Nathan Chen scaled back the quadruple jumps, yet still won Skate America by the largest margin in the event’s history.
Chen, on a fall recess from Yale freshman classes, totaled 280.57 points between Friday’s short program and Saturday’s free skate, prevailing by 41.06 points over a field lacking any other Olympic or world medalists. It’s the largest gap in any discipline at Skate America under the 16-year-old points system.
It’s also the world’s top score on the young season. Yet Chen attempted four quads total in Everett, Wash., down from the eight he tried at the Olympics, to ease into the season.
“It’s a great start for me,” Chen told Andrea Joyce on NBCSN after landing three quads in a clean free skate. “I definitely had sort of lower expectations coming into this event, just because I’m in a completely new situation in life. … Watered down my programs a little bit, but I think it was definitely appropriate.”
Chen was a disappointing fifth in PyeongChang, then won the world title a month later by the largest margin in history.
He’s trying a new training arrangement as a college student, separated from California-based coach Rafael Arutunian by 3,000 miles. They communicate by video chats, which the 61-year-old Arutunian called “very difficult,” but it’s so far working.
With Saturday’s victory, Chen tied the U.S. men’s record of four Grand Prix series titles (Jeremy Abbott, Todd Eldredge, Johnny Weir, though Eldredge won more Grand Prix-level events before the series debuted in 1995).
The 19-year-old flies back to New Haven for school, returning to the Grand Prix during Thanksgiving break for Internationaux de France. That field includes two-time world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China and Jason Brown, the top American from the Sochi Olympics.
Chen’s biggest competition are Japanese Olympic gold and silver medalists Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno. He would not face them until December’s Grand Prix Final at the earliest.
U.S. bronze medalist Vincent Zhou, sixth at the Olympics, was fifth at Skate America. The 17-year-old landed five quads between two programs but was dinged for several under-rotations.
Skate America continues later Saturday with the women’s short program, featuring U.S. champion Bradie Tennell.
Earlier Saturday, Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov won the pairs’ title by the largest margin at a Grand Prix in four years. The two-time world medalists totaled 204.85 points — 25.87 ahead of fellow Russians Alisa Efimova and Aleksandr Korovin — and topped the free skate by 16.27.
Tarasova and Morozov were fourth in PyeongChang but are the top returning active pair. None of the Olympic pairs’ medalists are competing in a Grand Prix.
Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot are on an indefinite break. Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong haven’t competed since the Games with Sui recovering from a stress fracture in her foot. Bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada retired.
Americans finished third (Ashley Cain, Timothy LeDuc), fourth (Olympians Alexa Scimeca Knierim, Chris Knierim) and sixth (Nica Digerness, Danny Neudecker), extending a drought of 12 years without a Grand Prix title for a U.S. pair.
The three teams combined for falls in five of their six programs. After, the Knierims said they split from coach Savchenko.
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