The 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships came to a dramatic close this afternoon in Saint Paul, Minn., with a spectacular men’s free skating competition. The event culminated with 26-year-old Adam Rippon snatching the title from the grips of 2013 champion Max Aaron and wunderkind Nathan Chen, in one of the closest competitions in the event’s history.
Rippon opened with a fall on a quad Lutz attempt, but skated the rest of his program set to a Beatles medley without any further errors. He landed eight triple jumps and was rewarded with level fours across the board for his other elements. But it was the program component scores that really set the champion apart from the rest of the field and propelled him to the top of the leaderboard with 270.75 points.
“It was emotional,” Rippon said. “Earlier today I was really nervous and cried a little bit in between the practices and here. I was nervous, but knew I was prepared and could do it. I knew after I made opening mistake that I would need to skate clean and perform. Winning a national title was always very important to me, and it’s been a dream of mine ever since I started skating. I’m really happy that I was able to do that today and come out on top and finally be the national champion.”
Following the competition, Rippon was asked about heading to the World Championships without a reliable quad in his arsenal. “Getting prepared for this competition, I needed to look at what happened last year. I really was penalized for a doing a really nice quad Lutz attempt in the short because I have along entrance into it and it doesn’t have footwork,” Rippon explained. “I see Nathan (Chen) nail quads all the time, and I definitely think training (a quad jump) starts tomorrow.”
On any other day, 23-year-old Aaron might have walked away with the title, but today he had to settle for silver. Aaron performed a gutsy program to music from the “Black Swan” soundtrack that included two quad Salchows — one in combination with a triple toe loop. He added four more triple jumps to his program, but doubled an intended triple Salchow late in the program that likely cost him the title. With the third best program of the day, Aaron ended the competition with 269.55 points. “The triple (Salchow) was a mistake on my part, and I think that I could have performed and deliver a little better, but I’m happy with what I did.”
Finishing in third place was 16-year-old Chen who sent shockwaves through the arena when he nailed four quadruple jumps — the first American to do so, in his program to “Symphony No. 3.”
“I’m really happy to be on the podium with these two guys,” the reigning Junior Grand Prix Final champion said. “This is an awesome step for me as a senior skater. Throughout the season I have only been putting myself out there as a junior skater, and I’m glad that I was able to show what I am capable of as a senior skater.”
The bronze medalist had the highest technical score of the day — a whopping 100.24 points (51 of which came via the four quad jumps), in his performance that also included five triples. Chen’s only error was a fall on a triple Axel, but that mattered little given the cushion that he built with his completed elements. He ranked second in the free skate, losing to Rippon by just 2.14 points. “It’s a huge honor for me to score that high,” said Chen who scored 266.93 points.. “I was not planning to try four quads coming into this competition, but after the short program, I knew that I was fully capable and ready to do it. I decided that I was going to just go for it because I had nothing really to lose at that point.”
(During the gala this evening Nathan Chen was injured on a quad attempt. He was unable to finish the program and hobbled off the ice to receive treatment.)
Grant Hochstein had the performance of his life, delivering a strong performance to music from “Les Misérables.” He landed seven clean triple jumps and moved up from sixth after the short to finish in fourth place with 252.84 points and capture the pewter medal. It was his first U.S. Championships medal. “Nothing was necessarily easy, but I think I was able to do everything because of my training and doing the work at home,” Hochstein explained. “I wouldn’t say anything has been giving me trouble here. I am most proud of my quad toe. It didn’t feel perfect, but I was able to get the job done.”
“I have always loved this music,” he said. “This program to me is about growth, love, despair and all of these things that make us so vulnerable, and if you can be at peace with that then it takes you to another place.
Ross Miner fell from second after the short to fifth after a disappointing long program performance. Miner, who celebrated his 25th birthday today, opened with a rough landing on a quad Salchow, and then singled the front half of an intended triple Axel-double toe loop combination. He scored 248.01 points. “I think, all things considered, I can’t be too upset with it,” Miner said of his performance. “Obviously I wish I had stuck with it a little bit better, but three weeks ago I didn’t even think I was going to be here. I’ve been dealing with a stress fracture in my back and it’s just been up and down. I felt trained and I definitely have been really lucky. (My doctors) helped me out a ton and made a plan that allowed me to train really pretty well. I just wish I had done what I did yesterday today.”