Nathan Chen launches Grand Prix season with third straight Skate America title

Double world champion Chen dominates in Las Vegas with Jason Brown making it an American one-two

7 min By Ken Browne
Nathan Chen performs at Skate America 2019 in Las Vegas, where he won his third consecutive title. Photo: Olympic Channel

Nathan Chen got his 2019/20 Grand Prix of Figure Skating campaign off to a flying start, claiming his third consecutive Skate America victory in Las Vegas.

Holding a healthy lead from the short program, the double world champion hit three quads in his free skate to music from the Elton John biopic 'Rocket Man' to beat fellow American Jason Brown by a massive 44 points.

"I'm pretty happy with the performance today. It's the first Grand Prix of the season. There are a lot of things to improve on." - Nathan Chen

Room from improvement

Just as he was at the free skate-only Japan Open earlier this month, Chen was a class apart from his rivals although he was far from perfect.

His opening triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination was superb, as was his subsequent quad flip.

But he ended a quad toe loop-Euler-triple flip combination with a double flip, and a quad toe loop near the end of the skate became a double toe loop.

The Olympic team bronze medallist joked afterwards, "I did a single flip at Japan Open and I did a double flip here, so I kind of improved in some ways."

He also landed a triple Axel and a quad Salchow before finishing his jumps with a triple Axel-double toe loop combo.

He scored 196.38 for his free skate, taking the title with a 299.09 points total.

While Chen declared himself "not entirely happy" with his short program, the 20-year-old is content with where he is at this stage of the season.

Speaking to Meryl Davis for Olympic Channel, he said, "I'm stepping on the right foot right now. Of course, things always change as the season goes on but I can use this as a confidence booster for the rest of the season."

Chen's win saw him become the second man to complete a hat-trick of Skate America titles.

The first was 1996 world champion Todd Eldredge who won four-in-a-row from 1994 to 1997.

Nathan Chen Skate America 2019 Photos: Olympic Channel

Chen's family influence

When asked about his blue, purple, green and violet full-spectrum outfit, Chen answered that his mother made it for him:

"My mother made this costume for me; we just went into a fabric store and was like, this is pretty cool fabric. This isn't going to be the ultimate costume of the season." - Nathan Chen

Brown moves up to claim silver

Jason Brown made it a U.S. 1-2 with a powerful skate.

Brown, who started working under Brian Orser in Toronto after PyeongChang 2018, is a much-loved figure for his honesty, sensitivity, and expressive skating, and the reception on his introduction alone raised the roof.

Then came his free skate.

The 24-year-old fulfilled a dream just by skating to the soundtrack of 'Schindler's List', saying he needed to wait until he was mature enough.

"I've always wanted to skate to Schindler's List," Brown said afterwards.

"I want to do it justice, and be old enough such that I am mature enough to handle the content and bring it to life. There's this desire to put out a story when I go out an compete this program."

While the jumping was a little sketchy at times, it was a routine filled with emotion and artistry which ended with his laying down on the ice.

Brown received a Program Component Score (PCS) of 90.70 in his mark of 171.64 which gave him 255.09.

That was enough to move him up from fourth overnight to second place in the final analysis.

"It was my first debut of this program, of Schindler's List, I've been working hard on it all summer, kind of getting into the emotion of it and working it through so I just really tried to put heart into it." - Jason Brown

Aliev wins first GP medal

Dmitri Aliev bagged bronze to claim his first Grand Prix podium finish.

The Russian said he felt lost last year but looks to have found what he needs to compete on the biggest stage again.

A quad toe loop and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination stood out in his routine but he popped his opening attempted quad Lutz to a double.

The 20-year-old scored 156.98 on his free skate for a total of 253.55 and third place.

This is my first senior Grand Prix medal. I'm very pleased with that. But I have higher goals for myself - but this is a big medal for me. This medal is one of the most important medals of my life because last season was so difficult. - Dmitri Aliev

Two falls each for Korea's Junhwan Cha and China's Jin Boyang left them out of contention and with plenty to work on as we slide into a new season.

Cheng Peng and Yang Jin win Skate America 2019 pairs title

Chinese pair Cheng Peng and Yang Jin won their first Grand Prix title with a total of 200.89 points, the only pair to break the 200-point barrier.

The duo followed a winning short program on Friday with a winning free skate on Saturday, leaving Las Vegas with top honours.

"We’ve been longing for the gold medal so for us it really means a new start." - Cheng Peng

Cheng and Jin justified their favourites tag after World Championship bronze medallists Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert of Russia withdrew pre-tournament.

The pairs free skates were full of falls and there was a worrying moment when Cheng went crashing to the ice on a throw triple loop, but she was fine to continue.

They quickly recovered, executing enough of the higher difficulty technical elements - including a brilliant throw triple Salchow - to come away with the win.

They also landed a side-by-side triple toe loop - double toe loop combination (despite a foot down from Peng).

Last year's ISU Grand Prix Final silver-medallists could finally take in the view from the top of podium.

Second for Pavlyuchenko/Khodykin

2018 world junior champs Daria Pavlyuchenko (16) and Denis Khodykin (20) secured silver with 196.98 points.

The Russians also fell on a throw triple flip as skaters scattered some season-opening rust all over the ice.

But it was another beautifully correlated skate from the rising Russian duet that saw a side-by-side triple flip and a triple toe-double toe-double toe combination.

It is early, and they will have time to perfect their free skate as they gave a glimpse of what they have to offer.

Delight for Denney and Frazier

There were tears in the kiss and cry as home pair Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc had a night to forget.

A fall on a triple Lutz throw and a popped lift left them off the podium in fifth place.

But there were tears of a very different kind for Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier after they nailed an exhilarating free skate to seize the bronze medal.

That third podium step was a fight between three USA pairs - a discipline in which the nation has been growing stronger with each passing year - and Denney/Frazier were best in class.

Denney has had an emotional few years overcoming a serious knee injury in 2015, then an ankle stress fracture last year.

There were tears of relief at the end of a routine featuring a triple Salchow, a triple loop throw, and a side-by-side triple Salchow.

This was the duo's third medal in four Skate America appearances, and their performance bodes well for the coming campaign.

Paws for thought

Between the pairs and the men's free skate we were treated to the skating stylings of Benny the skating dog.

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