Nguyen jumps ahead in competitive men's shortJin takes second, Uno third; Chen leads Americans with sixth-place finish
Skating to jazz great Dave Brubeck's "Unsquare Dance," Nguyen's jumps -- including a triple Axel, required triple loop and triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination -- were solid, and his spins and step sequence gained Levels 3 and 4. His performance was done with ease, giving him average program components scores of 6.4.
"I think that was the best short that I've ever done in competition," Nguyen said. "I'm very pleased with how I've done today. I hope to continue that for the long program on Saturday."
Nguyen trains alongside Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and European champion Javier Fernández at Toronto's Cricket Skating and Curling Club. Watching his training mates compete in Sochi gave the teenager added inspiration.
"Their performances motivated me to work even harder [during] my run-throughs," he said. "When I watch them do their quads, it's amazing. When I get back from senior worlds, I'll work on quads."
Brian Orser, who coaches all three skaters, credits the Cricket Club coaching staff for some of Nguyen's success.
"While I was in Sochi, Nam worked very hard and stabilized the triple Axel with my assistant coach, Ernest Pryhitka," Orser said. "And while I am here in Sofia with Nam, Tracy Wilson prepares my other students, Yuzu and Javi, for senior worlds. We have a very good team."
Nam, who placed fifth at the 2014 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, will compete at the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan, later this month. He was an alternate to the world team, and three-time world champion Patrick Chan, who won silver in Sochi, has elected not to compete.
Just three points separate the top six skaters, leaving it completely open who will win the title on Saturday.
China's Boyang Jin sits second after overrotating his triple Axel but otherwise skating clean. He has 71.51 points.
"I think today my first jump, the triple Axel, wasn't perfect, but after that the triple Lutz-triple toe and triple loop were OK," Jin said. "Because no quad is allowed [in the short program], the triple Axel is even more important. I would do a quad in the short if it was allowed."
Shoma Uno of Japan is third with 70.67 points. His clean program had all Level 4 elements, but he did not try a triple Axel.
"I felt a lot of pressure, and I was worried before my short program, but I am very glad that I was able to perform to a [satisfactory] level," Uno said.
Another Japanese skater, Keiji Tanaka, put a hand down on his triple Axel and is fourth with 70.57 points. Russia's Alexander Petrov sits fifth with 69.72 points.
U.S. junior champion Nathan Chen, just 14, fell on his fully rotated triple Axel but skated an otherwise excellent program including a triple Lutz-triple toe and triple loop. His spins were top-notch and his steps were perfectly done to the music of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. He has 69.65 points and sits sixth entering the free skate.
"There is still room for improvement, but it is a good experience to compete here," Chen said. "My edge quality can be better."
According to Chen's coach, Rafael Arutunian, who trains the skater in Artesia, Calif., the youngster is still recovering from a bad fall in practice.
"After nationals (in early January), he was sick with a heavy flu," Arutunian said. "When he came back to the rink, he wanted to show he could still do the triple Axel, but his body was still weak.
"When I was in Sochi (with Ashley Wagner), my assistant, Nadia Kanaeva, could not stop him from trying the triple Axel every day," he continued. "I would not have allowed it, but she does not have as much authority over him as I do. One day, he fell badly and injured his hand. He has a bandage around his wrist now and is afraid of falling on his hand during the triple Axel. This is why he has problems with the jump.
"He is also growing, but that is not a big problem," he added.
U.S. junior silver medalist Jordan Moeller, who trains under Kori Ade in Monument, Colo., had a career-best short including a triple Axel and triple Lutz-triple toe. He is ninth with 66.38 points.
"It was the first time I landed a clean triple Axel in competition," Moeller said. "I am happy that I could stay calm afterwards and finish my program without mistake."
The third American, 2013 U.S. junior champion Shotaro Omori, placed 26th and did not advance to the free skate.
Omori fell on his triple Axel, as well as his triple Lutz, which was to be the first jump of his combination.
"I felt really prepared for this competition, but it just was not my day today," Omori said. "The triple Axel was solid in practice, but after I missed it today, I did not get myself together. My [world junior] bronze medal last year proved that I can be better."
Bulgarian bits: Like Jin, Nam believes junior men should be permitted to include quads in their short programs: "I would say. 'Yes, give us a challenge.' It would make us even more motivated to take the sport even further." ... Czech Katarina Kamberska was the technical specialist for the men's competition and watched every practice. Half an hour before the competition began, she received word that her father had passed away. Event director Peter Krick appointed Estonian Margus Hernits, working in Sofia as an event assistant, to replace her. Hernits is a qualified ISU technical specialist. ... Kamberska is the latest of several officials who were forced to withdraw. U.S. technical controller Steve Winkler also left Sofia due to his father's death and was replaced by Belgian Rita Zonnekeyn. Israeli judge Katalin Alpern stepped in as referee of the ice dance after Mika Saarelainen fell ill.