Self-sufficient Nathan Chen an easy winner at Skate Canada despite absence of coach at his side

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Nathan Chen has gotten used to training without his coach nearby, having done it during his freshman and sophomore years at Yale while Rafael Arutunian was 3,000 miles away in California.

But Saturday’s free skate at Skate Canada in Vancouver was the first time he had competed without Arutunian at his side in a significant competition during the 10 years they have worked together. With Chen on leave from Yale since May 2020, he and Arutunian had been together virtually every day since.

“He trains all of us to be pretty self-sufficient,” Chen said. “So whether he is there or not, we kind of know what we need to do.”

Chen said his winning performance was “not particularly” affected because Arutunian had to watch from the stands rather than the boards after the coach’s accreditation had been revoked for his inadvertent violation of Covid-19 protocols related to the bubble at the event.

“In this case, what went down was appropriate,” Chen said. “It was reasonable to adhere to the bubble protocol to keep us all safe.

“That being said, I’m glad he was still able to be in the arena and that he was able to give me a quick call before I stepped on the ice.”

With a 12-point lead after the short program and, as the final skater of an event where the other 11 men went from sloppy to just plain bad, Chen wisely chose a safe, workmanlike, unremarkable program layout to win the event by nearly 50 points.

After placing just third in Skate America last week, his first defeat since the 2018 Olympics, this victory assured Chen one of the six places in the early December Grand Prix Final.

He wound up with 307.18 points, a score only he and two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan ever have topped. Jason Brown of the United States was second at 259.55, with senior international Grand Prix rookie Evgeny Semenenko third at 256.01.

None of the men did a free skate without a negative grade of execution. Chen and, ironically, last place free skate finisher Keiji Tanaka of Japan were the only ones with fewer than two negative GOEs.

Chen’s mistake was a sloppy execution of what was to be a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination. His wonky landing on the first jump forced him to turn the second into a double.

He did four quads but chose to omit the lutz, the hardest quad a man or woman ever has done, after landing it cleanly in Friday’s short program to exorcise any demons that might have gotten into his head after falling on that jump in his previous two short programs at individual events. Three of the four quads in this free skate came in combinations.

“I definitely had better outings here than I did at Skate America. So I think this is a step forward, and as always with competitions, I want to push myself a little bit forward, a little bit forward, even if it means taking out an element to be a little cleaner,” Chen said.

Chen also indicated his choice of jumps also owed to his “dealing with a little bit of a hip thing.” The medalists’ press conference ended before he could be asked for specifics.

Chen’s longtime nemesis jump, the triple axel, has been one of his biggest assets so far this season. Saturday’s, done in the bonus period, produced his highest score ever for the solo element. One of his other three this season ranks 10th on his all-time list.

“Sometimes people don’t understand the pressure of every single element when you are doing such difficult jumps, whether it’s two quads in the short program or more in the free skate,” Arutunian said via telephone Saturday afternoon.

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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Noah Lyles runs personal best and is coming for Usain Bolt’s world record

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Noah Lyles ran a personal-best time in the 60m on Saturday, then reaffirmed record-breaking intentions for the 100m and, especially, the 200m, where Usain Bolt holds the fastest times in history.

Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 60m sprint in 6.51 seconds at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, clipping Trayvon Bromell by two thousandths in his first top-level meet of the year. Bromell, the world 100m bronze medalist, is a past world indoor 60m champion and has a better start than Lyles, which is crucial in a six-second race.

But on Saturday, Lyles ran down Bromell and shaved four hundredths off his personal best. It bodes well for Lyles’ prospects come the spring and summer outdoor season in his better distances — the 100m and 200m.

“This is the moment I’ve been working, like, seven years for,” he said. “We’re not just coming for the 200m world record. We’re coming for all the world records.”

Last July, Lyles broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old American record in the 200m, winning the world title in 19.31 seconds. Only Bolt (19.19) and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake (19.26) have run faster.

Lyles has since spoken openly about targeting Bolt’s world record from 2009.

How does an indoor 60m time play into that? Well, Lyles said that his success last year sprung from a strong indoor season, when he lowered his personal best in the 60m from 6.57 to 6.56 and then 6.55. He followed that by lowering his personal best in the 200m from 19.50 to 19.31.

He believes that slicing an even greater chunk off his 60m best on Saturday means special things are on the horizon come the major summer meets — the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July (on the same Oregon track where he ran the American 200m record) and the world championships in Budapest in August.

After focusing on the 200m last year, Lyles plans to race both the 100m and the 200m this year. He has a bye into the 200m at world championships, so expect him to race the 100m at USATF Outdoors, where the top three are in line to join world champ Fred Kerley on the world team.

Lyles’ personal best in the 100m is 9.86, a tenth off the best times from Kerley, Bromell and 2019 World 100m champ Christian Coleman. Bolt is in his own tier at 9.58.

Also Saturday, Grant Holloway extended a near-nine-year, 50-plus-race win streak in the 60m hurdles, clocking 7.38 seconds, nine hundredths off his world record. Olympic teammate Daniel Roberts was second in 7.46. Trey Cunningham, who took silver behind Holloway in the 110m hurdles at last July’s world outdoor championships, was fifth in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 60m in 7.02 seconds, one week after clocking a personal-best 6.98 to become the third-fastest American in history after Gail Devers and Marion Jones (both 6.95). Hobbs, 26, placed sixth in the 100m at last July’s world championships.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion competing for the first time since August, and Jamaican Shericka Jackson, the world 200m champion, were ninth and 10th in the 60m heats, just missing the eight-woman final.

In the women’s pole vault, Bridget Williams, seventh at last year’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, upset the last two Olympic champions — American Katie Moon and Greek Katerina Stefanidi. Williams won with a 4.63-meter clearance (and then cleared 4.71 and a personal-best 4.77). Stefanidi missed three attempts at 4.63, while Moon went out at 4.55.

The indoor track and field season continues with the Millrose Games in New York City next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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