Two-time World champion Nathan Chen shook off a mid-routine error to lead after the men's short program at the Internationaux de France in Grenoble. The competition is the third stop of the International Skating Union's 2019 figure skating Grand Prix circuit.
Chen, skating to the music of 'La Bohème', glided across the ice with effortless ease and into a clean quadruple toe loop, triple toe loop combination to open his program. It looked like the Olympic team bronze medallist would continue his nearly perfect 2019-20 campaign until he put his hands down on his triple Axel moments later.
He recovered to close his program with another easy quadruple - the flip - to lead, earning a 102.48, just behind the 102.71 score he posted at Skate America two weeks ago.
Chen is ahead of Russia's Alexander Samarin (98.48) and France's Kevin Aymoz in third at 82.50, with Olympic silver medallist Shoma Uno of Japan fourth on 79.05.
Chen has been on a roll since a disappointing 2018 Olympic Games found him in fifth place in the individual competition.
Since PyeongChang, the 20-year-old American has taken top honours at the 2018 World Championships, both of his 2018 Grand Prix assignments, the 2018 Grand Prix Final, the 2019 U.S. Championships, the 2019 Worlds and 2019 Skate America.
All of that comes as he, famously, juggles life as the world’s best male figure skater and demanding classes at the Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
“I definitely was not this far into the season in terms of technical content, as I was last year, at Skate America,” Chen told Olympic Channel in Las Vegas at Skate America.
“So, I definitely feel like I'm at a better place starting this season.”
Quite a statement for the man who has dominated the sport since the 2018 Olympics, including last season.
He will guarantee that he qualifies to December’s Grand Prix Final if he can keep his top spot after Saturday’s free skate. That will set up the hotly anticipated rematch between him and double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, who came second to Chen earlier this year at the Worlds.
Career best for Samarin
Samarin has shown promise throughout his career, with highlights like silver medals at last year's European Championships and at the 2017 junior Worlds. He was third a year ago at in Grenoble.
But at the World Championships in March, he finished a disappointing 12th place.
Today in France, he was solid and sits second after executing a solid short program that included a quadruple Lutz, triple to combination, a quadruple toe loop and a triple Axel.
His methodical program matched the driving beats of his 'Blues for Klook' music and his 98.48 score was a season and career best.
Artistic Aymoz sits third
Aymoz kicked off his 2019-20 campaign with a silver medal at the Autumn Classic in Oakville, Canada, finishing behind only Hanyu.
The Frenchman, who is a two-time national champion, is looking for a breakout season after finishing 11th at the 2019 Worlds in Saitama.
He told Olympic Channel earlier this season that his focus was on the artistic side of his sport saying, “That’s not my dream to be doing like quads, quads, quads, quads, quads. My dream is to just share on ice, that’s why I want to do the artistic parts.”
And his short program didn’t disappoint, artistically. The routine set to ‘The Question Of U’ by Prince captivated the home crowd, but on the technical side Aymoz fell short on his triple Lutz and ended up without having completed the required combination jumping pass.
He was solid on his two other jumps, a quadruple toe loop and a triple Axel.
Uno still searching for perfection
For Uno, the 2018 Olympic silver medallist, the performance comes after big changes following a disappointing 2018-19 season.
He left his long-time coaches Machiko Yamada and Mihoko Higuchi and went to Russia for Eteri Tutberidze's summer camp. He is currently not working with a full-time coach, but Takeshi Honda serves as his jumping coach.
His short program in Grenoble showed that there’s still a ways to go for the Japanese star to right the ship. His performance was set to the powerful beats of ‘Great Spirit’ by Armin van Buuren and Vini Vici that instantly captured that audience’s attention.
He entered his first jumping pass with a look of determination and he executed a clean quadruple flip. But that first jump did not translate through to the rest of his performance.
He slipped on his quadruple toe loop jump and failed to pull off a planned and required combination. Then, he took a scary fall on his triple Axel attempt, sliding face down across the ice after coming up short.