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Chen joins exclusive club in winning short program

U.S. champion holds lead over Japan's Uno; Virtue, Moir win dance gold
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Nathan Chen made his first skate at a senior ISU championship a memorable one, landing two clean quads (one in combination) during his 'Le Corsaire' short program. The U.S. champion racked up 103.12 points -- joining Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu and Spain's Javier Fernández as the only men to break the 100-point barrier in the short program in international competition (Shoma Uno became the fourth later in the event) -- en route to topping the field. -Getty Images

You know it's a crazy night when the different variations of quads -- minus the axel -- were planned and landed at least once, just like you know a field is extremely competitive when none of the medalists from the previous year's event reach the top three.

That was the case in the men's short program at the 2017 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Gangneung, South Korea, where a talented field of skaters enjoyed varying levels of success, even if some of the top names are a bit out of position in the current standings.

In such a fierce quad battle, where any mistake could prove costly, it was Nathan Chen who landed the two most difficult quads -- quad lutz and quad flip -- to take the top position.

Performing to the music of Le Corsaire, the reigning U.S. champion cleanly executed every element in his difficult program -- which also included a triple axel -- while receiving Level 4 for all his spins and his footwork. Chen's performance was also recognized by the judges, who awarded him 43.54 points on the second mark, the highest he's received on the international stage. As a result, he scored 103.12 points in the segment, blitzing past his previous personal best by more than 10 points.

"I'm really happy with the way things went tonight," said Chen, who became just the third skater to crack the 100-point plateau in the short program in international competition. "I got a similar score at nationals not long ago, and it's reaffirming to be able to come out with that score at an international event."

When asked what he had done to further improve after the Grand Prix Final and prepare for the Four Continents Championships, Chen noted that attention to detail and technique were crucial.

"The Final was a huge step for me in a positive direction," he said. "It was really my first senior event, so it was definitely an experience to learn how to deal with the type of nerves that come with competition like that. Four weeks out from that I had nationals. I spent some time in Michigan working on choreography and I spend the rest of the time in California working with Rafael [Arutunian] on technique. Then I had nationals, which were really successful for me. I put out two clean programs, which is something I was striving for all season. I think that really put me in a good state to come to Four Continents."

Japan's Shoma Uno took second place in the segment with a decent performance that featured a quad flip, a quad toe-triple toe combo and all Level 4 spins and step sequence. While he was not totally satisfied with his presentation, Uno's program components score (PCS) still received the third-highest grade of the night, behind only Yuzuru Hanyu and Patrick Chan. As a result, he earned 100.28 points, beating his old record by nearly two points.

"I had problems with the short program the whole season, so I'm relieved about how it went today," Uno said. "After the Grand Prix Final and Japanese nationals, I mainly focused on practicing jumps in training. It got good results, and now I can land more jumps, like quad salchow and quad loop. But recently I've been thinking my presentation and interpretation were not that satisfying, and I think I really need to put more attention to my overall skating besides jumps."

Hanyu returned to Four Continents after a four-year absence. He beautifully landed his opening quad loop but doubled his planned quad salchow combo. His following triple axel received +3 Grades of Execution (GOEs) across the board, and he earned 97.04 points, more than 13 points off his own world record, but still high enough to place him third.

"'Regrettable is the only word I can use for not being able to do a clean program," Hanyu said. "On the positive side, landing a good quad loop has been my challenge this season, so I am glad that I've done it well today. As for the quad salchow, I think I was over-thinking a bit before take-off because I couldn't land it well during the warm-up. I will work to improve in practices tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, trying to better my free skate."

China's Boyang Jin earned 91.33 points and landed in fourth place. The defending Four Continents silver medalist recognized the areas that set him back.

"I think my overall performance was not bad, but I didn't land the opening quad lutz-triple toe combination well, and it was a bit of pity," he said. "Spider-Man may be my favorite short program so far because it is fun and really fits my personality."

Three-time and defending Four Continents champion Patrick Chan struggled in his short program, falling on his opening quad toe and landing a weak triple lutz combo. Those misteps led to a short program score of 88.46 points, which has him in fifth place.

"I've had good performances of this program," Chan said after departing the ice. "Unfortunately, today wasn't that day. When you're competing at such a high level, you learn to appreciate the mistakes you make in competition. That's the only time you gain the most knowledge, and the most benefit is when you have these challenges at competitions."

Dominance continues for Virtue, Moir

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir outpaced the field in the free dance to win Four Continents for the third time in their career.

The Canadians showcased the form of Olympic champions from start to finish. On the technical side -- minus one Level 3 for their circular step sequence -- all of their elements received +2 and +3 GOEs. As a result, they earned a new personal-best free dance mark of 117.20 points -- the second highest in free dance history -- while their combined total of 196.95 was less than 0.3 points off their world record total score.

"Today was an interesting performance for us, as we left a couple of points on the board, but it was really special for us to be in that venue," Moir said. "We really felt an energy, and we're really happy with certain parts of our performance. We're going to be pretty excited, looking forward to the next five weeks for the world championships."

In earning the silver, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani delivered an emotional performance of their "Evolution" free, while also excelling in the technical elements. They mostly received +2 to +3 GOEs and gained mid 9's in the second mark. 

As a result, the U.S. champions refreshed their personal best to 115.26 points and became the fourth team ever to score over 115 in the free dance, while their combined total of 191.85 was also a new personal best. 

Achieving that mark also helped the Americans become just the fourth team to hit 190 points overall.

"We're very proud of how we skated this entire week," Maia said. "Today felt extremely strong for us. It was our best free dance performance of the entire season. That's really encouraging for us."

Madison Chock and Evan Bates weren't perfect during their "Under Pressure" free dance, but their performance was good enough to solidify the third spot on the podium. The team lost some levels on planned elements but earned an overall score of 110.91 in the segment and 185.58 in total. 

"I think we've built a really strong momentum for ourselves, especially this season," Chock said. "The programs that we put out at this event have been our best so far, and we can only keep this going and skate our best at worlds."

Team USA's Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue finished fourth with 180.82 total points.

"The overall performance was pretty good but not as strong as we've been practicing at home," Hubbell said. "It was a little more reserved. But, we know there's a lot more this program has to offer, and we're going to find it."