at the U.S. Championships, but his repeat national title was resounding.

The 18-year-old landed five quadruple jumps and extended his undefeated season with a 40.72-point victory in San Jose on Saturday night.

He will lead the three-man Olympic team named Sunday at 11:15 a.m. ET.

“There’s more to come,” Chen said on NBCSN. “This is exactly what I wanted my entire life. I’m ready for it.”

It was thought the other two Olympians would be Adam Rippon and Jason Brown, but both struggled in Saturday’s free skate and finished fourth and sixth.

Ross Miner, a complete surprise, and 2017 U.S. silver medalist Vincent Zhou rose from sixth and fifth, respectively, after the short program to land second and third behind Chen overall.

A U.S. Figure Skating committee will choose the Olympic team. They have the discretion to stray from the top three at nationals. The criteria for team selection is here.

Chen, who missed a week of training due to illness leading up to nationals, was not flawless.

He singled a triple Axel and slightly watered down his programs but was otherwise his usual groundbreaking self.

“I definitely set a big bar for myself last year,” said Chen, who scored about three points higher at last season’s nationals. “I wouldn’t even say I reached it today. I still have a way to go to beat what I did last year.”

He will go to PyeongChang as the U.S.’ best hope for a singles figure skating medal and, arguably, the favorite in a historically decorated men’s field.

The U.S. Championships conclude with the free dance Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC and streaming on NBCOlympics.com.

NATIONALS: Full Results | TV Schedule

Chen’s night has been either eight or 16 years in the making.

The youngest of five children born to Chinese immigrants first tried skating on a practice rink built for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

In 2010, a toy-soldier-dressed Chen, after winning the U.S. novice title, said on NBC that he was targeting the 2018 Olympics.

In 2014, Chen won the junior title at nationals. He stuck around to watch the senior women’s free skate from the second deck in TD Garden, trying to envision what it would be like in four years.

Chen spent this Olympic cycle maturing from junior to senior. From jumper to complete performer. From confined to a hospital bed for a week and off the ice for nearly six months to becoming the first man to land five quads in one program.

Last February, he beat Sochi gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu at the PyeongChang Olympic venue.

He dealt Hanyu another defeat to open the fall Grand Prix season, then did the same to world silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan at December’s Grand Prix Final.

“Nathan Chen is the most exciting thing to come out of U.S. Figure Skating in quite some time,” two-time Olympian Johnny Weir said on Saturday’s NBCSN broadcast. “He really has it all.”

Miner, 26, made three straight nationals podiums from 2011 through 2013 but hasn’t been better than fifth since. His jumps, including one quad, were clean on Saturday.

But Miner’s Olympic spot is not secure. He checks no other boxes on the committee’s selection criteria, unlike Zhou and Rippon.

“I know it’s not a fluke,” Miner said. “That’s what I do at home every day, and this was the big moment. … I did my job, and then it’s up to them to decide what they decide, but I think I deserve to be there.”

The world junior champ Zhou attempted a Chen-like free skate — five quads. Three were judged under-rotated and one was downgraded. Still enough to land on the podium after the mistakes from Rippon and Brown.

Rippon and Brown, the two U.S. champions preceding Chen, were second and third after Thursday’s short program.

Rippon, after missing the 2010 and 2014 Olympic teams, was in line to become, at 28, the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie singles skater since 1936.

Then he fell on his lone quad attempt and singled the last two jumps of his free skate.

Rippon came to San Jose as the second-ranked U.S. man this season behind Chen. He said it would be a coronation; the only way he would not make the Olympic team was if “others competitors’ mothers are on the selection committee.”

“I knew that there was a criteria set to be selected for the Olympic team, and I feel like I have better criteria than second and third place here,” he said Saturday night, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “But that being said, Vincent and Ross skated well tonight, and no matter what the selection is I will be 100 percent OK and can handle that. My Grand Prixs are better than everybody’s except for Nathan’s.”

Brown, the only man in the field with Olympic experience, fell on his lone quad attempt and singled two jumps of his own.

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VIDEO: Ashley Wagner ‘furious’ over U.S. Champs scores

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.

NATIONALS: Full Results | TV Schedule

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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Jason Brown was in tears before the biggest skate of his life

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Jason Brown‘s free skate from the 2014 U.S. Championships — “Riverdance” — garnered a few million YouTube views, but few saw a bawling Brown as he went to warm up on the ice.

Brown insisted he was thinking about the PyeongChang Olympics — not the Sochi Games in a month’s time — as he was in third place after the short program. With two Olympic spots available.

“I want to soak this up for 2018,” Brown recalled last spring.

Brown picked up his skates that Sunday afternoon before the biggest program of his 19-year-old life. Inside one boot he found a note with recognizable artwork.

“I made it when I was 5,” Brown said. “A sun, and I drew my family, and there’s a house. And I signed the back.”

He opened the card and read a message from his roommate that week. His mom, Marla, the former executive producer of “The Arsenio Hall Show.”

“Follow the joy in your heart and the passion in your soul,” Brown said. (He remembered the words three and a half years later because he keeps the note in his skating bag.)

PREVIEWS: Men | Women | DancePairsTV Schedule | Olympic Selection

The ebullient Chicagoland native streamed tears. His coach, Kori Ade, came over to ask what was wrong.

“I’m like, my mom!” Brown cried. “At the moment, I had gotten mad at first, like why would she do this to me, because I’m sobbing. And I just, like, can’t stop crying. But then the tears faded, and it just gave me a different strength.

“It’s not like I opened up this card, and it was like, ‘Just move up one more placement, you got this, love mom!’ ‘The Olympics are so close, they’re in your reach! Love mom!’ It was none of that. It was just enjoy, basically. That gave me a sense of, this is what it’s all about — enjoyment, loving the process.”

Brown regained composure for his free skate a half-hour later. He gave Ade a big hug and brought the Garden crowd to its feet with the highest score of the day by 8.2 points.

Second place overall. Youngest U.S. male singles skater to make an Olympic team since 1976.

Brown placed ninth in Sochi and earned a team event bronze medal. He won his first U.S. title a year later and is a favorite to make his second Olympic team at nationals this week.

Brown’s mom continued to randomly leave notes in his skating bag after Boston.

“If he sees you doing it, it kind of defeats the whole purpose,” she said. “Sometimes if he’s in the bathroom, I’ll try and quickly do it.”

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