Nathan Chen made more history on Saturday in Las Vegas.
The two-time and reigning world champion captured his fourth consecutive Skate America title, scoring a 299.15 to claim the gold medal. He’s the first man to go back-to-back-to-back-to-back at the Grand Prix stop since Todd Eldredge did so from 1994 to 1997.
The competition, the first in a truncated Grand Prix Series this season, was held with no fans in attendance and with strict COVID protocols in place. Only American athletes or skaters who train in the U.S. were allowed to compete.
Americans Tomoki Hiwatashi, the 2019 world junior champion, finished fourth, and Ilia Malinin, just 15 years old, was fifth in his Grand Prix debut.
In ice dance, Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue won their third consecutive Skate America title, skating a stirring free dance set to KD Lang's "Hallelujah", choreographed by two-time Olympic champion Scott Moir. Their Montreal training mates Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker won the silver.
Chen: ‘I made… a few big mistakes’
Chen was not at his best in the free skate, however, turning a planned quadruple Salchow into a double and popping a triple Axel, his final jump.
“I made quite a few big mistakes,” he said on the NBC telecast. “Things that I shouldn’t have made mistakes on, but it is what it is. I’ll move forward from here.”
Chen’s moving free skate, set to music by Philip Glass, was performed with a lightness to it that Chen has worked on improving the last few seasons, pairing up with former ice dancer Shae-Lynn Bourne as his choreographer. He completed three quadruple jumps in total in the free skate, notching three Level 4 spins and going north of the nine-point mark in program components.
Yet Chen, who hasn’t lost a competition since finishing fifth at PyeongChang 2018, was hungry for better.
“At the end of the day, I know what my job is and I know what I want to accomplish,” he said on NBC. “With these mistakes… I have things to focus on moving forward.”
Chen said while the COVID-19 pandemic has made training a challenge, he kept things in perspective: “As much as we can keep our heads up, keep trudging forward… I think that would be great. I have to look at what I did wrong and fix that.”
Zhou, Messing satisfied with podium finishes
While Chen saw room for improvement from his weekend, there was a certain level of satisfaction for Zhou in his silver and Messing in his bronze: It was a first Grand Prix medal of any colour for the American, and second for Messing after his Skate Canada silver in 2018.
“I have started to take more ownership of my own skating,” said Zhou, 19, who is back training in Colorado Springs. “I’m putting effort where I think is more necessary.
“I’ve had time to reflect on what I’m good at and what I need to work on… there is lots of material to work with.”
Messing, who is from Alaska but represents Canada, dedicated his performance to the Canadian team, most of which will not be able to skate this Grand Prix Series following the cancellation of Skate Canada next week.
Messing credited his daily video chats with fellow Canadian Nam Nguyen, who is based in Toronto.
“The biggest take from this pandemic is community,” Messing shared. “The biggest thing right now is to come together and support one another."
Hubbell/Donohue: Dancing to a three-peat
Not since Meryl Davis and Charlie White won four consecutive (2010-13) in the lead-up to their Sochi 2014 Olympic gold has a team gone back-to-back-to-back at this event in ice dance, but Hubbell and Donohue have now done just that, and set their sights on the U.S. Championships in January, where they lost their national crown to Madison Chock and Evan Bates this past year.
"We know that going into nationals we’re hungry for the title again," Hubbell told NBC TV. "We have a lot of work to do back at home."
Added Donohue: "We have to raise the bar."
The duo praised Moir, whom they trained with in the lead-up to PyeongChang, for his choreographic work, while saying he's also helped boost their confidence as a team.
"Scott was great by making us feel like what we had to bring to the table was already enough," said Hubbell.
"Getting the chance to see the way his mind works and what he sees inside me… I think he can pull more out of us," Donohue added.
Hawayek/Baker's free dance to Philip Glass was equally as chilling, marking just their third Grand Prix medal in seven senior seasons.
Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko skated to their second career Grand Prix medal, capturing the bronze.