Nathan Chen leads men’s short program, looking at three straight U.S. titles

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DETROIT – In a little less than an hour of elapsed time, in short programs that last a little less than three minutes, three U.S. men gave performances to stand the test of time.

They ran from extraordinary to exhilarating to exquisite.

Never had Nathan Chen, Jason Brown and Vincent Zhou skated a short program in competition better than each did Saturday afternoon in the U.S. Championships at Little Caesars Arena.

Chen’s quadruple jump pyrotechnics were enhanced by a heightened ability to grab an audience when he isn’t jumping. Brown’s quad-less program had a flow and refinement that stretched through the position of his fingers as the music stopped. Zhou looked like an utterly rejuvenated version of the skater who had dealt with a back injury and a crisis of confidence this season.

Chen’s 113.42 points gave him a commanding lead in his quest for a third straight U.S. title. Brown had 100.52, Zhou 100.25. The next finisher, Tomoki Hiwatashi, was 16 points behind Zhou.

The free skate is Sunday afternoon.

Results: Men’s short program

“This season, I can’t count the number of times I have gone through the feeling of I don’t know if I can continue,” Zhou said. “So to push through and overcome my biggest obstacle, which is myself, and to perform like that, I’m very grateful.”

The top three had all positive Grades of Execution, even though Zhou was called for an under-rotation on the quad Lutz that opened his quad-triple combination.

And Brown’s GOEs were exceptional. Of the 63, there were 32 of the maximum plus-5 and 26 of plus-four.

That is the way Brown and his new coaches, Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson, hope he can cut into the mathematical advantage the quad jumpers have.

Brown admitted to feeling a little shaky, which did not show in his skating.

“Sometimes, I will watch it [afterwards] and think, ‘Oh, it looked so much better than I felt,’” Brown said.

Chen, who hit a quad flip and a quad toe-triple toe, got 12.40 more points on his jumping passes than Brown did.

While he has utterly dominated U.S. men’s skating the past three seasons, Chen has made his position more complicated after beginning studies at Yale last fall.

“There were times when I was really struggling with them both, not sure how I was going to handle the two,” he said.

He has not lost all season. And Chen said his first semester grades included some A’s and Bs.

That’s extraordinary stuff.

MORE: Jason Brown planning quad attempt for free skate

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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