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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