Nathan Chen wins U.S. figure skating title on path to Olympics
Nathan Chen was the one singles skater who had nothing to prove at the U.S. Championships, but his repeat national title was resounding.
The 18-year-old landed five quadruple jumps and extended his undefeated season with a 40.72-point victory in San Jose on Saturday night.
He will lead the three-man Olympic team named Sunday at 11:15 a.m. ET.
“There’s more to come,” Chen said on NBCSN. “This is exactly what I wanted my entire life. I’m ready for it.”
It was thought the other two Olympians would be Adam Rippon and Jason Brown, but both struggled in Saturday’s free skate and finished fourth and sixth.
Ross Miner, a complete surprise, and 2017 U.S. silver medalist Vincent Zhou rose from sixth and fifth, respectively, after the short program to land second and third behind Chen overall.
A U.S. Figure Skating committee will choose the Olympic team. They have the discretion to stray from the top three at nationals. The criteria for team selection is here.
Chen, who missed a week of training due to illness leading up to nationals, was not flawless.
He singled a triple Axel and slightly watered down his programs but was otherwise his usual groundbreaking self.
“I definitely set a big bar for myself last year,” said Chen, who scored about three points higher at last season’s nationals. “I wouldn’t even say I reached it today. I still have a way to go to beat what I did last year.”
He will go to PyeongChang as the U.S.’ best hope for a singles figure skating medal and, arguably, the favorite in a historically decorated men’s field.
The U.S. Championships conclude with the free dance Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC and streaming on NBCOlympics.com.
Chen’s night has been either eight or 16 years in the making.
The youngest of five children born to Chinese immigrants first tried skating on a practice rink built for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
In 2010, a toy-soldier-dressed Chen, after winning the U.S. novice title, said on NBC that he was targeting the 2018 Olympics.
In 2014, Chen won the junior title at nationals. He stuck around to watch the senior women’s free skate from the second deck in TD Garden, trying to envision what it would be like in four years.
Chen spent this Olympic cycle maturing from junior to senior. From jumper to complete performer. From confined to a hospital bed for a week and off the ice for nearly six months to becoming the first man to land five quads in one program.
Last February, he beat Sochi gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu at the PyeongChang Olympic venue.
He dealt Hanyu another defeat to open the fall Grand Prix season, then did the same to world silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan at December’s Grand Prix Final.
“Nathan Chen is the most exciting thing to come out of U.S. Figure Skating in quite some time,” two-time Olympian Johnny Weir said on Saturday’s NBCSN broadcast. “He really has it all.”
Miner, 26, made three straight nationals podiums from 2011 through 2013 but hasn’t been better than fifth since. His jumps, including one quad, were clean on Saturday.
But Miner’s Olympic spot is not secure. He checks no other boxes on the committee’s selection criteria, unlike Zhou and Rippon.
“I know it’s not a fluke,” Miner said. “That’s what I do at home every day, and this was the big moment. ... I did my job, and then it’s up to them to decide what they decide, but I think I deserve to be there.”
The world junior champ Zhou attempted a Chen-like free skate -- five quads. Three were judged under-rotated and one was downgraded. Still enough to land on the podium after the mistakes from Rippon and Brown.
Rippon and Brown, the two U.S. champions preceding Chen, were second and third after Thursday’s short program.
Rippon, after missing the 2010 and 2014 Olympic teams, was in line to become, at 28, the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie singles skater since 1936.
Then he fell on his lone quad attempt and singled the last two jumps of his free skate.
Rippon came to San Jose as the second-ranked U.S. man this season behind Chen. He said it would be a coronation; the only way he would not make the Olympic team was if “others competitors’ mothers are on the selection committee.”
“I knew that there was a criteria set to be selected for the Olympic team, and I feel like I have better criteria than second and third place here,” he said Saturday night, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “But that being said, Vincent and Ross skated well tonight, and no matter what the selection is I will be 100 percent OK and can handle that. My Grand Prixs are better than everybody’s except for Nathan’s.”
Brown, the only man in the field with Olympic experience, fell on his lone quad attempt and singled two jumps of his own.
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