Aaron leads U.S. championships after short program


Max Aaron leads the U.S. Figure Skating Championships after the short program as he seeks his second national title.

Aaron landed a quadruple salchow-triple toe loop combination to open his performance and scored 91.83 points Friday night.

Ross Miner, the runner-up to Aaron in 2013, was second with 90.90 despite not trying a quad, earning high marks for his expression and choreography.

Adam Rippon, last year’s runner-up who also didn’t do a quad Friday, was third with 88.01. Sixteen-year-old Nathan Chen was fourth with 86.33 despite landing two quads, losing major points on one of his spins.

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.

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.

Miner excelled at that part Friday. 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 after finishing out of top five the last two years at nationals. Sunday’s free skate takes place on his 25th birthday.

Miner, who plans a quad in that long program, cleanly landed four triple jumps and earned top technical scores for his spins and footwork.

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 in a program that had him moonwalking across the ice to Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.”

Chen won his first U.S. junior title in 2012 at age 12. As he has gone through growth spurts since then, he’s struggled with injuries.

He would love to compete in both the junior and senior world championships if he qualifies, and his main goal for the season is to win the junior world title. One of his idols is Yuzuru Hanyu, who won the Olympic gold medal at age 19. Chen would be 18 at the 2018 Games.

Teenager Polina Edmunds holds a large lead heading into Saturday’s free skate after former winners Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold made major mistakes in their short programs on Thursday.

The 17-year-old Edmunds, a 2014 Olympian, skated cleanly to score 70.19 points as she seeks her first national title. Gold is second with 62.50 points after she did just one rotation on a planned triple lutz and nearly crashed into the wall on an attempted triple-triple combination, settling for a double toe loop on the second jump.

Tyler Pierce, also 17, is third with 62.45 points.

Wagner, a three-time U.S. champion, is fourth with 62.41 after falling on her triple-triple combination.

Mirai Nagasu, who finished fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Games, is fifth at 59.64.

Edmunds was second to Gold in 2014 to earn an Olympic berth at age 15. She was fourth last year. Skating to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on Thursday, she smoothly landed her triple lutz-triple toe loop combination to open the program.

Despite receiving zero points for her single lutz, Gold still finished slightly ahead of Wagner because her spins were judged at a higher level.

Earlier, Madison Chock and Evan Bates took the lead in the ice dance competition as they look to defend their title.

The top three teams from last year held the same spots after the short dance. Chock and Bates, the 2015 world silver medalists, scored 75.14 points, followed by siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani with 74.67 and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue with 71.10.

This is the third different short dance Chock and Bates have tried this season. They’re happy now with a foxtrot followed by the required waltz to an Italian rendition of “Unchained Melody.”

Chock and Bates led the Shibutanis by just .11 points after the short dance last year. The free dance is Saturday.