Nathan Chen’s win streak ends at 14, Vincent Zhou victorious at Skate America

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate America
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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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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here with redactions.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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