'Rocket Man' didn't disappoint once again as double World champion Nathan Chen of the United States soared to his second 2019-20 Grand Prix of Figure Skating victory on Saturday (2 November) at the Internationaux de France in Grenoble.
With the win, Chen qualified for this season's Grand Prix Final.
While his performance Saturday was not perfect - he had shaky landings on more than one of his quadruple jumps - he easily took the gold, more than thirty points ahead of silver.
Chen totalled 297.16, while Russia's Alexander Samarin was second on 265.10. France's Kevin Aymoz grabbed an emotional third place - his first podium on the Grand Prix circuit - with a total score of 254.64.
A new look
Chen's 'Rocket Man' free program is a departure from anything he - or, perhaps, any - skater has done in the past. It was a move that he wasn't sure about at first.
"I wasn't really sure. I wasn't sold on the program from the start," Chen told Olympic Channel after his win at Skate America in October. "I wasn't quite sure if this is the right move with the rap."
But as he and choreographer Sam Chouinard began to put the program together, Chen started to come around.
"As soon as we started actually like putting moves to the music and started to come together with some sort of idea of what the program would look like, I was like definitely on board, I was super sold," he said. "And I'm really happy that they decided to push me into this direction.
That move has paid off with fans - and the judges - appreciating his out-of-the-box approach.
On to Turin, Montreal
Next up for Chen will be the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy. That will likely be the site of the highly-anticipated rematch between Chen and double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. Hanyu finished second to the 20-year-old American at the 2019 World Championships in Saitama.
"After France, [I'll] reevaluate, see where my body's at, see where the rest of the skaters are, and sort of approach the next couple of competitions as best as I can," Chen said of his season plan.
And even though he will go to the Worlds in Montreal in March as a favourite for the gold medal, he's not thinking about that now.
"If I start looking too far ahead into the Olympics and Worlds and all that, it kind of gets a little overwhelming," Chen said.
Breakthroughs for Samarin, Aymoz
Samarin's silver medal is the highest finish of his career on the Grand Prix circuit. He had taken bronze twice previously (2017 Skate Canada, 2018 Internationaux de France).
A promising junior skater, Samarin has had mixed results in the senior ranks: a second place finish at the 2019 European Championships, followed by a disappointing 12th place at Worlds.
This weekend, the Russian showed that promise again, fighting through a free skate set to 'Good News' by Apashe. It wasn't perfect with a fall on his quadruple flip, but he never gave up.
Aymoz's bronze medal was the first of any colour for the Frenchman on the Grand Prix circuit.
Like Samarin, Aymoz's free skate was not perfect, as he stepped out of several jumps. But he delivered an emotional and artistic performance to Lighthouse by Patrick Watson. That artistry is something Aymoz told Olympic Channel was important to him earlier this season.
“That’s not my dream to be doing like quads, quads, quads, quads, quads," he said. "My dream is to just share on ice, that’s why I want to do the artistic parts.”
Disappointment for Uno
As in the short program, Japan's Shoma Uno came away disappointed. Two seasons ago, the 21-year-old stood next to compatriot Hanyu as the Olympic silver medallist. Since that triumph, he has struggled to find his way.
After a disappointing season last year, he stepped away from his long-time coaches. Saturday, he sat alone in the kiss-and-cry, having still not settled on a full-time coach, visibly crying as the fans tried to encourage him after a program marred by multiple falls. The score, a 136.79, placed him ninth of 11 skaters in the free skate and eighth overall.
Performing to a remix of Robyn's hit 'Dancing On My Own', he gave a passionate performance but struggled technically, putting his hands down each of his two opening quadruple jump attempts. Things didn't improve from there, as he fell on both triple Axels and a quadruple toe loop.