Skating rings around his rivals, Nathan Chen's rise to the sport's elite has been meteoric

Skating rings around his rivals, Nathan Chen's rise to the sport's elite has been meteoric

Perfect symbolic fit:  Five Olympic rings.  Five Nathan Chen free skate quads.  And Chen doing them on the rink where a year from now he will be a strong contender for an Olympic gold medal.

The improbability that I could now confidently make such a bold statement about Chen is, in keeping with the numerical theme, the first of five takeaways from what he did Friday and Sunday in winning the Four Continents Championships in Gangneung, South Korea.

1.  Few U.S. singles skaters have had as meteoric a rise as Nathan Chen.

Last December 8, a day before the free skate at the Grand Prix Final, the 17-year-old from Salt Lake City was a prodigiously talented young skater with no striking international success at the senior level.

Barely three months later, he has become the most striking figure skater in the world, with a real chance to win the title in his debut at the senior World Championships beginning March 28 in Helsinki, Finland.

Read More

Could rush to judgment hurt U.S. women's chances for three Olympic figure skating spots?

Could rush to judgment hurt U.S. women's chances for three Olympic figure skating spots?

Earlier this season, U.S. Figure Skating changed its senior world team selection rules to deny a guaranteed place for the reigning national champion.

The change was made, according to a USFS document approved in December, “to select the athletes who will have the best chance for success at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships to win the maximum number of medals and future berths for the World and Olympic Team the following season.”

It was made just in case the winner at nationals was a fluke (or, more politely, a surprise), someone whose past international record gave no strong indication of success at the World Championships.

Someone like Karen Chen.

Her performances in both programs at last month’s U.S. Championships in Kansas City were undeniably brilliant – by far the best of her career.

Her performances in this week’s Four Continents Championships on the 2018 Olympic rink in Gangneung, South Korea, were undeniably dismal:  12th in the short program, with a fall and a watered-down combination; 10th in Saturday’s free skate, when she omitted the planned opening combination, did an invalid element and had four sloppy jumping passes (out of seven).

Overall, with a 12th place that matched her finish at last year’s Four Continents, Chen looked like the skater who had been consistently mediocre this season and last – with the exception of the 2017 nationals.

That should get USFS officials thinking of a future change in its world team selection rules so the results of Four Continents can be taken into consideration.  After all, it will be more than two months from the end of nationals to the start of worlds.

Read More

A wondrous Nathan Chen is defying description

A wondrous Nathan Chen is defying description

I am already running out of ways to describe the wonders of Nathan Chen, so I will let someone else do the heavy lifting this morning.

That would be Mark Hanretty, the Eurosport commentator and former ice dancer who skated for Great Britain in the world and European championships.

Hanretty’s background makes his observations of Chen’s brilliant Four Continents short program more meaningful.  A dancer would have a keen eye for the parts of Chen’s skating that factor into his “second mark,” the PCS, on which the judges still find him significantly below his major rivals.

First, the facts:  With a quad lutz-triple toe combination and a quad flip, Chen won Friday’s short program in Gangneung, South Korea, with a score, 103.12, that topped his previous personal best by nearly 10 points.  Shoma Uno (two quads) was second at 100.28, also a personal best, with Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan (botched second quad) third at 97.04.

The free skate is Sunday.

This is what Hanretty said while waiting for the scores to be announced:

“The jumps are coming from nowhere.  He has the whole package.  He has beautiful posture, wonderfully pointed extension, nice spin positions.”

Read More