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NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – Incredible. Amazing. Awesome.
That was simply for the duration of the show.
These were some of the skaters’ responses on Saturday when Nathan Chen, who was definitely back on his game, set a short program record at the US Figure Skating Championships.
Four skaters crossed the 100-point barrier as they aimed for one of the three slots available for the Beijing Olympics next month.
“This US national short program was unbelievable,” said Chen, who scored 115.39 to break his previous best of 114.13 achieved in 2020. “Every single man set down incredible programs.”
Chen, the three-time world champion, is pursuing his sixth straight US title, which hasn’t happened since two-time Olympic champion Dick Button won seven in a row from 1946 to 1952.
Chen delivered a message to all of his opponents, both home and overseas, with a performance filled of outstanding footwork and spins — yes, and two enormous quads, too.
Vincent Zhou’s score was excessively high, both above the ice and on the judges’ score sheets. Chen’s major competitor, on the other hand, was outstanding, seeming cool and confident throughout his routine as he hit the identical quad lutz-triple toe loop that Chen accomplished for a personal best score of 112.78.
Nathan Chen was one of four skaters to achieve over 100 points at the US Figure Skating Championships on Saturday, breaking his own event short-program record with a score of 115.39. Mark Zaleski/Associated Press
“Probably one of the most bizarre short program events ever,” Zhou commented. “The basic concept was that there was a lot of pressure, so I’m thrilled to be able to participate in this sector.”
In a fantastic exhibition of skating for most of the men’s field, Ilia Malinin, 17, vaulted his way to third place ahead of veteran Jason Brown, 103.46 to 100.84.
“It’s incredible to have so great American competitors, particularly as we approach an Olympic season,” Chen said. “Regardless of who gets to travel, we’ll have a formidable squad. But you must concentrate on yourself; I have no influence over anything else.”
Chen’s troubles at Skate America in October were surprising considering his 14-game winning streak since the 2018 Olympics. His fast comeback to the top started with a victory at Skate Canada a week later, and he was as brilliant as ever on Saturday.
Chen, 22, and Yuzuru Hanyu, a two-time Olympic winner from Japan, will be the favorites in Beijing. In the contemporary age, no one has ever won three consecutive Olympic gold medals. Chen hasn’t lost to Hanyu since Pyeongchang, when Chen’s prospects were ruined by a blunder in the short program. Hanyu won the Japanese nationals recently, but his short program score on Saturday was more than four points lower than Chen’s.
“I’m delighted to have the chance to participate in the Olympics rather than the Grand Prix,” Chen added.
Zhou, 21, has had a roller coaster senior career, highlighted by a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships, three silver medals for the United States behind Chen, and a victory at Skate America earlier this year.
He failed to qualify for the free skate at the global championships in March after falling apart in the short program. As a result, he was obliged to compete in the Nebelhorn Trophy in order to clinch a third men’s Olympic berth for the United States, which he won with a clutch effort.
Now it seems that Zhou will compete in his second Olympics; he finished sixth in South Korea, one position below Chen.
Malinin, a rising power on the American stage after a great prior season in the junior levels, has been dubbed a “quad god” by his supporters. With a quad-heavy program and some spectacular spins, he definitely lived up to the hype.
“”Seeing it surprised me,” Malinin said of his score, “since I sort of fantasized of reaching above 100, but I never thought I could achieve it.” Now that I think about it, you can do anything if you put in the time and effort.”
Brown, 27, was named to the United States team for the 2014 Sochi Olympics and won a bronze medal in the team event when he skated the free skate. He was eliminated from the 2018 Olympics, but he showed his endurance in Saturday’s short program.
Given the weather and freezing conditions this week, Brown’s trip to Nashville was probably more difficult logistically than it was for him to perform.
“We finally made it to Nashville after 33 hours of travel, 5 cancelled flights, 4 airline changes, 3 airports, 2 nations, an overnight in Atlanta, a rental vehicle, and a ton of support!” he said on social media.
Then he delivered a fluid, strong, high-speed performance that had the audience on its feet long before Brown concluded with a flourish and sat on the ice, soaking in the applause.
Despite not being able to equal Malinin’s quads, Brown finished fourth with 100.84 points — and that ever-present grin on his face.
“The only thing I knew was the crowd’s response, which was incredible to see them all on their feet,” he remarked. “Then there were the results. But for me, it’s about putting your best foot forward and skating your skate in the moment. Only in my own game can I win.”
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