TRIPLE TURNS

At the final event of the day, 17 year-old Karen Chen surprised everyone by finishing in first place in the senior ladies short program, performing a self-choreographed routine to music from “On Golden Pond.”

From the opening note of the music, Chen transformed herself from teenager into a mature and sophisticated artist. A technically ambitious program that included a stellar triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, Chen proved to be the class of the field, earning 72.82 points — the highest total in U.S. Championships history.

“I’m very happy with how everything came together,” Chen said. “I was thrilled and excited to be able to go out there and have fun and skate my best.”

Mirai Nagasu finished in second place with 71.95, a personal best. The 2008 champion opened with a solid triple flip-triple toe loop, and might have taken the lead had she not two- footed a triple loop attempt.

“This is our make it or break it competition and to have delivered a strong competition is what I’ve been praying to the Gods for,” said the 23 year old.

Reigning World silver medalist Ashley Wagner is in third place with 70.94 points. The 25 year old opened with a triple flip-triple toe loop combination, but was unable to keep pace with the leaders, due in part to a flawed double Axel attempt and lower levels for her spins and step sequence.

Despite the minor errors in her “Sweet Dreams” program, Wagner was happy to have this performance under her belt. “Oh my gosh, I am so happy,” Wagner admitted after her skate. “To be able to come out and show people that I am a fighter, I’m really proud of that.”

Newcomer Tessa Hong, 14, sits in a surprising fourth place with 65.02 points. Gracie Gold is in fifth with 64.85.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

The one consistent thread throughout the years in U.S. pairs skating has been inconsistency, and that trend seems to be alive and well judging by the short program competition last night in Kansas City, Mo.

With 2015 champions and reigning silver medalists Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim sitting out this year in order for Scimeca to heal from abdominal surgery over the summer, the door was wide open for reigning champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea to walk away with the title.

After the short program, however, it was the new team of Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc who are in the lead with 69.33 points. The duo came together after taking a hiatus from pairs skating; Cain had focused on singles since splitting with her previous partner four seasons ago, while LeDuc was entertaining audiences aboard cruise ships the last two years.

Cain and LeDuc skated with maturity and attack in their “I Put a Spell on You” program, and effectively utilized their long lines in the sleek choreography. But Cain and LeDuc were also technically proficient, landing all of their elements with conviction save for a small miscue on the catch of the triple twist.

“We are a first-year team so our expectations are just to skate together to improve on every competition we are in this season,” 26 year-old LeDuc said. “Because we are a new team we have to triage all the things and can’t go too far to fast. We are very happy with the short program today it is another step forward for us.”

Finishing in second place was Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, the 2015 silver medalists who are making their return to national competition after skipping last year’s Championships due to injury.

Despite skating with improved lines and speed, Denney and Frazier struggled with some of the technical elements in their “Don Juan Est Mort” program. A difficult landing of the throw triple loop another sloppy landing by Denney on an under-rotated triple Salchow were enough to keep them out of the lead. They finished second with 65.39 points.

“We had a few technical mistakes today,” Frazier, 24, said. “We’ve performed this program a little stronger, but I think we did an incredible job of fighting and keeping the performance and keeping the interaction between us.

The feel good story of the evening was the return of Deanna Stellato-Dudek to competition after a 17-year hiatus from this competition. With Nathan Bartholomay, she is in third place with 65.04 points.

Stellato-Dudek was just 16-years old and a World Junior silver medalist when she stepped away from her promising singles career due to nagging injuries. Six months ago she teamed up with Bartholomay in an unprecedented comeback that has turned her life upside down.

“I was getting all of these skating signs from everywhere, and I was like I think that they universe is trying to tell me something,” the 33-year-old explained. “I decided that I would go on a public skate and just kind of see where I was at. My skates and my blades were 16 years old — they were from when I skated before.

Not long after, Stellato-Dudek was in Florida with her singles coach from the past, and that’s when she and Bartholomay were teamed up.

“I didn’t know who she was immediately, and when I found out, I realized that she was doing triple Lutzes in 16 year old skates,” Bartholomay explained. “I was looking for a partner, and we decided to have a tryout, and if nothing came of it, then we would just move on, no harm done. But we matched well, and we decided to give it a go.

In their debut at the U.S. Championships, the duo completed their technical elements cleanly, and was rewarded with positive grades of execution for each. But it was the easy and charming presentation in their “Canadian Tenors Medley” program that won the audience — and the judges — over.

“We’re really excited to be in the position we’re in. I think we put down a really nice program just like we’ve been training every day,” Barthlomay, 27, said.

Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran were fourth with 64.29 points.