With short program win, Karen Chen rebounds from previous hardships in style

Karen Chen had next.

That is how it looked after the 2015 U.S. Championships, as Chen, then 15, stole the show in the free skate and took third overall in her first U.S. championship as a senior, when she was too young to go to senior worlds.

And, if the only performance you'd seen of Chen's since then was during Thursday's short program at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City, you would have thought to yourself, "Just what everyone expected."

The 4-foot-11-inch Chen was commanding. Her jumps were powerful, her body positions eye-catching, her spins compelling, and her edge work exquisite, all creating the essence of the swan she embodied while skating to music from the film, On Golden Pond, a program she choreographed herself.

She took first place with 72.82 points, the highest short program score ever recorded at the U.S. championships, topping the previous mark of 72.12 Gracie Gold set in 2014. Mirai Nagasu finished second at 71.95, and three-time champion Ashley Wagner rounded out the top three with 70.94 points.

Gold, the reigning champion in the event, finished fifth with 64.85 points after getting no credit for doubling her triple flip. That continued a run of mediocre skating by Gold, who was actually encouraged by the fact that she made only one mistake.

Chen has been in Gold's place most of the past two seasons. Now she's in the utterly improbable position of being asked if she could win.

"It's definitely possible for me to win if I'm able to pull out a perfect free skate," Chen said of Saturday's final.

What she did in the short program was nothing short of unexpected.

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