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U.S. Championships reporters’ notebook: Nathan Chen and more from day 2

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Our figure skating team is on the ground in Detroit to cover the U.S. Championships. This is our behind-the-scenes look at the competition on the second day.

Nathan Chen begins second semester at Yale

Chen said his status is still “TBD” if he’ll go to Four Continents Championships in Anaheim, Calif. in less than two weeks, should he be named to the team following the results of U.S. Championships. The Yale freshman started classes this week for the spring semester, which would conflict with the competition. For example, the world championships in March are during the academic spring break.

He also told reporters on Friday that his professors have asked him for a head’s up on when he’ll have to miss class.

“They’ve been pretty understanding of my situation. Typically, I have to give them a couple weeks’ [notice] in advance. This is a little different because it’s the first week of classes. I already prepped them for potential future competitions, so they’re aware I might be gone. Some of them may give me extra work, others are like, ‘Whatever. Just make sure you read the book.’ Most professors are pretty low-key about it.”

MORE: Nathan Chen’s imminent three-peat at U.S. Championships

She’s got Medvedeva arms

In seasons past, Russian stars including two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva (often) and Olympic champion Alina Zagitova (occasionally) added excitement – and difficulty – to their jumps by doing them with an arm or two overhead.

Hanna Harrell, the 15-year-old who sits fifth in Detroit after a clean short program, decided what was good enough for the Russians might be even better for her: All of the jumps in her short, including a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, are done with both arms overhead.

“Especially after the Olympics, even before that, I would watch the Russians and look up to them,” Harrell said at the U.S. Championships. “I always watch them do two arms above the head.”

Do Alexei Letov and Olga Ganicheva, her coaches in Plano, Texas, encourage her to do this?

“Uh… not necessarily,” Harrell said. “They were like, ‘OK, maybe try it if you can.’ But I wanted to one day be like the Russians, so I drilled all of my triples with two arms over the head, and now that’s how I do them.”

It’s a trait Ganicheva and Letov, married former Soviet Union competitors, have grown to accept.

“Hanna loves to do this,” Ganicheva said. “It’s just her thing. We cannot just take it away from her.”

Looking at the bright side, Letov added, “There’s no deduction for it. It can (bring) more positive GOEs [grades of execution]. What can you do? She will give you everything with arms.”

Harrell, fourth in the U.S. junior ranks last season, has other jumping aspirations, including triple Axels and quads.

“She does work on triple Axel and quad flip,” Ganicheva said. “She is a brave girl, very athletic and brave.”

“I’ve been working on them on the [jump] harness, and off the harness, but before nationals I wanted to focus on what I could do,” Harrell said. “Definitely my goal is to do triple Axel next season.”

Digerness’ doppelganger

Nica Digerness and Danny Neudecker, despite sitting ninth after the pairs’ short program, notched a personal-best score of 58.84 Thursday at U.S. Championships.

“We got a personal best in score, so I think we can only hope for the same thing in the long,” Neudecker said. “We just wanted to deliver in our program, just like we did at Skate America. That’s the goal.”

Digerness said she felt like all of their components and elements were performed well besides their side-by-side triple toes. She fell and her jump was called under-rotated.

Digerness, a native of Loveland, Colo., has often been compared to Yevgenia Tarasova because of their similar features and positions on the ice.

When asked if she is told that often, Digerness, 18, laughed and admitted that she has never heard of that comparison to her doppelganger.

Tarasova is a Russian pairs’ skater and two-time European champion with partner Vladimir Morozov. This weekend, they won silver in Minsk, Belarus.

MORE: James, Cipres win Europeans; Tarasova, Morozov earn silver

What happens in Vegas…

U.S. Figure Skating announced that Las Vegas will host the 2019 Skate America competition at the Orleans Arena from Oct. 18-20. It will be the first of six stops on the Grand Prix Series for the 2019-20 season.

It is the first time the event will be headed to Las Vegas. Orleans Arena hosts concerts and other performance events. Tickets will be on sale later this spring and the list of competitors is expected to be announced in June.

Stories compiled by Lynn Rutherford, Rachel Lutz, and Colton Wood.

MORE: Alysa Liu makes history, but wants to make more

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Skate America champ Satoko Miyahara hopes to challenge Russians

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Like many elite figure skating coaches, Mie Hamada trains two of her country’s top athletes: Satoko Miyahara, the four-time and reigning Japanese champion who won her second straight Skate America title on Sunday; and Rika Kihira, the sport’s leading female proponent of the triple axel.

Also in common with many of her colleagues, both of Hamada’s star pupils will compete at the same Grand Prix event: NHK Trophy, held Nov. 9-11 in Hiroshima, Japan.

Unlike most coaches, though, Hamada is clear about which student she wants to win, be it at NHK or this season’s Japanese and world championships.

“I hope the champion is 18, because we want to see a senior lady, not a senior girl, don’t you think?” Hamada said in Everett. “A skater who has a story, not only jumps.”

A skater like Miyahara, who at age 20 is about four years Kihira’s senior.

“Jumps are very important, we know that, but the five (program) components, the artistry, should also count,” Hamada said.

“This is figure skating,” she added, drawing out each syllable for emphasis.I hope judges understand what is important for the sport.”

In Everett, Miyahara had it all: two intricate, elegant programs; gorgeous spins and steps; clean triple jumps – everything except a triple axel. She was the only lady in the event to land a triple lutz, triple toe combination that wasn’t judged under rotated. In fact, none of her jumps received the dreaded “<” – quite a feat, given some of her prior results and the new, more stringent international judging system (IJS) guidelines.

“During the off-season I did some training with very light weights, and it was very new for me,” said the tiny Miyahara, who is listed in her ISU bio as five feet tall. “I was training to make my hamstrings stronger. I had a bad habit of not using the butt and the hamstrings, only to use the front side (of my thighs), and that was not good for big jumps.”

Hamada, weary of the under rotations that have cost Miyahara dearly in the past, is behind the new regimen.

“This year, Satoko has a new strength trainer, and she worked very hard in the summer time, so she gets extra muscle,” Hamada said. “Then in October, we just relaxed and did some easier exercises before (Skate America).”

Miyahara has grown stronger in other ways. At last season’s Skate America, the skater spoke of her dangerous calcium deficiency, for which she was taking supplements. That has improved, but Miyahara remains underweight. Off-ice in Everett, she was never without a small canvas bag packed with snacks, and she apologetically delayed our interview so she could sit down and eat some.

“I like to eat, so it’s not hard for me, but I don’t know why I lose weight when I come to competitions,” Miyahara said. “There is no practice like the usual practice, it’s a lot less, but I think maybe I am using my mind a lot and I need food.”

Hamada speculates the weight problem is due to her skater’s deep work ethic, which includes her studies at Kansai University in Osaka.

“Each day, every day, every moment, she is working hard,” Hamada said. “She has to think about nutrition all of the time. Most skaters her age are trying to lose weight, but she is the opposite. She has to take carbohydrates, she has to take everything.”

Both coach and skater hope the increased strength – plus a revised judging system that includes grades of execution (GOE) for elements ranging from -5 to +5 – help Miyahara challenge the Russian contingent this season, including Olympic champion Alina Zagitova and two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva.

“It is not a very easy thing, but I think I have to improve my programs and jumps, and everything, to get more (GOE) pluses,” Miyahara said. “When I compete with Russians, I always watch them and think, ‘why do they jump like machines?’”

For now, though, Miyahara’s main competition is training partner Kihara. In the few weeks leading up to NHK, they will share the ice in Osaka, where they always skate together in the same sessions.

“Rika learns how to use her edges from Satoko, who has beautiful edges and skates without any noise,” Hamada said. “But Satoko learns how to jump from Rika, so it’s a good situation. They are not enemies, they are good rivals. It is very important to have a good rival.”

Kihira – the first lady to land a triple axel-triple toe loop combination in history, at the Junior Grand Prix Final last season – plans two triple axels in her free skate at NHK, Hamada said. Although she is working on quadruple jumps, including toe loop and salchow, she likely will not attempt them this season.

“(Kihira) is working very hard on the artistry, because I want her to become a very beautiful lady skater with triple axel and quad,” Hamada said. “This year I am not planning to have quads in her programs but I want beautiful edges, beautiful flow.”

And Miyahara, as always, vows to work harder.

“It’s a very good environment for me to practice (with Kihira), because she pushes me and I feel like I have to do more,” she said.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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MORE: Starr Andrews, 17, could be a figure skating star in the making 

Satoko Miyahara wins Skate America; U.S. women miss podium

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Japan’s Satoko Miyahara repeated as Skate America champion, while the U.S. failed to put a woman on the singles podium for the second time in the event’s 40-year history.

Miyahara, a two-time world medalist and fourth at the Olympics, became the first woman to win back-to-back Skate Americas since Yuna Kim in 2008 and 2009. She topped the short program and free skate, totaling 219.71 points and winning by 5.81.

She relegated countrywoman Kaori Sakamoto to silver at Skate America for a second straight year. Russian Sofia Samodurova, a 16-year-old in her Grand Prix debut, held on for bronze as the top of the standings went unchanged from after Saturday’s short.

SKATE AMERICA: Full Results

U.S. champion Bradie Tennell entered Skate America with the best total score of the field this season, but she had trouble with her triple Lutz-triple loop combination both days.

Tennell finished fourth, one spot lower than at her Grand Prix debut breakout at Skate America a year ago. The difficult triple Lutz-triple loop combo was done by just one senior woman last season — Olympic champion Alina Zagitova.

“I came into this competition feeling very prepared, and yesterday’s [triple-triple combo] mistake kind of threw me off a little bit,” Tennell, the only U.S. Olympian doing two Grand Prix events this fall, told Andrea Joyce on NBCSN. “But I’m proud of how I recovered from that, both in that [short] program and this [free skate]. I have a lot to work on.”

The only other time the U.S. didn’t put a woman on the Skate America podium was 10 years ago, when it was also held in Everett, Wash.

Miyahara, 20, has been the leading Japanese woman for most of the last four years, filling the void left by Mao Asada. Only 4-foot-11, Miyahara hasn’t challenged top Russians Zagitova and Yevgenia Medvedeva in jumping consistency, but her artistry has helped her make the podium in 10 of 12 Grand Prix starts.

Miyahara is arguably the top threat to the Russians this season with world champion Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada taking the year off and Italian Carolina Kostner out of the Grand Prix series with a hip injury. Two other Japanese may have a strong say — 16-year-old Rika Kihira, who landed two triple Axels in her senior international debut last month, and world silver medalist Wakaba Higuchi.

Earlier Sunday, Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue earned the U.S.’ 10th straight Skate America ice dance title. More on the new leading U.S. couple here.

The Grand Prix season continues next week with Skate Canada featuring Olympic silver medalist Medvedeva with coverage on NBC and NBC Sports Gold.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Nathan Chen wins Skate America by record margin