Figure Skating

Nathan Chen leads after Skate America short program

AP, AFP-JIJI, Staff Report

It came as no surprise to see two-time world champion Nathan Chen of the United States top the short program with 102.71 points Friday at Skate America.

Dmitri Aliev, the 2018 European silver medalist and 2018 Russian national bronze medalist, was second at 96.57.

Chen opened his short program to “La Boheme” with a quadruple lutz, then landed a triple axel, before going on to hit a quad toe loop/triple toe loop combination jump.

The 20-year-old Yale University sophomore did struggle on his final two spins, however, but still had a comfortable lead going into Saturday’s free skate.

“This is my first time performing the short program in a competitive setting,” Chen said. “I’m not entirely happy with how the program went. However, it’s the first outing and I’m pretty OK with it.

“I’m looking forward to competing tomorrow, hopefully clean up some of the mistakes I made today and just keep going for it,” Chen added.

A heartfelt performance saw Canada’s Keegan Messing in third place with 96.34.

Less than a month after his younger brother, Paxon, was killed when an SUV collided with his motorcycle, the 27-year-old Canadian closed the 12-man field with a riveting performance that left many in tears and drew a standing ovation.

“Coming here this week was a huge decision for me with everything that’s happened,” said Messing. “I was trying to keep my mind very focused. I was distracting my mind a little bit while thinking about my wife who was sitting up in the stands supporting me. This was a very hard skate to come to.

“Just being on the ice the last few weeks has been one of the most difficult things that I’ve had to do. I’ve just tried to stay physically prepared, rely on my training and be able to put out a performance like that.”

Set to Ed Sheeran’s 2017 hit “Perfect,” Messing said the routine was made specifically for his wife, Lane, whom he married this summer. The song was also the first dance at their wedding, and it marked the first time he was able to perform his short program in front of his bride.

Jason Brown, the 2015 U.S. national champion, was fourth at 83.45.

Bradie Tennell, the 2018 U.S. national champion , led the women’s field with a score of 75.10.

Tennell began with a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo in her short program and went on to cleanly land a double axel and a triple flip.

The Illinois native received level fours on all of her spins and step sequence.

Kaori Sakamoto turned in a season-best 73.25 to place second, while teammate Wakaba Higuchi was third at 71.76.

In pairs, China’s Cheng Peng and Yang Jin led at 72.73. Russia’s Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin were second at 71.25, and Americans Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc followed at 68.20.

In rhythm dance, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue from the U.S. took first after scoring 84.97 with their short program.