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U.S. Men Fight for Spots on the Olympic Team

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It is not at all surprising to see Nathan Chen’s name on the top of the leaderboard following the men’s short program at the U.S. Championships. Nathan is certainly worthy of that top spot. There was a lot of excitement surrounding Chen’s short program, but there was also a lot of buzz about amazing performances delivered by Grant Hochstein, Timothy Dolensky, Adam Rippon, Vincent Zhou, Jason Brown and we cannot forget Gracie Gold’s witty comical tweets. What an incredible night of U.S. men’s figure skating. These men put on quite the show.

Nathan Chen has been having some issues in practice lately with his quad lutz, so he opted for the quad flip instead. He landed a solid quad flip-triple toe along with a beautiful quad toe. The trouble came with the triple axel, which he ended up stepping out of. Otherwise he delivered a fantastic performance. Once he completed his jumps, all of his energy went into selling the program and he sold it well. It was not the best performance that we have seen from Nathan, but it was still great and deserving of first place.

“I did make a mistake on the Axel which was a little frustrating, but overall I think the program was OK,” Nathan said according to a U.S. Figure Skating press release. “I made a couple other little mistakes on the jumps, so you know, things to fix for Saturday. I’m glad tomorrow I have the day off to recover, so Saturday will be more fresh. Ultimately, I was happy with the crowd, the audience was very loud, very receptive. I really enjoyed myself.”

Adam Rippon

Adam Rippon was on fire tonight. He looks so well trained, so confident and so ready for this event. There’s such a security in Adam’s jumps in the short program that you feel as if you can sit back and enjoy the party that he is putting on. He was electric tonight and the crowd was with him. He has come such a long way and it is a pleasure to watch him succeed.

“Every disappointment I’ve ever had has made me so much stronger and so much better,” Adam said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am now, I wouldn’t appreciate what I’m doing now as much as I do if I didn’t have the ups and downs of not making the team, breaking my foot, feeling like I’ve come up short. I’m just a completely different person.”

Jason Brown

The debates begin when we start talking about Jason Brown. Jason skated right after Adam and  it was clear that the crowd was with him as well. Jason opened with a triple axel. This is where things begin to become muddled. It looks like he possibly two-footed the landing and/or under-rotated the triple axel, but he was not penalized at all for this sketchy landing. The rest of Jason’s short program was strong. He is currently in third place, though some believe he should be in fourth because of that wonky triple axel landing. The judges were generous with Jason, but not with others, which is a bit shady.

“Oh my gosh, the crowd was incredible,” Jason said. “There is nothing more exciting than to perform in front of a huge crowd. And that doesn’t have to be size-wise, it’s the amazing energy that a crowd brings, and that’s what’s so special. I felt it, it was amazing, throughout every part of that program.”

Grant Hochstein

It was so exciting to watch Grant Hochstein go out there and land a wonderful quad toe-triple toe combination. Grant performed one of the best short programs of his entire career. Hochstein has played the part of “dark horse” in the past, which got him onto the 2016 world team, and he did it again tonight. Grant has decided that this will be his final U.S. Championships and I hope that he finishes it well.

“This been a long journey that’s gone over 20 years, since Michelle Kwan in 1998,” Grant said. “And this is the short program I’ve been looking for for 20 years. I’ve worked hard for this. I didn’t do interviews (no one asked me to do interviews, no offense), and I worked hard. I enjoyed every second of it.”

Vincent Zhou

After a subpar season, Vincent Zhou went out there in the short program and landed a fabulous quad lutz-triple toe. He went on to nail the landing of his quad flip. For a second it seemed like this could be his magical moment, but then out of nowhere he fell on his triple axel. It was quite disappointing, but it was also a reminder of what he is capable of. Vincent is currently in fifth place, but if anyone could make up some points in the free skate with some quads, it would be Vincent.

“I think today was great,” Vincent said. “I gave a good performance out there. Since the Grand Prix Series, some people have had doubts about me, including myself, but I’ve worked hard to improve all aspects of my skating since then, and I think that showed today.”

Concluding Careers

With so many men putting it out on the line, it will certainly make for an intense free skate. There’s sadly a reality that some of these men will be ending their careers here at this U.S. Championships. Regardless if some of these guys have the best performances of their career, they could still be left off of the Olympic Team, even with a podium finish.

Max Aaron is one of the first to be met with this reality. Max had some errors in the short program and is in twelfth place heading into the free skate. There’s many more that are like him or will be like him after the free skate. Where will they go from here? Will we see them next season? I fear that as exciting as this event is, it will also be heart wrenching. So let’s appreciate each skater and each performance, knowing that this could be their last. And if it is their last, hopefully they will come back as spectators next year and entertain us with their clever tweeting as Gracie Gold did for us tonight.

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