AP

Will Nathan Chen return to six quad jumps in his free skate?

Leave a comment

GRENOBLE, France – Nathan Chen landed four quadruple jumps in his free skate to win Grand Prix France this past weekend: a Lutz, two toes and a Salchow. Two weeks earlier, he had landed three en route to a third consecutive Skate America victory: a flip, a toe and a Salchow.

As early as 2017, however, at the world championships in Helsinki, Chen had produced a six-quad free skate. He had landed “only” four clean then. But that day, April 1, 2017, he had made the sport’s free skates shift from mainly triple jumps with a few quads to mainly quads with a few triples.

He subsequently delivered six-quad free skates at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics and at Worlds in Milan a few weeks later. In both occasions he won the free skate phase, leading him to his first world crown.

Women are starting to get into the quad game, too. Chen is not yet ready to repeat his feat from back then, though.

“With the new rules [voted by the ISU Congress in June 2018], you would need to do all five different quads [all except the Axel] if you wanted to land six quads into one program. This would be very high risk,” he said after Grand Prix France in Grenoble. Under the new rules, only one type of quad can be done twice in a program.

Rafael Arutunian, who coaches Chen from California while his pupil is a sophomore at Yale University, clearly stated that rules were by no means a limit.

“Rules can’t make you stop improving if you want to. The goal everybody has is to improve the sport,” he said.

The two-time Olympic champion, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, delivered similar program content in Kelowna at Skate Canada one week earlier, as he landed four quads as well: a loop, a Salchow, and two toes.

Both Chen and Arutunyan highly praised Hanyu in Grenoble.

“I’m a big fan of Yuzuru Hanyu,” Arutunian said. “I heard about the big score he got at Skate Canada. He is such an iconic skater.”

“He’s Yuzu,” Chen added. “He’s won two Olympic gold medals, and he just put great results and got super-scores right at the start of the season, with high quality quads. He is a role model in figure skating.”

Four quads, incorporating three different kinds, seem to be the current highest standard in men’s skating under the new rules.

“Going for six quads is not worth the risk,” Chen continued. “Four is obviously less than six, but nailing four high-quality quads is more important nowadays.

“Which doesn’t imply that I’m not going for six quads!” he added mischievously.

Chen’s free program for this season nonetheless suggests that it potentially has room for an additional quad. At Skate America, the two-time world champion opened his program with a triple Lutz, triple toe combination. In Grenoble, he placed a triple Lutz, double toe combination right after his opening quad Lutz. Both could potentially turn either into a quad Lutz or into a quad flip combination, depending on which jump he elects to open his program with.

When asked about such a possibility, Chen excluded the idea that it would turn into a quad Lutz, triple toe combination, however: “No, this won’t be a quad-double!” he said with a laugh.

Chen also stated that he was not landing the quad loop at the moment (although some 2017 footage indicates that he did land it). This means that five quad-programs certainly remain within reach for the time being.

“Of course, we’re working on getting six quads again, and also a quad Axel, and may be quintuples one day,” Arutunian said. “What Nathan is doing in practice now is not what you see in competition.”

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating names host cities for 2021, 2022 nationals

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff set Australian Open duel

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff will meet in the third round of a second straight Grand Slam, this time at the Australian Open on Friday.

Osaka, the defending champion and world No. 4, and Gauff, the 15-year-old American phenom, each won second-round matches in Melbourne to reach the final 32.

Osaka swept Chinese Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4 on a windy Wednesday afternoon. Later, Gauff followed her first-round win over Venus Williams by eliminating Romanian veteran Sorana Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

“I know what to expect,” Gauff said. “I’m excited.”

Osaka beat Gauff 6-3, 6-0 in the U.S. Open third round on Aug. 31. In the most memorable moment of that night, Osaka urged Gauff to share the on-court victor’s interview at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s better than going into the showers and crying,” Osaka told Gauff in front of a packed crowd. “Let these people know how you feel.”

Gauff obliged after at first declining.

“I’m not the type of person who wants to cry in front of everyone,” she said later. “I didn’t want to take that moment away from [Osaka], as well.”

Gauff, ranked No. 684 at this time last year, is now No. 67. She broke through by beating Williams in the Wimbledon first round, then reaching the round of 16.

Gauff won a lower-level WTA Tour event in October and now ranks fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying. The top four after the French Open qualify for the Tokyo Games, though Gauff has fewer than half the points as No. 4 Alison Riske.

“It’s been really cool to watch her grow because it’s happened so fast,” Osaka said.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

Getty Images
Leave a comment

John Isner, the highest-ranked U.S. male singles tennis player, is considering skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

“I haven’t put a ton of thought into it, but as of right now, I think I’m leaning towards not playing,” the 19th-ranked player said at the Australian Open on Tuesday. “It’s about scheduling. I know the Olympics, it’s a fantastic honor. There’s no doubt about that. … Right now, at this stage in my career, it’s not a huge priority for me. So that’s probably the main reason I won’t be going. I certainly love playing in the summer in America, and I’m going to focus on that.”

The Tokyo Games take place the same week as a lower-level ATP Tour event in Atlanta that Isner, a former University of Georgia star, has won five times.

Other notable male players already said they will pass on Tokyo, including Sam Querrey, the top American in Olympic qualifying standings.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, a two-time French Open finalist, is prioritizing an ATP event in Kitzbühel the week of the Olympics. The U.S. doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan are not planning to play the Olympics in their final season before retirement, their manager said in November.

“The Olympics is very tough on the schedule … especially with Davis Cup,” Isner said in 2016, according to USA Today. “I think the fact that they have no [ATP ranking] points [at the Olympics], to be honest, was a pretty big factor as well. Obviously the Olympics is not about the money, but no points I think hindered me a bit.”

Isner, who turns 35 on April 26, is likely giving up his last chance to play Olympic singles. In his only Olympic participation, he reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Games, plus lost an opening-round doubles match there with Andy Roddick.

The top four U.S. men qualify for Tokyo, assuming they are among the top 60 overall qualifiers (maximum four per country) after this spring’s French Open.

Taylor FritzReilly Opelka, Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul are the U.S. men currently in Olympic qualifying position if excluding Querrey and Isner.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront