Nathan Chen crushes U.S. Champs short program (video)

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Nathan Chen fell time and again in practice at the U.S. Championships.

Come competition Thursday night, he was every bit the skater that went undefeated in the fall Grand Prix season, boosting Olympic gold-medal hopes.

“My mind was not in the right place [Wednesday],” Chen told media in San Jose. “Having a day to recover and recalculate definitely helped a lot.”

The 18-year-old phenom landed two quadruple jumps and scored 104.45 points, the second-highest short program tally in nationals history.

The highest? Chen’s score last year, when he became the first man to land seven quads between two programs in one competition.

Chen is almost certainly two days away from being named to his first Olympic team. Who will join him in PyeongChang?

Adam Rippon and Jason Brown, the 2016 and 2015 U.S. champions, are in second and third with 96.52 and 93.23 points, respectively.

The men’s free skate is Saturday, live on NBCSN and streaming on NBCOlympics.com from 8-11 p.m. ET.

The three-man Olympic team — not necessarily the top three at nationals — will be named Sunday morning, chosen by a committee looking at results from the past year.

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Chen had one jumping error, stepping out of his triple Axel landing.

He struggled in practice and training recently, set back by illness, and changed a quad Lutz for an easier quad toe for Thursday’s skate.

“The circumstances going into this competition weren’t great,” he said on NBCSN. “I’ve struggled before with illness, with injury, and know that I can push through anything.”

Chen, Rippon and Brown were the top performing U.S. men in the fall Grand Prix season, in that order.

While Chen is known for his quads, neither Rippon nor Brown attempted a four-revolution jump Thursday. That difference is what makes Chen a gold-medal contender for PyeongChang and puts Rippon and Brown on the outside looking in.

However, Rippon and Brown have both trained quads, and Rippon has landed them clean in competition (though none this season).

Rippon, 28, was the cleanest skater Thursday night and is in position to become the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie singles skater since 1936. He missed the team in 2010 and 2014.

“I’m waiting for my day of reckoning,” Rippon said, noting that Saturday is exactly one year since he suffered a season-ending broken foot. “I’m here for that drama. This is the first step that I needed to take to have that amazing comeback that I felt like I was going to have.”

Brown, the only man in the field with Olympic experience, appeared to have trouble fully rotating his triple Axel but was given full credit. That allowed him to move ahead of fourth-place Grant Hochstein by 1.05 points.

Two other contenders who tried quads on Thursday struggled.

Vincent Zhou, the 2017 U.S. silver medalist and world junior champion, landed two quads, but placed fifth with 89.02 points, behind Grant Hochstein by 3.16.

That’s because one quad was under-rotated, and he fell on an under-rotated triple Axel. Still, Zhou improved over a disastrous Grand Prix season.

Max Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, conceded his Olympic hopes are dead after he scored 74.95 points for 12th place.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said on NBCSN. “After that, I knew my Olympic shot was over, could feel the tears rolling down my eyes.”

Aaron was flawed on all three of his jumping passes, including two quad attempts. Because of that, he didn’t have the required jumping combination, a crushing blow.

The 25-year-old was the third-highest-scoring American in the fall Grand Prix season.

Aaron is the only Skate America men’s winner not to make an Olympic team and one of three U.S. men’s champions in the last 55 years not to make an Olympics, assuming Chen and Rippon make this year’s team.

Aaron was third at the 2014 Nationals, when only two men could be picked for the Sochi Olympics (now-retired Jeremy Abbott and Brown).

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J’den Cox repeats as world wrestling champion; Kyle Snyder stunned

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If he wasn’t crowned already, it’s clear U.S. wrestling has a new king.

On a day when Rio Olympic champion Kyle Snyder was upset and London Olympic champ Jordan Burroughs rallied for another bronze medal, J’den Cox repeated as world champion in Kazakhstan.

Cox, the Rio Olympic 86kg bronze medalist, completed a perfect run through the 92kg division — not giving up a point in four matches — by dominating Iranian Alireza Karimi 4-0 in the final. He became the second U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in more than 30 years (joining Kyle Dake from last year).

“I don’t know why, but it feels like a ton better [than 2018],” said Cox, whose tattoos include one that reads in Latin, “If I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell.” “I made more sacrifices … I wanted to do it better.”

Earlier Saturday, Snyder was shocked by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov 5-2 in the 97kg semifinals, denying a third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Tank Abdulrashid Sadulayev. Sharifov, the 2012 Olympic 84kg champ, clinched his first world medal in eight years.

Snyder, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion at age 20, failed to make an Olympic or world final for the first time in his career. He will wrestle for bronze on Sunday, while Sharifov meets Sadulayev for gold.

Burroughs earned his seventh straight world championships medal and second straight bronze. Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, rebounded from losing to Russian Zaurbeck Sidakov on Friday with a 10-0 technical fall over Japanese Mao Okui.

Burroughs gave up a lead on Sidakov with 1.3 seconds left in the semifinals, a year after Sidakov overtook him as time expired in the quarterfinals.

“A lot of people in 2016 called me a quitter,” said Burroughs, who tearfully missed the medals in Rio, “and I think that after watching the amount of devastation and heartbreak that I’ve taken over the last two years and still being able to come back and take third place is a testament.”

Burroughs, 31, shares third with Adeline Gray on the U.S. list of career world wrestling championships medals, trailing only Bruce Baumgartner and Kristie Davis, who each earned nine.

Burroughs’ bronze ensured he gets a bye into the 74kg final of the Olympic trials in April. But this will be the first time he goes into an Olympic year as anything other than a reigning world champion.

“At this juncture of my career, I feel I’m running out of time,” said Burroughs, who next year will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic wrestling champion. “That can be really scary.”

Dake marched to Sunday’s final in defense of his 2018 World title at 79kg (a non-Olympic weight) by going 23-4 over three matches. Dake, who at Cornell became the only wrestler to win NCAA titles at four weight classes or without a redshirt, gets Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov in the final, a rematch of the 2018 gold-medal match.

Next year, Dake must move up to 86kg, where Cox will likely reside, or down to 74kg, where Burroughs has won every U.S. Olympic or world trials dating to 2011. There’s also David Taylor to reckon with. Taylor won the 86kg world title last year but missed this season due to injury.

“We’ve got a guy at 79 kilos that’s going to win a world championship tomorrow,” Burroughs said, smiling, of Dake, “I’m hopefully going to be waiting for [Dake at Olympic trials], healthy and prepared.”

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Alexandra Trusova, 15, becomes first woman to land three quadruple jumps

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Alexandra Trusova established herself as the world’s leading female figure skater … in her first senior international competition.

Trusova, the 15-year-old, two-time world junior champion from Russia, became the first woman to land three quadruple jumps in one international competition program, posting the world’s highest free skate and total scores on the early season.

Trusova previously landed three quads in the free skate at the Russian Federation’s test skates in early September.

She opened Saturday’s free skate with a quadruple Lutz, a quadruple toe loop-triple toe combination and another quad toe to run away from Japanese Olympian Kaori Sakamoto by 44.27 points. Video is here.

She won a lower-level event in Slovakia with 238.69 points, which would have beaten Japan’s top skater, Rika Kihira, and Olympic bronze medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva by more than 14 points at an event last week in Canada. However, judging panels can be more or less forgiving from event to event.

Still, Trusova established herself as a force going into next month’s Grand Prix season. She will face Kihira and Medvedeva at Skate Canada the last week of October.

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