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Nathan Chen wins third Skate America title, Jason Brown joins podium with silver

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Nathan Chen won his third consecutive Skate America title on Saturday in Las Vegas, bringing down the house as the last skater, performing to the soundtrack from “Rocketman.”

His free skate — which included a hip hop dance break — scored 196.38 points. His total score, 299.09 points, out-distanced silver medalist Jason Brown by 44 points, the largest-ever margin of victory in the men’s field at the event. The Yale sophomore told media earlier in the week that his free skate would likely include three quadruple jumps, and that’s what he executed.

“I’m pretty happy with the performance today,” Chen said through U.S. Figure Skating. “Again, this is the first Grand Prix of the season — the first competition of the season since Worlds — so it was nice to be able to put out both programs. I’m pretty happy with the score. There are still a lot of things to improve on, but overall it’s a good starting point.”

Chen, the two-time and reigning world champion, has not lost a Grand Prix event since he earned a silver medal at the 2016 Grand Prix Final.

Skate America results are here.

Brown originally planned to debut his emotionally poignant “Schindler’s List” free skate at a competition earlier this season in Germany, but his plans were derailed when he was in a car accident and suffered a concussion over the summer. Instead, he showed this year’s free skate for the first time at Skate America, where it earned 171.64 points.

“It was my first debut of this program, Schindler’s List,” Brown said. “I’ve been working really hard on it all summer and getting into the emotion of it and working it through. I think I really tried to put my heart into it here. I had a rough go of it yesterday a little bit with confidence. I tried to put it behind me and focus on the performance and taking it one step at a time and really settling into it rather than getting ahead of myself.”

Brown won a bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in the team event and followed that up with a national title in 2015. But he missed the 2018 Olympic team and is now in his second season training in Toronto under Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson. Brown’s free skate included no quads, though he said he intends to incorporate them as the season progresses.

The last time two U.S. men shared the Skate America podium was 2017, when training partners Chen and Adam Rippon earned gold and silver, respectively.

Russia’s Dmitri Aliev earned the bronze medal with 156.98-point free skate with 253.55 points overall.

China’s Jin Boyang, who finished fourth in PyeongChang, ultimately finished sixth in Las Vegas (224.98 points). His free skate included two falls on two quad attempts.

The third American man in the field, Alex Krasnozhon, finished ninth with 216.59 points.

MORE: How to watch Skate America

Earlier Saturday, China’s Peng Cheng and Jin Yang maintained their lead on the pairs’ field and won gold with a “Cloud Atlas” free skate that earned 128.16 points for an overall score of 200.89 points. It’s the team’s first-ever Grand Prix gold medal, despite Peng’s fall on a throw triple loop landing that sent her sliding into the boards.

Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin from Russia earned silver with a 125.73-point free skate and 196.98 overall points. They were the 2018 world junior champions and skated to selections from “Tron Legacy.”

Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier took the bronze with 192.70 total points, their first medal on the Grand Prix circuit since they won silver at Skate America in 2016. They actually placed second with their “Lion King” free skate which earned 127.73 points, but it didn’t make up for the deficit leftover from their short program.

“We know we have so much to bring to our team,” Denney said afterward through U.S. Figure Skating. “It’s not about winning or losing, we just want to show everyone what our potential is. This was the first baby step into building our foundation, so I’m very pleased and happy.”

“We know we have so much to bring to our team. It’s not about winning or losing, we just want to show everyone what our potential is,” Frazier added. “This was the first baby step into building our foundation, so I’m very pleased and happy.”

Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, also from the U.S., finished fourth in their Grand Prix debut (180.52 points). Reigning U.S. national champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who won bronze at last year’s Skate America, finished fifth (177.54 points).

“We know we have so much to bring to our team,” LeDuc said. “It’s not about winning or losing, we just want to show everyone what our potential is. This was the first baby step into building our foundation, so I’m very pleased and happy.”

MORE: Hubbell, Donohue defend Skate America title | Shcherbakova lands two quads to win ladies’ event

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. 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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With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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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Maddie Bowman, first Olympic ski halfpipe champion, ends competitive career

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Maddie Bowman knows she has been very fortunate. She just turned 26 years old and has already accomplished everything she wanted in her sport, halfpipe skiing.

Bowman, who won the event’s Olympic debut in Sochi in 2014, recently decided to retire from competition.

“I’ve really given the sport everything I could that was positive, and I knew the sport would be in great hands when I walked away,” she said. “So I decided it was my time to be done.

“I just felt like I couldn’t give anything else to the sport because I was a little bit afraid [of injury], but also it’s mentally exhausting. It drained my mental health for sure, but I loved doing it, and I still love skiing. Competition just isn’t for me anymore.”

The decision weighed on the South Lake Tahoe native last season. She competed at the Winter X Games for the last time, taking fifth place. She earned medals each of the previous seven years, including five golds, despite undergoing two major knee surgeries in that span.

“I was thinking [last year] that this is really hard, and I don’t know if I want to keep doing this,” she said. “It was really hard for me to get into the right mental state again. It’s painful. My knees hurt, but I was torn. I was torn between wanting to walk away and the love I had for the people I was around, people I competed against and just the lifestyle. I worked really hard on opening up other doors for myself besides skiing, which is making my transition a lot smoother.”

Those opportunities include activism, spreading awareness around climate change for Protect Our Winters. Bowman wants to finish her college degree and teach high school biology and health. She aims to continue public speaking regarding motivational talks and mental health.

Bowman struggled with depression between the Sochi and PyeongChang Olympics. She is equally proud of her second Olympic performance — finishing 11th in South Korea — as her landmark gold medal in Russia. While in PyeongChang, she believed it would likely be her last Olympics.

“I had doubts if I would even make it to PyeongChang, and making it there was one of my huge accomplishments,” Bowman said. “It was such a special event. Even though I only got 11th, I skied my freakin’ heart out. I gave it everything I had.”

Bowman, the daughter of two former professional skiers, took gold in Sochi as the youngest finalist. She landed back-to-back 900s for the first time in her career (by accident after having to improvise her opening run). She did so in front of family that included 78-year-old Lorna Perpall, who wore a T-shirt that read “badass grandma.”

Afterward, Bowman spoke about friend Sarah Burke, the Canadian ski halfpipe pioneer who died after a training accident in 2012.

“It means so much for us to be able to show the world what our sport is,” Bowman said that night in Russia. “She’s here with us.

“I sure hope I, and everyone else, made her proud because we would not be here without her.”

Bowman has her own place in history. No matter how long ski halfpipe is in the Olympics, she will always be the first woman to earn gold.

“I know as our sport gets more solidified into the Olympic Games, it can become pretty national, cutthroat and competitive,” she said. “I would love to see it stay this free-spirited work of art, something beautiful like that.”

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MORE: Torah Bright, Olympic champion, no longer competing in halfpipe