Nathan Chen debuts new jump, wins Olympic season opener (video)

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Only three quadruple jumps for Nathan Chen this week, yet the U.S. champion still made history.

The 18-year-old phenom landed his first quad loop in competition, becoming the first skater to master five different four-revolution jumps minus the one quad no man can land — the Axel.

Chen isn’t ready to unleash them all in one competition yet, though. He landed a quad flip and quad Lutz in addition to the loop between two programs at the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City on Thursday and Friday.

Chen won his Olympic season debut at the rink where he began skating as a toddler.

He tallied 275.04 points, distancing 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron by 13.48 points at a lower-level event featuring none of the sport’s international contenders. Full scores are here.

Chen scored 18.58 more points than his season debut last year, when he attempted seven quads and fell on three. But he wasn’t fully satisfied, lamenting doubling a planned quad toe loop Friday.

Afterward, he reportedly shot down chatter that he could attempt seven quads in one free skate later this season.

“That’s a little crazy talk, I think,” Chen said, according to the Deseret News. “I think that there’s a lot of potential with the programs that I have right now. Adding a bunch of quads is not really the main priority. It’s building back to where I was, and to keep on evolving the rest of the program.”

Where was Chen last winter? In a class by himself in number of quads.

He landed a record seven quads at the U.S. Championships in January and again at the Four Continents Championships at the PyeongChang Olympic venue in February, when he beat Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. He was sixth at the world championships, attempting a record six quads in the free skate alone but falling twice.

Chen is preparing for the bigger events this fall and winter, starting with his Grand Prix debut at Rostelecom Cup in Russia in a month.

Earlier Friday, Japan’s Marin Honda topped the women’s short program in Salt Lake City. The 16-year-old world junior champion from 2016 landed all of her jumps cleanly for 66.90 points.

Three of the top four women from last season’s U.S. Championships also skated in an early preview of competition for three Olympic spots. The team will be chosen after nationals in January.

U.S. champion Karen Chen, silver medalist Mariah Bell and fourth-place finisher Mirai Nagasu each struggled with jumps Friday.

Chen, no relation to Nathan, put her hand down on a triple loop, under-rotated a triple toe loop and scored 66.18 points.

“There was a few minor mistakes, but overall I’m very happy that I was able to stand up on everything,” she said.

Bell fell on the second half of a jumping combination and tallied 60.68.

“I have a lot of improving to do,” Bell said. “It definitely was not my best, by far, but it’s an OK place to start [the season].”

Nagasu attempted a triple Axel — rarely seen in women’s skating — but two-footed the landing, stepped out of another jump and performed a triple-double combination rather than a triple-triple. She still bettered Bell with 63.81 points.

“I’ve been nailing that triple Axel in practice; I really wanted to land it,” Nagasu said. “I’m like mad, but proud of myself at the same time.”

The women’s free skate in Salt Lake City is Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET, streamed on Icenetwork.com for subscribers.

Also Friday, Russian Alina Zagitova won the lower-level Lombardia Trophy in Italy with a point total that ranks her fourth all-time — 218.46.

Only world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva (Zagitova’s training partner) and the last two Olympic champions — Adelina Sotnikova and Yuna Kim — have scored higher under the system in place since 2003.

It’s impressive that Zagitova, the 2017 World junior champion, posted that score so early in a season. And that she did it in her senior international debut.

She edged Japanese Wakaba Higuchi by .83 of a point. Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner was third, 20.1 points behind.

The Lombardia Trophy men’s free skate — with world silver medalist Shoma Uno leading U.S. Olympian Jason Brown by 21.86 points — is Saturday. The event is streamed live here.

The figure skating season continues next week with the last two male world champions — training partners Hanyu and Javier Fernandez — facing off at the Autumn Classic in Montreal. Medvedeva also makes her international season debut in Slovakia.

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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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