In making history with fifth straight U.S. title, Nathan Chen competes against his own singular past

U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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The trouble with being Nathan Chen is, nearly all the time, you are being judged against your past brilliance.

Unless the redoubtable two-time reigning Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan is in the competition, that is.

But the two have met just twice since the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, with Chen winning both, and pandemic-born uncertainty over the fate of the 2021 World Championships, currently scheduled for late March in Stockholm, and perhaps even next season’s events makes it is impossible to know when the next Chen-Hanyu showdown will take place.

Chen has simply been so extraordinary for so long and has dominated U.S. men’s skating so thoroughly since 2017 that it is getting too easy (and unfair) to take him for granted and forget he commandingly won a historic fifth straight U.S. title Sunday in Las Vegas because he did it with a less-than-jaw-dropping free skate.

A modest (by only his own standards) winning score of 322.28 still left Chen more than 30 points ahead of runner-up Vincent Zhou (291.38), a national medalist for the fourth time, this one after a one-year absence from the podium. Jason Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion was third (276.92), his sixth medal at nationals.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m always just competing against myself,” Chen said. “The two guys I’m up here with are incredible skaters as well.

“Ultimately, it comes down to the fact everyone is capable of [winning], but I want to focus on what I’m capable of. Even if I’m competing against Yuzu, I’m still trying to do my own thing.”


How crazy is it that he cleanly landed four quadruple jumps, two to open combinations in the second half of the four-minute program, yet fell short of expectations because he nearly fell on the landing of a fifth? According to, only three other skaters – Hanyu, Shoma Uno and Jin Boyang – have ever landed four or more clean quads in a free skate; of the 14 times that has happened, Chen has seven.

And, after all, Chen merely became the first to win five straight national titles since two-time Olympic champ Dick Button’s fifth of seven straight in 1950.

“It means the world,” Chen said of being in the historical company of Button. “Dick is a true skating icon. It feels incredible to be trying to chase something that someone like that has done.

“I am nowhere near the level he was at. It is just cool to be mentioned within his sort of realm of legendness.”

A day after the top three finishers all had skated virtuosic short programs, each struggled in the free skate. Zhou popped one of his four quad attempts and fell on another. Brown fell on his lone quad attempt and popped a triple Axel.

Ukrainian émigré Yaroslav Paniot, 23, turned heads and got third in the free skate with a strong, three-quad performance. Paniot, awaiting U.S. citizenship, was fourth overall (266.97) after getting 10th in his U.S. Championships debut a year ago.

“Everything went very smooth because I was finally in the best shape in my life,” said Paniot, a two-time Ukrainian champion who finished 30th in the 2018 Olympics for his native land. “Work, work, work, and you’ll get this result.”

In an effort to keep challenging himself, Chen was attempting a fifth free skate quad at nationals for the first time since 2018.

The fifth quad, a lutz, was his opening jump of the program. He stumbled on the landing and put both hands on the ice, which can constitute a fall if the judges think he would not have stayed upright without using his hands for support. They did not call it a fall, meaning Chen now has landed 129 jumps without a fall dating back to the 2018 Grand Prix Final.

Chen regrouped immediately to land a quad flip-triple toe loop combination and later hit a quad salchow, the high difficulty quad toe-Euler-triple flip combination and a quad toe-triple toe. He has long known how to prevent one mistake from ruining a program.

“Mistakes happen all the time in training, and most of us have been trained to just get up and continue,” Chen said.

“Initially, I was just trying to figure out what happened. It felt like everything was okay, so I was trying to figure out how could I prevent that from happening on the other jumps. As soon as I got myself settled, it was basically gone from my mind. Whenever a mistake happens in a program, I just generally snap right out of it.”

He never lost the connection to his music, by the minimalist Philip Glass, keeping its understated mood with less-is-more movements. One of the many remarkable things about Chen’s skating over the past five years has been his widely varied choice of music, from classical ballet to Elton John, from Stravinsky to Woodkid.

He has won five U.S. titles, two world titles and three Grand Prix Final titles. He has been at the forefront of the sport’s jump revolution. He has won 12 straight individual live competitions (and 23 of 24 programs in those events) since finishing fifth at the 2018 Olympics.

Even at less than perfection, even as he seeks his first individual Olympic medal, he is a generational skater.

“Of course, I would love to win the next Olympics, but if that doesn’t happen, it’s not like my legacy or who I am is ultimately diminished,” Chen said.

At age 21, competing largely against himself, he already has a singular place in skating history.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Olympic Winter Games, is a special contributor to

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Ukraine officials say athletes should not compete in Olympic qualifiers with Russians

Ukraine Russia Fencing

The Ukraine government decided that its athletes should not compete in 2024 Olympic qualifying events if Russians are present, according to several media reports in Ukraine.

“At a meeting of the government, a protocol decision was made on the proposal of colleague (sports minister Vadym) Guttsait that we take part in qualifying competitions only where there are no Russians,” government minister Oleh Nemchinov said Thursday, according to a Reuters translation of a Ukraine public broadcaster report. “Accordingly, participation outside these criteria may be grounds for depriving federations of their national status.”

A decision has not been published on the Ukraine government website.

Guttsait is also the president of Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee. A message was sent to the committee late Thursday seeking comment.

On Tuesday, the IOC updated its recommendations for the possible participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competition. Previously, the IOC recommended no Russians or Belarusians be allowed to compete.

Tuesday’s update called for strict measures should international sports federations decide to readmit Russians and Belarusians who do not actively support the war as neutral athletes in individual events.

“I want to tell our fellow athletes who are worried that due to the IOC measures and the admission of Russians or Belarusians to competitions, and accordingly Ukrainians will not be able to participate, that their careers will be broken,” Nemchinov said, according to the Reuters translation of the public broadcaster report. “But your life and that of your children will remain.”

The International Fencing Federation (FIE) decided earlier in March that it planned to readmit Russians and Belarusians starting in the second half of April, which is also when the 2024 Olympic qualifying period begins in that sport.

Most other international federations for Olympic sports are so far still barring Russians and Belarusians. Some have said they are considering the IOC’s updated recommendations as they monitor their positions.

After Nemchinov’s reported comments, the Ukraine fencing federation press secretary said late Thursday that its fencers will not compete against Russians.

“Ukrainian fencers will not only refuse to compete against Russian and Belarusian athletes but will not participate in events of any level where Russian or Belarusian athletes will be competing,” the press secretary said in an email.

Ukraine won at least one fencing medal at each of the last five Olympics.

“We are all professionals, and if I will fence, which can be or cannot, I think I will be professional,” Ukrainian fencer Olga Kharlan, a four-time Olympic medalist and a four-time individual world champion, said Wednesday regarding a possible boycott. “As a Ukrainian citizen, it’s tough to even imagine how to stand next to [Russians], to know that they’re supporting or they’re in silence and we haven’t heard any word from them or we know that they represent army that’s shelling Ukraine every day.”

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Wimbledon reverses ban on Russia, Belarus tennis players

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Russian and Belarusian players will be able to compete at Wimbledon as neutral athletes after the All England Club on Friday reversed its ban from last year.

The players must sign declarations of neutrality and comply with “appropriate conditions,” including not expressing support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision, not taken lightly or without a great deal of consideration for those who will be impacted,” All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt said in a statement.

The players cannot receive funding from the Russian or Belarusian states, including sponsorship from companies operated or controlled by the states.

Those impacted include Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and Russian players Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev.

Other tennis tournaments have allowed Russian and Belarusian players to compete as neutral athletes.

“We also consider alignment between the Grand Slams to be increasingly important in the current tennis environment,” the club said.

The same conditions will apply for Lawn Tennis Association tournaments used by players as grass-court warmups for the sport’s oldest Grand Slam tournament.

The women’s and men’s professional tennis tours last year imposed heavy fines on the LTA and threatened to pull its tournaments. The ATP and WTA had also responded to last year’s ban by not awarding ranking points for Wimbledon — an unprecedented move against the prestigious event.

“There was a strong and very disappointing reaction from some governing bodies in tennis to the position taken by the All England Club and the LTA last year with consequences which, if continued, would be damaging to the interests of players, fans, The Championships and British tennis,” the club said.

This year’s Wimbledon tournament will start on July 3. The women’s final is scheduled for July 15 and the men’s final on July 16.

The All England Club said the conditions were developed through talks with the British government, the LTA and “international stakeholder bodies in tennis.”

The club’s statement described “personal player declarations” but didn’t provide details. The LTA said the players and support staff “will be required to sign neutrality declarations” similar to those used in other sports.

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