Nathan Chen captures sixth U.S. title in a row ahead of Winter Olympics; Malinin stuns for silver

The three-time and reigning world champ is the first to go six in a row in 70 years. He will be joined by Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown on the U.S. Olympic team next month.

By Nick McCarvel
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

For the first time in 70 years, a U.S. man has won six consecutive national titles.

Three-time and reigning world champion Nathan Chen will head into next month's Olympic Games Beijing 2022 one title shy of two-time Olympic champ Dick Button's record, Button winning seven straight from 1946-52.

Chen, 22, captured No.6 on Sunday (9 January) at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Nashville: His revisited "Rocketman" Elton John medley, brought back from the 2019-20 season, earning him a free skate score of 212.62 to total overall 328.01.

He registered a 26-point win over the surprise of the weekend in 17-year-old Ilia Malinin, who was spectacular in both the short and free programs to claim the silver medal in his senior debut with a score of 302.48.

Vincent Zhou (290.16) placed third and Jason Brown (289.78) fourth.

"This is based on my team," Chen told reporters of a sixth consecutive national title. "I have really great people in my life and my career who have helped me get to where I'm in. I moved to work with Raf [coach Rafael Arutunian] when I was 13; it's been 10 years. We show up and work together every day. I can't do it all by myself."

The three-member U.S. men's team for Beijing 2022 was announced later on Sunday evening, with Chen, Zhou and Brown getting the nod. The selection committee bases its choices off of a skater's "body of work" from the recent past, including these national championships.

Malinin's red-hot performance falls just shy of Olympic team

Making his debut at a senior-level national championships, the 17-year-old Malinin, who is the son of two Olympic skaters (Tatiana Malinina and Roman Skorniakov), landed four quadruple jumps in a thrilling free skate, set to "Nobody Knows" and "Golden Age."

"I'm really surprised on how I skated because I definitely wasn't expecting to skate this good," Malinin told reporters. "I really am glad to be here competing with all these top-tier athletes. I've been working really hard with Raf [Arutunian] and trying to improve everything I've been doing and think it really worked out this time."

While Malinin placed second ahead of Zhou and Brown, the members of the Olympic selection committee used their criteria to go with three more known quantities on the international circuit in Chen, Zhou and Brown. 

While Chen was noticeably lighter on his feet skating to "Rocketman" for the first time in two years, he fell on his second jumping pass - a quad flip - and then went down on a fluke fall during his choreographic step sequence towards the end of the program, breaking into a smile and he picked himself up off the ice.

"Silly things happen all the time," Chen said. "It was kind of a dumb little moment; and I just got really wrapped up in that moment and just lost my footing."

Chen landed four quads in total, including two in combination.

While Zhou finished third, he had his own struggles, including falling on a late-program triple Axel. His short program lead over Brown helped him to a 0.38 

Brown, an Olympian in 2014, was without coach Tracy Wilson at the boards. Wilson had tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday morning.

"I worked really hard the last four years and it's out of my control," the 27-year-old said. "I think I gave it my all and I I have no regrets and I'm really proud of that. No matter what was thrown at me in the last four years, I kept my head up and I kept pushing and persevering through it. So it's almost, you know, there's the mixed emotions."

Brown fell on his opening quad Salchow attempt, but was stellar otherwise in his "Schindler's List" free skate. He scored a 188.94 to Zhou's 177.38.n

(L-R) Malinin, Chen, Zhou and Brown
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

Beijing bound: Pairs, ice dance teams announced

Earlier on Sunday (9 January), U.S. Figure Skating announced the two teams for pair skating and the three duos headed to Beijing for ice dance. They are:

The duos join Mariah Bell, Karen Chen and Alysa Liu, who were named to the team on Saturday (8 January).

Knierim and Frazier were national champions in 2021, but had to withdraw from nationals this week after Frazier tested positive for Covid-19. Cain-Gribble/LeDuc won their second national title on Saturday (8 January). Both teams placed in the top 10 at worlds last season.

LeDuc becomes the first out nonbinary athlete to qualify for a Winter Olympics. They are joined by Cain-Gribble and Frazier in qualifying for a debut Games.

Chock/Bates won their third national title on Saturday, edging out training mates Hubbell/Donohue, who also have three national titles to their names. Both teams will eye the podium in Beijing. It's a first Olympic Games for Hawayek/Baker, and comes after Hawayek recovered from a concussion she suffered in August.

Bates, meanwhile, becomes the first U.S. skater to qualify for a fourth Olympic appearance. It's a third Games for Chock and second for Hubbell/Donohue.

You can follow Chock/Bates and Hubbell/Donohue's journey to Beijing on the Olympic Channel original series, On Edge. Watch it here.

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