For Nathan Chen, some confidence-building leaps, times five

For Nathan Chen, some confidence-building leaps, times five

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- It sounds a bit crazy to say this about a guy who had won all four of his events this season prior to the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but Nathan Chen has been struggling.

Struggling, that is, by the ice-breaking standards he set while becoming figure skating's newest star last season.

So his strong performance in Saturday night's free skate inside San Jose's SAP Center meant more than just making him a runaway national champion for the second straight year and earning the 2018 Olympic team spot that has been a foregone conclusion.

Chen matched his historic five-clean-quad free skate of a year ago at nationals, and it was his first such performance this season. In each of his previous two competitions, the Grand Prix Final and Skate America, only two of his five planned quads were clean.

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"Superhuman" Nathan Chen makes more skating history

"Superhuman" Nathan Chen makes more skating history

It's the same wondrous story, with a new twist.

Nathan Chen made more personal and global skating history Friday night at the 2017 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic by landing a clean quadruple loop on the first attempt at the jump in his competitive career.

And, Chen did it in his first competition of the Olympic season, on the rink where he first took to the ice at age two, a rink built as a practice facility for the 2002 Winter Olympics. He did it in a free skate that made him an easy winner over teammate Max Aaron.

So, he is now the first man to land five different quads -- lutz, flip, salchow, loop and toe loop -- although not all in one program.

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Nathan Chen as Nureyev? It's really not a surprise

Nathan Chen as Nureyev?  It's really not a surprise

Search the internet for still pictures of ballet legend Rudolf Nureyev dancing Le Corsaire.

Then compare your findings to screenshots from the first 30 seconds of Nathan Chen skating his short program to music from that ballet.

In several instances -- especially in the time before Chen begins jumping -- the parallels between the skater and the dancer are striking. There are moments when Chen's arm carriage, known as port de bras in ballet, and the positions of his feet are virtually homage to Nureyev's performance.

That is not surprising, given that Chen and his choreographer-coach, Marina Zoueva, put together the program after spending hours looking at YouTube video of Nureyev in Le Corsaire, a mid-19th century ballet to the music of Adolphe Adam.

"We basically modeled it right after Nureyev and tried to make [it] as similar as possible," Chen said.

That Chen can reflect Nureyev seems surprising until you talk with people who taught him and danced with him during the 6 1/2 years he studied at Ballet West Academy in Salt Lake City. It surprises them that some figure skating judges apparently find it hard to recognize the artistic ability, musicality and dance skills they saw in Chen soon after he enrolled at the school as a 7-year-old.

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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.”

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