Courtesy U.S. Figure Skating/Jay Adeff
Nathan Chen captured his fourth consecutive Skate America title on Saturday night, and though it was not his best outing, it was still good enough for a runaway victory over his teammate Vincent Zhou and Canada’s Keegan Messing.
Last to skate in the second flight, Chen executed three clean quads in combination (flip and two toes), a triple loop and a triple Lutz. In a rare display of loss of concentration he popped two jumps, landing a double Salchow in the first half of the program and a single Axel in the second.
Chen closed out the competition with 299.15 – a conservative score from the usually over-zealous judging panels the U.S. is known for domestically. “I am just thrilled to be here at this competition and so thankful to everyone for how smoothly everything went,” said Chen. “I was a little disappointed about the jumps I missed. I should not have done that. This competition had its positives and its negatives so now I have a base to go back and improve on. I am looking forward to nationals and whatever the rest of the season brings.”
When asked about his reaction to the postponement of the Grand Prix Final, Chen said the announcement had no impact on his preparation for the season. “That was on my radar already. Hopefully, we will hear within the year when exactly that will happen, especially since the Final is an Olympic event. It would be lovely to see what the situation looks like in Beijing.”
In his four previous appearances on the senior Grand Prix circuit Zhou had never placed higher than fourth. But just hours before he celebrated his 20th birthday, he mined silver at 2020 Skate America in Las Vegas. It was a double celebration for the San Jose, California native.
“Obviously I had a few hiccups in the program but I am really proud of myself for what I did at this competition,” he said in reference to a fall on the quad Lutz and two under-rotation calls. “I did some pretty stupid stuff on the practices and maybe got my mindset into places it shouldn’t be, but I am always out there fighting to do the best that I can. I am proud of my fight this week and also happy with the way I performed both programs.
“Obviously there is a lot of room for growth, but I am proud of taking charge of my skating and making strides in artistry. I wish for a successful, consistent steady Olympic season culminating in an Olympic medal.”
What a difference a year made for Messing. Last year he was dealing with the death of his brother and was struggling to keep it together. Not so this season. Third after the short, he wanted to enjoy every moment. As the lone Canadian on the Grand Prix trail, he also assumed a little pressure to compete at his best level.
And Messing did just that. He came out firing in his routine set to Guns N’ Roses “November Rain,” reeling off a quad toe-double toe combination to open the program, followed by a second quad toe and four triple jumps. Though he received two under-rotation calls – one for a triple Salchow on the back end of a three-jump combination and the other on a triple flip – he was satisfied with his performance.
“I am actually pretty stoked with how I skated today. I had a couple of bobbles in the program but this was actually one of the few times I was able to go out and leave everything I had on the ice,” the 28-year-old said. “I am so happy that I was able to come here and have the opportunity to compete.
When asked about the pressure of being the lone Canadian on the circuit, Messing said it was a little confusing. “The results of this competition don’t really matter but I really wanted to go out and compete as well as I could. In my mind – and I was really trying to voice this a little bit – these performances this week … I was skating for all of Team Canada and whoever had to stay home. That did put a little bit of pressure on me. I am carrying the flag with honor and am incredibly proud to win my second Grand Prix medal here.
“Nailing those first two quads out the door felt absolutely incredible. I don’t think I was as strong going into this competition as I would have liked to be. I had a very hard time motivating myself to train as hard as I knew I needed to. But I really felt like I left everything out on the ice to the point where I could not even walk afterwards. I have to say that feeling was great to just put everything I had out on the ice. I am really proud of what I was able to leave on the ice today.”
Tomoki Hiwatashi finished fourth with 245.30 points. Ilia Malinin, 15, who made his senior debut at this competition, placed fifth with 220.31. “I got the chance to be here and did really good for my standards. It obviously could have been much better but it is what it is. I want to continue to improve and eventually become a really good skater,” he said.
Israel’s Alexei Bychenko landed in sixth place with 214.62. In a mixed zone interview after the free skate the 32-year-old said he has set a goal to become the oldest man to compete at an Olympic Winter Games in 2022, and to have an “amazing beautiful skate.”