LAS VEGAS — An American won the men’s event at Skate America on Saturday night, but it wasn’t the one who was expected.
Nathan Chen‘s epic win streak that lasted more than three seasons ended, while Vincent Zhou scored his first major senior win and what could symbolize a shift in his figure skating career.
Zhou won the 2017 junior world title but had yet to return to the top step of the podium at such an important competition.
Finally putting together two consistent skates when it mattered, the 20-year-old won with 295.56 points — a personal best score among individual competitions that also closes in on his goal of a 300-point total — and proved to himself and others that he can beat the world’s greatest.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. I didn’t really expect this result, but what I did expect of myself was to be as well prepared and well trained as I possibly could, and I think focusing on that every single day at home led to making the seemingly impossible seem possible,” Zhou told reporters. “I hope that’s a recurring theme this season and I look forward to continuing to work hard to make even better things happen.”
The 22-year-old Chen had two of his worst performances of this Olympic quad and took bronze — his lowest placement in six years on the Grand Prix circuit — with a 269.37 total.
Japan’s Shoma Uno was second at the Orleans Arena with 270.68 points, marking the 2018 Olympic silver medalist’s first Grand Prix medal in three years.
“It’s not about what I did well here, it’s more about revisiting the mistakes in this competition, the things I lacked,” Uno said. “I’ll just work hard and train for NHK Trophy in Japan (Nov. 12-14).”
American Jimmy Ma, 26, the surprise third-place finisher in the short, finished fifth for his best Grand Prix result by five placements.
Chen’s win streak, which included three world titles and stretched from the 2018 World Championships to the 2021 World Championships, ends at 14.
His run of Skate America victories ends at four, tying him with Todd Eldredge, Michelle Kwan and Meryl Davis and Charlie White among all disciplines.
“It was inevitably going to end, right, at some point in time. I’m really proud of these guys up here. If anyone gets to break my streak, I’m glad it’s him,” Chen said, nodding to Zhou. “All that being said, it’s something that happened. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in the past, but at this point in time the only thing I can do is move forward. That’s where my mind’s at.”
Before this week, the last time Chen did not win a competition he entered was the 2018 Winter Olympics, where he had a disastrous short program that put him in 17th. Chen then won the free skate to land in fifth overall.
After coming in fourth in Friday’s short program, his lowest placement in a short since that PyeongChang program, he was unable to mount a successful comeback this time.
“I definitely think there needs to be more reflection,” Chen said of his mistakes this week. “I don’t have a perfect answer right away. That’s definitely something that will be a priority for me.”
Zhou, meanwhile, has made a successful comeback after ending last season with a dismal 25th-place finish at worlds that meant he wouldn’t advance to the free skate and an American would have to compete at this season’s Nebelhorn Trophy to confirm the U.S. men’s three Olympic spots.
That American ended up being Zhou, and he won the event, along with Cranberry Cup International, in September.
“I think I have definitely been building consistently this season, my results have been pretty consistent, I have been putting out relatively strong performances for me this whole season so far and building up to this competition,” Zhou said on the NBCSN broadcast.
“It’s been pretty amazing, there’s been some ups and downs and we’ve taken those in stride and just kept pushing forward one step at a time every day. I’m really thankful to be here.”
In the press conference that followed, Zhou thanked his coaching team, the spectators, U.S. Figure Skating, event organizers and his “amazing competitors for pushing me to be an amazing competitor as well.”
Zhou’s revival of his free skate to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” from the 2018-2019 season, may have proved fortuitous.
Zhou was fourth and fifth at his Grand Prix assignments that season, then second at U.S. Championships, earned bronze at Four Continents and finally at worlds.
He said he also attributes his success to the level-headed approach that has produced the most consistent and productive training of his career.
“I think starting from around January last year, I started training with the mindset of having absolutely nothing to lose and not relegating myself to third place or second place anymore,” Zhou explained. “Coming into this season, I’m just training all out, trying to perfect every aspect of my skating, and with an earlier start and such consistent training so far, I think there definitely is potential to break out a little this season.
“Obviously I don’t expect to win everything — I’m not Nathan Chen — but it’s an honor to be competing in such a deep men’s field. It’s also an honor at this competition to win the gold medal.”
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