by Geri Walbert
(23 January 2017) The requirements for Senior Men to perform a Well Balanced Program include a maximum of 8 jump elements. One of which must be an Axel -type jump. a maximum of 3 spins, one of which must be a spin combination, one a flying spin or a spin with a flying entrance and one a spin with only one position, plus a maximum of 1 step sequence and a maximum of one choreographic sequence.
Every national championship holds surprises in the outcome of its varied events. There is always a favorite going into an event that may or may not become the winner or a relative unknown who makes a big splash and wins a medal and/or someone who actually makes history. We had all of these scenarios in the Championship Men Final Free Skate.
Seventeen year-old Nathan Chen has been winning competitions since he first appeared on the national scene with three consecutive Novice titles, two Junior titles, and a bronze medal at the 2016 Nationals, but a freak hip re-injury during his exhibition performance that year kept him off the subsequent World Team and off the ice for six months.
“I know how hard it is to push through an injury…it took me about six months before I was back to relative normal training, back to normal jumps, back to getting programs together. After that, things started picking up really, really fast and I’m really lucky that I had the resources at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) to get the rehab that I needed to get even at the UCSD (University of California San Diego) to have the surgery.”
His comeback gave notice that he would be a top contender for the national title was evident with his silver medal win at the ISU Grand Prix Final in Marseille, France last December. He landed four quadruple jumps, winning the highest score of a U.S. male skater in history.
Chen did not disappoint in Kansas City, winning the Short Program by performing an astonishing Free Skate to “ The Polovtsian Dances” by Borodin. He completed a total of 5 quadruple jumps,(quad Lutz/3 toe loop combination, quad flip, quad toe loop/double toe loop/double loop, quad toe loop and quad Salchow instantly making history. His program generated a score of 212.08, totaling a record-breaking 318.47 points.
“That was an amazing performance,” he said after leaving the ice with a standing ovation. “I’m really happy with what I did. Technically I faltered a little bit, but it’s definitely something I look forward to work and improve for Worlds.”
It is hard to imagine how much he could improve when landing a historic 5 quads, but his Grades of Execution (GOE) scores did show some room for improvement with mostly 1s and 2s for his Executed Elements.
His Program Components score of 91.00 points was strong with most marks in the high 9s. Chen explained that he took ballet as a child. “It was something I kind of figured would help my skating,” admitting that because he had made good friends there, it wasn’t necessarily a chore for him. “I definitely did enjoy it more for a social aspect than an actual artistic aspect.”
Looking ahead, Chen was asked if he thought he could win an Olympic medal. “I believe it’s possible,” he responded. “It’ still in the distance for me and there’s so much room that I have to improve to make myself at that level,” he commented, and added that he believes the US is back on the map on the world stage.
“I landed all the jumps I set out to do and increased the technical values of my program by adding the (5th quad), the Salchow, and being able to accomplish that, is huge to me.”
Vincent Zhou, 16, was the 2013 Junior national champion, but missed the entire 2014-15 season due to injury and came into Kansas City as a relatively unknown competitor at the senior level, but a 3rd placement in the Short Program alerted everyone that he had the potential to make the medal stand.
Skating to “Casablanca” by Max Steiner, he landed 2 quadruple jumps, a Salchow/triple toe loop combination and another Salchow as well as two triple Axels, one in combination, and three other triple jumps to win the silver medal.
“I’m still kind of in shock that I got second,” he said. “Coming here I didn’t expect to be on the podium, honestly. I was just trying to be modest with myself. I’ve been practicing really well – that program was worse than my practices – (so) I’m kind of surprised at the score I received. I was having fun. I was confident in my jumps. Some little mishaps occurred but I’m pleased how I did overall.”
Perennial favorite Jason Brown, 22, the 2015 national champion, was also coming back from a more recent injury, saying “I really tried to take it one day at a time and not overthink it too much. “ He delivered a beautiful artistic performance to “The Scent of Love” by Michael Nyman from the movie “The Piano,” receiving a standing ovation from a very welcoming audience. Coming in from 4th place in the Short Program, Brown omitted the opening quad toe loop he had originally planned, substituting triple Axel/triple toe loop combination followed by another triple Axel, four other triple jumps and delivered three gorgeous spins as well as fast, intricate footwork to win the bronze medal.
“I’m really pleased with what I put out today. It’s been a tough week. I’ve been pushing through and I’m really proud of that. Injuries are really kind of big eye-opening experiences to go through. I think you learn so much from every experience along the way. You learn about yourself, you learn about perseverance and mental toughness. And I think that’s something that I have been able to take into performances and into the season. You know where you started, you know how far you have come. You have a great background of people helping you out along the way. And you kind of feel that support system. Overall it’s launched me to do better things and push myself further than I thought and I hope this one will do the same.”
Coached by Peter Oppegard and his wife, Karen Kwan Oppegard, Grant Hochstein placed 4th earning the pewter medal with his program to “Pagliacci” by Ruggero Leoncavallo, saying he was very pleased with his skate. Although he stepped out of his opening quad toe loop, he did complete another quad toe in combination with a double toe loop as well as a triple Axel, triple flip, triple loop, triple Salchow and triple Lutz. Hochstein, however, threw away third place by repeating a third triple or quad when he executed a final triple Lutz which earned no points, his two other repeated jumps being quad toe loop and triple Axel. Having omitted triple toe loop to that point in his program, he needed to have executed triple toe loop as the missing triple on element eleven, and had he scored well on the jump he would have taken third place.
Alexander Johnson paced 5th overall performing to Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” It was a solid, smooth skate with two triple Axels, one in combination and five other triple jumps.
Twenty-four year old Max Aaron, the 2013 US National Champion, was one of the potential medal contenders due to his powerful jumping ability but he suffered a relative performance meltdown with a disappointing 12th placement in the Short Program. He improved to finish 6th in the Free Skate but ultimately finished in 9th place overall, his lowest overall placement at the Senior level.