Vincent Zhou

Nathan Chen wins fourth straight U.S. figure skating title in dominant fashion

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Nathan Chen has leaned on Brian Boitano during times of crisis and injuries. At the U.S. Figure Skating Championships the last two days, Chen showcased not only his jumps — six quads between two programs — but some of the mental strength gleaned from the 1988 Olympic champion.

Chen, who said he competed on one week of full training after a flu bout, was his usual standout self, becoming the first man to win four straight national titles since Boitano in 1988.

He distanced runner-up Jason Brown by 37.29 points, totaling 330.17. Chen won all of his national titles by at least 37 points. No other skater, pair or dance couple has won by more than 33 points since the Code of Points was instituted in 2006.

Chen landed a pair of quad toe loops, a quad flip and a quad Salchow in his Elton John-themed free skate.

“I was, again, pretty worried about my stamina coming into this competition, but the audience really helped me get through it,” the Yale sophomore told Andrea Joyce on NBC.

NATIONALS: Full results | World championships team named

Boitano and Scott Hamilton, the other most recent man to win four straight, sat together inside the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum.

“It’s a huge deal for me to be able to take the next step to, not necessarily becoming one of these legends, but sort of follow in their footsteps,” Chen said. “These guys have done amazing things well beyond what I’ve already accomplished. It’s amazing to be able to have that sort of inspiration in front of you and have something to look forward to.”

Besides Chen, five of the six men to earn four straight U.S. titles since World War II went on to earn Olympic gold, which Chen will aim for in 2022. He’s undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics with a disastrous 17th-place short program followed by a leading free skate. He was arguably the favorite for gold.

Chen now heads to March’s world championships for another matchup with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. Chen routed Hanyu twice in 2019, by 22.45 points at worlds and 43.87 at December’s Grand Prix Final.

“If I start focusing too much on the results, and I start trying to focus on going to this competition because I want to continue this quote-unquote streak, it will probably be the end of it,” Chen said. After his Grand Prix Final romp, Chen called Hanyu a “skating god” and said the Japanese megastar was still capable of outperforming him.

Brown, skating Sunday to music from “Schindler’s List,” earned his best nationals finish since winning the title in Greensboro five years ago.

He did so without a clean quad, having his one attempt in the free skate downgraded. Brown has never landed a quad in competition. Still, he beat Chen in artistic scores in the short program, coming back from a preseason concussion in a car accident.

“It’s probably the best skating that I’ve done,” said Brown, a 2014 Olympian who changed coaches after missing the PyeongChang Olympics, moving to Brian Orser‘s group in Toronto.

Tomoki Hiwatashi, the world junior champion, jumped from fifth after the short program onto the podium in third. He landed a pair of quads in a clean free skate, making his case to be named to the three-man world championships team.

But that spot was instead given by a U.S. Figure Skating committee to fourth-place finisher Vincent Zhou.

Zhou, the world bronze medalist, finished fourth with one quad in his free skate. Zhou had minor jump landing errors, competing after not training properly for the entire autumn while a freshman at Brown. He moved to Toronto in late December, changed coaches and resumed training a month before nationals.

Andrew Torgashev, the surprise third-place skater from the short program, fell twice on quad attempts and dropped to fifth.

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MORE: Why retired Adam Rippon was at nationals 

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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.

U.S. figure skating roster for world championships

Nathan Chen
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U.S. Figure Skating announced its world championship team at the end of the U.S. Championships.

The team — three men, two women, two pairs and three ice dance couples — was chosen by committee and, as usual, went closely in line with results from nationals.

Save two exceptions: the third men’s spot went not to bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi, but fourth-place finisher Vincent Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist; the second pair will not be silver medalists Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, but instead fourth-place finishers Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc.

The committee decides the team considering results not only from nationals but also other recent competitions. Zhou and Cain-Gribble and LeDuc have more international experience and past nationals success.

Nathan Chen leads the charge as he attempts to win a third consecutive world title, coming off his fourth straight nationals victory. This sets up a duel with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan.

Two-time women’s national champion, Alysa Liu, remains too young at 14 to compete on the senior international level. Her post-season assignments will be determined after the 2020 U.S. World Junior Team Camp, though it is widely expected she will make her world junior championship debut.

The world championships are set for March 16-22 in Montreal. The Four Continents Championships will run Feb. 3-9 in Seoul. Events will be televised and live streamed for NBC Sports Gold Figure Skating pass subscribers.

World Championships
Nathan Chen
Jason Brown
Vincent Zhou

Mariah Bell
Bradie Tennell

Alexa Knierim/Chris Knierim
Ashley Cain-Gribble/Timothy LeDuc

Madison Chock/Evan Bates
Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue
Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker

Four Continents Championships
Jason Brown
Tomoki Hiwatashi
Camden Pulkinen

Karen Chen
Amber Glenn
Bradie Tennell

Alexa Knierim/Chris Knierim
Jessica Calalang/Brian Johnson
Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea

Madison Chock/Evan Bates
Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue
Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker

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NATIONALS: Full Results | Women’s | Ice dance | Pairs | Men’s 

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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.

Vincent Zhou’s new coaches impressed with renewed dedication

Vincent Zhou
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – When Vincent Zhou stepped off of the ice after a clean short program at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday, he must have breathed several sighs of relief.

After a stressful few months, including fights to find ice time, his studies at Brown University and a late-December coaching change and move to Toronto, the reigning world bronze medalist was back in the game.

“I mean, obviously it was not up to the level I was at when I had my success at the end of last season, but give a little time and we’ll keep building and building,” Zhou said of his short, which included a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel and earned 94.82 points, good enough for fourth place behind Nathan Chen, Jason Brown and a surprising Andrew Torgashev.

With three U.S. men’s spots available for the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal in March, Zhou is just a bit over three points out of third place. (A skater’s body of work is also considered in naming the world team.) He’s about 20 points behind Chen, but hey, a guy’s got to start someplace.

“We started officially on the ice December 23rd, and the big push had been obviously on getting his stamina up, so the emphasis is on program run-throughs,” said new coach Lee Barkell, who trains his skaters at the Toronto Granite Club.

“(There’s) that fine line about not pushing too much at the beginning, you don’t want to go full bore and get injured, etc.,” he continued. “You really have to have specific goals, and our theme has been one session at a time, to get Vincent’s confidence back in his skating.”

Lori Nichol, Zhou’s choreographer and another of his coaches in Toronto, thinks Zhou was chafing at the bit to put another quad into his short here, but caution prevailed.

“The main goal is to get him to nationals healthy physically, healthy emotionally, healthy mentally, doing the best he could for step one,” she said. “It’s so tempting, he wants to do all the other quads and we’re beginning them, but the goal is to do it when his body is really ready.”

NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

The move to Toronto, where Zhou will share the ice with skaters including Japan’s Satoko Miyahara and Canada’s Gabby Daleman, was made possible by a leave of absence from Brown, which permits students to take indefinite time away.

On Saturday, Zhou said he planned to skate “school-stress free through the 2022 Olympics.” Finding adequate ice time near Brown, located in Providence, Rhode Island, proved too difficult.

“Obviously the first option was Brown’s main auditorium, which is the rink on campus, but the ice there is mostly given to hockey skaters,” Zhou said. “Also, I skated a session or two there and the ice was so thin, my toe pick hit sand on a triple Lutz. Then the hockey coaches were complaining I did permanent damage to the ice. I mean, fill the hole in with snow and cut the ice down. So that was out of the picture.”

Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson’s rink near Boston was a possibility, but traffic stretched the commute to over four hours a day, which wasn’t feasible. Other rinks were considered and rejected for one reason or another. Finally, Zhou withdrew from his Grand Prix events and focused on his classes.

“It’s best for me if I can fully dedicate myself to one at a time, so that I can produce the best result possible instead of having to split my attention and energy and focus between two things that are hugely important to me,” he said.

Nichol was a big draw to Toronto. The renowned choreographer, who has helped polish the skating skills of skaters ranging from Michelle Kwan to Patrick Chan and Carolina Kostner, can now work with Zhou regularly to strengthen his performance quality. Over the past month, she and Barkell targeted skating skills and landing positions.

“We wrote down all of the things we would love to see him improve, to be the best he can be,” Nichol said. “We just start pulling out the things that can be done now, and if he is blessed to go to worlds, we can do some next week and the next and the next, and (have the changes) be attainable and sustainable for worlds.”

According to Nichol, Zhou is an intense and willing student.

“I will say one thing about a landing position on Friday and he’ll come in the next week and say, ‘I’ve been constantly thinking about that,’” she said. “You don’t have to force anything on him, he loves learning. And we’ve created an environment where we work with him, share everything we know, and then we’re strong enough that the rest comes from him.”

Barkell added that Zhou’s years of training under coaches including Tammy Gambill and Tom Zakrajsek has built a strong technical base.

“I’m coming in more from the technique aspect and, again, the overall package,” he said. “With (Vincent) being new, too, it’s kind of a little bit of watch and see how he works independently. You don’t change stuff that doesn’t need to be fixed, you need to be find little weaknesses and tweak them.”

Thus far, Zhou gives that approach a big thumbs-up.

“I think Lee has been very, very good with understanding me as a skater and helping me build toward this competition in a way I feel comfortable with,” the skater said, adding that he didn’t think a complete do-over of his jump technique was necessary.

“Let’s say you work with one coach and you have a pile of bricks that represents the technique they’ve given to you,” Zhou said. “You’re not just going to just put that all aside, you’re going to build it, apply it in different ways. I really look forward to seeing what I can accomplish with Lee in that way.”

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MORE: Nathan Chen ‘in control of everything’ going for fourth straight national title

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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.