Ice Network

Chen dominates field to take lead in Lake Placid

Rippon nestles into second place; Russia's Voronov rounds out top three
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
On the strength of a masterful quadruple lutz-triple toe -- for which he earned a whopping 19.90 points -- Nathan Chen, who simply continues to impress, vaulted to the top of the standings. And by earning a personal-best 104.12 points in the segment, the talented American will take more than a 15-point lead into the free skate. -Getty Images

Nathan Chen cranked up his status as figure skating's "king of cool" another notch on Friday night, shrugging off a dinged skate blade to hit quadruple lutz and flip jumps in his short program and vault to a 15-point lead at Skate America.

The 18-year-old U.S. champion had fans in Lake Placid's Olympic Center guessing when he skated over to his coach, Rafael Arutunian, during the six-minute warmup, turned and lifted up his left boot. Arutunian did some quick clean-up and delivered instructions, and Chen resumed his warm-up about 30 seconds later.

"The outside edge (of the left blade) had a nick in it; it's something that we're adjusting right now and it should be fixed for tomorrow," the imperturbable teen told reporters.

The nick didn't disrupt Chen's performance to Benjamin Clementine's fiery ballad "Nemesis." Every lunge, twist and turn of the hard-charging choreography, courtesy of Shae-Lynn Bourne, was intact, as were his quad lutz-triple toe loop combination, quad flip, and gorgeous closing camel combination spin. The landing of his triple axel was rough, but he hung on, and his 104.12 points -- including program components ranging up to 10 (from Mexican judge Sasha Martinez) but averaging around 9 -- is a new personal best.

"I feel like the audience can definitely get into the music. It's got a really good beat so everyone can sort of feel it and they can clap along," Chen said. "When I'm alone on the ice I really feel the character, I can get into it more than some of the other music I've used, (which) I don't necessarily feel I connect to so well. There is still a lot of work to do but I'm grinding through."

No one in the three-quarter full arena was more impressed than Arutunian, who fairly beamed at Chen in the kiss and cry.

"I had to make a last-minute decision to change the pattern of my axel to compensate for the blade," Chen said. "It was a little sketchy but I was able to make the jump upright. He was happy I was able to make the change."

Likely, he was even happier to have such a cool-headed competitor for a student.

If Chen is skating's king of cool, rink mate Adam Rippon's self-deprecating wit makes him the sport's foremost late night comedian. Consider his take on why he changed his short program from a self-sung cover of Rhianna's "Diamonds" back to last season's routine, set to a remix of Danish soul singer Ida Corr's "Let Me Think About it."

"In the end, this trashy club music embodies me even better than my own voice does," Rippon said.

On Friday, the 28-year-old looked confident, secure and almost relaxed throughout the program, milking his step sequences for every bit of personality and easily landing a triple flip-triple toe loop combination and triple lutz. He had to fight a bit for the landing of his triple axel, but closed out the program with a stunning combination spin, including a superb layback position. It all added up to 89.04 points, a new personal best.

"Every competition is a stepping stone to clear off more cobwebs," Rippon said. "The axel definitely wasn't great but everything was a step forward. I felt way more comfortable with the steps, with the spins, and I think I got all of the levels I was going for. (He did; all were Level 4.) I felt really good, really strong."

Rippon, too, gave Arutunian some excitement, leaving the six-minute warmup with a minute left to go.

"I was just ready, into the ice and in my own body," he said. "I told Rafael, and he said, 'Don't scare me tomorrow,' so I won't scare him tomorrow. It's been a dream of mine to do and today I was like, you know what, 'Give me those guards, I'm getting off.' I thought, I'm going to beat the rush, there won't be any traffic, and I will get right to my spot to focus on my performance."

Russia's Sergei Voronov followed up his surprising gold medal at the NHK Trophy earlier this month with a near-clean tango short here, hitting a quad toe-triple toe and earning 87.51 points for third place. He, Chen and Rippon all look like strong bets to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in Nagoya, Japan, next month.

The rest of the field didn't fare as well, with falls, pops and sloppy landings pretty much the order of the day. China's Han Yan sits fourth with 85.97 points despite a fall on a quad toe, and former Israeli junior world champion Daniel Samohin fell on a quad salchow to place fifth.

The most surprising fumbles came from China's world bronze medalist Boyang Jin, who was expected to challenge for a medal. The 20-year-old left out his favorite jump, quad lutz, in favor of a less valuable quad toe loop, and popped a triple axel into a single. He enters the free skate with 77.97 points.

Rumors have swirled around Lake Placid that Jin -- who has not tried quad lutz in practice here -- was injured. At first, he denied it, but when pressed by reporters in the mixed zone he admitted through an interpreter, "(I skated with) my laces loose, and I sprained my ankles." This happened before, and after, Cup of China early this month. Should Jin, who won silver at Cup of China, finish poorly here, it could open the door for Jason Brown, with a second and fourth place at his events, to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

The third U.S. entrant at Skate America, Ross Miner, was on his way to a fine rendition of his short set to a jazzy medley including "Cosmic Superhero" and "Magic Cure," but he popped his triple axel into a single and placed eighth with 71.59 points.

"That was dumb," Miner said. "There are no other words but, it helps to pull in. That's what I tell my students so I should take my own advice."