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U.S. Championships men’s preview: Nathan Chen’s imminent three-peat

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Nathan Chen can capture his third national title at the U.S. Championships this weekend in Detroit. His technical prowess leaves him largely unchallenged in the field, though familiar faces to the U.S. podium will look to take home medals of their own. PyeongChang Olympian Vincent Zhou and Sochi Olympian Jason Brown are the most likely candidates.

Zhou’s focus this season has been on integrating the artistic side of his skating with his own technical ability. Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, moved to Toronto to train this season under Brian Orser.

The men’s short program is Saturday and the free skate is Sunday. Check out the full schedule and live streaming information here.

Nathan Chen three-peat possible

The last man to win three straight U.S. national titles was Johnny Weir, who won from 2004 to 2006. Chen attempts to match that feat in Detroit, and the reigning world champion should be relatively unchallenged on the ice. Chen, the Grand Prix Final winner and Yale freshman, has largely been training alone this season. California-based coach Rafael Arutunian has been “telecoaching” him from across the country while Chen has been in at school in New Haven, Connecticut.

MORE: Nathan Chen’s ambitious spring semester kicks off with U.S. Championships

Vincent Zhou focused on growth

Zhou missed the podium at both of his Grand Prix assignments, mostly due to strict under-rotation calls this season. He told reporters ahead of nationals that he’s been working to make the rotation on his jumps clearer. “That’s one of the things I hope people will see in Detroit because I have been training better in that aspect,” he said.

MORE: 3 questions with Vincent Zhou

Jason Brown

Brown left the only coach he’s ever had at the end of last season, when he missed the 2018 Olympics. Now in Toronto with Orser and Tracy Wilson, he’s training alongside double Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. Brown still doesn’t have a quad, but his high artistic marks keep him in the conversation. His long-term goals circle around the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

MORE: 3 questions with Jason Brown

Others to watch

Alex Krasnozhon was last year’s favorite to win the world junior championship, but an injury on a quad loop attempt forced him to withdraw in the middle of his free skate. He struggled with getting training back on track for this season, but is still a dark horse for the podium if he successfully hits his technically difficult programs.

Jimmy Ma’s viral “Turn Down for What” program from last year’s nationals will be followed up with another one to watch – his short program is set to “Mi Gente.”

Camden Pulkinen makes his senior national debut. He trains alongside Zhou in Colorado Springs and has made the Junior Grand Prix Final the past two seasons.

Veterans Tim Dolensky and Alex Johnson make their sixth and ninth national championships appearance, respectively. Both typically place inside the top 10 thanks to their clean, artistic programs.

MORE: Bradie Tennell and Mariah Bell challenged in ladies’ field by 13-year-old

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating 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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Katie Ledecky extends 5-year win streak

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Katie Ledecky extended a five-year domestic win streak by taking the 200m freestyle at the Tyr Pro Swim Series at Bloomington on Saturday.

In her last full meet before July’s world championships, Ledecky clocked 1:55.80 to beat training partner Simone Manuel by 1.44 seconds for her second win in as many days. Ledecky is also entered in Sunday’s 800m free on the last day of the meet.

Ledecky, who also cruised to a 400m free victory on Friday, ranks third in the world in the 200m free this year, behind Australian Ariarne Titmus and Swede Sarah Sjöström (the Olympic silver medalist who is not expected to race the 200m free at worlds).

Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion, hasn’t lost a 200m, 400m, 800m or 1500m free final at a domestic meet since Allison Schmitt beat her in a 200m free on Jan. 18, 2014 when Ledecky was 16 years old.

BLOOMINGTON: Full Results

But Ledecky lost the two biggest 200m frees of this Olympic cycle so far, at the 2017 World Championships and the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. Italian veteran Federica Pellegrini handed Ledecky her first individual final defeat at a major international meet at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky dropped to third in the 200m free at Pan Pacs in Tokyo last year, beaten by younger swimmers Taylor Ruck of Canada and Rikako Ikee of Japan.

Ruck, who like Ledecky trains at Stanford, is in Bloomington, but she chose not to swim the 200m free on Saturday. She instead swam the 200m backstroke about 45 minutes after the 200m free and was upset by 17-year-old Regan Smith. Smith won in 2:06.47, moving to No. 3 in the world this year.

In other events Saturday, Ella Eastin captured the 400m individual medley in 4:37.18, taking 1.25 seconds off her personal best and moving to fifth in the world this year. Eastin is not on the world championships team after an untimely bout with mono before qualifying meets last summer.

Blake Pieroni won the men’s 200m free in 1:47.25. No American ranks in the top 20 in the world this year. World silver medalist Townley Haas did not enter Bloomington.

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion faces ban for missed drug tests

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Noah Lyles wins duel with Christian Coleman in Shanghai

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Noah Lyles won the first of what will hopefully be multiple head-to-heads with Christian Coleman this season, taking a 100m at a Diamond League meet in Shanghai on Saturday.

Both U.S. sprint phenoms clocked 9.86 seconds, with Lyles coming from about fifth place at 50 meters to edge Coleman by .006 with a lean.

“This was a message to myself,” Lyles said, according to the IAAF. “The 100 has never been my dominant thing so I wanted to make sure this year that everybody knew I was a 100 and 200 runner, and not just a 200 runner kind of running the 100.”

It’s a personal best for Lyles. Coleman has run 9.79.

Lyles, undefeated in outdoor 200m races since finishing fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials at age 18, beat Coleman for the first time in three career senior 100m head-to-heads.

While Lyles prefers the 200m, Coleman has said he hopes to qualify for this fall’s world championships in both the 100m and 200m.

If Coleman follows through on that, he and Lyles will face off in the 200m at the USATF Outdoor Championships in July. Saturday marked Coleman’s first individual race since Aug. 31.

“It is always a struggle to get in good form after such a long time away from competition, so I didn’t have any specific expectations for today,” Coleman said. “In general I am fine with 9.86 today.”

Full Shanghai results are here. The Diamond League next visits Stockholm on May 30.

In other events, Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba won his anticipated duel with Rai Benjamin in a matchup between the second- and third-fastest 400m hurdlers in history. Samba, who took up the event full-time two years ago, clocked 47.27 seconds, which would have been the fastest time in a decade if not for Samba and Benjamin’s rapid times last June.

Benjamin, born in the Bronx and raised partly in Antigua and Barbuda, was passed before the last hurdle and crossed in 47.80. Last June, Benjamin won the NCAA title in 47.02, then matching Edwin Moses as second-fastest in history. Samba ran 46.98 later that month.

Kevin Young remains the longest-standing world-record holder in men’s track racing, setting 46.78 in the 1992 Olympic final.

Sydney McLaughlin, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, was an impressive second in the 400m in her Diamond League debut. The 19-year-old pro, whose focus is the 400m hurdles, clung to world 400m silver medalist Salwa Eid Naser in the final straight and crossed in 50.78, just .13 back of Naser.

Naser hasn’t lost to anyone other than Olympic and world champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo in the last two years. Miller-Uibo was absent from Shanghai.

U.S. champion Aleia Hobbs won her senior international 100m debut in 11.03 seconds, beating a field that included Olympic champ Elaine Thompson. Hobbs did so two weeks after fracturing a wrist playing laser tag. Thompson, who last won a Diamond League race in 2017, was third in 11.14.

Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha won a battle among the three fastest active 5000m runners, bounding from Selemon Barega to win by .55 in 13:04.16. Barega won last year’s Diamond League Final in 12:43.02, the world’s fastest time in 13 years.

MORE: Allyson Felix on the 2 most terrifying days of her life

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