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Nathan Chen is the man at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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Common sense says Nathan Chen could skip this week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships and still be named to the Olympic team.

In the last year, Chen became the youngest U.S. champion since 1966 and the first man to land five quadruple jumps in one free skate, beat the Olympic favorite at the Olympic venue and was the only man to go undefeated in the fall Grand Prix series.

Whew.

Chen goes into nationals in San Jose, Calif., — where the Olympic team will be decided — as the biggest favorite among the four disciplines.

“There is additional pressure, but it’s reassuring again, and I’ve said this before, I’m happy with the way that things have gone,” Chen said last week. “I’m happy that I’m in this position. This is what I’ve wanted for a long time.”

Chen first predicted on national TV at the 2010 U.S. Championships — where he won the novice division at age 10 — that he eyed the 2018 Olympics.

In January 2014, still too young for the Winter Games, he won the junior division at nationals at TD Garden and stuck around to watch the women’s free skate from the second deck.

“I was trying to think about myself in their shoes,” said Chen, who was profiled by The New York Times that week. “Even at that point, it was pretty nerve-racking.”

Chen performs in the short program Thursday and the free skate Saturday. He will almost surely hear his name called in an Olympic team announcement Sunday morning.

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The intrigue? Which other two men will join him in PyeongChang.

It’s not as simple as the top three finishers from nationals.

A committee chooses the Olympic team based on results from events in the past year. This is why Chen is already considered a lock.

Past U.S. champions Adam RipponMax Aaron and Jason Brown are the next highest-ranked U.S. men this season.

The 17-year-old Vincent Zhou took second to Chen at last year’s nationals, then won the world junior title, but struggled this fall.

A closer look at the five primary contenders for three Olympic spots:

Nathan Chen
2017 U.S. champion
Undefeated in 2017-18 season
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 1st

Chen’s real measure is against the top skaters from Europe and Asia, but for now let’s focus on domestic dominance. His best total score this season is 27.34 points higher than the next U.S. man. His worst total score this season is still higher than any other American’s personal best.

Chen plans two quads in his short program and five in his free skate, a total that only one other skater could possibly attempt to match (the struggling Zhou). He certainly doesn’t need that many to repeat as U.S. champion.

There is a little bit of concern. Chen fell in his free skate at his last two events. At Skate America in November, Chen dealt with replacing a skate blade between his short and free, plus other “very private” issues, his coach reportedly said.

Chen won the Grand Prix Final in early December and then missed “a little bit” of training while feeling “a little bit under the weather.”

Adam Rippon
2016 U.S. champion
Two-time Grand Prix Final qualifier
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 2nd

“Besides Nathan Chen, I have the best criteria,” Rippon said last week. The 28-year-old claimed that because he was the only American other than Chen to qualify outright for the Grand Prix Final, where he also finished second to Chen among Americans (and fifth overall of six skaters).

Rippon missed three other key events on the committee’s criteria — last season’s nationals, Olympic test event and world championships — because of a broken foot. Doesn’t matter, he says.

“My mentality going into San Jose is that this is just going to be my coronation,” Rippon said. “The only argument is if other competitors’ mothers are on the selection committee.”

Rippon is a sentimental favorite. He was fifth at the 2010 Nationals (as two-time reigning world junior champion) and eighth in 2014 (as the most consistent U.S. man in the fall season). He considered quitting after missing in Sochi.

“I was fat then,” he said.

Two years later, Rippon won his first national title. Now, he’s poised to become the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie singles skater since 1936.

Jason Brown
2015 U.S. champion
Ninth at Sochi Olympics
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 4th

Brown was the third U.S. man at the Grand Prix Final with Chen and Rippon, finishing last of six skaters at the event. He’s also the only man in this week’s field with Olympic experience. He made the podium at his last three U.S. Championships and in every one of his five Grand Prix seasons.

“I’ve really proven myself,” Brown said. “You look at the criteria, I really do fill a lot of those bubbles.”

What Brown does not have is a consistent quadruple jump. He’s planning a quad toe loop, but has never landed a clean, fully rotated quad in competition. The other Olympic team contenders can all land a quad (though Rippon hasn’t done so clean since November 2016).

Brown makes up for that with strong component (artistic) marks. Which brings to mind his show-stopping “Riverdance” free skate from the 2014 U.S. Championships. This year, Brown received buzz for his short program music from “Hamilton.”

Vincent Zhou
2017 U.S. silver medalist
2017 World junior champion
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 5th

Zhou was very arguably the No. 2 U.S. man coming into the season. Now, he’s an underdog to make the three-man Olympic team.

The 17-year-old fell seven times in his two Grand Prix events in November. He called his skating “dismal” and later said he was dealing with a shin injury that since cleared up. Zhou also dislocated a shoulder in practice two weeks ago.

Zhou is not relenting on ambition despite those setbacks. He plans five quads in his free skate Saturday, putting his fate in his own skates.

“I know that I’m able to do all the quads that everyone else can do,” he said. “I would say my potential technical content would be on par with [Chen], but as for the artistry, presentation side, I have a long way to go.”

Max Aaron
2013 U.S. champion
2015 Skate America champion
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 3rd

Aaron was the reigning U.S. champion going into the Sochi Olympic season. He placed third at the 2014 Nationals but was left off the two-man Olympic team.

He’s more off the radar this year — after plummeting to ninth at last season’s nationals — but joined the Olympic team conversation with a personal-best free skate at a Grand Prix in China in November. In his last three free skates, Aaron has twice landed three quads.

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Beatrice Chepkoech crushes steeplechase world record (video)

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Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech crushed the 3000m steeplechase world record by eight seconds at a Diamond League meet in Monaco on Friday.

Chepkoech clocked 8:44.32, easily beating Olympic champion Ruth Jebet‘s mark of 8:52.78. Coincidentally, the IAAF confirmed Friday that Bahrain’s Jebet, who was born in Kenya, has been suspended the last five months after testing positive for EPO.

Between Jebet and Chepkoech, the steeple world record has come down 14 seconds since the Rio Games. Chepkoech began competition running in 2011 and didn’t concentrate on the steeplechase until 2016.

“I was thinking maybe I can break 8:50, but not at all was I dreaming about 8:44,” Chepkoech said, according to meet organizers.

Chepkoech, 27, was best-known for missing the first water jump in the 2017 World Championships final, retracing her steps and recovering to finish fourth. That helped lead the way to the stunning U.S. one-two finish with Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs.

In Friday’s race, Frerichs broke Coburn’s American record by clocking 9:00.85 for second place.

Full Monaco results are here. The Diamond League moves to London for a two-day meet Saturday and Sunday (broadcast/stream info here).

In other Monaco events, Caster Semenya clocked her second-fastest 800m of all time to extend her near-three-year win streak. The Olympic and world champion clocked 1:54.60. Semenya’s personal best is still .97 shy of the world record.

“Today wanted to break 1:54 but maybe next time,” Semenya said. “I was not thinking about the world record today and actually it is not on my mind.”

A pursuit of the 35-year-old mark will be impacted severely if an IAAF rule limiting testosterone in female middle-distance runners goes into effect next season as scheduled. Semenya is challenging it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Noah Lyles won the 200m in 19.65 seconds, the world’s fastest time since Usain Bolt‘s last world title in 2015. Lyles, the U.S. 100m champion, remained undefeated in outdoor 200m races since finishing fourth at the Olympic Trials as an 18-year-old.

Lyles did a somersault when introduced before the race and a standing back flip celebrating afterward.

Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo won the 400m in the world’s fastest time in nine years — 49.97 seconds — edging world silver medalist Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain. Naser, 20, ran 49.08, destroying her Asian record of 49.55, but lost for the first time in nearly one year.

Botswana’s Nijel Amos ran the world’s fastest 800m since the epic 2012 Olympic final, clocking 1:42.14 against a field that did not include injured world-record holder David Rudisha.

Marie-Josée Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast won a deep 100m in 10.89 seconds, confirming she is currently the world’s fastest woman. Ta Lou also has the fastest time in the world this year of 10.85 and hasn’t lost over 100m in 2018. The race lacked world champion Tori Bowie, while Olympic champion Elaine Thompson was third in 11.02.

Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot took the 1500m in the fastest time in the world since the 2015 Monaco meet — 3:28.41. Cheruiyot, who came to Monaco with the world’s top three times this year, edged world champion Elijah Manangoi (3:29.64).

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, 17, was fourth in 3:31.18, taking 2.54 seconds off the U18 world record and nearly six seconds off his personal best, according to the IAAF. U.S. Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz was seventh in 3:31.77, his fastest time since Monaco 2015.

World silver medalist Soufiane El Bakkali became the first steeplechaser to break eight minutes in three years. The Moroccan won in 7:58.15, while U.S. Olympic silver medalist Evan Jager was second in 8:01.02.

Two-time Olympic champion Christian Taylor beat Cuban-born Portuguese rival Pedro Pablo Pichardo in the triple jump, leaping 17.86 meters.

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Suspect confesses to Denis Ten killing

AP
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MOSCOW (AP) — One of two men detained in Kazakhstan on suspicion of killing Olympic figure skating medalist Denis Ten has confessed, authorities said Friday.

Prosecutor Berik Zhuyrektayev said in a televised statement that Nuraly Kiyasov “confessed his guilt in the presence of an attorney” while being questioned over the 25-year-old skater’s death Thursday in the Kazakh city of Almaty.

The prosecutor didn’t give further details of what exactly Kiyasov had said.

Police have also detained 23-year-old Arman Kudaibergenov in connection with Ten’s death, which has prompted national mourning. Authorities released a picture of the disheveled-looking man being held by masked men wearing body armor and camouflage uniforms.

Ten was stabbed after a dispute with people who allegedly tried to steal a mirror from his car in his home city of Almaty. He died in hospital of massive blood loss from multiple wounds, the Kazinform news agency said.

Prosecutors are treating his death as murder.

Kazinform reported that Kiyasov was taken to the scene of the crime under heavy security Friday as part of the investigation.

Ten’s bronze in Sochi in 2014 made him Kazakhstan’s first Olympic medalist in figure skating. He also won the Four Continents Championships in 2015 and was a world silver medalist in 2013.

He struggled with injuries in recent years and could only finish 27th at the PyeongChang Olympics.

Ten had been working on a script in recent months which the Kazakh-Russian director Timur Bekmambetov said Friday would now be turned into a movie.

“We’re definitely going to try to realize his idea and shoot a film dedicated to this multi-talented person,” Bekmambetov said in comments released by Kazakhstan’s embassy to Russia. “In his 25 years, Ten managed to do very much and had grand plans which he would surely have put into practice because he was a real hard worker.”

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