Nathan Chen, 16, became the first man to land four quadruple jumps in a free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but Adam Rippon took his first national title in St. Paul, Minn., on Sunday.
Rippon, 26, fell on his lone quadruple jump attempt (a Lutz, the hardest quad being tried) over two programs, but he was strong enough with the rest of his components to total 270.75 points. Rippon edged short-program leader Max Aaron by 1.2 points for the title.
“My coach is going to drill me into the ground so that I will have the best quads of my life by the time we get to Boston,” Rippon said.
Rippon, in nervous tears hours before the competition and crying again after he saw his score, defended being the second straight U.S. champion without landing a quad.
He leads a three-man team to the World Championships in Boston in two months, with Chen and Aaron, seeking to end a U.S. men’s medal drought since Evan Lysacek‘s World title in 2009.
“If everybody could skate exactly like [Japanese Olympic champion] Yuzuru [Hanyu], the competition would be boring,” said Rippon, who trains and shares a coach with Chen. “It’s not a jump competition. It’s not a choreography competition. It’s not a spin competition. It takes a little bit of everything.
“The talent in U.S. men’s skating is there for the future. Nathan’s doing four quads. Vincent Zhou [eighth place, 15 years old] is trying two. It’s there for the future, but right now, for the present, I wanted to show the best that I could do today.”
Chen posted 266.93 to become the youngest man to finish in the top three at the U.S. Championships since 1973. Rippon, Aaron and Chen were named as the World Championships team two hours after competition ended, setting Chen up to be the youngest U.S. man to compete at Worlds since 1965.
Chen fell on a triple Axel in the free skate, two days after he became the first man to land two quads in a short program at the U.S. Championships.
On Sunday, Chen landed two quadruple Salchows and two quadruple toe loops. He was in fourth place after Friday’s short program.
“I had initially planned to only do three [quads], but I felt fine,” Chen said, adding that he felt he had nothing to lose. “Throughout the season, I’ve only been putting myself up as a junior skater. I’m glad to show what I’m capable of as a senior skater.”
Later Sunday, Chen aggravated a hip injury during an exhibition performance and was taken to a local hospital, according to U.S. Figure Skating.
Rippon has questioned his place in the sport during an up-and-down last few years. He won the 2008 and 2009 World junior titles and was second at the 2012 U.S. Championships but fell to eighth at the 2014 U.S. Championships, missing the Olympic team.
He earned his second U.S. Championships silver medal last year. On Friday, Rippon said of Chen, “He’s the future, but right now I think we want to be the present.”
“I’m like a witch, and you can’t kill me,” Rippon said after winning on NBC.
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.
In St. Paul, Aaron landed one quad in his short program and two in his free skate, staying on his feet in both programs.
Aaron 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.