Jan 23, 2016 12:47 AM
Aaron leads US Championships after short program; Miner 2nd
The Associated Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Max Aaron, Ross Miner and Adam Rippon are veterans who can earn points in many different ways in their performances.
They lead at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but the biggest buzz Friday came from the competitor in fourth place, 16-year-old Nathan Chen, who became the first American man to land two quadruple jumps in the short program.
Chen lost major points on one of his spins, finishing behind Miner and Rippon even though neither tried a quad when both earned much higher marks for expression and choreography.
Aaron, seeking his second national title, landed a quadruple salchow-triple toe loop combination to open his performance and scored 91.83 points.
Miner, the runner-up to Aaron in 2013, had had 90.90 points, while Rippon, who was second last year, had 88.01. Chen had 86.33.
Two of the top three finishers from last year, including defending champ Jason Brown, are out with injuries.
Skating to "Nessun dorma" from Luciano Pavarotti, Aaron is still working on matching his movements to the power of the music. But when he held on to land his triple axel and triple lutz, he earned the big points to take the lead.
"Tonight was a good fight," he said. "Nothing really went smooth."
Aaron missed out on an Olympic berth in 2014 when he placed third, and last year he was fourth despite landing two quad salchows in his long program. Both times, he earned far fewer points for the artistic side, and he started to doubt whether he wanted to keep competing.
"I've had my struggles," Aaron said, "but I'm doing whatever it takes to be an artist, to be the best technical jumper I can be, the best spinner I can be. Nothing is easy about that."
Miner, who finished out of top five the last two years at nationals, landed four triple jumps and earned top technical scores for his spins and footwork. Skating to Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind," he might earn a trip back home to Boston for the world championships in March. He's planning a quad for Sunday's free skate, which takes place on his 25th birthday.
"Hopefully I can give myself a good birthday present," he said.
Chen, who won the Junior Grand Prix Final last month, stepped out on his opening quad salchow that was supposed to be a combination, so he later added a triple toe loop to his quad toe loop, landing both cleanly. He put a hand down on his triple axel.
Chen won his first U.S. junior title in 2012 at age 12, but he's dealt with injuries as he's gone through growth spurts. With American men struggling to match their international rivals' quads, Chen's big jumps had made him one of the best U.S. hopes to again compete with the rest of the world.
Chen knew trying two quads Friday was risky, but, he said, "I thought this would be the best time to do it."
Rippon trains with Chen and tries not to let the teenager's big jumps distract him. Motioning to Aaron and Miner, he said they've all fallen victim to agonizing over a rival's elements and fretting, "Dang, I'm screwed."
"As soon as you think that," Rippon said, "you are."
He constantly reminds himself: "I know that I can spin better. I know that I can skate faster."
The judges agreed with that Friday. But older skaters might not be able to hold off Chen for much longer if they can't match his jumps.
Upon hearing of Chen's feat, Aaron called it "amazing."
"It wakes you up," Aaron said. "It rattles you."
Earlier, defending champs Madison Chock and Evan Bates took the lead in the ice dance competition. They felt relieved to finally be performing a short dance that was more than a few weeks old.
The top three teams from last year held the same spots. Chock and Bates, the 2015 world silver medalists, scored 75.14 points with what is their third different program of the season. They were followed by siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani with 74.67 and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue with 71.10.
"This has been the most challenging season for us," Bates said.
After finishing a distant second at the Grand Prix Final, he and Chock took "a necessary break" of a few weeks.
"Coming back to the rink after the holidays, we really felt refreshed and rejuvenated," Bates said. "We knew we had pushed really hard to kind of survive through Grand Prixs, because we had never been in that kind of situation before with so much change."
With Olympic gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White stepping away, Chock and Bates won their first U.S. title a year ago. They led at the world championships after the short dance but were overtaken for the gold.
Seeking to find programs that will win on the biggest international stages, Chock and Bates are happy with the short dance they eventually chose a foxtrot followed by the required waltz to an Italian rendition of "Unchained Melody."
The free dance is Saturday.
"We're really thrilled with the way it went today," Bates said, "and we kind of turned a new page after Grand Prix Final. ... I think we're set up well for the rest of the season."