It was a roller coaster ride at the 2018 U.S. Championships for a number of the top men.
Defending champion Nathan Chen claimed his second title, leaving the rest of the field in his dust. The 18 year-old earned a combined score of 315.23, over 40 points more than that of the runner-up.
Chen’s score for the free skate — 210.78 points, was more than seven of his fellow competitors earned in the entire competition.
Dressed in an athletic black costume designed by Vera Wang, Chen facilitated a quadruple jump workshop, landing five—two flips, two toes, and a Salchow, in his “Mao’s Last Dancer/The Rite of Spring” program. Chen did make one mistake, however. He singled an intended triple Axel — a jump that seems to be the most challenging for him.
“I am very happy with tonight. I laid out a five quad program, which I haven’t been able to do all season. Obviously I made a mistake on the Axel, and we will address that when we get back home, but ultimately I am really happy with tonight, and I think that I did my job here.”
The victory all but assures Chen’s participation in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, and sets him up as a gold medal threat in PyeongChang. “It’s been a really fun journey since 2002 when I started. It’s definitely where I wanted to be,” he said. “It’s all that I’ve dreamed of, and I am really happy that I took all the right steps. I put all the work in to get myself where I am now. It’s all happening so fast. It just seems like yesterday that I stepped on the ice. I still need time to wrap my head around everything that is happening, but I am happy so far with everything that has already happened.”
Ross Miner, who had missed the podium the last four seasons, threw the field a curve ball, capturing the silver medal in his best performance at a U.S. Championships, giving the 26 year-old a shot to be named to the three man Olympic team. Miner earned 185.60 points in the free skate and 274.51 overall.
“I know that my performance is not a fluke. It’s what I do at home every day,” Miner said, campaigning for inclusion on the team. “This was a big moment, and I have no regrets. I put out a clean skate, and at the end of the day, I did my job, and now it’s up to the selection committee to determine what happens.”
Fifth after the short program, 2017 silver medalist Vincent Zhou attempted five quadruple jumps — only one of which was judged at full value — and came away with the bronze medal. Zhou was slow and methodical throughout his “Moulin Rouge” routine, but the base value of his technical marks was enough to catapult him to the podium.
“I think that I let my legs get away from me with the quads in the second half,” he explained. “I’ve done those many many times clean in training at home. I know that I am capable of doing it, but that doesn’t change how proud I am of myself for fighting all the way through.”
Adam Rippon opened his inspired Arrival of the Birds/Coldplay long program with a failed quad Lutz attempt, but regrouped quickly and landed six triple jumps before disaster struck. At the end of the program, Rippon popped his last two triples — a Salchow and a Lutz, taking the wind out of his sails, and relegating him to the fourth place overall with 268.34 points.
“When you make a mistake, you get up and you keep going. That’s what I did today. That’s what I’ve done my entire career,” he said. “No matter what happens, I feel like I have great criteria going into this selections meeting, and I am going to be fine. No matter what, I still feel like I’m a champion.”
“On the (quad Lutz), I just kind of felt like I was losing my right foot a little bit, and I just let that feeling get the best of me toward the end. I just kind of felt like it was gone.”
He now waits to see if his work this season and a fourth place finish in San Jose will be enough to propel him to the Olympic team.
In his last U.S. Championships, Grant Hochstein finished in fifth place with an uneven performance, landing just five clean triple jumps and finishing with 255.31 points.
“Obviously, it was not the perfect program that I was looking for, but I also think that it is nothing to be embarrassed of,” he said after the competition. “I mean I still enjoyed every second of it. I popped my quad and I laughed because that’s so ridiculous. I’ve been doing it well since I’ve been here, so obviously that’s a little disappointing, but I don’t have any regrets with what I did.”
Things did not go well for Jason Brown whose hopes of making a second team were erased after he plummeted from third after the short to sixth place overall. The 2015 U.S. Champion made mistakes on all but two jumping passes, and finished with 253.68 points.
“I am disappointed. It’s that simple. I know that I am capable of so much more,” Brown said. “I know that I’m just going to continue to get stronger from this event and keep moving forward with the most positive attitude that I can.”
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