Nathan Chen, flawed by his sky-high standards, won a fourth straight Skate America title, tying a record shared by U.S. figure skating legends and extending an undefeated Olympic cycle.
Chen prevailed by what has become a customary whopping margin — 24.05 points — after landing five quadruple jumps between two programs in his first top-level competition in nine months.
Chen hit fewer quads than usual in Saturday’s free skate, which included two significant jumping errors (doubling a planned quad Salchow and popping a triple Axel). There was still no doubt about the win.
“I made quite a few big mistakes in that program, things that I shouldn’t have made mistakes on,” Chen said on NBC. “But it is what it is. I’ll learn from it. Move forward from here.”
Vincent Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist and, if anybody, a domestic rival, placed second, followed by Canadian Keegan Messing.
Earlier Saturday, Mariah Bell, who shares a coach with Chen, notched the biggest win of her career in the women’s competition. More on that here.
Later, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue won a third straight Skate America ice dance title.
Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Brandon Frazier won their top-level pairs’ competition debut together over a field that included two past U.S. champion teams. Scimeca Knierim, a 2018 Olympian, and Frazier previously won national titles with past partners.
Skate America usually includes some of the world’s top skaters, but due to coronavirus pandemic related travel concerns was limited to American skaters and a few international athletes who train in the U.S. There were no ticketed spectators at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
Chen, a 21-year-old on leave from Yale through the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, tied the record for consecutive Skate America titles shared by Michelle Kwan, Todd Eldredge and ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
He is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, a run that includes victories over two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, who is sitting out the abbreviated fall Grand Prix season.
Chen and Hanyu were expected to go head-to-head at December’s Grand Prix Final in Beijing, but that is one of several major skating events impacted by the pandemic. It has been postponed indefinitely.
“We were planning on sort of getting myself to that really competitive shape by the Final,” Chen said before Skate America.
Next up for Chen in January: He tries to become the first man to win five straight national titles since Dick Button‘s seven in a row from 1946-52.
Next up on the skating calendar: Cup of China, the second of four Grand Prix events this season, in two weeks. A full season broadcast schedule is here.
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