Nathan Chen crushed them. Just crushed them.
If ever there was a wobble in your thinking about Chen’s prowess on the men’s figure skating scene after Skate America, then straighten yourself in your seat, find a crutch, get a new pair of Birkenstocks, anything, and get ready to marvel again.
After he finished third at Skate America a week ago, Chen buried his opponents with a final score of 307.18 at the Skate Canada Grand Prix. The score was 47.63 points higher than that of silver medalist Jason Brown, he of the incomparable artistic feet/body.
Fresh-faced Evgeni Semenenko of Russia took the bronze medal in his first real international Grand Prix. He competed at Rostelecom Cup last season, but because of COVID restrictions, Grand Prix events basically became domestic events, and he competed only against other Russians.
He got an eye-opener on Saturday when Chen landed (only) four quads and a triple Axel and emoted to a Mozart medley. Classy all the way.
His free skate score was 200.46 points, 107.68 of that coming from his technical content. His component score was 92.78, higher even that Brown’s mark of 89.80,
Fate threw another complication in Chen’s way when coach Rafael Arutunian had his accreditation revoked because he took a wrong turn and inadvertently exited the strict COVID bubble imposed by Canadian officials. Arutunian said he was confused; the signage wasn’t adequate, and he found himself out in the spectator’s seats. That means he could not return to the bubble.
So Chen sat alone in the kiss and cry after his long program while Arutunian watched from the seats.
Chen wasn’t bothered.
“Raf’s whole [purpose] when he’s stepping behind the boards [during competition] is to hold my jacket,” Chen said. The U.S. team leader did that for him on Saturday.
Arutunian did give Chen a call before he took to the ice for the free program. And when he watched from the seats, Chen noted that “it’s just kind of nice o have a pair of eyes overseeing things, as I kind of wrap my head around how I prepare for the six-minute warmup.”
But otherwise, no big deal, Chen said. Arutunian has taught all of his skaters to be self-sufficient. Chen faced the judges alone when he was a youngster at regional competitions. And he was on his own at the World Team Trophy last spring.
A Russian journalist asked Chen if he thought the COVID restrictions were too strict. Not at all, Chen said.
“Whatever went down was appropriate,” Chen said. “It’s reasonable to adhere to the bubble protocol…The whole objective of the bubble is to make sure all athletes are safe.
“I’m glad he was still able to be in the arena.”
Chen lightened the load on his quad numbers (from six to four) because he just didn’t have enough time to straighten them all out from Skate America last week. He also admitted he has a “little bit of a hip thing” right now and it’s best not to press the issue. His objective in the coming weeks is to get the hip humming again, with hopes he’ll make the Grand Prix Final. It’s only five weeks away.
With the “hip thing,” Chen landed a quad Salchow; let his quad Lutz become a triple Lutz, a quad flip – triple toe loop combo just sung (3.30 bonus), a quad toe loop in a series with a triple flip and then a simple old quad toe loop – double toe loop. He racked up 19.00 points for that quad toe series and another 18.50 for the quad flip combo. His triple Axel was swish enough that he got 2.63 bonus points for it.
Semenenko actually finished second in the free skate ahead of Brown, with three quads: a quad toe loop – double toe loop combo, a quad Salchow and a quad toe loop by itself. He chalked up more big points when he did two triple Axels, one of them in a series with a triple Salchow. He landed many of his jumps a bit forward, but got big scores anyway. All of his other elements but the step sequence got level fours.
His free skate score paled in comparison to that of Chen: 168.30, but it was quite enough for now. His technical score was second highest at 90.00 points.
He’s a newbie on the international scene. His only other real international competition was the world championship in Stockholm last March, a prospect that made him very nervous because of his lack of experience and how important it was to get Olympic spots. He finished eighth, and says that gave him confidence.
He skated little when he was younger, plagued by injury upon injury, he said. Two years ago, he started to recover and was able to compete more. Last season, he started to do quad toe loop and quad Salchow and put them in his program gradually. At Russian nationals, he won the junior championship, but also competed at the senior level and finished 11th. “I skate not good,” he said.
He was preparing to do only one quad at world championships but when he did two in the final Cup of Russia domestic series, and skated well, he added the second quad to his world championship roster.
Brown was disappointed with his skate. He attempted a quad Salchow but landed it on two feet, then fell on a triple Axel. He said this was the third Grand Prix event in which he and Chen finished first and second: Skate America, France and now Skate Canada.
Brown still ended up with a free skate score of 165.55, most of it coming through the component score. And his final mark was 259.55, to keep him about 3 ½ points ahead of Semenenko for the silver medal.
The surprise of the event was Morisi Kvitelashvili of Georgia, who finished last of 12 in the short program and had to skate first in the free. But his free skate score held up almost through the entire event. He finished fourth in the free, sixth overall.
The biggest meltdown came from Keegan Messing, who had been third after the short program. After he landed his opening quad toe loop – double toe loop combination, things went awry. All was not well. He flipped out of a quad toe loop, and then later fell forwards, snapping his head back after a triple loop (he gingerly fingered his mouth afterward), held onto a triple Lutz that should have been in combination, stumbled out of a triple flip – triple toe loop, and finished after his music.
“I was pretty bummed,” he said afterward.
He said afterwards that he felt shaky in his right leg. Every time he stepped on it, It felt unsteady, he said. He’s not sure if his leg or his boot is to blame. (He had been having boot problems earlier in the season.)
The problems started on his first triple Axel, he said, and that’s when his leg gave ‘a good wobble.” He wasn’t able to make it a combination jump. On the Lutz, his leg “came down very weird,” he said. “I’m not sure if it was nerves or something else,” he said.
During the program, he said he just forgot about his mistakes, brushed them off ‘like water off a duck” and moved forward. He says he’ll go home, sort it all out and push forward.
He finished 10th in the free program and fifth overall.
Conrad Orzel moved up from ninth after the short to sixth in the free (ninth overall) with a jump-packed routine. He fired off an excellent quad toe loop – triple toe loop but then stumbled out of a quad Salchow, putting both hands down. The quad toe, right afterward was atonement, getting him big bonus points of 2.71. He lost all of his levels on a flying camel spin, but he emerged with a final score of 222.75 and is scheduled to go to Zagreb next.
Canadian champion Roman Sadovsky suffered a nose bleed after his free skate, but things came unravelled after he doubled a triple loop and he finished twelfth of 12.