Nathan Chen leads, but challenged in U.S. Figure Skating Championships short program


Nathan Chen was put under a modicum of pressure at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and he delivered.

Chen nailed his most daunting short program jumping layout since 2018, landing a quadruple Lutz, a triple Axel and, in the second half, a quad flip-triple toe loop combination to top the standings in Las Vegas with 113.92 points.

“I’m really happy with the way this program went,” said Chen, though he shook his head afterward, noting his landings could have been better.

But Chen’s lead going into Sunday’s free skate is smaller than any of the last four years when he won the title. He is trying to become the first man to win five straight U.S. titles since Dick Button in the 1940s and ’50s.

The lead is significant but not insurmountable. It’s 6.13 points over childhood rival Vincent Zhou, who landed two quads in arguably the best short program of his career an hour before Chen skated at fan-less Orleans Arena.

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who received the highest artistic scores but lacked a quad, is in third.

Chen, undefeated globally since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, hasn’t been outscored by a countryman over a full competition since Adam Rippon did so at the 2016 Grand Prix France, when Chen was 17 years old.


Zhou, sixth at the 2018 Olympics and bronze medalist at the last worlds in 2019, has a chance to beat Chen for the first time in 11 career head-to-heads on the senior level. Zhou did defeat Chen, who is 17 months older, in 2013 to become the youngest U.S. men’s junior champion in history.

“I don’t specifically think about beating people,” Zhou said Saturday. “I focus on myself.”

But Zhou said in October that he was trying to break the perception of being “just another kid who can do quads” and make a name for himself “instead of being talked about as Nathan Chen No. 2 or an underdog competitor or something like that.”

“We all just put whoever’s at the top on this pedestal and anybody not on that pedestal automatically just has no chance of winning in our minds,” Zhou said Saturday, including himself among those who fall into that mindset. “Anything can happen.”

A year ago, Zhou came into nationals on three weeks of training after failing to balance skating with freshman classes at Brown University. He considered quitting skating, but ultimately put academics on hold, moved to Toronto and began training in a new environment after four months off the ice.

“I could barely do a triple Axel,” Zhou, who since moved to Colorado, remembered Saturday. That made his fourth-place performance at 2020 Nationals — with a pair of landed quadruple jumps — “a huge personal victory.”

He placed second to Chen at October’s Skate America — a distant 24.05 points behind — with two injured ankles alleviated by Advil, he said. Zhou took two weeks off after that, then, on his first day back, threw out his back doing a single-rotation jump and missed two more weeks.

Zhou said on NBC after Saturday’s skate that he was at “the beginning of the summit push of a climb.” He could have been referencing all his work in the last year in pursuit of a first national title.

Or his whole career, which began with skating lessons at age 5 after attending a friend’s birthday party at a rink. Zhou said in October that he plans to switch his focus from skating to school after the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, where his parents lived before moving to the U.S. in the early 1990s.

“In the past it was as if he was skating to beat Nathan Chen,” NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir said on the broadcast. “Now it feels like he’s skating for himself.”

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At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback

Elina Svitolina French Open

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

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Marcell Jacobs still sidelined, misses another race with Fred Kerley

Marcell Jacobs

Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs of Italy will miss another scheduled clash with world 100m champion Fred Kerley, withdrawing from Friday’s Diamond League meet in Florence.

Jacobs, 28, has not recovered from the nerve pain that forced him out of last Sunday’s Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, according to Italy’s track and field federation.

In his absence, Kerley’s top competition will be fellow American Trayvon Bromell, the world bronze medalist, and Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala, the world’s fastest man this year at 9.84 seconds. Kerley beat both of them in Rabat.

The Florence Diamond League airs live on Peacock on Friday from 2-4 p.m. ET.

Jacobs has withdrawn from six scheduled head-to-heads with Kerley dating to May 2022 due to a series of health issues since that surprise gold in Tokyo.

Kerley, primarily a 400m sprinter until the Tokyo Olympic year, became the world’s fastest man in Jacobs’ absence. He ran a personal best 9.76 seconds, the world’s best time of 2022, at last June’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Then he led a U.S. sweep of the medals at July’s worlds.

Jacobs’ next scheduled race is a 100m at the Paris Diamond League on June 9. Kerley is not in that field, but world 200m champion Noah Lyles is.

The last time the reigning Olympic and world men’s 100m champions met in a 100m was the 2012 London Olympic final between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. From 2013 to 2017, Bolt held both titles, then retired in 2017 while remaining reigning Olympic champion until Jacobs’ win in Tokyo, where Kerley took silver.

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