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

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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.

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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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