Nathan Chen demonstrated a blazing, highly technical short program on Saturday night at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena that left the skater sweating and panting. He broke his own national record with 115.39 points.
Skating to “La Boheme,” Chen landed a four Lutz and three-toe combination for a staggering 20-plus points. It was the highest-scoring element in the entire competition.
“Lutz has been a little tricky for me this season, so I’m really happy that I was able to put it out, especially the second half," Chen said to Andrea Joyce post-skate. "Overall, I’m happy with the way that I skated.”
On Sunday afternoon, the five-time nationals champion has one last task ahead of him before the 2022 Winter Olympics: the free skate. He should have no problems with what is anticipated to be a revival of his 2019-20 program; with such a significant lead, only nerves can stop Chen now.
The one athlete within striking distance of Chen: Vincent Zhou, last year's silver medalist at nationals, who concluded the men's short program with an 112.78-point skate. A favorite to make the Olympic team, Zhou is also a strong contender for the podium at the 2022 Winter Games.
Third place will almost surely boil down to Virginia's 17-year-old Ilia Malinin and Illinois' 27-year-old Jason Brown. On Saturday, Malinin skated the best short of his life to a cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean:” His surprising routine was fast, sharp and clean – and earned 103.46 points, for third place.
A medal favorite at the U.S. Championships, Jason Brown took to the ice early. He landed a triple flip and a clean triple Axel, but his program didn’t quite have the technical aspiration of other skaters. Brown now stands in fourth with 100.84 points and his work cut out for him.