Ice Network

Aaron edges out Miner to set pace in men's short

Chen first skater to land two quads in a U.S. championships short program
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Entering competition as one of the favorites to take the title, Max Aaron delivered during his first-place short program. The 2013 U.S. champion took a slim lead over Ross Miner behind his superb jump arsenal, which included a quad salchow-triple toe, on the way to 91.83 points. -Jay Adeff

Max Aaron knows how difficult it is to land one quad in a program, let alone two or three.

So even though Aaron landed a quad salchow-triple toe combination to take the lead at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Saint Paul, Minnesota, he left the Xcel Energy Center impressed by the two-quad performance of another skater, that of 16-year-old Nathan Chen.

Aaron was one of two men in the field of 19 skaters at this event to land a quad in the short program. The other skater was Chen, who made history as the first skater to be credited with landing two quads in a short program at a U.S. championships.

"That's amazing, first of all," Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, said of Chen's performance. "That's a huge accomplishment. I've tried two different quads in a program before, and that's not an easy task. For him to be so young and to be able to do that is a huge step in our sport. I see him and even (training mate) Vincent [Zhou], who's even younger than Nate, pushing the boundaries in our sport, and I love seeing that.

"For me, I love the pressure of getting better because not only do we need to be better in the United States, we need to be better when we step out on the world ice and go against guys like Patrick Chan and [Yuzuru] Hanyu, who's doing three quads," Aaron continued. "We need to be able to be competitive. If it takes a [16]-year-old to push the limit in the U.S., it will wake me up. It certainly does training with Vincent every day. He can do two quads. It's truly an honor to see these men do that. I hope they continue to push the envelope."

As amazing as Chen's performance was, it was only good enough for fourth place.

Aaron holds a slim lead with 91.83 points. Ross Miner is in second with 90.90 and Rippon, who flubbed the landing of his triple lutz-triple toe, sits third after earning 88.01 points. Chen, who lost valuable points on his flying sit spin, which was deemed a Level 1, tallied 86.33. Only 5.50 points separate the top four, and Chen doesn't plan to give up easily. He has three quads planned for his free skate. If successful, he would be the first skater to land five quads at a U.S. championships.

"It was the first time (attempting two quads in the short), and, honestly, it was a big risk for me," Chen, 16, said. "I'm trying to set myself up as a senior skater."

In the eyes of Chen's coach, Rafael Arutunian, it was quite a statement.

"At least it is something interesting for U.S. figure skating," Arutunian said. "We have a guy who is really motivated to catch up with what's going on in the world."

Miner, who turns 25 on Sunday and hopes to earn a berth to the world championships, did not include a quad in his short, but he has one planned for his free skate. Rippon opted against trying a quad lutz in the short, but he, too, also has a quad planned for his free.

"Nathan doing two quads in the short program is really important for the development of U.S. men's skating," said Rippon, who trains alongside Chen in Southern California. "It's what's happening in the world right now.

"I skate with Nathan every day, and he tries four quads in a program, he tries three, he does two in a short," Rippon said. "I'm 26, and he's 16. I use that to my advantage. I'm going to let him do that. At this point in my career, I know I can spin better and I know that I can skate faster. I think we push each other because I think he is an incredible skater, and I think he is the future. But right now, I want to be the present."