Chen wins short program at U.S. figure skating championships

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Washington (AFP) – Three-time world champion Nathan Chen, one of Beijing’s top contenders for Olympic gold, won the men’s short program on Saturday at the US figure skating championships.

Chen has 115.39 points, breaking his own championship record, and will seek his sixth straight national title in Sunday’s free skate in Nashville, Tennessee.

“It was a bit shaky at the end, but overall I’m happy with the way I skated,” Chen said.

Vincent Zhou, the 2021 Skate America winner who placed sixth at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, was second at 112.78 and Ilia Malinin, 17, third at 103.46.

“It’s amazing to be able to have such strong American competitors on the cusp of an Olympic season,” said Chen.

An American Olympic selection committee will choose the American men to compete next month in China, taking into account performances in other events, but Chen’s trip appears to be almost set in stone.

Chen, 22, finished fifth in men’s at the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, where he helped the US team win the team bronze medal.

Following his Olympic loss, Chen won the 2018 world title and began an unbeaten streak in all competitions that only ended last October when he finished third at Skate America.

Chen set free skating and overall scoring records in the 2019 Grand Prix final for his third consecutive triumph in the event.

Liu affected by Covid in Beijing

The selection committee announced the three Americans who will skate in Beijing, choosing Alysa Liu, two-time American champion of Covid, to join the American champion in 2022 Mariah Bell and the vice-champion Karen Chen in China.

Liu, 16, and Amber Glenn dropped out after the women’s short program after testing positive for Covid-19.

Liu, who waved to fans via video screen and camera while in isolation, must get final medical clearance and show that she can perform a full routine.

Bell, 25, is the oldest American skater in 94 years at the Olympics.

“I’m so grateful. It’s something I’ve worked for a very long time. It doesn’t feel real,” Bell said.

“Age is just a number. It literally means nothing.”

Chen considered retiring after finishing 11th at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“It’s a dream to be part of this team,” she said. “It means so much. I kept chasing my dreams and stayed as fearless as possible and here I am.”

Covid-19 forced three more withdrawals from the event on Saturday, bringing the total for the week to seven. William Hubbart pulled out before the men’s short program and ice dancers Rafaella Koncius and Alexey Shchepetov stepped out before the dance free.

Reigning couples’ champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier did not compete after Frazier tested positive.

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