Nathan Chen goes into 2018 — the Olympic year — as the only undefeated male figure skater this season after notching the most prestigious victory by an American since the Sochi Olympics.
The 18-year-old U.S. champion won the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition and the biggest pre-Olympic event this season.
The last American singles skaters to do so were Alissa Czisny in 2010 and Evan Lysacek in 2009, the latter en route to Olympic gold. In fact, four of the five men to win the Grand Prix Final in Olympic seasons later won the Winter Games, too.
“I’m very happy with the results,” Chen said, “not very happy with the performance.”
Chen prevailed despite being outscored in Friday’s free skate by Japanese Shoma Uno, the world silver medalist and top-ranked skater in the world this season. Both skaters had a few errors in Friday’s free skate.
But Chen’s lead from Thursday’s short program allowed him to edge Uno by half a point overall — 286.51 to 286.01 — in one of the closest finishes in elite-level figure skating under a 13-year-old points system.
Chen fell on a quadruple toe loop, doubled what could have been a quadruple Salchow and turned out of the landing of another jump. He landed four quads.
“I made a couple mistakes and a lot of things to work on, but I’m happy,” said Chen, who struggled even more in his free skate at Skate America two weeks ago. “Throughout the season I’ve been able to prove myself. I’ve got to continue doing that at the U.S. Championships.”
Adam Rippon and Jason Brown, the two U.S. champions before Chen, finished fifth and sixth in the six-man field after counting one fall each in the free skate.
Still, they’re positioned well going into nationals next month, after which the three-man Olympic team will be named.
The Grand Prix Final concludes Saturday with the pairs free, free dance and women’s free. Three U.S. couples are in the ice dance, led by Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who are in third place after Thursday’s short dance.
Grand Prix Final: Full Scores | TV Schedule
The Grand Prix Final is the single biggest indicator of Olympic medal prospects.
It takes the top six skaters per discipline from the fall Grand Prix series. However, this season’s men’s field was lacking.
The world’s other top skaters — world gold and bronze medalists Yuzuru Hanyu and Jin Boyang and two-time world champion Javier Fernandez — weren’t in Nagoya. Each dealt with illness or injury this fall but is expected to be fine for the Olympics, where they should join Chen and Uno as the medal favorites.
“Regardless of who’s there competitive-wise, you’re still going to have to do what you have to do,” Chen said. “So I think it really didn’t change too much in terms of my performance. But definitely in terms of practices, the environment of the competition, it does feel a little bit different.”
Chen broke out at last year’s Grand Prix Final in his first senior international season, topping the free skate to finish second overall behind Hanyu.
“Last year I wasn’t even expecting to be at the Grand Prix Final,” Chen said Friday. “This year I was able to win it.”
A month later, he became the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 1966 and the first man to land five quads in one program.
Then in February, he beat Hanyu and Uno at the Four Continents Championships at the Olympic venue. He entered worlds with medal hopes but finished sixth.
Earlier Friday, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond topped a women’s short program that lacked Olympic favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia, who is out with a broken foot.
Osmond, the world silver medalist behind Medvedeva, led a group of six women who counted zero falls Friday. Her clean short included a triple flip-triple toe loop combination.
She leads another Russian, world junior champion Alina Zagitova, by .77 going into Saturday’s free skate. Zagitova ranks second in the world behind training partner Medvedeva this season.
There are no U.S. women in the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year.
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Grand Prix Final
Gold: Nathan Chen (USA) — 286.51
Silver: Shoma Uno (JPN) — 286.01
Bronze: Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 282.00
4. Sergei Voronov (RUS) — 266.59
5. Adam Rippon (USA) — 254.33
6. Jason Brown (USA) — 253.81
Women’s Short Program
1. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 77.04
2. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 76.27
3. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 74.61
4. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 74.00
5. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 73.26
6. Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 72.82