Nathan Chen rebounds from Vegas mishaps to lead after Skate Canada short program

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Twenty-eight seconds into his short program at Skate America in Las Vegas a week ago, Nathan Chen found himself with his rear end on the ice.

It wasn’t the first time Chen had fallen in a competition, of course. It actually had happened in his previous individual competition, the 2021 World Championships. And it was on the same opening short program jump, a quadruple lutz, putting him third going into a free skate he easily won to take a third straight world title.

Yet the fall at Skate America last week clearly affected him more. Chen botched his third jumping pass and wound up with his worst short program score since the 2018 Olympics. The desultory free skate (four clean quads notwithstanding) that followed left him third overall, with his lowest total score in 22 international events dating to autumn 2016 and also his first loss since those 2018 Olympics.

That is why Chen chose to go right back to the quad lutz rather than pick an easier jump to open Friday’s short program at Skate Canada in Vancouver.

“I definitely needed to get over that hurdle of the lutz,” Chen said.

It may not have been his best quad lutz ever, but it was clean and solid, and it released Chen to flow rather than struggle through the rest of the 2-minute, 50-second program, as had happened at Skate America. He followed Friday’s lutz with a strong triple axel and a quad toe-triple toe combination that earned his fourth highest score ever for that element.

With the jumps out of the way and the music switching to the pulsating “Nemesis,” Chen infused the final part of his program with the energy that had poured out of him when he skated to a longer version of that song in the last Olympic season.

He won the short program with 106.72 points, easily outdistancing a field in which Chen’s compatriot, Jason Brown, took second (94.0) with a scintillating performance to Nina Simone’s powerful “Sinnerman.” Without a quad, Brown finished almost 13 points behind Chen (two quads) in technical scores, a difference he could trim only slightly on components.

“There were points left on the table I am determined to grab as the season goes on,” Brown said. “So I’m pleased but hungry for more.”

Keegan Messing of Canada was third (93.28), and Makar Ignatov put up a personal best of 89.79 for fourth, piling up points with his strong quads but losing others with lackluster spins.

After his free skate at Skate America, Chen said he needed more time to reflect on what had gone wrong.

“At this point, all I can really try to do is keep moving forward, try to learn from this competition and go from there,” he said.

He didn’t have much time. And that turned out to be a good thing.

“I’m happy to have had an opportunity right off the bat to give myself another shot,” Chen said.

“From past experience, the first couple competitions I have had (every season) have never been perfect. That’s not to say I should not be. That’s on me. Every time I skate, I’m supposed to be skating well.”

In fact, even during the first two seasons of his unbeaten streak, Chen had made significant mistakes, large and small, in both his scheduled Grand Prix events. The difference at 2021 Skate America was for the first time in an individual event since the 2017 worlds, he had won neither the short program nor the free skate.

“I’m not really in a place where I’m like, ‘Things are definitely going to go downhill from here,’” Chen said of needing to rebuild confidence. “It’s a constant progression. There are going to be good days, there are going to be bad days.

“If I start thinking too far ahead or start worrying too much about what’s to come, I’m going to lose sight of what I currently have to do.”

The next thing is Saturday’s free skate. A strong performance would, for better or worse, put Chen right back in the position he held when the season began: solid favorite for the Olympic gold medal next February in Beijing.

That doesn’t mean Chen will let what happened in Vegas stay in Vegas.

“I still have to figure out what it is logistically that went wrong,” he said.

It may have been nothing that a good quadruple lutz couldn’t fix.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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