Ross Miner

AP

Nathan Chen named to 2018 Olympic team alongside Vincent Zhou, Adam Rippon

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Nathan Chen, the U.S.’ best Olympic medal chance in men’s skating, was officially nominated to compete next month in PyeongChang, U.S. Figure Skating announced on Sunday. Joining Chen in PyeongChang will be 2018 nationals bronze medalist Vincent Zhou and 2016 national champion Adam Rippon.

While all three will be new to the Olympic experience, the age gap spans a decade. Chen, 18, and Zhou, 17, likely have more years in the sport, while Rippon, 28, has been through – and missed out on – two prior Olympic teams.

Chen’s resume most recently includes two national titles (2017, 2018), two gold medals on the Grand Prix circuit, plus the prestigious Grand Prix Final gold medal last month. He also won the 2017 Four Continents Championships; incidentally, those were held in the same venue that will host 2018 Olympic figure skating. He beat reigning Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan for that victory.

Chen, born in Salt Lake City, began skating on a practice rink designed for the 2002 Olympics. When he won a novice national title in 2010, he said on the NBC broadcast that he would be a factor in the 2018 Olympics. Back then, it wasn’t even known where the 2018 Olympics would be held.

“That was always the dream of mine,” Chen said on the NBSCSN broadcast after winning his national title. “That was always what I wanted to accomplish in 2018. And I think I’ve done that.”

And what does he think of the prospect of PyeongChang now?

“There’s another big step to the Games – more pressure, more media, all that,” Chen said. “This is exactly what I wanted my entire life, and I’m ready for it.”

Rippon didn’t make the 2010 Olympic team after finishing fifth at those nationals. He didn’t make the 2014 team when he was eighth at those nationals. The 2008 and 2009 world junior champion calls himself a “late bloomer” and won his first national title in 2016. But he broke his foot in January 2017 ago and spent 12 weeks off the ice. He finished fourth at the 2018 nationals, but his body of work boosted his Olympic selection criteria. He won two silver medals on the Grand Prix circuit in the fall and competed in the Grand Prix Final, where he was fifth.

Zhou captured a bronze medal at nationals on Saturday in front of a home crowd in San Jose. The Bay Area native went for five quads in his free skate at nationals, despite three under rotations and a downgrade on those jumps. Despite his rough Grand Prix season (fourth and ninth place finishes), he was the 2017 world junior champion.

“I definitely feel ready,” Zhou said in a press conference following the free skate Saturday night. “I have been training very well. I know I deserve to go to Korea. But that is not up to me, it is up to the selection committee.”

Jason Brown, who finished a disappointing sixth at nationals, was not named to the team. The 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist is instead the first alternate.

2018 national silver medalist Ross Miner very nearly threw off the process of Olympic selection. He had the skate of his life to capture the silver medal, but his international resume was lacking. Miner was named as an alternate for the Olympics, too.

Chen, Zhou and Rippon join the women newly-named to the PyeongChang Olympic team, Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan).

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Despite blade trouble, Nathan Chen leads men at Skate America

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Nathan Chen leads the men’s field at Skate America after tallying 104.12 points, a new personal best, on Friday night.

During the six-minute warm-up before the final group of skaters, Chen could be seen conferring with his coach, Rafael Arutunian, about his blade. He explained on the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA broadcast that during the warm-up, Arutunian manipulated the blade to fix the edge. They plan on playing with it again so it’s better for Saturday’s free skate.

“There’s a lot of points that I could have gotten last year and I’m making sure I take care of them this year,” Chen said of his personal best, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “The score is still not that close to some of the top men currently, but that’s something that I know is attainable and it’s something I’m going to work toward.”

Arutunian’s other pupil in the men’s field, Adam Rippon, is in second place behind Chen with a personal best of his own – 89.04 points. Sergei Voronov of Russia sits in third place after the short with 87.51 points.

The third American in the field, Ross Miner, popped a triple Axel and didn’t receive any credit for the element. He tallied 71.59 points and sits in eighth place heading into the free.

The free skate will determine which skaters earn a berth to the Grand Prix Final in Japan in two weeks. Chen, despite being a favorite for the Skate America title, can finish anywhere among the top four for a berth to the Final. Voronov can also finish in the top four to make it to the Final. Rippon needs to finish anywhere on the podium.

Plus, with reigning Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu and his training partner Javier Fernandez (a two-time world champion himself) out of the Grand Prix Final, the podium there is wide open. Patrick Chan, a three-time world champion and the Sochi silver medalist, won’t be at the Grand Prix Final either.

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Earlier Friday, in the pairs field, Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford scored 75.37 to lead the field after the short program.

China’s Yu Xiaoyu and Zhang Hao followed for second with 73.67 points. Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, who represent Germany, earned 72.55 points for third place after the short program. All three teams have a chance to qualify for the exclusive Grand Prix Final should the podium stand is after Saturday’s free skate. Even with a shakeup among the top three, it is likely that they will all qualify.

The top American team was married couple Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, who scored 64.27 and are fourth after the short. Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier tallied 63.04 (sixth) and Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay are eighth with 57.18 points.

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Nathan Chen lands record 5 quads for U.S. title, believes Olympic gold is possible

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KANSAS CITY — Nathan Chen wanted to put U.S. men’s figure skating back on the world stage after a seven-year medal drought. He chose this week’s U.S. Championships to try to become the first skater to land five quadruple jumps in one program.

The 17-year-old wunderkind landed all of them cleanly en route to the best performance in nationals history Sunday.

A record score (318.47 points; previous best was 274.98 under a 12-year-old judging system). A record winning margin (55.44 points; previous best was 32.71). The youngest U.S. men’s champion in 51 years.

Consider the message sent to the world.

Now, is an Olympic gold medal possible in PyeongChang in 13 months?

“I believe it’s possible, yeah,” Chen said after bringing the curtain down at the U.S. Championships on Sunday. “It’s still in the distance for me. There’s so much room I have to improve to make myself at that level, but I think it’s definitely possible.”

In terms of jumping, Chen needs no improvement. Previously one of a few men to land four quads in one program, Chen now stands alone. He landed seven quads between two programs at Sprint Center, including four different quads in the free skate.

Chen next goes to the Four Continents Championships at the PyeongChang Olympic venue next month, and then the World Championships in Helsinki in late March. No U.S. man has earned a worlds medal since Evan Lysacek‘s title in 2009. Chen can end that drought.

“We’re pushing back up to where we should be,” Chen, the youngest of five children whose parents emigrated from Beijing, said of the U.S. men after the short program. “We kind of sunk a little bit, but I think me and some of the other skaters coming up at this event will help bring the U.S. back on the map.”

Maybe others will join Chen in the future, but for now he is the only American medal contender.

He’s joined on the world championships team by Jason Brown, who attempted zero quads this week but hopes to add one or two for worlds after getting over a Dec. 16 stress fracture in his right fibula.

Back to Chen.

The Salt Lake City native who started skating at age 3 on a 2002 Olympic practice rink first put the world on notice at the Grand Prix Final in December.

That’s the second-biggest annual figure skating competition. And the most exclusive, taking the top six skaters per discipline from the fall Grand Prix season.

He struggled in the short program, falling on one quad and stepping out of the landing of the other. Cut him some slack. It was his first time skating under that kind of pressure.

But Chen dazzled in the free skate, landing all four quads for the top score that day and a silver medal overall. He bettered Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan by 10 points and world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain by 20 points. Hanyu tried four quads, falling on one. Fernandez tried two quads.

Chen came home from France and set out on improving upon that free skate by re-adding a quadruple Salchow to his quad Lutz, quad flip and two quad toe loops.

“It’s something that I knew I was capable of doing,” Chen said. “It wasn’t exactly a game-time decision [for nationals], but I prepared it, and it was something I was ready to do.”

He actually tried all five at his first two events this season but fell twice in each program. It was an audacious move to go for, given it marked Chen’s first competitions since January hip surgery that kept him off the ice for five and a half months.

“Life often tests us, it puts us through examinations, and Nathan gets all sorts of scrutiny from it, too,” his coach Rafael Arutyunyan, said recently. “But this young man walks out of all such pressing situations as the winner. He behaves like a real man.”

Chen’s timing, breaking out one season before the Olympics, just about matches his talent. He’s creating buzz not seen in U.S. men’s skating since 2010.

Which brings this to mind: Seven years ago, a 10-year-old Chen was the youngest skater at the U.S. Championships.

Chen could barely see over the boards, but he won the novice division and brought an exhibition gala crowd to its feet and sheepishly said he thought he would be at the Olympics in 2018.

A month later, American Evan Lysacek won the Vancouver Olympic title without attempting a quadruple jump, beating noted quad practitioner Yevgeny Plushenko. Chen calls Plushenko his favorite childhood skater.

Figure skating scores are of course about more than how many times one rotates in the air (from the landings of those jumps to artistry and more), but the result was slammed by some as setting the sport back. The 1998, 2002 and 2006 Olympic champions had all landed quads.

Canadian Elvis Stojko, the 1994 and 1998 Olympic silver medalist, said as much in a Yahoo Sports column titled, “The night they killed figure skating.”

U.S. men’s figure skating went dormant after Lysacek’s victory. They have not earned a world championships medal since.

At the 2014 Olympics, the top U.S. finisher was Brown in ninth. Brown did not attempt a quad, but the top eight men did. Every year from 2013 through 2016, the U.S. Championships crowned a new men’s champion. None of them have proven dependable when it comes to clean quad jumping.

“We’ve kind of not had the results we should have had over the past few years,” Chen said in a press conference Sunday, sitting next to Brown.

Meanwhile, Chen continued to rack up novice and junior titles while training ballet (“I enjoyed it more for a social aspect than an actual artistic aspect”) and playing hockey. He no longer plays hockey and cut back on the ballet.

In November 2014, Chen landed his first quadruple toe loop in competition. He’s added three more quads in the last two years working in Los Angeles under Arutyunyan, the Armenian who also coaches U.S. women’s silver and bronze medalists Ashley Wagner and Mariah Bell.

Then, last year, he became the youngest man to finish in the U.S. Championships top three since 1973 (and the first U.S. man to land four quads in one program). Chen aggravated a hip injury later that night in the exhibition gala and needed surgery. He couldn’t walk without a brace for two months. No World Championships.

Chen spent weeks away from Arutyunyan this fall, working in Michigan with Marina Zoueva, who guided the last two Olympic ice dance champions. Chen wanted to improve his artistic marks. He’s done that, and since going back to Arutyunyan around Thanksgiving has incredibly upped his jumping game as well.

Chen followed his record free skate Sunday by sitting down for an interview with the in-arena announcer. The leftover crowd applauded, and then Chan was nonchalantly asked what he was up to.

“Not much,” Chen said, “just skating on a normal sunny day.”

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