U.S. Figure Skating Championships men’s preview: Nathan Chen leads clear top tier

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final Senior & Junior
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This week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships marks the last competition to determine the U.S. Olympic team. Three men will be chosen by a committee to compete in Beijing. A look at the contenders (listed in order of best single total score this season) …

There is expected to be little drama in the men’s competition in Nashville. Nathan Chen is a clear favorite, albeit will not go into nationals riding an undefeated season for the first time since 2017.

The three Olympic spots are also largely, if not totally, spoken for.

No man has beaten any of a fully prepared Chen, Vincent Zhou or Jason Brown at nationals in this Olympic cycle. They rank first, second and ninth in the world this season by best score. No other American man is in the top 20, according to SkatingScores.com.

Nathan Chen
Three-time world champion
Five-time U.S. champion
2018 Olympics, fifth place

Bidding to join Todd Eldredge as the only men in the last 70 years to win six national titles. Took first defeat of this Olympic cycle at Skate America in October (to Zhou), but went out the next week and tallied the world’s best score this season by 11.62 points, landing six quadruple jumps between two programs. All of Chen’s national titles were won by at least a 30-point margin. Has said he will likely take a break from competition after this season (returning to Yale), so it could be his last nationals.

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Vincent Zhou
2019 World bronze medalist
Three-time U.S. silver medalist
2018 Olympics, sixth place

At Skate America, beat Chen for the first time since the 2013 U.S. Junior Championships, ending a 13-competition skid in their head-to-head. His winning score held as the second-best in the world this season, though Zhou struggled in his most recent program, a sixth-place free skate at NHK Trophy in November. It could also be his last nationals. Zhou is going back to Brown University in the fall. He said last season that 2022 was his “end game,” but last week clarified that anything beyond this year is to be determined.

Jason Brown
2015 U.S. champion
2014 Olympics, ninth place

Began the PyeongChang Olympic cycle with a national title in 2015 and ended it with a sixth-place finish at 2018 Nationals, missing that Olympic team. Since changed coaches to Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson and this season landed a fully rotated quadruple jump in competition for the first time. Brown is firmly the No. 3 American and likely to become the first U.S. male singles skater to go eight years between Olympic appearances, according to Olympedia.org.

Jimmy Ma
2021 U.S. Championships, sixth place

A sensation at nationals four years ago for his “Turn Down for What” short program before he ultimately landed in 11th place. Ma had his best nationals finish last season, and this year has the best score of any American man outside of the Big Three. That best score is still 13.23 points shy of Brown’s best, and 8.58 points shy of Brown’s worst this season. A significant gap. Note the fourth- and fifth-place finishers from last year’s nationals haven’t competed since September.

Ilia Malinin
World’s top-ranked junior skater

The 17-year-old son of Uzbek Olympic skaters won both of his Junior Grand Prix starts this season (making a 30-point jump from his first to his second). Last season, he was fifth at Skate America but missed senior nationals due to a fractured ankle (and then missed about three more weeks of training this season due to ankle problems). Has trained alongside Chen and landed three different types of quadruple jumps in competition.

Yaroslav Paniot
2021 U.S. Championships, fourth place

Finished 9.95 points behind Brown at last year’s nationals, beating him in the free skate. That’s the closest anybody from outside the top tier has come to a full-strength Chen, Zhou or Brown at nationals in this Olympic cycle (not counting Zhou’s under-prepared performance in 2020). Paniot, a 2018 Olympian for Ukraine who gained U.S. citizenship in December, competed twice this season, way back in August and September, before being sidelined two months for a groin injury that will limit his jump content at nationals. His total score from the one event he completed ranks him 10th among Americans this season, according to SkatingScores.com.

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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12-year-old skateboarders earn medals at world championships

Chloe Covell

At the world skateboarding championships, 12-year-olds Chloe Covell from Australia and Onodera Ginwoo from Japan earned silver and bronze medals, respectively, in Sunday’s street finals.

In the women’s event, Covell took silver behind Brazilian 15-year-old Rayssa Leal, who was a silver medalist herself at the Tokyo Games.

Frenchman Aurélien Giraud, a 25-year-old who was sixth in skateboarding’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, won the men’s final in the United Arab Emirates. Ginwoo was third behind Portugal’s Gustavo Ribeiro.

The top Americans were Olympic men’s bronze medalist Jagger Eaton in sixth and 15-year-old Paige Heyn in seventh in the women’s event.

Nyjah Huston, a six-time world champion who placed seventh in Tokyo, missed worlds after August surgery for an ACL tear.

Up to three men and three women per nation can qualify per event (street and park) for the 2024 Paris Games. World rankings come June 2024 determine which Americans qualify.

In Tokyo, four of the 12 skateboarding medalists were ages 12 or 13.

Japan’s Kokona Hiraki, then 12, won silver in women’s park to become the youngest Olympic medalist since 1936, according to Olympedia.org. Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, then 13, won women’s street and became the youngest gold medalist in an individual event since 1936.

Worlds conclude this week with the men’s and women’s park events. The finals are Saturday.

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Francesco Friedrich, most decorated bobsledder in history, rebounds for 12th world title

Francesco Friedrich

A week after his first major championships defeat in seven years, German Francesco Friedrich returned to his winning ways to close the world bobsled championships on Sunday.

Friedrich’s four-man sled won the world title by 69 hundredths of a second over British and Latvian sleds that tied for silver, combining times from four runs over the last two days in St. Moritz, Switzerland. It marked Great Britain’s first world championships men’s bobsled medal since 1966.

Geoff Gadbois drove the lone U.S. sled in the field, finishing 18th.

Friedrich, the most decorated bobsledder in history, extended his records with a fifth consecutive world four-man title and 12th world championship between two- and four-man events.

Germany swept all four titles at bobsled worlds with four different drivers taking gold.

Friedrich had won 12 consecutive Olympic or world titles before taking two-man silver at worlds last week in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He was dethroned in that event by countryman Johannes Lochner.

Friedrich has been hampered recently by a muscle injury from sprint training in late December. Going into worlds, Lochner had won four consecutive World Cup two-man races, while Hall won the last two World Cups in four-man.

Friedrich, 32, said before this season that he plans to make the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games his final competition. Friedrich and push athlete Thorsten Margis can break the record of four career Olympic bobsled gold medals that they currently share with retired Germans Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske.

The World Cup season concludes with stops in Igls, Austria, and Sigulda, Latvia, the next two weekends.

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