by Klaus-Reinhold Kany
(24 October 2021) For the majority of the men, Skate America was a disaster, especially the short program. But there was one big exception: Vincent Zhou of Colorado Springs performed the best competition of his career until now. Four weeks ago he won the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany and guaranteed the USA a third Olympic men’s spot at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Now he wins Skate America with 295.58 points, even beating three times world champion Nathan Chen. Therefore he is a hot medal candidate for the Games.
In the short program (97.43 points) skating to "Vincent“ (Starry, Starry Night) by Josh Groban, his combination of quad Lutz and triple toe loop was outstanding, his quad Salchow was landed slightly under-rotated (q) and his triple Axel a bit shaky. His spins and steps (all level 4) were excellent. His components have improved much and reached an average of 8.5 after working with Lori Nichol in the summer. At the press conference, the student of Tom Zakrajsek joked: "Who would've expected that I'm sitting in the middle tonight? I think that I did a good job performing the program and showing some of the great things that we've been doing in training. It's always a pleasure to skate this program, and even more so with a live audience once again."
He opened his free program to the soundtrack of the martial-arts inspired film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“ with an excellent quad Lutz, followed by a quad flip, two quad Salchows and a quad toe loop all of which got minor warnings. Two triple Axels and two more triples were really good. His interpretation was excellent, the components were around 8.8 and tears of joy were visible in the kiss and cry corner. In Oberstdorf he had said: “I understand Chinese culture because of my background. Therefore this is a good choice of music for me.“ In Las Vegas he explained: “I didn’t really expect this result, but what I did expect of myself was to be as well-prepared and well-trained as I possibly could.”
Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno won the silver medal with 270.68 points. The Japanese student of Swiss world champion Stephane Lambiel began his short program to two oboe concertos with a double instead of a quad flip (0 points). His combination of quad toe loop and triple toe loop was very good, his triple Axel as well and his step sequence outstanding. He started his free program to a new Japanese arrangement of Maurice Ravel‘s famous Bolero with a quad loop with touchdown. His quad Salchow was downgraded, the quad toe loop good and later a quad flip a bit shaky. A combination of quad toe loop and double toe loop was as excellent as two triple Axels, one in a sequence with a stepped out triple flip.
Three time world champion Nathan Chen was defeated for the first time since the Olympic Games of 2018 and won only a bronze medal, accumulating 269.37 points. In the short to the two songs “Eternity“ and “Nemesis“ by Benjamin Clementine, he fell on the quad Lutz, followed by a good triple Axel. Later he stepped out of the quad flip and could add only a single toe loop, which is not allowed in the short. Everything else was very good. He commented: “I need a little more time to think about it, what went wrong and try again tomorrow. This is not the one opportunity I have to perform the short program. I’am going to make mistakes. Unfortunately it happened today.“
A good quad loop was the first element in his new free program to a selection of Mozart pieces, among them the 24th Piano Concerto and the Requiem. Astonishing because he had never liked this jump before. Then he doubled the Lutz and also the Salchow which cost him many points. A quad flip and two quad toe loops were relatively clean but did not bring him many plus points. Later he commented: “I’m really proud of these guys up here, and if anyone was to break my streak, I’m glad it’s him [Vincent Zhou]. It’s just something that happened.”
Shun Sato from Japan finished fourth, scoring 247.05 points. He had published that he had injury problems: "I had hurt my left acromioclavicular joint (the shoulder junction between the scapula and the clavicle). I didn't move it much because it hurt when I moved it above 90 degrees. But the doctor said it was fine, so I thought I would be okay.“ He opened his short program with a combination of quad toe loop and triple toe loop, but stepped out of the triple. His quad Lutz was convincing, but he fell on the triple Axel. In the free, he stepped out of the quad Lutz, missed the quad flip and almost went down on the second triple axel. But the second quad toe loop and three triples were good.
Jimmy Ma ended in fifth position with 228.12 points. He was the alternate for Yaroslav Paniot who became U.S. citizen some time ago after living in the USA for many years. Paniot’s skates broke during the Lombardia Trophy in Italy this September. He withdrew from Skate America due to injury and Jimmy Ma was nominated the alternate. Ma trains in Norwood near Boston with Alexei Letov. He and Zhou were the only two men to perform a clean short program and Ma was third there. Skating to the "Black Swan“ of Tchaikovski’s Swan Lake, he included a good combination of quad toe loop and triple toe loop as well as a triple Axel, a very good triple Lutz and three level 4 spins. His components were around 7.4.
At the press conference with top three he commented: "Those are the kind of programs I'd like to start consistently putting out. I'm glad that I could finally show people that I'm not just saying it. I definitely wasn't expecting to sit up here tonight. My only goal for this competition was to do everything I do in training.“ In the free program he made several mistakes and dropped to fifth place. After beginning with a very good combination of quad toe loop and triple toe loop, he stepped out of the second quad toe loop as well as on the first triple Axel. He popped his second triple Axel and landed the triple Salchow on two feet.
Michal Brezina came sixth, earning 227.47 points after winning the same competition ten years ago. In the short program, his planned quad Salchow was triple but his combination of triple flip and triple toe loop was excellent. The student and assistant coach of Rafael Arutunian stepped out of the triple Axel and touched down. In the free, he stepped out of the 4S and the triple loop and doubled the flip, but landed four good triple jumps including two Axels.
Daniel Grassl from Italy landed on seventh place with 221.43 points. In the short, he fell on the quad Lutz and also on the triple Axel, but did a combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop and showed in both programs good creativity in the spins because of his enormous flexibility. In the free, his quad Lutz was landed awkwardly. He went down on the quad flip and the triple Salchow in his sequence after the quad loop was not correctly landed either. All quads were more or less under-rotated. Six triple jumps were clean but after his program he put his hands in front of his face in shock.
Canadian skater Nam Nguyen ended in eighth position, earning 219.60 points. A shaky combination of quad Salchow and double toe loop was his first element. The triple Axel was good, but his triple flip a flop. In the free, the quad Salchow was good. He popped the first Axel but did a good second triple Axel. He performed five smore triple, but two of them not clean. Adam Siao Him Fa from France is ninth with 217.52 points. He stepped out of the quad toe loop in the short program, popped the Axel and fell on the quad Salchow. In the free, five triple were relatively clean, the quad toe loop as well, but he stepped out of the quad Salchow and doubled two jumps which were planned triple. Artur Danielian from Russia ended up on tenth place with 214.93 points. His jumping elements in the short and the first three in the free were error-filled, but in the free he added five good triples.
Kevin Aymoz from France had been plagued by groin problems (adductor strain) all summer. At the French Master‘s competition in early October he had to compete in order to be allowed to travel back afterwards to the USA to his favorite coach Silvia Fontana in Florida. He had not been allowed to enter the USA for 18 months due to the pandemic. But in Las Vegas his pain got worse. In the short program he was 11th and last with only 58.14 points after going down on the triple Lutz, again on the flip which he doubled, and falling hard on the triple Axel. He cried when he came from the ice and withdrew from the free program. Daniil Samsonov from Russia withdrew one week before Skate America because he still suffered from growth problems in his bone connections. Because of the complicated process to get a visa for the USA, he could not be replaced any more.