Chen tops Hanyu in short program; Russia leads at World Team Trophy

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Russia leads six of the top figure skating nations with a total of 49 points after the first day of competition at the ISU World Team Trophy in Osaka, Japan.

In a three-country battle for podium positions between the powerhouses who took the medals at each of the past three World Team Trophy competitions – though always in varying order – the United States trails by only two points (47), followed by Japan with 42.

Nathan Chen topped the men’s field Thursday (109.65, less than a point from his IJS personal best), redemption after finishing an unexpected third in the short program at last month’s world championships with a score 10 points lower, with his best performance to date of his short program to “Asturias” by Frida Lopez and “Cancion del Mariachi” by Los Lobos. Helping move the U.S. from third to second, Chen was followed by two-time Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan (107.12), who had an error on his triple axel, and U.S. team captain Jason Brown (94.86).

“World Team Trophy for me is always a very enjoyable and very fun event, something that I feel more relaxed going into,” Chen, a three-time World Team Trophy participant, noted. “Training between worlds and now was very relaxed because I just need to make sure I stayed healthy and kept my energy going.

“I’m friends with all my fellow U.S. skaters and we have a good sense of camaraderie and team spirit, so to be able to have your best friends at a competition that you’re competing at together as a group is just really special, so just trying to enjoy myself as much as I can and still get my job done.”

Russia earned most of its points by having the top two women – reigning world gold and silver medalists Anna Shcherbakova (81.07) and Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva (80.35) – and top ice dance team in reigning world champions Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov (76.79).

The rhythm dance kicked off the event, with Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri following the Russians (82.93) and Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker placing third in their World Team Trophy debut (76.79).

The women were next, with Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto (77.78) and Rika Kihira (69.74) sitting behind the Russians, followed by Team USA’s Bradie Tennell (67.40) and Karen Chen (62.48), who both had under-rotated jumps plus a fall by Chen on her opening combination.

World Team Trophy features an audience of fans – a first for many skaters this season – all at least one seat away from each other.

“It felt great to be able to skate for people; I felt a lot more energy than I did at worlds,” Nathan Chen said. “Having an audience for the first time in a while brought a completely different sense of energy and sense of fun with skating. I personally enjoyed that a lot. I was happy people were there. That being said, I know safety is the No. 1 concern. Everyone was obviously wearing masks and distancing, so hopefully that was enough to keep everyone safe.”

France, which replaced China after the fifth-ranked nation withdrew, is well back from podium position in fourth (26), followed by Italy (25) and Canada (23), which opted not to send any of its athletes who competed at worlds in late March due to the country’s mandatory two-week quarantine. Competition continues Friday with the pairs’ short program, free dance and men’s free skate, followed by the pairs’ and women’s free skates on Saturday. The biennial event is streamed live on Peacock with highlights airing on NBCSN.

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