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


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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French Open: Iga Swiatek rolls toward possible Coco Gauff rematch

Iga Swiatek

Iga Swiatek reached the French Open third round without dropping a set, eyeing a third Roland Garros title in four years. Not that she needed the help, but Swiatek’s immediate draw is wide open after the rest of the seeds in her section lost.

Swiatek dispatched 102nd-ranked American Claire Liu 6-4, 6-0 on Thursday, the same score as her first-round win. She gets 80th-ranked Wang Xinyu of China in the round of 32.

The other three seeds in Swiatek’s section all lost in the first round, so the earliest that the world No. 1 could play another seed is the quarterfinals. And that would be No. 6 Coco Gauff, who was runner-up to Swiatek last year.

Gauff plays her second-round match later Thursday against 61st-ranked Austrian Julia Grabher. Gauff also doesn’t have any seeds in her way before a possible Swiatek showdown.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Swiatek, who turned 22 on Wednesday, came into this year’s French Open without the invincibility of a year ago, when she was 16-0 in the spring clay season during an overall 37-match win streak.

She retired from her last pre-French Open match with a right thigh injury, but said it wasn’t serious. That diagnosis appears to have been spot-on through two matches this week, though her serve was broken twice in the first set of each match.

While the men’s draw has been upended by 14-time champion Rafael Nadal‘s pre-event withdrawal and No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev‘s loss in the first round, the top women have taken care of business.

Nos. 2, 3 and 4 seeds Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, American Jessica Pegula and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan also reached the third round without dropping a set.

Though all of them have beaten Swiatek in 2023, the Pole remains the favorite to lift the trophy a week from Saturday. She can join Serena Williams and Justine Henin as the lone women to win three or more French Opens since 2000.

She can also become the youngest woman to win three French Opens since Monica Seles in 1992 and the youngest woman to win four Slams overall since Williams in 2002.

Swiatek doesn’t dwell on it.

“I never even played Serena or Monica Seles,” she said. “I’m kind of living my own life and having my own journey.”

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Penny Oleksiak to miss world swimming championships

Penny Oleksiak

Seven-time Olympic medalist Penny Oleksiak of Canada will miss July’s world swimming championships because she does not expect to be recovered enough from knee and shoulder injuries.

“The bar that we set was, can she be as good as she’s ever been at these world championships?” coach Ryan Mallette said in a press release. “We just don’t feel like we’re going to be ready to be 100 percent yet this summer. Our focus is to get her back to 100 percent as soon as possible to get ready for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.”

Oleksiak, who owns the Canadian record of seven Olympic medals (across all sports), missed Canada’s trials meet for worlds two months ago due to the injuries. She was still named to the team at the time in hope that she would be ready in time for worlds.

The 22-year-old returned to competition last month at a Mare Nostrum meet in Barcelona, after which she chose to focus on continued rehab rather than compete at worlds in Fukuoka, Japan.

“Swimming at Mare Nostrum was a checkpoint for worlds, and I gave it my best shot,” Oleksiak said in the release. “We reviewed my swims there, and it showed me the level I want to get back to. Now I need to focus on my rehab to get back to where I want to be and put myself in position to be at my best next season.”

Oleksiak had knee surgery last year to repair a meniscus. After that, she developed a left shoulder injury.

In 2016, Oleksiak tied for Olympic 100m freestyle gold with American Simone Manuel. She also earned 100m butterfly silver in Rio and 200m free bronze in Tokyo, along with four relay medals between those two Games.

At last year’s worlds, she earned four relay medals and placed fourth in the 100m free.

She anchored the Canadian 4x100m free relay to silver behind Australia at the most recent Olympics and worlds.

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