Chen back on the game, soars to short program victory at nationals

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Ilia Malinin competes in the men’s short program at the US Figure Skating Championships on Saturday January 8, 2022 in Nashville, TN (AP Photo / Mark Zaleski)

PA

Foolish. Incredible. Incredible. Impressive.

And that was just for the short program.

These were some of the reactions from the skaters themselves on Saturday after Nathan Chen, clearly back on his game, set a short program record at the US figure skating championships on Saturday.

Indeed, four skaters broke the 100 mark as they aimed for the three spots available to the Americans for the Beijing Olympics next month.

“This US national short program was insane,” said Chen, who beat the event mark of 114.13 he set in 2020 with a score of 115.39. “Every guy has some amazing programs in place. “

Led by the three-time world champion who is aiming for his sixth straight American crown, something hasn’t been done since two-time Olympic winner Dick Button won seven in a row from 1946 to 1952.

With a performance full of great footwork and tricks – oh, yeah, there were also two huge quads – Chen sent a message to all of his competitors, at home and abroad.

It was too high, above the ice and on the judges’ score sheets, for Vincent Zhou. Chen’s main competition here was excellent, however, looking relaxed and confident throughout his program as he completed the same quad lutz-triple toe loop that Chen did for a score of 112.78 which was also a personal record.

“Probably one of the craziest short program events of all time,” Zhou said. “The general idea, the pressure was there, so I’m honored to have the opportunity to compete in this area.”

Ilia Malinin, 17, moved up to third place ahead of veteran Jason Brown, 103.46-100.84, in a brilliant display of skating for most of the men’s field.

“I mean, it’s amazing to have such strong American competitors, especially heading into an Olympic season,” Chen said. “It doesn’t matter who’s going to go, we’ll have a very strong team there. But you focus on yourself, I can’t control anything else.

Chen’s struggles at Skate America in October were mind-boggling given his 14-game winning streak since the 2018 Olympics. His quick return to the top began a week later with a win at Skate Canada, and on Saturday, he was as good as ever.

Chen, 22, and two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan will be the favorites at the Beijing Games. No man has won three consecutive Olympic gold medals in the modern era. Chen hasn’t lost to Hanyu since Pyeongchang, when a short program fiasco weighed on Chen’s chances. Hanyu recently won the Japanese national championships, but his short program score was more than four points lower than Chen’s on Saturday.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to compete and not see the Olympics being my first since the Grand Prix,” Chen said.

Zhou, 21, has been on a roller coaster during his senior career, highlighted by a bronze medal at the 2019 world championships, three silver medals in the United States behind Chen and the triumph of Skate America earlier This year.

Last March, he collapsed in the short program at the world championships and didn’t even qualify for the free skate. This forced him to compete in the Nebelhorn Trophy to secure a third men’s Olympic place for the United States; in a clutch performance, he won.

Now, Zhou looks destined for his second Olympics; he finished sixth in South Korea, one place behind Chen.

Malinin, a rising force on the American scene after a strong previous season in the junior ranks, has been called by his fans a “quad god”. He certainly lived up to that bill with a program packed with four and a few dynamic laps.

“My reaction was surprising to see it,” Malinin said of his score, “because I kind of dreamed of reaching over 100, but I never knew I could do it. I think about it, if you put in the time and effort you can achieve anything.

Brown, 27, was part of the US team for the Sochi 2014 Games, winning a bronze medal in the team event when he executed the free skate. He was beaten for the 2018 Olympics, but once again showed his stamina in Saturday’s short program.

Getting to Nashville was probably more difficult logistically than performance for Brown, given this week’s blizzard and freezing temperatures.

“After 33 hours of travel, 5 canceled flights, 4 airline changes, 3 airports, 2 countries, a night in Atlanta, a rental car and a ton of help… We have officially arrived in Nashville! he posted on social media.

Then he put together a smooth, powerful, high-speed routine that lifted the crowd long before Brown ended with a bang, then sat on the ice, soaking up the cheers.

Still, unable to match Malinin’s quads, Brown’s 100.84 points placed him fourth – with that smile still on his face anyway.

“For me, the only thing I knew was the reaction from the crowd, which was great to see them all standing,” he said. “And then the scores went up. But to me that’s what you can do at that point, put your best foot forward and skate your skate. I can only win my own game.

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More AP Winter Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports


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