Nathan Chen soars to men’s title at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Nathan Chen turned in a breakout performance Sunday in winning the men’s competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Nathan Chen turned in a breakout performance Sunday in winning the men’s competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The Associated Press

The beauty of sports is that one generation’s record-breaking performance becomes the standard for the next generation.

Men’s figure skating experienced one of those generational breakthroughs Sunday.

Nathan Chen, 17, became the first figure skater ever to land five quadruple jumps in competition during the men’s free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. For 4 minutes, 37 seconds, the diminutive Chen captivated both the crowd at the Sprint Center and the figure-skating community.

“It’s amazing. It’s something that I’ve been training for and working towards. I didn’t want to put it out there just yet,” Chen said. “It’s been not so consistent in practice, it’s something I’m really proud about.”

Records are the byproducts of unprecedented achievement, and Chen can claim plenty, including:

▪ Highest total score: 318.47 (previous: 274.98, Jason Brown, 2015)

▪ Highest free skate score: 212.08 (previous: 187.77, Adam Rippon, 2015)

▪ Highest short program score: 106.39 (previous: 99.86, Jeremy Abbott, 2014)

Chen finished a staggering 55.44 points ahead of silver medalist Vincent Zhou. The performance is sure to send shockwaves around the international figure skating community, which Chen welcomes.

“The U.S. is back on the map at the world stage,” he said. “We’ve kind of not had the results that we should’ve had over the past few years. I think us three (Chen, Zhou and Brown) will push the U.S. back up to where we should be, and I’m really happy about that.”

Chen, who says he’s 5-feet-6 and 135 pounds, has made a habit of adding skills to his programs as he masters them. That’s how Sunday’s performance took root.

“As soon as I land a new jump I throw it in the program, and try to work it from there. I try to gain consistency in competition, and that’s the same mind-set I’ve had going into these past few competitions with these big jumps,” Chen said. “There really is no end point. You keep on adding new stuff and trying new things, and that’s kind of where it came from.”

The 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, are still 13 months away, but Sunday served as Chen’s official announcement as a gold-medal candidate.

“I believe it’s possible, yeah,” Chen said. “It’s something that’s still in the distance for me, and there’s so much room that I have to improve to make myself at that level, but I think it’s definitely possible.”

Zhou, 16, didn’t come to Kansas City with medaling on his mind. He leaves with silver after a score of 263.03.

“I ended up a lot higher than I thought I would coming into this competition. I didn’t expect to be on the podium, to be honest,” Zhou said. “I tried to set some modest expectations for myself. But this week in practice I trained well, and tonight I just went out there and I feel like I delivered pretty well.”

Brown gives back

Brown, who took home the bronze, exited after his free skate clutching a giant teddy bear.

Brown will donate the bear, along with all the other stuffed animals thrown onto the ice during his performance, to the Ronald McDonald House of Kansas City.