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2014 U.S. National Championships

Nathan Chen Takes a Huge Lead Heading into the Free Skate

 by Doris Spicer Pulaski


(9 January 2014)  The crowd gasped when Nathan Chen received 79.61 points from the judges at the 2014 US National Junior Menís Championship to earn first place in the Short Program. Chenís score would not have been out of place at a Senior Menís competition. The Salt Lake City native performed a meticulous program, especially notable for the depth of his edges during his footwork, which beautifully complemented his music, "The Four Seasons" by Vivaldi. The fourteen-year-old, who trains with Rafael and Vera Arutyunyan also completed a triple Axel, a jump that has been inconsistent for him since his injuries last year, and a powerfully executed triple Lutz-triple toe combination with great flow in and out of both jump, despite its placement late in the program to earn the extra bonus points.

The 2013 US National Junior Men's bronze medalist earned positive grades of execution for every element from every judge, and received level 4 for all three spins and his step sequence. Salt Lake City is extremely proud of Chen, and its newspaper, The Salt Lake Tribune, said after his Short Program here, "Heís obviously a strong contender to represent the United States at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea."

Jimmy Ma of the Skating Club of New York had the short program of his life, scoring 63.46 points to hold second place after the Short Program. Ma, who plans to add a quadruple jump to his program next year, broke his skate blade training quads very recently. He was unsure when he reached Boston just how he would cope with the changes in his skates, but skated a good program, opening with an impressive and fluid triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. The New York native does not yet have a solid triple Axel in his arsenal of jumps, and so chose to do a double Axel instead. The pewter medalist at the 2013 US National Junior Menís Championship has really struggled with his spins this year. At the 2013 Liberty summer competition, he botched all of them. In this competition he had problems with the entrance to his change foot camel spin, and only earned level 1 and negative grades of execution for the element. The 2014 Eastern Sectionals champion was visibly thrilled with his performance to the pulsing, heavy beat of "Monserrat Orquestra Del Plata" by Bajafondo Tango Club. His coaches, Elaine Zayak and Steven Rice, appeared equally elated, and gave Ma a huge, happy hug from when he left the ice.

Third-place finisher Nicholas Vrdoljak was completely involved in his moving choreography by Phillip Mills to ďThe House of the Rising Sun, " performed by Salsa Rosso. Vrdoljak even sported the sideburns and hairstyle typical of the mid twentieth century, when the traditional song was popular. His artistic skate earned him 63.44 points and a virtual tie with Jimmy Ma in second place. Vrdoljak, the bronze medalist at the 2013 US National Novice Menís Championship, like Nathan Chen, earned positive grades of execution for all his elements, but Vrdoljak attempted significantly easier elements than Chen. The DuPage FSC member's routine included a double Axel, a triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, a level 2 change-foot sit spin, and a level three step sequence.

Fourth place after the Short Program belongs to Chase Belmontes of the Broadmoor Skating Club with a score of 61.07 points. Belmontes struggled a bit with some of his elements, earning a few negative grades of execution each for his triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, his triple loop jump, and his change-foot combination spin. His final flying sit spin earned level 4, but was awkwardly executed. The student of Tom Zajkrasek and Becky Calvin seemed happy with his score, and looked relieved when his solid, but rather nervous, program to "Through the Storm" by Nigel Kennedy, choreographed by Philip Mills, was over.

Tony Lu , currently in fifth place, had to fight to keep his balance throughout his ambitious program to "Panis Angelicus" by Cesar Franck. The New Jersey resident, who trains with Victor & Nina Petrenko, earned 58.19 points for his efforts. Four of Lu's elements were given negative grades of execution by the judges. The silver medalist at the 2014 Eastern Sectional Championships turned out on the landings of his huge triple Axel and of his triple flip-triple toe loop combination, landed forward on his blade on his triple loop, and landed insecurely in his leap onto his other foot during his change-foot camel spin. Despite its flaws, this program is a significant achievement for Lu, who finished ninth last year at the 2013 US National Novice Menís Championship.

Jordan Moeller was considered one of the possible medalists prior to this event but he was only able to accrue 57.41 points and place sixth in the Short Program. Moeller fell twice, once during his step sequence, after which he literally brushed himself off and continued, and again when he landed on the heel of his blade on his triple loop attempt. His other elements were very well performed. As the fifth place finisher at the 2013 US National Junior Menís Championship, he seemed poised to improve his placing here. However, he surely is capable of rebounding and improving his overall placing in the Free Skate.

Kevin Shum , of the St. Moritz FSC, earned seventh place with 56.08 points for a careful performance with no glaring errors. Shum completed a triple Salchow-triple toe loop combination, with a slight two-footed landing on the triple toe loop, but only managed to execute a level 2 change-foot camel spin. His Program Component Scores were significantly lower than those of the six men who finished higher than he did.

Spencer Howe finished in eighth place with 53.91 points. Howe had a horrible loss of balance on the landing of his triple loop, and had to put both hands down. He also landed very low on the triple Lutz part of his combination so that he was only able to execute a double toe loop after it.