Nathan Chen is Rocket Man of Skating Blasting into Fourth Consecutive U.S. Title
by Liz Leamy
(28 January 2020) The "E" Nathan Chen wore on the arm of his electric yellow shirt in the Senior Men’s free skate at the U.S. Championships represented the first-name initial of the iconic rocker whose classic music he used for his long program, Elton John.
When Chen skated, however, the "E" rather seemed to stand for something else, the word "extraordinary," at least based upon the staggering technical quality of his free skate that helped him earn a fourth consecutive U.S. title.
This humble and hard-working 20 year-old, who has over the past number of years emerged as a 21st-century quad king, and is the 2017, 2018 and 2019 U.S. Champion and 2018 and 2019 World titlist, wowed the Greensboro crowd with an astonishing collection of quads, four in total, that shot him to the top of the U.S. men’s leaderboard with a 330.17 total, a score that put him ahead of the next nearest competitot by 37.29 points.
For this driven Yale sophomore it’s just all about doing the job.
“I’m thrilled I was able to stay on my feet for all of the jumps,” said Chen. “I was a little shaky here and there, but overall I was able to get through the program. The audience definitely helped me with that and I’m really happy to be where I am.”
Chen, who had dealt with a severe flu over the holidays causing him to take a few days off from training prior to Nationals, certainly seemed to be right on point based upon the stellar quality of his short and long programs in Greensboro.
Even at practice sessions, Chen was as much on top of his game as ever, and would rifle through his quads and triple Axels with visible ease, command and strength.
In his "Rocketman" free skate, Chen knocked out a quad flip-triple loop (for which he was awarded a 15.20 and a majority of plus-four and plus-five grade of execution marks), quad Salchow, quad toe loop-half Euler-triple Salchow, quad toe loop and triple Axel.
This jaw-dropping library of jumps, coupled with Chen’s excellent spins and step sequences, helped him generate a 118.32 total element score, which jettisoned him ahead of the rest of the competition by more than 21 points in this area.
For the ever-cool and steely Salt Lake City native, who has been building a huge following of fans in the U.S. and all around the world over the last few years, it is all about stepping up to the task, something he seems to be astonishingly adept at, regardless of any challenges that might present themselves along the way.
Jason Brown, the remarkable American competitor who clinched the U.S. title in Greensboro back in 2015, was on fire in the free skate, scoring silver with his breathtaking interpretation of ‘Schindler’s List’ that helped him render a 292.88 total and personal best score.
The 25 year-old Chicago native snapped out a high triple Axel-double toe loop along with a host of electric and textbook-like triples, including a triple flip-triple toe loop and some phenomenal spins and footwork to earn a 95.61 technical element score.
Brown’s program component score, the highest in the short portion of this event, came up at 96.28, just less than a point and a half off of Chen’s 97.72, for this segment of the competition.
Brown, whose skating skills such as his edges, turns and steps seem to be comparable to the standard of a quad (which he landed clean in practice and did with a small turn on the landing in this program), viewed this outing a victory in all regards and was ever-grateful to have had the opportunity to compete once again in Greensboro.
“First off, Greensboro is such a special place for me,” said Brown. “Hands down, I have the most incredible memories and this crowd is just so amazing. To be able to come here, back to Greensboro five years later and be able to put out two standing ovation-worthy programs, I’m so thrilled.”
Tomoki Hiwatashi, the 2019 U.S. pewter medalist and 2019 World Junior champion, put out a high-charged and virtually clean performance that helped him pull up from fifth in the short to third place overall with a 278.08 total.
Hiwatashi, who trains at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, skated to ‘Petrushka’ by Igor Stravinsky and knocked out all of his jumps with attack, confidence and ownership of a formidable world-class contender.
He executed a quad toe loop-triple toe loop, a quad toe loop, triple Axel-double toe loop and triple Axel and racked up grade of execution marks ranging from plus twos to plus fours and a 97.87 technical element score.
Vincent Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist, also stepped up to the game in grand style, claiming fourth with a 275.23.
Zhou’s rock-solid program to music from the ‘Cloud Atlas’ film soundtrack featured a quad Salchow, triple Axel-double toe and triple Axel, among other impressive elements, for which he earned a 94.11 technical element score.
Following the competition, U.S. Figure Skating announced the three members chosen to represent the U.S. at the 2020 World Championships this March in Montreal would be Chen, Brown and Zhou, with Hiwatashi being the first alternate.