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Chen rules the novice men's short program

Kaugars second; Moeller third

Nathan Chen has a 6.04-point advantage heading into the free skate.
Nathan Chen has a 6.04-point advantage heading into the free skate. (Paul Harvath)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(01/23/2011) - Whether he's a ninja or a cowboy, Nathan Chen rules the novice short program at the 2011 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

At last year's event, Chen took a big short program lead with his Kung Fu Panda program, and then went on to win the title. This season he came out with guns a' blazing in his Rawhide program, which propelled him to a sizable advantage over Lukas Kaugars and Jordan Moeller.

"Last year I just tried to do my best and see what happened," said Chen, who is all of 11 years old and doesn't look like he's grown much taller than the 4'5 at which he checked in last season. "This year there's a lot of pressure, but I think it's easier since I know how to handle it."

Chen landed a clean triple Lutz-double toe combination, a triple flip and a double Axel, but the real highlight was his fast-as-lightning spins, both of which earned Level 4.

"I work on [spins] a lot, but I guess they come sort of naturally," Chen said.

His segment score of 52.47 is a point higher than he scored in last year's short program. While his technical mark remained about the same, his program components increased by almost two points, a reflection of his improved ability to bring the program to life.

"It's really fun being a completely different character," Chen said.

For Kaugars, it was an accomplishment just to make it to the U.S. Championships, as he has battled numerous injuries for the past several months. He broke the ball of his foot in June and has been contending with a variety of back ailments since August. Because of this, he's had to cut down on his training.

"I've been skating one program a day for the past four months," Kaugars said. "It was nice to get the flip out there. Right now, I'm not feeling anything, but I'll be sore later tonight."

Kaugars, 15, is incredibly physically mature; he looks like he could easily be in his early 20s. He is second generation Latvian, and he says he comes from a "family of built people."

"It's an advantage in that if my jumps are a little off, I can muscle through them," he said.

The foot and back injuries have actually been a blessing in disguise for Kaugars.

"I'm training better than I ever have even though I'm not training as much," he said. "I'm going for the quality not quantity thing, and it's working out right now."

Moeller, the reigning U.S. intermediate champion, skated a clean program to Steve Ray Vaughn's "Little Wing," landing a triple Salchow-double toe, a triple toe and a double Axel.

"[Winning last year] definitely boosted my confidence, but it's still my first time [being at the U.S. Championships]," Moeller said. "It's intimidating being in a big rink and all that."

Nix Phengsy is in fourth, a little more than a point behind Moeller.