Nathan Chen lands four quads, but Adam Rippon wins U.S. title

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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.

NBC Sports’ U.S. Championships All-Access Page

40 years ago today: Jimmy Carter lays plan for Olympic boycott

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On Jan. 20, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he would not support sending a U.S. team to the Moscow Olympics later that summer if the Soviet Union did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Carter detailed his stance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing that Sunday. A transcript:

Bill Monroe: Assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics, and if not, what are the alternatives?

Carter: No. Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan — within a month — I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics. It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is. I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the Summer and the Winter Games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the Summer Games would be Greece. This will be my own position, and I have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to take this position to the International Olympic Committee, and I would hope that as many nations as possible would support this basic position. One hundred and four nations voted against the Soviet invasion and called for their immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan in the United Nations, and I would hope as many of those as possible would support the position I’ve just outlined to you.

Monroe: Mr. President, if a substantial number of nations does not support the U.S. position, would not that just put the U.S. in an isolated position without doing much damage to the Soviet Union?

Carter: Regardless of what other nations might do, I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow while the Soviet invasion troops are in Afghanistan.

Three days later, Carter said in his State of the Union address, “I have notified the Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.”

The Soviets did not withdraw troops.

Though Carter did not have the authority to order a boycott, the U.S. Olympic Committee did decide on April 12 not to send a team.

The U.S. was among more than 60 nations that were invited to the Moscow Games and did not participate (for various reasons). Other notable absences included Canada, West Germany, Japan and China.

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With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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