Max Aaron leads U.S. Championships after short program

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Max Aaron just missed the 2014 Olympic and 2015 World Championships teams. He’s making sure he won’t be left out this season.

Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, skated a clean short program, with a quadruple jump, to lead the U.S. Championships going into Sunday’s free skate (NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra, 4-6 p.m. ET).

“Tonight was a good fight,” Aaron said (more from Aaron in an NBC interview here). “Nothing really went smooth.”

Aaron totaled 91.83 points in St. Paul, Minn., on Friday and leads past U.S. silver medalists Ross Miner by .93 and Adam Rippon by 3.82. Full results are here.

Aaron was third at the 2014 U.S. Championships, missing the two-man Olympic team, and fourth at the 2015 U.S. Championships, missing the three-man World Championships team.

This season, Aaron won Skate America in October, becoming the first U.S. man to take a Grand Prix title since 2011.

He came into the U.S. Championships as a clear favorite due in part to the absences of both Sochi Olympians (Jason Brown, back strain, and Jeremy Abbott, sitting out this season) and 2015 U.S. bronze medalist Joshua Farris (concussion).

The last time the U.S. Championships men’s event included zero Olympians was 1968.

Miner, who made three straight U.S. podiums from 2011-13, had his best-ever short program, though he lacked Aaron’s quad.

Rippon, a two-time U.S. silver medalist seeking his first title, stepped out of the landing of his opening triple-triple jump combination. He has a quadruple Lutz in his arsenal but did not attempt a four-revolution jump.

“I kind of doubted myself for a second heading into my first combination,” Rippon said (more from Rippon in an NBC interview here). “After that, I told myself that I just needed to let it go, do all the elements as well as I could, fight through them, or [coach] Rafael [Arutyunyan] would kill me. And I wanted to live.”

Nathan Chen, 16, performed two quadruple jumps in his short program and placed fourth with 86.33 points.

“I’m pretty happy with how I did,” Chen, who is trying to become the youngest U.S. man to finish in the top three at Nationals since 1973, told media in St. Paul. “This was the first time I’ve ever tried two quads in a short program. Honestly, it was a big risk for me, but I thought this would be the best time to do it. I’m trying to set myself up as a senior skater, and I think this is a good step.”

The Junior Grand Prix Final champion turned out of the landing on his first quad and put a hand on the ice landing his triple Axel.

“He’s the future, but right now I think we want to be the present,” said Rippon, who trains with Chen.

Men are competing for three spots on the team for the World Championships in Boston in two months.

The U.S. champion earns an automatic Worlds berth, while a committee will choose the other two after the free skate, taking into account recent results in top national and international competitions.

Complicating the decision is the 2015 U.S. champion Brown’s back strain that’s kept him out of competition since the end of October. Brown has petitioned for a place on the Worlds team.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday with the pairs, ice dance and women’s long programs on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra.

MORE: Patrick Chan considered quitting after Grand Prix Final