SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Nathan Chen skated once more in a victory lap of sorts, this time to high-five fans as the newly crowned national champion.
Well, repeat champion.
And oh what a lopsided win he delivered.
Chen dazzled yet again with his remarkable athleticism to pull off five breathtaking quadruple jumps, skating the final routine to a commanding U.S. national title Saturday night.
With improved poise and style that showed all his growth, not to mention his new Vera Wang costumes, Chen beat second-place Ross Miner with a total score of 315.23 — a startling 40.72-point margin.
The 18-year-old Chen all but secured his spot for next month’s Pyeongchang Games, with the U.S. Olympic selections set to be announced Sunday morning. He opened with a quad flip- triple toe loop combination at full speed and with flair, and never looked back. Chen displayed a new maturity and attention to detail such as pointing toes, using his head and being more expressive with his body.
“I still need time to really wrap my head around this,” Chen said. “But this whole season has gone exactly as I wanted it to in terms of all the requirements to make that Olympic team. Honestly at this point it time it is sort of just checking off that box. I still have a lot more to do, but ultimately this is the dream that I’ve wanted for a long, long time. I’ve really strived for it my entire life. And I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to be on that Olympic team.”
Sporting all black, Chen singled his planned triple axel as his only flaw. It hardly mattered with all those memorable quads. Besides the first combination, he also did a quadruple flip stand-alone, quad toe loop with a double toe loop combination, and a quad toe and quad salchow on their own.
Unbeaten this season, Chen is considered the Americans’ best hope for a medal. Now, the U.S. Figure Skating selection committee will consider body of work to decide on three skaters to represent the country next month in South Korea.
“I’m very happy with tonight. I laid out a five-quad program, which I haven’t been able to do all season,” Chen said. “Obviously I made a mistake on the axel and I’ll have to address that at some point back home. Ultimately, I’m very happy with tonight and I think I really did my job here.”
Vincent Zhou, another prodigious jumper, placed third.
Crowd-pleasing Miner skated a near-flawless routine to a Queen medley and had SAP Center rocking and clapping along. He pumped his right fist after a double axel that made for a clean, lighthearted program. The 26-year-old Miner earned a standing ovation and beamed while putting his hand to his heart in appreciation. He scored 185.60 for a 274.51 total.
He knew he had that performance in him when it mattered most.
“I had one of the most fun nights I’ve ever had on the ice,” Miner said. “That’s what I do in training at home and it was such a good feeling to put it out there at the big game and show what I’m capable of. That’s what I do all the time.”
Zhou, a 17-year-old rising star skating in his hometown to “Moulin Rouge!” attempted five quads and completed four in his technically difficult program — one quad was in combination with a triple — for a score of 273.83.
The 2017 silver medalist at nationals, Zhou calmed himself moments before he began by shutting his eyes, then opening them with a deep breath. He skated with ease and confidence to nail his first four quadruple jumps before falling on his quad toe loop in the second half of his performance. Some of his jumps looked slightly under-rotated, and he lacked the finesse and pizazz of someone like Jason Brown or Adam Rippon.
Rippon, second out of the short program and chasing his first Olympics at age 28, fell on his quad lutz but recovered. He then popped his planned triple salchow and triple lutz into singles for fourth place with a score of 268.34.
He has worked tirelessly on his fitness in the past year following a foot injury, seeking to pull off the big jumps like the youngsters. Skating a year to the day since breaking his left foot while gearing up to defend his 2016 national title — he didn’t get to compete — Rippon must hope the committee sees things his way.
“For what I did today I take full responsibility,” Rippon said. “... On the first quad lutz I kind of felt like I was losing my right foot a little bit. And I let that feeling get the best of me toward the end, and just kind of felt like it was gone. But I knew there was a criteria to be selected for the Olympic team. I feel like I have better criteria than second and third place here, but with that being said, Vincent and Ross skated very well tonight. No matter what the selection is, I will be 100 percent OK.”
Brown, a 2014 team bronze medalist at the Sochi Olympics, finished sixth. He went into Saturday third after a 93.23 in the short program and finished at 253.68. Brown shortened his quad toe loop rotation to start his free skate and fell before coming back strong with some entertaining, graceful footwork.
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