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Nathan Chen hits short program, leads world championships

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That’s more like it, Nathan Chen.

After two disastrous Olympic short programs, Chen nailed his jumps at the world championships, taking the lead by 1.86 points over Russian Mikhail Kolyada in Milan on Thursday. American Vincent Zhou is third.

Full results are here.

“I learned a lot from the Olympics, and I used what I learned there heading into the short program in terms of where to place my mind, what to think about throughout the program,” Chen said. “It was great to have an opportunity to come back before the end of the season to try the short program again, sort of hope to redeem myself.”

Later Thursday, Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot backed up their Olympic gold with a world title, shattering the longest-standing world record in figure skating with a record margin of victory. Full recap here.

In Saturday’s men’s free skate, Chen can become the youngest men’s world champion since Yevgeny Plushenko in 2001. Zhou can become the first man to make a senior world podium the year after winning a world junior title since Plushenko in 1998. The U.S. last put two men on a world podium in 1996 (Todd EldredgeRudy Galindo).

This week’s field lacks Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan, who combined to win every Olympic and world title since 2011 but ended their seasons at the Olympics.

On Thursday, Chen hit a quadruple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, a quadruple flip and a triple Axel for 101.94 points (2.18 shy of his personal best). It was a reversal from PyeongChang, where Chen’s short programs began unraveling with that opening combination, and he scored 80.61 and 82.27 points.

Chen placed 17th in the Olympic short program and redeemed himself with the top free skate, moving up to fifth. He went into the Olympics as the only undefeated male skater for the season.

“That I was able to bounce back and have the long program that I did, because of that the whole Olympic experience wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be after the short program,” Chen said Thursday. “Being able to have that, I didn’t have any ghosts of the Olympics following me [to worlds].”

Zhou, the youngest of 37 men in the field at 17, landed a quad Lutz-triple toe loop combination and a quad flip, fist pumping at the end of his skate. He shattered his personal-best short program by 12.25 points. Zhou was sixth at the Olympics.

“I came here to skate a clean program, I did that, and being in the top three is icing on the cake,” Zhou said.

Two other medal favorites — Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and two-time world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China — struggled with jumps. Jin is fourth and Uno fifth.

Uno, competing with a reported ankle injury, performed a triple-double combination rather than the quad-triple he did in PyeongChang. Jin had a quad toe called under-rotated.

The third American, 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron, is in 15th place. Aaron put his hand down on his opening quad Salchow and turned out of his triple Axel landing.

Key Free Skate Start Times (Saturday ET)
Max Aaron (USA) — 6:05 a.m.
Shoma Uno (JPN) — 8:21 a.m.
Jin Boyang (CHN) — 8:29 a.m.
Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 8:38 a.m.
Vincent Zhou (USA) — 8:47 a.m.
Nathan Chen (USA) — 8:55 a.m.

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Adam Rippon, Shibutanis to miss figure skating worlds

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Adam Rippon and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani withdrew from the world figure skating championships in three weeks, joining a list of Olympic medalists who will miss the event in Milan, Italy.

Rippon is replaced by Max Aaron, who joins PyeongChang Olympians Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou in making up the three-man U.S. team.

Aaron was the third alternate behind Sochi Olympian Jason Brown and U.S. silver medalist Ross Miner, who passed on the worlds spot after Rippon gave it up. A rep for Rippon did not specify why he decided against worlds.

Rippon, an Olympic team event bronze medalist, said after he finished 10th in singles in PyeongChang that he didn’t know if he would compete at worlds.

Many skaters skip the world championships after the Olympics due to exhaustion or off-the-ice opportunities.

The Shibutani siblings were the lone Americans to earn Olympic medals outside of the team event. They said earlier this week that they were unsure if they would compete at worlds.

They are replaced in the worlds field by Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who were fourth at nationals.

Other notable skaters missing worlds:

Patrick Chan (CAN) — Widely reported to have retired
Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — Retired
Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — Possibly retiring
Javier Fernandez (ESP) — Possibly retiring

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang Olympics

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 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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