NASHVILLE, Tennessee. – Nathan Chen had pulled off some of figure skating’s toughest jumps, soaring through the air with a dizzying array of quads and flawlessly pulling together incredible combinations that left the crowd begging for more.
Numbers that he would face in a simple sequence of steps.
It didn’t matter, however. A mistake either on one of his four quadruple jumps. Chen was much better than everyone else at the U.S. figure skating championships on Sunday, winning the free skate with 212.63 points and 328.01 points overall – good for his sixth consecutive title with nearly 26 points off the prodigy of 17 years Ilia Malinin.
âStupid things happen all the time. Should I expect this? Probably not, âChen said with a smile and a shrug. âIt was a silly little moment. I just got wrapped up in this moment and lost my footing. It’s like that. Make sure I don’t do it again.
Chen’s six titles are the most important for a male skater since Todd Eldredge won his sixth in 2002, and he’s the first to win six in a row since two-time Olympic champion Dick Button won seven in a row. sharp in the 1940s and 1950s.
Vincent Zhou had an exceptional short program with a disastrous free skate on Sunday, barely edging Jason Brown for third place and questioning his place on the US squad for Beijing.
It has been a remarkable four-year run for Chen, 22, since a terribly poor short program at the Pyeongchang Games cost him a chance to win an Olympic medal. Chen won 14 back-to-back events, from national titles to the world championships and everything in between, before losing to Zhou at Skate America in October.
It turned out to be a blip: Chen won Skate Canada the following week.
He stressed he was ready for Beijing when he broke his own national record in the short program, a return to his “La BohÃ¨me” program from a few years ago which featured a pair of soaring quads and scored 115.39 points.
Then Chen put his preparation in all CAPS with his performance in the free skate.
Dressed in a costume adorned with a supernova, Chen took the music of âRocketmanâ to another level with a score that broke his own Grand Prix record this season of 307.18 points. And he’s topped the 322.36 points his biggest rival in Beijing, two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, scored when he won the Japanese national title last month.
Malinin, whose parents both skated for Uzbekistan at the Olympics, had a three-point lead after the short program over longtime fan favorite Jason Brown, whose odyssey goes to Nashville – five flights canceled , four airline changes, three airports, two countries and around 33 hours of travel – made him a winner regardless of his performance.
Malinin, the self-proclaimed âquad godâ, hit a huge quad lutz opening and a quad toe loop to set the tone for his program. He also hit a quad salchow later in the performance to finish second with 302.48 points.
âEven though I trained for this moment and knew I could do my best, I was amazed at how easily it all came together,â said Malinin. moment.”
Brown gave everything to be part of the Olympic team.
Known far more for his artistry than his ability to jump, Brown stumbled upon a first quad salchow during his spellbinding music program from “Schindler’s List”. But he rallied to clinch the rest of his jumps, including two triple axles, to finish with 289.78 points – minus one point behind Zhou’s heavy-duty quad schedule.
âIt’s been really tough getting here, and I don’t mean that in the last 72 hours,â Brown said. âThe last two years in particular have been really tough times. And I just did my best to stay grounded, focus on what I can control, and I finally had that moment of release when the program was over.
Zhou, who finished sixth at the 2018 Games, also showcased at the national championships the gliding quads it will take to challenge Hanyu and the rest of the high-flying Japanese team for the top step of the podium in Beijing. He just didn’t land enough.
Zhou got out on his first lutz quad, hit his next three quads, then collapsed with a fall on his second lutz quad – a jump he kept falling on during warm-ups. He also fell during his triple axel-double toe loop combo later in the program.
âThe simplest, most honest answer is that I was so nervous my body froze on top of me,â Zhou said.
While on the team, Zhou is one of the few American athletes to have family in the Olympic crowd. Foreign fans are not allowed to attend, but Chinese citizens will be allowed to purchase tickets. Zhou’s parents, both computer scientists from Silicon Valley, left Beijing when he was young, and his four grandparents still live in China.
Yaroslav Paniot also had a bad patch. The young skater rocked the crowd with his Elvis-inspired free skate, then also won their admiration when he bravely tried to continue following a problem with his skate. He eventually had to withdraw.
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