Nathan Chen returns to old program, sets new record, leads U.S. Champs

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Already well on his way to a second Olympic team, Nathan Chen has now put himself well on his way to a sixth national title by winning the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships short program.

Chen broke his own 2020 event record of 114.13 with a short program score of 115.39 Saturday afternoon in Nashville.

And it took returning to an old program to do so.

The three-time world champion had made headlines at the start of this 2021-22 Olympic season when his undefeated streak of three years ended at Skate America. He was fourth after the short program and third overall in Las Vegas, where he debuted new programs for the season, including a short to Benjamin Clementine‘s “Eternity” and “Nemesis.”

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

He returned to the top of the podium at Skate Canada the following week to begin what will likely be a new win streak, but for this week’s nationals Chen reverted to his 2019-20 season programs: a short to Charles Aznavour‘s version “La Bohème” and his acclaimed Elton John medley for the free.

“I’m really happy with these programs, and that’s why it’s awesome to be able to have such amazing choreographers consistently deliver great programs for me, so it’s easy to be able to go back and look through all the work she’s done with me,” Chen said, referring to Shae-Lynn Bourne, who choreographed his “La Bohème” program. “It’s one I was really close to and attached to, so this was the best opportunity to try it again.”

So far, Chen has not made clear which programs he plans to use for the Beijing Winter Olympics in less than a month.

Nailing his jumps — which on Saturday included a quadruple flip, triple axel, quad lutz-triple toe combo — didn’t hurt either when attempting to restart that streak.

“The lutz has been a little tricky for me this season, so I’m happy I was able to pull that out,” Chen told Andrea Joyce during the broadcast.

If Chen continues this success in Sunday’s free skate, it will mark his sixth U.S. title, joining only three other men — Roger Turner, Dick Button, Todd Eldredge — to achieve the feat and making him the first in 70 years to do so consecutively.

Fellow 2018 Olympian Vincent Zhou is giving him a run for his money, though.

The 2019 World bronze medalist set a new personal record by five points with his score of 112.78 to Josh Groban‘s “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night),” which he kept from last season.

Zhou, who less than a year ago was 25th at the world championships and failed to even make the free skate field, has medaled at all four of his competitions this season, including a win at Skate America.

The margin of 2.61 points between first and second is notably slim. Chen has led after the short program for all of his U.S. Championships victories, but his margins over the skater in second had previously ranged from 6.13 to 17.72 points.

“It’s amazing to be able to have such strong U.S. competitors, especially heading into the Olympics and knowing regardless of who gets to go we’ll have a really strong team there” Chen said.

Also notable is the athlete currently in position to earn the bronze medal: Ilia Malinin. The 2019 U.S. novice bronze medalist has not competed at a U.S. Championships since due to injury.

At just 17 years old, he obliterated his personal record score by 13.7 for a score of 103.46 points.

Jason Brown, 2014 Olympic bronze medalist in the team event who for much of this Olympic quad has been expected to earn the third U.S. Olympic men’s spot along with Chen and Zhou, is close behind in fourth with 100.84 points for his “Sinnerman” program.

Brown arrived in Nashville less than 24 hours before the men’s competition, following a hectic 33 hours of travel that included five canceled flights, four airline changes, three airports, two countries, an overnight in Atlanta and a rental car.

Later Saturday, Madison Chock and Evan Bates won their third national ice dance title. More on that competition here.

Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc won the pairs’ title and likely locked up an Olympic berth. More here.

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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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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record; David Wise wins first title in 5 years

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, American David Wise earned his first major ski halfpipe title since repeating as Olympic champion in 2018. Wise landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to end his winning run, according to commentators.

“I wouldn’t still be out here if I didn’t think I had a chance,” Wise, 32 and now a five-time X Games Aspen champ, said on the broadcast. “I’m not going to be the guy who just keeps playing the game until everybody just begs me to stop.”

U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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