Despite not skating a clean free skate yet in competition this season, Nathan Chen remains undefeated. He won his second straight national title in the SAP Center in San Jose, California on Saturday night.
He scored 315.23 total points, just shy of the highest ever total score tallied at the U.S. Championships (his own 318.47 from 2017). He is joined on the podium by Ross Miner (silver, 274.51 total points) and Vincent Zhou (bronze, 273.83 total points).
Chen, 18, has been under the weather, and chose to “water down” Thursday’s short program – by his standards, of course, so he still did two quads. And also similar to his short program, he debuted a new Vera Wang-designed costume for the free skate.
In his “Mao’s Last Dancer” free skate, he executed five quads and a triple Axel before singling another planned triple Axel.
“There’s another big step to the Games – more pressure, more media, all that,” Chen said on the NBCSN broadcast. “This is exactly what I wanted my entire life, and I’m ready for it.”
With all that, plus his resume from throughout 2017, Chen is a virtual lock to make the 2018 U.S. Olympic team. The announcement is expected Sunday morning at 11:15 a.m. ET. His prediction from eight years ago will more than likely come true:
Did he really believe he’d be on the 2018 Olympic team when he said it as a 10-year-old?
“That was always the dream of mine,” Chen admitted. “That was always what I wanted to accomplish in 2018. And I think I’ve done that.”
Miner, 26, played spoiler on Saturday, capturing the silver medal with a crowd-pleasing medley of Queen songs. He hadn’t hit a quad Salchow in practice all week, but opened his program with a clean one easily. In the past two years, Miner had been fifth at nationals.
Bay Area-native Zhou, 17, was the 2017 world junior champion and the silver medalist in 2017 at nationals behind Chen. He planned a five quad free skate for nationals this year, but only one of them was clean. But, his quad Lutz, triple toe combination was the highest scoring element ever at a U.S. Championships. He tallied 273.83 total points. His 273.83 points were good enough for the bronze medal at this nationals.
Chen’s Los Angeles-based training partner, Adam Rippon, finished fourth with 286.34. Rippon, a 28-year-old, performed his “Arrival of the Birds/O” program, where he portrays a bird with a broken wing. He fell on his opening quad Lutz attempt, and lost about 10 points when he singled a plan triple Salchow and triple Lutz attempts.
It could’ve been poetic justice for Rippon: January 6, 2017, he broke his foot and had to withdraw from the U.S. Championships, where he was entered as the reigning champion.
Rippon has since returned stronger than ever, winning two silver medals on the Grand Prix circuit and qualifying for the elite Grand Prix Final. Chen won the event, and Rippon finished fifth in the six-man field. All of that plays into Olympic selection criteria.
Jason Brown skated to “Inner Love,” an original composition specifically created for him by Maxime Rodriguez. Brown was a surprise silver medalist at the 2014 nationals, when he was named to the Olympic team; he made good on the investment, winning a bronze medal in the team event in Sochi. He finished sixth in San Jose with 255.31 after falling on his quad toe attempt (downgraded) and getting called on two additionally under rotated jumps.
Max Aaron, the 2013 national champion, knew after his 12th place finish in the short program his Olympic dreams were essentially dashed. He planned three quads in the free skate, but stepped out and put his hand down on the first one and turned the remaining two into doubles. He ultimately finished ninth.
The medalists don’t necessarily automatically qualify for the Olympics, but the ladies medalists – Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu, and Karen Chen – were named to the PyeongChang team Saturday morning.
The championships are not an official Olympic Trials event, but do count towards what U.S. Figure Skating Association calls a “body of work.” The Olympic selection committee will take into account the results of nationals, the fall 2017 Grand Prix Final and the series overall, plus additional competitions from the prior season. Based on all of this, the 2018 Olympic Figure Skating Team will be chosen to compete in PyeongChang, South Korea in February.
Competition wraps up Sunday with the ice dance free dance, 3-6 p.m. ET on NBC or NBCOlympics.com.