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2021 Nationals: Senior Men's Free Skate

Chen Triumphs in Men’s Competition, Knocks Out Five Quads to Take Fifth Consecutive U.S. Title

by Liz Leamy

Vincent Zhou

(17 January 2021)   Nathan Chen, the 21 year-old jumping sensation who is the reigning four-time U.S. champion, clinched his fifth consecutive U.S. title in the men’s competition Sunday night in valiant fashion with his dramatic Philip Glass-inspired free skate that featured five quads, helping him to rack up a staggering 322.28 total score.

Wearing a black minimalistic outfit, Chen reeled off a quad flip-triple toe loop, quad Salchow, quad toe-triple toe loop, quad toe-half loop-triple flip and quad Lutz (of which he had slipped out on the landing) as well as two triple Axels to earn a 208.36.

“I’m happy with how I skated and so thrilled I had the opportunity to be here,” said Chen, who trains in Irvine, California with Rafael Arutyunyan. “As of now, my focus will be to prepare for Worlds if it does happen.”

Meanwhile, as a result of clinching his fifth U.S. title, Chen has reached a whole new star level in the sport.

Asked about how he felt about this incredible accomplishment, Chen said he was honored and thrilled to have reached this point in his skating career and thought it was very cool to be discussed in the same vein as Dick Button, the legendary seven-time U.S. champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist.

“That means the world,” said Chen. “Dick is a true skating icon and it’s just cool to be mentioned in the same sort of ‘legendness.’”

Vincent Zhou, the talented 20 year-old California native who won a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships claimed silver here at this event with his breathtaking free skate to ‘Algorithm’ by Muse for which he was awarded a 183.59 and 291.38 total.

Zhou, who trains in Colorado Springs, executed a solid quad Lutz-triple toe loop (with the former jump done with his hands over his head), quad Salchow and two triple Axels among other difficult elements that rendered him a 94.99 total element score.

Although Zhou singled a planned triple flip and missed a quad Lutz, the overall quality of his program was excellent, which is why he wound up with the second-best scores at this event.

For Zhou, it’s all about building and evolving through every experience.

“I’m really grateful to have had this competition,” said Zhou. “I think we have an amazing team [of skaters] and we’re all going to go home and put the pedal to the metal and get our job done regardless of the situation [of Worlds} is.”

Zhou also said he really enjoys his programs more than ever this season and is considering using them for next year’s 2022 Olympic season.

“I do think both of my programs have great potential to be the ‘it’ programs for me,” said Zhou. “The two styles are different and there is definitely [an interesting] juxtaposition. The short is lyrical and serene and the free skate draws inspiration from cyberpunk and a Matrix style.”

Jason Brown, the 26 year-old 2015 U.S. titlist, clinched the bronze medal with a 276.92 total score.

Skating to the compelling music from Slaughter on 10th Avenue, the famous Broadway ballet, Brown reeled off a triple Axel-double toe loop, triple Lutz-half loop-triple Salchow, triple flip and triple loop, along with phenomenal spins and footwork.

Brown did, however, single a planned triple Axel and missed an opening quad.

Still, the quality of Brown’s entire free skate was exceptional, which is why he maintained a top-three standing in the final tally.

For Brown, just being able to compete at this event was a special experience.

“I think it’s just incredible we have an event to compete at [like this one],” said Brown. “I did some great things in this competition I can be proud of and I have lots of things to work on. I have high expectations for myself.”

Brown also elaborated how his love for Broadway and the arts have influenced his programs and performances, like this one in Las Vegas, on so many levels.

“I was so inspired by Broadway growing up and I love the performing arts,” said Brown. “[When I compete], I try to pretend the ice is my stage and I perform to the judges like [I would] the audience.”

Yaroslav Paniot, the 23 year-old Ukrainian native who was tenth at last year’s U.S. Championships, placed fourth with a 266.97 total for his a technically proficient program centered around an Elvis medley that featured three quads, one in combination.

This jumping sensation, who trains with Todd Eldredge and represented the Ukraine at the 2018 Olympics where he placed 30th, executed a quad flip, quad toe-triple toe, quad toe and triple Axel, along with a host of other impressive elements for which he was awarded a 183.23 and 98.53 total element score.