Vincent Zhou

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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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).

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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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