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2018 Nationals: Senior Men's Free Skate

by Carly Gold


Unfathomable Men’s Result at the U.S. Championships

(7 January 2018)  Just when you think figure skating can’t get any more unpredictable, it does just that. The Men’s free skate Saturday night at the SAP Center left viewers feeling a wide range of emotions from elation to heartbreak. At the end of the day, Nathan Chen had defended his title with a massive score of 315.23 combined, more than 40 points above the event’s second place finisher.

The Olympics team was announced Sunday morning following the free skate. The Selection Committee named Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, and Adam Rippon to the team, skipping over Ross Miner, who won the silver medal in the event.

Chen skated a sensational 5-quad free skate in his free program to “Mao’s Last Dancer” and “The Rite of Spring”, featuring two quadruple flips (one in combination), two quadruple toe loops, and one quadruple Salchow. His opening quadruple flip-triple toe loop combination earned nearly straight plus 3s in Grades of Execution. He made only one error, popping his second triple Axel into a single.

“I’m very happy with tonight. I laid out a five-quad program, which I haven’t been able to do all season,” Chen stated in his post-competition presser. “Obviously, I made a mistake on the Axel, and I can address that when I get back home. Ultimately, I’m very happy with tonight and I really did my job here.”

Chen is he most promising men’s figure skater we have seen in a very long time, and will represent the U.S. well at the Games.

“ I am so excited to be nominated to compete as part of the U.S. Olympics Team. It’s been a dream of mine to be selected on the U.S. Olympic Team for as long as I can remember,” Chen said after the team was officially announced.

Adam Rippon and Jason Brown, who were second and third after the short respectively, both faltered in the free program to finish fourth and sixth overall.

Ross Miner, sixth after short, skated a completely flawless performance to a medley by the Queen. He opened with a strong quadruple Salchow, and followed with eight other triples executed cleanly, including two triple Axels.

“I had one of the most fun nights I’ve ever had on the ice. That’s what I do at training at home, and it was just such a good feeling to put it out there at the big game and show what I’m capable of,” Miner said. “That's what I do all the time. It was pretty special.”

He was the only top finisher in the event to deliver a clean program.

“I know it’s not a fluke. That’s what I do at home everyday, and this was the big moment. I did my job, and then it’s up to (the Selection Committee) to decide what they decide, but I think I deserve to be there,” Miner stated.

Unfortunately for Miner, the Selection Committee’s criteria of selecting the team involves looking at a skater’s entire “body of work” as an athlete, to which Rippon had much stronger showings. While neither Rippon nor Miner competed at the World Championships in 2017, a big criterion in deciding Olympic fate, Rippon has consistently had stronger results than Miner in the last two seasons.

“We went through the criteria in great detail looking at various statistics in terms of average scores of the season and head-to-head competitions,” President of U.S. Figure Skating Sam Auxier stated in Sunday morning’s press conference.

Vincent Zhou rallied from a fifth place short to grab the bronze medal with a total score of 273.83 points. He pushed the technical boundaries to attempt five quads in his free skate to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack.

“I know I made some mistakes, but overall I’m very proud of myself for fighting through tonight,” Zhou said post-free program.

While his opening quadruple Lutz-triple toe combination was flawless, he received under-rotations on three of his other attempts, as well as a downgrade on his final quadruple toe loop attempt. Despite these errors, Zhou had the second highest technical score of the night with 98.47 points.

“I think that I kind of let my legs get away from me, kind of get apart, on both of the quads in the second half. I’ve done those many, many times clean at home, so I know I’m capable of doing them,” Vincent said.

Vincent qualified for his fist Olympic Games, and has the technical prowess to place well in the event.

“Last year he was the World Junior Champion, where he set the record for total points. That is a tier 3 criterion. He also had placements at Grand Prixs and the Findlandia Competition, where he was head-to-head with other skaters including the top U.S. man. So, that’s how we got to selecting Vincent,” Auxier said.

Adam Rippon suffered several mistakes in his free program, including a fall on an under-rotated quadruple Lutz at the start of his program. He received another under-rotation later in the program, and popped his last two jumping passes into singles. He finished fourth with 268.34 points combined.

It was highly debated if Rippon, a favorite going into the event, would be selected despite placing out of the top three. Many believe the selection process should stop there, and the skaters who deliver the strongest results should be the ones to compete. However, the Selection Committee rules in certain controversial cases, like Rippon this year and Wagner in 2014, by implementing several other deciding factors in the selection process.

“I’m really grateful that the Selection Committee looked at my body of work over the last two seasons. I’m a U.S. Champion, I’ve qualified for the Grand Prix Final twice, and I’ve medaled at my last four Grand Prix Events. I feel like I have a really great resume, and I’m really proud of the work I’ve done in the last four years,” Rippon stated in the Olympic qualifier press conference.

Chen, Zhou, and Rippon will compete for Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea this coming February.