Nathan Chen

U.S. Olympic figure skating team looking at 3 medals in PyeongChang

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The face of U.S. women’s skating missed the Olympic team. The only male singles skater with prior Olympic experience is out, too.

And ice dance — usually the most predictable discipline — was the one event at the U.S. Championships with an underdog champion.

After a whirlwind few days in San Jose, the team is set with the same Olympic medal expectations as it had before nationals.

The U.S. is looking at three figure skating medals in PyeongChang — which would match its highest total in more than 50 years — though one of those three would come from the team event that debuted in 2014.

It’s very likely the U.S. gets at least a bronze in both the team event and ice dance.

Their overall team is clearly ahead of every nation except Canada and Russia, which may battle closely for gold in PyeongChang.

In dance, the U.S. arguably has the world’s third-, fourth- and fifth-best couples going to PyeongChang. If one falters, the biggest beneficiary would be another U.S. couple.

The third probable medal seems like Nathan Chen‘s destiny. He has the best shot at gold of U.S. skaters, but he also may be more likely than the team and the ice dancers to finish off the podium altogether given the strength of the men’s field.

A look at the U.S. figure skating team’s prospects at the Olympics:

Men
Nathan Chen
U.S. champion
Grand Prix Final champion
World ranking: 2

The lone Olympic medal contender among the U.S. singles skaters. Chen is also the only undefeated male singles skater in the world this season. But Chen significantly trails the other two Olympic medal favorites from Japan in highest international score this season (Shoma Uno‘s 319.84 to Chen’s 293.79) and all time (Yuzuru Hanyu‘s 330.43 to Chen’s 307.46).

Vincent Zhou
U.S. bronze medalist
World junior champion
World ranking: 12

The 17-year-old picked himself up after a disastrous fall Grand Prix season to land four quadruple jumps in his free skate Saturday, though three were judged under-rotated, losing some points. Zhou is the highest-scoring junior skater of all time and attempts Chen-like totals of quads but usually does not land them clean. That’s what keeps him out of the top tier of medal contenders.

Adam Rippon
U.S. fourth-place finisher
Skate America silver medalist
World ranking: 7

The oldest U.S. Olympic rookie singles skater since 1936 at 28 years old. Rippon made the team over U.S. silver medalist Ross Miner on the strength of his fall Grand Prix season — two silver medals and qualifying fifth overall in the world for the Grand Prix Final. Rippon, known for his artistry, hasn’t landed a clean, fully rotated quadruple jump in competition in more than one year. He won’t be in the medal conversation without one.

Women
Bradie Tennell
U.S. champion
Skate America bronze medalist
World ranking: 14

The 19-year-old breakthrough (ninth at last year’s nationals) is in a class of her own in the U.S. with regards to jumping. She received positive grades of execution on 28 of her 30 jumping passes in her main three competitions this season. But her best scores — the top two scores among U.S. women internationally this season — are still more than 10 points behind the Olympic medal favorites from Russia, Japan, Canada and Italy.

Mirai Nagasu
U.S. silver medalist
2010 Olympics fourth-place finisher
World ranking: 23

Nagasu has the potential to outscore Tennell thanks to her triple Axel. She’s the only woman in the world going to the Olympics who is performing that jump. But she has yet to land it clean with a positive grade of execution and has trouble fully rotating her easier jumps.

Karen Chen
U.S. bronze medalist
Worlds fourth-place finisher
World ranking: 36

Chen, unrelated to Nathan, has never finished better than fifth in a Grand Prix but has now made the podium at nationals three times in four years. Plus that incredible fourth-place finish at worlds last season. As strong as that was, her point total from worlds would rank her 10th this season among the 2018 Olympic field.

Ice Dance
Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
U.S. champions
Grand Prix Final fourth-place finishers
World ranking: 5

Hubbell and Donohue broke through at nationals after placing either third or fourth the previous six seasons. They upset the Shibutani siblings after losing to them in all 19 of their previous head-to-heads in significant competitions. Great timing, but does it make them the favorites for Olympic bronze behind French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir? Internationally, their personal best is still nearly five points shy of the Shibutanis. Still work to do.

Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani
U.S. silver medalists
Three-time world championships medalists
World ranking: 3

The Shibutanis lost nationals by .19 of a point with Maia’s slight trip during a free dance step sequence proving costly (though Hubbell and Donohue were flawed in the free dance, too). It marked the first time a couple other than Papadakis and Cizeron and Virtue and Moir beat them in more than two years. The Shibutanis could have laid clear claim as bronze-medal favorites with a nationals three-peat. Instead, it’s up for grabs.

Madison Chock/Evan Bates
U.S. bronze medalists
Two-time world championships medalists
World ranking: 6

Chock and Bates ascended to the top U.S. couple after Meryl Davis and Charlie White stepped away from competition following their Sochi gold medals. Two years ago, they were passed by the Shibutanis. Now, they’ve lost both head-to-heads with Hubbell and Donohue this season. They can take solace in their free dance, having topped both the Shibutanis and Hubbell and Donohue in that program at the last two nationals and last month’s Grand Prix Final.

Pairs
Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim
U.S. champions
World championships 10th-place finisher
World ranking: 16

The Knierims have been the top-scoring U.S. pairs team each of the last four seasons. In 2015, they became the first U.S. pair to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in eight years. But as their world ranking shows, the U.S. pairs medal drought should extend to 30 years next month. In fact, this is the first time since the first Winter Games in 1924 that the U.S. will not have multiple pairs at the Olympics.

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U.S. Olympic team full of surprises, stars; what’s left for PyeongChang

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Nearly half of the U.S. Olympic team was named last week. After several surprises, a few more big names look to clinch their spots in the coming days.

NBC’s coverage of the PyeongChang Winter Games begins in exactly one month on Feb. 8.

Here’s a look at where the U.S. Olympic team stands:

It will end up including more than 200 athletes. One week ago, there were 44 qualified athletes.

Now, there are 127 qualified athletes (full list here), including the entire figure skating and speed skating teams, plus the bulk of the hockey teams.

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Key storylines from qualifiers so far:

Nathan Chen (figure skating): The only undefeated male singles skater this season won by a whopping 40 points at nationals with seven quadruple jumps between two programs. The 19-year-old will go up against Japanese stars Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno as the medal favorites in PyeongChang.

Bradie Tennell (figure skating): Largely an unknown a few months ago, Tennell leaned on consistent jumping to win her first U.S. title, one year after placing ninth at nationals. She is unquestionably the best U.S. woman, but an individual Olympic medal will be a tall ask. She ranks 14th in the world this season.

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu (figure skating): These two veterans told incredible comeback stories to make the team. Rippon, at 28, is the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie singles skater since 1936. The only man to win two world junior titles waited eight years to make it to the Games. He barely qualified, being placed on the team over runner-up Ross Miner after placing fourth at nationals.

Nagasu won her first national title at age 14 in 2008. Then she finished fourth at the 2010 Olympics. She was third at the 2014 Nationals but left off that Olympic team for fourth-place Ashley Wagner. Nagasu wiped away the tears and added a new jump this season, becoming the second American after Tonya Harding to land a triple Axel in international competition. That move helped her get second at nationals and return to the Olympics.

Mikaela Shiffrin (Alpine skiing): Shiffrin became the youngest Olympic slalom champion in Sochi at age 18. She’s since blossomed into the world’s best all-around skier, including winning six of the last seven World Cup races. Shiffrin is now favored for three gold medals in PyeongChang, which would match the record for an Alpine skier at one Winter Games.

New-look hockey teams: The U.S. men’s hockey team includes no NHL players for the first time since 1994. That means a roster mixed with collegians, minor-leaguers and guys playing for European-league teams. The captain is Brian Gionta, the leading goal scorer on the 2006 Olympic team who is currently without a club team.

The U.S. women return 10 Olympians, but there are many changes from the team that lost to Canada in an overtime Olympic final four years ago. The new coach is 1990s NHL goalie Robb Stauber. All three goalies are rookie Olympians. The final two cuts were veterans from Sochi and several world championship teams.

Breaking barriers: Ghana-born 17-year-old Maame Biney is the first African-American woman to make an Olympic short track speed skating teamErin Jackson, a former roller derby skater, became the first African-American woman to make a long-track speed skating Olympic team, four months after picking up the sport full-timeJordan Greenway, a Boston College junior, is the first African-American hockey player to make the Olympic team.

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Athletes who surprisingly missed the Olympic team:

Ashley Wagner (figure skating): The three-time U.S. champion and 2016 World silver medalist finished fourth at the national championships last week. She was left off the three-woman Olympic team by a selection committee that didn’t feel she had strong enough results the past year to merit bumping one of the top three finishers from nationals.

Jason Brown (figure skating): The only man with Olympic experience at this year’s nationals had a disastrous free skate. Brown fell from third to sixth and out of the PyeongChang picture. The bubbly Brown was a sensation four years ago with his “Riverdance” free skate and was hoping to perform to the “Hamilton” soundtrack in South Korea.

Alex Carpenter (hockey): The last forward cut from the U.S. women’s hockey team. Carpenter, the daughter of longtime NHL forward Bobby Carpenter, led the U.S. with four goals in Sochi and scored the 2016 World Championship final game-winning goal in overtime against Canada. She played in the last four world championships.

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Remaining qualifying storylines:

Shaun White (snowboarding): The rest of the Olympic snowboarding team will be determined at qualifiers the next two weekends. White, the 2006 and 2010 halfpipe gold medalist, finished fourth in Sochi. Rededicated, he’s in strong position to automatically qualify at one of the last two qualifiers, despite needing 62 face stitches after a preseason crash. Even if he struggles, there is a safety net. The last spot on the team is chosen by a committee, and White certainly has a strong resume to state his case.

Lindsey Vonn (Alpine skiing): There’s no doubt the 33-year-old is going to PyeongChang. She can officially clinch her spot as early as this weekend with her first World Cup races since a holiday break. Known for crashing and winning, Vonn has done both this season and remains a favorite to become the oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist.

Gus Kenworthy (freestyle skiing): The world’s best freeskier hopes to make the Olympic team in both halfpipe and slopestyle (should be four men in each event). But it’s not an easy task. In slopestyle, Kenworthy is going up against two Olympic medalists (Joss Christensen and Nick Goepper), the world champion (McRae Williams) and another Sochi Olympian in Bobby Brown.

In halfpipe, Sochi gold medalist David WiseTorin Yater-Wallace and Alex Ferreira already have wins in qualifiers, and Winter X Games champ Aaron Blunck is also ahead of Kenworthy in the early qualifying standings.

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Nathan Chen named to 2018 Olympic team alongside Vincent Zhou, Adam Rippon

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Nathan Chen, the U.S.’ best Olympic medal chance in men’s skating, was officially nominated to compete next month in PyeongChang, U.S. Figure Skating announced on Sunday. Joining Chen in PyeongChang will be 2018 nationals bronze medalist Vincent Zhou and 2016 national champion Adam Rippon.

While all three will be new to the Olympic experience, the age gap spans a decade. Chen, 18, and Zhou, 17, likely have more years in the sport, while Rippon, 28, has been through – and missed out on – two prior Olympic teams.

Chen’s resume most recently includes two national titles (2017, 2018), two gold medals on the Grand Prix circuit, plus the prestigious Grand Prix Final gold medal last month. He also won the 2017 Four Continents Championships; incidentally, those were held in the same venue that will host 2018 Olympic figure skating. He beat reigning Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan for that victory.

Chen, born in Salt Lake City, began skating on a practice rink designed for the 2002 Olympics. When he won a novice national title in 2010, he said on the NBC broadcast that he would be a factor in the 2018 Olympics. Back then, it wasn’t even known where the 2018 Olympics would be held.

“That was always the dream of mine,” Chen said on the NBSCSN broadcast after winning his national title. “That was always what I wanted to accomplish in 2018. And I think I’ve done that.”

And what does he think of the prospect of PyeongChang now?

“There’s another big step to the Games – more pressure, more media, all that,” Chen said. “This is exactly what I wanted my entire life, and I’m ready for it.”

Rippon didn’t make the 2010 Olympic team after finishing fifth at those nationals. He didn’t make the 2014 team when he was eighth at those nationals. The 2008 and 2009 world junior champion calls himself a “late bloomer” and won his first national title in 2016. But he broke his foot in January 2017 ago and spent 12 weeks off the ice. He finished fourth at the 2018 nationals, but his body of work boosted his Olympic selection criteria. He won two silver medals on the Grand Prix circuit in the fall and competed in the Grand Prix Final, where he was fifth.

Zhou captured a bronze medal at nationals on Saturday in front of a home crowd in San Jose. The Bay Area native went for five quads in his free skate at nationals, despite three under rotations and a downgrade on those jumps. Despite his rough Grand Prix season (fourth and ninth place finishes), he was the 2017 world junior champion.

“I definitely feel ready,” Zhou said in a press conference following the free skate Saturday night. “I have been training very well. I know I deserve to go to Korea. But that is not up to me, it is up to the selection committee.”

Jason Brown, who finished a disappointing sixth at nationals, was not named to the team. The 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist is instead the first alternate.

2018 national silver medalist Ross Miner very nearly threw off the process of Olympic selection. He had the skate of his life to capture the silver medal, but his international resume was lacking. Miner was named as an alternate for the Olympics, too.

Chen, Zhou and Rippon join the women newly-named to the PyeongChang Olympic team, Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan).

MORE: Ashley Wagner ‘furious’ over U.S. Championships scores

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