Nathan Chen is so far making the most of his fall recess from Yale.
The world champion and freshman student passed his first test of the Grand Prix season — the Skate America short program in Everett, Wash., about 3,000 miles from campus.
Chen took it easy Friday night, attempting one quadruple jump rather than two (and stepping out of the landing of an under-rotated quad flip), but still tallied 90.58 points and leads by 8.49.
It doesn’t challenge the top scores in the world this young season, but it was plenty enough against this field lacking any other Olympic or world championships medalists.
“Hell of a lot better than midterms,” Chen told Andrea Joyce on NBC Sports Gold. “This is where my comfort is.”
He leads three-time Czech Olympian Michal Březina going into Saturday’s free skate (6 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold) looking to be the first U.S. man to repeat at Skate America since Timothy Goebel in 2001.
Fellow U.S. Olympian Vincent Zhou is sixth (76.38) with two quads but with under-rotations on all three of his jumping passes.
Chen, a disappointing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, hasn’t lost on American ice in nearly three years.
That doesn’t figure to change Saturday, even though the 19-year-old faced plenty of obstacles this fall: a full Ivy League class schedule, training more or less on his own with coach Rafael Arutunian back in Southern California and a pesky cold that affected him for two weeks leading up to his season debut two weeks ago.
Chen fell three times in one program for the first time in his senior career at the Japan Open on Oct. 6, a free skate-only event that can be viewed as an exhibition.
On the more competitive Grand Prix series, it helps that neither of Chen’s top rivals — Japanese Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno, the Olympic gold and silver medalists — will go up against him until December’s Grand Prix Final at the earliest.
Earlier Friday, Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov took the lead in a messy pairs’ short program from top to bottom. The two-time world medalists tallied 71.24 points despite Tarasova under-rotating her part of side-by-side triple toe loops.
The three U.S. teams all counted a fall and sit fourth, fifth and seventh. Olympians Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim are in fifth after downgraded side-by-side triple Salchows and a step-sequence fall for Scimeca Knierim.
A U.S. pair hasn’t won a Grand Prix series event in 12 years.
As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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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