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Troy Dumais’ complicated path to U.S. Olympic diving records

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Troy Dumais wants to become the oldest U.S. Olympic diver in more than 100 years, perhaps of all time*, and the first diver to make five U.S. Olympic teams.

He must find a synchronized diving partner first. The Olympic trials are in less than three months.

Dumais, a 36-year-old who earned his first Olympic medal in 2012 (synchronized springboard bronze), competed with two different synchro partners at each of the two biggest national meets of 2015.

Diving with multiple partners at one event is not uncommon, but Dumais’ results were heartbreakingly peculiar.

At both meets, he dived with his 2012 Olympic medal-winning partner, Kristian Ipsen, and with NCAA springboard champion Sam Dorman.

Both times, he finished second with Ipsen and third with Dorman. The winning synchro team at each meet? Ipsen and Dorman, who (obviously) also competed with multiple partners.

The meets were the 2015 World Championships trials and the 2015 Winter Nationals, the latter a selection meet for the FINA World Cup at the Olympic venue in Rio de Janeiro last month.

Only one synchro team per nation per event can compete at Worlds and the World Cup (and the Olympics), so Dumais just missed qualifying, while his two partners did qualify for Worlds and the World Cup.

Ipsen and Dorman, both more than a decade younger than Dumais, together finished seventh at Worlds, sixth at the World Cup and, most recently, third at a FINA World Series stop in Beijing two weeks ago.

They’re looking like the favorites going into the June Olympic trials in Indianapolis, where, again, only one synchro team per event can earn an Olympic berth. They are not yet locked in to compete together at trials, but it would be a surprise if they change partners in the spring of an Olympic year.

Where does that leave Dumais?

Dumais could compete at trials with multiple partners, but he said it would be easier to focus with one partner for such a big meet.

He will partner with Michael Hixon, the 2014 NCAA springboard champion, at a Puerto Rico meet next week but is not yet locked in with Hixon for trials.

Dumais and Hixon competed at the 2013 World Championships, finishing a respectable fifth, and continued to train together into spring 2014 since Dumais was based in Austin, Texas, where Hixon competed for the Longhorns. Ipsen competed at Stanford during that time.

After winning NCAAs as a freshman in 2014, Hixon transferred from Texas to the University of Indiana. Hixon has since competed in synchro solely with one partner, Indiana-based Darian Schmidt.

After the Puerto Rico meet, the best U.S. springboard divers will convene in early April and early May to determine the pairs going forward, Dumais said.

“We’re going to find out right then and there who the best teams are, and then we’re going to dive those teams,” Dumais said. “We have a plan. …  It’s amazing how things can go awry, and then when the pressure’s on, how it all comes back together. It just would have been nice to have this in the plan for two to three years versus months before.”

It’s unclear what Dumais will do if Ipsen and Dorman and Hixon and Schmidt link up for trials and don’t have multiple partners. His 2004 Olympic synchro partner, older brother Justin, is retired. Another experienced synchro partner, younger brother Dwight, is diving with another Texan.

Of course, Dumais could also qualify for the Olympic team individually.

In 2015, he also missed the Worlds team by one spot in the individual springboard, finishing third at trials (behind Hixon and Schmidt). Previously, the last time a U.S. diving team went to an Olympics or Worlds without Dumais was the Atlanta 1996 Games.

Is Dumais more confident he can make the Olympic team in synchro or individually?

“I’m confident about both of them,” he said recently. “I haven’t been traveling and competing as much this go-around because I wanted to make sure that I had the [difficult] dives.”

Dumais placed sixth individually at the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics and fifth in 2012.

He was inconsistent last year — third at Worlds trials, fourth at Winter Nationals and 11th at the U.S. Championships.

The Worlds trials last May had to be especially painful, as Dumais would have made the team if not for a failed dive in the first round. Scores are cumulative for all three rounds (18 dives total), and Dumais lost about 80 points with the failed, zero-point dive.

He finished 34.85 points out of second place and a Worlds spot.

Then at Winter Nationals in December, Dumais finished fourth, but he upped his degree of difficulty to 20.6 total points in the final round versus 19.9 in most prior rounds and meets last year.

The 20.6 matched Hixon’s difficulty, was six tenths greater than Ipsen (who won Winter Nationals) and six tenths fewer than Dorman.

“Now I’m doing the dives that even the youngest and the strongest are in the world,” Dumais said. “The problem that I always had at the Olympics was that I might have been short a little degree of difficulty.”

MORE: U.S. could send full team of individual divers to Olympics

*Dumais would become the oldest U.S. Olympic diver of all time based on birth records available to Olympic historians, but not all U.S. Olympic divers’ ages from the 1904 and 1908 Games are known.

Nathan Chen, from flu-ridden on the floor, fights for 4th U.S. title

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Rafael Arutunian showed me a photo on his phone of Nathan Chen sleeping on the floor in a dressing room at Great Park Ice Arena when he was supposed to be practicing earlier this month.

Arutunian said he could have taken the same picture on eight days in the 2 1/2 weeks they spent together at his Irvine, Calif., training base during Chen’s semester break from Yale.

Arutunian would see the flu-ridden and feverish Chen curled up asleep, turn off the light, leave the room and wait until Chen woke up before trying to have him do any training.

In the past, Arutunian said, Chen could train through sickness. This time it was futile.

“He couldn’t move,” Arutunian said.

It wasn’t until about 10 days ago, after Chen returned to college on the East Coast, that he was able to do anything resembling training.

At that point, the coach knew he had to be more hands-on than usual, or as much as he could be from 3,000 miles away.

“This time, I was managing everything, calling every day to give him exactly what he needed to do to get ready for the U.S. Championships,” Arutunian said.

NATIONALS: Full results | World championships team named

What Chen did on the ice Saturday and Sunday left Arutunian shaking his head in admiration.

He landed six clean quads in six attempts, two in the short program Saturday, four in the free skate Sunday. The short program was of the surpassing excellence that forces writers to exhaust the superlatives in our language for accurate portrayals of his skating.

The free skate did not require consulting a dictionary for new ways to say extraordinary. That was not unexpected, given how diminished fitness figured to take a toll over the length of a free skate, four minutes, compared to the two minutes, 50 seconds in the short.

Yet Chen’s overall skating still drew superlatives from Arutunian, not a coach given to gushing.

“I don’t know anybody who could recover and do what he did after that sickness,” Arutunian said.

This time, his performance was one for historians more than lexicographers, making it one for the ages from a different perspective.

Chen, 20, became the first U.S. man to win four straight U.S. titles since Olympic champion Brian Boitano in 1988. Others who have done that since World War II include Olympic champions Scott Hamilton, David Jenkins, Hayes Jenkins and Dick Button, the last a winner of seven straight.

Chen was fifth at his only Olympics so far, in 2018.  He has won 10 straight events since, including two world titles, two Grand Prix Final titles and the third and fourth U.S. titles.

“It’s a huge deal for me to be able to take the next step to not necessarily being one of the legends but to sort of follow their footsteps,” Chen said. “These guys have done amazing things, well beyond what I have accomplished. It’s amazing to have that inspiration in front of you, to see how far I can take myself.”

For the fourth straight year, Chen was far ahead of his contemporaries, even if his winning margin of 37.29 points was less than any of the previous three: 58.21, 40.72, 55.44.

That smaller gap owed less to Chen’s flaws in the free skate than to Jason Brown’s having done what his coach, Tracy Wilson, thought was the best skating of Brown’s career, especially for its interpretive maturity.

Chen finished with 330.17 points to 292.88 for Brown and 278.08 for Tomoki Hiwatashi, who had a breakthough performance. World bronze medalist Vincent Zhou, who has had only a few weeks of good training after taking a leave from Brown University and moving to Toronto, was fourth at 275.23.

“A couple jump landings were a little shaky,” Chen said. “I wasn’t as controlled and calm as I was in the short program.”

Chen, Brown and Zhou were named to the U.S. team for the March world championships in Montreal. Better results over the past year, notably the world bronze, gave Zhou the third spot over Hiwatashi.

Brown, 25, once again failed to land a quadruple jump, with his quad toe attempt ending in a downgrade and two-footed landing. But he did everything else so brilliantly in a mesmerizingly beautiful performance to music from “Schindler’s List” that his individual grade of execution marks were higher than Chen’s. This was a Brown at a level he had not approached since his 2014 Olympic season.

“I think that was just a glimpse of what’s to come,” Brown said. “One hundred percent, it’s probably the best skating I have done. I think I still have a long way to go as far as the technical aspect as well as the skating skills, but as far as being strong and confident, I really feel things coming together.”

Chen, on the other hand, felt as unprepared as he ever had been for a nationals because of the illness. So he was “absolutely pleased” with his performance to music from the Elton John biopic, “Rocketman.”

“I was able to make good use of the week I had relatively healthy to sort of get myself back in check before this competition,” Chen said.  “I’ve had a lot of experience over the past few years competing in different sorts of situations, and that helped me here in how to still keep myself in a positive, confident mindset.”

Chen’s concession to his physical condition was no quad Lutz. His execution of three of the four quads he did, two toes, a salchow and a flip, was exceptional – especially the opening flip in combination and the final toe. The judges also rewarded him with 15 perfect component scores, six for composition and five for interpretation. 

As much as he impressed the judges, Chen impressed his coach more.

“Amazing,” Arutunian said. “Who else could do this?”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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MORE: Why retired Adam Rippon was at nationals 

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.

Nathan Chen wins fourth straight U.S. figure skating title in dominant fashion

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Nathan Chen has leaned on Brian Boitano during times of crisis and injuries. At the U.S. Figure Skating Championships the last two days, Chen showcased not only his jumps — six quads between two programs — but some of the mental strength gleaned from the 1988 Olympic champion.

Chen, who said he competed on one week of full training after a flu bout, was his usual standout self, becoming the first man to win four straight national titles since Boitano in 1988.

He distanced runner-up Jason Brown by 37.29 points, totaling 330.17. Chen won all of his national titles by at least 37 points. No other skater, pair or dance couple has won by more than 33 points since the Code of Points was instituted in 2006.

Chen landed a pair of quad toe loops, a quad flip and a quad Salchow in his Elton John-themed free skate.

“I was, again, pretty worried about my stamina coming into this competition, but the audience really helped me get through it,” the Yale sophomore told Andrea Joyce on NBC.

NATIONALS: Full results | World championships team named

Boitano and Scott Hamilton, the other most recent man to win four straight, sat together inside the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum.

“It’s a huge deal for me to be able to take the next step to, not necessarily becoming one of these legends, but sort of follow in their footsteps,” Chen said. “These guys have done amazing things well beyond what I’ve already accomplished. It’s amazing to be able to have that sort of inspiration in front of you and have something to look forward to.”

Besides Chen, five of the six men to earn four straight U.S. titles since World War II went on to earn Olympic gold, which Chen will aim for in 2022. He’s undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics with a disastrous 17th-place short program followed by a leading free skate. He was arguably the favorite for gold.

Chen now heads to March’s world championships for another matchup with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. Chen routed Hanyu twice in 2019, by 22.45 points at worlds and 43.87 at December’s Grand Prix Final.

“If I start focusing too much on the results, and I start trying to focus on going to this competition because I want to continue this quote-unquote streak, it will probably be the end of it,” Chen said. After his Grand Prix Final romp, Chen called Hanyu a “skating god” and said the Japanese megastar was still capable of outperforming him.

Brown, skating Sunday to music from “Schindler’s List,” earned his best nationals finish since winning the title in Greensboro five years ago.

He did so without a clean quad, having his one attempt in the free skate downgraded. Brown has never landed a quad in competition. Still, he beat Chen in artistic scores in the short program, coming back from a preseason concussion in a car accident.

“It’s probably the best skating that I’ve done,” said Brown, a 2014 Olympian who changed coaches after missing the PyeongChang Olympics, moving to Brian Orser‘s group in Toronto.

Tomoki Hiwatashi, the world junior champion, jumped from fifth after the short program onto the podium in third. He landed a pair of quads in a clean free skate, making his case to be named to the three-man world championships team.

But that spot was instead given by a U.S. Figure Skating committee to fourth-place finisher Vincent Zhou.

Zhou, the world bronze medalist, finished fourth with one quad in his free skate. Zhou had minor jump landing errors, competing after not training properly for the entire autumn while a freshman at Brown. He moved to Toronto in late December, changed coaches and resumed training a month before nationals.

Andrew Torgashev, the surprise third-place skater from the short program, fell twice on quad attempts and dropped to fifth.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Why retired Adam Rippon was at nationals 

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.